Traveling is the key to learning about yourself and the world.  This is one of my “mother mantras” – telling my children, their friends and anyone that will listen that visiting places you have never been is one of the best ways to touch history, expand learning and find your path.  I have experienced many places in the world, I have  happy places and significant landmarks where I felt overwhelmed with a range of emotion.  I want that for my family – that feeling of being very, very small and taking in all of the wonders around them on a trip of a lifetime.

I am about to get that wish………….

My sweet girl is headed out on her very first trip without anyone by her side.  While it terrifies my mother heart – it also brings me a tremendous wave of excitement and anticipation.  I want to hear about all the things she sees, learns and experiences on her 33 day adventure.

She is headed to Florence Italy via a summer abroad program with her university.  She will have 4 room-mates in a small apartment, but she knows no one.  She is worried about money – It was her dream to travel abroad and her Dad and I are letting her own that.  We paid tuition – but she is responsible for feeding and keeping herself.  Her savings has been draining and it is stressful.  She realized that she was not sure how to get a taxi from her apartment to the airport on her last day there……You get the picture.  She is processing all of this.  She is tremendously excited, but learning at every moment – this is teaching her.  We are her safety net – but not rescuers.  She will change on this trip – but she will have the time of her life.

My blog will track my experience watching her from a distance over the next 35 days.  Oh boy…….this is going to be interesting.

Featured post

Tranquilo Snorkel and Sail

As we planned and researched our trip to Aruba I actively looked for a sail that would get us out of the hotel and resort area. We love to Snorkel and have taken trips in St Thomas with Pat on the Independence Independence Day Sail and on St John with Busy Bee Busy Bee – Lap of St. John These excursions allow us to gain perspective on the island, learn from people that sail and know the best spots to snorkel. We like a small group versus the large catamaran “party” boats. We are there to learn about the island, enjoy the reef and we like to get to know the people on board and hear about their lives and vacation.

We found out about Tranquilo on Trip Advisor, visited their website and reached out via the on-line inquiry form about the “Famous South Side Lunch Cruise” – Tranquilo web site The response was quick and friendly from Captain Anthony. The price was very reasonable and included food (lunch) and drinks, the sail out to (insert name of reef) and two opportunities to snorkel. A close in snorkel and a drift snorkel. He did not require payment up front, held our spot and gave us great information on where to find the crew and boat on the day of the sail. As the vacation grew closer I needed to change our original sailing date. I emailed Captain Anthony and he responded quickly and offered the sail on Tuesday versus our original selected date of Thursday. We were so glad that there was availability! We got up early as we planned to take the bus in to Oranjestad and needed to be on the dock by 9:30am. We had noticed where the Tranquilo was docked earlier that week when we stayed at the Renaissance Marina. Guests at this hotel would just need to walk across the street to board and enjoy sailing and exploring areas of Aruba with this great crew.

We walked to the bus stop to try to catch the 7:40am bus, thinking that it would take about 40 minutes to reach the downtown area where we would grab a small breakfast and head over to the boat. About 10 minutes before the public bus was scheduled to arrive a small well used white van with windows wide open pulled up. A local woman walked toward the van – and we stood back waiting to see if this was a “private” ride – the driver asked us where we were headed and we told him downtown Oranjestad and asked how much. He told us $2.00 and we hopped in the back. He picked up 2 or 3 other couples along the way, dropping one person at the low rise area and another at Super Foods. The local music playing, wind blowing through the van and feeling the warm Aruban weather was a great way to start this day. We traveled on to the downtown bus drop off zone and departed the bus. The trip had taken a little more time due to the stops for the other passengers and we arrived about 8:40. The streets were just waking up with the stalls selling merchandise to the cruise ship passengers in town that day. There were 3 ships docked and because it was early the streets were not over-crowded yet.

