Thursday, May 8, 2014

Aruba - One Happy (Windy) Island

When we started researching Aruba we had a hard time deciding where to stay. We love all-inclusive resorts but everyone on Trip Advisor said not to go AI. They said that Aruba has so many good restaurants to choose from and the AIs in Aruba aren’t like the mega-resorts in Mexico and Jamaica. But I didn’t want to have to worry about where we were going to eat breakfast or whether or not I should order that dessert. At an AI, it’s all covered. So we chose the Occidental Grand on Palm Beach.

We knew the Occidental wouldn’t be Sandals and it wasn’t. But it turned out to be very nice, if a little dated. The hotel was U-shaped with a tower of rooms on each side and the lobby and restaurants in between. In the middle of the U was the pool with rock formations, waterfalls and a swim-up pool bar. I liked the rock formations a lot and so did a family of iguanas that came out every morning to sun themselves.

Our room was on the third floor facing the pool. It had a comfortable king-sized bed and a small balcony where we could see a little bit of the ocean over the waving palm trees. My only complaint was that the balcony door was impossible to close from the outside so if we went out on the balcony, we had to leave it open.

Occidental Grand Aruba

Ron on balcony

Occidental Grand Aruba pool

pool waterfall

How many iguanas do you see?


Our plan for our first full day was to relax, which was just what we needed after the emotional rollercoaster of Mama and Daddy’s move and the long flight the day before. We slept late and then headed down to the beach, where we found an empty palapa. Fortunately, I had bought a couple of towel clips to hold our towels in place. Have I mentioned that Aruba is windy? No, it’s not breezy. It’s “hold onto your hat and forget about having a good hair day” windy. :-)  But the good thing about the wind was that we never felt too hot. Under the shade of our palapa, I could feel myself getting into vacation mode.

Palm Beach palapa


towel clips
Good thing we had these!

Aloe Man
the Aloe Man

Palm Beach is a 2-mile stretch of white sand on Aruba’s north-west coast. The water was blue and calm, but the beach itself was bustling with watersports vendors, tour operators and piers with bars, restaurants and shops. We walked the entire beach, first heading south to the Divi Phoenix where the beach was quieter. It was also windier with fewer hotels to block the trade winds that blow constantly from the east. We got pelted with sand a few times when there was a strong gust. I joked that I didn’t need to get a scrub at the spa this year since I was getting exfoliated on the beach. Walking north, we went all the way to Fisherman’s Pier. I loved all the colorful, wooden fishing boats, especially the one named “Susan”. :-)  From the pier we could see the kite surfers on Hadicurari Beach, zipping back and forth across the water.

  Aruban hammock

beach chairs

fishing boat

Fisherman's Pier

We hung out on the beach until it was time to get ready for our dinner at L’Olio, the Italian restaurant. The food was fabulous! We started at the antipasto bar, then had the smoked cheese soup (which came in a cappuccino glass and looked like a dessert). I ordered the grouper filet with risotto and Ron had the rack of lamb. Yum! Even better was the million dollar view of the sunset over the pool and palm trees.

Occidental Grand Aruba lobby

L'Olio, Italian Restaurant

at dinner

Palm Beach sunset

sunset sailboats

After dinner, we wandered next door to the Hyatt to check out their casino. (Almost all the hotels in Palm Beach have their own casinos so I brought home several new $1 chips for my collection.) I have to admit that we had a little hotel envy. The Hyatt was gorgeous, with an elegant lobby and lush grounds. Next to one of the outdoor restaurants was a pond with a pair of black swans. The swans swam up to us expectantly. I guess they were hungry because one of them tried to take a bite out of my toes! We said goodnight to the swans and went back to our hotel for bed.

continued on Part 2

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