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Trip Report Aruba Trip Report - February 2011

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Aruba Trip Report

We had a great time in Aruba, from 2/21-2/27. Contrary to expectations, it did rain a few times, from tropical bursts to full-out downpours. Thankfully, we were there six days, so we got our fill of sun as well.

First we stayed at the Radisson for four nights, in a garden view room. The view truly was of the gardens, which are perhaps the most extensive and lush of all of the hotels we walked by. The layout of the Radisson is wonderful – the grounds, restaurants and swimming pools never felt cramped. The only exception was when a cruise ship shuttle bus dropped off their passengers near the hotel – definitely avoid the left side of the palapas, since local boat and umbrella rental outfit crowds the Radisson beach with rental umbrellas, right next to our palapa on our first day. We learned out lesson and reserved low numbered palapas to the right of the Radisson if you’re facing the ocean (near Gilligan’s) after that – it’s a much less crowded area of the beach and better views. The palapas need to be reserved at 4:00pm the previous day, and most of them are free. (When we were there, only the ones closed to the beach were reserved at a price – they have a map with for-rent palapas highlighted in colored marker.) I liked the system, since we didn’t have to rush out early in the morning to put towels out. We never had a problem finding a palapa – the Curacao building was under renovation during our stay, which meant fewer hotel guests.

The non-smoking room at the Radisson was comfortable, but I didn’t like the sleep number beds. I found out I like a very soft (25-30) bed, but it shifted to much when my husband moved around or got up. I’d rather just have a nice pillow-top bed… The bathroom had been remodeled recently, but the ceilings are too low in the shower. I’m 5’8” and fit under the shower head, but someone over 6’ tall might have a problem. I also wasn’t fond of the bathroom door – it was a shutter door, which looks nice but it’s not very private. You could carry on a complete conversation with the person on the other side of the door speaking in a normal voice. The room had a nice sized terrace/balcony with a small table and two chairs.

We ate at Gilligans a couple of times – the food is good, but not great. I’d avoid the overly-cheesy chicken quesadillas, which were very heavy and limp. The fish sandwich was a better bet, or the grilled chicken salad. The two-for-one happy hour was fun, and they had good pina coladas. We ate there for an okay breakfast the first morning, before realizing there was a Dunkin’ Donuts immediately to the right of the hotel. The coffee was good and it saved us $ for the week.

Hyatt Aruba Resort

We stayed for two nights at the Hyatt. The room was spectacular – we were upgraded from a garden view to an ocean view room, with an amazing king sized Sealy Posturepedic Pillow-top bed. The bed and the linens were so comfortable that we’re thinking of buying a similar new mattress for our home! The bathroom door is made of frosted glass, and so it wasn’t the most private if you’re traveling with someone other than a spouse or significant other. Other than that, the bathroom was beautiful and the shower had both a rain showerhead and handheld shower fixture. The Hyatt palapas were first-come, first-served, so people got up very early to secure a good place. The beach was very windy on the right side of the hotel, so I’d suggest trying to find a place front and center or to the left if you’re facing the ocean. The swimming pools aren’t that big, but there are quite a few, almost stacked on top of each other. The beach bar, Palms, served excellent lunch fare – great fish tacos and sandwiches.

For me, the cramped layout of the Hyatt hotel grounds was a major detraction. There were two hot-tub Jacuzzis hidden among the paths to the waterslide, and it was nice to soak a bit. There were a lot of kids the week we were there, mainly due to the fact that it was winter break for a lot of N.E. schools.

We took a 3-hour snorkel trip (the afternoon one) on the Jolly Pirate ship and had a great time. The staff was fun and friendly, the open bar was decent (well drinks like pina coladas), and the snorkeling and rope swing were fun.

Restaurants we visited:
Milano’s – New Italian restaurant in the Hard Rock mini-mall opposite the high rise hotel district. The food was pretty good, but the service was terrible considering we were the only people eating there. If they don’t start an early bird special menu or something, they’ll close soon, since they never seemed to have many customers. I wouldn’t go back.

Papillon – French/Caribbean restaurant in courtyard behind Senor Frog’s opposite high rise hotel district. Definitely get a reservation, even if you go early. We barely got in, but very much enjoyed the early bird special, ($29.99 per person from 5-7pm), which included a delicious soup or quiche, grouper or filet mignon, and cake w/coffee or ice cream with mixed fruit for dessert. It also included a glass of house wine. The atmosphere, service and food were excellent for the price. The regular menu was of course more expensive, but I’d go back in a heartbeat.

Madame Jeanette’s – a Carribean destination restaurant that’s a $9 cab ride away from the high rise district. (Don’t even try to walk! You’ll get lost and there are no sidewalks en route.) I loved the crab cakes we shared as an appetizer. I got the shrimp with coconut crust and red thai curry sauce. I was surprised that the shrimp was deep-fried – it wasn’t mentioned in the description. I liked it, but it got heavy after awhile. The outdoor atmosphere was pretty magical, but it definitely was a crowded night (we went on a Friday evening). Wear insect spray, but if you forget, there’s some in the restroom. Reservations a must…

Papiamento – Hands down our FAVORITE restaurant in Aruba. The hostess told us that we would be seated inside, as if she was apologizing for it. I preferred it! The historical 1879 manor house had so much character and was elegantly appointed with antiques and quirky furnishings. We were seated in the main hall at a table with comfy arm chairs. We walked around later, and were amazed at the beautiful tiled kitchen, the side room and a small bedroom that had been preserved like a room in a museum. Most of the other tables were outside, romantically flanking a swimming pool. The food was good – my husband loved his chargrilled hot stone walla wish w/shrimp (the Mermaid entrée). We split a mushroom casserole appetizer, which was dripping with Dutch cheese. I had a tasty seafood casserole, which was very creamy, and came with sweet potato puree, okra and rice on the side. In retrospect, I think I’d order a hot-stone fish if we were to go back – it was so flavorful and healthy. Definitely get a reservation.

Rembrandt’s Café – Tucked away in the mini-mall across from the high-rise hotel area. Good for lunch or an affordable dinner or just having a beer. The split pea soup with sausage was great, almost a meal in itself, and the chicken sate was good but not what I was expecting…the huge chunks of chicken on a skewer looked like Flinstone-sized meat portions…it was tasty but just too much. I’d suggest sticking to the Dutch entrees. Casual—no reservation needed.

Hyatt Sunday Brunch at Ruinas del Mar – The food was delicious, the location is beautiful and the selection was varied, but it was chaotic and too crowded with people. For $35, I think I would have been happier eating a nice a la carte breakfast with extras like smoked salmon, mimosas and dessert. If you do decide to go, go early (before 10 am), before it gets packed with people.

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