Aruba Trip Reports

Playa Linda

Feb 28 to March 7, 2004 by ScubaBOS

Day one had all the signs of a disaster waiting to happen. We arrived at Logan for our 9:00am flight on American around 6:30am. The line wasn’t near as long as last year's and moved quickly. The line for security however, was about 30 to 45 minutes long, but we lucked out. Our gate was not in the main terminal but in a secondary area. That checkpoint was only 2 people long. They began boarding late, not a good sign, but it turned out that everyone arrived early and we actually took off 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

After an uneventful flight we arrived 45 minutes ahead of schedule. Naturally since we had arrived early there was another jet sitting at our gate. It was a charter flight that had not received clearance to depart from Air Traffic Control on Curacao. After a 5-minute wait the Aruban airport authorities decided to push back the charter and out them in a holding area so that our flight could head to the gate and clear the taxi way (American may be little more expensive, but being the largest carrier to the island gives them a little clout).

We deplaned just in time as another flight was arriving on Continental. We made it to the Aruban Immigrations area ahead of the flood and down to baggage claim within a few minutes of clearing the plane.

Once we rounded everyone up we headed over to Thrifty to pick up our 9-passenger van. When we got there, they told us that they had our reservation, but they did not have the van we requested (Images of a Seinfeld episode began flashing in my head). Instead they offered us a Mitsubishi Lancer and Suzuki station wagon instead for the same price. This actually worked out better for us and within a few minutes we where well on our way to the Playa Linda.

It was only after we had arrived and unpacked that our luck ran out, slightly. More on that in a minute.

Playa Linda looked great. There is some construction work out front to expand the patio area for Dushi Bagels and Charlie’s Grill. TCBY has closed and apparently left the island. A new restaurant called Al Amir is taking over space once occupied by TCBY and Checkpoint Photo. The only negative to the resort is the condition of its pool. Some of the artificial rocks near the saunas have been wreck and there are rust stains on the pool. However, the pool is scheduled to be drained and receive a complete overhaul this coming May.

For our first meal we chose to eat at Le Petit Café in front of PL. I made reservations in person for 9 people, inside at 7:00pm. When we arrived they told us they it wasn’t in the book that I had requested to sit inside and said they had a table for 9 outside. We agreed to sit there and where happy with the location. The hostess thank us for understanding. Just as we had arrived, another large group was waiting and were seated. I suspect that what happened was they showed up looking for a table and refused to be seated outside and took the table reserved for us. No big deal.

We ended being disappointed with the service at Le Petit, but everyone loved their meals.

The next morning we headed to the beach. Or rather I slept in while my cousins went to the beach and we joined them. All week long, when we actually headed to the beach we had no problems what so ever in location a chickee for our group. No lines and no having to pay for one.

With 4 SCUBA divers in the group we decided to get a dive in that afternoon. Since two of the people had never done a warm water dive and where unsure about the buoyancy control I suggested the 1:00pm dive to the Pedernalis with Pelican Adventures. As it was we signed up for a total of 3 dives for the week, including the Thursday night dive.

As you’ve read by now, the weather on Aruba that week was unsettled. On Monday there where 1 to 2 foot waved rolling on shore. As a result the water off the West Coast was unusually cloudy and most of the watersport boats had sought shelter in Oranjestad Harbour.

Instead of the Pedernalis we ended being driven downtown to meet Pelican's boat at the dock and did our dive on Sponge Reef near the airport. If I had to choose between the two sites, Sponge Reef is a much better option, so it worked to our advantage.

On Tuesday my cousins wanted to tour the island and see the Natural Pool. They called ABC Tours and rented on of their 4X4 land Rovers for the day, while I rented a Suzuki Jimmy 4X4 from Budget to lead them around. The 24-hour ABC rental was a little expensive, about $200.00, but since they can hold 6 to 8 passengers it's not a bad deal if you want a rugged and reliable 4X4 to cruise around in. The Jimmy from Budget was new and clean.

Starting from the California Lighthouse we did the usual trek towards Alto Vista. From AV we took the coast route to the Natural Pool. Along the way we hit a sandy patch and a Jeep load of people thought that was a good place to speed up and pass us. Were they wrong. They finally caught up to us and passed us about 5 minutes later. From the Bridge we by passed the Ostrich farm and headed for Santa Cruz and the Natural Pool. After stopping for directions at the entrance to Arikok Natural Park we found ourselves climbing a rugged hill. At the top we could see the Pool below us and had a spectacular panoramic view of the island. Driving down the backside of the hill is where the fun really began. There are several trails and you need to take care to choose the correct one. At one point our Jimmy was balancing on only three wheels. We made it to the bottom and the newbies in our group checked out the Pool. The Pool itself had a sign on it that said it was closed due to the high surf pounding the coast in that area. When everyone was satisfied we began the climb back to the top of the hill. On the way my Jimmy hesitated briefly as both driver side tires slipped on the rock, but they quickly grabbed a hold and pulled itself up the hill.

From the Pool we headed straight for San Nicolas and lunch at Charlie’s Bar. From there it was time to head home and relax until dinner at Sole Mare. Our reservations where for 8:00pm and we chose to make the 15 minute walk to the restaurant from Playa Linda instead of driving.

