Monday, January 29, 2018

Our 10th Anniversary Trip Recap - Grand Cayman

I'm pretty sure we started looking forward to our 10th anniversary trip back around year 7. We all know how difficult it is to get away once you have kids, much less 3 kids in 4 years and this adults-only vacation was long overdue and so very much anticipated. While it took an impressive amount of planning to take this 5 day, 4 night trip, it was worth every stressful, worry-filled moment. 

Make no mistake, that stress and worry melted right away with the first glass of champagne handed over to me on the airplane.  

Our boys survived the long weekend without us without a single issue, (that anyone informed us about), which made it much easier to immediately start planning our next kid-free tip! It truly takes a village and we are so thankful for ours who stepped in and made this trip possible. 

While it wasn't our first choice, I'm so glad we ended up choosing Grand Cayman, the largest of the Cayman islands, as our celebratory destination for our 10th wedding anniversary. I should say, the only reason Grand Cayman wasn't among our top choices was because I'd already been to the island in the late 90's on a family vacation. Typically we like to vacation to places neither of us had ever visited before but due to last year's hurricane devastation, we had a change of plans. Needless to say, my experience of Grand Cayman this time around was vastly different as an adult traveling with my husband. 

Grand Cayman is a true gem of an island. First and foremost it is very safe and can be traversed on foot. There is no worry leaving your resort property and trust me, it is encouraged you do so as the island has so much to offer! Pristine powdery beaches, crystal clear water, tantamount snorkeling and scuba diving as well as local culture and history worth experiencing. Oh and the local cuisine is beyond worthy. Grand Cayman is truly something special. 
You'll notice we did a lot of walking to and from our hotel. That's one of the best things about Grand Cayman. The island itself is very safe to walk around, even at night. If you aren't up for walking, the bus is an excellent option and at just $2/person, it's affordable and convenient. To catch a bus, you basically just need to waive your hand out and one will stop. When we weren't walking the island, we took a taxi to and from the further restaurant destinations as well as to the marina for our chartered boat excursion.  

It should also be noted that nothing is open on Sundays, outside of your resort. To account for this, naturally we picked up some local rum and snacks from the market and hunkered down on our lounge chairs for the day. It made for an absolutely perfect Sunday. 

The Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort - With this being our anniversary trip, we struggled with where to stay. Initially were set on staying at the Ritz property, however after hearing some less than savory things about the property layout and sky-high room rates, I'm so glad we ultimately chose the Marriott. The Marriott resort is located less than 2 miles from the town of George town making it an easy walk to and from the town when desired (something we took advantage of almost nightly!).  

The property is located right along the famous Seven Mile Beach and boasts tons of amenities. With a large outdoor pool, full-service spa and 2 on-site dining destinations, there's plenty to do right from the comforts of the hotel. The resort also offers activities such as beach yoga, jet ski rentals, SUP rentals, snorkeling along a man-made reef, sailing and more. 

Unfortunately, due to recent hurricane erosion, there wasn't much beach to be had. This certainly did not make or break our stay, in fact, we never experienced any issues reserving lounge chairs. Of course if you're going to wait until 11am to wander out onto the beach, you may run into more of an issue!

Several years ago, the hotel underwent major renovations. The decor is nicely updated, the lobby is beautiful (and a little hipster-y) and the courtyard boasts a relaxing atmosphere with string lights and water features. Overall, the property is clean, well-maintained and the staff is supremely helpful and friendly. 

Would we go back?
Absolutely. While we would have no problem returning to the Marriott, when we do return, we plan to book our own private condo at a property just several miles down the beach for a different, more intimate island experience.

Where we ate:
Cimboco ($): Hands down, the BEST brunch on the island. It's within walking distance from the Marriott and everything on the menu is worthy of trying. 

The Wharf ($$$): Excellent outdoor seating, most famous for it's Feeding of the Tarpon which are large 50lb. fish that swim right up to the dock where your dining table is located. Reservations are ideal and the menu is on the pricier side. Our meal was delicious and it was a fun experience. A short taxi ride from the hotel.

