A Travellerspoint blog

Friendsgiving, Cayman Island Style

sunny 85 °F

“Life is meant for good friends and great adventures”…and that is exactly what this trip was all about.

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Third time on the island of Grand Cayman, but first ever holiday away from home. We traveled with our daughter (14) and closest friends (Jake, 11).

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Every trip we embark upon seems to have a complication and an injury. Both happened very early on in the trip. The complication was a major one and was discovered during our layover in Atlanta, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. I was trying to purchase food for the plane and our credit card was declined. I had a sinking feeling, flipped the card over and discovered that it had expired the month prior. This was our travel card and the only one we brought. Aside from a few hundred bucks cash, we had no way to pay for anything for a full week (we would have taken out more cash if it came down to it). Three frustrating calls to Capital One got us nowhere. They claimed they mailed the card months ago and that there was nothing they could do to get us a new card. In fact there was, but I didn’t find this out until we got home, when I called to express my displeasure.

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Thankfully our very good friends agreed to pick up the tab for everything and then we would pay them back after the trip. It was a running joke at every meal when Mark would ask Reed “you got this one, right?”

Before I get into the nitty gritty of our trip, I’ll provide a quick overview of the good, the bad, and the unfortunate:

GOOD:

~ Our condo. Great upper oceanfront end unit at Plantana. Spacious, quiet, amazing views, a large deck and a screened-in porch.

~ Our beach. Best section of Seven Mile Beach as far as I’m concerned (and I’m a beach snob).
Wide, white, and lined with Casuarina pines and coconut trees. And uncrowded.
The luxury condos on either side of us were pretty dead, which was awesome for us.

~ Stingray City with Captain Marvin. We have done this each time we go, and this was probably the most fun.

~ The weather. Perfection. Sunny, mid-80s, calm water, and a light breeze except toward the end of the week when it picked up.
First trip ever that we did not see one drop of rain all week.

BAD:

~ Prices. Cayman has always been expensive but now it's really painful.

~ Crowds. We tried to avoid them as much as possible, but the island has just gotten too built up.
I think there are 5,000 new roundabouts.

~ Resorts. Westin, Ritz and Kimpton. The beach scene at these resorts is obscene.
Then take Cayman prices and add 25% and there are your resort prices.

~ Camana Bay. I just can’t. Large, upscale shopping, dining, Cinema complex.
It’s like a mini Miami was dropped onto the island.

UNFORTUNATE: (Aside from the complication and injury)

~ Our snorkeling experience was relatively disappointing. But I know it could have just been bad timing.

~ Commercialization of the East End, traffic, and construction (I sit in traffic every day at home; I do not want to on vacation).

~ Airport. It’s new, larger, and more modern, but not unattractive. And I understand that it was necessary.
But it’s lost all charm. The old one looked like a traditional island structure and felt like an idyllic gateway to paradise.
And the steel drum band that played as you walked in off the tarmac is no more.

Cayman will always hold a special place in my heart as we were married on Seven Mile beach in 2003, and Ellie frolicked on the shore as a toddler, but we've been spoiled by less developed islands.

Back to the story…

Our friends arrived a couple of hours before us so they spent some time at the George Town Yacht Club next to the airport.

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After we secured our family truckster from Andy’s (A Kia Carnival), we picked them up then headed to Seven Mile Beach. Thank goodness for Waze because all of the new roads, roundabouts and tunnels made traditional map reading a challenge. After we dumped our stuff and ooed and aahed at the view, we hit Kirk’s and Blackbeard’s to stock up on breakfast food, snacks, and beverages.

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Then we freshened up, and made our way to Coconut Joe’s for our traditional first night meal.

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The kids were beat so after they went to bed, we relaxed and relished in the feeling that is the first night of vacation.

Sunday was spectacular and we spent all day on the beach. Though Reed did hit Legendz to watch some football in the afternoon, and then Mark followed after taking the kids snorkeling at Governor's Reef, which was very close to us. This was Jake’s first time on a Caribbean island and he took to it like a fish to water.

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Lunch was leftovers from last night’s dinner since we didn’t want to drag ourselves off the sand for too long. And here is where the injury occurs. I was heating up fries on a baking sheet in the oven. Somehow when I took it out, the edge of the pan and my inner upper arm had an encounter. Holy burn. That was the painful and gross looking gift that kept on giving for 2 weeks. Thanks goodness for all the salt water.

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Back to the beach.

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After showering we enjoyed our second of seven glorious sunsets.

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Then it was off to Yoshi to pick up our sushi platter for dinner.

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After sufficiently stuffing ourselves, we listened to some tunes, had a little dance party, then our sun-kissed bodies fell into bed with the anticipation of another great day ahead.

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Monday was our trip to Stingray City with Captain Marvin’s.

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The water was blinding turquoise and the stingrays were playful and plentiful.

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Next up was snorkeling at Coral Gardens before a leisurely cruise back.

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Then more beach time before cleaning up for dinner.

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On tap for tonight was Macabuca, but once we arrived, we learned that they were not serving food that evening aside from all you can eat BBQ so we had a drink and enjoyed the sunset before moving on to Peppers.

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Delicious meal in a fun setting.

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Then a treat from Peach Wave (fro-yo)…think Sweet Frog, but better.

Then the boys ditched us for a bit to watch more football but we had wine, Uno, and condo karaoke.

Tuesday we enjoyed our coffee with a view, as we did every day, and the kids enjoyed their first smoothie from the little tropical food truck across from our complex

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The morning passed in a blur of sun, sand and sea. Skip ball, floating, sunning, reading, snorkeling, and coconut rum.

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Lunch was at Sunshine Grill. This was actually one of the best meals of the trip. The cocktails were fabulous, and the calamari Ellie declared to be the best of the week (tempura coated and tender with a delicious dipping sauce). The fish tacos were great too.

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After lunch we decided to try snorkeling at Cemetery Reef. We took the advice of a fellow snorkeler who had just come in, and swam out to where he said he saw the most sea life. That was a much longer swim than it appeared to be, and there a few snorkel mask issues. It was the dads and the kids. Had they seen more than just one colorful parrot fish, it would have made the 2 mile swim (as they called it) worth their while. After collapsing on the beach and resting for a bit, we walked back to the car past the cemetery and Mark quipped “the reason it’s right here is because so many people come back from snorkeling and drop dead’.

Tonight’s dinner was taco and margarita night at Coccoloba. But first, sunset.

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After the sun sank into the sea, we strolled down the beach to the Kimpton Seafire.

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We were seated toward the back of the open air restaurant, but it was still nice. The open face tacos were small, but fancy. We ordered many. The margaritas were also fancy, and unique.

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Wednesday was our island tour day. First stop was Starfish Point. Back in the day it was a secret treasure called Ivory Kai…hard to find, pristine, and deserted. Over the years it’s become just another tourist trap. It was great fun watching 75 people clamoring to hold a total of 3 starfish. Not. My guess is that after all the excursion boats leave, they scramble away as far as their tiny little feet will carry them. And the unlucky ones get carried back in with the tide.

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Side note: I don't like other people in my photos so it may look uncrowded, but that's carefully orchestrated.

Next up, Rum Point. It’s gotten even more crowded and touristy than it was, if that’s even possible. The water was not the crystal clear shallow pool I remember either. I didn’t even take a photo of the pretty pier because of the unsightly orange and black swim zone barrier which mars the view. We stayed for a drink and pondered our next move. Crystal Caves was on the list and definitely would have been the better choice vs how we had just spent our morning. We decided to skip it because everyone was getting hungry.

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We drove parallel to the sea, out to the far east end to check out Eagle Ray’s. What a great spot overlooking the water. We ordered drinks and watched the dive boats come in. The main reason I wanted to come here was to try the lionfish tacos. They did not disappoint.

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Blow Holes were next on the agenda but nothing was spewing, so we kept trucking along to Spott’s Beach. I was most excited for this because everything I read said that seeing turtles was almost guaranteed. But it was way too rough to snorkel unfortunately.

One last stop before heading home, Smith’s Cove. Crowded of course so after the kids jumped off the rock a few times we called it a day.

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We enjoyed a low key evening of watching the sunset, eating jerk chicken carryout from Chicken Chicken, listening to tunes, and playing Uno.

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We woke to another gorgeous day on Thanksgiving.