We needed to eat a little breakfast and had planned to go to the Dutch Pancake House but due to being a bit short on time we decided to go to the restaurant in the Renaissance Marina hotel as we knew they had a buffet breakfast that would be quick. We paid a bit more for breakfast ($19per person) but it was quick and easy and gave us plenty of time to enjoy our coffee and walk across the street to the dock about 9:25. We were the first passengers to arrive and Captain Anthony and his 2 person crew were prepping for the day. The young lady that was sailing with us that day looked familiar and we finally asked where we may have seen her before – her ship-mate told us she worked at Moombas Beach Bar as a hostess and it finally clicked for us. As the trip went on we were able to spend some time talking with Rose and found her to be a delightful, interesting and focused young woman.

We waited on the dock and 3 other couples arrived, a young couple from Chicago, a middle aged couple from Boston that had sailed on Tranquilo before, and a couple in their 30’s from San Francisco. After greeting one another the crew invited us to get settled on Tranquilo. We stored our towels and bag – found a seat up front and were offered something to drink as the boat was pulling away from the dock.

As we pulled out a cute little four legged friend came up from below. He was friendly to all of us but he was fierce as he barked at the passing boats and gave us several giggles with his spirited personality. It was clear that Tranquilo was his boat and he would protect at any cost! We asked if he had ever gone in the water, and the crew said that is why he wears a doggie life jacket – he never missed a beat the day we were sailing though – he scampered from one side to the next barking at fish, boats and keeping watch.

The journey out to the the channel between the airport and Renaissance Island on owe noticed some huts that looked like they had been pieced together from spare lumber and tin for the roof. We asked Rose about these and she told us that these were spots that locals used for “camping”. No one owns the land or the hut – but the locals share these and use it as a getaway spot to disconnect and vacation on their own island. The ones who built them just ask that whomever uses it leaves it the way that they found it.

It took about an hour for us to reach what looked like the end of the channel and open water ahead. The crew told us that the big mountain up ahead was Venezuela, but we were stopping at the dock up ahead. Attached to the dock was a covered wood “patio” structure with benches built in around the covered interior perimeter. There was a ladder off the far side of the patio where we could enter the waist deep sandy area that was encircled by rocks and reef. It was peaceful, quiet and we could not wait to get in the water and see what wonders were below. We climbed down the ladder and into the water it was warm, calm and wonderful. We were told that we could snorkel this reef for about an hour and then if anyone was interested the crew would take people out to do a drift snorkel a bit further down.

We saw some beautiful coral reef and many fish in the water just off of the dock. There was a bit of a current, but it did not carry us away and it made the swim feel like a light workout which was good considering the rum punch calories we drank later. We swam back to Tranquilo and were the last 2 to climb aboard. No one else wanted to do the drift snorkel but after a brief conversation with Rose about her willingness to go my hubby said he would like to try it. A drift snorkel involves climbing in the small motorized dinghy that we pulled behind the boat on the way out and heading further out to a reef that is a bit deeper (30-40 feet) versus the 10-12 foot deep reef we had just swam through. The swimmers needed to climb back in the dinghy after the snorkel and to save myself the embarrassment of my butt in the air and my arms and legs flailing around I told hubby to go ahead – and have fun!

He said that the drift snorkel was really great, and watching Rose as she dove down really deep was interesting. She has a great love of the water, diving and hubby thought she must be part mermaid. Captain Anthony waited for them and they returned to the Tranquilo about 60 minutes later. The rest of us were enjoying rum punch and once Rose and hubby were back on the boat the crew started to pass the delicious Pea soup, sandwiches and goodies. We all were having great conversation with one another, enjoying stories about each other’s travels and homes. The couple from San Francisco mentioned that they had been on an excursion earlier in the week with a larger group. They said that they enjoyed this day so much more for a couple of reasons. The group was friendly and welcoming – and we all knew that this was a boat of “couples” and no one on Tranquilo treated them any different even though they were both females. It was a very nice compliment for the all on this excursion. It was a diverse group of adults. Older/Younger – Outgoing/Quiet – Gay/Straight- is did not matter we were all out to enjoy the day and our time together.

