Location: Palm Beach, Aruba
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
The Good: Great beachfront location in the desirable Palm Beach area.
The "Meh": The bad rap the island, and its people, got two weeks after we left when an American went missing. Her hotel was the next one down from us. Contrary to what the media would have you believe, the islanders are kind, helpful, wonderful people.
In a Nutshell: A fantastic place to relax and forget the rat race stress!
We stayed at the Marriott Resort and Casino. After walking through the brightly-lit open lobby area, past the koi pond and bridge, we were greeted with a complimentary drink and welcomed to the island. The woman at the reservation desk was very nice, and we requested a room on a high floor.
She put us on the fifth floor (it's eight stories high) and we had a wonderful ocean view. The room was rather large, and layed out in a unique way.
Instead of having the bed stick out perpendicular from the wall across from the TV, it was against the wall so you walked along it parallel with the TV. This small touch really opened up the room. The white tile floors were covered by an expansive green area carpet, which nicely set off the yellow walls. The walk-in closet and safe were set in the big bathroom area.
The lobby was steps from the free-form pool and a small walk to the beach. If you go to the pool, walk around to the waterfalls on the backside of the jacuzzi and look for the Iguana Mafia -- there are five iguanas of varying shapes, sizes, and colors who hang out on the rocks back there, staring defiantly into the sun! We also saw one go for a swim across the pool.
We spent a lot of time at the Marriott's beach and pool. I don't know what made us happier, the fact that the waiters roam the beach taking drink orders, or that I could swim up to the pool bar to grab a drink. Be aware the beach gets busy during the day. If you're looking for shade, try to grab a palapa (a thatched umbrella).
The palapa situation, to explain it in the simplest terms, is this: On Day 1 of your trip, you can reserve and pay for a palapa for the next three days. If there are any palapas on Day 2 that have not yet been reserved, they release them at 7:30 a.m. on a first-come, first-serve basis. Hope this helps with the confusion. If not, Marriott's daily newsletter is delivered to your room and it contains the palapa policy in detail.
We didn't eat much at the resort, because there was so much quality island food so close by (see below). We ate at the Italian Buffett night at La Vista, Marriott's family restaurant, on our first night there. (Mainly because we were so tired and couldn't walk anywhere else.) It was okay, but not really worth $28.50/per person.
We booked the half day Xtreme Safari Tour with ABC Tours. We saw the Natural Pool, Natural Bridge, Bushiribana Ruins, the Ostrich Farms, and the far side of the island. The tour guide was very friendly, and we had three Land Rovers full of great folks head out on the trip. The tour guide drove the lead Rover, and asked for volunteers from the group to drive the other two vehicles.
The drive to the far side of the island is bumpy, rocky, and definitely a good reason to wear your seat belts at all times. The road to the natural pool was actually not a road at all. You truly are four-wheeling it over rocks, boulders, and the wild. The pool itself was pretty, but I forged ahead instead of waiting for our tour guide, and -- oops -- ended up entering the pool the wrong way. On my butt. I am now the proud owner of a deep muscle bruise on my bottom and thigh, and a large scrape across my shin. Message: listen and wait for your tour guide!
The natural bridge was pretty, though I began to question whether we maybe should have booked with DePalm Tours as we boarded our Rovers to leave. Our Land Rover was rusty in spots and the seats had tears in them. Then the shiny, yellow, new looking DePalm Jeeps came pulling up. I stared at them, then back at the rickety Rover, then back at the Jeep. I think next time we'll try DePalm. Maybe it's my adult ADD kicking in, but the shiny objects (i.e., the Jeeps) caught my attention.
Moomba's. We ate twice at Moomba's, which is right on the beach between the Marriott and Holiday Inn, once for lunch and once for breakfast. They have great, great prices. I had the crab salad sandwich and John had the steak sandwich. Mine was overflowing with crab salad and had a great zing to it, while John's steak sandwich was a clever, delicious take on the classic Philly cheesesteak. The breakfast buffet, at $9.99, is a solid little deal, and the custom-made omelettes are good.
