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A Little Bit About a Lot of Things

A lifestyle blog with a focus on my food adventures

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We haven’t been to Aruba at Christmas time in years, I think I forgot how busy it is with school vacation and all those who don’t celebrate Christmas. There were a lot of folks from the NY/NJ area and a lot of people from South America. Everywhere we went, they take US currency. When you pay cash, they give you back US dollars, but Aruban change. If you pay with a credit card, check what your foreign transaction fee will be ahead of time.

IMG_5780We booked in July, and we were hard pressed to find a hotel. We usually stay at the Radisson but this year they were all booked. We ended up staying at the Westin, a Starwood property, and figured that it would be fine. Years ago, it was a Wyndham. J.E. Irausquin Blvd. 77 • Palm Beach · Aruba • Phone: 011-297-5864466. We haven’t been to Aruba in a few years, and it has been built up since then quite a bit. I had made reservations ahead of time for most restaurants and asked the concierge to confirm them the moment we checked in…more on that later.

IMG_5798The Riu sits next door to the Westin, we had a great view of it from our window.

IMG_5799The view.

IMG_5800While we only had a snip it view of the ocean, it was lovely.

IMG_5775The room. There are 18 floors in the hotel and only 4 elevators. One of them was not in use because it failed inspection. Think about at peak traffic time what it was like to get onto the elevator…like riding the green line at rush hour, packed in like sardines.

IMG_5776The rooms were fine-although you could certainly smell the mildew the moment that you entered. I think that it was harder to breathe at night because that was all you were smelling – even thought the air was always on, it always felt a bit damp in the room.

IMG_5778The bathroom wasn’t as clean as I had hoped, the shower curtain had residue from the previous occupant and there was rust everywhere. There was a great shower head that was like a waterfall. We had heavenly towels the first day but not any of the other 7 days after that. We went on this vacation as a family and had 4 rooms total. Two of the four didn’t have hot water and one’s cold water was more like lukewarm.

IMG_5777Minibar area near the bathroom, where you could make coffee in the morning. They do offer free coffee in the lower lobby every morning until 9am. Some days our room was cleaned by 10, other days it wasn’t cleaned by 5. You can call the front desk and request that your room be cleaned by a certain time every day.

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If you look at the vent, you can see what I mean about breathing in some not good stuff…the vent was pretty dirty.

IMG_5782The resort – it was nice enough. The pool area is where mainly families were sitting – they had some water features that the kids seemed to love. The pool wasn’t very clean. There are trees all around and it was clogging up the vents in the pools so there was a lot of debris floating in the pool every day.

IMG_5779We took an early morning  jetBlue flight and arrived in Aruba at around 2. They are an hour ahead of Boston. Customs went quickly but because it was Christmas eve day, there was a lot of traffic getting from the airport to the hotel (it was a $25 flat rate taxi ride). We were famished when we arrived, so we grabbed a bite at the pool. Nachos. They were pretty good, until you got underneath, and it was all spray cheese 😦 The service here is unbelievably slow…they are on “island time”. It took about 25 minutes for us to get our food….all the while people watching. This woman from NY came in after us and created a big scene about her meal…all the while I’m thinking to myself…seriously? You’re on vacation….and we were here first, so if anyone has the right to be upset about not getting their food, it’s us, not you. I feel like once you come to peace with the fact that it’s going to take a ridiculously long time for you to get your food/drinks, the better your vacation is going to be. Note that at the hotel they add a 17% service fee that they split among the staff, don’t feel obligated to add additional tip for your specific server unless service was extraordinary.

IMG_5792The beach, pretty picturesque. Smooth sand and warm blue green water. The weather the whole trip was excellent, mid 80’s every day. Make sure to bring and wear your sunscreen, you burn very quickly in the Aruban sun.

IMG_5793There was a dock a small ways out and people were having fun diving off of it.

IMG_6213The color of carribbean water is so amazing.

