Below is the report from our trip to Aruba back in January. A couple of things. I used a bit of a different format from others may use. I combine factual information with personal insights. To me, it's the little personal stories that separate our trip reports from something you can find on Tourist Authority web-site. Second, I've been going to Aruba. on and off, since 1980. (Anybody rememnber the old disco, Scaramouche, the Indonesian restaurant Bali, and when Talk of the Town had the best steaks in Aruba???)I hope yo
I've tried to make sound as though a bunch of you have gathered at The Mill's poolside bar at happy hour the night before we leave. while I tell you about our trip.
So, Cindy, Andrea, Lisa, and everybody else; Grab a seat, get yourselves a Heiniken or a Balashi and relax, while Glenn regales you with
I hope you enjoy it.
Factum: visitors: Glenn & Donna
dates: Jan. 16-24, 2009
resort: The Mill
Friday, Jan. 16, 2009 I thought it was a beautiful statue, but from up there it was hard to tell.
The alarm goes off at 3:00am. It's been so cold for so long here in Winnipeg; this day couldn't have arrived at a better time! London Limos picks us up on time at 4:30 and it's a quick 30 minute ride to the airport. Its -35 degrees Celsius when we turned off the tv when the limo arrived. We're a little nervous when we check in, as we're going on 2 different airlines this time. Anyway, we check in at the Northwest counter, and as soon as we see the luggage tags pop out with AUA in large print, and MIA and MSP directly below it in smaller print, we feel better.
We pre-clear U.S. Customs and Immigration in Winnipeg, then board our Northwest flight to MSP, which is about an hour. The flight deck tells us that in MSP it's 30 below zero F. Anyway, I sleep most of the way, waking up again as we start our descent. We descend and then bank around towards the airport. Looking out the window, I see on the ground, as we're on final approach, what looks like from up there a statue of a beautiful woman with her right arm outstretched. But it's not a statue. It's Amy, frozen solid in position as she waved at the plane. I had told her what time my flight should be over her area. I waved back, but I don't think she saw me. (You know this is all in fun Amy).
MSP is one of our favourite airports for connections, well-marked, lots of moving walkways, and plenty of choices for eating and shopping, all of this inside the secure area. We arrive at concourse C and find that our flight to MIA is leaving from concourse G. with the help of long moving walkways, we're at G in no time. There use to be only a McDonalds in G for a decent breakfast but now there is a Chili's,(there are now 2 Chili's restaurants inside the secure area at MSP), so that's where we went.
After breakfast and an announcement of a gate change, we head to concourse F for our flight to Miami. It's about 3 hrs. Apparently on one of the American morning tv shows there was a travel expert on and the topic was the ease (or lack of it) regarding connecting, and just getting around at major U.S. airports. Donna saw this show and said that this fellow had mentioned that the absolute worst airport in the United States is MIA. Five minutes after we disembark (sounds better than deplane) we find that MIA's reputation is very richly deserved!
Poor signage, and worst of all, having to leave the secure area, walk of a couple kilometers, then go back through security, and walk a further kilometer (no moving walkways here) to the gate to catch our American flight.
Tip: For non-US passengers connecting through the US, check at the departure gate for new boarding passes when changing carriers, even if, as was the case with us with Northwest, the originating airline issues you a boarding pass through to your final destination. Northwest does not share it's passport information with American, so we checked at the American departure lounge, and yes, we had to show our passports and get new American boarding passes for the flight to AUA.
Finally we board our flight to Aruba and arrive around midnight. Another couple is going to The Mill, so Donna and I share a taxi with them.
Check-in is smooth until the nice man behind the front desk asks the nice-but-clueless security man to show us to our rooms. 215C is, and I'm not making this up, right after 214C. This poor guy had no idea where he was supposed to take us. I'm reasonably fluent in Spanish, but this fellow was clued-out in any language. Finally we made it to the room. We unpacked and just fell into bed.
