15 October 2010

Part Two: A Day Late and Many Dollars Short

Finally on our way!

House seen as we're leaving Sint Maarten
Another early morning – up at 5:30 to be at the airport by 6:30.  We arrived in Old San Juan in the darkness and left it in the darkness, so unfortunately our granddaughter didn’t really get to see it.  We’re the first people to check in for the rescheduled flight to SXM.  In fact, they said the plane was “wide open.”  Um, yeah.  That’s because you wouldn’t confirm any of us yesterday.  There are about to be 40 more people trying to get on this flight.  When I ask whether the airport in SXM has opened back up, the TA told me that it had never closed.  Clearly American Airlines/Eagle needs to educate its staff better or teach them how to lie more effectively.  At that point we’re thrilled to be holding boarding passes, so we just smile and nod pleasantly, say thank you, and head through security. 

At the gate we simply bide our time, afraid to keep an eye on the monitors in case the flight status changes from On Time to Canceled. Junior Fleming finds us once again and we chat for a while, just what we need to take our minds off things.  He informs us that he has spoken with his friend at Fun Time and that the three of us have a spot on the shuttle once we arrive in SXM.  This is a relief, as I hadn’t done any research on the public or private ferries ahead of time and wasn’t really sure what to do.  He’s also made the same arrangements for a group of six other folks who are traveling to Anguilla for a wedding.  I tell you, that man is a goodwill ambassador for the island if I’ve ever seen one.  My husband’s blood pressure lowered considerably, and the people in the wedding party were just as thrilled as we were to have a champion in Junior.  (In fact, I started singing under my breath, “What a friend we have in Junior” but I was afraid he might think it was sacrilegious, so I kept that to myself.)

Luckily for all of us, the flight managed to leave on time and we landed at SXM to partly cloudy skies.  Junior corralled the ten of us together and called his buddy at FunTime to come pick us up, and before we know it, we’re waiting at the dock for the boat. About 45 minutes later, the Fun Time boat gets there, and after another 15 minutes to collect our passports and forms, we were on our way.  We are finally starting to believe that we really will get to Anguilla today.  Hooray! 

Leaving St. Maarten in the dust! Er, in our wake!

Trust me, the kid can sleep anywhere.

Finally, Anguilla!

Despite the grim prognostications we heard about the crossing during the higher seas, everything was just fine.  Once we left the enclosed pond on St. Maarten, it was about a 25 minute ride, and only as we pulled up to Blowing Point did the waves become uncomfortable.  Disembarking from the boat was a little bit of a challenge, as we had to time our leaps off the boat when the waves brought us closer to the dock.  Customs & immigration was a breeze and 30 minutes later, after meeting Junior’s wife and three boys and expressing our fervent thanks one last time, we’re bopping along on the road to Ku with a man who must be the slowest taxi driver on the island.  We had originally planned to pick up our rental car from Ronnie Bryan at the airport, but I called his assistant, Hubert, the day before from San Juan and told him that it was impossible to predict whether we’d arrive by plane or boat, and that it would be best if he just dropped off the car at Ku for us. 

We get to the hotel eventually.  The woman at reeception seemed mildly surprised to see us but she recovered quickly to give us a warm welcome.  We’re tired and wrinkled and hungry, and thus a bit dismayed when reception tells us that their restaurant isn’t open for the season yet.  And that Elodia’s, Uncle Ernie’s and Tropical Sunset are all closed that day, too.  “I think Maderiman’s is still serving lunch.  I’ll call them to tell them you’re on our way and to keep the kitchen open a bit longer.”  With those magic words, we trudge to our room, change into climate-appropriate wear.  Meanwhile, DG is emitting a non-stop stream of interjections: Wow!  Amazing!  Gorgeous!  She had been to Antigua in 2003 when DH and I got married, but those dim memories weren’t enough to prepare her for the beauty of Shoal Bay East.  Come to think of it, my own (considerably fresher) memories weren’t enough to prepare me for the beauty of Shoal Bay East!  If there’s a lovelier beach anywhere, I’ve yet to discover it. 
Ku master bedroom

