By: Alan Markoff, Camana Bay Times editor
I like to go places I've never been for my birthday.
In my 61 years, I've found myself on 10 July in faraway places ranging from exotic (Fiji) to cultural (Italy) to decadent (wineries in British Columbia) to rustic (tent camping by a lake in New York's Adirondack Mountains).
This year, however, I was grounded, unable to take flight to a new experience.
Or so I thought.
The trip came up suddenly and unexpectedly. The arrangements were simple. There were no security checkpoints, no immigration lines, no customs lines, no worrying about overweight bags, no taxi fares, no rental cars, no travel stress. I didn't even have to get on a plane, because I was simply driving the 15 minutes from my home to The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. This is where my wife Lynn and I would experience the Ultimate Staycation to celebrate my birthday and our anniversary two days later.
For nearly three months, we — like most Grand Cayman residents — were basically housebound, roughing it in a state of domestic captivity. The so-called new normal was very much a bland normal. Three days and two nights at The Ritz-Carlton provided a much needed respite from pandemic stress and added lustre to our dual celebrations.
Since late June, the government has permitted hotels to reopen for resident staycations. In order to create some revenue and provide work for their staffs, hotels — including The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman — now offer residents unprecedented staycation deals.
Since the opening of the resort almost 15 years ago, I have spent countless hours attending a variety of events at The Ritz-Carlton, but had only previously spent one night there: in a garden-view room after a service club event. Having a vacation stay in an oceanfront room — a standard feature of the Ultimate Staycation — for my birthday was indeed like going someplace I'd never been.
Celebrate in style
A stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman is a stay at a Ritz-Carlton, pandemic or not. We experienced the same high level of Ritz-Carlton food, Ritz-Carlton amenities and Ritz-Carlton service that I've come to expect. If anything, the service was better — albeit, behind protective face masks — than normal, a reflection perhaps equally attributable to the happiness of staff to be working again and to fewer guests than normal, allowing for more personal guest attention.
The staff at The Ritz-Carlton seem to relish celebrations, almost as an excuse to be even nicer to their guests. Before we stepped foot in my room, I had been wished a "happy birthday" twice. Upon entering, I immediately saw white towels on the king-sized bed, rolled up and banded in a way that looked like a three-tier birthday cake, topped with a handwritten card wishing me birthday greetings from the housekeeping team. There was also a small cake, shaped like a sandcastle and a souvenir birthday gift left in the room for me.
The west side of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman sits on one of the best parts of Seven Mile Beach. It's been years since I last leisurely enjoyed that section of beach.
The first day of our stay, we checked in, quickly changed into our swimsuits and headed for the beach, lounging in chairs just feet away from the shore. It was late afternoon, however, and we had dinner plans, so we had only an hour to enjoy the sun, sea and sand that tourists pay top dollar to enjoy.
Arranging for a beach cabana has always seemed extravagant to me, but I learned differently the next day. Cabanas offer shade, comfort and on the day I was there, the ability to stay on the beach even when it rains.
In the cabanas, there was a refrigerator with water and soft drinks and a few snacks. Personal attention was supplied by Myles, our cabana butler.
We spent six glorious hours on the beach, enjoying several forays into the sea that afternoon. It was the longest spell I've spent on the beach at one time, probably in my entire life.
I know the food and beverages served at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman well. One of my shortlist of favourite restaurants is Taikun, which in my opinion not only serves the best sushi on Grand Cayman, but also the best sushi I've eaten anywhere. That was the choice for my birthday dinner.
Although we normally choose the omakase — a five-course meal with the selections left up to the chef — a new menu item caught our eye. "Sensei" is a selection of traditional sushi dishes, including sashimi, nigiri and maki. The Sensei meal for two was probably big enough for four and left little room for dessert. However, since it was my birthday, Taikun was going to serve me dessert no matter what. The "Bonsai" dessert is fashioned like a tree, with chocolate limbs and branches and green confection leaves, planted in a chocolate crumble ground that covers a layer of caramel, making it both a sight and taste sensation.
The plan the next day was to enjoy Bar Jack's famous fish tacos while in our cabana. However, the Ultimate Staycation package includes a daily breakfast at Seven restaurant and after eggs Benedict and a side of smoked bacon, there was not room for lunch. Instead, we saved ourselves for dinner and opted for frozen cocktails instead.
Dinner at Seven included delicious and juicy Niman Ranch steaks — the restaurant is after all, first and foremost, a high-end steak restaurant in the evenings — which came with a choice of rubs and sauces. The side dishes were served à la carte, and the truffle mac and cheese was so good, we might make it the main course of a meal in the future.
We finished our dining experiences with lunch at Andiamo on our anniversary on Sunday, right before we headed for home. Andiamo's pizza and an order of Parmesan truffle fries were the kind of comfort foods we often eat when travelling, making us feel as if life were normal again — and we didn't have to suffer from jet lag!
This article appears in print in the August 2020 edition of Camana Bay Times.