Can Antigua, the Caribbean’s romance capital, reignite a pandemic-dulled spark? I gave it my best shot

Community May 13, 2022 by Caitlin Kenny The Kit

As the sun sinks closer to the Atlantic, gilding the tree-covered hills in the distance, and Ed Sheeran croons through the catamaran’s speakers, I turn and give my husband, Colin, a longing look. His eyes lock with mine. The salty air feels charged as he leans toward me. “Oh, you want a picture?” he asks, raising the camera.

If our romance is a little rusty, I blame the pandemic. It’s been two years of “date nights” that involve equal parts searching for something to watch and snoring through the eventual pick. We’ve locked down, office-shared, vaccine-hunted, Zoom-gathered, gotten through — function over fairy tale, because what more could anyone manage?

But a dulled spark is one “new normal” I’m not willing to accept, so Colin and I boarded a flight to Antigua, a contender for the Caribbean’s romance capital in part due to its popularity among blissed-out honeymooners. Its 365 white-sand beaches (one for every day of the year, the locals say) leave plenty of space for secluded lounging, and the island’s vibe is quieter and more tranquil than many of its party-ready neighbours.

“Antigua is known for having the most laid-back people,” our driver, Cyril, tells us as we leave the airport along bougainvillea-lined roads, past candy-coloured homes. “We’re so laid-back that road rage doesn’t even exist here.” (That’s a good thing: Among the 281-square-kilometre island’s six parishes, only St. John’s has any traffic lights.)

Though a scenic sunset cruise doesn’t instantly reignite our spark, I’m optimistic we’ll find it somewhere at Sandals Grande Antigua, our home for the week and the “Caribbean’s most romantic resort” (at least according to the World Travel Awards, the Oscars of the tourism industry, which has bestowed the title eight times). When I ask general manager Matthew Cornall to describe their most frequent guests, his voice softens: “Two people in love.”

In sync with Sandals Resorts’ 40th anniversary last year, the company launched the Institute of Romance, its own trend house dedicated to studying romance (via biannual surveys), so the resorts can evolve in step.

Among the first findings: 45 per cent of Canadian women surveyed wish their relationships mirrored the ones in romance novels, and so the company tapped New York Times bestselling author Tessa Bailey to help curate a get-you-in-the-mood romance library. The collection kicked off at its Grenada property, with plans to eventually roll out to its other resorts.

“Going outside your comfort zone can be a really great way to reconnect with your partner,” Bailey tells me when I call to steal her storybook-worthy tips. Sure, it’s a tried-and-true trope, but I’m willing to dabble in an adventure if it might be our shortcut to passion.

I hop off my lounger on Dickenson Bay Beach and suggest we borrow one of the resort’s Hobie Cats, essentially a small raft with a sail. After a five-second lesson on how it works, a huge gust of wind takes us away with surprising speed.

While Colin steers the rudder from the back, I face the bright teal view ahead, getting soaked by the waves and cackling from the thrill. We’re going in the wrong direction, but it only makes me laugh harder. “Isn’t this fun?!” I shout, turning back to see a stressed-out Colin.

“It’s not fun when it’s out of control,” my husband, the carefully calculated engineer, responds, adding after a pause, “…but it’s still fun because I’m with you,” with a pained grin. Progress, I decide.

Back on solid ground (and after googling sailing tutorials to put the engineer’s mind at ease), we’re both able to find the humour in it. With time to spare before dinner at Mario’s, one of the resort’s 11 restaurants, we sip pineapple cocktails in front of a firepit while the sky turns rosy. Our conversation soon drifts to childhood memories and plans for our future, and I suddenly realize how long it’s been since we talked about anything other than workday stresses.

Earlier, I noticed other firepits as well as hammocks, swings and tucked-away benches, all ideal spots to get cosy with your partner. “We’re nestled on 27 acres of land,” Cornall says. “Couples come primarily to spend time with each other, and they can do that here without being subject to large crowds and packed restaurants.”

Our favourite spot to unwind together is our room itself, a villa-style space with a four-poster bed, a fully stocked fridge, a Roman whirlpool tub, and a patio with a private plunge pool and hot tub. Plus, we have a cellphone that’s a direct line to either Corri, Sean or Durke, our three friendly butlers. They arrange breakfast to be delivered on our patio, and check with us each night to see where we’d like to have chairs and a cooler set up the next day.

Over the week, our wake-up pool dips and pre-dinner strolls become some of my favourite moments with Colin; at home, we’d usually spend our mornings getting out the door and our evenings rushing to cook dinner. “Sometimes you get so focused on your routine that it takes up all your head space,” says Bailey. “When you get a change of scenery on vacation, your significant other becomes this person with their own desires, hopes, dreams and opinions that you tend to ignore when you’re stuck in your routine.”

