My first visit to Aruba was on a FAM trip in the early 1980s. Back then there wasn’t much in the way of local tour operators or hotel spas or sports facilities, so except for one impromptu, rum-fueled, midnight water polo match in the Divi-Divi swimming pool, my colleagues and I mostly stayed put on the beach. Great weather? Absolutely. Gorgeous beaches? Bet on it. Good bartenders? Beyond good. But did we experience Aruba itself or do anything especially novel? No, because that’s just not what Aruba—or, for that, most of the Caribbean—was about.
My, how this island has changed.
“Nowadays [honeymooners] want activities: scuba diving, golf, hiking, snorkeling,” said Samira Platter of DTR Travel in our June issue’s Beach Blanket Bliss story, and that’s also true for a lot of people who aren’t newlyweds. No wonder tour operators in Aruba now offer underwater fish-viewing rides in a submarine, ATV tours of weird rock formations on the east side of the island, visits to caves, encounters with the rescues at the Donkey Sanctuary, and more.
Aruba, directly connected to U.S. gateways by seven major airlines, is shaped like a fish swimming toward the southeast. Once you get away from the landscaped resorts that line much of the island’s 20-mile southwest coast, you realize that this is an arid island with stretches of terrain that seems borrowed from the moon. So forget lush rainforests and waterfalls; on the other hand, dry climate = sunny beach days. Shopping days, too, because Oranjestad, the capital, is one of the major shopping capitals of the Caribbean. What’s more, Oranjestad is so up-to-date that it’s building a 21st century tram system. Meanwhile, clean, regularly scheduled public buses offer a smart alternative to taxis all along the southwest coast.
On this trip we couldn’t possibly fit in everything we wanted to do, although we did find time to explore an extraordinary World War II wreck (more on that later) and see some other neat things, some of which were easily booked in the lobby of the hotel where we were staying, the Aruba Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino. This hotel is on a prime stretch of Palm Beach, home to a string of high-rise condos and resorts (the RIU, Westin, Radisson, Hyatt Regency, etc.); farther south is Eagle Beach and several smaller resorts, including the adults-only Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts, profiled in the June issue.
The Stellaris Casino is huge, but perhaps more important, so are the Marriott’s guestrooms, at 400 sq. ft. or greater, with large private balconies, electronic gadgetry, mini-fridges, and decor featuring polished dark wood, crimson sashes, a desk and comfortable chairs, and prints of tropical flora. High-season rates start at $409, but we’d recommend upgrading to a Partial Ocean View overlooking the new adults-only pool ($459) or, better yet, a Premium Ocean View ($484), with its vistas of calm green sea and endless white beach. Because Aruba is rarely touched by hurricanes, you can send clients there in summer and fall without grinding your teeth. Put them in a $634 Tradewinds Club Level room with high-floor views plus access to a V.I.P. lounge with full American breakfast, snacks, afternoon tea, and cocktails; off-season, it costs $409.
anyone can do this
We did some quality lounging on both the beach and the deck of the adults-only H20 Oasis Swimming Pool, then arose one day to watch (watch) a beach volleyball game, a power-walking pack of earnest guests, a tennis clinic for kids, and a hobie-cat whose skipper did an accidental jibe that almost up-ended the whole shebang—probably the most entertaining incident in sailing since “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Just north of the Marriott, the Vela Windsurf Center offers paddleboard yoga. Instructor Rachel Brathen is an excellent teacher—well-prepared, observant, and encouraging—not to mention easy to look at. Paddleboard yoga is now trending on other islands, but Brathen was there at the get-go.
Beach Tennis Aruba, at the nearby MooMba Beach Club, welcomes beginners and regulars alike to the four courts there. Beach tennis, which has been gaining in popularity, has its Caribbean beginnings in Aruba. The sport features a beach volleyball court (a sand court with a high net) and short-handed paddles. “No need for lessons!” exclaims manager Sjoerd de Vries, and it’s true, because the shape of the paddles make it easy for beginners to make contact. And short of learning Papiamento, playing beach tennis is one of the most Aruban things a visitor can do.
