At the request of a forum member, I’m putting together some sort of a trip report. Somehow, I've managed to put it off for a couple months now.
This was our first trip to Aruba. We were able to spend one full week, and really enjoyed all of it. I’m going to point out any likes and dislikes we noticed along the way, and detail important observations we had. I apologize in advance for cobbled-together nature of this report, but I’m willing to expand or field questions on specific aspects or details someone might find interesting or pertinent to their future visits. Obliviously, I've omitted some details and activities. If anyone want to hear more, just ask before I forget everything.
There may be some negative points in this review, but please note that I’m pointing those out for others to be aware of how WE felt when we were there, not to degrade the trip experience; we had a blast. Not to mention, just writing this report has helped us to capture, reflect and remember how we felt about this experience.
For reference, my wife and I are 26 and 27 years old. We value culture-rich experiences more than typical tourist experiences, and prefer a quiet escape with bits of excitement intermingled rather than an all out party atmosphere.
The 3X3 seat 767s we took from and to ATL were a little cramped. Couple that with the small RJs we take to home base in EVV, and we felt the flights were pretty miserable, but that’s really nothing new. The 4 hour flights into and out of AUA were much more manageable than the transatlantic flights we’ve been on. Somehow, both ways, my wife and I managed to have an empty seat between us on the wide body, so that helped a lot.
Entry to Aruba was a breeze, as it is with most small airports. We were greeted by a transfer agent from our rental car company, and whisked away with no troubles at all. Everyone we encountered was friendly and helpful, and I’ll detail what a pleasant experience that is, and certainly different from the typical American airport standards we’ve become accustomed too.
On the way out (to go home) of the airport, is where things shift gears. The airport is small (although not small like our home airport), so managing the airport is no problem. We don’t check bags while traveling, so I can’t comment there, but it did seem that it was some hassle for others to check their bags, then take them along to the baggage drop that I think must have been beyond US customs control. We were well aware that we’d need to go through US passport and customs control prior to boarding, but we didn’t realize what that would entail really. We really found it quite eye-opening, and noticed the same American-style treatment that we’ve become used to from international travel. On the Aruban side, agents were friendly, joking around, lightening the mood, and being quite helpful. A smile at every check point, and relatively efficient. Once we went through the security check point, which is always a (necessary) hassle, we redressed and regrouped, only to find that...what’s this? Another security check point? Okay, do all that again, and redress. Then, the worst part, and something that always seems to happen. As soon as we enter the American side (specifically US customs control), things are rushed, agents are rude and unfriendly, not helpful at all, and demanding and admonishing for mistakes; frowny faces abound. This always seems to happen to us. We travel internationally, have a great time, and the first rude person we encounter? Americans welcoming us home... Never fails. Okay, I’ll stop complaining about that now.
On the island, we rented a Jeep 2 door. This was obviously a splurge, as has been discussed here in length. We were aware of this in advance, but thought we’d enjoy it, and were willing to pay the premium. We’re certainly not afraid of taking buses or taxis, but having our own vehicle does provide us some more freedom and comfort. We rented from Aruba Royal (or Royal Aruba?). We were picked up from the airport, and driven 2 or 3 minutes to their local office. The office is bare, and honestly, I was a little unsure about it at first. But, everything turned out fine with it. No problem refusing insurance coverage (we use AMEX premium coverage), and the rental agent went through the pre-check with us and made sure we agreed with everything. Probably the best thing about renting a Jeep here, is that they come pre-scratched for you. Our jeep was really in relatively good condition, but the pre-check noted there were scratches all down both sides, front and rear dings and scratches, couple missing parts, all that. So, while were we careful, we didn't really have to worry about getting too close to a bush or anything like that. The rental company did need to switch us Jeeps after the first day, but it wasn’t a problem at all. They just came to the condo and switched us, on time and efficient. Took me away from the beach for 15 minutes or so, not too bad really. The Jeep will come back into discussion some later.
