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Trip Report Manchebo Aruba Trip Report - August 2015

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I haven't been on the board very much in the past year since it has been a very busy and stressful year for me. This is a trip report from August 2015. Aruba was calling us back. I wanted a vacation where our biggest decisions would be what time do we get to beach and where will we be eating dinner. We feel very much at home in Aruba especially at Manchebo with their friendly staff and gorgeous beach. I’ve written about our Manchebo trips before so I’ll just provide some updates and (hopefully) some humorous stories in this trip report.

Getting there

We flew on US Air operated by American. It ended up that it was our last US Air flight after flying with them for decades. We were always treated well by US Air and we’ll miss them. They had multiple convenient flights from our preferred local airport.

Manchebo

We stayed at Manchebo from July 17th to the 26th in 2015. Their hotel has a beautiful wide white sand beach that is my favorite from all of our travels. The beach was the widest that we’ve seen so far. Their rooms have been renovated, are modern and have everything that you could want. The staff at Manchebo was so helpful and friendly. Many of them remembered us from our past stays. We received a welcome back gift basket of fruit, cheese and crackers on arrival to our room along with a very nice note. These touches are what make the hotel so personal.

Our first room was on the ground floor. My husband prefers a higher floor room with a beautiful view of the beach. They were able to move us on our second day to room 57 which was our second choice room. We were very happy with the change.

In the early evening on Fridays the hotel has a salsa class. A local person taught the class and went at a pace that was easy to follow. We had fun and enjoyed many laughs trying to remember the steps. I enjoy doing salsa type aerobic exercises so I knew some of the steps already but remembering the sequence can get confusing.

Pega Pega Bar at Manchebo usually has live music at their happy hour and is a fun place to hang out in the evenings. We were glad to see the talented older gentleman who plays guitar during happy hour who we remembered from prior trips. The bartenders at Pega Pega are friendly and make great drinks from the cocktail list on their menu.

There were significantly less iguanas on the hotel property this time. We used to sit on the balcony, have a drink and watch the iguanas on the grass below. It may sound boring but it was rather entertaining. I wish they would get back some of the iguanas and get rid of the birds at breakfast. The hotel should find a way to enclose the breakfast buffet area and sitting area possibly with screens so the birds can't swarm on tables when guests get up.

Restaurants

On this vacation I was on a quest to find new restaurants or at least ones that were new to us. Ike’s Bistro, which is Manchebo’s new restaurant, has a very talented young chef who created a delicious menu. We ate there twice this stay. Once was on lobster night and the other was for dinner on the beach. Sadly it was raining the day we were supposed to have our dinner on the beach so they set us up under their large outdoor pavilion. There was another couple at a single table under the pavilion with us. They have a standard menu for dinner on the beach but they arranged for us to be able to order off the a la carte Ike’s Bistro menu. The stand out menu items were the appetizers, octopus a la grigio and the ceviche and scallops. Next time we want to try their tasting menu which we didn’t get to fit in our schedule.

We chose Quinta Del Carmen for dinner on our first full day in Aruba. They have a lovely open air courtyard area. We had escargot and ceviche for apps. The ceviche was the closest that I’ve had to the ones we loved in Playa Del Carmen. My husband had an Aruban spicy steak dish and I ordered duck. They had great garlic butter and bread but only gave us one piece of bread each and then they took away the garlic butter. We could have gone for more. We’re on vacation. We didn’t want them to be the carb police.

That night we decided on a whim to go to Soprano’s piano bar after dinner. Carl Testa was playing at Soprano’s. This was the first time we saw him and he was really good. He knew a wide variety of music. We love piano bars and went there twice during our stay. The second time we went was after we ate at Salt and Pepper for tapas. That night we initially tried to go to Bugaloe’s but there weren’t any open tables so we had to find somewhere on the fly. We were disappointed in the food at Salt and Pepper. We did buy a great souvenir that night - the cutest little bamboo tray with a palm tree design at one of the nearby outdoor stalls.

