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Anguilla, Stage 1: A Marvelous Night for a Swoondance

You have probably heard of the five stages of grief -- denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance -- which some psychologists believe can be used to describe the feelings you may experience when a loved one passes. On our most recent trip to Anguilla, we discovered that these same stages can also apply to your Anguilla vacation.

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1. Denial. The first stage of your Anguilla vacation often begins with denial, which is the brain's way of dealing with the unexpected. Denial typically begins as soon as you arrive at your hotel or villa. Common thoughts or exclamations may include, "I can't believe we're actually here!" "Check out that water -- it doesn't look real!" and "I don't believe that anyone could make a cheeseburger this good without crack."

2. Anger. During this stage, lashing out at your own stupidity is to be expected. "Why the hell don't I live here?!" "That guy on the beach cleans fish guts for a living -- some people have all the luck!" and "Why didn't I become a deckhand instead of going to law school?! Idiot!!"

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3. Bargaining. Bargaining may be done with the higher power of your choice, or with your spouse. "Please please PLEASE can't we move here???" "I promise I'll give up drinking/smoking/spending all our money on Lotto tickets/flossing my teeth in front of you if you just let me stay here forever." and "I will never nag you to clean the garage again if you just buy me this beach house (because it doesn't have one)."

4. Depression. This stage usually sets in on the morning of your last full day, with peak sadness reached when you arrive at the airport or ferry terminal. Symptoms include agitation, feelings of hopelessness, weight gain, and excessive drinking (the literature notes a marked preference for rum-based libations).

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5. Acceptance. The majority of people manage to put off entering this last stage for as long as possible. For most, acceptance is achieved with a defeated sigh when the plane door closes or the ferry departs, though in some cases acceptance may be delayed until disembarkment in St. Martin or San Juan. In rare cases, acceptance is achieved only when the grieving vacationers attempt to maneuver their car into their driveway, which is covered in three feet of snow.

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For our third visit in thirteen months (said the spoiled brat), the stages began as scheduled. We arrived on island and made the short drive from the airport to Moondance Villa, a stunning new property near Long Pond Bay, where we immediately entered the denial phase: We don't really get to stay here, do we?!

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That's because, when we weren't even looking, this gorgeous villa fell right into our laps. It was brand-new, had a view to die for . . . and was not yet on the rental market. Since no one had stayed in it before, the villa manager (the lovely Catherine at Anguilla Villa Company) asked if we'd mind reporting any issues or problems, no matter how insignificant, so they could be rectified before high season started. In other words, we were to be the Moondance guinea pigs.

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Well, it sure beats selling your plasma.

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We thought it might be hard to top that view, but the interior of the house was just as lovely. Wraparound sliders provided unobstructed views, lots of light, and let in a constant cool breeze. The furnishings were covered in luxurious fabrics in tropical shades of coral and turquoise. And there was so much space that we could have done cartwheels through the main living area, if we both weren't at the age where breaking a hip is our second-greatest fear. (Number one is that Ferryboat Inn will take out a restraining order against us.)

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Indeed, the house seemed to be tailor-made for two New Yorkers: It was private and remote, with huge closets, huge bathrooms, and a huge kitchen that we'd never, ever use.

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At the back of the house was TV room with cushy, oversized couches, which were perfect for relaxing after a long day of lying in a lounge chair.

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We don't usually watch TV on vacation, but one night after dinner we decided to start binge-watching "Making a Murderer." We made it through two episodes before Angel determined that me screaming at the screen so vehemently had only two possible outcomes -- me suffering death by heart attack, or the TV suffering death by flip-flop -- and put a stop to it.

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And did I mention the jewelry drawer in the master suite? Swoooon.

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After a quick tour of our digs, we dropped our luggage upstairs and immediately set out to stock the place, which meant a couple of cans of Pringles, a liter of rum punch mix from the smoothie shop at SeaSpray Boutique, and an oil drum full of rum to get us through the week.

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Most of the wares at SeaSpray are hand-made, and as usual, we spent an inordinate amount of time in the charming shop picking out an assortment of magnets, seashells, soaps, jewelry, and items depicting all manner of goats.

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Pam at SeaSpray took great care of us, even throwing in a few free limes and some nutmeg to go with our punch.

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On every trip we've made to Anguilla since 1997, we've dropped our luggage inside the front door as soon as we arrive, stripped off our clothes and changed into swimsuits, and raced headlong to the beach for an arrival day swim. But Moondance was already exerting its inexplicable hold on us, as we arrived back at the house to drop off our supplies . . . and decided not to leave.