Agua ($$): Voted one of the best restaurants on the island, we decided to try it out. It wasn't my most favorite meal, however the ceviche starters we ordered were some of the best we'd had on the island. Also located in a strip mall down towards the Ritz, it can be easy to miss. We also walked to this restaurant from the Marriott. 

Calypso Grill ($$$): The best dinner we had on the island, hands down. We both agreed we would recommend anything off of the menu and you wouldn't be disappointed, especially the Sticky Toffee Pudding. While it was suggested that we book a table right on the water, it rained on and off this evening and we went with a table just inside the deck (but all doors are open to the outside, so it's definitely a fun, quirky, island-y vibe). The cocktails were also on point!

Pepper's Bar and Grill: Located right along Seven Mile Beach, this bar and grill was essentially located right across the street from our hotel. Having noticed how packed it was the night we arrived, we knew we had to try it out. The jerk chicken and ribs were AMAZING and the atmosphere is loud, local and fun. We were treated to a live band and it was just. so. fun. Definitely recommend for lunch or dinner.

Chicken Chicken: Located in a nearby strip mall, it's easy to miss however it's a definitely MUST HAVE while visiting the island. It serves the best island chicken and was a nice break from all the seafood we'd been eating at nearly every other meal.  Also within walking distance from the Marriott.

Yara: Yara is a bar and restaurant located inside of the Margaritaville resort. We ended up here after dinner one evening for drinks and dessert and it was awesome! The handcrafted cocktails were absolutely divine. While the Sticky Toffee Pudding wasn't AS good here as it was at the Calypso Grill, it's definitely worth checking out.  

If I could suggest one thing to do while visiting Grand Cayman, it would be to privately charter a boat to take you through the most popular island destinations. It doesn't cost too much more than booking an excursion through your hotel but being able to do it without tons of strangers aboard your boat is worth every penny. We chartered our boat through FatFishAdventures and it was the most fun. We packed a cooler and enjoyed four and a half hours out on the water with two local guides. 

Why a private charter? First, you aren't stuck aboard a boat with tons of strangers. Second, you aren't at all rushed through these attractions. While boats would come and go at each of the excursion destinations, we could leisurely take our time at each one without having to make room for the next tourist boat. It was essentially getting a private tour of the best parts of the island and totally worth it.

If you visit Grand Cayman, one of the most popular attractions is Stingray City and sandbar. It's essentially several sandbars along the Northern sound of Grand Cayman where hundreds of stingrays flock to interact with tourists. If I haven't already mentioned it, the water here is crystal clear. Some of the most beautiful turquoise waters I have ever seen. Not only was it fun to swim with the stingrays but snorkeling along the reef here was incredible.

After visiting Stingray City and Starfish Point, we enjoyed cocktails and appetizers at Kaibo, a super trendy, super fun beach bar and restaurant that is best visited by boat. It's located on a different part of the island that is much quieter than where most of the hotels are located.

While we didn't visit the Turtle Farm, the town of Hell of take a cruise on the Pirate Ship this trip, these were a few island activities I took part in during my first trip to the island in the late 90's. I would definitely recommend these excursions, however this was just not something we wanted to incorporate during our short anniversary getaway!

Worth noting, Caymana Bay is a mall and residential area that offers unique dining options and boutique shopping experiences. There is also a movie theater here which is ideal for families if the weather is ever subpar. It also offers a small beach front area and tons of fountains popular for splashing in (kids, naturally). We ventured here to do a little tax-free shopping as well as grab lunch at a tasty Indian restaurant, Pani. It was nice and it gave us something to do in between lounging on the rafts at the hotel and happily indulging away our vacation savings with fine food and crafty cocktails. 

I've been asked several times if 5 days is a sufficient stay on the island and while we would have loved to stay an additional day or two just to soak up the sun and quiet solitude away from our noisy bunch back home, I do think 5 days is just enough time to get a real feel for what the island has to offer. 

Will we return? YES! As I mentioned earlier, we will absolutely return to Grand Cayman. Friends of ours who vacation here yearly graciously offered us insider tips on where to eat and what to do and while there were several recommendations on their list that we didn't get to (Guy Harvey's Restaurant, Luca, Eden Rock) we are already planning our return trip with friends to cross more of Caymanian culture and cuisine off our bucket list. 

