About three years ago, my husband and I took the most fabulous trip of our lives to Grand Cayman Island. It was just three short nights, but from the moment we arrived to the moment we took off, we experienced what it was like to live in a perfect place with a perfect spouse.
Last week, we returned to the same spot to learn that not all vacations are made equal.
I won’t go into nauseating detail, but let’s just say we are now acquainted with the hotel doctor. I fell asleep on a restaurant toilet after taking Dramamine to avoid sea sickness. We were attacked by crabs. And one day I looked down and saw that the back of my wedding band, symbol of symbols, had cleaved in two.
But the somewhat challenging holiday (and let’s be clear, I’m not complaining, the Caribbean is the Caribbean) has made me ponder the inner workings of the Romantic Vacation, a getaway that can be a whole lot more lovely in theory than practice.
It starts, like all nice fantasies, with the planning. Is there anything more wonderful than scanning hotels online and deciding which pool you’ll have the most fun beside? You can picture yourself wading in that water, you can taste the frosty cocktails that will be served to you poolside, you can imagine looking over at your husband and wondering how you landed such a hunk.
Then you start researching restaurants and making reservations. Oh, but the possibilities. The fish, the pork empanadas, the steaks, the guacamole, the passionfruit chutney. You read and read and imagine and imagine, but you don’t get overly hungry, not enough to eat anything at least, because, after all, you’re headed on a Romantic Vacation. And that means, next to your wedding, you have the biggest motivator ever to stay trim and fit.
So you board the plane. And let’s face it, flying sucks. But you’re with your love, your best friend. He’s right beside you and maybe needs a piece of gum, but otherwise he’s perfect. Together you do the crossword in the Sky magazine. You cheat a little, flip backwards and find a few of the answers, but only a few and only after you’ve agreed which ones will help you the most.
Then you land. The Romantic vacation can go either way now. It can be rainy, like it was for us, which suddenly makes you wonder what the hell you’re going to do on a rainy Caribbean island for five days. Or it can be sunny. If it’s sunny and balmy, the fantasy is still alive. In fact, it’s growing at the same rate that your hair is getting puffy and curly in the sultry humidity.
You get to the hotel and are greeted with rum punch. You drink it so fast the front desk reception clerk is a little embarrassed for you. But you’ve arrived. You made it with no delays. However it’s noon and your room won’t be ready until 4. It’s 88 degrees and you’re wearing jeans and a cardigan. Whoops.
But you don’t despair. The day can still be perfect. You go to lunch and sit on the patio. It’s hot out. It’s really hot. Your hair is no longer puffy and sultry because sweat has weighed it down.
“Cheers to you, my love,” your husband says and then downs a huge glass of water to try to offset dehydration.
It’s at lunch, about 37 minutes after arrival, that the Romantic Vacation separates like oil and vinegar between expectation and reality. You discover your room doesn’t have a king-size bed like you expected, but two rather narrow doubles. You forgot the bottoms of your bathing suit. And your phone charger. The tap water is brackish. You head to the beach and you burn. You burn really bad in a patchy, not attractive way because you didn’t buy waterproof sunscreen. There’s a lot of seaweed in the water left over from Hurricane Joaquin. Your husband crushes his finger while trying to get up the ladder of the snorkeling boat and you have to turn the whole tour around so he can be treated. That’s when you meet the hotel doctor. That stress causes you to eat too much and you no longer want to wear a bathing suit. Then, three days in, you run out of things to talk about with your love. Because there is no, “Tell me about your day.” He’s been right beside you the whole time.
It’s at this point that you think about home. You don’t want to go there, no sir, but you do consider how much less pressure there is there to Have A Great Time. You rack your brain for something to talk about. You consider bringing up current events and then realize you don’t know anything about Syria.
Now let me be clear again: It’s still fun. You’re still very, very lucky. But it’s just not quite the brochure. Actually, it feels a little like New Year’s Eve. Supposed to be one of the funnest nights of the year, right? But it never is. You always end up looking around and thinking, “What the hell?”
Of course, sometimes, you do get the perfect Romantic Vacation. The stars align, the clouds dissipate, conversation never ceases. Last week, we learned an important lesson that I’ll share with you now: Never try to make that happen in the same place twice.