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Instead, we noshed on the generous platter of cheese, crackers, nuts, and grapes that Catherine had kindly left for us, sipped our homemade rum punches, and simply gazed in silence at the wild sea crashing against the rocks at Long Pond Bay. (As the villa's designated guinea pigs, we also tried to come up with a single negative that we could report back to Catherine, but failed miserably.)

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That evening we realized that we'd have to leave the house if wanted anything more substantial than crackers for dinner, so we headed off for Picante in the West End.

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Picante is one of those feel-good places that isn't going to win any awards for its nouvelle cuisine, isn't going to fold your napkin into the shape of a swan while you're powdering your nose in the ladies' room, and isn't going to offer your handbag its own little stool for the evening.

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But they also aren't going to require you to auction off a kidney to pay the bill, make you feel guilty for polishing off an entire casserole dish full of melted cheese, or raise a not-so-subtle eyebrow when you order that third margarita, and those things count for more than any fancy-pants finger bowl ever could.

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One of the specials that night was a basil mojito, which our server promised he would take back if it wasn't to our liking.

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Eventually we did ask him to take it back . . . and refill the empty glass with another one. (Ditto for that strawberry margarita I had.)

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As usual, I ordered the seafood enchiladas, which are filled with tender chunks of crab, prawn, and lobster, and come smothered in so much melted cheese that there could be a rolled-up Mexican flag under there instead of an enchilada and I'd eat it anyway.

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Angel has always shied away from the enchiladas, presumably because he knows that when I can't stop raving about a particular dish, it is sure to be filled with enough fat and cholesterol to strike him dead on the spot. But on this night he came over to the dark side and ordered them, too.

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When we returned to Moondance after dinner, we discovered what hadn't been completely apparent in the daylight: The house stood virtually alone under blanket of stars. There didn't seem to be another soul around for as far as the eye could see; the only sound to be heard was the crashing of the surf in the distance. Although we found the isolation a bit unnerving that first night, we quickly fell in love with the seclusion of our own little slice of moonlit heaven.

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The next morning we packed up our beach bag and headed over to Rendezvous Bay. RBH has a special place in our hearts since it's the first place we ever stayed on island, and although we've spent many late afternoons lounging on one of the daybeds at The Place, it had never made our list for lunch.

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We dropped our things on "our" daybed, then settled in at a table on the deck for lunch.

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It only took Angel two days to realize that I'd been color-coordinating our attire. Tee-hee.

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For lunch, we kept things simple with a couple of blackened fish sandwiches and a round of frosty piña coladas swirled with fresh nutmeg.

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The rest of the afternoon was spent alternating between lounging in the shade on the couch, bobbing in the turquoise water, and playing coconut football on the beach.

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Of course, we didn't really toss around that coconut. That would be too much like exercise.

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Back at the house, we rinsed off the salt with a quick dip in the pool, then cleaned up for dinner at Sarjai's.

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Housed in the old Lucy's space, I was admittedly skeptical that anything at Sarjai's could top Lucy's deliciously crunchy fried snapper filets.

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Still, the steak au poivre with curry fries sounded delicious, so a Pinot Noir by the glass on the menu caught my eye and I asked for a little taste.

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A very little taste.

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We began our meal with the spicy tuna tartare drizzled with soy sauce and olive oil, followed by the aforementioned steak for me and the much-touted coconut shrimp with Malibu pineapple sauce for Angel.

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So many things in life don't live up to the hype -- New Coke, Y2K, 99.9% of storms called "Snowmaggedon" -- but happily, Sarjai's coconut shrimp is not one of them.

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Back at the villa, we took another dip in the moonlit pool before calling it a day.

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And that's when I knew we'd transitioned out of the denial phase. We really were back on our favorite little chunk of limestone, Moondance really was a little piece of paradise, and we really did have seven more days of eating, drinking, and lazing around in front of us. That's at least 33 more meals!
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Click here to read Part 2!

Posted by TraceyG 05:35 Archived in Anguilla Tagged seaspray picante rendezvous_bay moondance_villa the_place sarjais Comments (14)

A Sweet Return to Anguilla, Pt. 8: Sunset at the Shack

The next morning we took a leisurely ride up to Shoal Bay for a morning swim before the day got too busy.

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The local sights along the way seemed color-coordinated to match the Shoal Bay's ethereal blues.

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We continued along until the stunning bay came into view.

