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Archive for March, 2011

Today is a wonderful day to be proud of your womanhood. Then again, we should honor and celebrate who we are everyday. In order to take pride in who you are, you have to acknowledge your strengths and the power we’ve inherited from those who fought—and continue to fight—for our freedom and respect. Though some women today have made the unfortunate decision to reverse course, you have the choice to continue forward. Proudly carry the torches passed down to us from Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Madam C. J. Walker, and many other female pioneers and leaders. In these bleak times, there is a crucial need for the woman of today to help light the path and inspire the women of tomorrow.

Celebrate your femininity and be in awe of the fact that of the two sexes, we were the ones chosen for the challenge and privilege to bring life into the world. It, in part, is a testament to the strength the universe has bestowed upon us. The female body is a beautiful form to be admired and appreciated. Yet, don’t allow the current trends of popular culture to sway you into relying solely on your pouty lips, swaying hips and the curve of your breast.

Choose your heroes and heroines wisely. Always asks yourself if the person you aspire to emulate honors not only the women who have struggled in their pursuit of our liberation, but the woman you hope to become. Do they encourage you to pursue your dreams while remaining true to your values and beliefs; or do they encourage you to objectify yourself in order to get ahead?

Embrace your vast capacity for knowledge and ingenuity, knowing that your gender—though scrutinized by some—presents no limitation for your potential. Your value increases not by how much fabric you remove from your body, but by the strengthening of your resilient spirit and the quality of the knowledge you retain in your mind.

Happy International Women’s Day!

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EXCURSIONS

Preparing to board the catamaran

Sandals Exclusive Circumnavigation Tour
This tour was great and provided the opportunity to capture much of Antigua’s wonderful perimeter on camera. The crew was wonderful, lively and fun as they ensured that everyone aboard was well taken care of and were having a great time. They played an assortment of Caribbean music and kept us well quenched with a variety of drinks including rum punch, which was delicious, but surprisingly strong. I must note that the alcoholic beverages are only served after the snorkeling portion of the voyage. I skipped snorkeling and waded in the calm water and sat on the beach to admire nature’s work. The crew served an fantastic lunch of macaroni pie, sautéed pumpkin and vegetables, curry chicken and fish. I believe there were a few other dishes as well, but since the rum punch was good, the details are fuzzy. 😉 Although we had a good time, we felt the trip was a little too long and were pretty tired when we got back to the resort.

 

 

Feeling damn proud!

Rainforest Canopy Tour
Thanks in large part to Gem, I decided to step beyond my comfort zone and confront one of my biggest fears in a very big way—zip lining. Being the wonderful husband that he is, Max was concerned that the experience wouldn’t be enjoyable for me (he knows just how big a chicken I can be when it comes to such things). I, too, had my doubts, but sent them to hell in my pursuit of bravery and adventure. I thought I was in the clear until the rum punch wore off the evening prior to the tour. The following morning my stomach was full of butterflies with hang glider-sized wings. I skipped breakfast out of fear I wouldn’t be able to keep it down. Additionally, I tried my best to wring out my bladder to minimize the chance of me irrigating the land and people below me as I zipped.

After signing the release forms we sat through a detailed orientation. The staff seemed highly competent and knowledgeable, which put me more at ease. Then, we reached the first zip line platform after crossing a wobbly bridge. As I peered over the edge, my heart began pounding like a spazmatic Calypso drum player wired on caffeine. Naturally, my mind arrived at the most logical conclusion it could as I witnessed the people ahead of me zipping to the next platform; ‘Well, screw this’! During a chaotic internal debate over whether or not I’d take the leap, Max grew concerned over how quiet I was. When I’m in fear of something I normally vocalize it in some way. I was absolutely petrified and I fell into somewhat of a catatonic state as I coached myself to not panic. Max offered to go first, but I declined as I stepped forward to be rigged to the line. Finally, it came out… ‘I’m terrified,’ I whispered to Connie, one of the zip lining experts at the Antigua Rainforest Company. She reassured me that I would be fine and after a few short moments, upon following her instructions, I was flying over the treetops on the first of nine zips. It was exhilarating!

