Aruba Trip Reports

Holiday Inn Sunspree

November 2 - November 9, 2007 by Cheryl

My friend Joe and I decided we needed to get away for a week in early November, just the two of us. We left the kids at home. We made plans to fly on American and stay at the Holiday Inn Sunspree from November 2nd to the 9th. We arrived at Logan (Boston) at 3:30 AM for our 5:30 flight. Check-in at American was quick and painless, and by 4:15 we were waiting in line for security to open at 4:30. We made an hour stop in Miami before continuing on to Aruba. We landed in Aruba about 1:30, quickly retrieved our luggage from the carousel, and got through customs with no lines.

We elected to take a taxi to the Holiday Inn Sunspree, instead of taking the De Palm bus that was included in our package. There was no line at check-in. After confirming that our room was in one of the two renovated towers, we rode the elevator to the 4th floor and to room 6423. We were happy with the layout, cleanliness and spaciousness of the room. It had a king size bed, with a bright blue nautical coverlet; two bureaus, one encasing the TV; a balcony with two chairs and a small table; a sofa, table and two chairs; and a fairly big bathroom with a long shelf for storing toiletries.

I think our feet hit the sand before 3:00. Exiting the hotel, you first come upon two pools. The first one was the deepest, at six feet at one end. At this end was a waterfall type of thing, about ten feet in circumference at the top, with water cascading down all around it, where you could either get wet or swim underneath it to stay dry. Between the two pools was a walking bridge. The second pool was more shallow and frequented by young children. At the further end of this was a hot tub. With the hot and sunny weather, we didn’t feel the need to use it. At the hottest part of the day, the temperatures reached 91 degrees, with a lot of humidity. In the evening, it was still hot and sticky.

Going past the first pool toward the beach, you come upon a beach bar serving cocktails and fast food. Beyond this was the towel hut, where you were only allowed to have one towel per person. After getting our towels, we found two lounge chairs and positioned them near the water. Every day, we would go from hanging in the pool and going in the ocean, with stops in between for frozen concoctions at the bar. Such a tough life, I know, but somebody has to do it. Might as well be us.

It seems that a lot of people on tripadvisor slam the Holiday Inn, but we were very happy during our stay here. My friend is used to living the high life, and I too am used to staying at very nice resorts, so we weren’t sure how we’d feel about the HI after reading the bad and tepid reviews. I’m glad to report that we were both very happy. Our only complaint was that during the construction, only one elevator was working. This would sometimes result in a long wait at the elevator. We also had a problem with guest services one night, about a dinner reservation that I’ll talk about below.

The beach was very nice, with no litter and nice sand. No matter what time of day we got to the beach, we’d always find two chairs and a spot for them. There was an attendant who would bring the chairs where you wanted them, and then lay out the towel across the top, tucking in the ends so they wouldn’t come loose. We did not dine at the HI, except at the beach bar where we ordered fish tacos. There was plenty of room in both pools, and they never felt crowded. The pools and premises were kept clean. I’d be happy to stay here again.

At some point, we walked on the beach, past Playa Linda, the Hyatt and to the brand new Rui. On the way back, we stopped at the Hyatt to check it out. We went in their pool and ordered a drink at the swim-up bar. At Joe’s suggestion, we made a dinner reservation at their restaurant, Ruinas del Mar for later that evening. For dinner, we sat outside by the water, sipping our martinis and watching the two black swans swim by. Joe had the mixed grill and I had the bacon wrapped scallops and shrimp over linguine. Service was very attentive, the atmosphere lovely, and the food delicious, a great way to kick off our culinary adventure for the week. Thus ends the first day.

On Saturday, our first full day, we started out with breakfast at Dushi Bagels. Service was slow and the food was just okay. I know lots of people on tripadvisor rave about the place, but we didn’t find it anything special. We hung out at the beach all day. In the afternoon, we walked on the beach in the other direction, toward the Marriott resorts. We stopped at Moomba’s Beach Bar for lunch and a drink. There was a beach tennis tournament in full swing here, with all Dutch people competing. Boy, do they all look alike, in a good way. Tall, thin, blond, small noses and blue eyes. We were the only non-Dutch here, except for the wait staff.

We were less than impressed with the three Marriott resorts. There was a lot of seaweed at the water’s edge, the rooms were far from the beach, and the look of the place was just blah. There was also a lot of construction going on, although we noticed it everywhere this week.

