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Trip Report: Beyond Challenging, but not b/c of Aruba-Long

Virginia Beach...
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Trip Report: Beyond Challenging, but not b/c of Aruba-Long

Hi everyone.

First I want to say, "thank you" to all of my fellow TA contributors for helping from choosing which island to the specifics about Aruba. Special thanks to Everyday for nightlife advice and to Amy.

We are a married couple in our 30s. Our stay was 5 nights/6 days.

My real trip journal is pages long, so I'll try to condense it a bit and hit the highlights. I'm nothing if not thorough so if you prefer to skip the length, the summary is at the bottom. For more info, I'll do individual reviews in the appropriate categories once I "recover" from this journey.

Unfortunately, getting to Aruba in Jan was more trouble than what it was worth. I planned it several months in advance, yet something kept "threatening" our ability to go month after month. Finally, after a slew of illnesses (some of whom were to take care of our 3 little ones), we finally just had to listen and give up 2 days prior and cancel. One should not have to struggle so hard to go on a "fun" vacation. At any rate, after jumping through some more hoops we were able to reschedule for Feb, including getting the same hotel room type at the same price with no loss of money for cancelling at the Radisson thanks to the wonderful GM there, Mark. I can't say enough about how easy he was to work with and how understanding he was of our circumstances.

Background: We like to be active on vacation: snorkeling, nightlife, renting cars and exploring, big pools and pretty beaches. Although I heard the water wasn't very clear and the snorkeling not so great, the idea of almost guaranteed good weather, pretty beaches and nightlife lead us to choose Aruba.

As you may imagine with 3 kids 4 and under my husband and I needed an "us" break and had not traveled on our own for 3 years, so weather was a big factor in our decision.

When researching, I was worried when I read the term "Americanized," hearing the water wasn't very clear, the Miami meets Phoenix comments,the idea of a bunch of hotels being all lined up together (reminded me of home) with patrons fighting over chairs, and it being constantly windy. Nevertheless, it still seemed to be the best fit.

Hotel/Room: Radisson Ocean view Aruba Tower. Would not have been as happy on another beach in another hotel. This was the ideal, very centrally located hotel with the best pool and beach area in the HR section of PB. Visited LR area. The Radisson was a bit sleepy for us at times, so Eagle and Mancheebo areas might have made me comatose. However, I can see why those who want to be somewhere very quiet and plan to mainly relax on the beach would be happy here. The beach is wider or perhaps has less people on it. I did not find it to have prettier water than PB. My second pick for what might be ideal for us is the Hyatt. I liked the architecture and bright colors there, but overall still found the Radisson more attractive. The full balconies of the Rad were important to me as well. Aside from the Rad, I really liked the beach or more so shallow water area near Divi Phoenix...the water was prettier there for some reason. More detail when I review the hotel.

Beaches visited: Palm Beach walked from Divi to the end of the HI near the Marriots....which btw so glad I did not stay at that end it looked chaotic and very crowded. Mancheebo, Eagle, Baby Beach and Boca Prins.

"Breathtaking" was the word for both Baby Beach and Boca Prins...bring your cameras

Activities: Hertz rental for car and Jeep for Arikok from Royal.

-Snorkeling offshore on Baby Beach...so so....when we went into deeper waters we got knocked around a lot to the point where I cut my leg on a rock, but it wasn't significant. I'm a good swimmer and many years ago on a swim team...very much a water baby so believe me when I say have someone with you and possibly wear a life jacket as it can be difficult and dangerous to snorkel beyond the "line."

-Snorkel Sail with Jolly pirates...again snorkeling so so (I would not travel to Aruba in hopes of great snorkeling...it was the worst snorkeling I have experienced, but still fun). The sail and crew were enjoyable.

-Beach and pool

-Kayaking from the far end of the Rad to the rock barrier by the Divi and back....My favorite experience. It was romantic, challenging, and quite the workout (but the good feeling kind). We have only kayaked once before so setting the goal of getting to the rock barrier and back in our hour rental was very rewarding to do as a couple. We even returned with time to spare.

