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July 8, 2009

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    Miami to Aruba

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Bon bini from the island of Aruba! I'm here because it's such a popular island destination for Americans (and the Dutch, too) and to be quite honest, I'm tired of having people ask me for tips on travel to Aruba, only to see their faces register horror and shock when I say I've never been. Although this Happy Island wasn't my first choice, you're about to see why I was so pleasantly surprised. Ariba, ariba, Aruba!

Before my 10:20am American Airlines flight from Miami to Aruba, I grabbed breakfast near the gate at La Carreta restaurant. When I travel through airports (even on layovers), I like to grab local food and La Carreta usually has some tasty Cuban grub, but for breakfast, not so much. I had some nasty scrambled eggs with ham ($3.25), cold toast ($1.10) and a bottle of water ($2.85). The prices were right except for the water but next time you can bet I'll find breakfast elsewhere. Recommendations?

Flight time on the half empty 757 was a mere two hours and 20 minutes (1,130 miles), which allowed me just enough time to flip through the annual Destination Aruba magazine that each passenger gets when they board (it has lots of advertising but there is some good basic information, too) and take a little nap. I had a whole exit row to myself on takeoff and landing but since those armrests don't go up, I ventured toward the back of the plane, snagged one of the many vacant rows and took a nap for an hour before returning to my original seat. American sells (no cash, plastic only) food on the plane and I got a BIG cookie for $3. On descent, I wished someone had told me to sit on the left-hand side because I would've loved to have gotten a full view of the crystal blue water I was getting sneak peaks of.

The Reina Beatrix Aruba airport is much larger than I imagined and nicer, too. We parked at one of the last gates so it was a long walk to customs and I picked up the pace when I saw Continental, jetBlue and USAir planes pulling up. The customs agent didn't say much but more importantly, he was quick.

Before exiting the airport, I noticed that the taxi prices on the wall are outdated. The flat rate to the Marriott stated $20 but it's really $25. A taxi is the same price for up to five people with one bag each. Every bag after that is $2 (another reason to pack light). I had two midsized bags so I had to pull out my Italy taxi trick since they charge for bags there, too. I put one in the trunk and I put my carry-on next to me. Works every time. What's neat is that Aruban license plates say "One Happy Island".

The majority of Arubans are genuinely friendly and welcoming and my driver was no exception. He told me all about the island on the 20-minute ride. To get to the hotel, we had to go through downtown Oranjestad, the capital, which can be congested during rush hour. Oranjestad is where all the cruise ships come in and it looked nice but not as picturesque as neighboring Curacao. Random observation: Most of the grocery stores are Chinese-owned but I never saw any Chinese people walking around. They must have been working!

The official currency in Aruba is the Aruban florin; prior to 1986, it was the Netherlands Antillean guilder. The current exchange rate is $1 USD = 1.79 AWG. However, I never changed my money as everywhere I went accepted U.S. dollars and even gave me change in U.S. dollars. Even the ATMs dispense both florins and dollars.

Aruba is located 20 miles off the coast of Venezuela in the southern Caribbean Sea in the Lesser Antilles. Along with the other nearby islands of Bonaire and Curaao the group is referred to as the ABC islands of the Leeward Antilles. Confusing, I know! Aruba is just slightly larger than Washington, D.C. (70 square miles). The island is 19.6 miles long and six miles across at its widest point and the total population is around 100,000 people; 70,000 are natives, the others come from 40 different nations. The official languages are Dutch and Papiamento but most Arubans speak four languages -- the others: English and Spanish. Aruba gained its independence from the Netherlands Antilles on January 1, 1986 but it's still part of the Netherlands so there is some Dutch influence. Aruba's top three industries are tourism, oil refining and aloe production.

If you come to Aruba this time of year (during Daylight Savings), you won't need to change your watch from Eastern Standard Time. But if you come during the winter, it's one hour ahead (Atlantic Standard Time).

It's always a good time to visit Aruba but the cheapest is during the off-season, which is usually from mid-April to mid-December. Every resort slashes their prices so you should be able to save between 20% and 50% from peak season. NOTE: Who comes to Aruba? I was told that more than 70% of visitors are from the United States. The other majorities are from Canada, Holland, Venezuela and Colombia. At 60%, Aruba has the highest number of repeat visitors in the region.

What makes Aruba so attractive is the weather. It's not hot and humid like most of the Caribbean and it doesn't get much rain. The average rainfall averages only about 18 inches a year and most falls between October and January. Aruba is dry, with an average temperature of 82F (28C) and the low ranges from 76F (24C) to 80F (27C). There's typically a refreshing trade wind except in September, the hottest month. The wind goes in one direction so you will see the divi-divi trees all leaning to one side. And the best part about Aruba's weather is that the island is outside the hurricane belt, so tropical storms and hurricanes are very rare.

Aruba is an easy destination for Americans to get to. It's close, the people are friendly, pretty much everyone speaks English, you can pay in US dollars, there's so much to do sports-wise (from scuba diving to world class golf), plus there's theatre and clubbing. With the exception of the Natalee Holloway incident, Aruba has one of the lowest crime rates in the region due to high employment rates.

Another plus is that the water is safe to drink. The water is distilled in the world's second (after Saudi Arabia) largest saltwater desalination plant and it's available for tours (Tel. 297 - 5824700). Some people say Aruba's tap water is the most delicious in the world but I think it tastes nasty. Regardless, don't waste your money on bottled water because it's just tap water in a bottle.

Another reason Americans must love this place is because it has all the comforts (of chain restaurants!) from home: Champions Sports Bar, Dunkin' Donuts, Hooters, McDonald's, Nathan's Hot Dogs, Pizza Hut, Subway, Taco Bell, Quiznos, Ruth's Chris, Sbarro, Wendy's and these are just the ones I saw. Thankfully, in addition, Aruba has plenty of other restaurants and according to my guidebook, they are diverse, inventive and often very good.

When I told my taxi driver I was staying at the Marriott, he said, "Ooh! That's five stars and one of the best hotels on the island!" It's really AAA Four Diamonds. I learned that this is where all the international media stayed (and occasionally continue to do so) during the Natalee Holloway case. The media booked over 100 rooms during the first three months. Natalee Holloway is a sad and sometimes touchy subject so I won't elaborate but I was curious if the case and media attention had affected tourism. I asked a person in the know and they said it definitely hurt the meetings and incentives business, as many corporations backed out. But it didn't affect the leisure market; if anything, they gained exposure from all the pictures.

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Copyright 2009 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


La Carreta


Flight Plan


Exit Row


Back of the Plane


Aruba Aiport


My Plane


Walk To Customs


Baggage Claim


Taxi Prices (They Are Wrong)


Taxi Line


Aruba License Plate




Chinese Owned Stores


Cruise Ships


Drive Through Downtown


Pizza Hut




Taco bell


Too Many Chains


Getting Close To Hotel



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