Pictures: Alhambra Bazaar and Casino Renovations

Several weeks ago I took notice of the construction at Alhambra Casino. This aging facility located at Punta Bravo also features a shopping center. This property has a distinctive Arabian theme which really stood out. Alhambra is owned by Divi Resorts.

A quick view outside shows a revamped parking area and ongoing, be it minor, renovation activity. Is it really so minor? That’s what I thought at least. After I received a tip from a reader I decided to take a closer look and saw how this renovation included taring down of large parts of the building.

Alhambra Renovation
New pavement for the parking lot at Alhambra

Currently the only part of the building standing is the Casino (which is going to be renovated as well) and Subway. All other shops (including Dunkin’ Donuts) had to make room for the renovation. In the combination of pictures you can appreciate the work that’s being done currently.

Update: The casino is expected to remain open throughout the renovation.

Alhambra Renovation
Front view of the casino with new parking lot

Alhambra Renovation
Middle square of the mall, with the casino in the background

Alhambra Renovation
A view to Casa del Mar, from Alhambra Bazaar

Alhambra Renovation
Steel framing visible at Alhambra

Alhambra Renovation
No more shopping at Alhambra (for now)

Alhambra Renovation
Destruction of old building

Off topic: Aruba Gasoline Price Surge

Note: This post is not linked directly to tourism.

In Aruba gasoline prices changes once a month and tomorrow it’s increasing. This is the forth consecutive month with an increase and there’s no end in sight. Compared to last month the price increased with almost 5%. With $4.48 per gallon ($1.18 per liter) this is the highest levels the prices of gas has been in over two years. In October 2008 gasoline was at an all-time high with $5.55 per gallon.

The most upsetting part is how the prices are established. All stakeholders come together once a month (minus consumer groups) and they set the price. It’s done in a way that no one (beside the little group that comes together) really has slightest idea of how it’s established. I see no signs of this changing either. Do you smell the inflation? For more information visit ArubaGasoline.com.

Aruba Gas
Gasoline this month: $4.48 per gallon

Do you wonder how it is elsewhere? Below there’s a quick list with some prices to compare, for your reading pleasure.

Prices are in US dollar per gallon (US dollar per liter in bracket):

  1. Netherlands $8.14 ($2.15)
  2. Aruba $4.48 ($1.18)
  3. Canada [daily average] $4.28 ($1.13)
  4. Jamaica $3.90 ($1.03)
  5. USA [daily average] $3.07 ($0.81)
  6. Trinidad & Tobago $2.27 ($0.60)
  7. Venezuela $0.09 ($0.34)

First: Disney Wonder in Aruba

2011 starts on a positive note for sure. Today a new cruise ship is going to dock in town for the first time: Disney Wonder. This Disney-themed ship is going to be in Aruba today from 6 AM to 5 PM.

Disney Wonder accommodates 2,400 passengers, along with 945 cast and crew. Obviously this ship has a cast to entertain the kids and parents that go on this ship. Disney ships look like cartoons from both outside and inside.


Disney Wonder [image by Disney]

Apart from Disney Wonder, today there are three other ships in town: AIDAvita, Statendam and Ocean Dream. If you are staying in Aruba and want to avoid all the people, as always, I suggest you skip town today.

Best and Worst of 2010 – Opportunity for 2011

Now that we are in the new year I believe it’s time to look back – be it briefly – on what was, by electing the best and the worst of 2010. Additionally I’d like point to the biggest opportunity I see for Aruba in 2011.

In the past I’ve named 2009 a lost year and 2010 a transitional year. Indeed they were just that. In 2009 the economy shrunk and in 2010 there was a modest growth, according to preliminary reports from the Central Bank. Tourism showed stabilization and old partners returned to Aruba such as KLM and Carnival Cruises.

Bushiri
Old Bushiri Resort building a great opportunity for 2011

On the flip side the important construction sector remained soft, Valero is only now reopening its facilities thus still not contributing to the economy and Ritz Carlton is still in the early stages of construction.

Below a short list according with what I believe were the best and worst of 2010, followed by biggest opportunity of 2011. All related to tourism off course.

Aruba’s Best 2010

The best of 2010 was a politician. I do this with mixed attitude as I never gave props to any local politician before since Aruba’s secession in 1986. I believe the lack of intelligent debates and independent representatives is worrisome. Also, all governments since 1986 have borrowed so much money that now our national debt surpassed 50% of our GDP, which is beyond irresponsible.

However, there’s some hope on the horizon in both the ruling and opposition parties. When an effort is done by a young politician to change things and to work according to what he’s generously compensated for he deserves a compliment for sure. Don’t get me wrong, it’s his job but he stood out from the rest.

The best of the year 2010 is Mr Otmar Oduber, Aruba Minister of Tourism. His efforts to bring major partners back to Aruba didn’t go unnoticed. It seems that he’s going to achieve independence of Aruba’s Tourism office by passing the law through parliament (something that has been talked about for a long time and never achieved). Independence of the tourism office is supposed to bring a more professional and creative spending of tourism resources without interference of any politician in office.