-Took a Jeep to Arikok and did the Natural Pool trail. It was like a roller coaster. My never before driving a Jeep to off road husband did this beautifully, however in retrospect it is harder than expected and imo too high risk for mommy me...yes if I were without kids, but it was scary and felt really unsafe sometimes. I did not feel the NP lived up to the hype and saw prettier things elsewhere in the park---Boca Prins. The caves...worth a trip.

Cali Lighthouse-ok for a pic

Super Foods: worth it to just stock up on cheaper drinks...bought water, soda and snacks

Nightlife: walked by Senor Frogs, not much was going on so we skipped it and decided to walk by Gustos where we couldn't tell what was going on at first. A staff member stopped us and told us half off drinks and no cover, so we said ok and decided to go in. The music was very good there, 2 shots and 1 mixed drink cost us literally $12, danced a bit but it got hot and decided to venture to our next place on the list, Confessions ($20pp including anything you wanted to drink till 2a). It was pretty cool inside, but unlike Gustos who had a good mix of hip hop and pop, Confessions (DJ Diiablo) was playing almost all house. I wasn't really feeling the music. I like house but not non stop where every time you get in a groove they either switch the song or slow it to the point you could sleep while waiting for the next one. We would have been happier staying at Gustos or doing the 2 in reverse, but glad we checked it out nonetheless

Restaurants mentioned on here frequently: Passions on the Beach (best dinner while in Aruba), but our sunset dinner was rained out :( so we came back around 8p to eat. Bugaloes--good, Gilligans--very good, Gasparitos....ummm can we say "interesting" and "eccentric"...could have skipped this one but the restaurant was charming, Casa Tua: very good Italian, Lagunas...not to my liking

It probably looks like we were there for weeks and I realize the average person wouldn't want to pack all that into 5 nights, but that is how we roll and like it. I unfortunately cannot really sleep anywhere but home and wake up so early the sunrise is still asleep. It is a mix of not being in my own bed and my brain thinking it is a little kid on Christmas Eve and if I don't wake up early then I might miss something (this is true even with sleep aids, melatonin etc.). I don't go on trips more than 5 or 6 nights (even to Europe) because I get so exhausted that I seriously can't form coherent sentences or walk with good balance by the end----which brings me to where everything turned bad again...

Our flight home was cancelled due to the ice storms. When I'm "done" I'm "done." We played hard, and even I, a mother of 3 including twins can only go so long on such little sleep. We wanted to be home and we wanted to see our babies. So although many might think there could be worse places to be stuck, we were going to do everything possible to get back home. We caught a flight the day we intended to leave on Surinam (great airline btw) to Miami and drove the 5 states home to happily reach our kids and home just in time for Valentines. My husband drove the NP and I drove through 60mph winds in FL, ice in SC and snow in NC. Good thing we made what may sound to some as an "irrational" choice b/c I predicted correctly that we would actually have gotten stuck 2-3 more days vs 1 if we stayed as the weather system moved north and the next day flights were cancelled as well..

SUMMARY:

Favorites: Radisson, the park, the sail, the rope swing, the kayaking, seeing Baby Beach and Boca Prins, eating at Passions and Gilligans, dancing at Gustos, being pleasantly surprised with the beauty and clarity of the water (seen clearer, but better than expected), riding around in the Jeep, snorkeling offshore, playing in the pool, and greatly fascinated by the diverse topography

Dislikes: We found ourselves constantly questioning the chant or mantra of "One Happy Island." We were happy to be there but did not find the majority of natives to be happy nor friendly but rather indifferent. Our theory here relates to the very annoying 15% service charges. However, I would like to note some standouts as exceptions: Avril at Passions, a doorman at the Rad, the JP crew and Valentino a park ranger---they were great!

It lacked culture and a good energy/good island music vibe for us. There is some culture to be had here, but it is like you have to search for it or stumble across it vs being encapsulated in it. My husband said he found the people and energy there to be "night and day" in comparison to our last island of St. Lucia. We found more culture flipping through radio stations state to state driving home and more friendliness in the state of FL than in our whole stay in Aruba.