Ku living room & kitchen

The hotel apparently upgraded us to a full-on ocean view unit from the garden view one that we booked.  We were in the one stand-alone unit in the middle of the property.   The only things separating us from the beach were low-lying clumps of seagrapes and other foliage.  Our unit seemed more spacious than others, but that could just be the layout.  Unlike the other units, ours ran parallel to the beach, so the balcony stretched the entire length of the room.  Our bedroom was huge, and instead of having a pull-out sofa, there was a rollaway bed in the living room that was pretty comfy, according to DG. 
View from our balcony, #127

Once we walked up to Madeariman’s and sat down, we could feel all of the stress and the weariness that comes with travel wash away from us with our first sips of Ting.  Two orders of chicken wings and a cheeseburger also contrived to soothe our hungry bodies and nourish our hungry souls.  Partway through our meal, a woman came up and said, “Hi, I’m Carrie.  I’m the chef at Veya.  My husband recognized you when you walked in and I wanted say I’m so glad you made it.”  I had registered out of the corner of my eye a large party to our left when we walked in but didn’t really notice them, the way I do at home.  I mean, we’re not going to see anyone we know in Anguilla, right?  But Carrie’s husband, Jerry, had apparently read my cry for help on the Trip Advisor forum the night before and welcomed us with congratulations on finally getting there.  It was a nice touch. 

That afternoon, after an hour of swimming and sunning on the beach, we dragged ourselves away to clean up and grab some groceries so that we’d have time to return, enjoy cocktail hour & sunset and have time to clean up before heading out again for dinner.  Our telephone and internet weren’t working in the room, so I had to ask reception to make a dinner reservation for us as well as to leave a message for our car rental folks (our own cell phones don’t work in Anguilla, but that will change before my next trip down there!).  We headed to Albert Lake’s and filled up our cart with snacks, booze, and breakfast foods and zipped back to Ku in time for one last dip in the ocean.  I’m not sure if it was the time of year or because of all of the rainy weather, but the water felt cooler this time than in the past. 

There was one restaurant I knew without a doubt we would visit on this trip, and that is Veya.  We wanted to introduce our granddaughter to a place we knew wouldn’t disappoint.  She’s a young woman with a fairly adventurous palate (at least by American teenage standards) and on this trip she sampled mafongo, ceviche, conch, octopus, lobster, johnnycakes, and oysters for the first time and ended up liking them all.  She grew up in a setting with a father and a grandfather who are good cooks themselves, but nothing could have prepared her for our meal together at Veya.  We each ordered for ourselves, but it may as well have been a communal meal for all of the sharing we did: conch fritters for the amuse bouche; grilled watermelon & poached shrimp and Vietnamese calamari for starters; grilled snapper with avocado & papaya, steak & lettuce wraps, and that night’s special, spinach risotto with poached lobster and crispy parsnips.  Plus of course the fresh johnnycakes, for which Veya is famous.  Every morsel was outstanding and the best of its kind that we’d tasted.  Two bottles of water, five cocktails, and the decadently rich & dense coconut cake rounded out our meal at around $230, plus additional gratuity. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Veya is the only Caribbean restaurant we’ve visited multiple times over the course of multiple vacations where the quality of both food and service are consistently superlative.  We have never encountered an off dish, much less an off night.  If there was one thing I could change, it would be simply that we had eaten there on a different night from our island arrival, as we were so tired by dessert that we were on the verge of dozing off at the table.  Alas, because of Veya’s schedule, it was our only night to try them out, and if it comes between dining sleepily at Veya or not dining there at all, I’ll take the former every time. 

A note or two about Ku: several people have asked me, either through emails, PMs, or through public forums, how we found our time at Ku.  I have to admit it was a pretty mixed bag.  DG loved it, of course.  And DH was thrilled with the location.  I liked it pretty well overall, and I think we received a good value for our money, but I doubt we’ll ever stay there again. 

For starters, we didn’t get everything that was promised.  Upon booking, we were told that the restaurant & bar were working; that we would have a telephone and internet access; and that we could have access to their minimart to charge items to the room.  None of this was available and/or working.  In fact, upon check-in, reception told us that in lieu of the restaurant, that someone would bring us a menu each day to order from and that breakfast would be delivered to our room each morning as long as our menus were received by midnight.  We were there for three nights and not once did a menu arrive for us to choose from. 

We were also told at check in that despite the minimart being closed to the public, that we could order some items that would be delivered to the room for us right away.  We promptly ordered three bottles of water.  One day later, we still hadn’t received them.  If we hadn’t opted to go grocery shopping right away, we would have been feeling seriously put out with Ku for not delivering on the services that were being offered for not delivering on the original services.  When I canceled our order for water the next day, reception gave me a blank look and was on the verge of telling me that I couldn’t cancel when I gently told her that, having waited exactly 23 hours for water that was never delivered, we went ahead and bought our own. 

