Jerry and I departed Atlanta's
Hartsfield International Airport on Saturday morning. We arrived at the airport a little shy of 2 1/2 hours before our flight. Had fun chatting with "Second Honeymooners" Sue W. & Jerry from the bulletin board. The flight was overbooked and thus full. Ah, the joys of traveling over a weekend! Scheduled time of departure was 10:55 am and this was when they closed the door on the plane. However there were five airplanes ahead of us for takeoff. With a scheduled flight time of 3 hours and 56 minutes and an actual flying time of three and a half-hours, we would still arrive ahead of schedule.
Delta's B-737-800 configured 3 and 3 was cramped. Anchovies have more rooms in their cans. The meal should have been cooked another 6 hours and called "Pot Roast", but we were on our way to paradise, so you know what? Who cares? We did not care in the least. On this particular Delta flight, they only come around once with beverage cart. If you wanted anything else to drink you had to summon an attendant. We "heard" that the flight was short one flight attendant, but this is not an excuse for not coming around with the beverage cart a second time on such a long flight.
As in the past, we had made arrangements to have our taxi driver friend Franke meet us at the
airport. We hadn’t seen him in 20 months and did not know if he would remember us. The new
airport is quite a change to say the least. New and very modern in most ways. Evidently I am in the minority when I say that I still miss walking down the steps of the plane onto the runway into that hot wind!
The luggage from our flight came out fairly quickly, well at least most of it. There were a group of us who waited and waited. Jerry and I were concerned that Franke would think that we had not showed up. Ah ha! Little did we know he recognized us when he saw us at the baggage claim on the other side of the wall. Finally the coffee break or whatever was over and we were off to the Radisson.
Oh boy, there are not enough adjectives here… awesome, beautiful, wonderful, gorgeous. Jerry and I were excited from the time that we pulled up to the waterfalls at the entrance. Their 50 million-dollar plus investment is very evident. We had never been to the "old" Radisson but it was clear that they had restarted from the ground up. The last time we saw the resort in the winter of 1999 the only obvious renovations were the new swimming pools, many tropical plantings and old mattresses on every balcony.
The lobby is like the
Hyatt's, open air with plenty of seated conversation areas, but that is pretty much where the comparisons end. Everything here was understated. No big signs hanging over check-in, no sign for bell man’s desk or concierge. Just plain wood podiums. The front desk consisted of some of these units with only a flat screen monitor!
There was no one ahead of us, so check-in took as long as it took to hand over the door card and run the credit card imprint. The bellman was waiting with our luggage and proceeded to take us to our room. There are 3 towers- Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. We were in the Bonaire tower room 2419. Well the room ended up being rooms, the room ended up being a suite and the gardenview ended up being ocean and pool front with 2 large windows and a sliding glass door to the balcony that had the perfect view of sunset. It was just unbelievable. Jerry and I just looked at one another totally speechless. The bellman must have thought we were zombies! He left and we just kept saying that we could not believe it, could not believe it. Wow! It took a few days to get over the shock of the beauty of this place.
All of the rooms are decorated in West Indian furnishings, dark woods, yellow walls and even wood furniture on the balconies. The suite consisted of 2 rooms. A large living room with armoire encasing a 27" television, sleeper sofa, 2 arm chairs, one of the biggest coffee tables I have ever seen and a big comfy stuffed chair with ottoman. This room was just perfect for entertaining friends one evening later in the week. The bedroom had a king-size bed with down comforter, 4 down pillows, 2 night tables with drawers, another armoire with 27" television and mini-safe and writing desk with chair. The bathroom was to die for. All marble with a large separate stall shower and whirlpool tub. The sink area was large enough for our toiletries. In addition an extension of the bathroom was a dressing area with 8 huge drawers and a closet. What did I miss? All rooms regardless of tower, have telephones with voicemail, data port/computer hook-up, remote-control 27" satellite TV, coffee maker, clock radio, hair dryer, bathrobe and in-room safe, mini-bar, iron and ironing board, down pillows and Evian. We surely needed someone to pinch us to make sure that we were not dreaming.
