The Caribbean island of Anguilla turned out to be the perfect place for a get-together with my high school best friend, Linda, after several COVID-postponed vacations. Arriving at Zemi Beach House, on the island’s northeast coast, we looked out at more shades of turquoise than we knew existed and agreed this paradise was worth waiting for.
Our vacation goals were sunshine, beaches, poolside cabanas, great food, cocktails, and tropical atmosphere. Zemi Beach House checked every box: a 76-room boutique hotel with four pools, sandy beach, spa, tennis, and a staff that made us feel pampered every minute we were there. A handwritten note welcomed us, and when it was time to leave, we received another note signed by many of Zemi’s lovely team members who felt like friends after just a few days.
Celebrities love Zemi Beach House too. Paris Hilton and her husband left the day we arrived, and several guests told us how gracious they were. Princess, the hotel’s rum expert (more about that later), related that her 12-year old son, a huge fan of “Cooking with Paris” was thrilled (and stunned) to receive a FaceTime call from Ms. Hilton.
Back to the Rhum Room, where Linda and I sampled premium Caribbean rums in a flight of five, just a few of the more than 100 single-estate small batch rums, each with unique flavors and styles. The elegant room is furnished with comfortable seating and a display of cigars for guests who enjoy the combination of rum and a fine smoke. Princess, the hotel’s “rummelier,” is knowledgeable, charming, and fun, and we tasted rare rums from Guadalupe, Mauritius, and several other islands along with insight from Princess about how the spirits were made and aged.
Our first dinner was served at a beachfront table, steps from the shore, surrounded by candles and lanterns with grilled steak, lobster, and our first Johnny cakes, the beginning of an obsession with the local fried bread that had us digging into every bread basket thereafter. Chewy, tasty, and a bit crisp outside, they were worth every carb and calorie.
An expansive buffet breakfast was served each day at 20 Knots, and we enjoyed our early meal with sea breezes and toes in the sand. Lunch and dinner are also served at beachfront tables and on the patio. From noon to 9 p.m. daily, there’s sushi at Bohio Lounge, and Stone, the hotel’s fine dining restaurant, also offers local seafood and meats with Asian flavors.
There’s entertainment each evening in Bohio Lounge. A favorite was Mystic Vibes, featuring a keyboard, saxophone, and singer. On Caribbean Night, dinner focused on local cuisine including grilled lobster, conch, salads, and desserts, accompanied by dance music from Boss and the Horse Power Band. Their energy had the dance floor full by the end of the evening.
We spent a morning at the Zemi Thai House Spa, set in an authentic 300-year-old house that was transported from Thailand nearly 50 years ago and restored in Anguilla. We started with a soak in a warm pool on the deck near the Thai Tea House juice bar. Guests can choose customized massages, body treatments, facials, and healing rituals in the tranquil atmosphere of the spa and then relax on a hammock, rattan swing chair, or cushioned lounge chair.
One of the best experiences was driving a Moke around the island. The vehicle was described to us as something between a golf cart and a Jeep, and although we were a bit nervous at first, we got used to it quickly. I drove and Linda navigated, mostly successfully, but bumping along off road and feeling lost temporarily was part of the fun. We stopped at beaches, a marina, and gorgeous view spots, laughing as we passed goats, roosters, and the same group of locals several times while we were a bit lost. Each time we passed by, we got a louder cheer.
We got to know some of our fellow guests — couples, families, retirees, groups of friends — who were just as delighted to be there as we were. Nicolette and Will were honeymooning and planning their future together with lots of possibilities before them. Ellen and Matthew, on their babymoon for two weeks of relaxation, were looking forward to the birth of their daughter. Others were enjoying the warm tropical setting before returning to cold winter weather in Chicago and New York.
As we boarded a boat to connect to our flight in St. Maarten — part of the fun of an Anguilla vacation — we agreed that our tropical vacation was worth waiting for. And that we were already looking forward to being back at Zemi Beach House.