Although I certainly see the benefits, I overall really did not like the constant wind. When you come from an area that is no stranger to tropical storms and hurricanes, constant wind is like a precursor to something bad...that is pretty ingrained in my system. We came home fried the first full day. Ladies (and guys)...I am a brown haired, brown eyed, olive skinned girl who usually just gets browner and I looked like a half lobster (fair skinned husband was full on lobster). This was with sunscreen. I'd advise if going in the winter, prep with a few tanning sessions prior to going to get a base. This has helped me in the past. Now with 3 kids I couldn't fit it in for this trip, but wish I had. This definitely put a damper on the remainder of the trip because we looked burned and it hurt to go out in the sun from there on out. Otherwise, upset about a rained out sunset dinner. It rained 2 straight late afternoon/evenings in a row. The sunset dinner day ---it rained 2-3 hours :( Otherwise, great weather, but cold water.

So, would I go again? Not likely, but only because I rarely vacation in the same place twice.

Was it worth what I had to go through to get to Aruba and get home? Part of me wants to say no, but Aruba was so beautiful, fun and gave us a lot of new memories and pics so it is hard to say.

Would I rec Aruba? Absolutely!

Kukoo Kunuku
Food Tours, Wine Tours & Tastings , Bar, Club & Pub Tours, Night Tours, Bus Tours
spartanburg, sc
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1. Re: Trip Report: Beyond Challenging, but not b/c of Aruba-Long

Wow - I'm trying to think of something positive to say. I'm glad you enjoyed Passions and got home safely to your children.

Beverly Hills...
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2. Re: Trip Report: Beyond Challenging, but not b/c of Aruba-Long

Interesting trip report that sounds like you packed 15 pounds of activities into a 5 pound time bag. But as soon as you mentioned going to a store to buy bottled water, I had ya pegged as a rookie. And then when you said the island and the people lacked culture, you became just another condescending tourist with lack of knowledge of the history of these amazing people, their lifestyles, educations systems and warmth...to those that take the time to get to know them. There is a reason that first timers are the exception instead of the rule. Sorry you missed that part.

New York
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3. Re: Trip Report: Beyond Challenging, but not b/c of Aruba-Long

Aruba is our favorite island, mainly because it is not a lot of work to get from one place to another, everyone there can speak english and because I feel comfortable there. I did think that St Lucia was a special island. You could tell that the people that lived there really loved their island. When we were there we were cooked homemade cruisine, somethings I never heard of and never tried before. We had homemade fresh bread at this local bakery. Aruba is very different than St Lucia. Aruba does have a lot of americans that visit it especially from the east coast so you are going to pick up on that familiarlity around you. Our favorite beach is Eagle beach. I find it breathtaking. I do not have small children at home and I must say it is liberating. Glad to hear you made it home safely. I usually don't travel in the winter because of those reasons. I am a little further north than you.

Amelia Island...
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4. Re: Trip Report: Beyond Challenging, but not b/c of Aruba-Long

Thanks for sharing. Sounds like a very interesting trip. Glad you liked the Radisson. We always enjoy our stays there.

Aruba is hot and the sun very strong. High SPF sunscreen and some shade are a must. Without the wind, I think the heat would be too much.

Not everyone who visits Aruba, or any other location, will love it and want to return. Sounds like you did have some fun, even though the island wasn't your favorite.

Niskayuna, New York
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5. Re: Trip Report: Beyond Challenging, but not b/c of Aruba-Long

Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm glad you had some good things to take away and I'm glad you got home safely to your children.

Lynn, Massachusetts
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6. Re: Trip Report: Beyond Challenging, but not b/c of Aruba-Long

An honest report and I'm glad you had fun...we travel around but always return to Aruba..we are very comfortable at our chosen spot....we also have had better luck interacting with the locals.....thanks for sharing

Cleves, Ohio
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7. Re: Trip Report: Beyond Challenging, but not b/c of Aruba-Long

glad you were able to have some fun. There are better places in Aruba to snorkel than Baby Beach. Mangel Halto and Boca Catalina and Catalina Cove are much better and the water clarity is phenomenal. We have been on a couple excursions over the years but I still enjoy just being able to shore snorkel on my own.