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After taking some Christmas-y photos of the kids, our paddleboard was delivered.

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Joel from Cayman Watersports is great. We got a brand new, high quality board which kept Jake busy all day. Ellie had wanted to parasail but the windy conditions made that a hard no.

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Lunch was at the Westin's pool bar/restaurant simply because it was an easy walk down the beach. The food was fine, nothing to write home about but the drinks were marginal and ridiculously expensive.

We enjoyed some more beach time...

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Then a sunset paddle before getting ready for dinner.

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We were becoming spoiled by all of the great sky painting.

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Dinner was at Morgan's. Great atmosphere, food and drinks. But super pricey. And the service was so fast…the exact opposite of island time…that our meal felt very rushed. The restaurant was not full so it’s not like they needed to turn over the table. Our waitress was very nice and extremely knowledgeable but also a bit pushy. Her recommendations were on point, though. We were out of there in under an hour and that was after stretching the meal out with coffee drinks and dessert. But everything was delicious and we enjoyed spending the holiday with some of our favorite people.

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Our post-dinner plan was to hit Camana Bay to see the lights and big Christmas tree. We managed to get lost in that mini city and never could find the tree so we aborted and went home. Comfy clothes were donned, wine was poured and we enjoyed a chill evening at the condo.

Friday was our last full day, and the end of vacation blues were setting in. We had to make the most of it. We walked around Georgetown, bought some souvenirs, then had lunch at Margaritaville.

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We wanted to snorkel Eden Rock, right in the harbor, but it was choppy due to the wind. And my mask kept fogging up. So we never made it out to the reef. But did see some fish close to shore. It was like swimming in an aquarium at this spot last time we visited. So it was a bit disappointing. Also disappointing was the floating water park. What an eyesore. The fate of Eden Rock and Devil’s Grotto is up in the air as there is a proposed new port plan. Currently, ships have to anchor and guests are brought over via tenders. The new plan would allow cruise ships to tie up on shore. And George Town will be even crazier than it is now.

Back to the beach to soak up some more sun. And get Ellie her coconut drink. By the time we wandered down to Calico Jacks (a cruise ship beach and bar), the stand had closed up shop but a nice man cracked one open anyway.

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Dinner was at Rackham’s in George Town. We had seen all of the fresh snapper at the beach market next door earlier in the day so that is what we had for dinner. So good. The tuna was excellent too.

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We decided to head out for an adult hour after we got the kids settled at the condo. That didn’t really work out. We went to Legendz just because it was close. I did have a yummy Aperol Spritz. But that atmosphere just doesn’t do it for us so we decided to walk across the street to the Westin for a coffee drink. Denied. Aside from Morgan’s, coffee drinks were not offered anywhere we went. So we did our best to down the last of the alcohol in the condo. Seven Mile Beach needs more beach bars!

We had afternoon flights so after packing up in the morning, we spent a last hour on the beach and drinking more coconut rum, gin, and beer before checking out.

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Lunch was at Lone Star. Surprisingly good. Then we dropped our friends at the airport since they had an earlier flight. Ellie got a Henna tattoo while we were killing time, then we started the long journey home.

While this was likely our last visit to Grand Cayman, the memories from this trip and those before it, will live on.

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Posted by Out_of_Office 14:35 Archived in Cayman Islands Comments (0)

One Particular Harbor

Boating Through The Abacos March 2 - 9 2019

It was January. It was cold and gray. So when our friends, who are part owners of a 62’ sportfish that is docked in the Bahamas, invited us to join them for a weeklong cruising adventure through the Abaco Islands in early March, we jumped at the chance. I live to travel at any time, but all the better when it means missing a week of winter at home. I could almost feel the warm sun on my face, and that was enough to get me through February.

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Many people hear the word Bahamas and immediately think of Nassau or Freeport. That is not the Bahamas we know and love. The Out Islands are an entity of their own and represent the true Bahamas in my opinion. We love the Exumas…blindingly bright ribbons of insanely clear water, unspoiled cays and lagoons, pristine sand bars, grottos teeming with fish, sharks you can swim with, and pigs you can frolic amongst. After three visits there, we were ready to see more of the Family Islands, as they are also known.

We got our first taste of the Abaco chain one year ago. We were itching to return and continue exploring. Each island has its own unique charm…from a wildlife lover’s dream, to a beach bar paradise, to a an idyllic settlement dotted with brightly colored cottages and a candy cane striped lighthouse. The Abacos have something for everyone.

We flew to Marsh Harbor, provisioned, got settled on the boat at Harbor View Marina then had a casual dinner at Snappas. It was early to bed for everyone since we had all gotten up at a god awful hour that morning. I fell asleep with visions of frozen Nippers dancing in my head.

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Since our stateroom was windowless, I set an alarm to make sure we didn’t waste any precious vacation hours slumbering for too long. It was unnecessary though...I was up by 7 AM most mornings and Mark was awake by 6.

Sunday Funday dawned clear and bright, and after a delicious breakfast onboard, we set off for Great Guana Cay.

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After docking at Orchid Bay Marina, we decided to take the little boat out to do some exploring since a strong cold front was expected to pass through in a few days. We were determined to make the most if the light (er) winds, warm temperatures, and sunny skies. Of course the wind had picked up and changed direction in just an hour’s time. The Sea of Abaco was choppy but not terrible.

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We headed North for Shell Island (Spoil Bank Cay) in 16’ foot Little Miss. This little cay only came into existence in the late 80s when a cruise channel was dredged. The sand, shells, and debris that were removed from the sea floor were dumped here, and it became known as Shell Island. We explored and ate lunch on the beach.

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Then we cruised around the North tip of Guana to check out the beachfront mansions of Baker’s Bay…the exclusive waterfront community of the rich and famous. The ocean was calmer than the Sea of Abaco on this day so we zipped along the coast to Scotland Cay Lagoon, where we whiled away a hour or two.

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This is one of my favorite spots in he Bahamas. Palm tree lined, deserted white beaches surround a super shallow, warm, clear, calm pool of water. Boaters must be vigilant about watching water depth and tides.

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Everyone was thirsty for a refreshing frozen cocktail so we tied Little Miss up by her mama in Orchid Bay and made the short walk to Nippers. But not before checking out our friends' adorable new turquoise beach home.

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The sun was high in the sky with not a cloud in sight. It was a perfect Nippers afternoon. We ordered up four frozen Nippers and took in the beautiful scenery on one side and the dancing debauchery on the other.

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We were planning to meet up with some local friends I only knew through Facebook, and they spotted me as soon as I walked in. After hugs and introductions, we headed to the upper deck where the music wasn’t quite so loud. And here is where my day one sunburn set in. Rum drinks and fun can easily make one forget to re-apply.

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We were made privy to the fact the Reese Witherspoon’s daughter, Ava Phillipe, was on the dance floor. So I became the paparazzi for a bit. Apparently we missed her dad, Ryan Phillipe, by only about 10 minutes..arghhh.

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After spending some time in the shade eating delicious fish fingers, Silja and I decided to get out on the dance floor ourselves. And for those who read about the mermaid saga from last year’s trip, Mark spotted his sea siren once again, sans her tail (though we did spot it trailing out of her backpack when we left). I won’t get into too much detail, but apparently she and her traveling show are regulars here every Spring.

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After we worked up a sweat, we all descended the wooden stairs to the beach to cool off in the ocean and continue the dance party on the beach. Then back up for one more Nipper, more dancing, and a dip in the pool.

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As the sun sinks, the crowds disperse. This is definitely a day drinking establishment. We collected our things and started the walk down the lane to Grabbers to catch the sunset and get a bite to eat. And of course a frozen Grabber.

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We made new friends, ordered pizza and danced some more. By 8 PM we were all toast and staggered back to the boat. What a great day.

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Monday we headed North to Manjack Cay to play with sea creatures and get some beach time in. On the way, we decided to do some trolling for Wahoo, but no luck unfortunately.

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After anchoring and getting Little Miss off of her perch on the bow of the boat, we putted in toward shore.

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A friendly sea turtle came up alongside the boat so we cut the motor, whipped out some squid and fed the graceful creature. I adore turtles, so watching him swim around so close to us in the clear water, made my week.

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After we had filled his belly and patted him goodbye, we continued on to the beach. What a beautiful little cove this was. Calm, protected, and filled with turtle grass on the interior and an expansive beautiful beach on the other side.