DH (darling husband) wanted to unpack, I wanted to go to the beach, so we unpacked some and put on our bathing suits. With the exception of the view we had from our room this was our first glimpse of the beach and pool area. Again, it was just beautiful. The beach was big! Being about 4 o’clock there were very few palapas (huts) to be had. We would find out later what the "routine" was. After a long day of airports and an uncomfortable plane ride we were both ready for a swim and the piña colada which followed very shortly after that! By far the best piña coladas on Palm Beach! They even use "real" Coco Lopez! Now that IMPRESSES me! The Radisson's beachside Gilligan’s Bar and Restaurant offered free seasoned French fries with drinks during happy hour. Happy hour drinks were piña coladas, daiquiris, margaritas, or wine. Also, a bucket of 4 Balashi beers on ice was specially priced during happy hour. Listen for the ringing of the bell at 5 o’clock and you will know that it is "fries time". Happy hour is 5 pm to 7 pm and there is live music from 4 pm to 7 pm The bands rotate and all were different and excellent. There is loads of good talent on the island and some of it is right here. One group had a young lady that sounded like Gloria Estefan. Another sign of an excellent hotel was waitress service on the beach for both beverages and lunch.
In five trips, the
waters of Palm Beach were the clearest that we had ever seen. On this our first late afternoon, we thought perhaps this was just a fluke, but the condition persisted our entire visit. I don’t know if it was the time of year or overall improvement of conditions, but this just made Aruba even more attractive to us! It was funny watching some of the people who would wade into the water trying to "avoid" the fish since they were now so visible!
The 2 large zero entry free-form
swimming pools intrigued DH. So after a nice leisurely swim we decided to head up to the pool area. The pool water was unbelievably warm! When we swam in the pool we invariably ended up in the north swimming pool. It was closer to the late afternoon music and happy hour. The entire pool area is huge and was never crowded especially the south swimming pool. Some people will complain, but there was plenty of shade here at the pool provided by the many trees around the area. If you knew where to sit you could easily be in the sun all day long. That is if you like to fry.
We had e-mailed our Saturday night dinner reservation to Gladys, the owner of our favorite restaurant, Gasparito Restaurant and Art Gallery. When Franke dropped us off we made arrangements for him to pick us up for our short ride that evening to Gasparito. A true Aruban, Franke never asked for payment for the ride from the airport to the hotel. In the confusion of getting all of the bags out of the trunk, Jerry forgot to pay him. Later in the evening when Jerry mentioned how bad he felt that he forgot to pay, Franke was very unconcerned, he knew he would receive his money.
Gasparito was like going home to the old neighborhood after a long absence. Henri was on vacation, but Elvina, Jorge and of course Gladys were all there. Always fun catching up on each other’s families and lives, it made the evening go very quickly! Dinner: Mussel Soup, Keri Keri Ravioli, Vegetable Platter, Filet Mignon with Mushroom Sauce (You can have
El Gaucho and the
French Steakhouse, we both love this 3 inch thick beef. It is so thick that you will be asked if you would like it "butterflied" so that it will cook quicker), 1 coffee, Pineapple Strawberry Strudel ala mode, bottle of wine ($23)- $81. Plus we bought a painting of the Alta Vista chapel for the new home we will be moving into next month for $85.
When we arrived back to our room after dinner we found out that we had had turn down service with chocolates on our pillows. Not only that but a bottle of wine and a bowl of all types of fruit. Wow, no one had ever treated us this good. Housekeeping was exceptional. The rooms were always immaculate. Seems one thing people complain about when it comes to hotels is towels. Well we had 4 bath towels, 4 hand towels, 4 wash cloths and 2 tub mats at all times. Used towels were replaced both morning and evening. We could not want for anything. One evening we had two light bulbs burn out in the bathroom. Jerry called maintenance and they showed up within 15 minutes with the replacements. We didn’t understand it, but Jerry upon arrival had phoned for a mini-refrigerator (all rooms were having them installed this week). He was told that there was a waiting list. Five minutes later it was in our room and running.
