One of the keys to a happy marriage is to celebrate your relationship constantly. It’s not enough to celebrate your wedding anniversary once a year – celebrate every chance you get. Bill and I used to have a monthly tradition of going out on the 4th of every month back when we had a little more control over our lives and schedules. Now, we have to scramble to claim that special time. But we do it.
I blogged on my 10th wedding anniversary about how we were NOT having a big party. No vow renewal. No huge ta-do. Actually, we spent the day alone together back up north in DC, going to our favorite shops and bakeries and planning a fantastic date night at home. Yes, we picked up a miniature white chocolate mousse cake from the same bakery that made our DC reception wedding cake, and we posted a couple pictures of us celebrating. But it wasn’t about having other people celebrate for us – we can do that on our own.
Every year, we celebrate the anniversary of the night that Bill FINALLY proposed to me. I say finally because I knew he had the ring and I’d been waiting FOREVER. His timing was amazing and not only did I say “Yes!” but I also got to show off my new bling at a friend’s Christmas party later that night. I also invited everybody I’d ever met to be a bridesmaid after a few cocktails, but that’s a topic for another blog.
Before we lived in Vieques, this is where we came to celebrate all of our special occasions. We got married here. We did a lot of our falling in love here. It’s the kind of island where you can always find someplace to be alone together. But after living here for more than seven years, even a stay-cation is not so romantic. We’ve got too much business on the island and everywhere we go, we know the people we see. Not that that’s a bad thing on an everyday basis, but when you’re looking for that special alone time, it’s hard when your waitress thinks nothing of sitting down to join you at dinner for a bit. You’d think that working together every day and living on a tiny island where we are definitely each other’s best friends would be enough, but it’s not. Sometimes you have to remove yourselves from your everyday environment to become totally focused on each other.
The week before Christmas, I realized we were sneaking up on the 11th anniversary of our engagement and had nothing planned. It was late at night when I started looking around online and I honestly didn’t plan to book a trip. But then I found a really good deal on Hotels.com for an ocean-view room at the super-famous El Conquistador Resort, a Waldorf Astoria property located on the big island right across the water from us. It’s literally a seven-minute flight over and a 15-minute taxi to the resort, but we’ve never actually stayed there before. Most of our big island trips are cargo ferry runs that involved precariously boarding an antiquated ferry in our Jeep before the sun rises, and then boogeying down to Costco near San Juan. That’s followed by 10-14 hours of shopping our way back up Rt. 3 which has everything from Bed, Bath & Beyond to Home Depot on it. Sadly, I know that the Walmart in Fajardo is open until 11 pm because I’ve shopped for wedding supplies til they booted me out at closing before.
We could never justify spending the night at a fancy resort like the El Conquistador when we’d be arriving at midnight and leaving by 8 am to catch the returning ferry. That would be a total waste of money when we could get a local’s rate at a decent, basic hotel nearer to the ferry dock. And we’re practical like that.
Imagine my surprise when I did my spontaneous search for a last-minute, pre-Christmas getaway, and up popped the famous resort across the water in the price-range I was looking for! It pure luck – squeaking in before the Christmas-madness crowd they were obviously preparing for – but it was worth every discounted dime. Without consulting Bill (who was snoring softly beside me in bed at that point), I made arrangements to book the room for two nights, and then proceeded to purchase plane tickets over. I justified the break by telling myself I needed to check out the resort for wedding clients anyway. I’ve done weddings at most of the other large properties on the big island – why not direct a bride to the El Conquistador if it lived up to expectations?
I never believe the hype til I experience it for myself and see if it’s as good as it claims to be. True life? I’ve had issues with the service at a lot of hotels on the big island. For the amount of money I’m spending, I expect to receive service commensurate with other like-hotels in that chain. With the exception of only a few, I’ve been disappointed. A lot of it may be cultural – as one person told me, “if you don’t like the pace of island life, move!” But as a member of the extended tourism industry through destination wedding planning, I just can’t agree with that direction. And we don’t always have the five-to-seven days necessary to jump on a cruise ship (our version of a big floating hotel). Remember, we live on a tiny island 20 miles by five miles wide. There are more places to shop on a cruise ship or in a large resort like El Conquistador than on our island. And they have Starbucks! Plus we’ve stayed in the Waldorf Astoria in New York so it would be an interesting comparison.
I didn’t tell Bill about the trip til I surprised him the night before. And just for shits and giggles, I decided to tweet the hotel @ElConResort that we were coming when I was posting pictures of the trip. Much to my shock and pleasure, they immediately started playing with me on Twitter, a very smart move for any property with excited arriving guests who tag them. When we arrived a little later than planned and my reservation wasn’t flawless (I told you it was booked in the middle of the night), a fabulous desk clerk named Giovanni took over and fixed it all up. In fact, I left Bill at the desk to deal with things (and he’s NEVER in charge of travel arrangements) and popped over to the spa so I wouldn’t be late for my pedicure appointment.