IMG_6212Palapas-the huts that are on the beach and at the pool. Every hotel does it differently. We were surprised when we arrived that people had booked them and paid for them well in advance, like when they booked their vacation in February. So when we arrived, there were only 3 huts that were available every day to wait for at 4pm. The pricing was $39 for the row closest to the walkway/pool, $49 for the middle row and $59 for the row closest to the ocean. And let me tell you, people were packed in body to body, you couldn’t even cut through the chairs. If you want chairs at the beach, or those posh round chairs with the sun shade, you should expect to get up at about 7am every day to put your towel on them to reserve them.

IMG_5846Aqua Grill for Christmas Eve dinner. We have been here before, it is one of our go to favorites. We made reservations in advance and had to put down a credit card number because of the holiday reservation. j.e Irauswuin Blvd. 374, Palm Beach, Aruba . Phone: 297-586-5900 - Fax 297-585-5901

IMG_5847We decided to eat outside, the weather was nice. Inside the restaurant it was freezing!

IMG_5783We started off with the crab fritter ($9.50). It was lighter than a crab cake, very delicate, and delicious!

IMG_5784I had the tagliatelle pasta ($31.50) that came with mussels, clams and shrimp. Really nice flavor, and the seafood was fresh.

IMG_5785At the table we also ordered the shrimp skewers ($29.50) that came grilled. Again, the seafood was fresh and cooked perfectly.

IMG_5787Key lime pie for dessert, and a lot of the graham cracker crust which I love ($7.50). No too thrilled about the whipped cream from the spray can, but hey, you can’t have everything. The dessert was light and tart, nice way to end the meal. The service was ok, they added a 15% service charge to the bill.

IMG_5821Breakfast at the hotel in the morning outside by the pool. The eggs were a bit runny for my taste, and it was a bit pricey, but hey, we are on vacation.

IMG_5823We all had our meals and one was missing, the one that required no baking or cooking of any sort.There were croissants, the pink cake was a pound cake of sorts, a cinnamon bun and a muffin. Not anything outstanding.

IMG_5841Lizards are everywhere. They ask you not to feed the wildlife…and for good reason. There are small lizards running about and then there are ones like this guy, HUGE and they eat anything! The bartender was throwing this guy cherries and he was swallowing them whole!

IMG_5827Lunch at the pool. You can order from the express line at the bar which is burgers and sandwiches, otherwise you wait at the restaurant. We went light on lunches because we had big dinner. Fruit changed daily, sometimes there were plums and sometimes there were bananas. The yellow fruit with black seeds is dragon fruit, which can take some getting used to if it is your first time trying it…the seeds make it a little crunchy and nutty.

IMG_5802Passions on the beach for Christmas dinner, located across the street from the Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort. It’s a quick ride from the hotel by taxi, you may not want to walk it because there aren’t good sidewalks. It is lovely to be there to watch the sunset. Make sure that you don’t wear fancy shoes here, you end up taking them off anyway in order to get to your table.

IMG_5801The folding chairs sink into the sand, which makes it a bit awkward to eat, but it is such a lovely location you hardly notice.

IMG_5812Tiki torches set the mood. The kitchen is located near the entrance, previously, it was located in the hotel and the servers would have to walk across the street with the food. We had a lovely server, Naomi, who was visiting from Holland doing a hospitality internship. The menus at the restaurant are LED lit, so you will have no issues seeing them in the dark.

IMG_5814I started the night off with some lobster bisque. Not as creamy as I would have liked it to be and there was only one little piece of lobster in it.

IMG_5815I have the Carribean shrimp served with mango chutney ($29.95) – little over sauced for my taste, but it is quite tasty. The ramekin has potatoes in it.

IMG_5816 Pineapple Carpaccio, thin slices of pineapple, simmered slowly, infused with a myers rum syrup garnished with fresh basil and served over vanilla ice cream ($7.50). I’m pretty sure that this was gobbled down in 3.2 seconds it was so tasty.

IMG_5817I had the tiramisu ($8.50) which was tasty, although I was a bit put off by the chocolate syrup and the Maraschino cherry. For those at our table that had coffee, it came with a chocolate kiss, a hard candy and a speculoos cookie, which is flavored with ginger and cinnamon, clove and cardamom. Overall a really nice way to spend Christmas.