As we headed back the sails were raised and Captain Anthony was able to showcase his sailing skills. It was a smooth ride with cocktails flowing, great conversation and friendships being made. I have a standard question I usually ask a local – so I asked Rose – If someone asked you to do to dinner tonight – and you could pick ANYWHERE on the island – Where would you choose? She gave me the name of a restaurant that is considered to be very local, and told me the reasons why. After she described it to me I told hubby – Tomorrow is our exploration day – and we are going to this restaurant! (Read about it in my next post)

We arrived back at the dock about 3pm, said our goodbyes and thank you to the crew in the form of some good tips from all of the guest. We walked across to the Renaissance and hailed a cab from the bell stand. We rode back to the Ritz a bit tired but looking brown and toasty from our day in the sun and feeling like we had experienced the real Aruba.

Taking the ARUBUS – Visiting Super Foods – Breakfast Bargains – Boca Catalina

We are adventurous, and a little bit cheap. Our Monday started with a walk over to the Beach hut where Ritz guests can get snorkel masks and fins for no charge. We wanted to explore Boca Catalina today so getting our gear was a priority. Next we decided to walk and take the bus as we enjoy experiencing local culture and areas that can’t be explored through a taxi or tour bus window. Our next destination after picking up our snorkel equipment was the bus stop out in front of the Marriott – just beyond the round a bout off to the right of the hotel entrance. We had looked up the bus schedule and knew that the public bus would be arriving about 8:40am. A modern bus pulled up right on time and we boarded. The fare was $2.60 per person – and the driver was able to give us change.

The driver followed the frontage road through the high rise and in to the low rise area. When we came to the stop for SuperFoods he told us and we departed the bus. He told us to walk up the adjoining street past some condos and as we walked we noticed a sign with an arrow for SuperFoods that that pointed down a stone path. We looked around a bit and we could see that there was a fence ahead and no where to cross the four lane road that runs next to the grocery store. We took the path around and ended up at the stop light with a crossing lane for pedestrians.

The store was open (they open at 8am) and we had not had breakfast yet – thinking we would buy something to have there. When we walked in we noticed that there was a small cafeteria type restaurant called Jack’s Café (It resembled and IKEA type restaurant if you have ever been there). We were ready for some coffee and saw that there were omelets on the menu so we got in line and ordered. The veggie omelets were delicious, the side of bacon for each of us was huge (we could have gotten by with sharing) and the coffee was perfect. Our total for this meal was $16! We came back later in the week and shared one breakfast ($8) as it was plenty for both of us.

My heritage is Dutch – but have only experienced the culture through Grandparents and parents. I had asked our bartender at Que Pasa earlier in the week about Dutch bakeries on island. I wanted to try some of the goodies I had tasted growing up. He said Super Foods was a great place to see all the traditional Dutch foods and they had the best bakery on island.Banket!!

We shopped around Superfoods buying some traditional Dutch pastry called Banket, some packages of Ollie Bollen (another Dutch treat) and boxes of Kinder Eggs which were a big hit with the kiddos when we got home – evidently these are hard to find in the US. The meat and cheese counter is absolutely amazing offering a wonderful variety. We bought the most expensive bottle of Tito’s Vodka we have ever bought ($34) in an earlier post I had mentioned it but I’ll say it again, buy it at the duty free when you arrive where it is just $22. Some people have posted that wine is a good deal and it seemed to be well priced. We did not go upstairs but it looked like there was furniture and other “department” store items up there. There is also a separate section near the front that has Sunscreen, make-up and vitamins. I inquired about the availability of Retin A at this shop – but the salesperson directed me outside and to the right for a visit to the pharmacy. We stopped at the pharmacy and were able to buy prescription strength Retin A for $15 a tube. Since we had a couple heavy bags we grabbed a waiting cab from the stand outside of SuperFoods and headed back to our hotel. That ride cost us $8.

