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Trip Report Returning visitor Trip Report to Aruba - August 2009

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The combination of beautiful beaches, a variety of restaurants and fun nightlife keep us returning to Aruba. This was our third trip to the island. When we find a place that feels comfortable and that has everything we want, we look forward to returning to it. Our day to day lives are so busy that we look forward to being able to relax on the beach on vacation. It is a welcome change from our hectic lives. On our trip this year I was looking forward to experiencing different restaurants so the trip wouldn’t be exactly the same as before.

The Hotel:

We stayed at the Manchebo Beach Resort for the second time. This time we were there from August 20th to the 31st. Many of the staff members remembered us from our stay last fall. It was like being with old friends. We saw Fannie, Diana and John at the Pega Pega Bar in the resort and Sandra at the front desk again. They were friendly, kind and efficient. We enjoyed the live music and drink specials every night from 5 to 7 PM at Pega Pega. We always made sure that we were there for a part of happy hour before going out for dinner. I love listening to live music especially in small settings. One of the singers was the same as last year and he played fun familiar songs that most people knew. They had a new older gentleman who sang and played the guitar and sang. During our second week there were more families with kids at the hotel and I was surprised that some of the parents allowed their kids to sit at the bar with them during happy hour.

Manchebo has one of the most beautiful widest beaches I’ve ever seen. Last year in the fall at times we had difficulty finding an open palapa because it was more crowded. One of the taxi drivers told us that August and September are relatively slower months for the island. This year there were always some open palapas and most days we were able to get one in the front row. I’d love to return again in August. The resort uses the flag system for beach drink (or lunch) service and it was excellent. Manchebo had a weekly manager’s party on Tuesdays from 4-5 PM. They have free drinks, some appetizers and live music under the pavilion. It was really nice this year because it wasn’t as crowded as last year and we were able to get a table.

It only rained once near the beginning of our stay on a Sunday. I think that God was trying to express his displeasure that we skipped going to mass! We took a walk on the beach up to Amsterdam Manor since it wasn’t the best day to just lie in the sun. We made reservations in person our dinner at Passions restaurant for later in the week. We also took a break on our beach stroll and had a really good Mango drink at their beach bar. I ordered one again when we ate dinner there. When we returned to Manchebo after the beach walk, we stubbornly stayed out on the beach even though it was drizzling off and on. We finally gave up and went back to the room to get ready for happy hour and the live music.

Restaurants:

Aruba has a wide variety of restaurants to appeal to everyone in many price ranges and culinary tastes. We enjoy going back to our favorite places but I also wanted to try some new places this time. We had a long list of restaurants that we wanted to go to but we only had so much time and ended up choosing Matthew’s, Chalet Swiss, Screaming Eagle, Chez Matilde and Pizza Bob’s to try out for the first time this year. We returned to our favorites Gasparito, Passions and Salt and Pepper.

Matthew’s is next door to Manchebo and was chosen for its convenience. It is an open air restaurant with a beach view and we were seated in a sled type booth that was private. The food was good – nothing extraordinary but fine.

My husband likes German food and wanted to eat at Chalet Swiss. He said that they prepared traditional German dishes very good. He enjoyed the Weiner Schnitzel dish that he ordered. I like to try food that I’ve never had before. I don’t normally like green vegetables but I tried the pea soup at Chalet Swiss and I liked it. We were seated in a nice private booth near the back of the restaurant. I read online that another person wrote that the restaurant is popular with the older crowd and it reminded them of a nursing home dining room which I agree with. This did not take away from the enjoyment of our food - just an observation that it seemed like an older crowd frequents the place.

We wanted to have a foodie dinner and chose Screaming Eagle for it. We made our reservation for outside because I read that the tables had more room outside. I think if we went again I would rather dine in the more formal atmosphere indoors even though the tables are very close to one another. The setting inside is very elegant and upscale. DH had the Carte Blanche Chef’s Choice 3 course meal. For this choice you don’t know what you’ll be getting until they are served at the table. I ended up being jealous since it included some of my favorite items. For an appetizer he had soft shell crabs with tuna ceviche, a small salad with quail eggs along with crab soup. His main course was duck breast with foie gras and he had a sampler of desserts including key lime mousse, lemon cheesecake, chocolate cake and dulche de leche ice cream. I was hesitant to order something that I didn’t know what it was going to be and regretted it when the meal came out. I enjoyed my choices of escargot and grouper which had a standout vanilla risotto as a side, but it was clear that the chef took much care in choosing the menu for the carte blanche meal which made it more special.

