Windsurfing and having fun!
Jan. 22 - 29, 2006
Setup:This was our forth trip to Aruba, and we really wanted to get in some good windsurfing, which Aruba is known for: we were not disappointed! On our last trip to Aruba the wind died about half way through the week, but not this time.
The trip was Sunday to Sunday in an attempt to avoid the Saturday airport crowds that we have been in the middle of before... The strategy seemed to work as the airport and customs areas were not over crowded. (Outbound, you clear US customs in Aruba, so the process is somewhat long and confusing, including two security checks and checking/claiming/rechecking your luggage.)
Getting there and back:We took advantage of Delta frequent-flyer tickets and two days worth of Holiday Inn Priority Club points, paying normal rates for the other 5 days. As expected, the 'less expensive' Delta "SkySaver" Skymile tickets (30,000 miles per ticket) were not available, so we had to use the more expensive (60,000 mile) "SkyChoice" tickets. The flights were on time and reasonably comfortable (with exit-row seats both ways) 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 took a taxi to the Holiday Inn ($22 taxi fare) and were at the Holiday Inn within about 45 minutes of landing. We knew there were plenty of restaurants close to the Holiday Inn, so we didn't bother getting a rental car until Wed. when I picked one up at the Marriott. Next time we probably won't bother with a car at all. The return flight was on time marred only by the typical long wait for our luggage in Atlanta.
The Hotel:The Holiday Inn is on Palm Beach, in what is called the "high-rise" section, along with the Marriott (hotel and time-share), Hyatt, Wyndam, Radisson, and others. Like several of the hotels, it has a casino and several restaurants. Possibly because of my Priority Club standing, we got a better room than I expected: top (7th) floor, close to the beach, so we had a good view off the balcony. The floor we were on had just been lightly refurbished (paint, trim, etc) and they installed new hallway carpet the 2nd day we were there, so the facilities were quite pleasant, if not fancy.
The only "problem" we had concerned our Priority Club part of the stay. When we checked in on Sunday, they gave us wrist bands to wear "for the priority club", but no other explanation. On Tuesday we had to check out and back in (as "normal guests") and we asked about the bands. They said the bands gave us access to the "all inclusive" options of the hotel: all meals and drinks. If we had known this we could have saved about $150 - 200 in meals and drinks for those first two days. Of course, by then it was too late to make use of the bands. When we "gently complained" about not being told of the All Inclusive features, the staff just said "sorry, too bad"...
The HI is convenient to the windsurfing and other "attractions" along Palm Beach. The windsurfing center is about a 10 minute walk along the beach to the NW, just past the Marriott complex. Most of the restaurants and such are within a 10 - 15 minute walk along the road to the SE.
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've used Vela the last several trips and did again this time. Vela is more convenient, has a much nicer beach area. and has a number of palapas under which you can put lounges to rest and relax on when not on the water. We've gotten to know some of the people at Vela, especially Francois (the manager) and Mac, the main instructor. Vela probably costs a bit more than the other outfitters, but we think the facilities, the excellent equipment, and the people are worth it.
For lunch several days, we just walked over to the Marriott beach 'Snack Bar' and got a sandwich and fries to go. They have very large portions (for about $10) and splitting one worked out about right for a light lunch. Several other days we ate 'leftovers' from meals the previous night. In any case, Vela's location made it very easy and convenient.
When we arrived on Sunday, the wind was blowing strong: probably about 20 - 25 mph. This is an excellent wind for windsurfing. Several people we talked to said there had been no wind for the past several months prior to that Sunday. Of course, we took credit for the improvement. The wind blew strong all week. It did let up a little on a couple of days, but the biggest sail I used all week was a 5.9 and I'm almost 200 pounds.... The wind is offshore so it does tend to be rather gusty rather than a nice steady wind. The further you go out from the shore, the more steady and strong the wind, but the harder you have to work to get back in. Since I don't have my deep water waterstarts working yet, I generally stayed within 100 - 150 yards of the beach.
We took a water starting lesson from Mac on Wed. and after that I started getting the waterstarts (in water up to about chin deep) fairly consistently and Susan was getting better with her starts. The day we left, Sunday, the weather turned a little nasty, with a very strong wind but also a lot of waves coming in making the sailing area bit rough. Not many people were going out then. The few guys who like to play in the waves did seem to be having fun though.
If you go to the "Photo Album" link at the bottom of this page, the last 20 or so pictures are of windsurfing action.
Restaurants:We went to several restaurants we'd been to previously, and some different ones. I'll list the ones worth mentioning and make some comments.
Tango Argentine Steakhouse: We went here on out last trip and they present both a nice menu and a entertaining floor show of Tango dancers. Good "Early Bird Special" from 5:00 to 7:00.
Tony Roma's Ribs: While not exactly unique to Aruba, it was very cloe to the HI on an evening that was storming and threatening rain. Service was a little uncertain, but ribs were good.
Amazonia Churrascaria: Typical for the Churrascaria type restaurant. Good, but I always feel like I have to stuff myself to get my money's worth. Better food and deals elsewhere.
Aruba Destiny: An interesting little restaurant that had recently opened next to the Mill resort. It also seemed to go by several other names and is very family run. The food was very good but Orlando (the son/waiter) had a bit to learn, but the other family members made up for it. There was a Keyboardist/singer for entertainment and what he lacked in talent, he made up for with enthusiasm.
El Gaucho:Our second visit here also, and certainly not our last. The steaks were tender and had a wonderful flavor. The Sangria was delicious and the service was excellent. We ate all we could and still took enough "leftovers" with us for lunch the following two days. (El Gaucho actually cost less that the Amazonia, but the food was better and we ended up with more of it, and the service was better.)
Madame Janette's: Somewhat hard to find, but worth the trouble. We topped off our vacation by going here our last night. Mixture of French and Caribbean cooking, good sized portions and good service made for a very pleasant evening. Mostly outdoors seating, so watch out for rain (rare) or windless nights (could get hot). We had to make reservations 3 days in advance to get a decent time.
Summary:It was a very good trip, we had fun, did lots of good windsurfing, ate some good food, and just relaxed.... What more could you want??
Click on the picture to view the album