For each ‘Planner’s Pick,’ Prevue interviews a planner for their choices of compelling, high value destinations.
PLANNER: TINA ULM
If incentive planners and hotel designers sat around a table and configured a resort based on common sense and lengthy industry experience, it would look a lot like Radisson Aruba Resort, Casino & Spa.
The 354-room resort sits on 14 acres fronting the pale sandy shores of Palm Beach, sloping gently into the southern Caribbean’s stark blue seas. It’s the type of beach that hotel companies don’t need to Photoshop. It’s why Aruba owned the Antilles’ lower latitudes, tourism-speaking, for decades.
Radisson stands out due to a veritable Garden of Eden of coco palms and exotic flowers that envelope the beachfront lagoon pool and open-air restaurant. The rooms are larger than average, decked out in fun Tommy Bahama residential-style decor. Between the pool and rooms, you have the island’s only hotel martini bar next to the island’s only 4-diamond hotel restaurant. When you add the $5.2 million Larimar Spa, over 15,000 sf of function space, and a resident family of toucans—life is good.
“The warmness of the property with the overflowing gardens makes it feel very private, very cozy and away from the beach traffic,” says Tina Ulm, president of TRU Incentives. In February, she brought in two incentive groups of 155 and 260, with both US and international attendees. This was a recognition program for an agricultural conglomerate, with a slate of activity choices including: cooking classes, snorkeling, deep sea fishing, the Atlantis submarine and golf.
Also, Aruba is famous for its bright yellow jeep caravans traversing through the yawning, cacti-filled oceanfront desert. Participants drive the 4x4s themselves to visit old mines, a cute cathedral and some voluminous caves, before ending with a dip in a placid bay. Surely that was a big seller.
“Actually the spa was pretty much #1,” says Ulm. “And the food. The food was fabulous.”
Ulm organized a torchlight dinner with aged Argentinean steak, lobster tail and French champagne on the beach for a couple VIPs. They remarked it was their happiest travel experience second only to meeting the Pope in Rome.
Wow! That’s some pretty sensational sirloin. So how were the banquets?
“They had these different food stations including a mashed potato station where you made your own,” says Ulm. “There were oysters on the half shell, all kinds of fish, lobster—you name it. There was an amazing amount of food. They certainly don’t skimp on the food.” Ulm also recommends the Flying Fishbone restaurant where diners eat with their feet in the sea. Her groups bought the all-inclusive breakfast/lunch package, leaving most dinners open for attendees to roam.
“There are restaurants after restaurants right by the hotel, which is convenient because you don’t have to leave the area. You know, I loved Aruba because it made everyone relax. They so needed to be forced to kick back and just chill out.”