At the end of the day, we talked to a man from Toronto, who had been in Aruba all week and commented that they hadn’t had a good sunset all week. Aha, we thought, that’s why all these people are perched on their chairs, cameras in hand. It looks like they’ll finally be a sunset to capture. For dinner, we ate at the famous Madam Janette’s, which was our favorite meal of the trip. We started off by sharing a Caesar salad and bread with sliced onions. We each had the almond crusted grouper, their signature dish. For dessert, we shared a chocolate soufflé. The meal can be summed up this way: Yummy. Thus ends our first full day in dreamy Aruba.

On Sunday, we did much of the same. Sitting, reading and sipping cocktails in the pool, swimming in the ocean, lounging on and walking the beach. However, today was a bit different. We saw Aloe Man. He is an Aruban who walks the beach, selling liquid, bottled aloe. He even has a business card that he handed to Joe. In turn, Joe handed him his card.

We started off this morning with a walk down the street to Dunkin’ Donuts, across from the Playa Linda. This became our routine for the rest of the week. Only two flavors of coffee, hazelnut and French vanilla, but ahh, tastes just like they make it at home. As we walked back toward the resort, we noticed that Amici’s was serving breakfast, so we sat outside at a table to order. Joe had the French toast, and I had the yogurt and fruit cup. Very good.

In the afternoon, we walked a short distance to Pelican Pier for a drink and snack out on the water. From here, we had a new view of our hotel. We watched the sunset and then went to the room to get ready for dinner. We had confirmed with the hotel’s guest services our dinner reservation at Marandi’s for that evening, and we were assured that our reservation was all set. We took a long cab ride to the other side of the island, only to find that the restaurant was closed. The taxi driver took us to Marina Pirata after calling them to make sure they were open. The food was just okay. Our table was right at the water’s edge but because of the darkness, we couldn’t see anything. Occasionally we’d hear a splash in the water as fish came up to feed.

On Monday, we rented a jeep from Avis. It was lots of fun driving around the island over the next three days. We started out with a silver Jeep, but when the lights flicked off one night while driving, and with the radio not working at all, Joe traded it in for a newer, better, red one the next day. The first day, we explored a bit of the island. First, we took a ride to the Mill Resort, where we would be staying with the kids for Christmas week.

It was located at the very beginning of Palm Beach, across from the Westin and the beach, its only drawback from what we had seen. The staff was very accommodating and showed us a suite like the one we would be occupying. You first enter an open doorway which faces three doors marked A, B, C. Each door is one room of the three bedroom suite. One suite has a king bed with Jacuzzi, another two queen beds, and a third a king bed with kitchen. The pool was large and clean, and the rest of the resort looked great. Joe and I asked two different groups of people if they enjoyed their stay at the resort, and both had been here several times before.

After this, we drove to the California lighthouse at the northwest end of the island, driving past several beaches on the leeward side like Arashi and Boca Catalina. Each beach had several huts to sit under and space for parking. We noticed a few ships stopping at Boca, with lots of people snorkeling in the water here. From the hill, we had a nice view of the leeward side of the island, from Arashi to the high rise hotel zone. We could even see the haystack mountain in the distance. Facing the other side, we could see the coastal side of the island, its rough surf making it unsuitable for swimming.

Then we drove to Eagle Beach, also known as the low rise area. This is much quieter and less developed than Palm Beach. We had a 1:00 appointment at the Spa del Sol at Manchebo Beach Resort. I had booked us a mini sol package, consisting of 15 minutes each in the Jacuzzi and eucalyptus scented steam room, an hour massage (aromatherapy for me, deep tissue for Joe), a mini-facial and a pedicure. The massage and facial were done in a hut on the beach, which we shared. Since we arrived early for our appointment, we stopped at the resort’s bar for lunch and a drink. Here I had the best drink all week – a frozen drink made of three layers: blue Curacao, pina colada, and strawberry. The food was very good – club sandwich for Joe, burger for me. We liked the look of this resort and its location, although the pool was very small. It seems that every resort has its drawbacks, and this was the Manchebo’s.

The spa was a wonderfully relaxing and indulgent treat in an idyllic setting. White, soft sand beckoned our feet to sink into it, and beyond, the sparkling turquoise water called out to us with its gentle waves. Stone statues of beautifully classic women with aquiline noses and pursed lips, long limbed and head resting in hand, water trickling from their bases, giving life to the vibrantly red and lushly green plants below, were scattered throughout the spa. Frogs holding golden parasols guarded entrances and stood sentry outside huts, limiting access to only the privileged. Teak, slatted huts with thatched roofs holding dual massage tables were artfully arranged along the wooden walkway surrounded by lush greenery and stately palm trees. Outside our hut lay our bathing suits drying on a wooden rack, nestled between an aloe plant set in a stone planter and our frog sentry.

