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Our Phoenix & Playa Linda August 1998 Trip Report

This is not your run of the mill trip report, our third trip, we don't do much while on vacation. We are both 37 years old, work many more than 40 hours a week and go on vacation to do nothing but enjoy each other, good food, scuba diving, relaxing and life in general. In other words, sleep, eat and beach. We arrived Saturday afternoon via American Airlines. The flight left JFK 40 minutes late, but we have always enjoyed the service on American in comparison to other airlines we fly. Delays seem to be one of the joys of flying out of the New York Metro area these days, so at least we had the service to make up for it.

A kind person from the Aruba Bulletin Board gave us the name of a great taxi driver who could meet us at the airport. Jerry called Franke's home two days before we left and made the arrangements. For the same $16 government regulated fare from the airport to the high rise hotels we had personalized service. The airport was jammed, as there were 170 Aruban students off to Holland to continue their education. Even walking off the plane there were news reporters and cameramen. It is unbearably hot at times waiting to go through Immigration and then Customs, but please believe me it is worth it in the long run. The new airport is under construction and should be open the end of 1999. After exiting customs, there was Franke waiting for us with a sign "Mr. Jerry". Franke fast became our friend and was an invaluable source of information, news, culture and even gossip of the island. More about that later. Franke took our bags and whisked us out to his car, which was waiting right outside the door. Off to the Aruba Phoenix Beach Resort.

Stepping off the plane I was disappointed in that the weather, although hot as always, the skies were overcast. Believe me when I tell you it was a small price to pay for the weather the duration of our trip.

Our room at the Phoenix was interesting. The living room/kitchen was about 13" x 17', and the bedroom was a huge 21' x 11'. Our room was in the tower. Brand new resort and our tub was pitted and rusted. A basic kitchen here, there was no oven, just a microwave. Bring your own dish soap. We never used our living area/kitchen for anything but food preparation. The view here over looked the island. The view from the balcony off the bedroom was a full ocean view. Where would you spend your time?

After we unpacked it was time for a snack. We had asked Franke to pick us up at 8:00 pm to take us to dinner. In the mean time our stomachs were grumbling. So we headed down to the deli and split a wonderful corned beef sandwich. Attached to the deli was a mini-market, prices to us New Jerseyians seemed reasonable. Now it was time to walk and check out the beach. Down to the Hotel Riu Palace Aruba (former Aruba Grand) and back past the Radisson and Westin . When the Radisson is finished the walkway along the beach will finally be connected from the Holiday Inn all the way down to the Phoenix. Now is that a wonderful walk anytime of the day or night or what? Time for a nap.

Franke was waiting for us at 8:00 pm Jerry had called and made our reservation for Gasparito Restaurant and Art Gallery. Remember now, we like to eat and do eat very well while on vacation. The rest of the year we are terminal dieters. Most people can eat much cheaper than we do, but we see Aruba as a bargain compared to $200 dinners on Paradise Island, Bahamas, for the type of meals that we eat. This restaurant is the first restaurant we had tried on our first visit in 1995. I will never forget it since Jerry ate Goat Stew. Appetizers: Mussel Soup, Conch & Squid Ragout; Entrée: Keshi Yena, Filet Mignon with Mushroom sauce; Dessert: Pineapple and Pear Strudel, Chocolate Cake. The strudel was beautiful with ice cream, whip cream and fresh fruit slices, coffee, tea and 1 soda- total $80 (all prices here after will include the service charge or gratuity). We love this restaurant, beyond a doubt, it is one of our favorite spots on the entire island. Elvina, George and Henry have worked there since before we made our first visit to the island in 1995. Their service is second to none. This restaurant is so special to us that when we got a kitten in January we named him Gasper.

Sunday- I was very excited about being back in Aruba. We slept with the curtains open so I could see in the morning whether or not to sleep in or get out of bed and enjoy. About 8:15 am I opened my eyes. The balcony was very wet; there were some clouds and lots of blue sky. But the rainbow was what took my breath away. The lesson to be learned here, if you are high enough as we were, 7th floor, and reasonably sure that no one would be able to steal your belongings, keep your cameras and video equipment outside on the balcony. It took over 5 minutes for the fog to lift from the lens. You know how finicky those rainbows are. After breakfast we went down to the beach. The beach at the Phoenix was very disappointing. Sand was dredged to create the beach; thus it is loaded with shells. They are very painful on the feet. The water itself was very shallow, from knee high to waist deep. All of this combined with a rocky bottom and tons of seaweed drove us from the beach to the pool or the public beach between the police station and the Westin to cool off. We had a mix of sun and clouds, a few sprinkles and a short downpour. By 3:00 pm there was beautiful clear blue skies. Our entire trip it seemed the same: sun and clouds in the morning, clear blue skies for the rest of the day. For dinner, off to L'Escale [no longer in business] in the Aruba Sonesta Beach Resort [now the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino] in downtown Oranjestad. With a romantic atmosphere overlooking the harbor and a strolling Hungarian trio you can't go wrong. Appetizers: 1 Onion Soup and 2 Caesar Salads; Entrée: Chef's Pasta, that evening- Cheese Tortellini with Lobster, Conch Stew; Dessert: 1 Chocolate cake, 1 coffee- total $88