Pull up a chair and order yourselves a drink; Glenn's buyin'!! In return, I'd like your undivided attention while I tell you about our trip.
Restaurants: From Italian, (lots of Italian), to steak, to ribs. Old favourites and new discoveries
Now, I don't know if Donna and I were on an unspoken quest for Italian food on this trip or it just seemed like we were. Anyway, from Jan. 16-24, 2009 we ate Italian four times. We were at SOLE MARE, IL FARO BLANCO, GIANNI'S and AROMI D'ITALIA.
Sole Mare was our first Italian dinner. The atmosphere is elegant, as well as warm and inviting;(Staff are knowledgeable and professional (They know when to tend to your needs and when to leave you alone. And they know their menu!). But it is the food! My linguini in a four-cheese sauce with chopped lobster was rich, decadent and delicious. Donna had lemon chicken with penne and she said it was absolutely to die for. So, while Sole Mare may have been there for a while , it was a new discovery for us. We will definitely be back.
IL FARO BLANCO is the restaurant at the California Lighthouse. Every time we go to Aruba we go up there for lunch. We shared an antipasto dish then had lovely Italian sandwiches. The food and the service are good, but at this place it is the view. We never get tired of looking out over the ocean. The view looking down the beach toward the high rise district is beautiful. Out on the ocean, we can make out the sillouettes of tankers and other cargo ships. On a beautiful sunny day like we had, we could sit and watch that view all day.
Gianni's - This place, apparently owned by the same family that owns SOLE MARE, has been opened for about a year or more. It is located near or as part of a relatively new complex of shops, restaurants and bars including The Hard Rock Cafe, Rembrandt's Cafe, Buster's Garage and The Lazy Lizard. Let's start with the most important feature in any restaurant, the food. It is excellent. It is of the same high quality, if not the over-the-top decadence, as we found at Sole Mare.
The disjointed service and the serving staff's lack of knowledge of the menu items marks Gianni's as a work-in-progress. Contrast this with Sole Mare where the serving staff know the menu and how each dish is prepared. The disjointed part? At Sole Mare, you may have 3 or 4 staff attending to your table throughout dinner. Everyone has a specific job and they do not get in each other's way, or try to do someone else's job. At Gianni's, it's not uncommon to have the water glass filled upon arrival, then another employee arrive at the table with a water jug in his or her hand, and a look of utter amazement when they see the glasses already full. So the service needs a bit of work.
Anyone who thinks phonics is important in a restaurant? It rarely comes up but in the case of Gianni's, it's worth a mention. Again, let's compare it with Sole Mare, since the same people own both places. At SM, the ceiling is low and all surfaces are covered in soft materials. The floor is carpeted, the chairs are covered in upholstery, and the tables have tablecloths and cloth napkins. All of these features, taken together, muffle sounds in the restaurant and add to the atmosphere of elegance.
At Gianni's, ceiling is two storeys high and is made of wood with glass and metal light fixtures. The floor is a mixture of concrete and tile, while table and chairs are wood, with no coverings at all. The results are entirely predictable: if someone drops a spoon "way over there", it rattles around and reverberates throughout the whole place. Even the usually innocuous sound of someone stirring their coffee is heard by everyone, everywhere. In short, it's fine Italian cuisine with all the elegance and intimacy of Air Canada's maintenance hangar.
During the week, we also went to El Gaucho(as if you had to ask!), Cuba's Cooking, Smokey Joe's, Linda's Pannekocken, BINGO and Texas de Brasil. All were great. Linda's was new for us and we both loved it. Next January, we may take a pass on TdB, just because we may want to try something else.
Our Accomodation: The Mill
This was our second year in a row at The Mill. The room was comfortable but different from the one w had last year. King-size bed, coffee-maker, microwave, bar-sized fridge and this massive huge jacuzzi in the room. But, cutlery, plates, bowls, etc. At a place like The Mill it's sometimes a bit of a crapshoot as to what kind of amenities are in your room, and what kind of room you get from one year to the next.
