As summer “vacation” comes to a close with school starting back up [sort of] for many of us, I thought I would recap how we spent ours, here in Wilmington! First, allow me to paint you a picture (figuratively, of course). Every year for about the last half decade or so, my family has spent a week together at the JW Marriott Grande Lakes in Orlando, Florida. No matter where each of us lived or worked or how the family grew, we would always look forward to gathering around the picturesque oasis, toasting mojitos and floating down the Lazy River together. Our annual vacation this year was scheduled for the first week of June, but — well, I’m sure you know why that didn’t happen, so I’ll just leave it right there. #covidproblems
Anyway, in effort to make the best of a somewhat “bummer” start to summer, we decided to create our own little “resort” staycation in Wilmington, North Carolina that would be one to remember. AND, thanks to the magic of TimeHop, we got to see in real-time how we stacked up against our vacays from recent years!
The Accommodations & Recreation
My little nephews up here refer to the JW resort accommodations as “The Pink Tower” and rightfully so (I mean, just look at it). While we didn’t have a pink tower that sat behind the picturesque waterfalls per se, we did have a pretty sweet recreation structure equipped with a breezy covered porch, a rock-climbing wall, two leisurely swings and a slide. The pirate-themed water feature was also a hit for both youngsters and grown-ups alike! (Check out this “dino” version here!)
The Poolside Lounge Chair Service
Ah, yes. There is just something to be said about poolside lounge chair service. You stake out a prime location in close proximity to the pool, just close enough to the trees for a light breeze and near an umbrella for added shade if needed. Then, you set up your sunning station and raise a little flag on the back of your chair for food and beverage service. Your server not only brings your order right to you, they also take away the dishes once you’ve finished. So how does one achieve this in their backyard “oasis” where there is no waitstaff? I’m so glad you asked…
Let’s see… Trees? Check. Umbrella? Check. Lounge chair? Check. All we really needed was a cooler within a reachable distance for our drinks (check.), a table to hold our snacks (check.) and a receptacle to dispose of our single-use plates and cutlery at our leisure (check… dusts shoulder off). AND… no gratuity necessary!
- Beach Chair (similar here)
- Folding Lounge Chair (similar here, similar 2pk here)
- Striped Tilt Umbrella (similar here)
The Mojito Mixology
This one was a little ambitious, as we all unanimously agree that the JW’s poolside restaurant, Quench, truly makes the best mojitos we have ever tasted. That said, we decided not to go toe-to-toe with Quench’s exact mojito recipe (because who wants to set themselves up to fall short?). Instead, we dabbled with a “skinny” version of the summery cocktail! I have to say, our Skinny Mojito turned out positively delightful — so much so, that I’ve shared the recipe below (for adults 21+ please enjoy responsibly).
BONUS: For an equally delightful summer mocktail, simply skip the rum and enjoy the fresh flavors and bubbles all by themselves!
- 1/2 Lime, quartered
- 5-10 Mint Leaves
- 1 Cup of Ice
- 1oz White Rum (we used Captain Morgan Silver)
- 1 Tablespoon of Agave Nectar (instead of traditional simple syrup)
- 1/2 Cup of LaCroix Sparkling Water (we used the Coconut flavor and it was YUM-azing!)
- In a tall, highball glass, muddle lime and mint
- Tip: Before slicing the lime, lay your hand flat and roll it over the lime like a rolling pin a few times to get the most juice out of each slice
- Pour the rum over the muddled lime and mint
- Add the Agave Nectar and stir
- Add the ice
- Top off with your LaCroix of choice
- Optional: Garnish with an additional lime slice and a sprig of mint leaves
The On-Site Oasis
Our most favorite feature of the JW’s pool is their famous Lazy River! The resort fee covers 2 inner tube floats per room, so once you check them out at the poolside kiosk you’re ready to float down the relaxing Lazy River! It begins conveniently beside the walk-in pool where your littles can splash and play, then the gentle current takes you by peaceful waterfalls and under bridges with regal lion-head fountains and lush tropical foliage on either side (see below, left).
Obviously, the boys could not miss out on the walk-in splashing experience! Who needs regal lion-head fountains spouting water through their mouths when you have a sea life themed water-inflated splash pad in the convenience of your own back yard (er… your sister’s back yard)?!?? The boys didn’t seem to miss the kiddie pool at the JW and their “Unca” may have even had the most fun out of the 3 of them here! 🙂
Recreating The Grande Lakes Colada
Much like our experience with the Mojito, we thought we’d try our hand at recreating the JW’s Grande Lakes Colada (a take on the traditional Miami Vice, which alternates layers of strawberry daiquiri and piña colada), except we’d instead concoct a “skinny” version of the frozen cocktail. Much like the Skinny Mojito, this little delight did not fail to disappoint either! Check out the recipe below (again, for 21+ please enjoy responsibly).
