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Our Westin Resort Aruba Trip Report June 2003

Departure from Atlanta- For us, our ninth trip to Mi Dushi Terra, we were staying for the second time at the Westin (future Riu addition). Lots of additional information on that subject will follow later in the trip report. Jerry’s parents were kind enough to supply enough frequent flier miles for us to obtain two free tickets to paradise. Darling husband splurged and upgraded us to first class.

Our biggest dilemma the entire trip was how early to leave for the airport from our home. Flying out of Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport, we had a horrible experience due to the lines at check-in during Christmas time and did not want to miss our flight to Aruba. We settled on getting there about 2½ hours before our flight. Early morning domestic check-in was one huge line. The beginning of summer vacations for many people it seems. In comparison, the line for international check-in was relatively short. Security? What is there to say about air travel nowadays? Everyone who has flown since 9-11 knows the “new routine” and it is doubtful anything in life will ever be the same. High mileage fliers and first/business class had their own line. At the time we were passing through the metal detectors all of the lines were equal in length: long with folks waiting to go through the metal detectors and then of course, there were people being randomly pulled out of the lines for hand scanning, shoe checks and such. We were taken aside for inspection of one of our carry-on bags. Many years had gone by since there was a need for a “disposable” corkscrew that was stowed in a side compartment. Forgetting it was even there, it was very easy to give it up and take the 99-cent loss. As luck would have it, the Westin (future Riu addition) was kind enough to supply a new one.

The flight was about a half hour late in departing and about three quarters full, but we knew we were heading to paradise and were not concerned. Flying Delta non-stop to Aruba, we were even happier to find out that Delta was now flying 757’s to Aruba rather than the 737 that they had flown in the past. As always, there was a big difference in seats and legroom, between coach and first class. We were served lunch right after 11:00 am. The highlight of the meal was the brownie for dessert, but for airline food, we agreed no one could complain about the rest of the meal.

Arrival in Aruba was of course about a half hour late due to our late departure. Do not forget that if you would like to take photos flying over Aruba just before landing, request a seat on the left hand side of the plane. The was the first time we had ever come in from the east flying directly over the island before turning left to head towards Oranjestad and the airport beyond. All was not lost; we were still lucky enough to view from La Cabana on south from the air.

Can someone please give the reason why the wait for luggage at Queen Beatrix International Airport seems just interminable? Oh, okay, I should not complain. After all, it is summer time and sunset is at 7:10 pm so we still had plenty of time for a swim in the ocean and some pre-dinner unwinding and relaxing on the beach. Jerry’s parents, besides giving us the tickets to Aruba, were joining us for their second vacation in Aruba. The arrival of the in-laws was not until the following day. Today was ours alone to enjoy, including our anniversary, which would occur during the time that Jerry’s parents were with us on the island.

Relaxing on the beach of course would not begin until a quick quiet taxi ride from the airport to the hotel. Once the taxi driver found out it was our ninth visit, he had nothing to contribute to the conversation. Asking him about upcoming Dera Gai and his having no knowledge of the annual local event, we quickly concluded that he was not an Aruban.

Westin (future Riu addition)
There was one other couple checking in at the same time as us and there were plenty of staff at the front desk. The Westin (future Riu addition) was terrific! Yes, after staying there three times, we still like the Radisson, but the Westin (future Riu addition) is much different. Less glitzy than the Radisson, but so is the price. We both concluded that this resort is more laid back, more casual and the entire staff from bellmen to managers are top notch. Nothing for any of these people is asking too much. You are their guest and you are there to relax and be kept happy.

We were in an oceanfront junior suite on the ninth of eighteen floors. With a full view north and south on Palm Beach, who could ask for more? All suites offer a king size bed. Both oceanfront junior suite and oceanfront one-bedroom suites have two balconies. Standard equipment for oceanfront one-bedroom suites, one balcony was furnished with two chairs, an ottoman and table and the other balcony had a chaise lounge. The oceanfront junior suite has balconies which are angled, side-by-side; the oceanfront one-bedroom suite has a balcony off the bedroom and the second balcony is off the living room to form the corners of the building. Many a late afternoon would be spent on the balcony’s chaise lounge cramming a few more pages of leisurely reading in before a pre-dinner shower. Sorry folks, life just does not get much better than this.

