Renaissance Resort & Windsurfing
Jan. 11 - 19, 2005
Setup:We spent 8 days in Aruba from Jan 11 to Jan 19, 2005. This is a report of that trip. This was our third trip to Aruba, but unlike previous trips, we didn't stay at an all-inclusive resort. Our primary intent was to do some good windsurfing and maybe get a little better at it. Aruba is known for good windsurfing at a section of the beach know as "Fisherman's Huts" where the water is shallow and the wind generally blows strong. I'll make some general comments and then do a brief "day-by-day" account.
Geting there and back:We took advantage of Delta frequent-flyer tickets and Marriot Reward points. The only dates we could get Delta tickets was for a Tue - next Wed schedule, making for a rather unusual arrangement. The regular Marriott at Palm Beach didn't have Reward rooms available on those days, so we stayed at the Renaissance hotel in downtown Orangestad and got a rental car to get around. The flights were on time and reasonably comfortable (with exit-row seats) and included a small "snack" meal each direction. Flying time between Atlanta and Aruba is about 3:40 and we got to Aruba about 3:00 PM. Customs was quick and we had our car and were on our way within about 30 minutes. On the return trip, you clear US customs in Aruba, so you end up going through multiple customs/immigration, and security checkpoints. On a Wednesday afternoon there were relatively few passengers and essentially no lines. Last year when we came through the Aruba airport on a Saturday on our way back from Bonaire the airport was mobbed with people and the lines stretched all over the airport. The return flight was running a little late so we got in about 30 minutes late into Atlanta.
The Hotel:The Renaissance hotel is on the main road through Orangestad, which was reasonably convenient, but turned out to be a disadvantage. We had an outside room on the sixth floor close to the front of the hotel. However, the room was not well soundproofed from outside noise and there were loud cars, loud motorcycles, and party buses with musical horns going down the main road almost all night. Getting a good night's sleep was difficult, at best. If you stay at this hotel, I suggest either an inside room or a room at the rear of the hotel, although the view will not be as good. One feature of the hotel is a water taxi that loads in the lobby of the hotel and shuttles guests to a "private island" where there are nice beach facilities. More about this island later
WindsurfingAruba is known for the excellent windsurfing area at the end of Palm Beach in an area called "Fisherman's Huts". There is a large area of relatively shallow water and the consistent wind provides good windsurfing for both beginners and advanced windsurfers. There are several windsurfing "outfitters" along the beach, with Vela and Sailboard Vacations being the largest two. We used Vela this time because they just have more comfortable facilities and we liked the way the instruction was structures. We also talked to a couple of people who said that SBV had significantly lower prices, but the equipment was not as new or well maintained. We were very happy with Vela; they had very good and new equipment with enough different boards and sails so that we could get just the type and size we wanted. Susan and I took a group lesson and made good progress. I was able to do a waterstart for the first time and Susan got much more comfortable in the harness. I think we could have made much more progress but the wind died the last three days we were there and we could only sit on the beach.
SnorkelingSnorkeling tours are a popular activity and are heavily promoted, but the actual snorkeling is not really that good, compared to other places we have been. The most popular, and probably the best, snorkeling spot is a shipwreck that is largely at snorkeling depth. The Antilla was a 400' German freighter that was scuttled during World War II.
Day by Day:The day of arrival, we just took a walk around town and ate at a restaurant in the seaport mall. It was reasonable, but nothing special.
Wednesday:The second day (Wednesday), we had breakfast in the coffee shop at the rear of the hotel. It was OK, but most of the rest of our stay we had breakfast at the McDonalds next door: about the same breakfast for 1/3 to ½ the price. Then we headed to Vela for some windsurfing. The wind was not real strong this day, but we wanted to get our 'sea-legs' back so it worked out well. We spent the day on and in the water. At lunch we went next door to the Marriott and got a sandwich and fries each. They turned out to be very large sandwiches and lots of fries (and relatively expensive at about $11.00 each). We quickly figured that we could split a meal next time. After a day of windsurfing and relaxing on the beach, we headed back to the hotel and rested and cleaned up for dinner. Since we had a large lunch, we only wanted a light dinner and ended up at Iguana Joes. The bouillabaisse was good, but the service was terrible. Apparently they could not decide who was supposed to be covering our table and we were ignored for long periods at a time. I had to go "retrieve" a server a couple of times.
Thursday:On Thursday we had a few sore muscles from the previous day's windsurfing, so we decided to check out the 'Private Island" of the Renaissance. The water shuttle picks up in the lobby of the hotel and drops off at a dock on the Island. We took our snorkel equipment with us and, after a walk around the area on foot, we snorkeled around the protected beaches and breakwater. It was nice to swim around, but not really much to see. We spent a couple of hours relaxing on lounges and walking around the trails before heading back to the "mainland". We drove over to the beach at the windsurfing area and took a nice walk on the beach. That evening we went to "Carlos and Charley's" Mexican restaurant. The food was pretty good and the service good, but the real attraction was the "entertainment" provided by the staff. After dinner we went to the latin dance review next to the hotel. It was interesting, but was really more of a show than true dancing.