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We walked around and explored a bit, then headed over to see the sharks and stingrays which had been lured to the other end of the beach where boaters were petting and feeding them. And low and behold, who did we see? Ava Philippe on a boat with a bunch of friends listening to music. Not a one of them seemed to have any interest in the wildlife swimming around. I wondered if she would follow us to Green Turtle Cay later that afternoon. She did not.

A multitude a stingrays were gliding through the shallow water at the edge of the beach seeking out snacks and belly rubs. They loved to rub up against and between your legs like kittens of the sea. Not long after, the reef sharks decided to join. They swam around us and darted back and forth between the turtle grass and the shore line. They seemed friendly enough, but I didn’t test that theory by hand feeding them like I do with nurse sharks.

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It was now time for a picnic lunch of ham and provolone wraps, fruit, chips, and of course, beer and rum punch. We rarely ventured off the boat without a S’well bottle full of the fruity concotion.

After we lazed around for a bit we decided to take Little Miss over to the creek to look for baby turtles. After a lengthy debate as to whether it was too shallow, we ventured in and saw a number of small turtles swimming though the water. None surfaced for us though. We also came across an orange starfish and a sea biscuit.

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After securing Little Miss onto Southern Miss, we made the short journey to Green Turtle Club and Marina for the night. After docking and settling in, we just made it to the golf cart rental place in time to grab one for the evening to do some exploring. First up was a Tipsy Turtle cocktail at the Dollar Bar, then we did an island tour.

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GTC is a pretty, well-maintained island with a lot of history. We explored the settlement, had some fun in the old jail house and checked out the statue garden.

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Then it was time for a cocktail and some apps at Sundowner.

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Next up we hit the beach club area at Bluff House Resort and Marina right after sunset. What a beautiful spot, but sadly it was closed. I could have spent some time here.

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We chose to have dinner at Ballyhoo at Bluff House. Mistake. Service was bad, even for the islands, food was not great and even worse, left me literally feeding the fish as soon as we got back to the boat. Not a place I would return to, though the setting is nice.

We woke to the sunrise on Tuesday, made breakfast, turned in the golf cart, fueled up the boat, and headed South for No Name Cay.

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The wind had really whipped up so docking the big boat and trying to get the little boat down was challenging. But I was excited to meet the pigs of Abaco. It appears someone is starting to develop this small island with either a bar, hotel, or something along those lines. It’s a shame that some of these unspoiled cays can’t be left alone. Anything for a buck I guess. I can’t see it being good for the pigs though.

The major difference between these pigs and the swimming Exuma pigs is that these little guys (and big guys) are mainly land pigs and only go in the water to do their business.

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After feeding the piggies, we ventured around the tip of the island and found a beautiful, deserted stretch of beach on which to have a snack and a cocktail.

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Then it was on to Hope Town. Mark and I ventured to the very top tower for the cruise down. I loved watching the ribbons of different shades of blue as we sped along.

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And then into view came the iconic red and white striped light house that is the Hope Town beacon. As we entered the harbor, I was once again captivated by the picturesque anchorage and settlement.

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Our home for the next four nights was the Hopetown Inn and Marina. I adored it. From the boats bobbing along the perfectly maintained docks, to the pastel covered cottages on the hillside, to the beautiful pool, bar & restaurant at the water’s edge, to the tropical landscaping, this was perhaps the loveliest marina I’ve ever seen. We made a beeline for the pool and a pina colada.

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After soaking up the sun and listening to some island tunes that were perpetually playing, we decided to hit up the Reef Bar and check out the ocean. That cold front was nipping at our heels and we wanted to make the most of the beautiful day. Plus we had to pick up our golf cart.

After tying up Little Miss at the Town Dock, we made the very short walk across the island, through the Hope Town Harbor Lodge to the awesome Reef Bar which is located just a few steps from the beach. We each ordered a different specialty cocktail then wandered along the sand. Since the ocean was still calmer than the Sea of Abaco, the setting was perfection. Mark and Bob took a swim while Silja and I chatted and enjoyed the view.

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It was very hard to tear ourselves away and head back to the boat to clean up for dinner. Since this was one of the very few nights that we put on more than super casual attire, photos were of course in order.

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Back onto Little Miss for another cruise through the harbor. The clouds were rolling in and the wind was whipping up. We hopped on the cart and headed to Firefly. This was my favorite restaurant from our last trip so I was excited to go back. The original plan was to sit outside, but we opted not to because of the chill and the wind. Good choice too because not long after we ordered, the rains came and everyone who was outside was scrambling to find a table indoors.

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The food was fabulous. Thankfully the rain ended just as we left.

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We had a glass of wine back on the boat then hit the hay. Just another day in paradise.

Wednesday morning dawned chilly and windy but the air was clear and the clouds were not as dense as expected. Mark, Silja and I headed up to check out the Elbow Reef Lighthouse while Bob tinkered on the boat. If you're not in the know as to how to reach it by foot (even though you can see it plain as day), good luck finding it! Thankfully Silja was in the know.

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This candy cane striped beacon is the only manually operated candle-lit lighthouse left in the world. We wound up the spiral staircase to the small observation platform and took in the incredible view.

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Then we decided to try our luck on Little Miss and head down to Tahiti Beach. It was a bumpy ride but not terrible. When the sun was out, it was great, but when it tucked behind a cloud, brrrr. We found a protected spot on the sand in front of some palms and sea grapes.

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Sand bars give me life.

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When we got hungry, we hopped across the Sea of Abaco to Cracker P's for lunch. Docking on a blustery day is no fun. We chose a seat inside and ordered up some yummy smoked fish dip and a tuna steak sandwich. The food was solid but the cocktails were barely drinkable. Thankfully I had chosen a glass of wine. Silja's rum punch was hands down the worst version I have ever tried. It's a cute place with a nice view, and a resident dog (bonus points), but I was definitely underwhelmed. I really hope that someone brings the old Lubber's Landing (next door) back to its former glory. It's a shame to see it sitting vacant.

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Then we started back North with a stop at Sea Spray marina for a drink at Gaffers.

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Then a little late afternoon pool siesta before cleaning up for dinner.

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We bundled up in jeans and sweaters and set off to the settlement for dinner at Wine Down Sip Sip. Since this is a small, all indoor restaurant, it was packed. But we managed to get a table. This is a cozy wine bar type place with lots of homey touches. We enjoyed two bottles of red wine along with our flatbread and pasta dishes. Pizzas are the clear winners here. Pasta was just okay. Since we were seated at a large table and they were so busy, two other people were seated with us. A couple of women who we chatted it up with all evening. Come to find out the older woman was the Anderson Window heiress. Nice as can be (took a quite a liking to Bob) and had a modest but nice waterfront cottage on the harbor.

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The next day was a mix of sun and clouds again, a bit warmer but still windy. We planned to explore the settlement and check out the shops while the boys tried to catch some Snapper for dinner. This is seriously the most idyllic little town I have ever seen. Adorable, quaint cottages line the golf car-only lanes. And so many pretty flowers everywhere. We poked in and out of shops, and purchased some souvenirs to take home.

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Then we hopped on the golf cart and headed south. First stop was Firefly to check out their gift shop, then to On Da Beach to see if it was too windy for lunch. It was. But such a cute place with a great view. I'll be back.

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We stopped at a darling little roadside bakery for a snack then wound our way down to Tahiti Beach.

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The homes at the end of the island are gorgeous. Not to mention they have this beautiful sand bar in their backyard.

We enjoyed the beach...

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Then had some fun with the palm trees...

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We got the call that the the men were done, so we headed back to Firefly to meet for lunch. Sadly they caught nothing but a lot of barracuda. Still it's better to catch something than nothing.

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We got a table on the lower deck in the sun overlooking the water. It was perfection. Food again was great as were the cocktails. After enjoying a long lunch, the guys headed back via water and we took the cart.

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Silja and I decided to try to get up into the lighthouse to see the lighting of the flame. Prior to sunset, we headed over for a late afternoon view and to stalk the entrance to wait for the lighthouse keeper. Jeffrey, the 3rd generation keeper, obliged us.

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We climbed back up behind him and his assistant right up into the prism. This was an amazing experience and one of the highlights of the trip.

