Aruba might very well be the best place on earth to bust out of a poker tournament. Anyone who has played there can tell you that it's nearly impossible to go on tilt when outside the casino a white-sand beach, postcard-perfect sunsets, and endless pina coladas await. Best described as a poker festival set amid a week-long party, Ultimate Bet's eighth-annual Aruba Poker Classic will run from October 3 through 10, allowing road-weary tour pros plenty of time to return from the World Series of Poker Europe before heading down to the Caribbean. Perhaps more than any other destination on the circuit, the Aruba Classic doubles as a vacation for many players. Although serious money can be won at the tables on this tiny island, a wealth of beauty and culture waits to be explored outside the casino walls.
Places to hang your hat
When traveling to a poker tournament, it's almost always advisable to stay at the venue whenever possible. Here, that's an easy choice to make, as the Aruba Poker Classic is held at one of the island's most luxurious resort properties — the Radisson Aruba Resort. Situated in the Palm Beach area on the southwest side of the island, the Radisson boasts direct beach access, exquisitely landscaped grounds, 24-hour room service, an award-winning spa and, of course, a full-service casino. Ultimate Bet has reserved a block of rooms for tournament participants available at $209 a night, though if you're in the mood to splurge on an upgrade, deluxe ocean view suites are available for $499 a night. If you'd rather put a little distance between your room and the casino, check out the Hyatt Regency Aruba. Fresh off a $20 million renovation and located right next door to the Radisson, it's an excellent alternative.
Get your grub on
If you're staying at the Radisson, the hotel has three dining options. Gilligan's is a casual beach cafe, perfect for a quick sandwich or snack while looking out over the water. Buffet-style breakfasts and dinners are served inside Laguna and are a convenient option on tournament breaks. Finally, there's the four-star Sunset Grille. Featuring fresh, elegantly prepared seafood and melt-in-your-mouth steaks, the Radisson's flagship eatery also boasts an award-winning wine list.
If you're in the mood to venture outside resort row, take a taxi to the island's capital, Oranjestad, and sink your teeth into some serious meat at El Gaucho Argentine Grill. The steaks are to die for but make sure to order yours a bit rarer than you might in the States. "Rare" down here is more of a medium-rare to medium so plan accordingly. If your culinary tastes run further east, hit up Sawasdee and dig into some truly spectacular pad thai. This restaurant is also a great option for vegetarians and is within walking distance of the Radisson. If you’ve brought the kids along, take them to Smokey Joe’s, a family-friendly establishment serving up huge plates of ribs. Try them with some fried plantains on the side.
Happy Hour & Nightlife
If you’re a beer drinker, you’ll become well-acquainted with the local brew, Balashi, which is ubiquitous in the local watering holes. Or you could try ordering a "Debo," a vodka and watermelon cocktail invented by Gary "Debo34" Debernardi at Phil Hellmuth's VIP party several years back. It remains a staple at the Radisson's bars even today. During the Aruba Classic, you can find a party nearly every night at the Radisson but if you need a break from the hotel, there are plenty of places only a short distance away. The Bugaloe Beach Bar is located only a few doors down from the Radisson and is a perfect spot to enjoy a mojito and watch the sunset. If you’re in the mood for dancing, try Moomba Beach, where there is live music every night.
Fun on and off the felt
The wild alcohol-soaked cash games that run nightly at the Radisson Casino during the Aruba Poker Classic are so legendary that more than a few pros make the trip just to get in on the side action. You’re just as likely to find players like Bryan Devonshire, Tiffany Michelle, and Michael Binger donking it up in the $1/$2 no-limit cash games as you are to find sharks circling their prey in high-stakes sit-n-goes. The next day, take the loser in your game out to the Donkey Sanctuary for a photo op they’ll never forget. We’re serious. There is an honest-to-god donkey farm on Aruba. It even has its own gift shop full of donkey-themed memorabilia.
If you’re looking to spend some time on (or under) the water, head over to Red Sail Sports directly across the street from the Radisson. Take a catamaran cruise followed by a snorkeling lesson or try water skiing or kite surfing. If you’ve always wanted to try scuba, you can buy a beginner’s package for only $89.00 that includes a 90-minute ocean dive. If you’re anxious to hit the links, Aruba has its own championship golf course, the Tierra del Sol, where you're likely to run into more than a few of your favorite pros.
Want to win your way to Aruba? Sign up for an account on Ultimate Bet today.
photo courtesy Aruba.com