We put our goodies in our room, changed in to our swimsuits and shorts, grabbed our snorkel gear and headed out to grab a cab for the short ride to Boca Catalina. It was a short 15 minute ride north of our hotel, passing wind surfers and deserted beaches on the way. The driver stopped near a sandy spot between some rocky areas where it was easy to drop our bag and towels and head in to the water. Boca Catalina was not too crowdedBoca Catalina landscape next to the beachBoca Catalina Snorkel

Boca Catalina SnorkelBoca Catalina SnorkelA bit cloudy at the start - Boca Catalina Snorkel

We noticed 6 boats with snorkelers and swam in the direction of the bobbing heads. The first thing we noticed was lots of fish, and the water was a bit murky but the reef was mainly white. We are used to seeing vibrant colors and fan coral and that made this reef very different from our St. John snorkels. It made us a little sad to see some of the huge brain corals cracked off a their base or other coral cracked in half. It may be boats or people causing the damage, but seeing it and realizing it is not something that will repair itself is sad. We snorkeled along the entire beach and then floated back to where our things were on the beach – taking about 90 minutes in the water to just enjoy the variety of fish and the layout of the reef. As we got out of the water we could see that there was a storm approaching – so we started to look for where there might be some cover. There are palapa on the beach – but no restaurants or bars – so we walked up to the parking area near the road. The rain started and grew stronger. We noticed that there was a bus stop sign and saw another family headed that way so we walked over and found a bit of cover under a tree. About 5 minutes later the bus stopped. Our little group had grown to about 10 people so we all boarded and paid and were on our way. The bus filled up in 2 more stops and ours was the 3rd stop. We jumped off, made our way to the hotel and since it had stopped raining our walk back allowed us to dry off a bit.

By the time we got back to our room the sun had come back out so we did a quick rinse, changed clothes and headed to the pool for another hour. We ended the night by taking a short walk through the Marriott properties and over to Moomba Beach Bar where we enjoyed dinner, drinks and some live music. Little did we know that the hostess who sat us would be part of our crew the next day we head back to Oranjestad for our sailing adventure with the crew of Tranquilo – can’t wait!

Dinner on the Town (Oranjestad) – Learning a lesson about reservations

Dinner on the Town – Learning a Lesson about Reservations.

We spent the afternoon at the Renaissance Island and came back to our room for a shower and a rest. We had stopped at the Navigator Desk in the lobby of our hotel (Renaissance Marina) and asked about dinner recommendations. She mentioned the Driftwood Restaurant and then attempted to set up a reservation. The phone just rang and rang and after about 5 minutes we decided to just take the address and walk over once we were ready. A huge rainstorm came through right as we were headed up to our room, clearing the pool and sending people for cover. Once we were showered and dressed about an hour later it was dark and the rain had just stopped. We had a short walk (about 1.5 blocks) to the restaurant. As we approached we were getting hungry and the smell of garlic, butter and other goodies in the air was making us ready to have a great dinner.

Of course you know what’s next! We walked in to Driftwood and there were several empty tables so we thought oh boy – what yummy thing are we going to order. The host approached us and we asked for a table for 2. It was then we got the bad news that Driftwood was totally booked with reservations for the night and would not be able to seat us for dinner. We were BUMMED! We heard later that this family owns the restaurant – but also several fishing boats. They take people out on deep sea fishing tours and then the fish that is caught is prepared for them at the restaurant. It’s a great idea and we heard nothing but good things about Driftwood for the rest of our trip. Next time we visit we will go – but we will make a reservation first!

We continued walking through the downtown area and decided to stop for a cocktail and figure out where we would like to have dinner. We came across a restaurant called Que Pasa. We walked in and found the bar and a very nice bartender named Jerome. He introduced hubby to a special brew by Balashi (the island beer) called Hoppistout – a dark and delicious brew for the winter season. We decided to order an appetizer while we enjoyed our drinks and it tasted so good we ordered dinner as well. We both had fish and it was fresh, prepared perfectly and tasted amazing. We ate at the bar and continued to talk to Jerome about how he came to the island, his Dutch heritage and where I could find some “Banket” a Dutch pastry that my mother has made at Christmas for my whole life. He was very helpful and interesting and we really enjoyed spending the evening at his bar. Once we finished we headed out for a walk and then back to our hotel.

