Aruba Trip Report

Nov 9th, 2003, 05:51 AM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 82
Aruba Trip Report

Hi everyone! My husband (25) and I (24) just returned from our first trip to Aruba! I'm going to write a very long and detailed trip report to help out as many fellow vacationers as possible.

PART 1: GENERAL TRAVEL INFO
We booked our vacation through ATA Vacations online, at around $1900 for the 2 of us for a nonstop roundtrip flight and 7 nights stay at the Holiday Inn Sunspree in an oceanfront room category, also included airport transfers and trip cancellation insurance. We departed on Nov 1st from Chicago Midway Airport. The couple in the seat directly behind us had a screaming child that screamed for the entire 5 hour flight there, and the majority of the return 5 hour flight home. It doesn't make for a pleasant flight, let's just leave it at that. Beyond that, customs arriving and departing Aruba was a breeze, no problems. The flight only serves a small snack, so you might want to take something to munch on the flight. When we arrived back in Chicago last night, the pilot came on the speakers and said that it was "a balmy 34 degrees." I felt like crying. Take me back to Aruba!!!!

PART 2: HOLIDAY INN SUNSPREE
First of all, let me start by saying this was an excellent value for the money, right on Palm Beach. We had requested a non-smoking room, but were given a smoking room. When we asked to change, they said the non-smoking rooms were filled, but we could try again in the morning. We decided to stick with our room, since it was a perfect location, and we didn't want to hassle with moving. Besides that, we also managed to get our room aired out to the point that the smell of smoke was no longer present. We stayed in Curacao building room # 7142, which is an oceanfront room on the ground floor, lovely view. Our room was just fine, as was the entire hotel, clean and comfortable, which was all we required. When you walk into the hotel, you enter the open-air lobby, off to the side of that you enter a shopping area and then a casino. The food at the Holiday Inn was okay for breafast and lunch, not great, and the service at the restaurants left a lot to be desired. The bartenders were excellent though. They had a nice sized swimming pool, but we never went in it or layed near it. Why would we when there is that perfect ocean right in front of us? The ocean was all different shades of teal, blue, and green, with the smallest waves I've ever seen, breaking right at the sand with the largest wave being maybe 3 inches. The waves from the boats were larger than the waves from the ocean. It was wonderful to swim in, and it was safe to actually swim in. It was wonderful! Who needs a pool when you have that ocean?

Now for some of the negatives. The Holiday Inn really should clean up it's beaches daily. There gets to be litter around the beaches, and it's not the best of impressions. The other hotels appeared to take better care of their beaches. The safe in the room did not work properly. We would program a code into the safe, and 5 minutes later, the thing would just open itself. We ended up locking valuables in our suitcase, because we felt safer doing that than using the non-locking safe. Also, the hotel needs to replace the broken lounge chairs. The hotel could also beef up it's security a bit. There was a medical emergency in which several phone calls were placed for an ambulance and security, the ambulance I can understand taking a bit, but security took a long time and that was unacceptable.

All in all, you get what you pay for. We paid for comfortable and clean, and that's exactly what we got.

PART 3: ACTIVITIES
We had a lot of problems with DePalm Tours. I had booked online ahead of time for their Discover Aruba Tour ($75) and the Passport To Paradise 1/2 Day Trip to DePalm Island ($90). I printed off the information they sent me after my credit card was charge, not expecting any problems. When I went to exhange those for boarding passes for these prepaid activities, they wouldn't give them to me. They had to confirm payment, come back the next day. So I show up the next morning, they move the tour again to the next day. The next day we wait for the bus to pick us up for the Discover Aruba Tour, it never does, I go to find out what is going on, and they say the tour is not running that day, even though the day before I was given a boarding pass by their representative. So they moved it to the next day again! That afternoon they actually showed up, the tour took us to the California Lighthouse, Alto Vista Chapel, Natural Bridge, Arikok National Park, the caves, and Baby Beach for snorkeling. The tour was not worth all the hassles involved in getting to go on it. The snorkeling at Baby Beach was a waste of time, there was nothing to see.