Our days were all the same with the exception of one day when we rented a 4 x 4. Like the Westin, palapas (huts) at the Radisson are assigned on first come first served basis. The towel hut opened at 7 am and you were given a diagram of the beach to choose from which huts were still available. That was your hut for the day as long as it was not unoccupied for 2 hours, but we never saw anyone’s belongings moved or taken away. So we would choose our spot, get our towels (you could actually have more than one per person if you liked) and find our spot. The chaises are not piled up at night like most other resorts and there are many of them scattered all over the beach. The walkway at the beach line is trimmed with palm trees so this also provides additional shade when all of the palapas are occupied. With 48 palapas, there was a lot of room for spreading out on the beach. We still found ourselves though making sure that we got down to the beach by 9 am at the very latest to "secure" a palapa before heading onto breakfast.
Breakfast was served in the Laguna Restaurant. There was a choice of outdoor or indoor dining and ala Carte or buffet breakfast. Our package included the buffet and it was very good. There were eggs cooked to order, including omelets, waffles, sausage, bacon, potatoes, assorted cold cuts, cereals and fruits. As well there were 2 additional hot dishes that changed daily. Cream of wheat and oatmeal were also rotated each day. There was a variety of Danish, along with croissants, muffins and breads. Also the usual English muffins and bagels. Jerry particularly loved the cream cheese spread with chunks of salmon. Juice was poured when you were seated and you were also left with a pot of coffee and/or tea.
After breakfast we would usually stroll over to the lobby to see concierge Carmen regarding reservations for that evening’s dinner. She and Adelaida were excellent, patient and knowledgeable. We rented a float daily for $5 and spent the rest of our days on the beach. Sometimes we had lunch from Gilligan’s. There were a wide variety of choices. Hamburgers were very good, Hot Dogs, Caesar salad, Chicken Sandwich, Chicken Wings, Fajitas, Vegetable Wrap, Tortilla Chips and Guacamole (I don’t know what they did to it, but I do not like guacamole and this was delicious!) are some of the choices to name just a few.
To say we just "vegetated" on the beach each day was an understatement. But we also had the perfect weather for it. Admittedly it was hot, but that is what Aruba is like in September. It was 90 degrees everyday and definitely not as windy as other times of the year that we have visited. Monday was the only day where it was so windy that there was some sand flying on the beach. The only bad day of weather that we had was on Thursday. Jerry woke me up and told me that it was overcast. Boo hoo! Looking out the window we both realized something very strange…there was NO wind at all. This weather lasted only one day. At noontime we had a 45 minute rain shower on our part of Palm Beach, a friend near San Nicolas said they only had a few minutes drizzle, not even enough to water her plants. The woman in the palapa next to us was ready to run when the rains came until she saw that no one else was moving! She did give up after about 20 minutes and it really did pour a torrent. Eventually there was a wee bit of sun, but more importantly just a relaxing day on the beach.
Our nights were fairly routine also. A drink or two and a snack at happy hour and then back to the room to watch sunset from our balcony, shower and then off to dinner. After dinner we returned to our room and usually were asleep much early than we are at home. Pretty strange, but it happens to us every time we are in Aruba. At the end of the day we are just exhausted from spending all day at the beach. One night we ventured into the Radisson casino. Neither of us is gamblers but wanted to check out the place. We very quickly went through our $10 each on the quarter slots. Just as we finished a woman won $26,000 playing progressive poker. We knew we were way out of our league.
Sunday afternoon we decided on a snack and piña coladas before happy hour. One order of Tortilla Chips and Guacamole, 2 piña coladas- $22. Moral, if you are on a budget stick with happy hour. Sunday night dinner was with one of our Aruban friends at Madame Janette. It was quite good, but we did not think it was quite what we had heard it hyped up to be. If time permitted we would have gone back and given it another try. By far the cheapest meal we had on the island, but then again, we love to eat! 2 Caesar salads, grilled portabella mushroom pizza, chicken Sabine, 2 Marinated Grouper, 1 Virgin Strawberry Daiquiri, 1 Coke- $ 55
Monday was just more of the same… we ventured over to the Kokoa Beach Bar (now Bugaloe Bar & Grill) for the Bulletin Board party to which only 5 of us showed up. For dinner that evening we went to one of my favorite restaurants, 3 little birds [no longer in business]: Caesar salad, Smoked Fish Trio, and Chateaubriand for 2 which you could cut with your fork) served with an excellent Béarnaise Sauce. Crepes Suzette, 1 coffee 1 glass of wine- $85 plus 20% gratuity, check did not include service charge.