BONUS: For a lovely frozen summer mocktail, simply skip the rum and enjoy the chilly blend of fruit and coconut flavors!
- Piña Colada Layer:
- 1 Cup Frozen Pineapple
- 1/4 Cup Pineapple Juice
- 1/2 Cup Unsweetened Cream of Coconut
- 1/2 Cup of Ice
- 1 oz. Coconut Rum (such as Parrot Bay or Malibu)
- 1 oz. Dark Rum (we used Meyer’s Dark Rum)
- Strawberry Daiquiri Layer:
- 1 Cup Frozen Strawberries
- 1 TBSP Lime Juice
- 1/2 Cup of Ice
- 2 oz. Light Rum (We used Captain Morgan Silver)
- For Garnish:
- Coconut Whipped Cream
- Fresh Strawberries
- Blend each layer separately
- Fill glasses evenly with one recipe layer
- Top evenly with the other recipe layer
- Repeat alternating layering until glasses are full (or until you run out)
- Garnish with dollop of Coconut Whipped Cream
- Make a slice into the bottom of the strawberries and place on rims of each glass
The Sun-Soaked Afternoons
Honestly, this one needs no explanation. Just our sassy pup, Winnie, living her best life! She doesn’t get to partake in JW vacays with us, so she was pretty thrilled to be included here this year (in case you couldn’t tell).
The Fresh Asian Fare
One thing I have really missed until recent weeks has been fresh sushi. It is truly an art form and the combination of flavors is something we all craved while waiting for restaurants to reopen post-shutdown. So, you can imagine what a tease it was to have TimeHop taunt me with pictures of some of the freshest sushi we had the pleasure of enjoying during last year’s vacay! Thankfully, The Fresh Market was having a BOGO sale on Ahi Tuna at the time (SCORE!) so we decided to get our fix (by way of Instacart) and created our own guilt-free Asian-inspired Seared Tuna Bowls. Check out the YUM-azing recipe below!
Side Note: Use the link provided and code KATYS180109 for $10 off your first Instacart order.
- 2 Ahi Tuna Fillets (approx. 8 oz. each; feeds 4 adults)
- Lowry’s Sesame Ginger Marinade
- 4 Guacamole Snack Cups (1 per person)
- Fresh Salsa
- Fresh Cole Slaw Mix (no dressing)
- Wasabi Sauce
- Spicy Mayo
- 1 Cup Olive Oil Mayonnaise
- 3 Tablespoons Sriracha Sauce (or to desired level of spiciness)
- 1/8 Tsp Sesame Oil
- Marinate Tuna Fillets in Sesame Ginger Marinade overnight
- Grill to desired level of doneness (I found a few helpful tutorials from Better Homes & Gardens here) and let it rest about 10 minutes
- Build your bowls:
- Fill the bottom of your bowl with the fresh cole slaw mix
- Add Guacamole
- Drizzle with Spicy Mayo
- Add desired amount of Salsa
- Slice Tuna into 1/8″-1/4″ thick slices and layer desired amount atop previous ingredients
- Dollop with Wasabi Cream
- Optional: Drizzle low sodium soy sauce or Ponzu Sauce on top
- For fans of Tuna Tacos, simply add these layers onto your favorite tortillas and enjoy (I recommend these for guilt-free enjoyment)
The Happy Hour Libations
Last year, we embarked upon happy hour one evening at Norman’s, located at the adjoining Ritz-Carlton property (sadly, the restaurant has since closed). The items we ordered were so fresh and inventive, so this year, we decided to craft our own creative cocktails in our copper vessels just like we had experienced at Norman’s. Well, maybe not just like it — we continued our “guilt-free” approach and created (…you guessed it…) Skinny Kentucky Mules (a take on the traditional “Moscow” Mule that uses bourbon in lieu of vodka). Check out the recipe below (once more, for 21+ please enjoy responsibly).
BONUS: For a refreshing and not-too-sweet summer mocktail, simply skip the bourbon and enjoy the gingery lime flavors and bubbles without it!
- 1/2 Cup of Ice
- Juice of 1/2 Lime
- 2 oz. Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon
- 3.5 oz. Fever Tree Refreshingly Light Ginger Beer
- Sprig of Fresh Mint for Garnish
- Add all ingredients into copper vessel(s) in the order they are listed above
- Stir gently and garnish with Mint
- NOTE: For a traditional Moscow Mule, simply replace bourbon with vodka of choice.
The Upscale Culinary Creations
While the we weren’t able to sample the inventive culinary creations at the adjoining hotel properties this year, we did have a bit of a craving for upscale cuisine; however, minus the upscale prices. The Fresh Market was offering a BOGO special on crab cakes at the time (SCORE AGAIN!), so we paired it with tortellini and sautéed spinach tossed together in pesto sauce. It was just what we needed! Recipe below.
