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Friday, 02 May 2014 12:06

Selling Aruba

Written by  Melanie Reffes

Caribbean-ArubaFlat, dry and just seventeen miles north of Venezuela, Aruba is one of the most revisited islands in the Caribbean. Four hours by air from New York and under three from Miami, flights are plenty from all the major gateways and with US pre-clearance at the international airport, getting home is a breeze as the only Customs officer is the one on island. “Fifty percent of our guests have been here before and many come back generation after generation, “said Sjeidy Feliciano, director of public relations for the Aruba Tourism Authority (ATA). “Our accessibility to the US is one reason we get so many return guests, as well as our multicultural diversity which appeals to tourists coming from the US, Canada, South America and Europe.”

Sitting outside the hurricane belt (that season officially starts on June 1), the island that marries Dutch charm with American ease is popular with a myriad of travelers from adventure junkies, foodies and beach lovers to relaxation seekers, serious shoppers, casino players and those who can afford to spoil themselves in swanky seaside suites .

Big and bold
Brand new on Palm Beach, The Ritz Carlton is the only five-star resort on the island, fifth Ritz Carlton in the Caribbean and the first new build since the Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Dorado, Puerto Rico opened two years ago. With the opening of the resort, Marriott International is now the largest employer on the island with four other hotels including the Renaissance Aruba, Aruba Marriott Resort, Marriott Aruba Ocean Club and the Marriott Aruba Surf Club. Seaside at the end of the hotel strip, the 320-room resort includes the largest spa on the island, casino, spirited lobby bar, a trio of gourmet eateries and thirty-five rooms on the Club floor. “Everything is about service and making sure the expectations of our guests are exceeded, not merely met,“ said Roberto Grisi, general manager, while enjoying breakfast in the Solanio Trattoria. “The Aruba property is the highest-end hotel on the island, catering to luxury leisure travelers who are sophisticated in their tastes.” From top to bottom, no stone is left unturned, no service less than stellar, and no staff person who does not remember your name, what you take in your coffee or what kind of wine you enjoy with dinner. “It is our pleasure to cater to all our guests,“ said Sandra Castillo, manager of the Club Lounge. “We offer an open bar, snacks, views of the sea from the floor-to-window ceilings, computers, printers and just about everything else our guests may require.”

Sweet Suites
Blue Residences opened in March on Eagle Beach with thirty-six multi-bedroom units and six penthouses. A second tower will open in May and a third next January, for a total of 124 units when complete. Amenities include poolside butlers, Jacuzzi terraces and golf privileges at two nearby courses, including the 18-hole Tierra del Sol designed by Robert Trent Jones. “The debut of Blue Residences marks an important event in the Aruba tourism industry, providing travelers with a selection of upscale condo-style units from which to enjoy everything the island has to offer,” said Herber Valkenberg, president of Icon Hotel Marketing, North American representative for the resort. Serving gourmet fare, The Kitchen Table will open on July 1, accepting just 14 reservations and four walk-ins each night. Also opening in July, The Mirador Deck will offer a wine and tapas menu.

Riu Hotels bought the former Westin Aruba and has started a $60 million renovation expected to take a year. The rebranded resort will reopen in 2015 under the Riu banner next to the all-inclusive Hotel Riu Palace.

Sips and snacks
In a century-old “cunucu” or manor house, Papiamento is the hands-down favorite for Aruba’s national dish called Keshi Yena. Made with chicken, beef, olives, cashews and prunes and flame-broiled with Gouda or Edam cheese, the tasty stew pairs nicely with a dab of Madam Jeanette’s hot pepper sauce. For dessert, Pan Bollo or bread pudding drizzled with Ponche Crema egg liqueur does the trick, along with a sip of a sweet liqueur from an impressive 1800 bottle cellar. “We invite our guests to see our cellar, how we treat the bottles, let them make their choice and enjoy our unique ambiance,” said owner and Chef Eduardo Ellis.

Everything in it is blue, from the muted blue lighting to the Blue Sky Martini stirred (or shaken). So hip it hurts, Blue Bar on the pool deck at the Renaissance Aruba has one of the happiest Happy Hours on the island offering a myriad of martinis and tapas snacks to wash them down.

Big Blue
The northwest shore is really one long beach with different names; Eagle Beach is known locally as the low-rise beach dotted with smaller hotels, and Palm Beach or the high-rise hotel beach, is crammed full of tall resorts, bars and dive shops. On the southeast shore, Baby Beach is a family favorite with shallow water for kids, shaded palapas for afternoon siestas and the Big Mama Grill for hefty burgers and refreshing daiquiris. Jads Dive Shop, in a former bowling alley, rents equipment and arranges excursions.
Nearby, San Nicholas is a recommended day trip for the quiet beaches, model train museum open by appointment only, wild donkeys minding their own business and a brew at Charlie’s where divers have been hanging their underwater treasures since 1941.

Take the High Road
The newest tour operator in Aruba, Island Routes offers tours that include pit stops at the California Light House; popular for photographing the green flash at sunset, Alto Vista Chapel; the first Roman Catholic Church on the island, Natural Bridge; once the world’s largest and the Aloe Factory and Museum to see the process from leaf to lotion. “Every excursion is selected to showcase Aruba’s diversity by packaging options with round trip transfers and a hassle -free reservation process,“said Sean-Pierre Webster, manager of business development. “We also provide a support center open seven days a week to assist with every need adventurers may have as they make their way to Aruba or any other destination we serve.”
www.islandroutes.comRetail Therapy
A ride on a big blue bus that travels the high-rise hotel strip is the best deal in town with a $2.30 fare for a one-way ride. Shoppers can take their pick from designer boutiques along the way, to the stalls at the Harbourview Market where vendors hawk every souvenir imaginable. Across the street from the market, refuel with a scoop of coconut gelato at Lecca Lecca, and then hit the stores in the Royal Plaza with an after-hours nightclub, Palm Beach Plaza close to the Holiday Inn, Renaissance Mall with fabulous chocolate shops and Paseo Herencia where carnival shows and fireworks spice up a day of shopping.

Book Ahead
Make it a Memorial Day weekend to remember with front row seats at the Soul Beach Music Festival from May 21 to 26. Headliners include R & B crooners Robin Thicke, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds and Atlanta comedian Rick Smiley. “As a favorite vacation spot for music lovers and trendy audiences, we take great pride in hosting music’s leading talent,” said Otmar Oduber, minister of tourism. Concert venues include Palm Beach, Moomba Beach, Renaissance Convention Center and Baby Beach in San Nicholas. “With music at the core of our island roots, Aruba will continue to push the limits to provide high-caliber performances from the industry’s most esteemed talent,“ said Ronella Tjin Asjoe-Croes, CEO of the Aruba Tourism Authority.

Kicking off on Sept. 2 and continuing every Monday, “Little White Dress Night” returns after a successful inaugural year in 2013. Hotels, bars and restaurants are offering deals galore for party-goers dressed in all white. Resorts getting in on the action include Aruba Marriott and Hyatt Regency while participating eateries include El Faro Blanco by the California Lighthouse, Brickell Bay Sand Beach Lounge pouring free shots to karaoke singers, and Local Store with plenty of White Label whiskey. “Having an extra evening for fun is a dynamic opportunity for business owners and tourists looking for adventure,“ said Curt Harms, Jr., owner of the Local Store, a rooftop bar overlooking Oranjestad.

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