The DePalm Tours for Passport To Paradise 1/2 Day Tour to DePalm Island was to take place on Thursday morning. We had the boarding pass in hand and waited for our pickup. And waited...and waited...and waited. Finally, furious, my husband goes to find out what is going on. They make a phone call, and oops, the bus forgot to pick us up. His displeasure was evident, and they rectified things by immediately paying for a taxi to take us to the dock for our ferry to their island. The snorkeling at DePalm Island was great, by far the best either of us have ever seen. There were huge fish, all different colors, all over the place, it was incredible. We will brave dealing with DePalm Tours again just to go back to their island, we enjoyed it that much. Next time we will do the full day tour for even more time snorkeling.

We made reservations via email from home for Roberto's Private Snorkeling for Weds morning at 8:30am. It cost us $100 total to have the boat to ourselves with just the driver of the boat taking us to the Antilla, the reef, and another stop for all sorts of fish. I get seasick easily, so that was all I could take, and we returned to dry land. Thank heavens we did have the boat to ourselves, or I would have had to suffer through however many more hours it would have been. The snorkeling was okay, not great, but enough to entertain us for a while. The driver was very friendly and helpful. They are set up right by Moomba's, in between the Holiday Inn and the Marriott. They departed from right in front of our hotel, so it was very convenient also. Another thing, since we went out at 8:30am, we had all the snorkel sights completely to ourselves; the other snorkelers were not out yet. They did a great job, and it was well worth the money.

One night we went to go see the "Let's Go Latin" show at the Crystal Theater. It was a good time, entertaining, even my husband managed to enjoy himself, and he didn't really want to go in the first place. I believe the price for the two of us was somewhere between $70-$80.

We went parasailing one afternoon. Only 10 minutes after we decided to go, we were on the boat headed out to parasail. We booked right in front of our hotel, it cost us either $70 or $80 for the double ride we had. They fastened him behind me, and up we went. It wasn't scary at all, just fun and it's interesting to see just how small the island really is.

We went horseback riding with Rancho Daimari, which was booked in advance via email. They picked us up at our hotel, took us on a terrifying van ride to the ranch, then we had to sign a waiver of liability. It would have been $100 for a regular ride, but we paid $150 for a private ride. I was nervous, since I have zero horse experience, but in hindsight, we would have been better off in the regular group, since there were only half a dozen people in that group anyways. Our private guide took us through Arikok National Park, which looked like Mars, with incredible views of the ocean's fury with big waves all over the place. We galloped over the sand dunes and galloped more later on. It was fun, but kind of scary for someone as inexperienced as I am, but it was a good time. They later said they gallop over the sand so if someone falls off they are less likely to get seriously injured. Our guide took us to the natural pool, which was difficult to climb into, and really tough to climb out of, with all the slippery and sharp rocks everywhere. It was cool to see the waves run up over the back side of the pool in a fury and it was a lot of fun. I would recommend the horseback ride to anyone.

We went into Orajestad and looked around. We would have liked to spend more time there, but we couldn't drag ourselves away from that perfect beach very often.

We took nightly moonlit walks along the beach. The beach is so soft and wonderful and just keeps going. Our last night on the island, we walked so far we actually made it to Eagle Beach. It was strange to stand on the pier like thing and look out to the right and see Palm Beach looking all calm and peaceful, and look to the left and see Eagle Beach with it's waves everywhere. It was the oddest thing to see.

An activity we really wanted to do that looked like fun but there wasn't enough time was the Kukoo Kunucku party bus. It looked like such a blast. Next time...

Any casino lover would be just fine here. There were casinos all over the place, some of them 24 hours, you could gamble to your hearts content.