The Westin (future Riu addition) does offer one of the larger standard guestrooms on the island. After having seen rooms in every single category in this resort, I can honestly say that no matter where you are situated, you will have at least a partial oceanview. All rooms with the exception of the oceanfront junior suite accommodate up to four people in either one king or two double beds.

The resort just changed their room categories. Standard rooms offer a partial oceanview on a lower floor of the north side of the tower. This side faces the California Lighthouse and other Palm Beach hotels. Superior rooms are oceanview rooms on upper floors on the north side of the tower (odd numbered rooms) OR ocean/poolview rooms on lower floors on the south side of the tower (even numbered rooms on the south side of the tower). Deluxe rooms are ocean/poolview rooms on the south side of the tower (even numbered rooms on the south side of the tower).

The oceanfront junior suite (00 rooms) was perfect for us. They are situated on the oceanfront end of the tower, centered between the oceanfront one-bedroom suites- 01 & 02 rooms, which occupy each of the oceanfront corners of the building. Junior suites are one room only but about the size of one and a half guest rooms. With the oceanfront suites, you are paying for the view: north and south along Palm Beach.

The oceanfront junior suite has a vanity, two chairs and table, armoire, divan and king size bed. All rooms and suites offer amenities such as Golden Door toiletries, remote control cable TV, in room movies, in-room safe, direct dial telephone, hair dryer, iron and ironing board, and AM/FM radios with alarm clock, mini-bar, coffee maker, robes, no chocolates, but room service and turndown service are available on request.

An oceanfront one-bedroom suite- (01 & 02 rooms) is exactly that, oceanfront, facing the ocean. One oversized bath off the bedroom with garden tub, separate stall shower, separate water closet, vanity, and double sink and oversize closet area.

Oceanview junior suites- (37 & 38 rooms), are on the opposite end of the tower with an island/oceanview. They sleep four with a sleeper sofa in addition to a king size bed, whereas the oceanfront junior suites sleep only two. Again, these suites are slightly larger than a Westin guestroom, which are large by hotel standards anyway, but only one room.

Oceanview one bedroom suites are oceanview, but not oceanfront. The one bedroom oceanview suite has a separate bedroom and full living room with sleeper sofa. The suites are situated in the middle of the north side of the tower. Beware, the bathroom here is off the living room, not the bedroom and does not offer the “fancy” bath that the oceanfront one bedroom suite offers. Oceanview one-bedroom suites are separated from the living room by a door and the oceanfront one-bedroom suites are separated from the living room with French doors.

Deciding to unpack before we went down to the beach, between the two of us, it took no time at all. We were on the beach by about 3:45 pm Ah! So this IS what we live, work and breath for all year. Is it too decadent to admit that I spent the first two full days of the trip sitting on a chaise lounge on the beach under our palapa just people watching and staring at that oh so beautiful white sand beach and turquoise waters? Too bad too, because of that self indulgence, I was not able to finish Tom Clancy’s, "The Bear and the Dragon” before it was time to come home. Maybe it will get finished before our next trip to Aruba?

Tuesday night is the Manager’s cocktail party at the Westin , so no happy hour at the Tambu Bar this night. This beach/poolside bar was still open, but no drink specials or live music as they have every other happy hour. We were tired and just looked forward to a little quiet time so who cared anyway? A piña colada at the Tambu Bar was more than a sufficient stop on our way back up to the room.

By the time we went up to room to shower and dress for dinner, the Manger’s Cocktail party had already begun and was in full swing. Happily, we knew we had one full week until the next one, which we would then attend. Dinner this first evening was at one of our favorite restaurants, the Radisson’s Sunset Grille. This was the night we were to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary, a couple of days early, sans in-laws. The Sunset Grille has changed their menu and will be changing it again soon, however we were not disappointed. Well to tell the truth, Jerry was slightly saddened that they no longer offered their Heaven and Hell Chocolate cake. To their credit though, the Radisson not only acknowledged our reservation via email, but they were also able to oblige our request for our favorite outdoor table.

