As a child, I spent many a family vacation at Holiday Inn properties. Now, as a budget-conscious adult, I know the brand will offer the amenities I need at a price that's right.
However, I had never considered staying in a Holiday Inn for any other reasons, until my recent visit to the Holiday Inn Resort Aruba. While still holding true to the brand's reputation for family-friendly affordability, this property has enough allure to satisfy guests of all ages and economic backgrounds. (To view a slideshow from Jenny's trip to Aruba, click here or on the images.)
The hotel is at the tail end of a multimillion-dollar renovation that touched most of the property.
The results are impressive, especially in the lobby, which was redesigned with an open-air layout so that the moment you cross the hotel's threshold you are greeted with stunning views of the island's Palm Beach and the Caribbean Sea.
The resort has always had a kids club, but the renovation moved it from an inconvenient location on the property's edge to a primary spot, immediately next to the two main pools, which were also renovated, and a stone's throw from the Oceanside Bar & Grill. Parents can sunbathe and enjoy a cocktail while keeping their brood in sight.
And although the family brand technically doesn't permit adults-only pools, the area around the property's third pool, the Sea Pool, is off to the side and is much more quiet and peaceful.
The renovation extended to all of the property's guestrooms, which were given flat-screen TVs and new carpeting and bedding, and two of its eateries, the Sea Breeze Restaurant & Bar and Oceanside Bar & Grill. The hotel was also given a new lobby bar, the Palm Bar, and a new spa and fitness center.
The resort's landscaping also received a complete revamp as part of a detailed "beautification project" that was scheduled for completion on Nov. 15. Most notable is the addition of secluded gardens just past the lobby and to the side of the resort's three pools, where guests can stroll, relax or participate in outdoor yoga classes.
Warm temperatures and beautiful beaches can be found on nearly every Caribbean island, but what makes Aruba stand out is the rugged desert terrain on its northern end. Although the Holiday Inn Resort doesn't offer excursions directly, it partners with tour companies that have representatives both on its beach and in its lobby to help guests plan getaway adventures.
I went off-roading with one of those partners, De Palm Tours. Initially disappointed to be a passenger instead of the driver, my mind changed faster than the car traveled — which was very fast. I tightened my seatbelt, clutched my camera for dear life and laughed as we bumped and bounced over the island's dusty hills in a more erratic style than an old rollercoaster.
Some of the tour's stops included ruins (great for climbing) and what's left of the eroded Natural Bridge, a limestone structure that collapsed nine years ago. A much smaller natural bridge next to it, called Baby Bridge, is still crossable on foot; the locals jokingly call it "a son of a bridge."
The tour culminated in Arikok National Park, the most intense part of the ride. Even with the seatbelt, I had to grip my seat to remain upright. Eventually, a mountain we were descending became too steep to drive, so we hiked the rest of the way down to access a beautiful ocean swimming hole, separated from the crashing waves by large volcanic rocks. It is the perfect place to swim, snorkel and, if you're brave enough, dive in, without worry of battling a strong current. The tour was a thrilling accompaniment to a trip otherwise full of beach relaxation.