Monday- Windier than usual, ha, ha! Franke was there to pick us up at 10:00 am Off to the harbor to buy "shrimps" for dinner. He's driving around, kind of like he was looking for a parking spot, and I am thinking isn't he just going to drop us off? He WAS looking for a parking spot, it was right outside of the gate. He gets out of his car and says he was going to the boats with us, "you need to speak Spanish". Franke is truly our friend, the spirit of every Aruban. There were 7 boats, only 2 had fish, others had fruits and vegetables. Only 1 had shrimp and they told us a price of $75 for 5 pounds. Franke told him to keep them. Second trip by the boat the price had come down to $52, so we went shopping instead. Big shoppers we are not, just needed to make my annual trek to Zapp Music to pick up a couple of CD's. I can get loads of Soca and Calypso at Virgin Records, but harder to come by is Carnival music. I landed 2 CD's and it was off to see Bob the Fish. Bob the Fish is a fish with an attitude that is trying to fight for awareness of the marine environment. Bought 2 T-shirts, now Jerry, the guy who couldn't wait to get out of the store, wished we had bought more. Grabbed a taxi, we needed the beach. Jerry made Tuna sandwiches and went to the deli and bought potato chips, soda and potato salad. We ate on the beach; it was a tough way to spend the day. That night when Franke came to pick us up for dinner, he said his wife knew where to get the shrimp. He would pick it up in the morning and drop it off at the Phoenix. What a guy! Jerry had wanted to go to Houlihan's for dinner. Franke informed him the owners had skipped town and the place was closed. Think quick, Tony Roma's was the place that came to mind and it was only around the corner. Also the only place we had to wait for a table. Appetizer: 1/2 Bloomin' Onion; BBQ Baby Back Ribs and Chicken and a Rib Sampler with cole slaw and 3 sodas- total $40 We made our contribution to the Aruba Animal Shelter through the container on the counter on the way out.

Tuesday- Once again woke up to clear blue skies, hardly a cloud most of the day. We walked to the Marriott and back. Clearest water was in front of the Hotel Riu Palace Aruba (former Aruba Grand) and the fullest beach was at the Westin . Signed up for unlimited dive package with Pelican Watersports. Lunch on the beach at the Phoenix. All the food and beverage service was excellent at the Phoenix. We each had what became our favorite: Corned Beef & Pastrami, Swiss Cheese, Cole Slaw and Russian Dressing on a Hoagie Roll (instead of the usual Rye bread) with salad of the day. My parent's owned a deli for 10 years and we made all of our own salads. The Phoenix's salads were fresh everyday and each was better than the next. We did chuckle when one-day salad of the day was Tuna Salad. Corned Beef and Potato Salad okay, with Tuna, I don’t know. Spent the rest of the day on the beach. That night was the Aruba BB get-together at the Hyatt Pier Bar. The only people who showed up besides us were ArubaRick and his wife Nancy. We had a great time. We even closed two bars and then they threw us out at 1:00 am Dinner was Cheeseburgers at the Palm's at the Hyatt with a couple of ice teas, at $28 a couple, too expensive and not that good. They used to be wonderful, but things do change.

Wednesday- Woke up late, ate breakfast and headed down to the beach until it was time to leave for our dive. First dive, WWII Tanker Pedernales and second dive the WWII freighter Antilla. In-between dives I ran over to the Subway in front of the Playa Linda for a sandwich. What a bargain, Turkey, lettuce and tomato on a hard roll with a can of Arizona Ice Tea for $2.60. Who says Aruba is expensive? Dinner was the one I had looked forward to...Le Dôme [now closed]. Appetizer: Salmon Plate, Crabmeat Cocktail served in a beautiful glass swan; Salad: 2 Caesar; Filet Mignon Béarnaise and Sole Normandy both served with Le Dôme [now closed] croquettes, yummy; Dessert: Javanaise and Belgian Cake, 1 Belgian coffee served with Belgian chocolate- total $125