We ate at Pizza Bob’s twice this time. We had heard about it last fall but never made it there. We didn’t want to have large meals every night and Pizza Bob’s is perfect for a fun casual meal. The first time we shared a large pizza which was huge. We ended up skipping breakfast a few times and had the leftovers for lunch those days. Their Mexican pizza was very good and not too spicy. On our second visit they had a singer who knew music from many different decades and countries. He seemed to scan the crowd and tried to play something that everyone would like. I think he thought I was from Mexico or Spain because he played a lot of Spanish songs and at one point it was only us and another American couple at the restaurant at their own table.

We were looking forward to having a fancy, romantic dinner at Chez Matilde. I looked around, read menus and thought I found somewhere for a special dinner for the two of us. Since l like trying new food on vacation, I wanted to order the ostrich but they were out of it that night so we both had the Platinum tasting menu instead. I learned my lesson at Screaming Eagle and realized that I’d regret not ordering this. I didn’t write down everything but from our memory we had salad with seaweed (which was a new food for me), melon sorbet, foie gras with mushroom risotto and banana soufflé for dessert. I’m sure there was something we forgot but we didn’t write down everything that night.

The meal itself at Chez Matilde was excellent but I was extremely disappointed with the setting. If you read reviews and look at their website, the restaurant is presented as being “an uncompromising French dining experience, with upscale, luxurious ‘haute’ cuisine” that “demands and deserves only the best in service and dining”. I did not feel that we got this experience. There were two large groups when we were there. One group was in the same section we were in and they were very loud. In the first area that you walk through in the restaurant there was another large group that looked like an extended family who had a few children that were about 10 years old. These children were the worst behaved children that I’ve ever seen in a restaurant of this caliber. They were running up and down the aisles following the waiters and generally not behaving. I had my back to them (which my DH said was probably for the best) and did not see all of their behavior but I could hear them. One of them wandered up to us and was staring at our meals for a while which I thought was rather rude. At that age the children should have known better than to behave like this. When we were asked at the end of our meal how everything was, my DH said that we loved the food but were disappointed with the disruptive behavior that was tolerated. I was very surprised that the restaurant did not make a gesture of taking a drink off of our bill or doing something however small to try to make up for it.

This year we went back to one of my all time favorite restaurants, Gasparito. I enjoyed strolling around the art gallery that is inside the restaurant looking at the local art. This year we purchased a painting by a local artist named Elvis. The escargot had cheese on it and was again delicious. We both had local dishes. I had the keshi yena and DH had the Aruban Combo with fish and chicken. We shared a dessert and it was an excellent yet affordable dinner. We were the only ones eating inside that night and I felt like we had the restaurant all to ourselves which I love. I don’t understand why the outside is so much more popular than the inside dining room. How often can you eat inside an art gallery?

We also returned to Passions for a beautiful sunset dinner. Their seafood soup was something I was looking forward to and it did not disappoint. We were able to take a few beautiful pictures of the sunset and enjoy a relaxing refined dining experience. Salt and Pepper is another repeat experience for us. It’s great for small tapas when you don’t want a large meal.

Activities:

We walked over to the Alahambra casino and made a small donation to them. I tried one of those penny slot machines with all the squares on it. I tried to figure out how it worked but after a few times I just gave up and went back to the poker slot machines which at least I understand.

For the third time we went on the Kukoo Kunuko party bus. This is one of my favorite things do on vacation. We enjoy music and dancing and rarely get to do that in our regular lives. The hostess, Mama, is so fun and is nice to everyone. This year I noticed that they played more hip hop at the last bar than I would have like to hear. They should play more songs that people are familiar with and should look at the ages of the people on the tour when choosing what songs to play for dancing. The songs on the bus were great as usual.

Aruba was just what we needed this year, a relaxing vacation that combined some familiar faces and places with a few new dining experiences.

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