12/5/12 - 12/10/12
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Our trip to Aruba was all about relaxation, so we had not made any plans prior to our arrival, preferring to figure it out once we were there. We knew that our first priority would be beach/pool time, but we also wanted to explore the island and maybe even have some spa time. Another important consideration was that this was our first trip with Cliff and Emily, so we wanted to make sure our plans fit with their expectations and preferences, as well. I quickly learned that the best part of traveling with them is that they pretty much like the same things we do, but don’t like the planning part. It was a travel match made in heaven – Clay and I could plan and choose fun things to do to our heart’s content and then have awesome friends to enjoy them with who were equally happy about not having to plan and choose fun things to do!
Something to know about the Marriott beach – although there is certainly plenty of room on the beach and an abundance of chairs, if one wants to have a palapa and the resulting shade, there is a bit of a process. At one point, all palapas were given on a first-come-first-served basis at certain times of the day (I believe 4 pm for next day reservations and 7 am for same day reservations). This is great for people who don’t mind waiting in lines. Personally, Clay and I would usually prefer to pay a reasonable fee for additional convenience and more time to enjoy our vacation. Therefore, we were glad to learn that there is now a second option – a certain number of palapas are available for a daily fee and can be reserved at any time for up to three days at once. I would recommend that, if this is your preferred option, one of your first stops at the resort should be the beachside towel hut to make reservations. When we arrived, someone had just happened to cancel three days of reservations, which we immediately booked. It was $25 per day for our front row palapa. At this point, we still did not know our plans for the rest of the vacation, but we could cancel as late as 10 am the day of the reservation with no penalty. So, if you are not able to reserve a palapa upon your first visit, stopping by the towel hut in the morning (and as you pass the towel hut at other times) could work out. With three days of beach palapa reservations available, how did we end up spending our time in Aruba?
After conferring with Cliff and Emily over a delicious dinner at Taste of Belgium, it took almost no time to decide that day one should be spent lounging on the beach, despite Emily’s brief protest that she was not crazy about the beach. Honestly, we did not get much beyond that because we were so busy enjoying a delicious dinner. We did manage to make plans to stop by the concierge desk before heading to the beach the next morning, though. As a result (and after a bit of a hassle with the concierge), we ended up with dinner reservations for Thursday evening, a tour scheduled for Friday morning, and spa reservations for Saturday. After cancelling our palapa reservation for Friday, we were all set to relax away the next few days.
Thursday: Beach Day
Because of the aforementioned difficulty with the concierge (and, let’s be honest, perhaps a bit of sleeping in – it was vacation after all), it was approaching 11 am when we finally arrived to the beach. The boys grabbed some chairs, and we were soon set for a day of sun, sand, and the ocean.
I cannot speak to what beaches are like elsewhere on Aruba (although with a car or other form of transportation many other beaches are easily accessible), but I loved Palm Beach (where the Marriott is located). The turquoise water was warm and calm, with just enough waves to be enjoyable. The water was not the perfectly clear water I expected to see in the Caribbean, but it was lovely, nonetheless. Getting into the ocean could be a bit challenging. There was a ledge at the edge of the water with a 2 – 3 foot drop-off that felt entirely constructed of pieces of shells. However, once you were past that particular form of entertainment (watching other people get in and out was certainly amusing) the ocean floor was perfectly smooth sand and the incline was very gradual. In fact, it was so wonderful that Emily declared she might like the beach, after all!
There was a roped off area for swimming and water sports of all sorts were widely available nearby. When I was not in the ocean, I could usually be found under the shade of the palapa reading or enjoying one of the various happy hours that happened throughout the afternoon. Grabbing a bite to eat was a matter of walking a few feet to the beach bar, although there were many other beachside options available within easy walking distance.
After defending my dissertation a few days before, there was nothing better than a day spent on a beautiful beach and not having to think about anything other than whether I preferred a strawberry or mango daiquiri or whether I wanted to read another chapter or take a dip in the ocean. Perfection!
Friday: Island Tour Day with a Side of Pool Time
For Friday, we booked the half-day natural pool island tour with DePalm Tours. They picked us up from the resort and drove us in the open air Land Rover to their office to fill out the necessary paperwork and pick up some water shoes before beginning the tour.
Although initially the pool was scheduled for last, our guide made the decision to go there first so it would be less crowded. Before long we were heading across the island to Arikok National Park and the natural pool.