Dinner consisted of a wonderful glass of Chardonnay, their infamous chicken liver pate, Lobster Bisque, Caesar Salad, Filet Mignon and Tuna. We each had unremarkable desserts. Expensive as always, this, our most expensive dinner came to $130. Skip dessert and you will still leave satisfied and with a little heavier wallet than we did. The waiter told us that the menu would be changing soon, so we will see what the next trip will bring.

Breakfast buffet the next day at the Greenhouse Restaurant was quite impressive. Even better than the Radisson’s breakfast buffet, the breakfast at the Westin was included in our package. The usual staples: scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes, oatmeal and cream of wheat alternated daily, along with pancakes and sugar/cinnamon French toast. Waffles were offered daily along with strawberry sauce and a terrific cinnamon and nut butter. Moving along there were eggs cooked to order, including omelets with all the fixings right down to a topping of salsa. There was a daily flavor variety of Danish and muffins (Jerry was quickly enamored with the chocolate chip muffins J) should this description continue? Each morning there was freshly sliced pineapple (sweet as sweet could be), honeydew melon and cantaloupe. Also available were the standard apples and bananas. There were all sorts of breads, raisin, date loaf, English muffins, bagels and poor old plain ordinary toast. Not to be left out were the cold cuts, salmon and assortment of cold cereals. There were more toppings for the cereals than you could imagine: brown sugar, chopped nuts, granola, raisins, and coconut…oh and did I leave out the fresh baked cinnamon buns. The buffet was served from 7 am to 12 Noon so one can easily make a very nice brunch and get out of stopping for lunch. If you do not drink orange juice, but prefer another type, just ask. It was never a problem here, service here as it was in all of the restaurants and throughout the entire resort was terrific.

On your way from breakfast at the Greenhouse to the pool or beach, make sure you stop by the parrot’s cages and visit with them and their caretaker, Jose. What a great person, he can tell you all about the different birds and of course there are the required photo opportunities. Heck, these birds are so great they are even bi-lingual!

Whether we arrived at the beach at 8 am or 11 am, in our eight-night stay, there was not one morning where we were unable to obtain a palapa. The resort allows you to reserve a palapa for use throughout the day through a system, which seems to be fair to everyone. The towel hut opens at 8 am Coffee is served for those waiting in line. Jerry was never early enough to see the lineup first hand though. Pick your palapa off the numbered map on the white board, one of the beach boys sets up your chaise lounges and it is yours to use for the day. What is the catch? Well in fairness to the other guests, the palapa must be occupied at 11 am and 3 pm. Yes, there are going to people who complain that they did not have the opportunity to get the “best” spot. This is first come, first served and there are only so many of the things that will fit on a beach, never mind, the most coveted, first row closest to the water.

NOW, everyone talks about how windy the beach is at the Westin . Well let me tell you folks, in eight trips to the island, this was the windiest weather we have EVER seen. June IS the windiest month on the island, thus the timing late in June for the Annual Windsurfing competition. In our walks along Palm Beach, the Westin beach, nor anyone else’s was not to be singled out for whipping winds and blowing sands. Came home and just out of curiosity checked out the weather history for Aruba at and there were days there were sustained winds of 32 m.p.h. and another that reached 34 m.p.h. We had never seen anything like it. One can only imagine how some “first time” visitors might have been really turned off by the wind. A price you have to pay for paradise? Probably, if you are diehard beach fans such as us, otherwise, plenty of folks just moved poolside. Enough said, about the wind, Aruba is a windy little place; accept it or vacation somewhere else. You also have the option of traveling to Aruba during a month like September when there is little wind. THEN you find out the true definition of: “hot, hot, hot”.