IMG_5848Hostaria Da Vittorio for dinner, night #3. Another go to favorite of ours, just a short walk from the hotel, near the Aqua Grill. L.G. Smith Boulevard 380 Aruba Tel: +(297) – 5863 838

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We started with the rposciutto ($12.50) which was tasty, lovely and salty. Really nice start to the meal.

IMG_5850I had the fusilli all carrettiera ($23) the sausage bolognese style sauce was tasty, not too heavy.

IMG_5851We also had the spaghetti alle vongole ($26.50) the pasta with clams and we had them add the cherry tomatoes. In hindsight, we probably should have stuck with the classic.

IMG_5852The lasagna ($21) doesn’t look too appetizing from the picture, but it was a brick! So much food, and really quite tasty.

IMG_5853Again, the tiramisu for dessert ($9) that was light and fluffy, probably my favorite of the trip. The fresh berries were a nice addition.

IMG_5872Night 4 we went for a casual meal at Tomato Charlies, part of the Birckell Bay Beach Club and a short walk from our hotel. J.E. Irausquin Blvd. 370  Aruba Tel: +(297) 586 0999

IMG_5873They have outside dining, some up from the sidewalk and some right on the actual sidewalk…not quite as charming as dining on Newbury Street.

IMG_5874The pizza is tasty, and they say they fly in the cheese from Chicago. Stinks if you get the middle piece without crust, but the food is good and reasonably priced. The service is painfully slow, but it is also casual dining, so it was to be expected.

IMG_5891The following day we went over to the Radisson to visit the birds. They take them out of the cages twice a day, at 11 and 4 I believe and people can take pictures with them. Some of them have great names like Julia and Guapo.

IMG_5887Some are even super talented, able to say “hello” and also “hola”, and who doesn’t love a bilingual bird!

IMG_5902Texas De Brazil for dinner that night. J.E. Irausquin Blvd 382 Palm Beach , 382. We have been here in Aruba in the past and also its other location in Miami. Sign up for their emails on the website and you can get 10% off your bill, but make sure that you do it close to the time that you will be there because the expiration date is about a week after your sign up date. If you are part of the military and have an ID, you can get 15% off your bill for up to 8 people. Kids under 2 are free, kids 3-5 are $5, and kids 6-12 are half price. For those of you who are not meat eaters, you can have the buffet for $24.99. The regular priced meal is $44.99, all you can eat. We made a reservation through the concierge of our hotel, at 5:30pm. We were running late and were afraid that they were going to let our table go….and when we got there, we were surprised to find out that they don’t actually open until 6, so we had to wait. Funny how the concierge didn’t call and leave a message in our room mentioning that small detail.

IMG_5907The salad bar is pretty amazing.

IMG_5908They have meats and cheeses, side salads and other goodies.

IMG_5909The corn salad was excellent!

IMG_5911You get a little coaster and when you want them to come around to you, you keep it on green.

IMG_5913When you are digesting, and want to hold off, flip the card to red and they will skip over you.

IMG_5910Don’t eat for the whole day before, because you will eat yourself into a meat coma here. They have sausage, lamb, chicken wrapped in bacon, filet, prime rib, and I highly suggest their house specialty cooked medium, which has a nice salty crust…so make sure you get an end piece. I felt like you had to roll me out at the end of our meal.

IMG_5990The following day we took a walk (to work off last night’s dinner)  over to the Radisson again to check out the koi fish in their pond. The orange one was ENORMOUS! They were being fed bread by the patrons of the restaurant.

IMG_6041For dinner, we went to Blossoms in our hotel. Now again, made the reservations with the concierge at our hotel, to sit at a tepanyaki table – one where they cook on the table…because they also offer Chinese food and sushi at regular tables. The concierge apparently did not make a reservation at one of the tepanyaki tables and we were seated at a regular table. Now with little kids at the table, they were expecting to see a show. The management said the other tables were reserved and they could not seat us there. We sat at a regular table and they told us to wait for 15 minutes, and if the table did not show, we could sit there. In the end, we were table to sit at the tepanyaki table, which is a good thing, because with kids, there could have been a scene!

IMG_6001There was a choice of soup to start. Miso is picture above.

IMG_6002Chicken soup.

IMG_6003The food ready to be cooked.

IMG_6011One of the tepanyaki table tricks…and yet no shrimp tails in the pocket and no slinging chicken into people’s mouths.