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The process is more involved than one might think. There are a series of procedures that must take place prior to the lighting, including cranking the weights and dropping the drapes. We had a wonderful conversation with Jeffrey and learned so much.

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After sunset, we headed across the harbor to Cap'n Jacks. A quintessential, casual seafood restaurant situated on a dock where the specialties are fried fish, conch fritters and cole slaw. The food was very good. But it would have been a more enjoyable meal had the wind not been whipping.

After dinner we decided a coffee drink and some dessert was in order so we carted down to Abaco Inn, the girls on the back bundled up in blankets. Very nice, upscale atmosphere. The Irish coffees hot the spot. Bob and been sampling key lime pie everywhere it was served and had yet to find a decent slice. This one was more of a meringue than traditional, and still not anything to write home about. If anyone knows where to find a slice of decent pie in Abaco, let me know! Actually had the guys caught dinner, the plan was to pick up a homemade pie from Vernon's. We still should have done that. Another thing for next time.

Friday was our last full day so after a little pool time we decided to head North to check out Fowl Cay and the tidal pool.

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But first we made a stop at Man O War Cay to enjoy the beach and eat lunch.

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When it was nearing low tide, we cruised off toward Fowl Cay, all the while watching the clouds overtake the sky. It just isn't the same without the sun shining, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

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Someone had made a shrine to the Haitian boat that sank in February. Shoes, personal items, and wreckage debris had been washing up on shore. Such a sad sight.

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As we made our way back to Hope Town, the skies cleared up so we made a beeline for the Reef Bar.

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This is one of my favorite spots to have toes in the sand, a$$ on a bar stool, and cocktail in hand.

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One final time to hoist Little Miss back onto Southern Miss (Mark was thankful for this because he was sore from all the up and down).

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Dinner tonight was once again at Firefly. Can't beat the food and views.

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Saturday we woke to warm weather and clear skies (of course). After one last breakfast, we bid farewell to Elbow Cay and headed back to Marsh Harbor to tie up, clean up and clear out.

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Since we had time before our afternoon flight, we decided to use the small marina pool since it was such a nice day. Apparently everyone else with flights that day had the same idea.

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Lunch was at Snappa's where we enjoyed one final fresh fish sandwich and tropical libation.

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The rest of the day was a boring chain of events...taxi, airport, flight, airport, airport dinner, flight, and long drive home. But I had my memories and hundreds of photos to keep me warm and occupied.

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I will take the slow, friendly, laid back lifestyle of the Out Islands over crowded, crime-ridden, cruise ship passenger playgrounds any day of the week. Once you go Out, you won’t come back In. Now to decide which sleepy island to set my sights on next…

Posted by Out_of_Office 15:10 Comments (2)

Conched Out, Caicos Style

Providenciales, Turks & Caicos

83 °F

BEACH: Best Escape Anyone Can Have. And what better place to flee the cold than TCI. Providenciales is one of Caicos islands in the Turks & Caicos archipelago. It’s an easy island to get to and get around, and is home to the famous sands of Grace Bay Beach.

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And we are lucky enough to have friends who own a lovely home on Provo, which is where we stayed. We snagged a 4 night opening at Barefoot Palms just after our December 6 anniversary and invited our good friends to join us.

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We flew from BWI to PLS with a quick stop in FLL.

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This customs experience was hands down the easiest and quickest we have ever encountered. Soon we were loaded into our crappy rental car…a Toyota Belta. This was, without a doubt, the worst vehicle we have ever rented. But it got us around and that is all that mattered. First order of business was to make a one-stop-shop at the large and well stocked Graceway IGA. Wine, beer, liquor, beverages, breakfast foods, and snacks. We and our luggage barely fit. Where did we think bags of groceries, a case of water, and a case of beer were going to go? As the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

We arrived at the villa, nestled in the quiet community of Leeward, and quickly unloaded. It was too late to hit the beach, so we made a cheese tray, poured a drink and enjoyed the tropical backyard and Tiki bar, and started to unwind.

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Before freshening up for dinner, we checked out Pelican Beach, a couple of blocks from the villa, just after sunset.

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We decided on a casual dinner tonight so after everyone freshened up, we set off to The Landing, a cool looking place with a sailboat for a bar and sand for a floor (though not on the beach). But the vibe was not what we were looking for so we decided to stay for a drink and move on to Jack’s Fountain, which would turn out to be a favorite. Maybe they were perturbed that we would not be dining with them or maybe they didn’t like the looks of us, but we were relegated to the table closest to the street and furthest away from everything. And were asked every two minutes why we didn’t want to eat. Had it been a romantic dinner for two, this place would have fit the bill, but we were ready to laugh and kick back, and this definitely was not the atmosphere for that. It’s a shame too because the menu looked good.

We found exactly what we were looking for at Jack’s. Festive and lively with a fun island vibe, this place was great. I honestly can’t even recall everything we had, but I know it consisted in part of fresh guacamole, conch, and tuna. And an unusual key lime pie. They also have great shirts here.

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At home, we listened to some tunes and the chirping smoke alarm high in the vaulted ceiling, and had some wine. I let Ramona know that if we had access to a ladder, we could change the battery, but the ladder was locked up. So she got the security company out there at 10:00 PM on a Saturday night to fix the problem. Now that’s service. Then as soon as our heads hit the soft pillows on the super comfy beds, we were out.

The next morning dawned bright and clear.

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We enjoyed our coffee by the pool, and fed the cats that had appeared.

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A brief weather disturbance passed by then we were off to while away the morning on the beach in front of Hemingway's.

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Then a delightful lunch of cracked conch, fish tacos, mojitos and Turk’s Head beer just a few steps off the beach.

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Since it was Sunday, the boys wanted to watch football so we dropped them off at Danny Buoys, and Allison and I hit the shops of Salt Mills, all of which were closed except for Wellingtons. Where we purchased matching necklaces.

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We decided to check out the Deck at Seven Stars for a drink. Then back to Danny’s to join the fellows. They had befriended a local named Burl (spelled Beryl but pronounced like Mr. Ives) who looked like Santa (and who ate their nachos) and a wonderful 11 year old boy named Kendall. He actually opted to sit with us at our table instead of with his friends. Don’t worry, his mom was there and approved.

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The plan was to get carryout sushi and eat dinner at home. But it was closed. So we had to figure out a place to go. SharkBite in Turtle Cove it was. It was dead as were most places. The week before high season is nice and quiet. The wings, firecracker cracked conch, and grouper sandwiches were very good. And we made our own karaoke night.

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Monday was another beautiful day in paradise.

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After a lazy morning at the villa we headed to Pelican beach and set up camp between the sea grapes and the water. We listed to some tunes, watched the waves, floated in the sea, searched for shells and enjoyed tropical libations. It was perfect.

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Well, except the part where Reed decided to hurl a conch shell through the air (they don't follow the same arc as a football but rather take a curve while airborne) which missed my head by mere inches. That would have put a damper on the trip. But all's well that ends well.

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When our stomachs started rumbling, we headed back to unload and freshen up before moving on to Da Conch Shack for a late lunch.

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We had delicious wings in a variety of island sauces, and of course lots of conch. All washed down with a pitcher of The Perfect Storm (aka Dark & Stormy). We played with the Potcakes on the beach, purchased a conch serving dish, then were on our way.

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Next stop: Turk’s Head Brewery. This is an unexpected oasis amidst an industrial compound. A bright, bustling place with a bar, fun signs, lots of merchandise to buy, and a walkway out over the brewery. I don’t drink beer, so I was perfectly content to sip on some water while we were there. But Allison is always looking out for me and produced a delightful sparkling vodka cranberry in a can. We chatted it up with other patrons, the bartender/owner, and Mark made yet another young island friend. And of course they sampled the beer tasting flight. This is a great way to spend an hour or two. We picked up a cool sign for our Tiki Bar too.

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Since we were denied sushi the night before, we stopped by Yoshi on our way back to pick up some carry out. Sun, fun, rum, and beer wore Mark out so he took a little cap nap on a bar stool while we waited for our food. The ladies in the restaurant got a giggle out of that.

We went home, turned on the tunes (we did not have cable all week due to an outage, but that’s island life for you. Besides, who wants to watch TV in paradise), and enjoyed our sushi. It was good but not as good as on a previous visit. Then we played a card game and had some laughs before calling it a night.