Side note, I’m also bullish on who they hired to head this new independent entity as new Tourism Chief. She is a young local professional who used to head the tourism office on a neighboring island. Congratulations Ronella.

Other cases he tries to tackle are the airport and harbor. Also his effort to jump-start the town of St. Nicolas is commendable. Lastly, he’s trying to find a solution to the decade old problem of Bushiri Resort (more below).

Despite the good work not all has been perfect but he has the right idea. There’s still a lot that needs to be done in 2011 and beyond. Disclaimer: I didn’t vote for Mr Oduber or his party during 2009 Elections.

Aruba’s Worst 2010

Aruba’s worst for 2010 is the massive failure of Morgan’s Island Water Park. After a years of construction delays and confusion about the whole project due to secretive or tight-lipped developers the water park opened its doors late 2008.

Soon after Morgan’s inauguration it had to endure the first of a series of PR-mishaps. The first – and most important – mishap was the price point. Admission fee was set at $57 for adults. After a lot of criticism (including on this website) Morgan’s lowered the entrance fee at $37 for adults. Others complained about the food prices and unfinished attractions or lack of maintenance.

Despite efforts of its staff with Carnival offers and Facebook engagement it never stood a chance and in the first quarter of 2010 Morgan’s shut down. It was only in business for the better part of a year.

Now, the remains of the defunct and abandoned water park is an eyesore and it’s going down slowly but surely due to natural elements, lack of maintenance and vandalism. I don’t see a new operator running this place any time soon which means that razing is going to be its final inevitable destiny.

Aruba’s Opportunity 2011

2011 is starting with several great opportunities for the remainder of the year. Tourism numbers is improving to pre-2009 figures and construction is on the verge of restarting (granted building permits are on the rise), I see the biggest opportunity with Bushiri Beach Resort, located on the outskirts of Aruba’s capital Oranjestad.

This defunct, government owned, all-inclusive hotel (who invents these things!) went bust at the start of the decade and has been a abandoned ever since. The next developer will acquire Bushiri only for its location and land, not for the structure.

Last year officials started proceedings to seek a new group to develop Bushiri, however, there was still an old group that had an option apparently (which it never used). Indeed, this Spanish developer had an option but it never exercised it, as a result it expired. The sued the government four times and lost all. Apparently they are trying file another lawsuit.

This Spanish developer was asleep for a few years and now that the government wants to move ahead and seek an alternate developer, they now are trying to benefit from this. Apparently they “don’t necessarily want Bushiri”, they would accept another offer or option for beach a front property to develop at Eagle Beach or Palm Beach.

They don’t stand a chance and at the end Bushiri will be developed into something nice that will work as a catalyst for to things to come.

Acqua Condo Restarted Construction

As promised in their recent newsletter the developer of Acqua condo resumed construction efforts on their massive condo development in Palm Beach, south of Marriott properties. This plagued project has been hit with setbacks from the beginning and struggled since.

It goes without saying that the struggles translate into massive delays in delivery, making buyers nervous, extremely nervous. From the amount of emails I receive from concerned buyers I can only conclude that information towards the clients is very poor or non-existent.

Acqua Condo
Acqua condo restarted construction in November

If you are an interested party to this development you should be happy to learn about the resumed construction. The developer said that this time they should move ahead swiftly and doesn’t expect any new setbacks. As always, I’ll keep my eye on this development.

Umbrellas Make Appearance

Some service providers started to work within the rules and offer removable umbrellas to customers. In below pictures you’ll see some of the ideas that are out there with some being nicer than others.

One thing I like about this effort is that they didn’t overdo it. There are just a few out at that specific spot at Eagle Beach. They rent them out for $25 a day, unlimited use which includes two beach chairs. They accept credit card, FYI.

Eagle Beach shade
New umbrellas side by side with palapas, with cords to prevent the wind blowing them away

The one thing I don’t like about this is, I could see it become a bit stale, perhaps they blend too much with the white surroundings (although colorful umbrellas might be an eye soar). Someone commented in the past that these things could become a chaos when there are too many. A wind gust could also be tricky. I hope they figure things out.

Eagle Beach shade
It has a cord to prevent the wind from blowing it off

Eagle Beach shade
Looks nice

Eagle Beach shade
Don’t plant it just put it; not the best looking palapa

Eagle Beach shade
This is ugly, but I understand the effort

Nikky Beach Assets Removed

On October 4th I wrote a piece about the renovation and expansion of defunct Havana Beach Club into Nikky Beach Restaurant. Nikky Beach Restaurant is a full service beach restaurant with beach chairs and showers as additional service.

In the ensuing weeks after the soft opening I read a report in the media that the Department of Public Works removed all structures on the beach put there by Nikki Beach Restaurant. I guess officials started to apply the rule there.

Nikky Beach
“Permanent” assets removed by Department of Public Works

Not all is lost. Nikky Beach Remains open and continues to offer service to its customers. Not only that, I’ve been told they are going to host a massive party on Christmas. One thing’s for sure, officials have set the tone. Do not build (or annex) illegally in the public space.