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At least we had the flaming onion!

IMG_6020Fried rice.

IMG_6021I had the filet and shrimp, filet cooked to order. Good meal over all, the service was attentive, but that may have been because they were trying to hurry us out for the next party to sit and eat, but honestly, the other tepanyaki tables weren’t all full, maybe they just  had a shortage of chefs.

IMG_6059The next day we walked over to the Hyatt. We went there during the night to gamble a bit on the slot machines, but the hotel really is quite nice. There are a few shops, Gandelman, David Yurman, Red Sail and a coffee shop. We have never stayed here, but I would in a heartbeat, it is a beautiful hotel.

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After lounging on the beach, I head up to my room to grab another book. To my surprise, on the way back down, I get stuck in the elevator. I press the call button and sound the alarm. They come over the speaker and ask if I am ok, can I hear them. I respond, but they don’t seem to be able to hear me. Later they tell me that they speaker isn’t meant for communicating….which doesn’t make any sense. I am stuck in the elevator for 15 minutes. There are people on other floors that can hear me that are talking to me, saying they will get someone, but it is hard to talk to them and try and talk to the people over the intercom…that I’m apparently not talking to. Meanwhile, finally this nice guy comes and opens the door. I am stuck halfway between two floors. He leans in and says, “here I’ll pull you up”. Now here I am, a grown woman, in my bathing suit and coverup, and realize that trying to get pulled up by my arms is not the lady like thing to do. I say, “you’ve got to be kidding me”. The other guy runs and gets a step stool, but even then, on the top step, I am still about waist high in the elevator. They open the door below and ask me if I want to jump down. Are you kidding? I’ve seen 1000 ways to die and you know as soon as I go to drop the elevator is going to start and I’m going to get sliced in half.  The first guy jumps in the elevator and says he will give me the 10 finger boost up, which again, I decline…I don’t need this guys back to go out while giving me a boost and get sued. Meanwhile I end up conceding and they pull me out by my arms. I’m pretty sure that if I were one of the other guests at the hotel, walking around in Valentino flip flops and using a Luis Vuitton bag as my beach bag, they would certainly not have gone for any of this. Meanwhile I go to the lobby to talk to manager and they apologize and try to win  me over with a free breakfast. Yeah right. You hauled me up by my arms and I was stuck in an elevator for 15 minutes by myself, free breakfast ain’t going to cover it. They low ball me with points, and we settle on a number, but really I should have pushed for more, because that was completely unacceptable for the caliber of hotel Westin is supposed to be. Meanwhile you would think that they would shut down the elevator, but they didn’t and later in the evening, a little boy was stuck in there alone. Now I could say something about his parents, and what were they thinking letting their young son take the elevator alone, but bad parenting aside, that kid was scared. Completely unacceptable. I hope that family now owns the Westin hotel.

IMG_6084That evening we went to Smokey Joe’s, a place known for their burgers and ribs. (Located Across from the Playa Linda Beach Resort , Juan E. Irausquin Blvd. 87, Palm Beach, Aruba) It is casual and you eat outside, and make sure to bring some bug repellent or wear some on your legs, every time we go there….we get bit on the ankles. If indeed you do get bitten, and find yourself without repellent, use one of the wet napkins on the table to soothe the itch.

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They don’t take reservations and they won’t seat you until your whole party is present.

IMG_6093I love the pastechies ($7.95) Depp fried  beef dumplings with a flaky crust.

IMG_6094Here’s what they look like on the inside.

IMG_6095Original recipe ribs ($14.95 for a half rack) are tender and covered in sauce. The meat just falls off the bone. All I have to say is thank goodness for the paper towels on the  table and the wet naps! Service can be slow at times because they are so busy and waiters end up spending most of the night in the weeds.

IMG_6121The following day we decided to go horseback riding. We decided on Rancho Notorious, a ranch that is about a 10 minute ride away from the hotel. They pick you up and drop you off – it is included in the price of the ride. They were much more affordable and much closer than the other options on the island. Sign up online and get 10% off your trip.