The old elevator in the lobby had been replaced with a brand new one. Even though the place is only 2 stories high, it is a necessity if you have mobility issues.
The guests at The Mill are a great mixture, both in terms of where they are from (The Netherlands, US, Canada, Venezuela, Colombia) and the type of guest they are( hotel guests like us or timeshare owners). People are friendly. I was able to practice my Spanish, French and Dutch and I seemed to do ok with all of them.
As with other resorts in Aruba where there are timeshare owners, we saw many of the same people we saw last year. Everyone nods and smiles, and says "hi".
This "going green thing" is nothing to sneeze at!
I suppose it had to come here too. Now don't me wrong. I'm just as "ozone-friendly" as the next guy. Oh, sorry. Where am I going with this? Hang on a sec, before we go any further, we need another round of drinks! Sarah, Teri and Carol have since joined us. Welcome, grab a chair, get your drink and relax.
Anyway, The Mill, in its effort to show how environmentally responsible it's owners are, has started using "green products". See? It even says so right here on the label. Now that includes the paper products and what seem to be low-volume flush toilets. The "green" toilet tissue is not very sensitive to one's needs, if you get my drift. Not only does it have the softness of sandpaper, it floats on top of the water rather than absorbing it like toilet tissue normally does. It turns every flush into an adventure. Next year, we're bringing our own paper.
The green paper products also includes facial tissue. Remember when you were in grade 1 and just learning how to print? Remember the paper was kind of stiff and had a bit of a rough feel to it? (Not to mention that the lines were really far apart, but that's not important here). Well, the facial tissue at The Mill has that same kind of feel. Donna had a bit of a cold and after 2 or 3 days of using this environmentally-friendly tissue, her nose was raw!
Other than the well-intentioned but poorly executed "green plan", we still love The Mill, and we'll be back next year.
Quick-change artists? These guys are good!
On the Sunday morning of our holiday, we drove downtown. Most stores were not open of course and there were no cruise ships in port. First things first, we got a place to park close by. That in it itself was amazing. The market place on the ocean side of L.G.Smith Blvd was open. All the stalls, with their array of t-shirts and kitchy souvenirs were open. Donna noticed that many of the stalls had t-shirts 3 for $12, or 3 for $15. She picked up a few things for nieces and nephews back home.
The next morning, after we've done our morning pool thing, we head downtown again. What a difference from Sunday morning to Monday morning! Traffic heading downtown is backed past the Valero station, and there are four cruise ships in port. Of course there is no place close to park, so I drop Donna off and go and park at my favourite and always available spot near the Renaissance Marketplace. It's a long walk to the open air market, but no problem.
The whole point of this is, when I finally found Donna, she'd already been along the whole length of the open air marketplace, and every stall has changed their prices. The 3 for $12, and 3 for $15 are now magically 3 for $20 and 3 for $25. As we've said in previous trip reports and on ordinary posts on the bulletin board, prices do change according to whether or not cruise ship passengers are in town.
Jewels in Paradise. It's never about beating the price on something you can get back home. It's always about getting something you just can't find back home.
On the Tuesday of our vacation, we went to the Renaissance Marketplace. Of course Donna went started off at JavAruba. Hugs and kisses all around with owner. After, I went outside and sat on my favourite stone bench outside the Seaport Casino while Donna tried things on in the store. It's so beautiful, watching the boats in the harbour.
About 45 minutes later, Donna emerged from JavAruba with a couple of shopping bags. She told me, in great detail what she bought and how much she saved, etc.
Of course I knew where we were heading next, Jewels in Paradise. The owner was behind the counter and as soon as he saw us, it was handshakes, etc. I'm sure he remembers that we didn't buy anything from him last year (I bought Donna a watch from Little Switzerland last year instead). When he sees us he always goes into the back and brings out some new things.