A victory photo! We did it! 🙂

As we continued through the course, my adrenaline climbed to unprecedented levels and I was trembling from the overload. The drummer in my chest was now working double-time as my breathing became rapid and shallow. We came to the largest zip line in the forest: Over 300 feet high and 325 feet long. We were told to take care not to squeeze the line too tightly, otherwise we’d stop before reaching the other side. Somehow, the appeal of dangling 300+ feet above the ground all alone was not my idea of hanging out. Seeing that I was seriously calculating my ability to make it across on my own, Connie quickly decided to come along with me and put me at the end of the queue so we could go last. Even though she was behind me, she allowed me to go at my own pace. She was like a guardian angel coaching me through the rest of the course which ended with a Leap of Faith, where I stepped off a ledge and dropped 35-feet while attached to a rope. I felt the initial pull of gravity which was eased by the suspension of the rope as I descended like a spider from the trees. We skipped the obstacle course challenge, thought I was initially tempted to try. I decided against it upon assessing my shakiness (I couldn’t even hold a cup of water without spilling it—I was really high on adrenaline). After climbing 156 steps back to our starting point, Max and I were really glad we opted out of the challenge, especially when members of our tour group complained about how exhausting it was to do in the heat.

St. John’s Shopping trip
Shopping. Do yourself a favor…DON’T DO IT! At least not in St. John’s. The prices are sky high and we suspect some of the merchants were as well. We booked a 2 1/2 hour shopping trip through the resort and it was by far the excursion we enjoyed the least. Max and I were both frustrated that we had to resort to buying souvenirs at the last minute at the airport where the prices were more reasonable. We aren’t cheap people and are willing to spend good money for unique quality merchandise. However, from what we’ve seen, there really wasn’t anything that was locally made and we refused to shell out big bucks for products made in China or Thailand—especially if we can get the same or similar for much less money here in the US. It led me to wonder; in China, where are their souvenirs made and what do people buy? Additionally, we stopped by a bar while waiting for our driver to pick us up. Beers there were $8 (USD)! Can you say robbery?

 

Sunset at Shirley Heights

Shirley Heights
After hearing so many wonderful things about Shirley Heights, we decided to take a tour there for our final evening in Antigua. The view was breathtakingly beautiful and even though it was a bit on the cloudy side, we enjoyed the sunset. The food was amazingly good! However, we found the space overly crowded and somewhat touristy. In addition, we were under the impression that there would be many vendors selling authentic local merchandise. Unfortunately, there were only a few who sold things that were somewhat interesting, but didn’t appeal to us. We ended up leaving soon after sunset. 

 

 

So many of these guys along the roads. So cute!

Car Rental/Island Drive
If you’re a good driver, I highly suggest renting a car and driving around the island. Total cost was about $80 plus gas ($5 per gallon). Max and I had a great time seeing the sights at our own pace and did so much in one day. Prior to our trip to Antigua, Max loaded maps/GPS onto his Android and it helped him to navigate around the island with ease, though we did make one or two wrong turns since there are virtually no street signs. Also, they drive on the left side of the road, which took some getting used to. Highlights from our drive include:

 

Devil's Bridge. Very intimidating.

Devil’s Bridge
Getting to Devil’s Bridge in our compact rental was very bumpy since we had to navigate unpaved roads to get there, but it’s possible. The key is to go slowly. The views surrounding Devil’s Bridge is as astounding as the bridge itself. While we were there, some crazy man actually walked across. One of the tour guides we met said that they don’t prohibit such actions, but noted that doing so was at the visitor’s own risk. The churning water is so violent that if you fall in, you will NOT come out, no matter how good a swimmer you are!

