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There’s something magical – if not downright decadent – about sitting on a tropical beach, steel drums playing in the background, and eating and drinking to your hearts content! Uniformed waiters with silver trays of hors d’oeuvres and drinks plying the crowd. Neon colored tables dotting the white sand… The glorious sunset over the ocean…

Sound like heaven?!? It was! Welcome to the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman!

We were at The Ritz-Carlton for 5 days of fun and relaxation, compliments of Victor’s company! He was nominated for – and won – his company’s President’s Club Award for 2005! Along with about 35 other employees and their SO’s or guests, we were about to embark on a five-day food-and-fun extravaganza, Ritz-Carlton style!

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The opening night “Barefoot on the Beach” reception set the tone for the week! It was an eclectic array of food, to be sure! Fresh yellow tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and chiffonade of basil sat next to tropical fruit. Mixed greens were dressed with pineapple infused white balsamic vinegar… Coconut breaded grouper with mango salsa competed with jerked chicken and chunks of flank steak with red and yellow peppers in an Asian/Island inspired sauce. The freshly baked rolls were light as air…

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Desserts included rum cakes and build-your-own sundaes, with every imaginable topping! It was approaching midnight when we finally said goodnight…

The following morning greeted us with a group breakfast. Fairly typical buffet, but the stand-out was the pastries. Okay, I admit that I’m a pastry fanatic and barely noticed the other foods, but for once I actually didn’t over-indulge. I was on my way to 5 glorious hours in the Silver Rain Spa…..

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Well into the afternoon, after being steamed, sauna’d, massaged and pampered, we headed to “7” the resort’s casual dining restaurant overlooking the ocean. We started with a calamari appetizer and then I ordered a blackened grouper sandwich… just to die for! We actually ate light (well… ‘light’ is relative, I guess…) because in just a few hours, the Gala Awards Dinner was about to commence!

A lounge by the ocean was in order and we trekked off for a bit of sun and relaxation, first stopping off at Bar Jack for a cool drink…

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The awards dinner was everything one would expect it to be – and more! Liveried waiters passing every conceivable food… Miniature Beef Wellington?!? Scallops in bacon?!? Fresh melon and prosciutto?!? Satay’s of jerked chicken and beef?!? I was stuffed before dinner began! But that certainly didn’t stop me from enjoying another wonderful meal! Our first course was a napoleon of perfectly sliced red and yellow tomatoes layered with fresh mozzarella atop a crusty crouton. Drizzled with a simple oil and vinegar dressing, and topped with a chiffonade of fresh herbs…

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The entrée was a New York steak – perfectly medium rare – with a puree of Yukon gold potatoes and (I think) basil (chives?!?) I’m having trouble recalling the vegetable… It was a julienned-blend-of-something-extravaganza. But the overall presentation was tres unique! Two 12” random-formed crackery breadsticks stuck out of the potatoes and vegetables, giving the appearance of I dunno… antennae or wings… Even after all my years of hotel food and beverage, it was an impressive presentation! A simple, but elegantly presented crème brulee for dessert… The awrds given, the last cup of coffee consumed, we headed upstairs, with smiling stomachs…

The following morning room service arrived with a simple breakfast of lox and bagels, a platter of fresh tropical fruits, and a brioche French toast! Glasses of chilled mango juice, and a pot of coffee later, we were on our way to swim with the Stingrays!

The luncheon on the catamaran was a simple cold cut buffet, and after swimming and snorkeling, we needed a bit more substance after arriving back to the hotel. Off to Bar Jack, the pool lounge for a bite…

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Lunch at the Bar jack is a ‘box lunch’ – Bento Box, that is… I had a chicken salad club on grilled ciabatta, served with a tuna salad, peas and carrots – and a moist, light brownie! Victor opted for a chicken satay with a mahogany Asian sauce that was to die for! Served with rice, it also came with the tuna salad. His dessert was a rum spice cake. Fully sated, we headed to the beach…

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Cocktail waitresses sauntered back and forth with their trays of iced concoctions. And then a gentleman arrived with frozen washcloths for us to cool our weary brows. Frozen washcloths. You heard me right. Frozen washcloths. I could really get used to this. But… we had to head back up to the room… More food was on the way!

Dinner was another treat! The group was broken into smaller groups and we headed out to some local restaurants. Our group headed to The Reef Grill … Appetizers were Crab Cakes with a jerk mayo and something else wonderful that I can no longer recall… And I was sober!

Entrées this time around were Honey Soy Glazed Sea Bass with a Thai Curry Sauce, and Coconut Grouper with Pineapple Salsa. Dessert was the local favorite Tortuga Rum Cake, served with vanilla ice cream and crème fraiche! The cake was moist and dripping with Tortuga rum… the ice cream that perfect consistency… the crème fraiche added that extra leap into gastronomic heaven… I was too full to move. I wanted more…..