In addition to offering non-motorized watersports such as sailing, windsurfing, and kite surfing, the Aruba branch of Red Sail Sports, located on the Marriott’s beachfront, offers diving instruction and day-trips, evening cruises, JETLEV flights (flying above the water in a jetpack), and even jeep tours and a bar-hopping party bus. Some of these activities, such as kite surfing, require either lessons or skills; others do not (e.g. bar hopping, although it does help to be able to negotiate bus steps after serial lagers).
No matter how athletic a visitor may or may not be, one activity that should be a must for almost everyone is a snorkeling cruise to the Antilla. During World War II, this Nazi craft in search of petroleum (lest we forget, Venezuela is just a few miles from Aruba) was discovered by Allied forces, and rather than surrender the ship, the captain sank it in shallow waters just a couple of hundred feet from the northwest coast of Aruba. Today, this is the third largest wreck in the Caribbean, and thousands of parrotfish, angelfish, trumpetfish, and other squatters have moved in. The result: A combination of major wreck and teeming marine life that offers snorkelers an experience normally accessible only to certified scuba divers—and an only-in-Aruba experience.
The food at this Marriott might seem a bit less adventurous than learning a new sport, insofar as the resort gives its huge Ruth’s Chris Steak House top billing. Your clients can eat at Ruth’s Chris when they’re back in the States, so while in Aruba, they’ll have a far better experience if they dine barefoot on the beach at the Aruba Marriott’s Simply Fish. Each dish, from scallops risotto with creole sauce to the Arubian triangle, is carefully seasoned and timed, and the ambiance—beachside at night—can’t be beat. Another culinary must at this hotel is Sunday brunch, where the adventure lies in figuring out how to taste everything.
info for you
The Aruba Marriott pays commission rates of between 8 percent and 10 percent. Marriott International has just updated its Hotel Excellence! (HE!) continuing education program; agents who complete the course will enjoy Fam-Tastic rates beginning as low as $44 ($105 for the Aruba Marriott) at more than 3,400 hotels worldwide, invitations to industry events, the Reserved for You eNewsletter, and 10 Continuing Education Units.
aruba certified expert
The Aruba Certified Expert (ACE) program provides in-depth knowledge on Aruba for you to confidently sell this Caribbean destination and its myriad vacation opportunities. ACE graduates earn continuing education credits; have access to ACE quarterly newsletters; and other benefits. Visit edu.recommend.com.
WHAT TRAVEL AGENTS ARE SAYING…
“Aruba is one of the safest, cleanest tropical locations we have ever been to,” says Mark Brown, chief getaway officer, Island Breeze Travel in Jackson, MI. “Right down to their public bus system, the island is well organized and easy to explore, with tons to do and see.” Among his recommendations, a dune buggy or ATV tour of the island. “It’s a great way to see quite a bit of the area,” he says. “Just be warned: you will get dirty!!” Brown also likes the Bugaloo Beach Bar. “Sunset watching doesn’t get any better than right there on the end of the pier, drink in hand, listening to live music from the bar stage.”
Brown finds Aruba’s climate distinctive, too, even within the context of the Caribbean. “I’m not a weatherman, so all I can go on is averages,” says Brown. “The Bahamas in February can be wonderful, or it can be chilly, but with Aruba being close to the equator, you are almost guaranteed 80 degrees year-round on average…. Plus, you are largely outside of the hurricane belt. So if we have a client who wants to have their best shot at a warm, sunshine-filled vacation, we recommend Aruba.”
He also recommends Marriott. “One of the things that strikes me is their management,” notes Brown. “They have been very receptive and helpful with information, and when we are recommending a resort, we want to know the management will be there for us should we need their assistance with client requests.
“These days, it’s not enough just to book a room for a client. You have to be there for them if they need you during travel as well.”
Aruba Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino: (888) 236-2427; travelagents.marriott.com; growwithmarriott.com (for information about HE!)
Beach Tennis Aruba: beachtennisaruba.com
Red Sail Sports Aruba: (305) 454-2538; aruba-redsail.com
Vela Windsurf Center: (800) 223-5443; velawindsurf.com