Monday, October 20, 2014

Here Are Five Reasons Why Aruba is Awesome

One of the “ABC” islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao), Aruba is located about 18 miles off the coast of Venezuela, and is part of the so-called Dutch Caribbean.

It’s about 20 miles across and six miles wide, with a dry climate.  Its location outside of the “hurricane belt” makes it an immensely popular vacation destination, particularly with South Americans and Americans from the East Coast.

Mike and I first visited Aruba in 2001, and it was love at first sight. Since then, we’ve been back over a dozen times. 

Whenever the subject of Aruba comes up with people, at least in my experience, those who have been seem to fall into one of two groups.  They either love it, and go back on a regular basis, and are able to discuss in detail their favorite restaurants and shopping areas…or they’ve been once, and it was “nice.”  These folks have no particular plans to return.

Why does Aruba seem to elicit these two very different responses?  My guess is that the negative (well, okay, not really negative, more like neutral) responses often stem from the fact that Aruba is seen as being very “Americanized.”  English is taught in the schools, and Arubans know that tourism is their bread and butter, and treat visitors accordingly.  Likewise, it is easy to find Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts and even Hooters on Aruba.

But why do so many people profess such a strong love for the tiny island?  Well, since I am one of those people, and since this is my blog, I guess it’s up to me to try to explain why, at least for me, Aruba holds the attraction that it does.

So, then...Here Are Five Good Reasons Why Aruba is Awesome!

1.  The Aruban People Are Awesome

They really are. They are undoubtedly the friendliest, most genuinely nice people I have ever met. Almost without exception, they go out of their way to welcome you to their island, to make sure you have a great time, to try to help you in any way they can.  They are the main reason why, when I step off the plane in Aruba, I usually turn to Mike and say, “we’re home!”

One story about the Aruban people, and then we’ll move on to reason number two.  A couple of years ago, a group of us were there in March, and one day there were heavy rains most of the day.  We had a reservation at Madame Janette, one of several favorite dining spots on the island, that evening.  When we got there, we had to be moved almost as soon as we sat down, because the thatched roof above us was leaking.  We were moved, and at some point during dinner, one of our party had to use the ladies room.  When she came back, she was pretty shaken up.  Apparently, there was about six inches of water on the floor in the rest rooms.  By the time we were ready to leave – after yet another wonderful dinner there – the rain was still coming down, and the entire parking lot was flooded.  The staff waited by the door, and when we were leaving, took our keys, found our car, and drove it right up to the front entrance so we could get in relatively easily.  As we were leaving, we noticed a group of Americans sitting at the bar laughing and talking to the staff.  We found out later that the staff personally drove every one of them back to their hotels that night.

2.  The Beaches Are Awesome

There are several beaches on Aruba, but the main ones are Palm Beach, where all of the high-rise hotels are located, and Eagle Beach, where the so-called “low-rise” hotels are located.  The two are very different in atmosphere. 

Palm Beach, where we stay, has calmer water, and is much more crowded.  Depending on where you’re staying, getting a “palapa” for the day (one of those thatched umbrella-like huts you see in the photos) can be an adventure involving getting up at the crack of dawn and waiting in a line.  Once you do get one, you’re usually sitting within 2-3 feet of the family at the next palapa.  This can be annoying, or it can be wildly entertaining.  Often it is a mix of the two extremes.  The people-watching on Palm Beach is endlessly fascinating.

Eagle Beach, on the other hand, is very quiet and considerably less crowded.  There is a much stronger surf there as well, if that’s your thing.  A great place to relax with a book and a couple of beers.  I highly recommend the Balashi, which is brewed right on the island.

Sunset on Eagle Beach

3.  The Restaurants Are Awesome

For such a small island, there are a disproportionately large number of restaurants.  Some, like the afore-mentioned Burger King, are obviously geared towards families with young kids.  Some specialize in local Caribbean cuisine.  Some are gourmet restaurants.  Some are casual.

We definitely have our favorites, among them Madame Janette, which I mentioned earlier.  MJ’s, as we call it, features a lovely outdoor setting, great food, and the island’s best Cosmopolitans.

Carte Blanche, featuring one seating a night, is a one-of-a-kind experience, and does not come cheaply.  Still, we wouldn’t miss it on a trip to Aruba.  You arrive between 7:00 and 7:30, and are seated at a u-shaped, 14-seat bar, facing the cooking area.  Chef Dennis van Daatselaar and sommelier Glen Bonset prepare and serve a 5 course dinner while chatting with the group in an intimate setting not unlike a private dinner party.  If you opt for the wine pairing, Glen will match up each of your dishes with an appropriate wine.  The food is wonderful, and the evening flies by.  This place books six months ahead of time, and reservations are an absolute must.

Linda’s Pancakes, a casual indoor/outdoor cafĂ© located in a strip mall next to a gas station, features Dutch pancakes (gluten free version available).  These are large, light, airy pancakes, which are topped with your choice of fruits, veggies, cheeses, meats, or even booze.  I opt for half strawberries, half bananas, with whipped cream on the side.  Mike’s gluten free pancake is topped with ham, gouda cheese and bacon.  These pancakes are to die for.  And ask for the Dutch coffee, which is much stronger than the American coffee.

I could go on and on, but I won’t, because I’m getting hungry just typing this.

Breakfast at Linda's

4.  Those Colorful Frozen Cocktails Are Awesome

Who doesn’t love a frozen cocktail?  The Caribbean is known for them, and there is just nothing like sipping one at a beach bar, or while sitting by the pool.

I try to sample a few different concoctions on each trip.  I’ve had blue drinks, and pink drinks and drinks that look like sunsets.  I’ve had Pina Coladas and Raspberry Mudslides.  But my favorite frozen cocktail is the Brown Lady.  You can get a Brown Lady pretty much anywhere on the island.  They’re made with vodka, Bailey’s, and coconut cream, and they are yummy!

Those are Brown Ladies in my hands....both of them.

5.  Doing Nothing is Awesome

I am generally not the sort of person who can sit around for long.  After a while, I remember 23 different things I need to do.  And Mike is the same way.  But I always tell Mike that Aruba is the only place I ever see him really relax.

In fact, in Aruba, we have pretty much mastered the art of relaxation.  Time moves more slowly.  We don’t “have to” do much of anything, aside from arriving on time for a couple of the harder to get dinner reservations.  

In Aruba, my day pretty much consists of a walk along the beach, coffee and bagel on the balcony, an hour in the Lazy River at our timeshare, and then several hours of uninterrupted reading, people-watching and occasional dips in the pool or ocean. A nap, a shower, a nice dinner and an hour at the casino…then it’s time to call it a night.  The next morning, it begins again.  And I love every second of it.