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Nothing is better for the soul than waking up to the sound of palm trees rustling in the breeze, and sunlight streaming in on your face. After a cup of morning liquid sunshine and a bagel, we donned our swimsuits and set out for Grace Bay. This time we chose the stretch between Club Med and Ocean Club. Relax, rinse, sip, repeat.

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We also took a stroll down to the point. I love points of white sand fringed by turquoise water, and flanked by coconut trees. My absolute favorite is Shoal Bay East in Anguilla. But this was very picturesque and had shells for the taking.

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As we settled back into our beach chairs, we watched a steady stream of Club Med snorkelers parade down the dock with bright yellow life preservers draped around their necks. If I thought we packed a lot into our little car, it was nothing compared to amount of bodies and gear they stuffed onto this excursion boat. No thank you. Not that I have anything against excursions, in fact I love them. The right ones. We almost did a tour with Island Vibes…cooler boat, way fewer people and a more fun itinerary. But since this trip was short and we were flying by the seat of our pants as far as a schedule (this is very unlike me), we opted against it.

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For lunch we chose Bay Bistro. This is a lovely setting overlooking the beach. We were the only ones there. The food was good but the service was less than inviting.

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Then it was back to the house to chill by the pool and catch up on emails until it was time to get ready for dinner.

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But first a little beachcombing...

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This was our most anticipated meal of the week. Coco Bistro. What could be better than dining in a coconut palm grove.

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And it did not disappoint. Well the only thing that was slightly disappointing is that were not seated in the main palm grove, but rather a deck off to the side. Still lovely and surrounded by swaying palms but not quite the same. I would have asked to move but the boys were happy and the restaurant was packed.

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The food was outstanding. As was my martini and wine. And the boys’ coffee drinks. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many they each drank. We started with a salmon tartare appetizer (we are still kicking ourselves for not also ordering the tune poke). Mark and I both enjoyed the grilled lobster, Allison had the blackened Mahi and Reed chose the tuna. This ranks up there with my favorite Caribbean restaurants...Jacala and Veya on Anguilla, and Extra Virgin on St. John.

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Stuffed and happy we piled into the Belta and set out for a nightcap at our favorite watering hole, Jack’s.

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We sat at the bar this time and chatted with fellow patrons and the staff. We had the best time sharing stories and drinks with the charming owner long after the bar closed. He shared his homemade limocello out of a mason jar and let us sample the finest tequila that has ever crossed our lips.

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The last night of vacation is always so sad.

The next day dawned cloudy and drizzly so we took our time packing since we were robbed of one final morning on the beach. We took one last spin around the circle at the “intersection” by the house. Never could we just leave or return without going around multiple times while shouting “Look kids, Big Ben, Parliament.”

We did some shopping and stopped by Potcake Place then moved on to Mango Reef for lunch.

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The last time I went to this restaurant it was located at Royal West Indies. It's much prettier at night so with all the lights so if you have a choice between lunch and dinner, I'd opt for dinner. But the food was very good and our server was sweet. The unexpected star of this meal was the pizza. It was awesome. Mango and conch are great toppings. And because we like to go out with a bang, Mark’s last cocktail was a LIIT (8 different liquors in a glass with some ice). Provo’s version of a Long island Iced Tea I guess!

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The airport process was again very smooth. We hit a snag in Ft. Lauderdale though. Since we used Mobile Pass to clear customs, we didn’t need to show our passports until the very end when we got to main area of the airport. Mark’s was missing. We dumped out all our bags to no avail. There would be no entry into the U.S. for him unless it was found. A bit of panic started to set in. Surely this has happened before and there must be some protocol. But before we had to start that process, we asked if the plane could be searched. We thanked sweet baby Jesus that it was there. It must have fallen out of my bag or out of his pocket. Crisis averted. And thank goodness we had a long layover.

We killed some time and had dinner at Margaritaville before dragging our tired bodies onto the plane for the final leg home. Mark’s beer at the airport would be his last for almost a week as he caught some sort of awful cold on the plane and was down and out for a while. Cheers to another successful friend-versary vacation in the books.

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Posted by Out_of_Office 11:28 Archived in Turks/Caicos Islands Comments (3)

Na'vi, Heat & Hurting Feet

Disney World & Universal Studios

Who: Mom, Dad & two 13 year olds
When: August 26 - 31, 2018
Where: Animal Kingdom Lodge & Loew’s Royal Pacific Resort

We are a tropical beach vacation family all the way, but every now and then we like to mix it up. With our daughter in middle school, taking her out for a week has become a thing of the past. So I figured that by late August many kids would already be back in school and crowds would be lower. The heat we can handle. Maryland summers can rival Florida in August. But the daily storms were another story. They were either an annoyance or ruined our afternoon plans. But overall we had a great and memorable trip.

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We started out dark & early on Sunday morning to make the hour plus drive to Reagan National airport. After a couple wrong turns due to construction closures, a wallet left in the car, a backpack left on the shuttle bus, and a crushed toe due to a flight attendant dropping a heavy object on it, we managed to make it to MCO…ready for the magic to begin.

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While waiting in line for the Magical Express, our daughter’s friend, who we nicknamed Calamity Chloe, let her suitcase tip over and it landed on a child in a stroller behind us. Loud wailing ensued. Thank god she appeared to be okay, but we never did see her walk. We profusely apologized and boarded our bus. Phew.

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Our motto, and many of the sayings we repeated over and over were borrowed from the hilarious John Crist YouTube video about taking kids to Disney World. If you haven’t watched it…go. "We made it to the happiest place on Earth. It's 9 a.m., and I've gotta schedule every minute of our day until 9 p.m. Pay attention and stay close."

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It was off to Animal Kingdom Lodge. We have previously stayed at Pop Century, All Star Music & Port Orleans French Quarter. We loved AKL. From the awesome soaring lobby to the incredible theming.

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I had booked a standard room with a parking lot view but as we searched out our room, we noticed the odd numbers were all on the side facing the Savanna. Could it be?? It was! While not directly facing the main Savanna, we had a great view of the back Savanna where it meets the main one. So we were treated to two different habitats. And pretty sure we saw more animals than many did. Giraffes, Zebras, Wildebeests, Naylu, and many other species were always in view. My husband’s favorite activity was sipping his morning coffee as the sun rose, with a wildlife field identification guide close by. For anyone wondering whether or not to spend the extra money for a Savanna room...do it. It’s well worth it and was the highlight of our stay.

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Once we dumped our luggage, it was off to the Mara for a quick, early lunch before heading over to Epcot. Only a few of our fast passes for the four days were useful. Either the line wasn’t long to begin with, or the ride was broken down and we had to return later with everyone else who was denied.

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Our first ride was Nemo, then Spaceship Earth, and Test Track, which was a lot of fun. But too short, as were most of the rides. Then the new Soarin’ Around the World. This is one of my favorites. Just breathtaking.

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Since it was a million degrees, we scooted over to Club Cool to sample sodas from around the world. Then we rode the intense version of Mission Space. This makes me want to puke. But I never do since I close my eyes when I start feeling nauseous.

Poor Chloe noticed new cracks on her already busted phone and started to fret. But that frown turned upside down when she spotted the iridescent mouse ears she had been looking for. Cue their favorite line from the YouTube video… “$45 for bedazzled mouse ears?? You want these, baby, or you want to go to college?”

We headed to World Showcase hoping the line for Frozen Ever After wasn’t as ridiculous as the app showed, but it was. So we rode The Three Caballeros in the Mexico pavilion…a cute, original ride. Since we didn’t have time to wander through all of the countries, we walked back to Future World so I could ride Figment. A silly ride but nostalgic for me. No one else appreciated it. Memories people…that is what Disney is all about.

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Just as we got back to the room, it began to rain, so the timing was perfect. We all took turns rinsing our sweaty bodies, then Mark and I left for Kidani Village and our reservation at Sanaa. The girls got take out from the Mara and ate in bed.

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Sanaa was just fabulous. Everything they say about AKL restaurants being superior is true. We had a wonderful and knowledgeable waiter whose recommendations were spot on. The Indian style bread service with nine accompaniments was fantastic. Several varieties of puffy, flavorful Naan breads with a large assortment of dipping sauces. Mixing them to create new flavors was the best part. Try Coriander and Tamarind together. You can thank me later. Even though we were stuffed after all that Naan, we tried the African meat sampler…sausage, pork & lamb. Again, top notch. Sadly we did not save room for dessert but rather savored the rest of our red wine before walking back to Jambo House and calling it a night.