We rented a Condo from Prestige Realty at Oceania in the low rise area. Honestly, I think this worked out very well for us. We’re not really the all-inclusive kind of people. The room was a studio that was split off from the neighboring condo. So, it was small-ish, but had a functional kitchenette, nice living space, and a well appointed bathroom and changing area. The cost was very reasonable in my opinion. I’d say we got a good value from it, and only renting away from the beach would be a better value, but then you’d need to be willing to likely drive to the beach in the mornings. The grounds were very nice and well maintained. Not quite as flashy and extravagant as some of the large resorts, but comfortable, clean, and quiet. This appealed to us a lot. Most people around us were older couples, a few young couples around our age. Very few children, no parties, almost no noise. The pools (4 to choose from) were almost always empty, and they had plenty of chairs, showers, bathrooms and such. The beach access was just across the street, and it was really a very nice section of beach. We just assumed the beach would be busy, but it wasn’t at all. Our section of beach had maybe a dozen of those little thatched huts (someone tell me the name again). Yes, people sort of ‘reserved’ them early, but if you were out there before 8 or 9, you had a good chance to get one. There were a couple of conveniently located trees there too that could easily be used as shade. Really, our section of beach was mostly empty all the time. We like it that way, but I know some people enjoy just the opposite.
When we were driving around, we looked at the beach sections in front of the other resorts and the public areas. They were packed! I don’t see how people even had room to move around. We wouldn't have enjoyed that atmosphere nearly as much. We don’t really enjoy having the jet skis out front, and hundreds of chairs all over the place, and people playing volleyball in our water views. So, again, this part of the beach was great for us, but others might enjoy something else. Oceania had a great set of showers and very clean and nice bathrooms in the pool area that was just across the street and through the gate. We found that really nice to have for full beach days. It was nice that we didn’t even need to go up to our room to use the toilet or clean off, just cross the street.
As for Prestige Realty, I would fully recommend them. They were on time, efficient, polite and well organized. They made sure everyone one had proper paperwork in order (which I’m big about) and arrived on time for check in and check out. We actually arrived a bit early on the way in. Our flight was ahead, the airport was a breeze, and the rental car only took a few minutes; we overestimated how long that all would take. It wasn’t a problem at all to have the security office call the condo agent to come meet us early. They were very accommodating. Beach chairs and towels were provided, as were the basics in the kitchen, blankets, champaign waiting, etc. All things we’d expect from a good beach condo property.
Snorkeling trip - We went on the afternoon cruise with Jolly Pirates leaving from Moomba beach. We really enjoyed this. I think it ran for 3 or 4 hours, and stopped at 2 or 3 places. We thought it was a good value at $68 for the two of us. The gear was good, the hosts were great, and the liquor flowed freely from the open bar. Really, I don’t think that much alcohol mixes well with snorkeling, but if you want to have a really good time, they could make it happen. We easily had enough drinks to cover the money when compared to one of the beach bars, and on top of that, they let us go snorkeling too, moderately intoxicated. We really enjoyed the rope swing thing they let you swing off the boat from. Takes a bit of talent, but they were willing to help out and make it a great time. It’s one of those things that we were a little hesitant about trying, but after swinging once, we were hooked and ran back in line to do it again. The snorkeling was good, but the water could have been clearer. We really liked it, but I’m sure there are more serious snorkeling to be had if you’re looking for that. We liked seeing the shipwreck and picking out fish we hadn’t seen before. Great time, good value, highly recommended.
Independent Driving - The Jeep came in really handy here. We went all over the north shore. Went to California lighthouse, along the coast, then over to Arikok and to the Natural Bridge area. What a great natural area. The pictures we got were amazing. We stopped many times along the shoreline to (carefully) explore the rocky areas and take some pictures. We also saw the cave that had the paintings in it. Fontein cave? I think it was. A very nice guide showed us around it and pointed out very interesting things inside we never would have noticed on our own. We’re suckers for climbing into, onto, or around things, so caves, rocks, and ruins are like candy to us. We explored the Gold smelter ruins, and really liked that. It has some opportunities for some really interesting pictures through the windows. For some amount of time, on various days, we just drove all over, with no real destination in mind. That is always a fun time for us. We drove out into the countryside and just looked around. We had a lot of fun with that Jeep, and went into some places I wouldn't have been comfortable driving a car into, although I’m sure it’s possible. Along the way we met the Jeep tour groups and some of the large buses. I think we were pretty glad we weren’t on those. Just not our style. Fly down the road, jump out, snap pictures, jump back in, fly to the next stop; rush rush rush! We enjoyed parking, walking around on our own time schedule and skipping the places we didn't find all that interesting. Of course, we probably missed some places, and the information the tour guides provided might have been interesting to us.