Tuesday was our "jeep" day. Basic idea was to ride around the island to see what had changed and take photos. Jerry had reserved a four wheel drive air conditioned four wheel drive Daihatsu through Hertz on the Internet. They have a desk in the Curacao Tower lobby right there at the
Radisson so it was convenient. With the insurance it came to $82 for the 24 hour rental. The rental may have been a little bit cheaper if we had gone with another company, but this vehicle was clean with 12,000 miles and in excellent condition.
We usually start by heading north to the California Lighthouse and
Natural Bridge and making the rest of our circuit around the island. This year we decided to begin in the opposite direction, starting by heading to the south end of the island first. From here we worked our way around the coast to Bachelors Beach, Boca Grandi, Boca Prins, Dos Playa and then on into some of the mountains of Arikok National Park. The Aruba government has done an excellent job on Arikok National Park. There are quite a few new marked trails, lots of wildlife, especially goats and is just generally a great place for hiking if you can hack the heat. For anyone from the states, it does not get much quieter than it does out in the middle of the Park. Very eerie if you are from a big city like we are, but so so peaceful. If you can appreciate the beauty of the desert, this will be heaven for you.
From the park we turned around and headed back to Seroe Colorado making our way down to Baby Beach. Packed as it usually is, we headed over to Rodgers Beach. My personal favorite as long as you look opposite the refinery. Decided to try lunch here. We were both parched, despite having brought bottled water with us. Coco Beach Bar and Grill- 4 sodas and 1 cheeseburger with French fries: $20.
Radisson prices without the amenities, but still a beautiful view. We drove by Galleria Harmonia in San Nicolas, hoping to stop in and look for some more Aruban art for our new home. Drove by coming and going and both times the doors were locked.
From here it was on back through Oranjestad stopping for a new supply of Aruba T-shirts and a stop in Zapp Music. Off then to the
Costa Linda. Jerry had seen an advertisement for a cookbook, "Aruba Cooks". With the help of the hotel concierge, Carmen, he found out that it was being sold at the Costa Linda. A stop at Ling & Sons to buy snack food and soda for friends we were having over to the room on Thursday night.
Unbelievably, the day was fading fast. We headed up to the Lighthouse and then onto Alto Vista Chapel and the
Natural Bridge. Luckily we were also able to see some of the Donkeys in the Sanctuary. Two had young ones and one was actually nursing while we sat close by. We drove quite far south of the Natural Bridge and although there are dirt trails, four wheeling was a challenge to say the least. Very steep inclines and some bottomless pits made for a bumpy ride, but we were having fun. Not wanting to be out here after dark we decided it was time to head back to the hotel by way of Paradera and Noord. When all was said and done we had driven over 200 miles and taken about 275 photos. Most of them were with the digital camera so no heart attacks for DH over film developing costs.
Dinner this evening was another I had looked forward to. The
Sunset Grille at the Radisson was expensive, but worth every penny. Jerry soothed himself on the price reminding himself that he was saving the taxi fare. We both loved the food here and would have returned for a second time if we had had more nights on the island. They will also be starting a Sunday brunch in October. Caesar salads (the Radisson also has the best Caesar salad on the island, with L'Escale [no longer in business]coming in a close 2nd), China Town Marinated Sliced Steak, Tuna, 2 orders of asparagus, 1 glass of wine, chocolate cake, banana cake, 1 coffee- $112
Wednesday back to the beach. For dinner, back to our favorite, Gasparito: Squid and Scallop Ragout, Pasta with Fresh Mushrooms, Filet Mignon with Pepper Sauce, Chicken Keshi Yena , Banana den Forno, 1 coffee- $73
Thursday? Guess what we did? After the day at the beach our friends came to visit. They left around about 10:30 pm and Jerry and I decided we wanted some dinner. Quick, easy and close by was Salt & Pepper across the street from the Allegro. I had a BLT and Jerry had 2 Tapas. Don’t remember how much, but it was very reasonable. Their kitchen closes at 11:00 pm and the bar closed at 1:00 am
Friday night we were going to try Hostaria Da Vittorio, but then DH decided he would rather go back to the
Sunset Grille. Talking to Joe and Janine a couple we had met on the beach earlier in the week, we finally decided to take their recommendation of
Sole Mare. DH, being Italian, can be picky about his Italian food, but this was very good! Prosciutto and fresh Mozzarella, Seafood Salad with Calamari and Octopus, Fruta de Mer, Fettuccine Alfredo, Cannoli, coffee, cappuccino- $67
Our final night was at
Gasparito. Time to say good-bye.