 

Fort. James
Our visit to Fort. James was very impressive and we got great photos of the cannons and old structures.

Max casually posing next to a cannon at Fort James

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Betty’s Hope
When we arrived at Betty’s Hope we were the only ones there—if you don’t count the goats on the property. We gave ourselves a self-guided tour of the sugar mills and what’s left of the manager’s house. Sadly, much of Antigua’s historical structures have been destroyed.

Restored sugar mill at Betty's hope

Same mill, same pose, different person. 😉

 

Believe it or not, we visited all of the aforementioned places in ONE day! Yeah, we were pretty tired at the end of the day, but it was well worth it.

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Great atmosphere at Cricketeers. Reminds me of Cheers! 🙂

Cricketeers

We loved Cricketeers! When we stepped inside we were transported to a classic Irish-style pub. The decor was well thought-out. As for the food; the Roast Beef Sliders and Grilled loin were outstanding! My husband was impressed by the Guinness, which is brewed locally.

I decided to try a shot called Washington Apple (Crown Royal, Sour Apple Pucker Schnapps, Cranberry Juice). Wow! Very smooth and mellow.

Barefoot Restaurant
We ate at the Barefoot restaurant twice; once for lunch and again for dinner. For lunch I ordered the chicken wrap with fries while Max ordered the Jerk chicken with steak fries. I thought the wrap was average, but Max thoroughly enjoyed the chicken. Dinner at Barefoot was better. I ordered the steak & shrimp w/ mashed potatoes and Max had the Lobster Thermidor, which was incredible! My steak was slightly overcooked (I ordered medium), but was still quite tasty. The shrimp and potatoes were unbelievably delicious! 

Dinner at OK Corral

OK Corral

The OK Corral was very good. I loved the seasoned butter that came with our bread. Max had the Shrimp Cocktail & NY Steak. I had the Chicken Wing appetizer & Ribs, as recommended by Charmaine earlier that day. I’m so glad I followed her suggestion. I usually don’t like beef ribs, but these were the most tasty and tender I’ve tried. The chicken wing appetizer was so crispy and juicy and the BBQ sauce they were smothered in was sweet and tangy. Excellent combo! 

Eleanor’s
Eleanor’s was said to be among the toughest restaurants to get into, but we found it worth checking directly with the host to see if there were any available spots. In addition, we did notice quite a few empty tables during our mealtime.  The service was great, the ambience was nice and the food was good. Though my husband felt that Eleanor’s was overrated. I can’t entirely disagree, but I really liked the food. I had the potato cake appetizer, conch salad (excellent—had a nice kick to it). Max ordered the coconut shrimp appetizer and we both had the lobster entree served with mango salsa, butter and mashed potatoes with julienne vegetables.

Dinner at Mario's. Decisions, decisions...

Mario’s

Mario’s offered a buffet-style breakfast. The selections were varied, but repetitive each day. We’re New Yorkers, so we’re tough to impress as far as Italian food goes, but dinner at Mario’s was enjoyable. We had calamari and antipasto before receiving a chicken parmesan entree.

One of many great lunches at Bayside!

Bayside

We dined at the Bayside restaurant several times. Their buffet breakfast selections are similar to Mario’s, but they also have an omelet station (Victorine is Lord of the Omelet). Very tasty! Bayside offers many great choices for lunch (also buffet).  Be sure to try the curry chicken salad. It’s incredible!

Off to Kimonos for dinner!

Kimonos

Kimonos was probably the best restaurant we tried, though we were a little disappointed that there was no sushi menu. The chicken wonton appetizers were great as was the chicken, beef and lamb skewers. The main course consisted of a small portion of each entree on the menu, which was great since the selections were all so mouth-watering.

Drinks
The drinks were great all around! Some of our favorites were:
Sandals Smile, Sandals Star, Washington Apple, Mojito on the rocks (at the main pool bar), Pool bar special (at the main pool bar), Reggaeton, Blue Lagoon, Tequila Sunrise and Chocolate Monkey.