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Monday was Animal Kingdom Day...with morning extra magic hours. The anticipation for Flight of Passage was high so we tried to get there for rope drop, along with thousands of our closest friends. Fast Passes were impossible to get for this ride. But we were determined to ride no matter what. At that time of morning, the queue wound through Pandora, and while it was a very long line, it never stopped moving. We waited just under 1.5 hours but it seemed much quicker.

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What can I say about Flight of Passage except that it lived up to the hype. Phenomenal “ride” which Ellie said she would wait in line 10 hours for. It’s like you are transported to another world with all of the sights, sounds, smells, and realism of another realm. Simply incredible. And very exhilarating. Then the girls got a Night Blossom frozen drink with lime, apple, and pear swirls topped off with passion fruit boba balls. On our way over to Expedition Everest, we stopped for It’s Tough to be a Bug. Always a cute show. Everest was fun, but at this age, the girls wanted more thrills. The plan was to go back and ride at night. Next up was lunch at Yak & Yeti. We have eaten there before and it's always a solid choice. Mark lugged around a back pack with rain gear, mouse ears, and water bottles etc. Thank goodness he did. With as hot as it was and with as much water as we went through, we would have gone broke buying small $4 bottles.

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Ellie was dying to head back to Pandora to ride FOP again. This time we went through a different queue. More inside, and past the Avatar in the chamber. Total time to wait and ride…1.5 hours. It was just as amazing as the first time. And watching the look of pure joy on Ellie’s face as she rode was priceless. Note ~ All Pandora photos were taken outside of the ride. No way to take pictures as you are riding on the back of your banshee.

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Even though it was “too early to get wet”, since we were all hotter than a jalapeno’s armpit, we decided to wait the “35” minutes for Kali River Rapids since our fast past wasn’t until later. 35 minutes my a$$. It had broken down earlier in the day so all the people with fast passes from the morning were given priority. 50 of them to 2 of us. It was ridiculous. Then they kept having to stop the ride for various reasons..one of which was some idiot decided to open an umbrella while riding in order to avoid getting wet. Once we finally made it on, we were stuck again for some unknown reason. Finally we get moving and of course get soaked. I was literally wringing out my denim shorts for hours afterward. But before we could get off, we came to a halt two rafts away from the dock. In the baking sun. Normally I love to bake in the sun…if I have a swimsuit on, cocktail in hand, and can jump in the pool. This was torture. On top of that, the cast member barking at us was the least friendly WDW worker I have ever encountered.

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Next up was the Na’vi River Journey ride. I did have a FP for this. It is a slow, cool, dark boat ride though Pandora. Very pleasant and beautiful, but also underwhelming after FOP. Also very hard to get good photos.

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Then the storms started. And outdoor rides were shutting down. We decided it was a good time to head back to the hotel since we were coming back later. And since we were already soaked from the rapids ride, no one bothered with ponchos. And it was raining hard. We looked like drowned rats once we got to the bus shelter.

After we watched the animals from our balcony, dried off and freshened up, it was back to AK.

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Dinner was at Satu’li Canteen. Great quick service restaurant. The rare sliced beef bowls hit the spot. And the cheeseburger pods were a fun twist on a boring burger. And we had to try a traditional Na’vi dessert…Blueberry cream cheese mousse.

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We all rode the Primeval Whirl while the sky was spitting some light rain…what a rough a bumpy ride that is. Then we made our way to Asia as a rainbow appeared and the the sun was setting. Animal Kingdom is a very pretty park. We got on Everest just after dusk...the views are great and the ride is scarier in semi-darkness.

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Ellie begged us to ride Flight of Passage one more time. This makes three times in one day. We admired the lights in Pandora as we walked to get in line.

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The wait was up to 2.5 hours but we had nothing better to do since the park was closing. So we got in line. We only ended up waiting 30 minutes. Score! Ellie had tears in her eyes as we departed the ride for the final time. And Chloe had tears of despair in her eyes as she exited the restroom where she informed us that she had dropped her phone in the toilet, and in an effort to save it, sucked the water out with her mouth. Public toilet water. Good lawd. We decided to withhold this tidbit of info from her mother/my friend who we talked with and facetimed on a daily basis until 24 hours had passed and we were certain she hadn’t contracted some terrible illness.

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Everyone fell into bed and crashed hard while visions of Toy Story Land danced in our heads.

On Tuesday, were up before the sun as we were every morning. We had a schedule to keep.

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This day was hotter than yesterday if that’s possible. The sky was blue, the sun was blazing, and after a photo op, we were standing in a long, hot line to ride Slinky Dog Dash. To be fair, the line moved pretty quickly. Disney is definitely getting better with making queues more enjoyable and quicker moving. This was a fun, yet tame, smooth new coaster. But this as well as the rest of TS Land is definitely geared toward younger kids. After shooting at aliens in Toy Story Mania we all said in unison “you know what I want to ride? A park bench in the shade” and so we did. Then it was on to Tower of Tower, which the app indicated had a relatively short wait time.

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We tried to use our fast pass for Aerosmith’s Rockin Roller Coaster, which was shut down. Back to the other side of the park to ride Alien Swirling Saucers. This was our least favorite ride. The Teacups far surpass this snoozer. Then we walked right on to Star Tours. Then had our one and only character encounter…Goofy.

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Next up, lunch…burgers and Mickey pretzels. Mark was so thankful that beer could be found with relative ease. The girls were dying for a good coaster ride so we stood in the ridiculously long fast pass lane for Aerosmith...the line looked worse than it was.

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We wanted to do ToT again but the sky looked very threatening so we opted to watch the Indiana Jones Stunt show. Another nostalgic crowd pleaser. As soon as were seated in the open air auditorium, the heavens let loose. Torrential rain, booming thunder, and cracks of lightning so loud that it shook our seats. Of course the show was cancelled. So we waited for about a half hour for the storm to let up. It only did by a little, and we had to get back to the hotel, so we made a run for it. Our dollar store ponchos served their purpose.

Once back in our room, we let the girls take over the bathroom to shower and primp, and we enjoyed a drink on the balcony while watching the animals graze, roam, and nuzzle. Tonight we had reservations for the Boathouse in Disney Springs. This was a great meal, in a relaxing setting overlooking the water. And we had another stellar server. And Calamity Chloe entertained us by knocking her drink all over the table.

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After dinner we wandered around and poked in and out of shops. I found an adorable Orange Bird shirt that I had to have. He was my absolute favorite as a kid when we visited Magic Kingdom in the 70s. Anyone else remember sipping juice from the cute little cups shaped like an orange? I need to get my hands on one of those too.

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We fell into bed at midnight which had become our pattern for the whole trip. Asleep after midnight and up by 6 am after averaging 11 – 13 miles of walking each day.

Wednesday was Magic Kingdom day. But not before admiring the sunrise over the savanna.

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First up, the obligatory entrance and castle photos...

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Then we made our way to Tomorrowland Speedway. The speed of these cars seem to get slower each year we visit. Then we rode the tea cups where the girls main goal was to spin as fast as possible while I tried not to toss my cookies. Then we took another trip down memory lane on It’s a Small World. Then Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Aladdin’s Magic Carpet ride.

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In an effort to amuse themselves, embarrass us, and entertain those in line around us, the girls beat up on each other and made inappropriate comments…all week. If anyone reading was witness to this, I apologize.

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We needed a break, and a refreshment. The delicious, cold Dole Whip hit the spot. Then we met up my a former co-worker of mine who is now a cast member on Main Street. We were melting again so it was time to get wet on Splash Mountain (this was our best fast pass use). Ellie kept saying the bottom of her heels felt like stumps from all the miles we covered. “Hurry up, pretend your feet aren’t sore, this is Disney, use your imagination.” We barely made it before a storm shut down the ride so we decided it was a good time for lunch. “No you cannot have Goofy shaped nuggets, sit down, your mother brought ham sandwiches.” That is totally something I would do but alas we ate at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Tavern. I was quite impressed with their Mexican rice bowls.

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Space Mountain…an original ride from my childhood that still gives me a thrill. And the Jungle Cruise. Always fun and entertaining. We had attempted the Astro Orbiter but lightning in the vicinity nixed that twice so decided it wasn’t meant to be. And Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was closed during our fast pass hour as well. We made our way back to Main Street so the girls could get their matching crown rings from Pandora.