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At 7:00am the following morning, there was a discreet tap on the door. Room service had arrived with breakfast! Now, 7:00am may seem like an ungodly hour when one is on vacation, but we’re early risers, and we had jeeps reserved to explore the island! The early bird gets to eat more!

The waiter rolled in our table and began to explain our meal. Lobster frittata with asparagus and a lobster cream sauce, fingerling potatoes fried with peppers and onions… Eggs Benedict with eggs that actually had a runny yolk! A perfect hollandaise sauce… More mango juice, more coffee… I was beginning to get used to this! Really used to this! Granted, i was going to need a new wardrobe, but what the heck. Fat is beautiful in some cultures!

We picked up our jeep and headed out on our own… Into George Town for a bit of souvenir shopping was the first order of the day… Quaint and quiet best describes George Town. The low buildings and colonial look belie the money, for it is banking that The Cayman Islands are famous for. Tourism pulls in a distant second!

We stopped off at the Cayman Islands National Museum, and although it was closed for renovation, did pick up a few trinkets at the gift shop. And then it was on to the north end of the island…

Driving on the opposite side of the road didn’t prove to be difficult, at all. Of course, the roads were virtually empty. I couldn’t imagine trying to pull it off in Piccadilly Circus, but we managed quite well.

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We ended up at Rum Point because, well… we were hungry again, and the place had been highly recommended. Again, we weren’t disappointed! I dived into Conch Fritters with a spicy mango mayonnaise while Victor went for a blackened mahi-mahi sandwich. We ran into several fellow travelers and spent a quiet afternoon laughing and joking, and eating….. and eating…..

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A leisurely drive back to the hotel, and it was up to the room. We needed to rest up a bit, because Havana Nights was coming up! So we ordered a snack… Imported cheeses and fried calamari… We joked that here, “imported cheese” could mean Kraft Singles… but this is the Ritz-Carlton, after all… No such processed cheese food sullied our plate. Instead, it was a wedge of assiago, fresh mozzarella, muenster, and an excellent Camembert… Bottles of Perrier to cleanse the palate… Nap or shower?! We had to start getting ready…..

Papagallo Restaurant… What an experience! Again, we were greeted with uniformed waiters with trays of food and drink. Three bars were set up. Outdoors, there were beers and wines, inside the main bar was full-service, and off to the side was a Mojito bar. Mojitos… what a concept! Oh yum.

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Right inside the foyer was a gentleman who looked to be 80. He was hand-rolling Cuban cigars! Free Cuban cigars! Perfectly rolled free Cuban cigars! I’ve died and gone to heaven – again!

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The main dining room was a riot of color! HUGE fresh floral centerpieces on vibrant table cloths. Sparkling crystal – and food! The plated hors d’oeuvres included plates of fried plantains, frites, ciabatta-like sandwiches… A half-dozen varieties of rolls… and this didn’t count the food being passed by the wait staff! Letting the belt out by yet another notch, I dived in…

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We were summoned to the buffet where whole grouper shared a carving station with a whole roasted pig… chicken fritters, seafood fritters, vegetable fritters… a marinated beef that was so tender it melted in your mouth. Shrimp cocktail, salsas and guacamole, rice dishes, and the best Cuban Black Beans I’ve ever tasted! There were salads for days, but I didn’t want to waste precious stomach space on foods I could get at home! I can do salad any time…

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Speaking of stomach space… I was beginning to feel a bit full before heading off to the buffet, but did that stop me?!? Of course not! I was on a mission here! I had to taste everything! And by golly, I did! Er… almost… I really did try to just take small tastes of the different foods, but my taste buds overruled my brain. It was just too wonderful to stop.

And then… Desserts. Why they don’t put the desserts out first is beyond me! It’s my favorite part of the meal, and I hadn’t saved any room for them, at all! No two ways about it, I was going to have to take one for the Gipper… Belt out another notch… I heaed to the dessert table…

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Creamy flan… Rum cake that dripped rum, chocolate mousse, a Cuban bread pudding that was perfect in every way. My eyes were glassy and glazed over… I was wonderfully miserable.

And then the music really started! Sexy, sultry Cuban dancers took to the floor and performed some of the sexiest dirty dancing I’ve ever seen! Hot, sultry… electrically charged… It was great.

The dancers headed into the audience to drag unsuspecting victims up to the stage. Any other time I would have been eager to go – I love to dance – but not this night. The only salsa that was happening with me had mango in it… Mango – not Tango…

With the grace of an elephant about to give birth, we left… We had an early flight out the next day, and I needed all the time I could get to digest this week.

The following morning came way too soon. Bags were packed and picked up by the bellman as we headed downstairs to our last bit of food before our flight.

I can’t recall ever eating so much in a mere five days! Nor can I recall more beautiful sunsets, a more professional and courteous staff, or a more perfect time, shared with some truly wonderful folks!

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I wanna go back!

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