After a day of exploring Nelson’s Dockyard — where British navy ships were once serviced (1769 to 1889), and where later, Princess Margaret spent the first night of her honeymoon — then taking in the stunning ocean panorama at Shirley Heights, we get back to our room and find a trail of rose petals leading to the bubbling deep-soaker tub and a bottle of Prosecco on ice. It’s a surprise arranged by our butlers, and a reminder of when Colin and I used to make time for weekly baths together.

When we have a couples massage on one of our last days, the therapists guide us in lighting a candle and sharing vows. That evening, we toast each other during our candlelit dinner on the beach. Happily-ever-after moments are the type of occasions we’d usually joke our way through, but the week seems to have shifted something in each of us.

I’ve never had more compliments from Colin (“You look cute reading your book,” he tells me as I flip pages in Bailey’s latest romcom, “Hook, Line, and Sinker” — never mind that I’ve been reading beside him every night for over a decade), and I can’t remember the last time we held hands for more than 15 seconds.

It feels like the early days of dating again, but better because we know everything about each other, now more than ever after the pandemic’s forced 24/7 company. Back then, it wasn’t about epic sunsets or wild adventures either, but connecting over conversations and quiet moments. And that’s something we can keep going at home when we resume our roles as workers, cooks, cleaners, grocery-store regulars — all of that, plus two people in love.

Writer Caitlin Kenny travelled as a guest of Sandals Resorts, which did not review or approve this article.

Can Antigua, the Caribbean’s romance capital, reignite a pandemic-dulled spark? I gave it my best shot

Community May 13, 2022 by Caitlin Kenny The Kit

As the sun sinks closer to the Atlantic, gilding the tree-covered hills in the distance, and Ed Sheeran croons through the catamaran’s speakers, I turn and give my husband, Colin, a longing look. His eyes lock with mine. The salty air feels charged as he leans toward me. “Oh, you want a picture?” he asks, raising the camera.

If our romance is a little rusty, I blame the pandemic. It’s been two years of “date nights” that involve equal parts searching for something to watch and snoring through the eventual pick. We’ve locked down, office-shared, vaccine-hunted, Zoom-gathered, gotten through — function over fairy tale, because what more could anyone manage?

But a dulled spark is one “new normal” I’m not willing to accept, so Colin and I boarded a flight to Antigua, a contender for the Caribbean’s romance capital in part due to its popularity among blissed-out honeymooners. Its 365 white-sand beaches (one for every day of the year, the locals say) leave plenty of space for secluded lounging, and the island’s vibe is quieter and more tranquil than many of its party-ready neighbours.

“Antigua is known for having the most laid-back people,” our driver, Cyril, tells us as we leave the airport along bougainvillea-lined roads, past candy-coloured homes. “We’re so laid-back that road rage doesn’t even exist here.” (That’s a good thing: Among the 281-square-kilometre island’s six parishes, only St. John’s has any traffic lights.)

Though a scenic sunset cruise doesn’t instantly reignite our spark, I’m optimistic we’ll find it somewhere at Sandals Grande Antigua, our home for the week and the “Caribbean’s most romantic resort” (at least according to the World Travel Awards, the Oscars of the tourism industry, which has bestowed the title eight times). When I ask general manager Matthew Cornall to describe their most frequent guests, his voice softens: “Two people in love.”

In sync with Sandals Resorts’ 40th anniversary last year, the company launched the Institute of Romance, its own trend house dedicated to studying romance (via biannual surveys), so the resorts can evolve in step.

Among the first findings: 45 per cent of Canadian women surveyed wish their relationships mirrored the ones in romance novels, and so the company tapped New York Times bestselling author Tessa Bailey to help curate a get-you-in-the-mood romance library. The collection kicked off at its Grenada property, with plans to eventually roll out to its other resorts.

“Going outside your comfort zone can be a really great way to reconnect with your partner,” Bailey tells me when I call to steal her storybook-worthy tips. Sure, it’s a tried-and-true trope, but I’m willing to dabble in an adventure if it might be our shortcut to passion.

I hop off my lounger on Dickenson Bay Beach and suggest we borrow one of the resort’s Hobie Cats, essentially a small raft with a sail. After a five-second lesson on how it works, a huge gust of wind takes us away with surprising speed.

While Colin steers the rudder from the back, I face the bright teal view ahead, getting soaked by the waves and cackling from the thrill. We’re going in the wrong direction, but it only makes me laugh harder. “Isn’t this fun?!” I shout, turning back to see a stressed-out Colin.