Guests at the Westin also receive complimentary use of the Health Club. Open seven days a week there were the usual cardiovascular and muscle strengthening machines, free weights, weight machines and Cybex cable crossover machine. Also offered, at an added cost, are different types of spa treatments: scrubs, wraps, massages, etc.

From here on in, our trip is pretty downright boring. Sorry folks, but once you have spent seven vacations on the island, there is not a whole heck of a lot to see. Do as much or as little as, you like. Give us good books, a chaise lounge on the beach with a palapa, a nice breeze, a couple of floats (rented right there next to the towel hut from Pelican Adventures for $5), and beautiful blue waters. Throw in the island’s fabulous restaurants for dinner and we have the complete perfect vacation.

Wednesday- Jerry’s parents arrived late afternoon from Newark Airport aboard Continental. For them, it was pretty much a routine and on time flight. Their first experience flying since 9-11, they were very unfazed by the whole deal. They had reserved a oceanfront one-bedroom suite, which was not quite ready upon their arrival. No problem. After not having seen one another since Christmas time, it gave us an opportunity to do some catching up. All this took place over a late lunch at the Westin beachside/poolside restaurant, the Terrace Restaurant. Many friendly iguanas around here too!

Lunches at the Terrace Restaurant were quite good. Our personal favorites were a tie: Tandori Chicken Wrap, Chicken Fingers and the Quesadillas. There were a wide variety of other goodies offered here: Caesar Salad, Burgers, Hot Dogs, Sandwiches, Nachos, and Fajitas etc. Of course all of these were available “to go” to be enjoyed elsewhere. They served until 5:30 pm and the Terrace serves ala Carte breakfast during the high season.

The oceanfront one-bedroom suite ended up being perfect for my in-laws. They get bored sitting on the beach the entire day as we do, thus spend much more time in their room than we would ever dream of. The suite was on the northwest corner of the tower, 13th floor and again a gorgeous view up and down all of Palm Beach. The living room had plenty of sitting area along with a table and two chairs.

Unfortunately, my father-in-law became ill and they returned home early. The hotel’s doctor was terrific and prescribed medication to hold him over until they could get home to his own doctor. The doctor called the prescription into one of the pharmacies in downtown Oranjestad. Only problem was that no one told us that after hours, once the pharmacy is closed, there was a pick up window for prescriptions down a side alley. After driving around and around in circles, Jerry finally hailed a taxi to find this place. We would have never been able to figure it out on our own, never mind parking on the sidewalk for lack of any place better!

Due to my father-in-law being sick, my mother-in-law did not want to leave him alone and we felt obligated to be close by, so dinners were a little different than what we are used to while in Aruba. The night of the pharmacy debacle we were so tired and exasperated we never even ate dinner. We just went to sleep knowing the morning would bring that wonderful breakfast buffet and another typical Aruba day filled with plenty of sunshine.

Dinners- Definitely do dinner at the Flying Fishbone. We had skipped it the last couple of years, but ate there this trip and it was fantastic. Beware though, it is expensive but definitely one of those things everyone should do at least once in a lifetime. People always ask about bugs at this place. We have never had ANY problems anywhere with bugs, flies or mosquitoes anywhere in Aruba during the months that we have been there= January, March, June (4x), July, August and September. The one September we were on the island, there were a few gnats on the beach but no mosquitoes- day or night. Traveling with a bug repellent is always a good idea; we were able to do battle with those annoying gnats with no problem.

Marina Pirata was totally opposite from the Flying Fishbone. Marina Pirata is all seafood (not the best of places to go if you can’t eat fish I found out first hand) in a very casual setting: eating outdoors on the dock. They have the water surrounding the dock all lit up, so naturally the fish are attracted. People see the fish and toss them pieces of food and that brings more fish… The best compliment for this spot though is when the fishing boat pulls up to the dock with the night’s catch. The cooks come out of the kitchen and point and choose the fish they would like from the boat. To find any fresher fish than this, you would need to reel in your own fish and handed it to the chef Prices are also much less than the Flying Fishbone.