Giovanni not only took care of everything, she called me at the salon, where I was having snowmen painted on my toenails in homage to my dear friends up north, to give me my room number and tell me it was located almost directly across from the spa. I was literally the ONLY person in the salon that afternoon and they treated me like royalty. Thing is, I truly believe they make each and every guest feel special. You can just tell when the stellar service is standard and customary and at this hotel, it was. Nobody knew who we were or that we were wedding planners so they weren’t trying ot impress us. We were getting standard excellent service and treatment across the board.
The room was unbelievable and I’m pretty sure that rather than penalizing me for my stupid reservation mistake, Giovanni upgraded us! It was a suite with a balcony and an unbelievable view. The bathroom was so big that it had a full-size chaise lounge in it – and a Jacuzzi tub. Tired and just happy to be spoiled, we decided to get room service, and realized we didn’t have a menu in the room. Believe me, feeling foolish, we really hunted. Finally, Bill called the desk to request one. It arrived less than five minutes later. And we weren’t near the lobby at all. Even more shocking, five minutes later somebody called our room to make sure we’d gotten the menu.
The same thing happened when we called to request someone pick up the room service tray – a follow up call less than 10 minutes later and sure enough, we checked and it was gone. The message on the voicemail in our room the next day (after we spent the afternoon on the beach on their private Palomino Island) was management calling to make sure we were pleased with the housekeeping services in our room. Really? REALLY??? OMG, I love the El Conquistador.
I think I may have found my new home-away-from-home when I can afford it in Puerto Rico. It reminds me of The Homestead, a very famous historical resort in the mountains of Virginia where Bill and I would escape when we still live in DC. It was spendy so we saved it for our very special occasions. The “El Con” as locals call it, is now on the top of my list for nearby Caribbean escapes. Where can you go to “get away” when you already live in paradise? I think I’ve found it. And it’s the PERFECT recommendation for my clients who want to “mini-moon” after their weddings in Vieques but don’t have time to fly around island hopping.
We spent the day alone together, catching up on things that aren’t related to weddings, and figuring out which of our potential clients would like to get married at the El Con to give us an excuse to return soon. The day was special because we’d declared it so – we didn’t work, we didn’t make unnecessary phone calls, but we did post pictures to make our friends and family just a little jealous. We strolled the property. We took the tram up and down the side of the cliff. And we didn’t tell anybody who we were or where we’re from because, inevitably, we end up feeling like tour guides. Everybody is curious about tiny Vieques Island. Truth? We didn’t make any effort to meet anybody new or make any new friends. It was all about us. Nothing social about it.
Giovanni (or the Gods of the @ElConResort Twitter handle) remembered it was our engagement anniversary, and the hotel sent up wine and a cheese tray with a congratulatory note Saturday evening. Like The Homestead, dinner was top notch with a waiter literally 10 feet from my elbow the entire time. The minute I thought of something I needed, he was already there with whatever I was thinking about. Afterwards, we strolled the property and then climbed into bed to watch a movie and eat our dessert we’d been too full to eat the night before.
Yes, there were people dancing in the bar off the lobby. And there was other action going on too. Sometimes, we’re in the mood for that. But remember, we spend almost every weekend (and some weeknights) at wedding events and receptions with relatively loud music, shouting to hear each other. Doing that on our anniversary getaway would be my own personal version of hell. I don’t need other people. I don’t need outside stimulation. I just need my husband. To myself. And he needs me too.
Celebrate EVERY important anniversary, and remember to take note on a monthly basis too, even if all you do is kiss your spouse and tell him or her that you love them. Save up for the occasional treat to someplace special. On a budget? We used to run away for camping weekends all the time when we live in the city. It’s about making time for each other. It’s hard to do it at home, but it can be done with the right amount of focus and determination. Just never forget to acknowledge the important dates. And feel free to make up new ones as your marriage grows and you have new things to celebrate!
I don’t usually blog about specific hotels (this is NOT a paid endorsement by any means) – I’ve written about escaping to The Carambola Beach Resort in St. Croix (and afterward I ran into clients there honeymooning based on my blog’s recommendation). I blogged about the fabulous St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort after planning a wedding there, but I didn’t get to stay at the hotel or be a “guest” – I was staff for an event. But our escape to the El Conquistador definitely reminded me that celebrating important anniversaries – like our engagement – are worth exploring the places we’ve always heard about but never had the pleasure of visiting.
Start celebrating the important dates now – all of them. Every time they roll around. Your first date, your first kiss, your engagement, and everything else important that’s happened in your coupled life. Your annual wedding anniversary isn’t the only time you should take to reflect on your relationship and marriage – you should do it on a regular basis. And then take the time alone with your spouse to show them exactly how much you love him or her.
Until next time, happy wedding planning from Weddings in Vieques and Sandy Malone Weddings & Events. And if you can’t find me on Vieques, it’s possible I’ll be hiding at the El Con on the big island!