PART 4: ARUBA
Aruba was actually greener than we expected it to be. No, it is not lush by any means, but there was green here and there. I thought it was cool to see cactus and palm trees together, it certainly is something that I had never seen before. Aruba was also much hillier than I had imagined. I had pictured something totally flat, and that's not what it is. I felt totally safe on the island at all times, anywhere we were, day and night. It was wonderful! Taxis are easy and reasonably priced, with every taxi driver we encountered being very friendly and helpful. Everyone was very friendly and wonderful. The roads use international road signs. It is mandatory in Aruban schools for them to learn Dutch, Spanish, and English, they learn Papiamento at home, and many of them also speak French and German. We never knew what language we were hearing! Dress on the island is very casual. I would recommend dressing nicely for dinner, doesn't need to be fancy, but leave the shorts and tank tops for something a bit nicer. Everyone kept talking about how windy Aruba is...we barely noticed it. It only seemed windy on a couple of days, usually in the evening, it never fazed us a bit on the beach. The sun is strong in Aruba, wear lots and lots of sunscreen. As for it never raining on Aruba, let me tell you, I saw rain. It rained one day for about half an hour, another day for a few hours, and then our departure day it rained from when we got out of the ocean to get ready to leave and it was still raining when our flight took off. The weather was generally perfect though, and I loved it!

Another thing that I loved was seeing all the lizards around and about. Some little ones, so big ones, some brown, some green, it was cool. We also saw lots of little crabs around and about hiding in bushes and such. They never bothered anyone, most of the time nobody even noticed them.

I had read about the stray cats and dogs situation on the island. You see them, but they don't look to be suffering too badly. All the strays around the Holiday Inn I think are cared for by various guests, some who bring them their leftover dinners, some who buy cat food to feed them. It was nice to see people helping out.

PART 5: DINING
Every morning we ate the breakfast buffet in the Holiday Inn Sunspree hotel. It was okay, got a bit old after a while, they would have benefited from some extra fruit choices or donuts or something different. Cost for breakfast buffets for 2 including tip was $31.

Lunch was frequently at Moomba's, located between the Holiday Inn and the Marriott. It's an open air place on the beach, with the motto, "No shirt, No shoes, No problem." They also have an internet area that looked reasonably priced though we didn't touch it for those who just have to get online. Lunch ranged in price from $26-$40 including tip. It was good food, sometimes excellent service, sometimes okay service. Perfect place to watch the ocean while enjoying lunch.

The other place we had lunch a couple of times was the Sea Breeze Bar & Grill at the Holiday Inn hotel. Prices there averaged about $35 including tip for the 2 of us.

For dinner options:

La Trattoria el Faro Blanco, we had sunset reservations for 6pm at the ultra romantic railing table, and it was perfect. The food was delicious, the view spectacular, the service very good, it was wonderful. Price for 2 came to $80 including tip. I had the tortellini, and I can't remember what my husband had. The tortellini was delicious though.

Aqua Grill, primarily a seafood restaurant, also serves chicken. I don't eat seafood, but my husband loves the stuff, so I ordered the chicken. My husband had the mahi mahi and loved it, my chicken was not good at all. Even my husband couldn't stand to eat my chicken. The service was excellent and the seafood was good (so I'm told), but if you don't eat seafood don't even try. Total price for 2 including tip came to $83.

Bella Luna, used to be called Pavarotti, was incredible! We had such a wonderful time there, it was a great environment, excellent service, delicious food, we had a bottle of wine with our meal, and the total price for 2, don't forget we ordered desserts too, came to $60. We left a very large tip due to the incredible experience we had, so it cost us more than that, but the prices were very good. I would recommend this place!

LeDome did not impress us. For starters, we were kind of given the once over upon arrival, which I thought was very rude (we dined outside, he wore nice pants and polo shirt, I wore a dress). The server started out wonderful, until other, apparantly more worthy, customers came in, when he then fawned over two different groups of them and ignored us for a good half an hour even though we tried to get his attention. We will not be returning here. Total price for 2 including tip $85.

Amazonia is now my husbands favorite restaurant. They have a salad bar with foods that I am certainly not used to, then when you are ready for your meats, you flip this little thing over to green and get bombarded with servers carrying all sorts of fresh meat products to you. You eat all you possibly can. Excellent service, and the manager came by twice to see how we were doing. Total price for 2 came to $94 including tip.