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Mad dash to shower and change before heading back out to the Polynesian Resort and our reservation at Kona Café. This was one of my favorite meals last trip but I found it to be just average this time. And the Kona Cone Ellie had been anticipating had changed and no longer had that wow factor.

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The restaurant was running behind that night so we had to eat and run to the monorail in order to make it to the Kingdom for Happily Ever After. Holy Crowds. But it was a lovely display. Then we tried to untangle ourselves from the masses so we could enjoy a few rides before closing. Much to our chagrin we found that the our re-issued fast pass for 7DMT wasn’t valid during extra magic hours. Ugh! So we went back to Space Mountain then decided to suck it up and wait in line for the Mine Train. Another new, fun, smooth coaster with great views of MK. On par with Slinky Dog Dash as far as the thrill factor. We were struggling at this point as it was almost 11 but the girls did Space Mountain one last time before we dragged our weary bodies back to the bus.

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One last sleep at AKL before departing bright and early for Universal in the morning. We slept like babies.

We called an Uber and 20 minutes later pulled into the Loew’s Royal Pacific Resort. Totally different vibe from AKL but we loved it as well. It reminded me of a newer, brighter version of Disney’s Polynesian Hotel. Shout out to my friend Kelly for the recommendation. After stowing our luggage, receiving our welcome leis, and taking photos in front of the frolicking elephants in the courtyard pool, we ate a quick breakfast in the open air lobby eatery, then followed the sidewalk along the canal for the short stroll to City Walk.

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Since we were on day five of non-stop go-go-go, we did not want to attempt to do both Universal parks in one day so we made the final decision that morning to make Universal Studios our park for the day. Based partly on the fact that most rides were inside and well…you know our luck with storms and ride closures. We will be back to check out Islands of Adventure though.

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Of course as soon as we arrived and I went to pay for our tickets, I realized my wallet was not in my bag. I knew rationally that it had to be in my tote which I left with the bell hop, but I am a worrier and if I didn’t know that it (and all my cash, credit card, and license) was safe, I would not be able to enjoy the day. So Mark and his sidekicks proceeded into the park while I power-walked back to the hotel. Of course I somehow managed to make a wrong turn and ended up by the highway vs the canal with no way to cross over except just do it. And of course the wallet was safe and sound so I tucked it into my crossbody and made my way to the dock to take the boat back to the parks. I wasn’t up for that hot walk a third time in a half hour.

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By the time I re-joined the crew, they had only managed to do the Shrek 4D show. They didn’t realize our room key doubled as an express pass and that they could have walked right on. I much prefer Universal’s “fast pass” system as it allows you priority access to ALL attractions, unlimited times. And it’s a no-brainer to stay at one of the resorts on property because you get express passes for everyone for free. They sell for $100 per person if you do not stay in the park. It essentially pays for your room.

We immediately headed to Rip Ride RockIt, the biggest coaster in the park. And we basically walked right on with our express pass, as we did almost every ride. The ascent to the first drop puts you flat on your back as you climb to the top. And these newfangled coasters have cameras at each seat so it takes a video of you for the duration of the ride. Priceless. Everyone loved this ride though the drop isn’t as steep as you might think. Must try the Hulk next time!

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Next up was Jimmy Fallon’s Race Through New York. This was another favorite ride…a 3D simulator (as were most of the rides in this park). This had an awesome queue as well. First watch a cappella singers, then videos of the Jimmy Fallon show, then he “talks” to you “personally” before finally boarding the ride.

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The Revenge of Mummy was cool…I love that when you see fire, you feel heat. But it was too short!! These designers are going for quantity of people who can ride in a given time vs quality of the experience, in my opinion. Stupidest ride of the day was Fast & Furious. Minions was cute. Harry Potter World was amazing as far as theming but the ride broke down multiple times so we didn’t get the full effect.

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Lunch was at Mel’s Diner...a very cool 50s diner themed with American Graffiti. Food choices were limited and overpriced but we had gotten used to that. After lunch we walked over to ride E.T. Just as we were getting on the ride, Chloe realized she had left her retainer on the table wadded up in a napkin. I was so looking forward to this ride but it was marred by the stress of her mother killing her if she lost that retainer. And let’s face it, chances were that it was tossed, along with the rest of our trash. I had visions of us spending our afternoon digging through bags of garbage. We hightailed it back to diner and low and behold that napkin, which she had pushed to edge of the table next to the wall, was still there. Thank god we chose a booth in the way back where it wasn’t as busy. Crisis averted.

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Now it was time for Simpsons Land. This was great. A re-creation of Springfield. The ride was pretty awesome. Again, sights, sounds, smells and thrills thrust you into another dimension. Since Men in Black was right next to it, we decided to ride. This was okay. Not my favorite but better than F&F. Then Transformers. Not my cup of tea but a good ride I guess. Reminded me of Mission Space! The girls were dying to get back on the Rip Ride RockIt so we did that one more time before heading out. Another cool feature is that you get to pick which music you want played during your ride.

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We hopped a boat back to the Loew’s and took much needed showers before heading back to City Walk for dinner at CowFish, the sushi/burger joint. They had some fun cocktails and the calamari and tuna nachos were great. They also had some fun and unique sushi offerings. Unfortunately we couldn’t linger since we wanted to get back to the park.

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The girls rode the RockIt again then we went back for a re-do of Escape from Gringotts. I have never seen the movie. Blasphemy I know. But it was a neat ride which unfortunately took longer than expected, We had wanted to ride The Simpsons one last time but time was very tight. We sprinted from HP to Simpsons land and missed the cut off by ONE minute. No amount of pleading got us on. We dejectedly walked back to HP to claim our stuff from the locker. This is another Universal feature that I love. Free lockers for big rides so you don’t have to worry about your bag, sunglasses etc while riding. Just must remember the locker number!

As we meandered out of the park we stopped to watch the fireworks display, which was really nice. The girls were dying to get a hair wrap so we settled in for that. Thankfully Mark fetched us margaritas from Margaritaville to sip while we sat to people watch and wait for the hair wraps.

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I really like City Walk (much like Disney Springs but more compact) and the whole Universal Complex. Everything is close to everything…easy walk or boat ride. My next trip will look something like this…stay at Loews, visit both Universal Parks plus Volcano Bay. The only thing I didn’t like about VB was that it sits right on the highway. I think I got splashed in the Uber as we rode by. Disney water parks are pretty awesome though so that could be a contender. Especially if we go back to Animal Kingdom for Avatar.

We hit the hay after midnight but were so excited not to have to wake at the crack. We had a 6 PM flight so tomorrow we would sleep in then enjoy a relaxing day at the pool. We clocked an impressive 13 plus miles today. I claim 14 since I had that extra trek back to the hotel.

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I woke at 7 but had slept like a rock (maybe I need to start exercising at home so I can sleep better), and was sad not to see our wildlife family outside the window. I had sent Mark to claim chairs by the pool then we met for breakfast as the girls were rising. They had their own private breakfast as we grabbed another cup of coffee to sip poolside.

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We had a nice day and ate lunch in our lounge chairs. Tip...order the $15 nachos. It was enough to feed all of us. Of course Mark had already ordered the tacos which were also huge. The pool bar food at this resort gets my vote for best bang for the buck. Drinks on the other hand were way overpriced. Lest you think Calamity Chloe has been forgotten…she managed to crack her retainer on this day...the one that was saved from garbage disposal doom. But I still loved her.

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We showered in the gym locker room…so nice...with every toiletry you could need. We also found the zen-like whirlpool room. We are not hotel people, we rent villas or condos when on vacation so I was not even aware that this existed. Note to self for next time.

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Bags are collected, Uber is called, and we are waiting at the curb. And Chloe realizes she doesn't have her retainer. She lost it somewhere between the pool, locker room, and lobby. She races back to look. The Uber arrives. We wait. We cannot miss our flight. She finally appears…sweaty and without the retainer.

I need a vacation.

Posted by Out_of_Office 12:31 Archived in USA Tagged lake world lodge animal studios disney orlando pacific royal kingdom universal vista buena kissimmee lowe's Comments (1)

A Mermaid Hooked My Husband

Our First Abaco Adventure

Years ago I started following an awesome travel blogger. Her side-splitting wit and gorgeous photos drew me to her a like fruit fly to an overripe mango. We eventually started emailing, then we met up when they visited our neck of the woods, and finally we planned a trip together.