I know I've said this before and I can't say it enough. If you have the ability to take some time away from your kids, do it. Looking back, I wish we hadn't waited so long but that was our reality. We had three kids in four years and it took me a long time to feel comfortable leaving our boys for that much time (but that's a whole other post in and of itself). We will forever be indebted to our friends and family who assumed the immense responsibility of caring for and loving our boys in our absence. 

This trip was the perfect reminder that everything we have acheived these last 10 years started with the two of us and it's so important to continue to cultivate that foundation. Crystal clear water and bottomless rum drinks served as the perfect backdrop to celebrate Us! 

Cheers to 10 years! 
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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Storytelling, Under Eye Bags and Why Everyone Should Have That Kind of Babysitter

I recently got a new laptop that uses face recognition to unlock the home screen. I love this laptop for many reasons but mostly because it does not judge me when I stand before it wearing the same black leggings I've worn three days in a row. Bonus points, it even recognizes me before I've put on makeup and am still wearing yesterday's mascara that has settled so far beneath my eyes that it's actually accentuating the dark circles that have become permanent fixtures on my face regardless of how many hours of sleep I get or how much I spend on magic eye creams.

So, uhh, where did we leave off?

The end of 2017 brought with it several milestones. Most notably, my husband and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary in October. If I have one piece of advice for new-ish parents, it's to find a really, really great babysitter. Someone who isn't family but whom you love and trust like family. Find that person and never, ever share their number with any of your friends. Hide them away like the treasure they are and pay them really, really well. Spend weeks putting together a compulsive family binder and plan a trip away with your spouse. If you can, don't wait 7 years. Trust me on this, I speak from experience. We celebrated our 10th anniversary with an island vacation and it was just the absolute greatest. It should be noted that getting these weekends away with your spouse are addicting. We were barely home from the vacation it took us 7 years to take before we booked the next one. 

I spent most of December focused on keeping my family healthy, doling out magic tinctures, diffusing all of the oils, handing out supplements like candy, desperate to not have a single person spend Christmas sick- only to have none other than myself fall victim to what I'm affectionately calling The Plague, the night before Christmas. For those keeping score, this would be the second Christmas in a row that I would spend confined to my bedroom. 

Sometime during December it was brought to my attention, by several congratulatory messages on LinkedIn no less, that I was celebrating  my 9th year writing in this space. I want to say that I had some huge, wonderful revelation about what this space means to me and what it will look like in the coming year but the truth is, it left me questioning what do I really have to offer you, my dear readers, any more?

And the answer is, I've got my story. I've got my real and honest take on motherhood and what it feels like standing at the precipice of no longer raising babies and stepping into the vast unknown of raising big kids, three boys no less. Some days I feel like I've really hit my stride in parenting (finally!!) And others, I feel like a total dweeb newbie with no idea how to solve common core math problems and certainly no patience when it comes to helping not one but two kids with nightly homework.

And oh, the eye rolling. Why doesn't anyone warn you about the 7-year-old's eye rolling?

So, here's to story telling the best way I know how. Without the pressure of fitting into a niche or a pretty little perfect square. I'm sure as hell not hiring a photographer to follow me around and we'll all have to settle for a few Instagram-worthy shots taken by my Instagram husband whom I likely bribed with sexual favors to do so. I still maintain the promises made that I will never make you "like to know it," and I will never, ever try and sell you something (but I'll sure as heck continue to support those who do). I'm not giving up yet.   

Most people begin the new year with one word. They choose something, a behavior, a habit, a vice- a less-than-savory-something that has perhaps plagued them for years that they suddenly can no longer go even a single day embracing. They then narrow that list of imperfections down into a single word, one that will hopefully bring them to a better version of their former self.

I don't have a word, but I do have a short list of things I want to be better at doing this year than last. Starting with washing my face before bed each night. I want to be better at taking care of myself and of those around me. I want to write more. I want to read more. I want to care less about the bullshit, find contentment in the present and spend more time on an island with my husband.  

2018, let's do this.

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