Woke up and had our room service breakfast. We were meeting our driver, Ivan, for a three-hour island tour. Our plan was to have him drop us off at the Amsterdam Manor after the tour but our plans changed just a little bit. I’ll get to that later. If you do a search in the Aruba Boards on Cruise Critic, you can find some information about Ivan. We highly recommend him.
We had a fabulous time with Ivan. Deb (CC member), her husband Larry, Wesley, and I met him at 9 AM, right at the pier. His van was comfortable, and he had a headset with a microphone so we could hear him clearly. He drove us along the coastline, seeing Eagle and Palm beach and the hotels. Eagle Beach’s hotels were low-rise, and most of them are across the street from the beach. Palm Beach is where you see the mega-resorts, and those were beachfront. Ivan explained that Arubans complained to developers because the beachfront resorts blocked their view of the ocean. At a certain point, they made it a rule that hotels had to build across the street from the beach. It was nice to get some perspective on all the resorts and hotels I had been reading about for months! I love what he said about the people in Aruba. He said they were very grateful to God for their island. They could be anywhere else on the planet and they felt like they had been placed in a beautiful spot. They had sunshine just about every day, never really had hurricanes, and were able to enjoy their families. The overall feeling there was optimistic.
One of Aruba’s best restaurants inside a windmill given to Aruba from Holland:
Our first stop was the California Lighthouse. We stopped here for about 15 minutes and took some nice photos:
There were vendors there selling water and Italian ices. Did I forget to mention that it was HOT? That sun was very strong, and I loved every minute of it.
The view was amazing because we could see the ship way in the distance, as well as clear across to the other side of the island. All the resorts and homes seemed to be built on the other side. We noticed how uninhabited this side of the island was, and Ivan explained that the wind and salt spray were so brutal on this side that it was just too costly and difficult to keep a home in good condition there. We were to return to this side at the end of our trip to see the Natural Bridge, and I’ll share about that a little later. There’s a rugged, wild type of beauty about the North side of the island that I really love.
Our next stop was the Alto Vista Chapel. One the way there, Ivan drove through the wealthy area of Aruba so we could see some of the fabulous homes. I wouldn’t mind having a house here:
On the way there, Ivan shared with us that the chapel was the first Catholic church built in Aruba. As we approached the chapel riding through the desert terrain, we noticed that someone marked every few yards of the path with the Stations of the Cross. Ivan said that they come and reenact the Stations on Easter, walking along the path to reach the chapel. I thought that was beautiful.
There was a vendor selling souvenirs in front of the chapel as well. Note the dog keeping cool under the car:
After leaving the chapel, Ivan took us to the official Alto Vista nearby, one of the highest points on the island. From here, we could see our ship in the distance.
We also passed through Ivan’s neighborhood, which was really cool because all of his extended family lived on the same street. Across the street, we could see the cemetery. It stood out because the tombstones were all colorfully decorated. Ivan explained that the tombstone colors corresponded with the colors of the family’s home, so you always knew what family was buried where.
On to the Casibari Rock Formations. These were gigantic boulders in the middle of the desert. There were some walking trails and steps that would allow you to climb to the top if you wanted. By the time we arrived, the line was so long that we decided to just take some photos from below.
Here’s one rock that looks like a movie character…can you guess who it looks like?
That’s right- King Kong!
Ivan gave us license plates as a souvenir. In Aruba, they have to change their plates every year. The color of the plates changes yearly. We saw some people buying the plates at the rock formations. It was so nice of him to give them to us for free.
Our final stop was the Natural Bridge, on the north side of the island. Again, you can see how wild and rugged this side of the island is. It was pretty windy….and beautiful:
We stayed here for about 20 minutes, plenty of time to walk around a bit and take some nice photos:
There’s a legend that if you place a rock at the top of one of the many piles here, you’ll have good luck:
We took a ride back to the ship, I think it was about 12:30 by then. Earlier, we thought we would ask Ivan to take us right to Amsterdam Manor for some beach time, however we were hungry and had plenty of time to have lunch on the ship and head back out to the beach later. I think a lot of people had the same idea.We said goodbye to Ivan and made our way back onto the ship.
We had a quick lunch in the Windjammer, put our souvenirs back in the room, and left the ship once more to head to the beach.
We walked outside the ship terminal area, and crossed the street. The bus terminal was right around the corner. We waited about 15 minutes for the bus to arrive. The bus got crowded very quickly, luckily the ride wasn’t that long at all.
I didn’t want to miss the stop, so we got off when we could see the Amsterdam Manor up ahead. Funny thing, if we had waited a few seconds we would have realized that the hotel was actually a stop! Oh well, we got to walk a little bit, it wasn’t that far. You can see the Amsterdam Manor in the pic; it’s the yellow building in the distance.
We arrived and found an empty palapa right away.It was $20 for the palapa and two chairs.
Loved the beach here. The sand was soft and white, a very clean beach. The water was the perfect temperature.
I met a really nice woman from Texas who was swimming by herself. We had to have chatted, treading water, for about an hour straight. It was so buoyant that I barely had to tread water, and I wasn’t tired at all when we emerged from the water. I told her about Ivan, and gave her his business card. It was so cool to be able to pass along his information so she could book a tour with him during her stay in Aruba.
Around 5:30 or so, the Amsterdam Manor staff started setting out chairs and tables right on the beach.
I think they were setting up for their famous dinners on the beach. I would like to come back and experience that someday. Seemed like we were a little in the way so we decided to head back to the ship.
While we were waiting for the actual bus, a local woman in a van stopped and asked us if we wanted a ride back to the ship. I was totally confused and wary, but then I noticed a sign in the window that stated that it was an actual taxi. We opened the van doors and saw another couple from the ship (we could tell by the towels). She charged $1.25 for the ride. Seems like a lot of locals were very familiar with this, and she picked up about 4 others before we ended up back near the bus terminal.
Dinner that night was in Chops. We had a voucher from our TA for a free specialty dinner, so we brought the voucher with us and waited until we were on the ship to book our dinner. We got our first choice of date and time with no problem at all.
For appetizers, Wes had the shrimp cocktail, and I had the beefsteak tomatoes with onions and Gorgonzola cheese. Excellent! We both had the filet, medium (cooked perfectly), and I had the sautéed mushrooms and steamed asparagus as sides. Wes had string beans. For dessert, I had my favorite dessert on RCCL- the chocolate mud pie. It’s rich and decadent. Wes tried the Red Velvet Cake. It was pretty good…but nothing tops that mud pie!