- 4 Fresh Crab Cakes
- 1 20oz. Package of Tortellini
- 1 5oz. Package of Fresh Baby Spinach
- 1-2 Cloves Garlic Chopped
- 3 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Coconut Oil
- 1 Tsp Nutmeg
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- Pesto Sauce
- 1/2 Lemon, sliced
- Follow cooking instructions included on the Tortellini packaging, then drain pasta
- Sauté Spinach:
- Add oil and garlic to nonstick sauce pan and sauté on Medium heat for 1-2 minutes
- Add spinach, nutmeg, salt and pepper and sauté until spinach is beginning to appear more tender (not wilted)
- Reduce heat to Low setting and toss in the tortellini with the sautéed spinach (spinach will continue to cook down)
- Gently stir in desired amount of pesto (usually 6-8 oz.)
- Follow cooking instructions included on the Crab Cakes packaging, as directed by Fresh Market
- Plate together and serve with a lemon slice each
The Votes Are In:
All in all, we’d say our little summer resort stay-cation was a success! Five hypothetical stars on TripAdvisor, Yelp and Google! So we didn’t float down the Lazy River on inner tubes, or indulge in heavy craft foods or cocktails prepared and served by upscale restaurants. We did, however, get creative with our water features and sunning stations plus the craft indulgences we came up with were not only YUM-azing, but they were also a touch healthier! I mean, we were already climbing out of the COVID “nineteen” post-quarantine, so unless we wanted to go up a few pants sizes, we had to put a healthier spin on things! When it was all said and done, we spent quality time with our spouses, our siblings and their kiddos, making memories that we won’t soon forget. Our nephews had a blast in their own custom backyard water park eating their secretly healthy store-bought gourmet pop-cicles (BOGO-Free at Publix right now!), and let’s be honest — that’s what really mattered most!
Now, I’m not saying it wasn’t disappointing to cancel our plans and have to “vacation in-place” instead. If the opportunity arose for us to pick up and go to the JW, you’d better believe I’d floating down that lazy river faster than you can say mojito! I will say that while we did not visit the JW, we did eventually did make it to Florida this summer and it was a beyond wonderful visit (but more on that later).
Suffice to say, 2020 has been rough for many of us out there, not excluding yours truly here either; and I just want to clarify that when I say “rough” I’m not talking about the truly tragic, life-altering losses that I have witnessed near and far this year. I’m talking about the inconveniences, the re-budgeting, “mascne” (mask-induced acne — it’s a thing, trust me), the waiting, the isolation, the circumstantial discomforts and disappointments of the last several months. That said, much like this “Resort Stay-cation” and the Home-waiian Getaway from earlier this year, 2020 will inevitably be what we make of it, whether it’s turning lemons into lemonade or limes into margaritas. The difference is with whom you’re raising a glass and your gratitude for the ingredients that make it better. So, here are a few things I am especially thankful for in this season:
- Family members that feel more like friends
- Overall good health of my loved ones
- The unconditional love of our pup, Winnie
- Our jobs
- Beautiful weather
- Bonus time with family
- Bathing suits that still fit
- Food on the table
- Instacart (code: KATYS180109 for $10 off)
- God’s providence for all of our needs
- The hospitality of my sister and brother in-law
- Hope in the midst of uncertainty
“When you’re busy counting your blessings, you don’t have nearly as much time to wallow in your hardships.“
We have a distinct choice when it comes to how we handle things not going our way or meeting our standards. We can either choose to be victims of our circumstances and fall into a pit of self pity and despair, letting our emotions float us down a lazy river of disappointment and broken plans; OR, we can create an oasis with what we have been given, make some healthier choices for ourselves where we can, and trust in God to restore our Joy in the midst of trials. Pursuing Joy really starts with thankfulness. Seems way too simple, right? Think about it though. When you’re busy counting your blessings, you don’t have nearly as much time to wallow in your hardships.
My Believer’s perspective: Jesus didn’t go through the suffering and anguish he endured on our behalf so that we could perpetuate lives of sorrow and misery. He made those extravagant sacrifices for us so that we may have life and have it abundantly, filled with Joy beyond our difficulties and disappointments. We have the blessed assurance that he will not only meet our needs and comfort us amid our hardships, but also that He has prepared a place for us for when this temporal life and the struggles that come with it are merely a thing of the past. Jesus chose Joy for us — that alone is cause for a thankful heart and hope for us yet in 2020!
“I will praise You through the fire,
Through the storm and through the flood.
There is nothing that could ever steal my song.
In the valley You are worthy, you are good when life is not.
You will always and forever be my song.”I Choose to Worship | Rend Collective