Aruba? The ABC islands? Where are they? The islands commonly referred to as the "ABC islands" are the islands of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire. They are located just north of the coast of Venezuela, South America.
From New York it's easy to reach Aruba and Curacao. Aruba is one of the most popular island destinations for those living on the east coast. Being just 1,981 miles south of New York you can be there in about 4 hours. American Airlines offers excellent service from the New York area including a nonstop flight from Kennedy and several connections (through Miami or San Juan) daily from all three major airports. Bonaire and Curacao can be reached only through connecting flights. Air Aruba offers nonstop service from Newark to Aruba.

ALM, the Antillean Airline, offers service from Miami and Atlanta to Curacao and Bonaire. Unfortunately my experience with ALM has not been good so I will say no more. Continental offers service from Houston, but that's an awfully long way to go if you're starting out in the New York area. Just ask my sister and brother-in-law who booked a freebie flight on Continental ... almost eight hours flying time from New York, not counting the connection time in Houston and the delays because of thunderstorms!

Climate: Lying within 15 degrees of the Equator the ABC islands are desert islands and not tropical. If you're looking for lush tropical scenery don't go there, you won't find it. Instead you will find cactus, aloe, Divi Divi trees and a variety of other desert fauna and flora. Anne and I first visited Aruba in 1981 and again in 1983. On our third trip in 1987 we purchased a time share at the Dutch Village and we have returned every year since. We have visited in the months of April, May, June and August, and we've noticed no appreciable difference in the weather during those times. Rainfall is never a problem. At most it sprinkles a few minutes and the cooling rains are a welcomed change from the hot Sun. The temperature ranges in the high eighties to low nineties. Evenings are cooler but not that much cooler, low eighties.

The hot Sun and high temperatures are bearable because of the constant trade winds that sweep the island. These winds are constant and quite strong. One of our favorite activities in Aruba is flying stunt kites in these strong winds. In all our trips to Aruba there have been two years where the winds seemed unusually strong. When this happens you will need some cover from the blowing sand when on the beaches as it can sting when it hits you. Most beaches have some form of shelter where you can hide from the stinging wind-blown sand and hot Sun.

Arriving at the Queen Beatrix Airport: Queen Beatrix Airport is located just outside Oranjestead, the main city, and on the south coast of Aruba. Flights usually fly over the western end of Aruba, where the hotels are located, making a long sweeping turn left to align with the runway. Sitting on the left side of the plane gives you the best view of the island and its 7-mile white-sand beach. Immediately before touchdown you will see Orangestead also.

Be prepared when you get there as this can be an experience, not necessarily an enjoyable one. Queen Beatrix Airport services all inbound flights for the island and can be quite busy with charter flights and other scheduled airline flights. Depending on when you arrive, and the flights that arrive immediately before you, your wait in the customs and immigration hall may be excessive. Yes, you are on "island time," and it's best you get used to it here and now because it will be with you your entire stay. Once you clear immigration and arrive in the baggage claim area I suggest, if you are renting a car, that you leave one person to claim the luggage and the other head immediately over to the rental car booths located immediately across from the main terminal. Island time is certainly in effect when renting a car. Forget your ideas of computerized rental agreements, they are filled out by hand. By going there immediately you will all the others on your flight who are renting cars. Of course you will still be behind those who came in on earlier flights, but you're still ahead of the game. By the time you have rented the car your baggage has probably arrived and your partner has made their way out to the curb. If not the customs officials generally allow you to return to the baggage claim area to assist your partner.
From the airport to your hotel: There are three ways to get from the airport to your hotel: taxi, rental car or arranged transfer. Anne and I have always rented cars and would recommend that you do the same. It's more expensive to rent a car than in the states, about $400 a week for a Tercel with air that seats 5 relatively comfortably, and you may find that your car is not the newest one on the block. They have this habit of keeping their cars a bit longer than the rental companies do here in the states. But having the convenience of a car, to us, has always been an advantage.