The streets were quiet and peaceful, with an occasional bar where music was loud and lively. But there was no one “hanging around” outside the bars. We walked for about 8 blocks and then turned toward the waterfront and our hotel. We headed to bed ready for the next adventure in the morning.

Renaissance Island – Aruba

I wanted dedicate this post specifically to the Renaissance Island that is a perk of staying at the Marina hotel and/or the Ocean Suites. Both of these are Renaissance Hotels. The Marina Hotel is Adults only and the Ocean hotel is family friendly. We stayed at the Marina Hotel – the room was small – but we really just used it to change – shower and sleep. The two nights we stayed were comfortable and quiet. It was well worth the cost of the room to have access to the the private island. If locals, cruise guests visiting Oranjestad or even locals want to visit the island there is a $100 per person charge for a day pass.

We had heard that the boat picks guests up at the Marina hotel on the lower lobby level, but when we actually saw the boat heading in to the hotel it was quite thrilling to watch. The boat captains are quite skilled in bringing the boat up to the dock that sits just below the Starbucks terrace.

They then start loading the passengers after each person slides their own room key in to the electronic reader and confirm that they are an actual hotel guest. If there are 2 guests in a room than each person must have a key to present to the captain. After all have boarded (usually 4-10 people per pick up) the boat does a 180 degree turn in a very small space and heads back out the channel and into the open harbor. The captain did say that there are times they can not come in to the lobby if low water conditions prevent it. When this happens there is a public dock where guests are picked up just across the street from the hotel. After a stop repeating the check in process at a dock for the Ocean suites guests the boat heads out for the 10 min ride over to the island.

Upon arrival the boat pulls up to a dock at the center of the island. There is usually a greeter that explains the layout of the island, where to rent floats and check out towels, and the logistics around the separate family and adult sides to the island. The adult side is where there are a group of pink flamingos that roam freely. On the family side there are a few varieties of Iguana roaming around. One of them is unique to Aruba and is colored a beautiful Caribbean blue, and beautiful sight.

We decided to go to the adult side on our afternoon visit, and on our trip back the next day we started out on the family side by having breakfast in the restaurant. The breakfast was one of our favorite meals. It is about $20-$25 per person, but includes a full fruit plate, basket of assorted island breads, croissants and pastry and the entrée you chose – Omelet, Eggs, waffles, bacon, sausage etc. And your choice of juice and coffee or tea. It is an unhurried and not crowded setting. We watched the beach wake up a little more at fifteen minute intervals, about the amount of time it took for the boats to ferry the next group of guests.

There are an ample amount of chairs, tables and umbrellas to choose from. In addition there are double lounging beds and other places to relax in the sun or the shade. Both beaches have breakwaters that have been created with boulders and large rocks. This keeps the water calm, but still provides the sound of the waves as they hit the rocks in the distance. These “lagoons” are peaceful places to swim, or rent one of the floats ($6 for the day) and just stay cool while floating along without a care.

Both sides of the island were unique and offered many parts to explore and delightful creatures to photograph. The family side has the restaurant, a larger beach with shade from palms as well as chairs with umbrellas, there is a park for children, a small health club set back beyond the restaurant with 2 -4 pieces of cardio equipment (stationary bikes, elliptical and treadmills) as well as a few weights. There is also 2 sand tennis courts behind the building. If you are an aviation geek, the afternoons get busy with planes landing and taking off. The airport is directly across and behind the island – so it can be a little bit loud once they start taking off. It is not constant but about every 15 minutes or so you will see one land and then one will take off.

The adult side has a smaller beach and lots of shaded lounging areas. There are some women that are comfortable lounging without their tops, but it is done in a discreet way and unless one is looking for it you may not even notice. There is also a nature walk beyond the adult beach. There are many birds, some iguanas and lizards and lots of mosquitos. So if you are planning on walking this than bring some bug spray for added protection.

Both sides had very nice cabana huts that could be rented for the day. We did not rent one this trip, but it could be well worth it. Some had over the water hammocks, or swinging chairs and one even had a slide that went out from the deck and in to the water. There were staff dedicated to the cabanas and all had ample shade and enough lounge chairs and seating areas to get very comfy and relaxed.