I don’t think there is a single paved road in the park and the terrain is a bit, um, bumpy. I was glad someone else was driving a car that I wasn’t responsible for keeping in one piece.
It was definitely fun! Once we made it to the natural pool, there was a steep walk down to the pool, but then we had time to snorkel (gear was provided by the tour company) and explore the pool.
After the natural pool, we dried off as we experienced more of the gorgeous Aruba landscape across other parts of the island. Aruba is a desert island, so the landscape was not a typical tropical landscape. It was beautiful though and the drive through the park was an opportunity to learn more about Aruba and see some fantastic views of the island and the ocean. The tour was done in both English and Spanish, which are two of the four languages spoken by everyone on the island. The official language is Dutch (DePalm offers tours in Dutch, also) and there is also a local language – Papiamento. The tour guide was the perfect balance of funny, informative, and bumpy, non-paved road driver.
Other stops on the tour included the remains of a natural bridge, the Alto Vista chapel, and the California lighthouse, although we drove past many other landmarks, seemingly finding every bump and pothole on the island.
At the end of the tour, we were conveniently returned to our hotel. The tour made for a full morning and we felt like we got our money’s worth, certainly when taking into account the convenience and the fact that we did not need to purchase extra insurance on a rental car! Although we enjoyed the jeep tour, other options for seeing more of the island include using a rental car or taxi, tours on horseback, and four wheeler tours (although not all hotels will allow pickups for this due to safety concerns). Although a full-day tour would have allowed us to see more of the island, we all felt that the half-day tour gave us a great overview of the island without being totally exhausting. On a practical note, I found that wearing my swimsuit under shorts and a shirt (with lots of sunscreen, of course) was comfortable for the tour. The company provided water shoes for the rocky climb into the natural pool, although if that sort of thing grosses you out, you may want to bring your own. Also of note, snacks and drinks are provided, so no need to pack those things with your sunscreen, sunglasses, and camera.
After a packed morning, we were ready for some pool time. We first tried to find a spot at the adult pool, but could not locate four chairs together (or even within a reasonable proximity of each other), so we headed to the main pool.
Honestly, because it was early December and therefore most children were still in school, there were not many children on the property so even the main pool was relatively quiet. We grabbed lunch at the swim-up pool bar and I spent the rest of the afternoon repeating the previous day’s activities (swim, read, repeat) except poolside. Emily and I both headed in early for a nap and I think at some point Clay may have joined a game of beach volleyball. Tough life!
Saturday: Spa Day
No trip is complete without a little spa time, at least for Clay and I. Fortunately, Cliff and Emily did not disagree! Because of the availability of spa appointments, it ended up that Emily and I had appointments around 10 am and Clay and Cliff had appointments around noon. Therefore, the girls headed to the spa post-breakfast while the boys headed to the beach and then we essentially traded places. The spa is actually located in one of the other Marriott properties, but is convenient for those staying at our resort. Emily and I both booked the Aruba Awakening “spa ceremony,” which included a footbath (basically a pedicure without the polish part), a body scrub, and 50-minute massage. To sum up the spa experience, the treatments were fantastic. I enjoyed every minute and thought my masseuse was wonderful. I like to think I have had a reasonable range of treatments at this point to be able to judge that effectively. However, the facilities were a bit limited and worn, although spotlessly clean.
The staff was superb, but the visual appearance of the spa detracted a bit from the entire experience. But, seriously, can one really complain when a morning begins at the spa and the day ends on the beach?
Sunday: Home Day
Clay and I flew out on one of the first flights Sunday morning, although Cliff and Emily got to enjoy Aruba for a bit longer. One of the convenient things about Aruba is that there is a US Customs office in the airport, so when flying back to the US, one can clear customs in Aruba and then baggage can be checked to the final destination. Basically, there is one part of the airport for US bound flights and another part for all other flights. We were on, I believe, the first flight of the day, so after we checked in we had to wait in line for customs to open. Most recommendations are to arrive at the airport 2 – 3 hours before your flight to ensure plenty of time. That is probably not necessary for the first flight or two of the day, but like when we came into Aruba, I can see how it could have taken a while to get through if we were there at a busier time. After another set of (thankfully) uneventful flights, we were back to Houston and to real life. Clay headed back to Dallas the next day and I headed back to work, a little more tan and a lot more relaxed!