Baby Beach - Everyone said we had to go here. Proper snorkeling gear would have been nice, but we got along fine with two sets of small goggles. The coral areas were interesting, the beach was pretty nice. But, we preferred our condo's section of beach better, at least for lounging around. If you want easy snorkeling, it’s a great place. It became crowded really quickly, and the beach, while nice, wasn’t the greatest to us. Narrow, not quite as white and clean, but it was more ‘natural’ I suppose. The crowding bothered us some, so we left after just a few hours.
Butterfly Farm - This is obviously a tourist attraction, but I’m fine with that. My wife really has a thing for butterflies, so she really liked it. I thought it was a little steep in price at $30 for both of us, but they do allow you to return anytime during your stay, so that’s nice. It was raining (what? rain?) most of the time we were there, so the butterflies weren't flying much. We found the tour guide to be nice and knowledgeable. We liked hearing all about the butterflies and the operation there, but we were really more interested in the general information he gave us about the island and its wildlife, various cultural aspects, and so on. After the ‘tour’ was over, the group just stood around talking to him for quite a while about all sorts of things including the rise of tourism on the island and how it has impacted the local culture.
Carnival Grand Parade in Oranjestad - We were fortunate enough to be on the island for this final Carnival event. We loved it. We drove downtown very early, probably too early, not understanding exactly when the happenings started, or how quickly (or slowly) the actual parade moved. We parked in the public parking behind the bus station, which worked out just fine. We stayed around the Ren and the Parlamento buildings most of the morning. There were some food vendors in the area and, being foodies, we went around and bought anything we didn’t immediately recognize. We enjoyed this since we really needed to know some Spanish at least to talk to some of these people. They understood English some for sure, but it was obvious they were a bit shaky and unsure about their English skills. But, between the Spanish we knew, and the English they knew, and plenty of pointing and gestures, we worked it out. It was fun to put to use several years of high school Spanish class in some meaningful way. Everyone was quite kind to work out what we were saying.
It was interesting to see all the people start to come out. But, we tired pretty quickly from the heat. We went over into the Ren shopping area and cooled off with some ice cream and sat around for a while. Just as my wife was about to give up hope of seeing something I just knew we’d kick ourselves for missing, I managed to convince her to start walking down the parade route until we found something interesting. We walked down the middle of L.G. Smith Boulevard to somewhere maybe 200 yards before Talk of the Town beach club, and the roundabout there, which I think is where the parade makes a turn from the North. Anyway, around there somewhere, we finally saw the start of the parade. We jumped the barricades, and got some chairs in front of someone’s house. Yes, we ‘rented’ them for $5 (much less than what he originally asked for), which apparently is probably not legal? since he said something like ‘If anyone asks, we’re good friends.’ But, it wasn’t much, and worked out really well; we were willing to take a risk for a place to sit down at that point.
This is really where we noticed how friendly of an island this place really is. Of course, the large quantities of alcohol probably helped this out a bit, but still, we loved it here. We were very fortunate enough to sit down next to two families that took us under their wing so to speak. For the next few hours, we were friends with them. Since they had families there, they weren’t getting too crazy, but still kept pushing Balashi Chills on us to keep us cool, and help us unwind a bit. The chair renter also came by several times to check on us and offer drinks, whisky, whatever. We passed on that; we drove there after all. But, the people around us really made the day for us. The two men of the families there helped explain what was going on in the parade. They talked about the music types, car racing, the judges, and helped us step into the parade route to shoot pictures with the dancers. We have very clear proof that we experienced that parade in a way that we’ll never forget. They just kept saying, ‘Go out there! It’s one happy island.’ They were right! Being a couple that values the culture of a place we visit so much, we were very happy to spend a day like this. These people know how to have a party, and know how to do a parade with right way. We were very impressed. The best part of it? We very quickly became the minority. We didn’t see many people that looked like us, if that makes sense. We struggled to understand one of the guys with us and his mix of Papiamento/Spanish/English, (we do speak a bit of Spanish) but he was a lot of fun. It was hard enough to understand the others speaking English to us with all the music and noise around, but we loved it all the same. Still, through it all, we felt perfectly comfortable there, safe, and engaged, not just onlookers gawking at the locals having a party. They really made an effort to take us in and show us what it was about. We loved it, but it was a long day, and we were beat. We were able to safely follow the parade route back to the Jeep and drive home with only minimal detouring.