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This one was my horse, Jasser. The horses here are much smaller than the horses that I used to ride in the US, they are called Passo Finos. From their website: “The history of the Paso Fino horse began in Spain where the chance mix of breeds (Barb, Andalusian and Spanish Jennet) sparked the seed that became one of the wolrds finest riding horses. The Paso Fino horse has been breed in Latin America since the days of the conquistadors. Used as the foundations stock for remount of the conquistadors, these horses came to be known as Los Caballos de Paso Fino, ‘the horse with the fine step’. The Paso Fino horse reflects his Spanish heritage trough his proud carriage, grace and elegance. He is born with a gait unique to the breed; the gait, being totally natural, is smooth, rhythmic, purposeful, straight, balanced in flexion and synchronous front to rear resulting in unequaled comfort for the rider. Rather than the trot, which can be uncomfortable, the Paso Fino gait assures the rider of a pleasant, thrilling ride.SAM_3649

The horses are in good condition and the stables are clean. We end up getting a private tour, a trail ride with Joe our guide, pictured above. Joe was a really nice guy, super friendly, your all American boy from  somewhere out in the mid-west. He had just graduated college and was waiting for a job back home on the farm, and his buddy asked him if he wanted a job in Aruba at a ranch. Joe was telling us that he was used to riding quarter horses (known for their sprinting and used on ranches), so Paso Finos were new for him too. 🙂

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We did the hour long countryside tour. Really great views of the water, mostly trail riding, and we did a little bit of trotting.

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Make sure to wear sneakers and long pants when riding!

IMG_6136New Year’s Eve dinner was at Da Vinci’s. (Palm Beach Centre 51, Aruba Tel: +(297) – 586 7070) My parents had gone there last year and said they had a wonderful experience, so we went back. The restaurant was pretty much empty except for us. They have indoor and outdoor seating, all very casual. On New Year’s Eve day the island sets off TONS of firecrackers, the streets are covered in red paper – it’s actually pretty amazing. They must spend a good deal of money! They set a whole batch off right outside the restaurant to welcome in the New Year, so it was a little smokey.

IMG_6140The service was slow for so early on in the night with no other patrons. We had to ask for drinks multiple times and they were  out of a lot of items on the menu, including the calamari appetizer 😦

IMG_6139We started off with the tomato and mozzarella salad. The tomatoes were under ripe and pretty hard.

IMG_6141I had the pasta with bolognese style sauce, meaning made with ground beef only. The pasta was drenched in sauce, when I had asked for it on the side, and it tasted like Chef Boyardee, cheap red sauce from a can.

IMG_6142The calzone wasn’t bad, good crust.

IMG_6143I feel weird about places that put raspberry sauce with tiramisu. The dessert itself was small, and wasn’t half bad. Go back or recommend? Probably not.

IMG_6211The whole island lights up for fireworks at midnight. It’s amazing. We watched them from the balcony of our hotel. They lasted a good 20 minutes. They weren’t enormous, like the ones we have at 4th of July in Boston, but the sheer quantity of fireworks was impressive.

IMG_6171And here’s one in color.

IMG_6214Last morning in Aruba, breakfast at the pool, chocolate chip pancakes.

IMG_6217When you go to the Aruban airport, you should go about 2 hours ahead of time because US Customs is in airport as well. There are no kiosks to check in at, so print your tickets ahead of time if you can at your hotel…although if you have bags to check, you have to wait in line anyway. Getting through Aruban security is quick, but the line for US Customs is quite long. There are two shopping areas. If you want to by alcohol duty free, best buy  it at this first stop, they have the largest selection here. Although, a bottle of Moet was $65, so it didn’t feel like much of a savings. They also have perfume, candy and misc. sundries. If you have a direct flight, you are good to go, just pick up your duty free items inside and get on the plane. If you have a connecting flight, you have to check your liquids in your bag when you get to the airport, so it might not be worth it. Inside the airport, at the gates, there is a Sbarro, Cinnabon, a bar and a Carvel. The food is limited in the gate area – mainly snack items. If you are looking for last minute souvenirs to bring home, you may be scraping the bottom of the barrel. There are some duty free kiosks inside the gate area, but the selection is much more limited. And before you know it, it’s time to go home. So long Aruba, hello real world.

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