On a Friday morning in April, we met Vicki and Matt in Florida, hopped into their 6 seater Seneca and took off across the pond to paradise. Our jobs were insanely stressful at this time so a beach break was desperately needed.

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1.5 hours later we touched down on Treasure Cay airstrip. Matt had to do some work on their boat before we could take it over to Guana so Vicki, Mark and I (and their 2 little dogs) headed over to Treasure Sands Beach Club for some lunch and pool time. Very nice, and very swanky for the out islands. We enjoyed a lobster BLT, spicy chicken sandwich and tomato and feta salad. And of course some colorful cocktails.
We walked down to their beautiful beach but it was very windy so we settled into a cushy lounger with a glass of prosecco.

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Then it was time to meet Matt at the marina. So we waited at the taxi stand...

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Treasure Cay Marina

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And soon we were treated a violent crossing of the Sea of Abaco. We were bounced around and sprayed with chilly seawater for what seemed like forever. Before docking we cruised by exclusive Baker’s Bay...land of vacation homes for the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Tom & Giselle, Michael Jordan, Elle MacPherson, and JLo. We hopped into a golf cart and made our way to the settlement of Guana Cay. Matt and Vicki to Bikini Hut and us right around the corner to Beach Walk cottage.

We settled in, freshened up and made the short stroll to Grabbers for sunset. And I got to try my first frozen Grabber. Ahhhh.

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Dinner was at tiny Kidd’s Cove which was literally 6 steps from Bikini Hut. And it was pretty great. Conch fritters were outstanding. The lobsters were small but tasty. And Mark had a massive steak. All served on baking trays. But take my advice if you go here...avoid the mixed drinks!

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Since we had been up since 2:30 AM to catch our flight from DC, we called it a night.

We woke to the sound of a rooster crowing and to a beautiful day.

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The wind had died down some but not enough to make it all the way to Pete’s Pub so we worked our way as far South as we could.

First order of business was a morning boat drink....bloodys for the boys and limoncello mimosas for the girls.

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We stopped at the beach at Man O' War Cay to play in the water and relax in the sun.

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When our tummies got rumbly we cruised down to Firefly restaurant on Elbow Cay. I loved this place! We all ordered Firefly vodka drinks except for Matt who preferred the creamy Peter Whacker cocktail. Lunch consisted of juicy burgers and blackened hogfish sandwiches.

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Full and content, we climbed aboard Painkiller and made our way to Tahiti Beach. This was a place I was very excited to visit, and it was very cool, but I found that I liked other spots we visited better. We walked along the beach and sat in the shallow water with Vicki's homemade rum punch. It was a delightful way to spend an hour.

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Final stop of the day was Hopetown. This should have been an easy docking but my husband accidentally tangled the perfectly coiled lines so we had to idle and circle around by the dock for what seemed like forever until he got them loose #firstmatefail. I was stressed at this point and forgot to look for the resident manatee. Vicki and I took off to do some shopping while Mark took Matt out for a couple of beers. Hopetown is such an adorable settlement. I could easily live here. We found the boys enjoying the view at the Hopetown Harbor Lodge. Cute, quaint, friendly place on a beautiful beach.

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Tonight we had reservations for Mermaids on the Rocks. My other favorite restaurant. We arrived wind-whipped from the golf cart ride in time to catch the sunset. The non-existent sunset. No matter, the view was beautiful and the cocktails tasty.

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But the wind was getting worse so went inside to find our table.
Surprise surprise…Vicki had arranged for a belated birthday mermaid themed celebration! Balloons and props adorned the table. Such a sweet and fun gesture! For apps we had wonderful lobster fritters, then I had a lobster pasta for dinner. And we shared some delicious cake for dessert. The staff here is just awesome. I really hope this place sticks around.

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Sunday Funday dawned bright, clear and windy. After a bagel and coffee breakfast on the little deck of our cottage, we bumped along the now familiar roads on the golf cart to get to the boat.

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Seas were rough on this day so we only went as far as the lagoon between Guana and Scotland Cays. What a beautiful, protected oasis.

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We sipped strawberry frose and drank in the view.

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Unfortunately you must vacate before low tide or you will get stuck. After putting the boat back on the lift, we headed to Grabbers for lunch, and of course a frozen Grabber. This is a such a colorful and fun yet low key place to while away an afternoon. And the fresh conch salad made right in front of you gets two thumbs up.

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Then it was time for Nippers. I was anticipating it with a sense of both excitement and anxiety based on the stories I've heard. And here is where my title comes into play.

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This apparently wasn't a super crazy Sunday but there was a good crowd and the music was playing and drink were flowing. I had my first frozen Nipper and while it is similar to the frozen Grabber, it had more of a banana flavor. Both are delish!

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After a bit of people watching and photo taking, Vicki and I hit the dance floor leaving the boys to guard our table. I knew the Nipper had done its job when this awkward white girl started shaking it to Booty Call. We boogied over to a group of fun looking ladies and joined their dance circle as well.

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The day was hot so we all descended the steep stairs down to the beach to cool off in the water.

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Then back up for another cocktail and to soak in the pool and listen to the music.

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After a while we decided to call it an afternoon. To my husband's ears, this means we are leaving NOW so he promptly made his way down to the beach to make our way home. The rest of us were still in the process of getting out of the pool, trying to dry off and pack up. We had no idea where he went. We wandered around Nippers for a long while trying to locate him.

Meanwhile, this woman who had been eyeing Mark all afternoon made a beeline for his solo-self standing on the beach. She approached him and asked if he would assist her with putting on her mermaid outfit and then help her up on a big rock in the water. Always polite, he agrees. So he is on the beach holding open her mermaid tail while she steps in. By this time a crowd has gathered above and is cheering him on. Next up, hoisting his buff sea siren onto the rock so she can pose and do handstands. I wish I had seen this. He said he thought he was on candid camera. Somehow I got not one photo her but here is a good likeness...

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Finally we see him in a new shirt and swimsuit walking up the road entrance. After he had escaped her clutches, he walked the 5 minutes home to see if we were there and decided to change his sweaty clothes and grab a beer. The moral of the story ladies is to not lose sight of your man (even if he is almost 50) at Nippers on a Sunday.

Then on the way into our cottage, I accidentally kicked one of the conch shells which lined the steps and my foot was impaled by the sharp point. It took weeks to heal. It's not an Edsall vacation if someone doesn't get injured.

Before dinner we toasted our red wine to the cloudy sunset which signaled the impending cold front. And who do I see giving me the evil eye from her perch at the tiki bar across the street...the sea siren...sparkly butt on one bar stool and mermaid tail draped across another.

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Then it was off to Orchid Bay for dinner. The men folk had a full proper seafood meal, but V and I chose to split a large pepperoni pizza. Boy did that hit the spot after a day of fun in the sun. We carted home quickly as the sky was threatening and the wind was whipping.

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The rain started in the morning so we had a leisurely start to the day. When the wet stuff let up we did a little shopping at the local establishments.
By 11:00 the sun was back out and we headed off to the boat with a stop a long the way to see the Dreaming Tree.

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Then back to Man O' War Cay (aka the boat building capital of the Bahamas) for lunch at Dock N Dine. Tasty cracked conch and lobster sandwiches all around. Then V and I hit some shops while M & M went back to the boat to chillax. Great shopping on this island, including the famous Sail Shop.

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The conditions were just good enough to be able to anchor at Fowl Cay which boasts an awesome tide pool.

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The sinking sun signaled that it was time to make our departure.

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One last Grabbers sunset...

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Our final dinner was in Nippers vintage dining room. Picture it: kitchsy, wood paneled, and reminiscent of the seafood houses in the 70s where I went to dinner with my parents. Hogfish, fried shrimp, cole slaw and a brick of mac and cheese. All washed down with wine in a plastic cup. Surprisingly delicious.

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The next day was a long travel day home after too short of a trip. But we got a taste of a new out island, and we were hooked.
Cheers to new friends and more exciting adventures to come.

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Posted by Out_of_Office 18:45 Archived in Bahamas Tagged man war o treasure elbow hopetown abaco guana cay Comments (2)

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