The area between Manchebo and the Alhambra casino has grown so much since our first stay at the hotel in 2008. There used to be a large open parking lot that we crossed to get to the casino from the hotel. Now there’s a cute little outdoor mall with stores and small restaurants. We ate in the Alahambra Mall at Twist of Flavors on our first night on the island. It was within walking distance of the hotel. It’s a small place that opens at 10 AM and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. My husband had seafood lasagna and I ordered a bourbon garlic skewer dish. Our meals included free dessert as a special. I had coconut ice cream and my husband had tiramisu. Another day we went there for a late breakfast and tried their Dutch pancakes which were very good. We both had savory breakfast Dutch pancakes but they also have the option of sweet dessert type choices.

Another new restaurant that we tried was Fusion Tapas and Piano Bar in the Alhambra Mall. We had salmon bruschetta, escargot, quesadilla and garlic shrimp tapas. It wasn’t a sing along piano bar but we enjoyed sitting and listening to the talented singer and piano player.

I have been on the hunt for iguana on a restaurant menu for many years. I read online that the Old Cunucu House, an open air style restaurant in Noord, occasionally serves iguana soup. When I called to make the reservation I asked if they might have it on the menu the evening we were going and they said that they would. Their soup of strength tasted like chicken soup. It was good but I don’t know if I would order it again. I read online to be on watch for bones and there were definitely a lot of bones in it so I was glad that we were forewarned. I even tried a cashew colada there which was another new find for me.

Gostoso is a downtown restaurant that serves local food. We had a creole style conch appetizer, a mixed seafood dish with a coconut sauce and pork chops with onions and plantains. Their red sangria had a unique flavor to it since they marinated the fruit in orange juice and cinnamon. Their food and service were excellent. We really enjoyed our meal there and want to return next time. This tied with Quinta Del Carmen for my favorite dining experience of our trip.

Over the years we’ve eaten at several restaurants that serve chef’s choice menus. We had a delicious chef’s choice dinner at Carte Blanche which is next door at Bucuti. You must have a reservation since they only serve a small amount of people at their restaurant each night which makes it a personalized experience. The chef seems to take great pleasure in creating unique dishes and explaining them to the patrons. Everyone sits in a horseshoe configuration around where the chef stages the meal. My husband chose to have the wine pairings which he enjoyed but I ordered individual drinks. The meal was the most expensive of our outings in Aruba but the quality was excellent.

Carte Blanche had an empty adjoining room which would have been a nice alternative to eat in for people who are a tad less social. The meal was delicious but having to have to make idle chit chat with people who I don’t know wasn’t too fun for me. I felt like the others were intruding into my meal. I would rather be able to eat at a table with only my husband and have the meals explained to us as they are served. Another option would be to allow one couple to eat in the outdoor pavilion that you see when you enter the restaurant. It would be very romantic to have the chef’s choice dinner served privately out there or in a sectioned off romantic corner of the large adjacent room.

To be continued...

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    Kukoo Kunuku revisited

    Once again we went on Kukoo Kunuku. This was our fifth time on the party bus since 2002. We signed up for the tour with dinner which was at a new location, the Casibari Café which is across the street from the Casibari Rock Formations. They served a barbeque type meal which was very good. Each time that we had dinner at Kukoo Kunuku we liked it. We were given drink coupons to use at each bar we visited to order whatever well drink or beer we wanted. The music was a good blend of old and new. We had a great time!

    Mama was our guide and she was so fun. She is always up dancing and trying to make sure everyone is involved and having a fun time. We enjoyed ourselves while dancing and acting younger than our age.

    Final thoughts

    When we checked out at Manchebo we received a small bag of snacks for the plane which was yet another personal touch at the hotel that was greatly appreciated. On one of our trips in the past we had very tight connections and the airplane ran out of food so we were starving when we returned home. This time we had time to eat in the connecting airport but the snacks were still appreciated.

    We stopped in an airport restaurant that had computer screens at each seat. They wanted people to order from these screens. I’m not a very social person but this was too impersonal even for me. We left and went to a regular restaurant that had a nice bar with waitresses and with televisions to watch not computers screens.

    Aruba is a great place to unwind and get away from it all. It was a much need relaxing vacation. I’m sure we’ll get the urge to return to Aruba at some point and visit our friends at Manchebo.

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