One hint to experience it would be – book the hotel for a one night stay (one guest mentioned that they were able to get a last minute rate of $150 per night) – Arrive early on day one and even if your room is not ready you can store your bags with the bellman, change in to your beach wear and hop on the boat that arrives in the lower level of the hotel lobby and out to the island for the afternoon. Returning to your room to clean up – have a wonderful dinner at one of the downtown restaurants and head back out for the day the next morning for a quiet, restful and amazing breakfast.. Even if you need to check out at noon the bell man will hold your bags and there are showers on the island that can be used before departing on the boat back to the hotel to gather your bags

Breakfast and Exploring Oranjestad and the local shops

Day 3 – Breakfast – Exploring Downtown and local shops

We started our day with a walk over to the Dutch Pancake house at around 8:00am local time. We arrived to the open air restaurant and a line of about 6-8 people. All the tables were full, and we had a brief wait of about 15 minutes. Waiting for BreakfastMenu for The Dutch Pancake House We were seated at a table for 2 right by the sidewalk – the breeze was cool and watching as people started their day was interesting and relaxing. We ordered breakfast of Dutch pancake with honey walnuts and a “Seaport Breakfast” which included Scrambled Eggs, bacon, Dutch proffertjes . Hubby thought that the Dutch pancake was only “OK” – but the Seaport breakfast was very good and generous portions. We thought if we decided to come back another day we would try the Dutch Baby – a puffy pancake filled with savory goodies. We were struck by the large amount of bacon that came with the Seaport Breakfast. As our week progressed we found out that in Aruba a “side” of bacon amounts to a pile of 8-10 slices all fried to crispy, delicious and perfect bacony delight.

After our large breakfast we decided to walk around the downtown area and explore the monuments and the old fort that was now a museum. All that we wanted to see was within about 6-8 blocks so we set off past the I ❤️ ARUBA sign – the statues of blue horses and over toward the Historic Fort that is now a museum noticeable because of the tall clock tower. There is a $5 per person admission fee and it includes a walk around the interior of the fort and the courtyard. The main rooms hold an art display and some examples of local that is a craft tradition on the island. There is some old machinery and a replica of the kitchen (cucina) that was used to feed the 16 soldiers that were the guardians at this small fort. The young man at the desk came out and asked us if we would want to hear some history of the fort and led us over to a model that had been crafted from plaster of paris. He explained that at one point in the early 1700’s the sea came directly to the edge of the fort – and what was now a main road through Oranjestad. He showed us some pictures from the early 1800’s and explained that a small building across the street was built more than 200 years ago and is still standing, now an Italian Restaurant. (The small house next to the fort and our museum guide with a picture taken in 1800’s.

The final quest at the fort was up the narrow stairs that were more like a ladder you might pull down from access to an attic. There were 5 sets of these ladders that led to the top of the clock tower. It was a clear day and the view of Oranjestad was clear and it was interesting to see the marina, buildings and streets below. There is also one floor in the tower that housed the mechanism for the clock. Though it was not currently working, it was interesting to see it.

We moved from the this tour across the street to the house that was mentioned and then walked along the streets browsing the shops and taking in the scenery. We found a small grocery store where we bought some drinks and cheese to snack on. The store had a sparse selection and reminded us of a store on St Thomas called Mandahl Market – it had the basics and was not a modern supermarket. But there were locals shopping and I noticed the items they were checking out included what looked like a tamale – but it was a banana leaf wrapper tied with string. Wanting to ask what it was – but knowing there was a language barrier we paid for our things and continued on to our hotel to change to our beach wear and head over to the Renaissance Island to cool off and explore a bit more.

Finding Local Flare in Oranjestad Aruba

Trip Report Dec 8 -15 Finding local flare

We booked our first couple of nights at the Renaissance Marina Hotel Oranjestad. We wanted to experience the downtown, local culture and visit the Renaissance Island that I had read so much about. The taxi arrived at the hotel at half past 3:00pm – we were greeted by the bell staff who took our bags and we rode the escalator up to the hotel lobby. As you ride up you can feel the hotel vibe – music is playing. On your left is an open air bar with traditional high top tables, bar stools and chill seating areas to just kick back and enjoy a cocktail. Steps on the far right of the bar lead to the infinity pool that sits just above the bar area.