As I briefly mentioned before, we’re somewhat foodies, so I have some comments here that I’ll work in as we go. I’m going to list the interesting places we went to, and detail them as much as I can here. We have some pictures of some menus, restaurant signs for names, and so on, if someone wants for information.
To start, we stopped at Ling and Sons our first evening there. We found it a bit overwhelming, but maybe it was just really busy at the time. We picked up some groceries for the week with our intent to be to eat in the condo for breakfast, lunch and snacks, and dine out in the evenings. There have been many discussions around here about prices and product availability, so I’ll address that some along the way. Ling’s seemed to be the largest and most American style place we could have possibly found on the island. Honestly, we didn’t like that at all. I heard a lot of people complaining on this forum about prices of food, beauty products, sunscreen, alcohol, and the such. While I mean no disrespect to others here, I think this is just because some go to the wrong place, and look for the wrong things to buy. Availability of American and European import brands were abundant at Lings, as were the prices for these products. Now, I know nearly everything in Aruba is imported from somewhere, but still, there are perfectly reasonably priced products for food, alcohol, and sunscreen to be found, even at Lings! Just stop looking for that comfortable American brand name you’re used to, and buy what normal people buy.
During the week, we also stopped at Kong Hing and Superfood. If you must shop from these big three or four, I think I’d stick with Superfood since it’s a bit smaller and quieter, but we also hate Walmart at home, so I guess opinions will vary. We also stopped into a few small supermarkets off the tourist areas and found prices to be significantly better, and availability still reasonable for the essentials. If we come back, we likely won’t go to the big stores anymore.
Las Ramblas - Located in front of La Cabana. We went here our first night since we could easily walk down to it, and it was recommended by the agent that checked us into our room. It was okay, but just that. The location is nice; you can get a sunset view. The area around it, as seems typical at La Cabana, was busy and loud. We didn’t have a reservation, but went in relatively early, and it became busy quickly. We found the prices steep, and didn’t need a lot to eat, so we kept to the tapas menu, and still managed to spend $60 or so. The food was good, but nothing special I don’t think. I wouldn’t return, but I can recommend it to others, especially if the location is appealing or convenient for you.
Barefoot - We had reservations for the 14th of Feb, so a bit of a romantic evening. As the name suggests, you’re on the beach, on the sand. That was nice, but it was obvious you paid for the atmosphere. We’re more than willing to pay for atmosphere, but I still didn’t find it to be a great value. The food was good, and seemed relatively unique, not likely something we’d find at home easily. But again, I don’t consider it all that special, except for the location. As other reviews have mentioned, it’s a bit difficult to find your way into the place, but once you’re there, it’s fine. We had a nice meal, medium portions, an appetizer, and one drink each. The bill came to about $100.
Carte Blanche - We were really excited about this place, and made reservations well in advance. When we were there, they said they were fully booked three months out, so if you want to go here, book early! We really did enjoy this place. It’s clear they’ve designed it for foodie minded people like ourselves. Chef Dennis and Glenn took great care of us. Other reviews here cover the basics, so I won’t go into it a lot. But, as the name suggests, there is no menu, and the Chef just takes you through the courses. 14 seats, and no turn over, the seat is yours for the night. 4 or 5 courses optional, and wine pairings optional also. We took the 5 courses, with the wine pairings, as did most of the other people there. Our final bill came to about $280 before discretionary service charge. We have pictures of each course, and pictures through the evening, but I won’t share those unless someone really wants to see it, so as to leave the surprises for your own visit. We were there for about 4 hours. The food was great, but the hosts really make the experience worth it. We’d only be willing to pay this much for some kind of experiential dining like this. It’s different, not for everyone, but we really enjoyed it.
