Smitten with: Succulents

7/14/2011 06:00:00 AM Ashley 3 Comments

Just thought I'd start a weekly blog topic about things I am currently smitten with.

Which is a lot.

I blame Pinterest (seriously if you haven't joined you need too (if you need an invite let me know)).

My current love is succulents. I love them. Their color, size and shape. And some of them are I have to pet the plant soft. In fact I am so in love with them, that I got some from Home Depot (ours sells them for $2) and put them in different containers (which I also am smitten with). So here are some of the photos that spawned this new love.







Review: Sandals Grande Antigua

7/11/2011 07:25:00 AM Ashley 0 Comments

Here's the Sandals is LONG!

It's now been two weeks since Nate and I returned from our tropical vacation at the Sandals in Antigua and I think I am finally able to honestly review it. In my last post I said that we weren't happy with our trip, and honestly even after giving myself time to digest, I feel the same exact way. Overall we were disappointed. If we could have a do over, we wouldn't go to a Sandals. The island (what little we saw of it) is pretty, but run down, which is pretty common in the West Indies. I get the feeling that had we stayed anywhere else on the island that we would have had an enjoyable time. Which means that our overall dislike of the trip is aimed at Sandals. Seeing as there are many different parts that makes up Sandals I will break my review up into chunks. So here we go...

As many of you know (and for those that don't), Sandals is an all-inclusive couples resort offering four different Caribbean locations and 13 resorts total. The idea is that you pay one fee and that includes your room, food, drink and some activities/water sports. You can pay more for rooms and get either Concierge Service or Personal Butler Service, butler service coming with the priciest of rooms. Now that we have that out of the way, lets break this down.


Sure at first we thought...awesome we pay for everything now and then we don't have to worry about anything. And yes, while your room, food, drink and some activities are included, not everything is. Want to go on a boat tour? Maybe see the island? Go shopping? Perhaps you'd like to relax with a massage, or have a romantic dinner for two on the beach? Or even better, have "professional" pictures taken by someone so you don't have tons of "arm holding out the camera" shots. Well you can...but get ready to pay.

Just to get into town to shop Nate and I had to pay $15 each. Island tours were $120+ per person, boat trips went up in cost from there. Spa packages ranged from about $60 (for a pedicure) and went up. We ended up getting a couples hot stone massage for $130 per person, and while it was probably the highlight of our trip, we could have gotten the same massage anywhere. Oh and that romantic dinner for two...$100 per person. For some odd reason you paid for everything per person at a couples resort. We never got that...but back to the dinner. You paid $200 for an odd three pole tee-pee, to sit on a public beach (where you could be sold a number of drugs from "The Beach Doctor") and have them bring you food from one of the restaurants that you've already paid for. Oh and those pictures...while they were free to take, they cost to buy. After being posed in four awful poses (girl sitting in lap, guy kissing girls cheek, girl kissing guys cheek and kissing), you could go buy those pictures. Some of the deals we saw was $170 for a calendar and two 8x10s. Another deal was $100 for 10 digital copies of the photos. Want a nice wine for extra!

It all starts adding up. So unless you are happy just sitting on your butt by the pool or occasionally going out on the water bike, you're going to pay. It's not going to be pretty. You're going to be left wondering how you just dropped even more money. I'm guessing this happens at all of the Sandals locations.

The Resort


The resort is broken up into two sections, the newer Mediterranean Village and the older Caribbean Grove. The Mediterranean side has most of its rooms in a towering hotel-esque building, with some house like rooms that have their own pools. The Caribbean side is composed of a lot of little cottages and two level buildings, which are tucked away in lush foliage.

The smaller (what I'm guessing was the original) pool that we hung out at every day.
The large pool that was always swamped with people.

There are many pools tucked around the grounds, with the largest being in the Mediterranean side. The rest of the pools were tucked around the Caribbean side. Our favorite pool was what was probably the original large pool before the Mediterranean side was up and running. We hung out there everyday getting drinks from our favorite bartender. We found that the smaller pools stayed fairly empty, which was nice for us.


The grounds themselves were very pretty, with lots of flowers and palm trees. They seemed to be doing daily maintenance on the gardens and seemed to love when people picked flowers. There were a handfull of hammocks randomly placed all over the grounds, so if you were lucky to find one empty, you could sit and take in all of the sights.


The beach was pretty, but not OMG wow pretty. That's probably just me though. I will say that the sand was probably the softest sand I have every felt and we totally brought a bag of it home with us. I think what took away from the beach was that it was a public beach. Which meant anyone could use it, so there were locals trying to sell you things constantly. The haggling while walking next to the beach or on the beach was beyond annoying. It also meant that other people from the surrounding resorts could walk over. Which! Yes folks the kids found me at the adult only resort. I'm so lucky!

The food and drinks


The food...where to start. For the most part it was fine. We loved the sushi and always got the molten chocolate lava cake from the Italian restaurant. By no means was any of the food the most amazing thing we've ever had. The fish was fresh, which was good, but we were unimpressed with the lack of local food to be had. Some of the places had to have reservations to get in, which you had to do day of or two days in advanced, which was complicated more because every restaurant was closed one day a week. The main gripe I had was eating at the open air restaurant, Bayside, because the birds watched your every move. If you even walked away from you food, birds would be all over it, heck sometimes you didn't even have to leave. The birds also worked their way onto the food buffets, so right as you'd be walking up to get food...a bird would land on it. Not exactly hunger inducing.