Hostario Da'Vittorio was a letdown. It had such potential, good food, nice environment, but horrible service. When we were there, there were 6 servers who stood around and talked and laughed while us and one other table sat needing assistance. Whenever they spoke to us they didn't even bother looking at us, they just kept looking and laughing at their friends while we tried to order. At one point during the meal I was completely out of water and soda, and requested a refill which took half an hour to bring. I understand caribbean time, but when your competition is giving wonderful service, you can't afford not to. We will not return to this restaurant. Total price for 2 including tip came to $51.

PART 6: FINAL COMMENTS
We had a wonderful vacation! We will be returning to the island of Aruba! We loved the perfect beaches and ocean, the safety, the ease of transportation, the friendliness, the great dining options, all the activity options, the list just goes on and on. We will be back!

One last thing, I would like to share the best suggestion I got for Aruba. Do NOT go all-inclusive. We would have missed out on so much had we gone all-inclusive. Thank you fellow Fodorites for all your help in planning this wonderful vacation!

Happy travels everyone!


loverly7 is offline  
Nov 9th, 2003, 06:57 AM
  #2  
Jed
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,546
Great report. Thanks for all the useful info.
Jed is offline  
Nov 10th, 2003, 09:09 AM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 153
I am going to Aruba in late January and your report was filled with lots of useful info. Were you able to walk to these restaurants or did you need a cab? I will be at the Radisson and would like to have at least a couple that are in walking distance. Did the prices you mentioned include wine and/or drinks?
Lolo is offline  
Nov 10th, 2003, 09:50 AM
  #4  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 82
Amazonia, Aqua Grill, and Hostario Da'Vittorio were located across the street from the Hyatt hotel, so within easy walking distance. La Trattoria el Faro Blanco and LeDome required a taxi ride. We also rode a taxi to Bella Luna, but I think that we would have been fine walking if we had known where it was.

We did not drink any liquor at Amazonia, but we did have dessert. We each had a couple of drinks at Aqua Grill and dessert. Hostario Da'Vittorio we skipped the liquor and also skipped the dessert. La Trattoria el Faro Blanco we had dessert, but no liquor. LeDome we had dessert and an appetizer, but no liquor. Bella Luna we had a bottle of wine and dessert. I hope this helps!

By the way, the Radisson looked really nice from what we saw of it! Have a great trip!
loverly7 is offline  
Nov 11th, 2003, 07:42 PM
  #5  
WGS
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 37
Wonderful report! Glad you had a great time.

You might consider posting this on a couple other bbs as well. Like this bb, you must register on each before posting. I know they would appreciate your candid report and restaurant reviews. They generate a great deal of traffic too.

Aruba Forum: http://www.aruba-bb.com

Aruba-TravelGuide: http://aruba-travelguide.com/bulletinboard

On A-TG, go down to the 4th drop-down menu on the upper left of page. Click on Useful Aruba Information, then Trip Reports. From there you'll get instructions on who to email your report to. They do a fantastic job with your report, add links and you can even submit photos.

Once again, thank you for the time you took to share your vacation with us
WGS is offline  
Nov 12th, 2003, 03:55 AM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 185
Thanks for the wonderfully detailed trip report! One quesiton about your prebooking the tours that you did. In hindsight, do you think that was necessary? Perhaps you could have waited until you got there, and played it a little by ear (??) Could you have assessed which tours, activities were best by being there, and not lock yourself in beforehand?
Howard is offline  
Nov 12th, 2003, 04:41 AM
  #7  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 82
Howard, in hindsight, we would have been just fine waiting until we arrived to book our tours. Hindsight is always 20/20! My advice to others would be to know what you want to do, then book your tours upon arrival in Aruba.

WGS, I also posted a similar review on visitaruba.com in the trip reports section. I will start putting this review on the other sites you mention to hopefully help as many people as possible in planning their trip!
loverly7 is offline  

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