Traveling in the winter is always a challenge with the possibility of being "stuck" somewhere. We have traveled in Dec/Jan to Aruba only once. I just got back from a girls trip in Cancun and thought we were going to get cancelled coming home.

In 9 trips since 2005 I've not gotten the indifference. We've made friends in every nook and cranny of the island. We had dinner reservations for Christmas Eve 2012 and my friend Carmen said, oh no... no restaurant, you are invited into my home for Christmas dinner. It was awesome to be welcomed like that. I am fluent in Spanish(her family is from the Dominican Republic originally) and my husband wasn't made to feel unwelcome because he doesn't.

At some point reconsider and go back.....maybe in October or so.

New Jersey
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8. Re: Trip Report: Beyond Challenging, but not b/c of Aruba-Long

Thanks for sharing your report.

@-Kayaking from the far end of the Rad to the rock barrier by the Divi and back....My favorite experience. It was romantic, challenging, and quite the workout (but the good feeling kind). We have only kayaked once before so setting the goal of getting to the rock barrier and back in our hour rental was very rewarding to do as a couple. We even returned with time to spare.

This made me smile. Our first trip to Aruba to Aruba we stayed at Radisson and rented a Kayak. I was a little to ambitions and took it out to a docked boat that was farther out then i thought. Trying to get back in against the wind was a real challenge!

Im glad you like Gusto. I find the staff really are an example of that one happy Island campaign. I personally never traveled to a place where the locals were as friendly and appreciative towards tourist as they are in Aruba. Thats just my opinion though. Im sure there are other places like that as well. I have made friends with locals in Aruba that will be friends for life. I have even hosted some when they come to NYC or Jersey. One of the reasons i can go to the Island so frequently is because they have done that for me as well. Maybe if you had more time on the island and didn't have the stress and concerns about the kids back home it would have felt different? A friend that lives on the island told me last week that he never saw the tourist as stressed and somewhat demanding like he did over this past January and February. He asked if i thought it was because of the tuff winter and the stress of traveling during it. I said i really didn't know. Thanks for sharing though. I do hope you make it back there one day!

Dayton, Ohio
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9. Re: Trip Report: Beyond Challenging, but not b/c of Aruba-Long

Thanks for sharing your trip with us. I am sorry it was not everything you wanted it to be and you had such a rough time getting home. I have found the people of Aruba to be very friendly but I have not been there during the high season when there are more travelers. We travel in early June and are one of those families that enjoy Eagle beach for the peace and quiet although we do like activity about every other day. I hope your next trip is more fulfilling with a lot less stressors going into it.

Astoria, New York
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10. Re: Trip Report: Beyond Challenging, but not b/c of Aruba-Long

Wow...glad you enjoyed a couple of things. I will comment on a few things for a first timer reading your review that may get the very wrong idea from some information you've posted. Anyone who enjoys culture and is stand-offish on an Americanized atmosphere, would not choose Palm Beach for their stay.

You really don't have to search all that hard for culture if you get in your car and drive to it. Palm Beach is not an ideal location for culture that's for sure.

If you are olive tone and were a lobster, you didn't use a high enough sunscreen or didn't reapply as often as you should have, that sun is brutal and with the breeze, you really don't feel it happening until it is too late. Being on top of your sunscreen game is critical. I never go tanning before my trips to Aruba and I have the same colorings as you and I always come home with a great tan, no burning or peeling.

The thing that stands out mostly is the "unhappy island and locals" - maybe your experiences were not with Arubans because I have never run into an "indifferent" Aruban person in all of my trips which began in 1991. They are the nicest, most helpful locals I've ever encountered and one of the main reasons we continue to return to the island. They go out of their way, above and beyond for tourists as they appreciate our visits to their island and do not begrudge us for being there as other islands that I've been to. They are trusting and will even invite you into their homes. If you are lost, they will reroute themselves just to help you get to where you need to be. This happens ALL THE TIME, not just once or twice. Ask an Aruban for directions, they won't tell you they will have you follow them and take you their themselves.

I personally don't think your trip was long enough to form an opinion about the culture or the locals especially when you barely had time to soak in any of it with all that you crammed into a few days. If that's the kind of trip you like great, but don't bash the locals who you barely had time to get to know.