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New developments keep Aruba 'One Happy Island'

Connected to a shopping center, Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino transports guests by boat to a idyllic private island with all the amenities.
Connected to a shopping center, Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino transports guests by boat to a idyllic private island with all the amenities.
Chris Roberts

Aruba’s healthy tourism economy is fueled by a generous blend of cruise arrivals and hotel guests. Annually this popular desert destination, in the lower reaches of the Caribbean near Venezuela, attracts nearly 1.7 million visitors.

Ritz-Carlton Aruba marks the fifth resort hotel to open in the Caribbean for the company.
Chris Roberts

It is no surprise that development is booming. “We have flights from 14 gateways in North America, high name recognition, and strong marketing with a focus on the northeast United States,” says Sanju Luidens-Daryanani, chief marketing officer for the Aruba Tourism Authority. “With the merger of Air Tran and Southwest Airlines, we now have access to their entire network.”

Last December an impressive $150 million Ritz-Carlton opened ahead of schedule. Holiday Inn completed a $20 million renovation in January including all rooms, the pool and reception areas. La Cabana Resort finished a $45 million renovation. RIU Grand Palace purchased the neighboring Westin hotel with plans to spend $175 million and re-brand the high rise, according to Jim Hepple, president & CEO, Aruba Hotel & Tourism Association.

There is a new Hard Rock Resort on the way, but no need to wait for excitement. Bucuti Beach Resort spent $3 million on a new beachfront restaurant with a natural & organic menu, which opened last year.

The latest opening is Blue Residences, the first upscale condominium resort to be built in 20 years on famed Eagle Beach. The first of three planned towers premiered March 1.

Prospective owners have a choice of two five-bedroom penthouses, four three-bedroom penthouses, 12 three-bedroom units and 24 two-bedroom units, totaling 42 residences.

"The debut of Blue Residences marks an important event in the Aruba tourism industry, providing travelers with a selection of upscale condo-style units from which to enjoy everything the island has to offer," said Herber Valkenberg, president of Icon Hotel Marketing, the North American representative for the resort.

Blue Residences affords guests and owners unobstructed ocean views in every unit, elevated ceilings in the bedrooms, living rooms and dining rooms, private Jacuzzi terraces, fully loaded kitchens featuring upscale appliances and wireless internet throughout the property.

On-site amenities include a private beach and poolside butler service, concierge services and golf privileges at two nearby courses, including the 18-hole Tierra del Sol. A second tower is scheduled to open in May while the third tower is planned for January, 2015. Upon its completion, the resort will offer 124 total units.

The 320-room Ritz-Carlton, along the island’s northwestern Palm Beach, marks the company’s fifth hotel in the Caribbean. The brand also has two hotels in Puerto Rico, as well as one in St. Thomas and Grand Cayman.

Helping hotel and government officials cut the ribbon were children in local dress from the Aruba's Children's Chorus. In his opening remarks, Marriott International Chairman Bill Marriott pledged the hotel's commitment to environmental stewardship and social responsibility. "We applaud Aruba's initiatives in targeting the destination as the green gateway to the region," he said.

The hotel has four restaurants, the island's largest spa, a 24-hour casino, two pools, private beach cabanas, the Ritz Kids Club and the 35-room Club Level on the seventh floor.

“More charm is coming downtown,” adds tourism’s Luidens-Daryanani. “We’re working to rejuvenate the product with more cafes, more ambiance.” The only street car in the Caribbean started service last March, a free attraction passing the many retail improvements.

In Aruba’s competitive game of hotel one-upsmanship, Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino may have an edge. Besides proceeding ahead with a $20 million renovation, and being attached to one of Caribbean’s best shopping centers, this favorite in-town property features a 40-acre jaw dropping private island for its guests.

Complimentary water taxis leave every 15 minutes from the hotel’s lobby, designed with a moat leading out into the ocean. The island has two dreamy beaches, one for adults-only called Flamingo Beach. Local residents are friendly flamingos that amble by the chaise lounges, posing for photos – a colorful amenity no other hotel can match.

“Even though we’re right in town and convenient for the business traveler, that segment represents only 20 percent of our guests,” says Paul Gielen, general manager. “The rest are here on holiday and enjoy our private beach experience.”

Expedia, the global online booking resource, reported 21 percent growth for Aruba through the first three quarters of 2013, compared to the same period the previous year.

Here’s something else new. Gloria Vega, cruise and niche market manager for the Aruba Tourism Authority, reports a new program to honor guests who have been coming for 35 consecutive years. “Right now we’ve identified about a hundred such guests,” says Vega.

What was Aruba like 35 years ago? “Similar to how neighboring Bonaire is today,” she says. “Very quiet with about 50,000 living here then.” Now it’s about 100,000.

The Dutch destination remains hot, cooled by a constant breeze and a maybe a bottle of Heineken on the beach.

When you go

For destination information, including flight gateways, www.aruba.com. Visit www.bluearuba.com for hotel-condo information. For details on Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino www.arubarenaissance.com. All major cruise lines call on Aruba, including Princess Cruises which offers the port on three ships’ itineraries. The destination welcomed 700,000 cruise passengers last year, 18% growth over the previous year.