Friday:Friday was another windsurfing day. We spent the day at the beach for some good windsurfing. I switched to a smaller (160 l) board and Susan dropped down to the 190 L board. We split a sandwich and fries from the Marriott for lunch. We wanted to eat light because we were planning on a big dinner. After a full day of activities we were hungry for dinner and looked forward to our reservation at El Gaucho. The El Gaucho has been popular in Aruba for quite a few years and is known for excellent Argentine beef, and we were not disappointed. We had an excellent meal (food and service) and especially enjoyed some excellent Sangria. While not cheap, we thought it was relatively reasonable for the quality received.
Saturday:Saturday was probably our best day of windsurfing from the point of view that we both made good progress in getting better. We took a lesson and Max helped both of us with our beach and water starts. I was able to do several deepwater waterstarts after the lesson and had some good runs between the starts. Susan got more comfortable in the harness and was much better in working upwind in a board without a daggerboard. All in all, a good day and at the end, we were looking forward to another lesson and more progress. At the end of the day we had a pizza at "Tomato Charley's".
Sunday:On Sunday we decided to take a day and do some sightseeing around the island. We took our snorkel gear expecting to check out an area called "Baby Beach" on the eastern end of Aruba. After a few wrong turns we did find Baby Beach, but it looked like we'd have to go outside the protective breakwaters to see anything very interesting and on this day the waves were a bit too much to go out there, so we just took a good look around. From there we looked along some of the beaches at that end of the island and slowly worked our way around to the Natural Bridge. We wandered around there some, getting a light lunch and then stopped to explore the ruins of a gold smelting facility up the beach from the bridge. We continued to work our way around to the lighthouse and ended the day with a nice walk along Palm Beach. This evening we went to the "Tango Argentine Steak House" and had both a good steak (well, I had BBQ Ribs) and a nice tango demonstration. A couple danced three demonstration tango dances and we thought this was actually a better dance demonstration than the expensive show downtown, and this one was free!
Monday:We got up on Monday, and there was NO WIND! This is unusual for this time of year since there is almost always some wind in January, but not today. So, we relaxed… all day. By the time we realized that there would be no windsurfing this day, it was too late to take any snorkel trips or such activities, so we did some research in case there was no wind the next day. In the evening we went to an Italian restaurant across from the hotel, on the harbor. It was a nice meal, although our after-dinner coffee at an outside table was interrupted by a brief rain shower.
Tuesday:On Tuesday, there again was NO WIND!. But this time we were ready, and we took a snorkel trip on the "Jolly Pirate". This is a sailboat (about 80', I believe) styled like a pirate ship. We made three snorkeling stops, including the large shipwreck, Antilla, another small shipwreck, and a shallow reef area (the coral was dead but there were some fish around). The ship provided a nice lunch and an open bar (rum and fruit drinks were the most common). The friendly crew helped make it a very enjoyable experience and a nice way to spend a day, if you can't windsurf. That evening we ate dinner at a German restaurant at the Seaport Mall and had a nice meal.
Wednesday:On Wednesday it's time to head home. We had time for one last walk on the beach (there was still NO WIND) so we took a long walk along Eagle and Manchebo beaches before heading back to clean up and pack. We got to the airport in plenty of time: in fact, the Delta ticket counter was not even open yet. Someone did show up after about 20 minutes and we got checked in, went though customs (Aruba and US) and waited for our flight. As an indication of the lack of wind, the airplanes were landing and taking off in the opposite direction of the normal prevailing winds.
Summary:It was a good trip, we had fun, did some windsurfing, and ate some good food... the only problem was that the wind died about three days too early!
Some Sample Photos
Western tip of Aruba from the air.
Palm Beach and Fishermem's Huts are on the far side, about the middle of the picture.
The view out our room window/balcony.
That is the Seaport Mall and casino across the street.
The atrium area of the Renniassance hotel.
The launch that picks up in the hotel lobby to take guests to the "private Island".
Vela Sindsurfing, where we spent much of our time.
Some of the beach area in the windsurfing area, next to Vela.
Looking west along Palm Bech and the High-rise hotels.
This is one of the less crowded sections of Palm Beach.
My view of the windsufing area of the beach, from a lounge chair nex to Vela.
Some of the Fishermen's Huts, along the part of the beach called Fishermen's Huts (!)
There are always some fishing boats at Fisherman's Huts.
Looking at Baby Beach, with the refinery in the distance.
Natural Bridge, a popular tourist stop. It is rather pretty.
Some of the ruins of an old gold smelting facility.
Susan in front of the El Gaucho restaurant. We did enjoy that meal!
Here Susan is in front of the Tango Argentine Steak reataurant.
We enjoyed the Tango dance demonstration.
Getting ready to go snorkeling.
Here is the Jolly Pirate boat...er... ship.
A water level, snorkler's view of the Jolly Pirate.
Part of the reck of the German freighter, Antelli.
Tired (?) snorlkers resting on the deck after an exhausting (?) dive.
A couple of the ships that visited Arube while were there.
The same ships, but at night with all the lights on.
This was out last night and we had to head back home the next day.