These three really mark the end of our tolerance for eating in the resort/beach area. We found we became disappointed by the high prices, and what we perceived as low value for what we were really getting. The food appeared all the same when we looked for recommendations, or checked menus online. Like I said, we’re not cheap, we’re willing to spend for great food, but, we just didn’t think it was worth it, especially after we drove around some and realized how many better options there were. So, we vowed to at least make some minimal effort to venture out some and try something off the beach area. We were very satisfied with this decision.
One evening, we went to some random Chinese place down a road leading from the high rise area. We didn’t venture out far, but it was still worth it. The prices were much better. I think we spent maybe $35 at this place, and I’m not sure we even have the name of it anymore. It really wasn’t anything special, but it was honest, and real, and significantly more affordable. We didn’t get an amazing food experience here, but at least we saw the value in it. We’d need to try harder, but we were tired this evening, so took the first option we saw.
Another evening, we headed to downtown again. (We’d been down previously for looking around, and shopping, and such.) We stopped at a tiny Colombian place, and I’m not sure I could tell you how to find it again. We thought this place was great. This was the first time we were able to order in Spanish, and have some conversation with the waitress there. I’m sure she understood the words we needed to use English for, and we were able to understand her explanations of food in Spanish. It worked out well again. We ordered a couple interesting dishes. Things we wouldn’t be able to find at home, but that’s not saying much given the choice of foods at home... Anyway, we were stuffed with all different kinds of good foods we found very interesting. The bill came to about AWG 42. What’s that? $24? We were getting pretty happy with this food experience, and only wish we had more opportunities for it. It was now, that we became more confident, and more adventurous. As with the parade later in the week, we were the minority in this little place. No tourists were coming in here, and we never heard anyone else speaking English. I switched to using florins almost exclusively when possible. I’ll talk more about that later.
Another evening, we went down the same road that the Chinese place was on, and stopped at a teeny tiny Indonesian place called ‘Indo’. When we walked in, we were pretty sure we’d found the jackpot. I’m sure it’s not for everyone, but we loved it. Cash only place, a tiny bar up front, and a handful of tables in the back with plenty of locals, and a couple adventurous tourist around. We were initially addressed in Dutch, but quickly switched to English easily. The host helped us through the fairly extensive menu. The place served Indonesian, Indian and some Asian dishes. My wife, somehow, expertly picked two main courses that were authentic Indonesian, much to the pleasant surprise of the host. He also provided me with a suggestion of a third main dish. We also ordered two small appetizers, and some waters. The food...was amazing. Probably the most interesting flavors I’ve ever experienced. So interesting, so real. He really introduced us to flavors we’ve never had before, which I didn’t think would be possible. We were stuffed! And loved every second of it. Our two apps, three large main dishes came to something shy of AWG 70. We were aware that we were still close enough to the high rise area, that the prices were still slightly elevated, but still a much better value in my opinion; we had a table full of food after all.
Lunch on our last day out before our flight was at The Old Cunucu House, which was still very close to the high rise area, but we needed something relatively easy to get to. Also, since it was the Monday following the Carnival parade, most of the local places seemed to be closed, at least for lunch. It was clear some tourists came here. The prices on the dinner menu were higher, but the lunch specials were priced at $10 each. We got a relatively large appetizer, a beef stew sort of dish, and a barracuda dish. Final price was $24, provided to us in dollars, not florins. The food was good and interesting to us. My wife said she’d never had a better beef stew sort of dish. I found the fish to be interesting, although it wasn’t fresh, but still very good. We could have done better, but it’s certainly an interesting little place. For those that are interested, there is a lot of very interesting art pieces inside that we spent time looking at.
My final thoughts on food - If/when we return, we won’t be going to the places along the beach or resort areas, or probably anywhere known to be ‘great’ by the tourists. Unless there is something to make it more interesting, like Carte Blanche for example. We’ll search out small, honest, and great places, and enjoy doing it. I’d recommend everyone do this. Aruba seems to be a very safe place to do this. No one was ever rude to us, the food was hot and safe, and no one ever had a problem working with us in mixed Spanish and English or ‘point-to-menu-ish.’ I really wish we would have have the time and forethought to go out into the country and look for something authentic. I simply can’t believe that people come to a place like Aruba, and just stick to their little resort area for entertainment and food. I'm not trying to put anyone down, but even with the huge increase in the tourist area and the catering to tourists, Aruba still has so much more to be appreciated. I might ramble on more about this later.