Not having phone access in our room meant we couldn’t call Ronnie Bryan’s assistants to figure up a time to meet.  It meant not being able to call around and see who was open for dinner to make reservations.  Not having the internet meant not being able to access the forums for restaurant reviews & menus so that we could decide where we wanted to go for meals each day.  At one point I told the staff at Ku that I really needed to be able to check in at home with our house & pet sitter, so they arranged for me to take my laptop to an unoccupied unit, and they even gave me the remote to the unit’s a/c so that I could sit in comfort to read email. 

Twice in Anguilla we’ve stayed in a villa-style unit, where I expect my experience to be completely self-serve.  Once we stayed at Carimar, and the staff there were extremely helpful and pleasant.  It’s not that the staff at Ku were unpleasant or unhelpful, but it felt like they weren’t very empowered.  Every request we made was responded to with, “I’ll have to ask if we can do that.” Examples: requesting an extra pillowcase to use.  Or requesting if, when it rains, we can use one of the tables set up under the awning by the bar so that we could still stay outside rather than go back to our rooms.  Little things like that, where at any other place I’ve stayed the answer would have been “Of course. No Problem.”

Workers were tending to the pool every day while we were there.  The water started out looking very murky but it admittedly improved a good bit by the day we left.  We still weren’t interested in using it, though.  At night where the pool lights were shining, I could see dozens of tiny creatures (fish or insect, I couldn’t say) congregating around the lights.  If I had been thinking of going for a dip before that, seeing them changed my mind.  I grew up in the American south and I had a pool.  I know how hard it is to keep the chemicals balanced and the water healthy.  And Ku was working hard to get their pool in order;  it just wasn’t there quite yet.  All of the fresh water that got dumped in it from the storms changed the pH levels, and it definitely takes some tweaking to get things back to normal. 

We also had trouble with our doors.  The sliding glass door wouldn’t lock, and I guess that’s a good thing because our main door was so warped that more than once we either got stuck inside or outside.  Sometimes it took two people to open the door, one to turn the key and pull (or push) the doorknob, and another one to apply even pressure on the door both above and below the lock.  It was really like a comedy of errors.  The only other real complaint was the water pressure in the shower, which was awful.  Two evenings I came away with some crème rinse my hair that I just couldn’t get out.  If we’d had a bucket, I’d have asked my husband to pour it over my hair for me. 

So, you might well ask what was good about our stay?  For starters, location, location, location.  Shoal Bay East is phenomenally beautiful, and there were two mornings I got up for a walk when I was the only living soul on the beach in either direction.  Early October may be the only time of year when that beach fulfills my criteria of being uncrowded. 

Our unit was spacious and we never felt crowded having a third person there with us.  Our bedroom was huge, and though the cool blue tones were achieved through one too many coats of paint, it was very comfortable.  The bed and pillows were great and the air conditioning in each part of the unit worked quietly and efficiently.  The kitchen was stocked with the usual stuff (although lacking any wash towels or sponge, which made it hard to wash our dishes) but inconsistently.  We might have 4 plates but only 3 bowls.  Two coffee mugs and four wine glasses, etc.  We didn’t need more than we were provided, but it seemed odd to not have the same number of everything for a placesetting.  The refrigerator worked efficiently and had ice made for us within a couple of hours. 

I wish we had had the option of keeping our doors and windows open and the a/c off, but there are no screens anywhere in the units.  We would have gladly had the fresh air and listened to the sound of the waves, but it just didn’t work out for us.  Every time we propped the doors open, flies and mosquitoes would come in, which means we had to keep the a/c on every time we were indoors.  Not our favorite thing. 

My husband said he’d return in a heartbeat.  I’m a bit more circumspect on that point.  While I don’t regret staying at Ku for this trip, I’m not so enamored of it that I’d want to stay there again. 

Pool at Ku.



  1. love the review...after a flightmare all turned out well..

  2. Emily - I was curious to read your take on Ku, knowing how discerning you are, I was afraid you may be disappointed. Sounds as if you found the best in it, rather than the worst. Good for you.
    Thanks again for all the wonderful writing, you should be published.


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