Back on Virgin Gorda, during a day trip in which we locked ourselves out of our car, defied the AARP by climbing a bunch of ladders at the Baths, ended up on a blacklist for latecomers at Little Dix Bay, and then proceeded to eat their restaurant out of all its pepperoni, potato chips, and rum, we were now in something of a food coma. And so our waitress suggested that we take a look around the property and told us to feel free to relax on the beach loungers or take a swim.
That was our first inkling that Little Dix is truly someplace special. Not only is the service impeccable, but the staff there truly cares, and the pride that showed on the faces of everyone we encountered -- from the gardeners to the waitstaff to the shuttle drivers -- was lovely to see, particularly in a part of the world that often gets a bad rap for service. "Have you seen the main dining room?" they asked, beaming. "What about the pool?" "Oh, but you must visit our spa before you leave!" they urged us, their eyes lighting up. It wasn't a sales pitch. It wasn't formal, forced politeness. It was a warm, welcoming embrace, and we quickly realized that Little Dix treated a couple of day-tripping interlopers better than some of the high-end resorts we've actually stayed at.
And so we checked out the beach and the grounds . . .
and the main dining room . . .
and the pool . . .
. . . and, to AmEx's great delight, the well-stocked gift shop.
Later, we hopped in one of the complimentary golf cart shuttles that roam the resort -- the main stop for which is at "deh big tree" -- and climbed the hill up to Sense, the spa at Little Dix that we'd heard so much about. There, we were greeted with our choice of lemon or orange water and given free reign to explore at our leisure.
If you actually climb the dozens of near-vertical steps up to this platform, yoga itself would seem to be overkill.
Besides, you will be too busy taking in the incredible view to worry about perfecting your downward dog.
Once we descended from the yoga platform, we made our way past the infinity pool to a steep stone path that leads to a secluded, secret beach.
Obviously we had no choice but to act out the surf scene in "From Here to Eternity" here.
It was no small task to pry ourselves away from the beauty of Little Dix, particularly since we were adapting quite nicely to being treated like visiting royalty, but eventually we made our way over to Coco Maya, a chic new spot on the beach known for its sleek decor and sexy cocktails.
Coco Maya was like a big, beachy showroom for all my favorite things: Edison bulbs, fire pits, cushy couches, ivy walls, beds-for-two on the beach, and booze.
And just when I thought that I couldn't be any more in love with this place, I saw this at the end of the bar.
Oh, how I loved that swing. I loved it the way I love the corner booth in a cozy bistro, or the window seat on an airplane, or any seat on the subway.
That day's special was a mango daiquiri, which was made simply and from scratch, with freshly cubed mangoes, rum, and a pinch of sugar, as opposed to the cloying, sugary syrup that so many other daiquiris are made from. For his part, Angel went with the Passion Martini, which was made with puréed passion fruit, raspberry vodka, guava, and a bit of chili, this last ingredient both adding some kick and ensuring that Angel got a drink all to himself for once.
Don't have too many cocktails, though, or you might get confused about which bathroom to use.
Out back, Coco Maya has a cool "game room," with more couches and a couple of dart boards nestled among the boulders.
There was a small playground, too, because we all know how well children mix with alcohol and flying darts.
The day's forecast had called for an 80% chance of rain, and sure enough, by late afternoon, the clouds began to roll in in earnest. As we swung and sipped, the sky darkened to a charcoal grey, and soon it was raining heavily.
Angel likes to tell the story about how one Labor Day in Cape May, I was so determined to soak up the last few hours of summer sun that I stubbornly refused to leave the beach, despite the day's gale-force winds. He tried to stick it out with me but finally, his mouth full of sand and his eyes full of grit, he had no choice but to leave me there. When he returned a few hours later, only the edge of my blanket, the corner of my magazine, and a few strands of blonde hair were visible beneath a wind-swept, Tracey-shaped mound of sand.
That was me with that swing as soon as it started to rain. I knew that if I didn't move, I was going to get soaked. I knew I would be cold and damp later, particularly on the air-conditioned ferry (and that somehow it would be Angel's fault). And I knew from experience that running around in wet flip-flops is the safety equivalent of running around with both legs stuffed into one pant leg. But I also knew that I had the best damn bar seat in the universe, and no tropical depression was going to get me to move.
Eventually, though, the rain became so heavy that I knew we'd better make a run for the car before it floated away.
Although I felt bad for this driver, I was immensely relieved that that tree didn't land on our car. After the false-alarm calls to the rental company about the keys earlier that day, a call informing them that we could not return the car because there was a tree on top of it surely would have landed me on yet another blacklist.
That night marked the first of three reservations I'd made back on Tortola at The Dove, a tiny jewel-box of a restaurant housed inside an historic West Indian cottage near the waterfront in Road Town.
I guess the fact that I started emailing them back in September and made three reservations over the course of a nine-night visit made an impression, because when I gave the hostess my last name she exclaimed, "Oh, you're Tracey! We've been expecting you!" Which translates to, "We doubled our usual food order this week, just to be safe."
The Dove had been one of the highlights of our trip six years ago, and we were delighted to find that virtually nothing had changed since our last visit: The restaurant was still cozy and candlelit, with warm red walls, comfy banquettes strewn with satin pillows, and a glimmering chandelier.
Since our last visit, however, they've added a funky outdoor patio, the centerpiece of which is a mango tree aglow in flickering candles, along with a comfortable lounge area for nibbling appetizers and sipping Champagne. That's right, Champagne. From France. I told you this trip was going to be luxurious, n'est-ce pas?
For dinner that evening, we each started with a bowl of spicy coconut lobster bisque with cumin-roasted almonds, cilantro, and lime creme fraiche, followed by the seafood melange for Angel, which was overflowing with cod, clams, shrimp, scallops, squid, and chorizo, and swimming in a rich, Chardonnay-and-tomato broth perfumed with saffron.
I decided on the mushroom and leek risotto, which had a lovely bit of "crunch" to it thanks to a celery-walnut ragout . . . and a fried egg yolk on top. Those delicious little cholesterol bombs ought to come with a warning: Don't try this at home . . . unless your life insurance is up-to-date.
Throw in an icy bottle of Sancerre with just enough left after dinner for a nightcap outside on the patio, and The Dove easily held on to its place at the top of our must-do dining list in Tortola.
But really, they had me at fried egg yolks.
The next day was Christmas. Although we had agreed not to bring any gifts with us to save room for more important stuff in our luggage, like hair dryers and ironing boards, Angel not only broke our agreement, but got me one of the best Christmas presents of all time. You see, my sister Trina has exquisite taste, particularly with respect to home décor and apparel. Over the years I have been so enamored of various items in her possession – everything from candleholders and beach cover-ups to dishtowels, sweaters, and even a reclaimed radiator cover that she cleverly refurbished – that she frequently jokes that she hides all of her best stuff when I come around, for fear that I will “stamp” it with my name and take it home with me. And so, “Quick, hide that before Tracey gets her stamper!” is as common a phrase when I am around as, “Wait, you ate all of it?”
Which is why Angel got me this for Christmas.
Forget that old saw about a good spouse being one who knows everything about you and likes you anyway. What you really want is a spouse who not only tolerates your worst habits, but actually facilitates them.
After a quick swim and a short visit with the sleepy Bella, it was time to begin the day.