Thursday- Beach day so we walked down towards the Westin two times to take a dip. We had given up on our beach. The small pool was okay, but very shallow and loaded with people. After 6 o'clock when we had left the beach and gone to our room for showers we found there was no hot water. We also needed a light bulb, so Jerry called the front desk. The person there told him that there is hot water, but the hotels do not have boilers since the pipes run above ground. When Maintenance came up to the room with the light bulb, Jerry told him the story and he had a good belly laugh over that reply. Dinner at Tango: Salad Bar; Entrée: 2 NY Sirloins; included dessert, but we were too full. During the evening a couple along with 3 musicians put on a show for the patrons, about 20 minutes or so, with four costume changes. They also choose some folks from the crowd to dance with, so watch out! total- $51

Friday- Woke at 6:45 am to go diving. Cereal and a muffin and off to Pelican's Pier. One tough dive on the wreck Jane Sea and one easy dive on Barcadera Reef. We came back and had lunch at the Palm Bistro. A burger and a Corned Beef & Pastrami favorite. Bummer, didn't get to the beach until 2:30 pm Dinner at Papiamento was romantic poolside. Appetizer: Crudités and Onion Soup; Entrée: Diablo Shrimp with Chicken Kabobs on a stone and Chicken Parmagiana; Dessert: Dutch Chocolate Cake and Pear and Ice Cream with Vanilla Sauce- total $110

Saturday- 8:30 am and Franke was there to pick us up for moving day. Off to the Playa Linda. Our third stay here, it was like going home. We had a studio, nothing too large or fancy, but clean and well kept. Stayed on the beach all day, so we ended our perfect day with dinner at Gasparito. It was this night that they would find out that WE were those people who had named their cat Gasper. A fellow from the Aruba Bulletin Board had given a post I had made to a woman on the BB recommending the restaurant and the story of our cat to the people at Gasparito. No one there could believe we were actually those people. It just made it more enjoyable to get to know one another even better. Appetizer: Vegetable Crudités and Pasta with Fresh Mushrooms; Entrée: Filet Mignon with Mushroom Sauce and Aruba Sampler; Dessert: Coconut Flan and Bananas al Forno, 1 glass of Champagne, 1 soda- total $98

Sunday- Heavy duty dive week, so made sure we got to the beach by 9:15 am so I could get my daily fix. Lunched at the Hyatt Palms Restaurant- Nachos, Caesar Salad and Vegetable Rollup, 2 sodas- Total $40. Another get together with folks from the Aruba Bulletin Board, met: Paula, Melita, Steve and their spouses. Dinner atRoma di Notte was not good, would not return. Appetizer: Mozzarella and Tomato; Entrée: Linguine Mafioso and Lasagna; 1 soda- total $43

Monday- Beach in the morning with another of those affordable lunches at Subway: 2 Chicken Subs, 1 coke, 1 ice tea for $9. Pedernales was the first afternoon dive. Our second dive was the Antilla. Dinner was at one of my favorites, Chalet Suisse. Last year Jerry was not too impressed, but I think now because we were one of only a few tables there. This third visit, the joint was jumping and we were glad we had made a reservation. Appetizer: Vol au Vent ala Reine, Escargot; Entrée: Beef Stroganoff and Chalet Chicken; Dessert: Apple Strudel and Chocolate cake, coffee, cappuccino and an ice tea-total $80

Tuesday- Another early morning dive, do we really have to get up at 7 am on vacation?  DePalm Reef and then Kai Reef. Here is where we saw our only Barracuda of the trip. Beach in the afternoon. Dinner at Tango again, I couldn't finish the beef, it was too much, the menu says 16 oz.+ Churascos, Salad Bar, with dessert included- total $52

Wednesday- Beach, beach, glorious beach and then a late afternoon dive on the Antilla. This dinner was one of the night time highlights of the trip for me, must be a female thing. Hearing good things about the Flying Fishbone, Jerry knew I wanted to go there, so he swallowed hard and asked Franke to take us down to Savaneta, I will add the taxi fare to the dinner total at the end. This is romance at it's finest. Picture palm trees, breezes, soft music, stars overhead, candlelight, all on the water and the beach. Appetizer: Smoked Duck with Cantaloupe and Strudel with Mushrooms; Entrée: Fish Stew and Veal Medallions with Bell Pepper Sauce; Dessert: Apple Torte with Vanilla Sauce and Ice Cream and Pineapple Coconut Pie, This is not home cooking, portions are not huge. We did feel that we got good value for our meal. As you can tell from the other dinners, we are not big drinkers; however, we did splurge on this evening so without liquor and the $36 cab ride, it would have been a reasonable meal in an intimate atmosphere. With a Gin and Tonic, soda, bottle of Woodbridge Cabernet Blanc, Frangelico, Cappuccino and Coffee- total $169 ($36 was for the taxi ride) Without the drinks it would have ran around $90.