Lobby of Renaissance Marina Hotel Oranjestad ArubaHotel Reception Desk - Renaissance Marina Hotel Oranjestad ArubaLobby and Bar at the Renaissance Marina Hotel Oranjestad Aruba

The hotel reception desk is just ahead with its welcoming blue ceiling and walls. It was well staffed and we were greeted immediately. Check in was smooth and soon we were in our room changing in to our suits.

We decided on the pool for this afternoon to cool off, take in the sights and sounds and decide on our dinner destination. The pool area had many seating areas, it was crowded – but we did not have any trouble finding a shady couch to sit on, order a cocktail and within about 30 minutes 2 lounge chairs became available. We settled in sun for an afternoon snooze. One thing to note about the pool – it is right next to the Main Street (L.G. Smith Blvd) – so you do hear all of the traffic as it passes. The music does drown out some of the noise and the people watching can be quite good. Happy hour starts at 4pm and half price drinks makes this a great spot to have a couple cocktails, take a dip and start the vacation off with a energetic vibe.

We left the pool to head up to our room to clean up and dress for dinner. We decided to explore the Renaissance Marketplace across the street and find a spot for a light dinner. Because the Renaissance Ocean Suites is the sister property they do run a golf cart from the Marina to the the Ocean resort. We chose to walk as it is about 2 – 3 city blocks, and the night was warm and breezy making it quite pleasant. In the Marketplace there is a variety of restaurants, a Starbucks and a Dunkin Donuts – depending on which side of the coffee argument you fall on. There is a movie theatre and because it was December there was a holiday festival happening with live music, a “synthetic” ice skating rink and little huts making Olliebollen – a traditional Dutch treat (fried donut balls) – and others were selling cute little holiday items. It was a lively Friday night – and we enjoyed watching the island children put on ice skates and attempt ice skating.

We continued on to the Ocean Suites hotel to have a look around and see what restaurants were there. Near the pool we found a small Italian restaurant where the cool breeze and smiles front the staff drew us in. A couple that was leaving told us that the carpaccio is delicious and we could smell the wood fired pizza being made so we took a table ordered some wine and enjoyed those exact menu items for dinner.

On our way back we decided to stop at the casino and check it out. It was a bit crowded and there was a lot of cigarette smoke, so we did not stay long, we walked through and out to the boardwalk next to the marina over to our hotel for a restful night. On our way home we saw where the Dutch Pancake House restaurant was and decided we would check that out in the morning for breakfast before heading over to Renaissance Island.

Flying from Chicago to Aruba – Bring Breakfast – Buy Booze at the duty free!

We left on a 5:25am flight on Southwest Airlines out of Chicago Midway Airport(MDW). We arrived at 3:30am knowing that Southwest would want to check passports and documentation for our 5:25am flight. The lines were long – but moved quickly. The agent carefully weighed and checked our bags to confirm we were not exceeding weight limits. The airport web-site stated that TSA pre-check opened at 4:00am. But the long line prompted us to ask a TSA agent who confirmed that the actual opening time is 4:15am. This line moved quickly once the TSA stations opened and we were on our way to the gate at about 4:35.

Because we live near Chicago we fly out of both ORD and MDW frequently. The big difference between the airports is the concessions at this time in the morning. There was no coffee or breakfast locations open at 4:30 – it seemed that the staff was just arriving and preparing the stands to serve. With our flight boarding at 5am – we were happy that we had grabbed some cheese and veggies from our fridge before leaving to the airport. Don’t count on being able to grab a bite to eat – especially if you are on a Southwest flight.