The drinks were better, but that was probably because we found an awesome bartender at the pool we frequented. She was awesome and always kept the drinks coming. Frozen sweet perfection. Now other bartenders weren't so helpful, because they not only had to deal with walk ups, but they also had to make drinks for the restaurants. Which lead to slow drink making times. You also had to pay for wine if you weren't getting their three house wines.

The people

For the most part they were fine. Not exactly the most helpful, but nice enough. Though there were moments that you felt like they were forcing themselves to be nice. They did walk around talking on their cell phones a lot, which to me is unprofessional. Then there was the loud talking and signing at 8am and with rooms where you could hear everything...yeah not okay.

The room

Oh the room, this could get long as I have so much hate for that thing. I will say this, we did get the correct room (size and shape), but other than that...I'm just...pissed. We paid for the Honeymoon Hibiscus Veranda Suit. It came with concierge, which we hardly ever used and when we did they were not helpful at all. So honestly why bother? Now here's the photos from their sight showing the room we should have gotten...

In these photos, there were flowers everywhere, piles of pillows, beautiful rugs and seating, pretty colors that were a good mix of light and just looked nice and relaxing. We didn't get nice and relaxing...


Instead we got that. Walking into that room felt like we were walking into a dark abyss. Even with it being a perfectly sunny day...that was as much light as we got in there. There was also a faint smell of paint, which turned into a overwhelming smell when we opened our bathroom door. Awesome. The furniture was falling appart and the room was nowhere near as nicely decorated as it was in the online photos. Seriously...if you are advertising a room that looks a certain way and I am paying for better damn well look like it in person. Where were the flowers!? It's not like they were running out of them on the grounds. The mass amount of pillows also seemed to be missing. And while I didn't snap a picture of the bathroom, trust me when I say it was just as lackluster.

Then there were the other fun issues like our phones not working. Yes, for some reason we had two phones. Neither of which worked. Apparently the wiring was all wrong, so Nate figured it out and got it so we could make outgoing calls. Though for the whole week we were never able to receive calls.


Oh what's that you ask...why would I take pictures of cracks you ask!? Well that was our ceiling. It was covered in them. At one point Nate and I heard a large crack with some crackling after. That's when Nate looked at the ceiling and asked the scary question..."have these cracks been here the whole time?". I had no clue, but our ceiling was covered in them. We didn't exactly sleep restfully that evening. But that's okay because for 4 of our 7 days there we were up at 8am listening to construction noise for them to make this...


A new covering for the AC units. Every morning we were awoken to them singing or telling jokes for a half hour only for them to start work at 8:30 am. So instead of laying in bed and relaxing, we begrudgingly got up and wandered around the grounds for the 3,000 time. By 4pm we'd be tired from the swimming and wandering so we'd come back to our room for a nap, but it was always ruined by this...


We had a sand volleyball court right outside of our room and every day at 4:30pm we got to listen to the grunts and screamed woo-hoo's of adults acting out the Top Gun volleyball scene. Nap ruined.


Aww look a frog! What's he eating!? A hamburger!? That's not normal. Everyday housekeeping would come and if you had gotten room service or brought back food to your room, they would take the plates and leave them outside for another person to come take. Sometimes the plates with food on them would sit there all day. That would make for some happy frogs and snails, but it also made for a grossed out Ashley.

We did complain when we first got our room and they told us that they could move us to another room the next day, we just had to come back and ask about it after 12pm (check out time). But by the time we got to the front desk the next day that room had been given to someone else. They weren't helpful with our complaints at all which just made it frustrating.

The other issue I had was with the bag service. When we first got there, we were told to leave our bags and that they would be taken to our rooms. We were then whisked away for drinks, getting checked in and a tour before being taken to our room. When we got to our room, there were no bags to be found. So we wandered. An hour later and still no we went and said something to the front desk. By that time our bags were gone from the main lobby and out for delivery, so the front desk couldn't help us. Two hours later and still no bags. The room next to us got theirs...but they didn't actually put them in the room, instead they left them outside next to the door. They weren't happy about that, and we can't blame them, because close to three hours later ours were left outside of our door. Which means anyone could have walked up and taken them or taken things from our bags. Plus we had three hours with no new clothes to slip into, which meant we couldn't swim or go to the "nicer" restaurants to eat. So with the awful room and the lack of luggage our first day was not good.

We fully understand that people probably loved Sandals and thought it was great, but we didn't feel that way at all. We were given a room that wasn't up to standards, we had to pay extra if we wanted to see anything on the island, the food was okay and the service was what you'd get at a normal hotel. All in all it was a waist of money to us and we'll never go to another Sandals. In the end you were paying for your room, because everyone got the same chance at the food and drink. Which also meant that you had to eat and drink your weight to make it really worth it. Hello 10 pounds I had worked so hard to lose.

We've stayed at far nicer hotels for far far less and have eaten better food and paid nowhere near what we paid there. In fact we went to St. Thomas four years ago and spent about the same if not less then we did at Sandals. We did far more in St. Thomas, ate better and came home with wonderful gifts and memories. So in the end we'd much rather do something like that. I guess if I had to sum it up...I'd let Nate do it, because he said it best when he said it was like a Carnival Cruise on land. Lots of drunk idiots saying dumb things.

So that's it. If you've been to Sandals and loved it, I'm glad. I wish it hadn't been such a wash for us. We did try to make the most of it, but there is only so much you can eat and drink and sitting in the water, whether it be the pool or ocean, gets old. I wish they cared more about the fact that the room was not as pictured and that the paint smell and cracked ceilings were not okay. We learned from it and next time we'll chose to go elsewhere.