This is just something I need to address; some of this will tie into the next section. I know a lot of people here will disagree, and that’s completely fine, but here it is. I have to be honest, I didn’t like going to Aruba, only to be nearly forced to use USD. There’s a cultural shift here to be looked at. I think it’s great that Aruba has conformed somewhat to support the tourism industry. And, I completely understand that accepting USD universally can be beneficial, especially when it acts as an international currency in places such as around the cruise port. But, still, I found it quite annoying. After a day or two, I went to get florins from the ATM, in an attempt to use them exclusively. But still, even this failed. I was taken aback when I tried to pay at one place with a 50 florin note, only to be told I’d have to receive change back in USD (of course, coins in florins though). And at a couple places, I paid with florins, and received ALL the change back in USD, including the coins! Somewhere, I thought I read that wasn’t even legal in Aruba? I don’t care to do the conversions, and sure it’s convenient, but, its just weird to me. I don’t know, maybe I’m the only one that thinks like this, but it just really took something away from the experience of being in Aruba. At the small shops, the food stands, and the small restaurants, I had no trouble paying in florins, getting change in florins, and often the bill wasn’t even converted to USD for me. Somehow, I found this comforting. Somehow, it made me connect with the country and the people there. Somehow, it just seemed ‘more right.’
So, you see my thoughts on money, and the restaurant scene. So maybe you can guess my other thoughts. And maybe people that have been returning for years and years can address for me how the last 25 years have progressed. I would have loved to have visited back then. I’m used to seeing and hearing from typical tourists (and there’s nothing wrong with these people, don’t get me wrong). But, I almost felt embarrassed for them, especially when I could identify they were also American, or maybe Canadian from their accent. Just for example, meandering around the cruise port (which, admittedly, I should expect this behavior in this area, yes...) We were talking with one of the little shop keepers there and overheard some people, in what I would place as a midwestern American accent, much like my own, talk about how they needed to get some food. She proceeded to immediately turn her head across the street, and say ‘Oh!, there’s a Pizza Hut, lets go there!’ Her little group seemed to unanimously approve. I know sometimes you need something easy, comfortable, and familiar in a different place. And I’m not suggesting these people had something inherently wrong about them, but, it just seemed to exemplify a trend, that I fear could destroy the real Aruba given enough time and influence.
As an American that enjoys traveling abroad, and would like to do and see so much more, I think I just want to almost admonish fellow Americans for imposing our own culture on others, and not valuing who they really are. I felt this way for a couple days, then I considered what Aruba wants to be and what it is becoming. I don’t know what Aruba wants to be, but maybe it’s not so far from this. There is an American-style abundance and culture of excess that is attaching itself in Aruba. Is this what Aruba wants? I’m not sure, but regardless, it has become the culture of Aruba now. I see that they are able to hold on to their own mixed and varied cultures on the the island, and integrate this American and European culture relatively effectively. That makes me glad, and I hope that can continue, without losing the real Aruba. I think it is amazingly great that Aruba wants to make visitors comfortable, and at ease. What I’d hate to see, is this kindness of the Aruban people taken advantage of.
We, are of course, somewhat guilty of these same crimes. Staying at a comfortable beach condo, when we could have easily experienced something different. I recognize that I might be missing a point here, or that I might have missed something about Aruba. If that’s the case, I’d love to hear others’ thoughts here.
Would we come back?
Absolutely! We loved our visit, as you can see. However, we’re young now, and we don’t know how long we’ll be able to enjoy seeing the world. There are so many other places to see and experience. A return trip to Aruba could happen, but I doubt it will be any time soon.
Thanks Andrea! One specific teacher from high school should get credit for what language ability I have now. I probably should have bought her a new box of red pens at the end of that semester.
I'd like to thank you, and Arubalisa specifically for the help and information. Some of that, while we were actually in Aruba. This forum is really a gem, and something every visitor should take a look at for a few days before their trip.
I was really hoping to get some feedback on some of my comments at some point. I'm not sure too many people come in to the trip report area and just peruse about. Regardless, I like to get something meaningful from travel. Experiencing it for myself is the first step, but I'd like to reflect and discuss a bit with others. Seeing a place from others' points-of-view is important to me too.
my observations are that arubans want lots of american culture .
the residents of aruba (young people) in particular love american fast foods.
the tourists of the US bring much into aruba..........spreading our culture, such as it is ;-)
and the currency...........again, aruba prefers the us dollar.
my husband and i have the same conversation every year...........we say, good lord, why is pizza hut , mcdonalds, hard rock, tgi fridays..............why? then we realize, lots of arubans love these places.
Right. By the end of my time there, I thought I had realized that they mostly enjoyed the culture import. I suppose that's good and fine if that's really what they want to happen. I'm not so sure they won't change their minds at some threshold though. Especially with fast food. The US is just starting to learn her lesson about food issues, and yet, we're still exporting the problem. After all, my hometown was once officially listed as America's fattest city by a Gallop pool. We're so proud!
Unfortunately, for us anyway, the culture import makes visiting less experiential. If I'm traveling abroad, I expect things to be 'foreign' by definition. The currency I'm fine with. This mixing local and defacto currency is a bit strange, but not unheard of. Lots of places around the world use USD as local currency, and in a few places, USD is a defacto currency, but not the official currency. It certainly makes it conformable for lots of travelers. Getting florin change, or a converted table bill adds just enough interest that many tourists will find it fun. But, getting local currency for my nephew back home was surprising difficult. I actually got some smallish notes from an ATM once, and kept them; I was afraid if I tried to break them, I'd get USD back. I never once spent one of those square coins. I kept them all. They're so unusual, lots of people back home got them as souvenirs.
There's something to be said about all this. Aruba really does make travelers comfortable, in many ways. For seasoned travelers, Aruba isn't going to provide endless interest. Some, certainly, but not a lot. However, for most, Aruba provides an amazing mix of natural areas, manageable cultural shifts, safety and comfort, and a great beach out the back door.
I'm actually a little curious why more people don't go down to Aruba. It's really easy to get to, and reasonably affordable. So many people head to Jamaica, or Bahamas, or the Keys. All great places indeed. When we told people we were going to Aruba, they had no idea where is was, what it was like. It was like we were going to this really exotic place, when really, most people just weren't aware of it. A little strange actually.
I have questioned MANY Arubans as to WHY there are so many US fast food franchises. The reply from EVERY SINGLE PERSON has been that the Aruban people are the ones who want them and do eat there.
ONCE, on our first land vacation, after a VERY long flight we stopped at Taco Bell on the way to the Caribbean Palm Village. We were the ONLY people there who were not Arubans. We have not been to a fast food place since. Except to stop and pose for photos with Ronald OUTSIDE of McDonald's downtown.
As to the use of the US dollar...YES, it is convenient for tourists , however
The Centrale Bank van Aruba (the CBA) "A Brief History of the Bank The Centrale Bank van Aruba (the CBA) started its operations on January 1, 1986, when Aruba obtained its status as an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Prior to this period, Aruba formed part of the Netherlands Antilles.
The CBA is a legal entity in itself (sui generis) with an autonomous position within Aruba's public sector. With the inception of the CBA, the Aruban florin was brought into circulation, pegged to the U.S. dollar at a rate of Afl. 1.79 = US$ 1.00. This exchange rate has remained unchanged since then."
Why Peg? "The reasons to peg a currency are linked to stability. Especially in today's developing nations, a country may decide to peg its currency to create a stable atmosphere for foreign investment. With a peg, the investor will always know what his or her investment's value is, and therefore will not have to worry about daily fluctuations. A pegged currency can also help to lower inflation rates and generate demand, which results from greater confidence in the stability of the currency."
Studying Monetary and Financial Statistics "Real economic development is supported by a sound monetary and financial environment. Our Bank is responsible for safeguarding the ensuing stability. To achieve this goal, the Aruban florin is firmly pegged to the US dollar at an exchange rate of 1.79. Confidence in the peg is supported by a comfortably high level of foreign exchange reserves. At present, the merchandise import coverage ratio (excluding oil) amounts to an ample five months. The peg serves Aruba well. It keeps our inflation rate roughly in line with that in the United States, and imposes a certain discipline on the government finances. It is also the principal reason why the Bank does not grant any loan to the public sector.