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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving in Paradise

In one of my previous blogs on travel, I shared our dilemma about where to take a November vacation.  Well, we just returned from Aruba, where we spent Thanksgiving week, and I can tell you that we made a great choice!  Aruba advertises itself as "one happy island" and that is certainly true.  The natives enjoy a high standard of living from the influx of tourist dollars which results in a happy population who are welcoming, friendly and helpful.

Brown Pelican
 Aruba is a vacation paradise that caters to the American tourist.  The country accepts American currency - in fact, the first and sometimes only prices given are the prices in US dollars - no money changing or conversions necessary!  And the food ranges from American standards such as T.G.I. Fridays and Tony Romas to Brazilian, Dutch, Belgian, Caribbean, French, Japanese, Chinese and other interesting cuisines from around the world.  There are too many good restaurants that you can't try them all!  The best meal we had was in a restaurant at our resort called Le Petite Cafe which featured hot stone cooking at the table.  Basically, they deliver the food raw, sitting on a (very) hot stone.  The food is starting to cook (seer) as it arrives and the rest is up to you to heat to your desired doneness as you cut each bite.  You get your meal prepared just the way you like it.

 The daily temperature tops out at around 89 degrees but there is almost always a breeze which makes being outdoors - sunbathing, shopping, dining or just walking around - more than tolerable.  It is, however, only 12 degrees north of the equator (and 15 miles from Venezuela) so even on cloudy days, don't be fooled into thinking that the sun is other than strong, strong, strong!  You really need to wear sunscreen (at least 30) at all times as you can get a burn even in the shade (and I can personally attest to that!)   We did experience a few brief rain showers that cooled things off and kept the island lush and green but the showers quickly gave way to sun.  We were told by the natives that the weather patterns over the past four to five years have changed enough to negate the adage that "it never rains in Aruba" - apparently there have even been whole months in the past few years where it has rained all day, every day for weeks at a time causing flooding and a lot of disgruntled vacationers.  The "rainy" season is probably November, December and maybe a few weeks into January but there is really no difference between summer and winter or day and night for that matter.

The island has really only been developed for tourism since the last Venezuelan oil refinery closed in 1985, so most of the hotels and tourist areas are new and upscale and construction of new resorts is continuing at a moderate rate.  Aruba, as well as other Caribbean islands, has definitely felt the effects of the recession in the US.  There are many vacant stores and some over ambitious Venezuelan construction projects have been abandoned.  It is the only blight that I saw on an otherwise beautiful island.

There are three main areas on the western side of the island where all of the "action" is located.  The oldest "tourist" area is in the capital city, Oranjestad, near the marina where the cruise ships dock.  The second area just to the north is called the low-rise hotel area which is located on Eagle Beach.  The newest area is the high-rise hotel area on Palm Beach, to the north of Eagle Beach.  To go between these areas, you should take a taxi, which are plentiful and inexpensive.  There is a safe bus system that tourists use, but the bus stops everywhere making the journey long and tedious.  However, once you are in one of the tourist areas, everything is in waking distance.  And every area has a full selection of everything you need - restaurants, shopping, entertainment, casinos, night clubs, recreation opportunities, water sports, land tours, grocery shopping (and even Wendy's and McDonald's) - everything you need for a family vacation or a romantic get-away.

Most of the hotels are full resorts including access to the beach, pools, restaurants, a casino, a spa, gym, and activities for children, teens and adults.  Many are timeshare properties that "rent" vacant units to guests.  We stayed at the Playa Linda Beach Resort which is a timeshare property with one and two bedroom units with full kitchens and balconies all with an ocean view.  There were many owners at this resort who have clearly been coming for years and know each other and the regular staff.  The resort advertises itself as "your home away from home" and it certainly felt comfortable and safe. 

 Water sports (snorkeling, fishing, scuba diving, parasailing, kite surfing, banana boat, tube and water skiing to name a few) and land adventures (horseback riding, trekking in three and four wheel ATVs, hiking) abound, but you can also just relax on the beach under a thatched "chickee" hut or beside the pool and catch up on your reading and napping, which is what we did almost every day.  Watch out for lizards large (iguanas) and small (gecko like lizards of every shape and color) warming themselves on every rock and enjoy the beauty of the many exotic flowers and birds that are all around.  We saw Brown Pelicans plunging head first into the sea to catch a tasty fish, watched Magnificent Frigatebirds soar high in the sky and enjoyed the song of the friendly Bananaquit as they visited the many tropical flowers in bloom everywhere and our table looking for juice or fruit.

Magnificent Frigatebird
 At the newest mall (not quite done), there is a new bowling alley that features glow-in-the-dark nighttime bowling, popular with the teens and there is a surf simulator to give you the thrill of surfing of the safety of land.  There are even cinemas that feature all the latest releases.  We saw Johnny English with the ever zany Rowan Atkinson which was a scream and we saw it at half price on two-for-one Tuesday.

All-in-all, Aruba was everything that people say that it is...a great vacation spot...guaranteed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This sounds great! I am saving your blog in my file of places I want to visit. I did not know all that wonderfulness was there. Thanks for sharing!