Marina Pirata Directions are as follows:
Take the main road from town out past the airport. After you pass the airport on your right, you will go for a few miles before coming to a traffic light. Before coming to the traffic light, you will pass the Balashi brewery on your right, and at the traffic light the drive-in will be diagonally across the road on your left. You make a right turn at this light. However, this is not your normal right turn. You actually have to go through the traffic light and will then see the right turn lane in the road.

After taking the right turn off the main road, follow this road a short distance to the end and take a left. After making the left turn, you will pass the entrance to the power plant on your right, and then the road to De Palm Island on your right. You will travel over a small concrete bridge over some water, and then you will travel a short distance and take your first right. After making the right turn, follow the road a short distance until it ends. The dirt parking lot will be on your left. Park your car, and walk through the entrance, down the stairs, and into the restaurant.

Another, pleasant surprise for us was Caffé Baci at the Westin . The Italian food here is not as fancy or glitzy as that of Tuscany at the Marriott, but it is also a cheaper meal, with nice “Italian” atmosphere with all of the Italian staples, you would expect from any Italian restaurant back home. Trying to stay within a short distance of my father-in-law, we ended up eating here twice. Both visits were great. One night I had Fettuccine Alfredo like I have never tasted before. It was almost as if they had mixed some Béarnaise Sauce into the Alfredo Sauce!

Jerry and I also returned to another old favorite. Formerly 3 little birds, “La Cage Folie” [no longer open for business] is still the secret little gem that it has always been. Being as small as it is, it cannot help but be intimate and cozy. Add some candlelight, rooftop breezes and Chef Marc’s excellent cuisine and voila, the makings of another perfect meal.

Departure from Aruba- Normally we just use taxis while on the island since we only need transportation to get us to dinner. Father-in-law insisted he needed “wheels” so they left for the states and we had the car. First job at the airport was turning in the rental car. We then went to the US departure terminal and the Delta counter.

Hello? We would like to check-in, but there is no one here? We waited a minute or so and still, no one and Jerry went to inquire from the employee of another airline. Well of course, the next thing you know, out comes a woman who must have been sitting in the back. Unfortunately, this was pretty much how our whole airport experience went. My husband and I have different last names so, depending on what type of mood people are in when it comes to filling in forms, is how many forms we need to fill out. One form was all that was required for customs, but we needed to fill out two separate forms for our “special- post 9-11”? Carry-on items. Think of all of the junk you carry with you: the cell phone, the laptop, the Palm Pilot and the digital camera. The woman would no way accept one blank form from me with the list of items on Jerry’s. So then, it was a game of “Well which are you going to put down and which do you want me to put down?” All of this with a line of people behind us… I know life will never be the same since 9-11, and I try not to be bitter about the new hassles of travel, but there has to be a better way. Moreover, just think, all we used to worry about was whether the airline was going to lose our luggage?

Then we are off to pick up our one piece of luggage in order to go through US Immigration and Customs. We wait, we wait and then we wait some more. Ask one of the airport employees and in typical island fashion, “it will get here eventually”. Well about fifteen minutes later, the bag finally makes it arrival. Next line to stand in is US Immigrations.

US Air has a flight departing, Delta has a flight departing and American Airlines has a flight departing. In true US government fashion, with all of these flights departing, there is one line open. The folks on the American flight to Miami were starting to get a little nervous. Sure enough, there are not enough US officials to check passports, but there is enough staffing for someone to monitor the line. A passenger inquires about those on the Miami flight, which is due to depart in twenty minutes, and is told that they will be “pulled out of the line shortly”. Well, don’t you know, a second line forms with one additional Immigrations official handling all of the folks trying to catch the flight to Miami. Some would perhaps blame it on lunchtime, but it was just about 3:00 pm. By the time, we passed through all of the lines and waiting and got up to the departure gate, our flight was already boarding. Fine by us, if we have to go home, may as well just get it over with.

The flight home was very unremarkable. Overall, we cannot complain about Delta. We received the same great service going home as we had had on the flight, which carried us to the paradise of Aruba.


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