“It’s not fun when it’s out of control,” my husband, the carefully calculated engineer, responds, adding after a pause, “…but it’s still fun because I’m with you,” with a pained grin. Progress, I decide.

Back on solid ground (and after googling sailing tutorials to put the engineer’s mind at ease), we’re both able to find the humour in it. With time to spare before dinner at Mario’s, one of the resort’s 11 restaurants, we sip pineapple cocktails in front of a firepit while the sky turns rosy. Our conversation soon drifts to childhood memories and plans for our future, and I suddenly realize how long it’s been since we talked about anything other than workday stresses.

Earlier, I noticed other firepits as well as hammocks, swings and tucked-away benches, all ideal spots to get cosy with your partner. “We’re nestled on 27 acres of land,” Cornall says. “Couples come primarily to spend time with each other, and they can do that here without being subject to large crowds and packed restaurants.”

Our favourite spot to unwind together is our room itself, a villa-style space with a four-poster bed, a fully stocked fridge, a Roman whirlpool tub, and a patio with a private plunge pool and hot tub. Plus, we have a cellphone that’s a direct line to either Corri, Sean or Durke, our three friendly butlers. They arrange breakfast to be delivered on our patio, and check with us each night to see where we’d like to have chairs and a cooler set up the next day.

Over the week, our wake-up pool dips and pre-dinner strolls become some of my favourite moments with Colin; at home, we’d usually spend our mornings getting out the door and our evenings rushing to cook dinner. “Sometimes you get so focused on your routine that it takes up all your head space,” says Bailey. “When you get a change of scenery on vacation, your significant other becomes this person with their own desires, hopes, dreams and opinions that you tend to ignore when you’re stuck in your routine.”

After a day of exploring Nelson’s Dockyard — where British navy ships were once serviced (1769 to 1889), and where later, Princess Margaret spent the first night of her honeymoon — then taking in the stunning ocean panorama at Shirley Heights, we get back to our room and find a trail of rose petals leading to the bubbling deep-soaker tub and a bottle of Prosecco on ice. It’s a surprise arranged by our butlers, and a reminder of when Colin and I used to make time for weekly baths together.

When we have a couples massage on one of our last days, the therapists guide us in lighting a candle and sharing vows. That evening, we toast each other during our candlelit dinner on the beach. Happily-ever-after moments are the type of occasions we’d usually joke our way through, but the week seems to have shifted something in each of us.

I’ve never had more compliments from Colin (“You look cute reading your book,” he tells me as I flip pages in Bailey’s latest romcom, “Hook, Line, and Sinker” — never mind that I’ve been reading beside him every night for over a decade), and I can’t remember the last time we held hands for more than 15 seconds.

It feels like the early days of dating again, but better because we know everything about each other, now more than ever after the pandemic’s forced 24/7 company. Back then, it wasn’t about epic sunsets or wild adventures either, but connecting over conversations and quiet moments. And that’s something we can keep going at home when we resume our roles as workers, cooks, cleaners, grocery-store regulars — all of that, plus two people in love.

Writer Caitlin Kenny travelled as a guest of Sandals Resorts, which did not review or approve this article.

Can Antigua, the Caribbean’s romance capital, reignite a pandemic-dulled spark? I gave it my best shot

Community May 13, 2022 by Caitlin Kenny The Kit

As the sun sinks closer to the Atlantic, gilding the tree-covered hills in the distance, and Ed Sheeran croons through the catamaran’s speakers, I turn and give my husband, Colin, a longing look. His eyes lock with mine. The salty air feels charged as he leans toward me. “Oh, you want a picture?” he asks, raising the camera.

If our romance is a little rusty, I blame the pandemic. It’s been two years of “date nights” that involve equal parts searching for something to watch and snoring through the eventual pick. We’ve locked down, office-shared, vaccine-hunted, Zoom-gathered, gotten through — function over fairy tale, because what more could anyone manage?

But a dulled spark is one “new normal” I’m not willing to accept, so Colin and I boarded a flight to Antigua, a contender for the Caribbean’s romance capital in part due to its popularity among blissed-out honeymooners. Its 365 white-sand beaches (one for every day of the year, the locals say) leave plenty of space for secluded lounging, and the island’s vibe is quieter and more tranquil than many of its party-ready neighbours.

“Antigua is known for having the most laid-back people,” our driver, Cyril, tells us as we leave the airport along bougainvillea-lined roads, past candy-coloured homes. “We’re so laid-back that road rage doesn’t even exist here.” (That’s a good thing: Among the 281-square-kilometre island’s six parishes, only St. John’s has any traffic lights.)