Wednesday ended up being another beach day and dive number for us. The waves from Monday had settled down by Tuesday and visibility on the wreck of the Antilla was good enough to make the dive. I’ve dove the wreck may times, but I always enjoy a return to it. You never know what you may find.

We returned to the dock by 4:30pm which gave us plenty of time to make our 7:00pm reservation at the highlight of the week, El Gauchos.

Up until this point it had rained almost every day, but it was either a very light shower for 5 minutes or so, or it rained at night.

On Thursday we awoke to showers and heavy downpours. By 10:00am we decided it was not a beach day and headed downtown to do some shopping. For the most part the rain was light enough that you didn't mind being outside. When it was heavy it was easy to retreat indoors to the Seaport Mall. For lunch we sought shelter at Mambo Jambos for an excellent meal. By then, the rain had mostly subsided and after spending a little more time downtown we headed home.

That night was our planned night dive. Because of the weather Pelican had decided not to dive the Antilla as usual and have the dive off of Renaissance Island, on Sonesta Reef. They loaded our gear into their van and we boarded their bus downtown. The dive itself was excellent, and my 3 buddies loved the experience, even if they did miss the octopus I spotted.

In the past we've usually snorkeled with the Octopus on Fridays, but due to the weather we skipped the trip this year and headed to Baby Beach instead. Visibility at BB was not as good as it normally was, but we relaxed on shore for a while before heading back to the resort for lunch and spent the afternoon at the pool. That afternoon my cousin and her in-laws signed up for the sunset cruise with the Jolly Pirates. Except for a small glitch at the start of the cruise, they thoroughly enjoyed the cruise and followed it up with a visit to Carlos and Charlie’s when they got back to shore.

Needless to say, Saturday was a quiet morning on the beach. We had intended to sign up for jet skis, but my cousin had also booked a trip with Pelican to go snorkeling. By the time we got around to the jet skis it was too late and we skipped it.

Sunday we packed, had breakfast and headed to the airport. The lines for American were long, but they moved quickly. There were virtually no lines for Aruban Immigration, Security, US Immigrations, and US Customs. The same was true for the baggage screeners just beyond the US Customs agents.

From getting in line for Check-in to Departure lounge took us maybe an hour. The departure area has improved somewhat over previous years. There are a few more kiosks to purchase snacks, magazines, food and last minute trinkets. They’ ve even added a few video machines to pass the time. I feel bad for the flight to Detroit that was delayed 6 hours. We boarded our plane and once air traffic control on Curacao cleared us, we where on our way back home.

The next morning when our son woke up back in his own bed he began crying. He didn't realize we had headed home and he wouldn't be going to the beach to play. I know how he felt.


  • Le Petit Café – Playa Linda: As I said, service was slower than expected but everyone loved their meals.
  • Sbarros: Good food. Nothing fancy, but if you're looking for a simple evening meal it's not a bad choice.
  • Sole Mare: The biggest disappointment of the week in terms of service. We walked to SM from the PL and arrived early for our 8:00pm reservation. It was a good 15 minutes before anyone would speak to us about our table and another 20 minutes before they seated us. They clearly had over booked for the evening. One gentleman near our table was complaining to the hostess on his way out that in 26 years of going to Aruba he had never received a cold meal until that night and would not be back. Our waiter said he would get us some small plates, but they never appeared.

    Meal wise it was a completely different story. Our dinners all arrived warm and everyone enjoyed their dishes.

    Despite the service I’d be willing to give them another try next time

  • El Gaucho: The most anticipated meal of the week. We arrived 5 minutes early for our 7:00pm reservation. Given our track record for meals you can guess what happened. Instead the jinx was lifted and we where seated immediately.

    Service through out the meal was top notch and everyone raved about the steaks. Of the 9 in our group, 7 of us order the Churrasco Argentino / The Gaucho Steak and did not regret it.

  • Tony Roma’s: Good food and good service for a decent price. Between my dive schedule and part of our group having alternate plans we actually ate here 3 times.
  • Charlie’s Grill – Playa Linda: Located in front of the PL, it is part of Dushi Bagels. They serve an excellent steak sandwich.
  • Pelican's Nest – Pelican Pier: Excellent meals, reasonably priced, good service. Some people may be a little unnerved by the fact that the pier occasionally sways when a big wave rolls by, or a docking boat bumps it.
  • Mambo Jambos: Downtown. The best steak sandwich I have ever had. It was a convenient hideout from the rain, but it's also a good place to watch the hustle and bustle of downtown.
  • Charlie’s Bar – San Nicolas: It's well, worth the trip. Their two shrimp dishes and their Pasapalo are excellent. Just the history of the bar, all the souvenirs left behind and the cast of characters that wander in and out make this a fun trip.

Not sure if I’ll reserve with Thrifty again. They did make the effort to fix their mistake, but it's one that should not have happened. I would use Budget again. They picked me up when they said they would and the Jimmy they had for me was in excellent condition. I would also recommend renting a Land Rover from ABC Tours if you have a large group (6 to 8 people) who want to go 4-wheeling for the day.

Already looking forward to our return trip next year. As it is, my cousin's brother-in-law and wife and her sister-in-law and husband decided they loved the island so much that they would each purchase 1-bedroom suites at the Playa Linda.