We booked our travel on Southwest because we are currently holding a companion pass. The total cost for both of us to fly to Aruba was under $550. We had a small connection in Orlando – made it to Aruba 5 minutes early and the customs process in Aruba was very well organized as it took about 30 minutes to go through and get our bags. One piece of advice – visit the duty free shop near the baggage claim if you want to buy a bottle of wine or liquor for your room. Tito’s vodka was $22 a bottle – we did not buy it – and when we went to SuperFoods for some items and picked up a bottle it cost us $35. After gathering our bags we headed to the taxi stand, there was a line but it moved quickly. We were headed to the Renaissance Marina Hotel in Downtown Oranjestad for 2 nights so our fare was $20. Fares are set by the government – so it is easy to budget before you go. They will take American money – so no need to change to Aruban florin.

Our lady cab driver was very welcoming and friendly. She asked us if it was our first trip and shared some of her favorite local spots in the area. She even gave us a coupon book to help us find free drinks and dessert. The trip down was Quick , Easy and Fast – always a good thing when you are headed to the beach.

ARUBA for the first time – but are we cheating on our true love!?!

ARUBA for the first time – but are we cheating on our true love?

Writing this at 6am on a plane headed south from Chicago. Hubby and I woke up at 2:30am to head out and do one of our favorite things, which is quality time on a beach, snorkeling, exploring and disconnecting. We have stayed on Puerto Rico, St Thomas and St John. All three islands have beauty, but we have progressively fell more in love with St. John on every visit. Read about one of our favorite adventures in prior posts St. John the three R’s

In October 2016 we traveled to St. John for our 3rd stay. We decided on the Westin – a departure from our usual quiet villa stay – but wanted to experience the hotel vs. a self catered villa stay. As we enjoyed the properties beauty, different kinds of villas and amenities and we pondered -Was it time to think about a long term commitment and coming back to our happy place year after year or even permanently? Knowing that buying our own home may not be an option at this point we decided to look at what other kinds of accommodations we could consider or invest in and decided to take in the timeshare presentation. We did not buy – but took them up on an offer via a pre-paid stay and come back in 2017 as we research and think about it a bit more. But in a minute the world can change……

Hurricane Havoc

We watched You Tube videos of the destruction, saw Facebook posts about the devastation and tried to do some small act that could help from our safe harbor near Chicago. Hurricane season 2017 is one that will never be forgotten on these islands. Islanders discovered that one hurricane beat down is bad, a second one is simply horrific. We have followed those stories of dread, devastation and destruction along with the resilience, recovery and love. Sharing from all parts of the world including celebrity’s and common people – All with one mission – Be Love.

We felt a bit guilty putting together a plan for a December trip this year. Our only solace came from posts by NewsofStJohn and the frequent sharing about recovery, hope and coming back. We are committed to heading back in 2018 or early 2019. We will bring more family and spend more than we have in the past. We may go twice once things are up and running.

This year we decided to head a little further south to Aruba, once upon a time this was an island I had at the top of my travel bucket list – The anticipation in discovering a new destination is building, but our thoughts do turn to our love for Puerto Rico and the USVI as they were truly the places that put this love of the Caribbean in our hearts.

Aruba for our first time. We have fun to chronicling our first visit to any destination as it is a way to share insights with other travelers, and have a written record of our meanderings. As we board the plane and get closer to Aruba, we are somewhat melancholy. Happy to be going away together, but missing the usual anticipation that goes with our giddy joy around visiting St. John.

In St. John we know the curves and switchbacks, the bumps and pot holes, the smell of the mangroves as you drive through Coral Bay. We remember the smiles from the staff at Skinny Legs and the laughter rolling out of the doors of bars in Cruz Bay. The furry donkeys, beautiful fish and coral, stingrays, turtles and perfect beaches. Trails through national parks walking us through time and history. The memories that used to fuel our excitement about seeing her – now bring worry and anticipation about how she may be recovering. But we are keeping watch – waiting for her and the sweet people there to feel ready to see us again. We are coming back, our trip to Aruba is a detour not a departure from our first true island love. Aruba has some very stiff competition to win our hearts.

Tags:#STJ #HurricaneIrma #HurricaneMaria #NewsofStJohn #ARUBA #StJohnUSVI


Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: