Newbie here but wanted to post my thoughts from my latest trip. Nancy and I (both in our late 30's) made our first trip to Aruba in 2006 and this was our fourth time there.
Nov. 20-25, 2009
Flight- We took the 7a.m. flight on JetBlue out of JFK, which meant getting up around 3a.m. and made for a long day. The flight left on-time and arrived a few minutes early. I put my bathing suit on while waiting for our luggage, I was not alone there were 2 other guys doing the same thing. We breezed through immigration, there was no line at all and we were in our hotel room less than an hour after we landed.
My only complaint about the flight was that when I made the reservation after I selected the flight I wanted and went to select the seats, the only seats available were the extra legroom seats that cost $40 per person more. I think that if those are the only open seats left they should not charge extra for them since I didn't have a choice. Either that or they should include the extra $40 in the original price quote. The upside is that apparently nobody else wanted to pay extra for those seats so there were only 3 people (including us) in the 2 rows.
Hotel- Stayed at the Radisson for the 3rd year in a row (we stayed at the Westin the first year, which I think was a Wyndham at the time). Love the hotel, the lobby is very island like and the beach is great. We had an ocean view room in the main building which is the farthest from the ocean of the 3 buildings so we were not all that close to the ocean but it was still great. Lots of palm trees between our balcony and the ocean so the view was very nice.
We never needed to try to get a palapa the day before. At the Radisson you can reserve them at 4p.m. for the following day as opposed to having to get up early in the morning to get one. There were always plenty available whenever we got there (usually around 10-11), not in the first row but still in good locations. The beach is so big that it was never very crowded. All of the other beaches in the high rise area are much more crowded and noisy, especially the Holiday Inn which had people everywhere and very little open space. We took a tour with Cerry and he told us that the Radisson was the first hotel built in the area and specifically picked that location because it had the best beach.
I have seen it posted on Tripadvisor and I must agree that for the most part the employees of the Radisson are not very friendly. They are not rude but I would just say that they are indifferent. It would nice if they were a little more friendly and welcoming but they just are not.
The air conditioning in our room was not great, by no means was it hot in the room but we could not get it as cool as we wanted it to be. It wasn't bad enough that we complained to management about it but it was a little disappointing.
I went to the casino every night hoping to play poker with other players like me…people on vacation just looking to play some cards with other casual players, unwind and meet some nice people. I am not a very serious player and don't play for high stakes (played $4/$8 limit hold em). I didn't notice in years past but this year there were a lot of locals playing most nights who were fairly serious players. What I didn't like about it was that they were talking to each other and the dealer in either Dutch or Papiamento even though they all spoke English. Normally it would not bother me since I am a visitor in their country. However, in a game like poker where you are playing against the other players as opposed to the house it was a little unsettling that they were talking to each other and the dealers and I didn't know what they were saying. I know it wouldn't go over to well if I passed a note to or whispered something to one of the other Americans. Was it a conspiracy against the tourists? I am probably just being paranoid but it just gave me a bad vibe so I played more Blackjack than I normally did and played less poker. Switching poker tables was not an option as the other ones were for higher stakes then I wanted to play. I wasn't the only one that noticed this either, I was talking to another tourist at the Black Jack table who said the same thing.
Overall, despite these minor complaints I still think the Radisson is great and will stay there again next year.
Weather- It was the windiest of all of my trips but didn't rain at all except for maybe 5 minutes on our last day. On 2 of the days they stopped taking people to parasail because of the high winds. The temperature was the same as always…perfect.
Activities- 1) Private tour by Cerry- We took a 3 hour private tour by Cerry. Even though we have driven around the island on each of our previous 3 visits it was still very interesting and very worthwhile. He took us to some places we had not been to before and revisited some that we had already seen. He knows everything there is to know about the island and we learned a lot. It was even better for me since each of the other times we rented a car I drove so I was more concerned with paying attention to driving as opposed to looking at the scenery. It was nice to be able to relax and let him do the driving. We arranged for Cerry to take us to dinner that night and on the way he drove us past his house, church and the school he went to. We would have used him more but our schedules didn't work out.
2) Parasailing- We took a tandem parasail ride. Nancy had done one before but I didn't because I have a bit of (ok a big) fear of heights. Before we went up they warned us that it would be extra bumpy because of the wind…yikes not what I wanted to hear. But I loved it; it was not nearly as scary as I thought it would be and was a lot of fun. The good thing was that we were the only two passengers so the whole thing took less than 30 minutes. When she did it the first time there were another 6 people or so that were going up so we were stuck on the boat while everyone got their turn so it took a whole lot longer.
3) De Palm sunset cruise- It was the second time we took the cruise and thought it was very good, good music and the crew was fun. The mixed drinks seemed to be a bit watered down but they are free and there is no line to get them. They also have Balashi by the can (also free) if you want it. My only complaint is that it left at 5:30 and it was completely dark by around 6:30 so it was dark out for the last hour of the trip. I would have preferred if it left a little earlier so that more of the trip was in the daylight.
Restaurants- 1) Fishes and More (third time there) - It was good, close to the hotel and pretty good fresh fish, a good outdoor atmosphere and not too expensive by Aruba standards. It was our first night and wanted something quick and casual; it was perfect for what we were looking for.
2) Papiamento (third time) - My personal thought is that the food is good but not great but it is a really good atmosphere sitting outside by the pool, fairly pricey though. Also on the plus side is that is close to the Radisson.
3) Flying Fishbone (first time) - A great place for both food and setting although that night it was not a great sunset. The tables were not as close together as I expected based on what I have heard plus it was only around half full so it was pretty quiet. It was nice having the waves hit our feet while eating. Price wise it was on the high side. The downside is that it is $70 round trip taxi ride (approximately 20-30 minutes each way) from the high-rise area so you need to figure that in. I don't know that we will go back every year but will definitely be back.
4) Madame Jeannette's (second time) - In my opinion this was the best meal of the trip. The food was great and the atmosphere was also good. On the expensive side. I do have 2 complaints though. We had a slight schedule change so we wanted to change our reservation from Tuesday at 7 to Monday at 7. They said they had nothing available at 7 but they could take us at 6. Ok, no problem. I realized that changing at the last minute we had to be flexible so we took the 6 o'clock reservation. However, when we finished dinner and left around 7:15 there were A LOT of empty tables so I don't understand why they could not have taken us at 7. My bigger complaint is that we felt very rushed. We were done with our main course (after also having appetizers) by 6:40. We slowed things down a bit by waiting to order dessert and then we ordered the soufflé which took a little while to prepare but we were still out the door at 7:15. The dinners at Papiamento and Flying Fishbone both took closer to 2 hours which is what I prefer when I am at places like that.
5) Salt and Peppers (first time for dinner, have been several times for lunch) - Very casual and pretty decent food for relatively low prices. It was definitely the best value meal we had and is right across from the Radisson so it is convenient and they have live music playing outside of the little mall that it is in.
Miscellaneous 1) Amstel Bright- Who knew???????? I had always had Balashi in previous trips and get some from duty free to take home (there are 2 six packs in my fridge now…well actually a six pack and a five pack). This time we discovered Amstel Bright and really liked it and switched back and forth between the two. Even though not a local beer it is still a local experience, at least for me.
2) Customs leaving Aruba- Maybe I have just been lucky but I have never had any problems getting through the airport on the way home. This time was the best yet, we were at the gate less than 30 minutes after we got out of the cab, even though we got to the airport 3 hours before the flight. This included time for them to search my luggage by hand because I was randomly selected. I forgot to declare the $16 bottle of sunscreen I bought but they didn't catch me.
3) Restaurants at the airport- In years past I never really noticed because we ate before leaving for the airport but this year we didn't get a chance to eat and wanted to get something at the airport. The quality and selection of places to eat is shockingly bad.
Overall a great trip and can't wait to go back. At one point I asked Nancy if she thought we would ever get tired of going there. After about 2 seconds I said…great beaches, great weather, great food, lots of awesome things to do…no we will never get tired of it.
To me it seems the poker room at the Radisson is more for the Local people.
all most every time I have played there I have had a problem with the dealers
and local players talking to each other in papiamento during the time that hands
were being played. I used to play 4-5 nights per week now I might play 1-2 a month.
Glad to here you had a great trip.