Funniest parts of the trip- Thursday night I decided to take the whirlpool tub for a "test drive". My DH was kind enough to begin "drawing the bath". Well, the tub is full and looks very welcoming. I get in…and it is ALL bubbles with maybe 3 inches of water! He had turned on the whirlpool jets, so you can imagine the bubbles! Our cup runneth over and they were everywhere! Needless to say we had a good laugh… I know better than to make fun of people’s misfortunes, but there was nothing dangerous or life threatening when a couple rented a Sunfish sailboat. Jerry and I were in the water on our float watching this couple try to sail away from the beach and we ended up having quite a laugh. Evidently they were having a hard time judging the direction of the wind and were try to force the boom to the side that it did not want to go. Well the next thing you know the woman slides off the boat, the man slides off the boat. They and the gentleman from the watersports shop where they rented from then all proceeded to swim after the boat. Luckily the boat flung around so it’s nose was in the wind and did not get away from them. If not, I suppose some lucky person on the coast of Venezuela would now be the proud new owner of a sailboat… at the airport in Van Dorp books I wished to purchase a copy of Diario for my friend Jamilie. The woman did not want to sell it to me! She kept repeating, "Papiamento", I kept repeating, "I know!" After 3 such exchanges I thrust the dollar at her explaining that I was bringing the paper home to a friend in Atlanta who reads Papiamento. When was the last time you have a tough time purchasing a newspaper?
Grossest moment of the trip (skip this if you are squeamish)- Looking out over the beautiful beach watching a woman allow her 2 or 3 year old son "pee" against a Palm tree during happy hour. Here we are listening to the music drinking our piña coladas and then next thing you know she comes running over to the table where the rest of her family was. She needed a napkin for him to "poop" into, right there on the walkway in front of everyone. I thought it was in pretty bad taste, Jerry was horrified to say the least. Needless to say there was no more appetite for the chicken wings we had ordered. Jerry mentioned to the waitress that she might want to tell a manager. He very promptly came over to the table to find out what was wrong. When Jerry told him what had just happened he shrugged his shoulders and said, "they must be Latins". Is it us, or do we not get around enough?
Lesson learned- do not bother purchasing any real food to bring to the airport with you unless you are prepared to eat it before you go through US Customs. I had a tuna sandwich, which I would have two whole hours to consume while waiting for the flight. No such luck, was told to eat it before heading through or toss it. So rather than gulping it down, it was tossed. The potato chips were allowed though, THEY were in a sealed bag.
The airport has a fairly large duty-free shopping arcade, but right now there are only a few stores open for perfume, liquor, T-shirt and souvenirs. Once in the gate area there was a food stand selling mainly soda and Good Humor Ice Cream, Van Dorp Books and another shop which I paid no attention to, but the line was out the door!
Other observations- The island is making a very conscious effort to keep the trash problem under control. There are many new trash cans all over the island. Throughout the week that we were on the island there was mention of at least 3 beach cleanups held by the resorts and their employees and some school children. It is heartbreaking to see all of the trash washed up onto the northeast shore…We were very happy that we were not staying at the Allegro [now the Occidental Grand]. We were not the only people who commented that it appeared to be full of partying honeymooners, kind of like a Carnival cruise ship. Nothing wrong with it, just not what we are looking for…The Playa Linda Beach Resort looks beautiful. They have remodeled part of their lobby, and added new whirlpools since our last visit. I also understand that over the next two years they will be renovating all of the guest rooms.
Sunday’s flight home was uneventful, full and packed tighter than a can of sardines. The airlines are trying to squeeze us to death. Take off was on time. Food was a little better this flight. Delta served Barbecued Shish Kabob or a Chicken dish, salad, roll and Coconut cake. Just make sure you are not thirsty when you fly Delta, again, they only come through with the beverage cart once. We were lucky enough though to be offered an after dinner cup of coffee, which was not the case on the trip down.