Though a scenic sunset cruise doesn’t instantly reignite our spark, I’m optimistic we’ll find it somewhere at Sandals Grande Antigua, our home for the week and the “Caribbean’s most romantic resort” (at least according to the World Travel Awards, the Oscars of the tourism industry, which has bestowed the title eight times). When I ask general manager Matthew Cornall to describe their most frequent guests, his voice softens: “Two people in love.”

In sync with Sandals Resorts’ 40th anniversary last year, the company launched the Institute of Romance, its own trend house dedicated to studying romance (via biannual surveys), so the resorts can evolve in step.

Among the first findings: 45 per cent of Canadian women surveyed wish their relationships mirrored the ones in romance novels, and so the company tapped New York Times bestselling author Tessa Bailey to help curate a get-you-in-the-mood romance library. The collection kicked off at its Grenada property, with plans to eventually roll out to its other resorts.

“Going outside your comfort zone can be a really great way to reconnect with your partner,” Bailey tells me when I call to steal her storybook-worthy tips. Sure, it’s a tried-and-true trope, but I’m willing to dabble in an adventure if it might be our shortcut to passion.

I hop off my lounger on Dickenson Bay Beach and suggest we borrow one of the resort’s Hobie Cats, essentially a small raft with a sail. After a five-second lesson on how it works, a huge gust of wind takes us away with surprising speed.

While Colin steers the rudder from the back, I face the bright teal view ahead, getting soaked by the waves and cackling from the thrill. We’re going in the wrong direction, but it only makes me laugh harder. “Isn’t this fun?!” I shout, turning back to see a stressed-out Colin.

“It’s not fun when it’s out of control,” my husband, the carefully calculated engineer, responds, adding after a pause, “…but it’s still fun because I’m with you,” with a pained grin. Progress, I decide.

Back on solid ground (and after googling sailing tutorials to put the engineer’s mind at ease), we’re both able to find the humour in it. With time to spare before dinner at Mario’s, one of the resort’s 11 restaurants, we sip pineapple cocktails in front of a firepit while the sky turns rosy. Our conversation soon drifts to childhood memories and plans for our future, and I suddenly realize how long it’s been since we talked about anything other than workday stresses.

Earlier, I noticed other firepits as well as hammocks, swings and tucked-away benches, all ideal spots to get cosy with your partner. “We’re nestled on 27 acres of land,” Cornall says. “Couples come primarily to spend time with each other, and they can do that here without being subject to large crowds and packed restaurants.”

Our favourite spot to unwind together is our room itself, a villa-style space with a four-poster bed, a fully stocked fridge, a Roman whirlpool tub, and a patio with a private plunge pool and hot tub. Plus, we have a cellphone that’s a direct line to either Corri, Sean or Durke, our three friendly butlers. They arrange breakfast to be delivered on our patio, and check with us each night to see where we’d like to have chairs and a cooler set up the next day.

Over the week, our wake-up pool dips and pre-dinner strolls become some of my favourite moments with Colin; at home, we’d usually spend our mornings getting out the door and our evenings rushing to cook dinner. “Sometimes you get so focused on your routine that it takes up all your head space,” says Bailey. “When you get a change of scenery on vacation, your significant other becomes this person with their own desires, hopes, dreams and opinions that you tend to ignore when you’re stuck in your routine.”

After a day of exploring Nelson’s Dockyard — where British navy ships were once serviced (1769 to 1889), and where later, Princess Margaret spent the first night of her honeymoon — then taking in the stunning ocean panorama at Shirley Heights, we get back to our room and find a trail of rose petals leading to the bubbling deep-soaker tub and a bottle of Prosecco on ice. It’s a surprise arranged by our butlers, and a reminder of when Colin and I used to make time for weekly baths together.

When we have a couples massage on one of our last days, the therapists guide us in lighting a candle and sharing vows. That evening, we toast each other during our candlelit dinner on the beach. Happily-ever-after moments are the type of occasions we’d usually joke our way through, but the week seems to have shifted something in each of us.

I’ve never had more compliments from Colin (“You look cute reading your book,” he tells me as I flip pages in Bailey’s latest romcom, “Hook, Line, and Sinker” — never mind that I’ve been reading beside him every night for over a decade), and I can’t remember the last time we held hands for more than 15 seconds.

It feels like the early days of dating again, but better because we know everything about each other, now more than ever after the pandemic’s forced 24/7 company. Back then, it wasn’t about epic sunsets or wild adventures either, but connecting over conversations and quiet moments. And that’s something we can keep going at home when we resume our roles as workers, cooks, cleaners, grocery-store regulars — all of that, plus two people in love.

Writer Caitlin Kenny travelled as a guest of Sandals Resorts, which did not review or approve this article.