Thursday- Even though this was our third visit, there were some sights that we could never find, read lost. When Franke offered an island tour we had thought it a good idea. Today was the day with a 9 am pickup. We began at the North end of the island, Malmok, California Lighthouse, and Alto Vista Chapel. From there we worked our way around towards the Natural Bridge. Would you believe it rained while we were driving over there? Of course it lasted about 2 minutes and then the sun came out and it was beautiful the rest of the day. Onto Bushiribana, Natural Bridge, and Casibari Rock Formations. So now we know how Franke stays so trim…all that climbing. Off to the Gold Mine, Frenchman's Pass and what I had most waited for, Baby Beach and the much-underplayed Rogers Beach. The waters here are shallow so the colors will be different than on most other parts of the island. Then we drove past Spanish Lagoon and on back towards the airport and then town. Dinner that night was our second trip to L'Escale [no longer in business]. Appetizer: Onion Soup, Chef's Pasta Appetizer- Fettuccine with Smoked Salmon and a Caesar Salad; Entrée: Surf and Turf and Snapper- total $102

Friday- Vacation is winding down, so I needed to get in some more beach time. After a relaxing morning we wandered over to the Pelican's Nest at the end of their pier and had some lunch. Service was really lousy, but food very good. Conch Fritters, the best that we have had in a long, long time on any island. Jerry has since become brave enough to begin making them at home. Yum, with honey mustard sauce. 2 Cheeseburgers with 2 ice teas- total $21. Dinner was at Mama & Papa's [no longer in business], Jerry had been wanting to try this restaurant all week. Like Gasparito, they have Aruban Cuisine. That was where the comparisons stop. Food and service were awful; it was obvious that they did not have enough help. Having been in the food service business for over 10 years I can empathize with that. However, when was the last time you had a Sirloin Steak pan-fried in butter? Appetizer: Conch Chowder and Fried Squid; Entrée: the Sirloin and Goat Stew. Dinner included a salad. We were never offered a drink, so finally just asked for water. When the check finally did come, there was a handwritten note on the check that the service charge did not include the gratuity. Well, if so, then, why the service charge? Dinner total was $58, we will not return.

Saturday- Our last full day in paradise. Jerry was itching to do one last dive but was hesitant to go without me. "Go", I said, so finally he did, and enjoyed it. My book and I had a very quiet day. Lunch this day was at Linda Vista Restaurant at the Playa Linda which has a decent Caesar Salad, with an ice tea- $5 and change. By now you could probably guess where we would eat dinner on our last evening. Tonight was also the night to buy a piece of artwork off of one of their walls. We had looked on our previous visits, but couldn't come up with the right thing. The third visit was the charm, we finally agreed upon a landscape with Haystack, a Divi Divi tree and a Cunucu House that now hangs over our bed. Jerry also surprised me with a, "We have to go home now and I am sorry about that" present. A smaller painted beach scene, complete with palapa! That picture now hangs on the wall next to the painting we bought there last year. We chose all of our favorites, last licks, so to speak. Appetizer: Pasta with Mushroom Sauce and Mussel Soup; Entree: Filet Mignon with Peppercorn Sauce and a platter of Pasta with Mushroom Sauce which I had asked them to make for an entrée; Dessert: Chocolate Cake and Pineapple and Pear Strudel- total $73

Sunday- Our flight was not until 4:20 pm flight so we had plenty of time to kill. Woke up early to get out onto the beach. Ran back to the room at 11:15 am, took our showers and checked out. We left our luggage with the Bell Captain and headed over to the Hyatt for our 12:30 pm Brunch reservation. This was a total joke beyond belief. You pay upon arrival and then give your check to the host who adds you to the "pile" of people who are also waiting. As tables inside open up, people are then seated. We waited about 25 minutes. Food wasn't too bad; highlights were peel and eat shrimp, oysters, and salad bar and dessert table. Again service also left a lot to be desired. If you were not drinking orange juice or Mimosas, it was next to impossible to obtain anything else to drink. This was a very disappointing experience. We stayed at the Hyatt last year for our honeymoon and absolutely loved it, including the food that we thought was a good value. This brunch for $66 a couple was not a good value. Back to our luggage at the Playa Linda and the sad ride to the airport. Franke came from a family party to take us to the airport. Check in at American Airlines was very quick, hardly a line at all. Now is the unbearable hot routine in reverse- through Customs, the waiting room, US Immigration and the final waiting room. There were 4 flights departing at the roughly the same time, so needless to say we did not depart on time. We were about 45 minutes late leaving the ground and spent a very uneventful flight home.

All in all we had a wonderful vacation, returning with recharged batteries, ready to face another year. One cold winter night we will be able to recall our after dinner walks down the beach with the stars overhead. So until 1999...


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