Texas de Brazil. Two words: garlic picanha. Yummy. We tried to not load up on the salad bar (where pickens were slim anyway), and saved room for the meats. We didn't really see our server too much, and our drinks sat empty for quite awhile before someone came and filled them. In addition to the garlic picanha, the parmesan pork is quite tasty. I don't know how they make the cheesebread, but I could've snacked on that all night. All in all, a neat experience, but I wasn't blown away. (Note: they've since opened a few of these in the States.)
Le Petit Cafe (Downtown Oranjestad). Great lunch downtown at this little enclave, and we had the place, literally, to ourselves. There was some confusion with the waiter, though. I ordered the catch of the day, and John got the burger. His food came, and after ten minutes I asked if mine was coming out soon. Apparently she forgot to put my order in. Imagine my surprise when the catch of the day, mahi mahi, came out on a red-hot stone! It was a lot of fun to cook the fish myself, slicing off one piece at a time and cooking it on the stone. A very cool experience, and one I recommend. We also had the $7.99 breakfast buffett at the Le Petit Cafe - Palm Beach (by the Hyatt), which was only okay compared to Moomba's breakfast buffett. Instead of self-serve, they bring the food out to you.
Gasparito. I must admit, we were hesitant when the taxi dropped us off in a barren-looking little neighborhood far off the main drag, but once inside we were enthralled by the local art hanging on the walls and the charm the restaurant oozed. I got the devilishly sweet and tasty Kashi Yena, a local Aruban dish of chicken topped/enfolded by tart gouda cheese (also available with seafood). Absolutely fantastic. John got the Sea & Sand, which consisted of chicken, lobster, shrimp, mashed potatoes, and filet mignon. Way too much food!
Amazonia. Run, don't walk, to this place. The ambiance, decor, food, and -- most importantly -- service were outstanding. I literally would take a sip of water, and the waitress was there refilling my glass. Amazonia has a homier/less commercial feel to it than Texas de Brazil. And the service was, hands down, the best we received on the entire island. When you go, ask for Tico. He's an incredible waiter. The meat selection here was a little more varied, and I had my first lamb experience. Yummy. Did I mention this place rocks?
Flying Fishbone. What a perfect end to a perfect trip. When we walked in, the maitre de asked if we wanted "a nice table or a shitty table." I served it up right back at him; he laughed and sat us, literally, on the water. I started with the mini shrimp roti, a yummy concoction of shrimp, potatoes, basil, and onions in a pita break covered in curry sauce. John had the lobster soup, a fresh, light broth brimming with chunks of lobster. For the main course, I tried the barracuda and John had the grilled shrimp. The sunset was to die for.
Tips & Tricks
- We used the Visit Aruba Plus card, and saved over $20 between the two of us. I highly recommend it. Valid usually only on direct bookings.
- Take a bus from your resort to go downtown (it's only $2 roundtrip). Much more economical than a cab. We cabbed it downtown, then paid $20 for the taxi to Flying Fishbone. We saved a lot of money!
- Be aware of the difference between a booking and a third-party booking. If your concierge books anything for you, you may not be eligible to use any coupons, discount cards, or gift certificates. If there's a question, pick up the phone and book the reservation yourself if you want to save money. If you don't use discount cards, don't worry about it. Use your concierge! That's what they're there for.
- We booked three of our dinner reservations via the Internet from home before going. A great way to do things, plus we had a confirmation name when we arrived to check in at the restaurants.
Aruba's often hailed as the perfect vacation spot due to its bath-water temperature blue waters and light breezes. On this trip, we got one of the two. The lack of wind created overcast and balmy skies during our whole trip, but it was still a wonderful experience. While the sun came out a few times, we did have a beautiful view of the moon every night.
- Review based on trip May 19-24, 2005
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