We lingered as long as we could after our treatment had ended, relaxing on the curved, wooden loungers while sipping cold water, comfortably ensconced in our spa bathrobe. As I described it, we were blissed out. With great effort and a few hints from the staff, we showered, changed and (the only negative), paid the bill.

That evening, continuing in the same indulgent vein, we returned to Eagle Beach to have dinner at a new restaurant called Screaming Eagle. Since we were early for our reservation, we asked to be seated in the lounge area in order to have a drink before having dinner at a table. We walked up a few steps to an elevated area surrounded by white bedding on the floor, with scattered pillows and small tables in front of them. Separating this area from the bar and restaurant were softly gathered white sheer curtains. Next to this was an area below us that had actual queen sized beds covered in white.

After finishing our martinis, we were escorted to a table where we were served a sample size of mushroom soup – excellent – and a pate nibble. Joe started off with carpaccio of artichoke and we shared a plate of grilled calamari. I had the grilled veal scallopini. A wonderful meal in an elegant setting, with a twist.

On Tuesday, we set off for an all day adventure in the Jeep. First, we drove through downtown Oranjestad, and past the airport, through Savaneta and onto San Nicholas, where the Valero oil refinery is located. Joe took a left and drove through the desert area of Seroe Colorado, pausing briefly in front of a large anchor standing at a fork in the road. Here we could catch sight of the ocean on the coastal side of the island, where swimming is prohibited due to the rough surf and strong undertow. Joe took a left and parked at the base of a cliff, where the Aruba prison is located. As we got out of the car, we looked up toward the cliff and noticed a line of goats standing atop the hill. Joe captured photos of one of them nimbly making his way down the hill and then up again. Next, we got back in the Jeep and drove to the leeward coast, stopping at Baby Beach, located at the southeastern most tip of Aruba. We swam in the shallow, clear water, greatly enjoying the chance to cool off on another hot day.

We knew there was a place to eat nearby, as we had passed signs indicating a restaurant called Coco Beach. Joe stopped to ask a worker for directions, when a cab driver heard us and beckoned, saying, "Follow me." The restaurant was away from Baby Beach and toward the refinery, nestled in an area next to another beach and far below the road we had been on. We enjoyed a delicious, inexpensive lunch with a perfect view of the ocean and small beach, as long as we didn’t look toward the oil refinery behind us. While eating, we were entertained by a topless woman who kept running in and out of the water, occasionally stopping to pause for photos taken by her friend. Joe had a seafood platter of fried calamari rings, grilled shrimp and other fish. I had the grouper au menuire, naturally called "the catch of the day" on the menu, accompanied by perfectly cooked and flavorful white rice, plantains, and pancakes. What an unexpected and delightful surprise Coco Beach turned out to be. We vowed to remember this place to take the kids next month.

Next, we drove through the Arikok National Park, closely following a sedan in front of us as it carefully wended its way through the rutted path. We marveled at the driver’s courage (or foolishness) to ride through such rugged terrain. We stopped at the so-called "Visitor’s Complex," as noted on the map, which consisted of a man in a narrow booth who gave us a handwritten map, such as it was, of the park. Next, we came to a fork in the road, with a wooden barrier and a man directing us away from the main path, which was under construction. Bravely, we soldiered on, passing lots and lots of cactuses in Aruba’s desert setting, until we finally came to a clearing and a view of the ocean. We stopped at Boca Prin to see the waves crashing into a cove below us. The water was a beautiful blend of several shades of vibrant blue and it seemed a tease that we couldn’t go in.

Next, we drove a short way to Quadirikiri caves and had the last tour of the day with a park ranger, who pointed out the Indian drawings on its walls and how the water that constantly dripped onto a rock formation was causing the rock to grow bigger by slowly adding layers to it.

Today was a long but wonderful day spent exploring Aruba, from its beaches to the desert, swimming and four wheeling and just enjoying the beauty and diversity of the island.