This time it was a very wide band of brushed gold with two strings of diamond points running the width of the band. I looked at her and the look on her face when she tried it on. He showed me our price and I gave him my credit card. All very simple and straightforward. It needed to be sized and he said it would be ready tomorrow. Because of the jeweler who does the sizing had a backlog, it actually took a day longer, but that was okay. When he put it on her finger and it fit perfectly, the look on her face was priceless.
Is there really such a thing as too many handbags?
All this talking is making me thirsty. Must be the same for all of you 'cause everybody's glass is empty. Another round please!
Anyway, the day after we pick up the ring we head back downtown. Donna wants to look at some of the stores on Main Street (Diehards like us still call it Nassaustraat). We go into the Gucci store and are just about stampeded by 5 or 6 Venezuelan women exiting the store, each carrying 1 or 2 bags bearing Gucci's logo. Donna takes this as a personal challenge! Her honour, Canada's honour is at stake here. I know we cannot leave until we've bought something.
Now personally, I didn't really hear anything, but my wife swears she heard a handbag calling out to her from across the store. She makes her way to the bag, like an airplane riding a radio beacon. To make a long story short, I bought her the bag. Again, it was the look on her face. I could tell she loved it. The staff at Gucci? They treated her like a queen. Me? The nice man just wanted to make sure I didn't get sun screen on anything by leaning against display cases etc.
Oh ya, the car.
Mr. Smartguy here thought that since we're staying at The Mill, and Thrifty has a desk at The Mill, why not rent from them. Anyway, most of the rental cars in Aruba, while not brand new, are reasonably close to new, right? Well not with these guys. We got a Mitsubishi Lancer (Even though the name-plate had been ripped off the back, the outline of the word Lancer was still clearly visible) with about 94000 kms (About the same distance as from Winnipeg to anywhere) on it. But, it ran, and the air-conditioning worked, sort of, so it did us for the week.
Saturday, January 24, 2009. Leaving? But we just got here!
I know, my reaction at the end of our vacation is always the same. Anyway, we packed on the Friday night to get ready for our 8:30am Saturday morning departure. After checking in at American Airlines and pre-clearing US Customs and Immigration, we're soon on our way home. It's going to be a long day.
The rythmn is gonna getchya!!
After a quick 2½ flight, we land at MIA. It's sunny in MIA and about 70 degrees F. We knew we'd be in for a long walk again. We had to get from the American Airlines concourse to United for our flight to Chicago.
MIA, as we found out is really two worlds. There's the frenetic chaos of the American Airlines area, then there's the area around concourse J. After checking into UNITED (Our bags were tagged through to Winnipeg), we went through security, then headed for BONGO's; one of Gloria Estefan's many eateries in Miami. The airport BONGO's is an express version of her restaurant in the city. Good Cuban sandwiches, and of course, non-stop Gloria on the video screens. The rythmn is gonna getchya!
After lunch we head down to concourse J, which is United shares with TACA, Lan Chile, Avianca and other Latin American carriers. It is open, spacious, comfotable with high celings and lots of moving walkways. It is so un-MIA like.
Anyway, we head to Chicago, and after a a couple of hours we board the flight to Winnipeg. We are in our home just before mid-night.
A few final thoughts.
Aruba matures as a destination.
Ever heard of dengue fever? It's a disease endemic to the tropics, spread by mosquitos. Aruba is not immune if the conditions are right. Well, during the fall and part of the winter, Aruba had more rainfall than usual. There were lots of areas with standing water, which is ideal for mosquitos to breed.
On Aruba television, there were public service announcements, aimed largely at local residents urging them to get rid of all sources of standing water to reduce the chances of dengue fever. In other similar destinations, they would simply have ignored the problem in the hope that it would just go away before anyone got bitten and infected. In Aruba, the local authorities were pro-active, and should be commended.
Now, you guys head back to your resorts. I have to head upstairs to the room, hit the shower and get ready for dinner
The weather was great; sunny and warm. Loved where we stayed, where we ate, where we shopped, etc. SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!!
One final toast; TO ARUBA!!!!