By Lavanya Sunkara
A four-hour flight landed me in Aruba, an island in the Southern Caribbean known for its trade winds, casinos and white sand beaches. Away from the hustle of New York, I felt an instant calm the minute my feet touched the buttery soft sand of Palm Beach on the western coast where Aruba Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino was located. More relaxation awaited me at the Tradewinds Club at the Marriott and the new adults only H2Oasis pool.
Tradewinds Club is an adults only luxury boutique hotel within the Aruba Marriott. Located on the top floor, the Tradewinds rooms boast modern décor and balconies overlooking the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. Guests have exclusive access to a private section of Palm Beach, where floats and large towels are provided. The private Tradewinds Lounge provides check ins, internet access, personal concierge, complimentary gourmet selections five times a day, alcoholic drinks in the evening, reservations for the spa and restaurants among other perks.
As one of the few hundred guests at the Tradewinds Club to be invited to the new pool opening, I was excited. The 1.2 million dollar, 10,000 square foot adults only H2Oasis pool and recreational area overlooking the ocean was the setting for the Aqua Di Lara swimsuit show for the island’s first ever fashion show- Aruba In Style 2011 held in November. With a tropical drink in my hand, I joined some fellow guests in the pool to watch stylish Arubans walk down the catwalk around the pool in the trendiest swimwear.
After a few hours of unwinding by the pool post the show, I headed to explore Oranjestad, the charming capital and the largest town on the island. The main strip in the center of town, located seven miles from the Marriott, is better explored on foot. Lined with pink, green and orange pastel painted shopping malls, casinos and government buildings in typical Dutch and Spanish styles, it was a delight just to walk down the street paralleling the water.
Located on Eagle Beach, a short distance from Oranjestad, the Screaming Eagle restaurant and lounge is ideal for large gatherings and romantic couples. With scarlet red painted walls, floor to ceiling white sheer curtains, the ambience is romance mixed with elegance. The best part of the experience - the canopy beds - strewn with pillows, white sheets, curtains providing privacy and wooden trays where guests could get comfortable barefoot and eat their meals sitting Indian style under the soft lighting.
With French inspired cuisine, from fine wines to fresh seafood to dessert crepes prepared table-side on a flambé cart, Screaming Eagle is a must try for those looking to enjoy a delicious meal bathed in serenity. After a sumptuous meal of grilled calamari, spinach tortellini, and crêpe suzette, I might have dozed off had it not been for the promise I made to myself to check out the happening Moomba beach bar near the Marriott for dancing under moonlight.
The next morning, I tried paddle board yoga for the first time. My yoga instructor Rachel Brathen and I paddled to a clearing a short distance away from the boaters, snorkelers and sunbathers on Marriott’s stretch of Palm Beach. The calm waters of the Caribbean were cool and inviting. Rachel started out with a few sun salutations and I followed her, slowly bending and then standing up to reach the skies where in the distance rain clouds turned the sky a dark blue against the aqua green waters below, as if a Rothko painting had come alive. “It’s all about finding balance in unstable circumstances, the worst thing that can happen is we fall in the water,” reminded Rachel as we moved from one posture to another, letting go of all inhibitions. With each move, I felt more invigorated. I took in the views of the Caribbean Sea with its different shades of blue green, seagulls soaring above and the occasional lightning that streaked across the sky on the horizon. It was enchanting, and I didn’t want it to end. The sun was shining again by the time we were done, and we jumped in the refreshing waters for a swim to the shore, and onwards with our day, with memories lasting a lifetime.
Back at the Tradewinds Lounge, I devoured a savory sandwich and salad, and topped it off with a melt-in-your-mouth caramel cheesecake before my next adventure. With constant trade winds, shallow waters and gentle waves, Palm Beach is ideal for all types of activities from parasailing to kiteboarding to windsurfing. I had never been on a windsurfing board before visiting Aruba. I feared that I might get swept away out to sea where no one would find me, but I was filled with envy each time I saw someone windsurfing with ease. So I signed up for an afternoon class at Vela Windsurf and Kitesurf Center near the resort. With shaky knees and a heart beating faster, I managed to stand on the board, face my fears, and pull the sail up. Within a half hour I was sailing, navigating the board over emerald blue waters, feeling free as a bird, and getting a few strange looks from the pelican perched on an anchored boat each time I fell. My instructor was right there, guiding me, and taking pictures to capture moments I’ll remember for a long time.
Overlooking the ocean, La Vista, one of the seven restaurants on site at the Aruba Marriott, offers incredible views. Palm trees and small thatched beach palapas dot the landscape and guests sunbathe on lounge chairs. Sitting with my book in the outdoor patio, I took in the views while enjoying a piña colada.
Just when I was settling down, I remembered I had made an appointment with the Mandara Spa through the friendly concierge staff. The Mandara Spa is located in the Marriott Ocean Club, adjacent to the Resort. The spa won the 2005 “Best of the Caribbean” award from Caribbean Travel & Life and was ranked among the top 10 international spas by Celebrated Living in 2007. Immediately upon entering, I was treated to tea and was given a robe and slippers. My Aruban masseuse led me to the massage room through the dimly lit halls with warm colored walls adorned with Thai silk hangings. Mandara Spa integrates Balinese treatments with traditional techniques from Europe or Asia, and those indigenous to Aruba. Using aromatic Mandara oil, the masseuse did her magic as I drifted off to deep relaxation listening to Balinese music.
The sun was just setting after the massage, and a pink and orange hued sky greeted me as I made my way between the palm trees with sparkling lights to the table fifty feet from the water at Simply Fish. The theme of this outdoor restaurant at the Marriott known for its delicious sea food and incredible sunset views is no footwear. Guests are kindly reminded to let their toes wiggle in the sand. After a few hours of feasting on fresh sea food, drinking mango martinis, and enjoying breathtaking views, I was simply in awe of Simply Fish.
And after a long weekend of relaxation, fine cuisine and adventure all served up in a luxurious setting, I never felt more like a winner.
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