Leaving the airport head toward Oranjestead and the hotels. Be prepared for a snail's crawl through Oranjestead depending on the time you arrive. Saturday afternoons are bad as almost everyone comes to town and Saturday is the day most of the timeshares change, so there is lots of traffic. After passing through Orangestead you arrive first at the low-rise hotels. There are two major groupings of hotels: the low- and high-rise hotels. The low-rise hotels are located closest to town and consists of hotels that are on the beach and generally only two floors. They are not brand name hotels that you may have heard of, but they are pretty good. The first ones you arrive at are the Divi Tamarijn and Divi Divi. Our timeshare is the Dutch Village which is part of the Divi Tamarijn. Continuing past the low-rise hotels you will find several of the newer timeshare units and then the high-rise hotels. The high-rise hotels include some brand name hotels, Hyatt, Marriott, Holiday Inn, etc., and are just that, multistory hotels complete with lobbies and elevators! You'll feel right at home in these large hotels if that's what you want and are accustomed to.
Ever changing face of Aruba: In the 18 years we've traveled to Aruba it has changed much. Some of those changes have been good and others not so good. When we first visited, in 1981, the tourist area of the island consisted of the two separated hotel areas, the low- and high-rise hotels, located on a beautiful 7-mile white sand beach. The low-rise hotels were quaint and not ultra modern but, for someone (me) who spends week in and week out in hotels they were exactly what I wanted in Aruba. As I told the travel agent who booked that first trip: "I want a hotel where I can roll out of bed and fall into the water, no walking through hotel lobbies to get to the beach." They fit the bill exactly but came with a few surprises. The high-rise hotels are located about 3 or 4 miles down the beach from the low-rise hotels. They were high-rise, multistory hotels complete with elevators, lobbies and all the rigor involved in a large hotel. Not at all what I wanted. They were a nice place to visit and do some gambling, but I didn't want to stay there.

As is always the case, the normal snacking you do during the day is a rip-off at these hotels. They charge premiums for little snacks, soft drinks and beer because they have a captive audience. Worse yet, you had to traipse to the bar or their store to purchase them. We always make a point of visiting a local supermarket to purchase our snacks and soft drinks. They are cheaper, I didn't say cheap, just cheaper than at the hotel, and better than that they are available to you 24-hours a day right there in your room. The markets in those days were open-air warehouse markets. Nothing was appealing and it was not a pleasant experience visiting them because of the heat and stagnant air trapped inside.

Every hotel had their restaurant and when you didn't feel like eating at your hotel there were plenty of other restaurants located around the island to satisfy any taste you might want. It was never difficult finding a good place to have dinner if you didn't feel like eating in the hotel. For the most part the prices were reasonable for an island where everything must be imported, and the quality of food was good.

In the years since that first visit Aruba has changed considerably. Now one of the most popular destinations for the American tourists the island has done much to cater to that audience. It has become a Mecca for vacation timeshare travelers and big name hotel chains. Where there was nothing between the low-rise and high-rise hotels before, now there are numerous timeshare units and restaurants. The fast-food chains have also moved in. Where there was once a Burger King, Wendy's and KFC, you now have Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, McDonald's, Dunkin Doughnuts, Subway, Dominos and somewhat higher classed places like Houlihans (closed this year), Tony Roma's and an Outback Steak House. There are now modern American style supermarkets, complete with air conditioning and a good choice of foods to cater to the American timeshare tourist. The good side is that the island has improved in amenities offered, but it is beginning to take a toll on some of the local businesses. Restaurants that have been on the island for twenty to thirty years who were always packed five to ten years ago are now almost idle. Many are going bankrupt because the larger hotels and timeshare units are attracting those who are on a meal plan or who are cooking in their apartments. They're dyeing and that's a shame because there are some of the good ones. Like I said, with the good there has been some bad too!

Our first trip was sheer culture shock. We found ourselves in a hotel room that had nothing but a bed, dresser and bathroom. No TV, no radio and no telephone. There weren't even a paper except one or two day old papers from New York that you'd pay through the nose for. It was devastating at first, but by the end of the two weeks we were thoroughly accustomed to it and welcomed the peace and quiet of being away from it all. I would suspect that most hotels there today offer these amenities, but I can't be sure as we have, since 1987, stayed in the timeshare which has everything we need including cable TV and phone.
Why we return every year instead of going someplace different? Ever since we bought the timeshare, in 1986, we have chosen to return to Aruba instead of using the exchange capabilities that owning a timeshare offers. Why? Because it's like going home. We know the island. We know the people. We know the restaurants. We've been there and done that so there is no pressure to go out and make sure you see something you haven't seen. There isn't anything that we haven't seen that we want to see. For that reason it's a relaxing vacation for us. We know were to go to do the things we want to do. And, while we may not agree always with the way the island is changing, it's nice to be able to see it change over the years. Anne and I are fortunate enough also to be able to afford to visit other places around the world during the same year which reduces the feeling of repeating yourself in Aruba. To us going to Aruba is like packing up the car and driving to the New Jersey shore, only much better. The beaches are nicer, the water is warmer and you don't have the crowds you find at the Jersey shore. Another reason, Bonaire, one of the world's premier diving spots, is located just a short hop away by air, and Anne and I often tack on a week of diving in Bonaire after our week in Aruba.

So, on the remaining pages, you'll find lots of pictures and not so many words about Aruba. Enjoy the pictures!
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