Aruba, the little island that locals call “The Rock” has really been on a roll over the last two years -- redesigning and redefining its appeal to travelers with a reimagined downtown in Oranjestad and ample new resorts, restaurants, and attractions to keep even long-time visitors coming back for more. Here’s a whole lot of what’s new on “The Happy Island”…
A New 'Main Street' in Oranjestad
Aruba’s charming Dutch colonial capital has received a facelift, especially along Main Street (Caya Grandi) which runs behind Caya G. F. Betico Croes, the harbor road. Main Street had not been the “main street” for many years, but now new malls, shops, pedestrian walkways, green spaces and attractions -- notably, a brand-new trolley service -- are bringing visitors back into the heart of the city. The city's cargo terminal has also been moved away from the cruise ship terminal, giving visitors arriving by sea a much more pleasant first impression of the city.
Ding! Ding! It's the Aruba Trolley
Aruba started out the New Year with a bang and a clang, when the island unveiled its new eco-friendly electric tram system -- a first in the Caribbean. The new trolley is free for all to ride, and loops the revitalized downtown area starting at the cruise terminal and stopping at major shopping and entertainment junctions all along the way. Hop on and hop off as you please -- it’s a wonderful way to explore all of what’s new now in downtown Oranjestad. Two tram cars are currently running; by year’s end, there will be four in all.
New and Improved Resorts
The Aruban resort landscape has been changing; the most recent new complex is Blue Residences a condominium resort opened March, 2014. Fall 2013, the island welcomed its first Ritz-Carlton, and the RIU Palace, recently bought its next door neighbor The Westin to add to their complex of all-inclusive offerings.
Many existing hotels have been upgrading, including the Divi Group, which added the Alhambra Mall to their casino plus a new indoor convention center. The Boardwalk Hotel is now operating as a luxury boutique B&B, and slated for completion end of 2014 is the Aruba Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on Eagle Beach, walking distance from downtown Oranjestad.
Serving Up New Dining Experiences
Aruba’s has over 200 dining spots; newcomers include White Modern Cuisine in the Palm Beach Shopping Mall (chef/owner will also manage the new dining room called The Kitchen Table at Blue Residences). The new Alhambra Mall welcomes Asian-themed Ginger and Fusion Tapas Wine & Piano Bar, and Barefoot on the beach near Oranjestad has already become a very popular toes-in-the-sand dining retreat.
Brand new is Elements at the Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort, specializing in organic and healthy fare. Then there’s “O” Aruba Restaurant & Lounge, a new dinner show venue featuring the owner- popular local crooner Edjean Semeleer.
Divi Aruba Phoenix has transformed its surfside dining spot into Pure Ocean to complement its tapas bar, Pure Beach, and Aruba Marriott’s La Vista has been transformed into a “Seafood Buffet Extravaganza”.
Cuba’s Cookin’ has moved from their original digs of 20 years to a new open-air spot in the Seaport Marketplace, and the new Aruba Ritz-Carlton boasts two new fine dining establishments: Les Crustacés and Solanio. Also new in downtown Oranjestad is the excellent and affordable West Deck, a fun casual beach bar/diner right on the surf in the new Linear Park.
Jet Packs and Other New Activities
The new phenomena called Jetlev (think Jetson’s style jet-pack on the water) has become extremely popular through Red Sail Sports, and a new powerful yet eco-friendly scooter called Seabob is the latest way to discover the reefs on an underwater tour. On land, VIP Tours has customizable itineraries for exploring the island in luxurious comfort, or you can travel the island via Segway Tours Aruba, operating off MooMba beach.
Linear Park and a New Home for the Donkeys
A new eco-friendly visitor centre now welcomes guests to Arikok National Park with interactive exhibits, movies, maps and free guided hikes. The new Linear Park and boardwalk construction is now well underway when completed it will connect both main resort beaches (Eagle and Palm) along the sea and be the longest of its kind in the Caribbean. And the Aruba Donkey Sanctuary in Sta Lucia will be moving to a bigger, better farm in Bringamosa this year.
Discover San Nicolas, Aruba's Revitalized Second City
San Nicolas- the little town that was once the hub of Aruba's oil refinery business, is undergoing a big awakening. On Thursday nights, a mini-carnival called the Carubbian Festival draws visitors to the sunrise side of the island, and JADS Dive Centre has constructed a new beach bar/eatery call the Rum Reef on the town's Baby Beach (they are also busy turning the old Esso Social Club into a waterfront dining and entertainment complex there). The government has big plans to revitalize the town this year, improve infrastructure and attractions, and make it the heart of future carnivals. Construction is well underway on a massive new Carnival Village, museum and workshop complex that should be operational by 2015.
EDM and Other New Festivals
New annual events on Aruba include the 2nd Electric Festival in September; a gathering of electronic music artists and fans. And also attracting fans and athletes from the world over is the DIVI Aruba International Beach Tennis Tournament, held in November. The Aruba International Film Festival, going into its fourth year this July, has also become a big draw for global talent.
Clean and Green Initiatives
Aruba is out to become the first country in the world to be entirely fossil-fuel free by the year 2020. Twenty percent of power is already generated by wind turbines on this famously breezy island. The nation has also joined Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room and hosted the prestigious 2013 Caribbean Renewal Energy Forum. Green Aruba and the government are also working on an extensive smart energy network, and resorts are also stepping up their environmental awareness projects where visitors are encouraged to participate.
New Online Apps and Opps
The Aruba Tourism Authority has a nifty new app for visitors featuring intelligent trip itinerary features and all kinds of cool extras. It also works offline which saves roaming fees. Another way to save roaming fees is to rent the new MIO MIFI , a tiny portable WIFI device that allows you to connect to the Internet from wherever you are. Island guides Aruba Nights and Island Gourmet magazines are now digital and available to download to your smart phone. Free WIFI is also planned in strategic hot spots throughout Oranjestad this year.