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Note: This was such a fun-filled vacation I felt the need to break my review into three parts.
 
My husband and I stayed at Sandals Grande Antigua Resort & Spa from February 21st – February 28th. We narrowly escaped the NY snow after our plane was de-iced. 
The resort was much larger than we expected

RESORT & ROOM

Bedroom/sitting area

Upon our arrival at the resort we received a warm reception complete with cool towels, hors d’oeuvres and champagne. To our pleasant surprise we were upgraded from the Honeymoon Hibiscus Suite to the Venetian Suite. Our room was excellent and was always stocked with wine, liquor, champagne and soft drinks. There was also a coffeemaker and a selection of instant coffees.
 
 
 

Shower and Jacuzzi Tub

The Jacuzzi in our room didn’t work during our first evening and we had to bring this to the concierge’s attention twice before it was fixed. We didn’t make a big deal out of it since we understood that the resort staff had their hands full. The property is much larger than we anticipated so we were in for a lot of walking. I actually enjoyed the long walks throughout the resort since it gave us a chance to thoroughly admire the beautiful scenery and lush gorgeous gardens. It also gave us a chance to walk off some of the calories we consumed during our stay. The beach is short due to the far-reaching surf and the waves can be unpredictable at times (I wiped out twice and nearly lost my bikini in the process—and I was just standing in the surf, lol!). We noticed that some beaches had calmer waters than others, but the water is incredibly blue no matter where you look. All of Antigua’s 365 beaches are public, so there is no legal restriction as to how far along the beach you can travel.


POOLS

Main pool/Jacuzzi at night

The main pool is HUGE and quite beautiful. It was always on the cold side, but once you get used to it the longer you stay in. Even so, it could benefit from some sort of heating element. We frequently migrated between the pool and the large Jacuzzi, which was always very warm. We also tried some of the pools on the Caribbean side of the resort. We noticed that the smaller pools were slightly warmer than the main pool. One night, we went for a leisurely evening swim beneath the starry sky in one of the empty pools. The sounds of the lush gardens and surreal pool lighting added to the magical atmosphere as we floated in otherwise silence as though we were the only ones at the resort.

 

 

 

 

STAFF

Althea and Teandra always made us feel welcome. We miss them already!

The entire staff was hardworking, genuinely gracious and friendly. Each one played a significant role in ensuring we had a wonderful vacation. Here are some of our favorites:

Gem, who works at the tour desk is aptly named. She was always very helpful and informative and guided us to book some great tours. She contributed a great deal in making our vacation a successful, enjoyable experience.

Kayan at the Red Lane Spa was very cordial and fun. She worked her magic in giving me an incredible Tropical Body Wrap and facial. My skin felt ridiculously smooth and people are still giving me compliments on my healthy, glowing appearance.

Geraldine gave me a much-needed manicure/pedicure during my second day at the resort. I usually get it done prior to my vacation, but was unable to do so due to the time crunch. Geraldine helped me choose the perfect color which suited me just fine and looked even better as I tanned. She did a great job at making me feel at home.

Violet  is absolutely wonderful and made each visit to Cricketeers extremely enjoyable! She was always very warm towards her guests and makes them feel as though they are family. She always made sure we were taken care of even when she saw us in passing throughout the property.

Charmaine, a bartender at the main pool, is a master drink maker with a great sense of humor and infectious laughter. She was always a pleasure and she made the best Mojitos and Tequila Sunrises. I can’t leave out Althea, Teandra, Mario and Roland. Respectively, they made a great Reggaeton, Pool Bar Special, Bloody Mary and Sandals Star.

Samantha at the Concierge desk was great and always made sure we found everything we needed. She gave a thorough tour of the property during our first full day. During our last day she made sure we didn’t miss our ride to the airport even though we were late (she nearly had to send a search party for us—yeah, we really didn’t want to leave, lol).

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