We went to a grocery store to stock up on some basic supplies like Balashi beer, Corona’s, a bottle of wine, crackers, cheese and meats. That evening, while sitting on the beach waiting for the sun to set, we drank Balashi’s and enjoyed our snacks. Then we went swimming until it began to get dark.

For dinner, we ate at Chef’s Tables, which was very good. Joe had the trio of tuna, shrimp and scallops, and I had the Tenderloin dish, with two black angus tenderloin medallions with angel hair pasta, cashew nuts, spring unions, ginger sauce and sesame oil. We shared a pitcher of red sangria. For dessert, the restaurant offered tapas for $2.00 each, with ten different kinds. Each one came in a tiny glass, accompanied by a tiny spoon. Before we ordered, the waitress brought over a small jar filled with about twenty toothpicks, which we thought was odd. She explained, "This is the size of each tapas." When she walked away, Joe said, "She’s kidding, right? This is some kind of joke, huh?" Joe just had to try one, so he asked for the banana split. Yes, it really was that small.

Wednesday, November 7th, was our last day with the jeep. We drove to Casibari rocks and climbed to the top for an expansive view of Aruba, its desert and homes and in the distance, a cruise ship docked in Oranjestad. We drove out to the natural bridge sight, except that the natural bridge is no longer there. I’m not sure why visitors continue to drive out here (as we did), as there is nothing to see but water that you cannot go in because of the dangerous undertow. There was also a ruin here, which we didn’t bother to explore. On the way back, we managed to find road signs that pointed us in the right direction of the California lighthouse. In this area, a landmark that helped to orient us was what is called the haystack, a large mountain with an antenna on top. Since there are no street signs and few route signs to guide drivers, you have to pay attention to landmarks such as this.

As we made our way through the towns of Santa Cruz and Paradera, Joe and I both noticed a cemetery next to a church. We parked here and wandered through, taking photos and noting the stacks of caskets, piled three high, lining the perimeter. We also saw groups of four caskets, two by two, some not yet occupied. The graves were mostly covered with artificial flowers, photos and keepsakes.

We stopped to swim at Arashi Beach for awhile, laying our blankets under an unoccupied hut. The water was much clearer here than at Palm Beach. At our hotel, we couldn’t see our feet in the water and the color was a bit greenish. Here, the water was clear and aqua blue, and warmer. I hunted for seashells to bring home to my son, and we drank our Corona’s. We even had limes that Joe had cut using his handy dandy jackknife set. At about four, we set off for Oranjestead, where I found a bathing suit in a shop at the Renaissance Marina hotel. We bought beach cover-ups for me and our daughters, shark necklaces and iguana T shirts for the boys, and a keychain with the slogan "Aruba One Happy Island" for me. For a snack, we climbed the stairs to Mambo Jambo’s, where we ate nachos and drank frozen daiquiris. I don’t recommend this place, except for the view. Service was slow and the nachos just okay.

I don’t remember the rest of the day, but I’m sure the end of it was spent on the beach, swimming and waiting for the sunset. That night, we dined alfresco at Ventanas del Mar, at the Tierra Sol golf resort. Joe ordered the veal chop and I had the salmon. Both were delicious. For dessert, we shared (well, I ate) a peanut butter chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream. We had to leave soon after eating, as the mosquitoes were starting to bite. This was the only place that we had encountered any.

On our last full day, Thursday, November 8th, we drove the Jeep until it was time to turn it back in to Avis. First, we walked to Dunkin’ Donuts, per usual, and sat outside drinking our coffees. Then we got in the car and drove past Eagle Beach and onto downtown Oranjestead, where we gassed up. For the rest of the day, we spent it on the beach. We had been away from the resort for the last few days and wanted to spend the last two days enjoying it. We ate lunch at the Holiday Inn’s beach hut, both of us getting fish tacos. As usual, we spent time in both the ocean and pool. That evening, we returned to Madam Jeanette’s and ordered the signature dish again. It was with a heavy heart that we finished our last dinner in Aruba.

On Friday, we got up fairly early to enjoy another couple of hours on the beach. Then we finished packing and changed out of our bathing suits. We had lunch at Texas de Brazil, located across from our hotel. The salad bar was expansive and delicious, and the meats just kept on coming. After lunch, we just had enough time to get our bags and take a taxi to the airport.

Wow, a week in Aruba goes by much more quickly than a week at home. I did miss the kids, but I didn’t miss the rest of my life – work, cleaning, supper, sitting in traffic, etc. The good news? We will be back! In December, with the kids. I can’t wait.