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As is our custom, we dropped our beach bag in the sand without breaking stride, shedding shoes and clothes as we dashed headlong into the crystal-clear water.

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When our fingertips became pruney, we dragged ourselves to shore, then made a quick pit stop back at Sweet Return to rinse the salt off.

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We then popped across the street for lunch at Café Med at CuisinArt.

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We love many things about CuisinArt, including the elegant open-air lobby, the tropical blue-and-yellow color scheme, and the large, sunny pool.

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But we really love the frozen mojitos.

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Some of us, a little too much.

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We chose a table near the pool, sipping our minty concoctions as we perused the menu.

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CuisinArt grows its own vegetables in its hydroponic garden, so crisp greens were the way to go. I decided on the Greek salad with Little Gem lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, and tangy feta cheese, all dressed with a house-made red wine vinaigrette.

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CuisinArt grows its own herbs, too, so Angel went with the grilled skirt steak topped with a fresh, flavorful chimichurri, served alongside a roasted half tomato and some charred asparagus.

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As we were finishing our lunch, we were lucky enough to bump into Peter and his lovely wife Anne from Straw Hat, who recognized me from this blog. I was just happy they saw me after that dainty salad had been cleared. I have a reputation to uphold, you know.

We were already at Rendezvous Bay, so we spent the afternoon floating in the warm sea and enjoying a sneak preview of the upcoming boat races.

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When we'd had our fill of sun, we cooled down with a couple of the best piña coladas on the island at Anguilla Great House.

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That evening, I'd planned an early anniversary surprise for Angel -- a private sunset dinner at the Sunshine Shack. With the help of some folks on the travel forums, I learned that Garvey had arranged a private dinner for a large group in the past, and it looked absolutely beautiful:

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And so, a few months before our arrival on island, I began an online correspondence with Garvey to lock down the day, the time, details about the menu, and, most importantly, the table setup shown in the photo. Attempting to project a laid-back, easygoing island vibe, I casually noted that if pineapples weren't available, conch shells, starfish, or other beachy decorations would do. (But you know I really wanted those little pineapples.)

Finally, the big night arrived. As we made our way down the deserted beach, I smiled to myself as Angel, unaware that anything was amiss, asked me if I was sure if Sunshine Shack was actually open.

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Based on the photo I'd sent Garvey, I could barely contain my excitement as we approached the Shack, picturing a rustic wooden table draped with a linen cloth and ringed by tiki torches in the sand. I envisioned flickering lanterns and decorative pineapples, or conch shells, or even starfish. (But hopefully those little pineapples.)

Unfortunately, we did not get pineapples, or conch shells, or starfish. We did not get tiki torches. We did not even get a table cloth.

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I was disappointed, but not for long. That's because while Garvey may not be the next Martha Stewart, he just might be the next Top Chef, or so it will seem when you get an eyeful -- and mouthful -- of the gargantuan 4 lb. lobster he serves for dinner.

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And not only was this lobster so big that it didn't even fit on our plates, but it was so perfectly marinated and grilled that we scarcely needed the melted butter it came with . . . but scarfed it down anyway, along with the rice n' peas, carroty slaw, and fresh green salad that accompanied this massive sea beast.

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And of course, because Angel had no idea what I'd been expecting, he was thrilled with the setup: A private table in the sand! A ginormous lobster! Someone else paying the bill!

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As the sun began to set, we reveled in the romantic solitude.

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By the time our plates were cleared and the bill was settled, it still wasn't much past 8pm. Not quite ready to call it a night, we decided on a whim to stop by CuisinArt for a bottle of rosé.

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After we'd each enjoyed a glass, we brought the rest of the bottle back to Sweet Return. There, we dangled our feet in the pool, basked in the warm evening breeze, and tilted our faces skyward, contemplating a vast, dark universe decorated with tiny glowing stars.

It wasn't exactly the anniversary night I had planned, but sometimes, the best-laid plans are none at all.
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There's only one more Anguilla post -- CLICK HERE -- but don't despair: There is still lots of fun to be had as we sample fritas in Key West, funnel-cake French toast in Philadelphia, a most famous meatloaf in East Hampton, mojitos in Miami, a cocktail named for you-know-who in the Hudson Valley, and more stone crab than you can shake a stick at on Anna Maria Island. And did I mention not one but TWO more trips to Anguilla??? Subscribe here to follow along!

Posted by TraceyG 05:24 Archived in Anguilla Tagged cuisinart sunshine_shack rendezvous_bay shoal_bay march_23 Comments (8)

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