I have been exploring the forums for quite some time now trying to get some information and decided to join so I could ask my own questions! I am going to Aruba for the first time in early June with my boyfriend and he has never been on a trip to the Caribbean so I want to make this the perfect trip!!
The first question I had is in regards to where I am staying. I am staying at the Occidental. What are people's thoughts/reviews of this hotel? I have heard mixed things. In particular I was wondering about a fitness center and the food. I have been trying to find out what nights the a la carte restaurants are open (in my experience at AI each one is usually closed 1 or 2 nights a week) and also the theme nights at the buffet.
I also was wondering about a few excursions/activities on the island. I was hoping to rent a Jeep on the island and explore. Is one day enough to hit up most of the 'must sees'? What is the going rate for a daily rental and what is the deal with insurance? Also, is car rental available through the Occidental? Another activity I was interested in learning more about (for the bf) was golfing? Which course would you reccomend and what is the going rate? Finally, where is the best snorkeling on the island? Also, I think the Occidental offers snorkel gear as part of the AI is this true? IF so are you able to take it to another beach for snorkeling? Thanks so much...a bunch of the posts I have read have been extremely helpful and I would really appreciate some info!
We have not stayed at the Occidental but have had friends who have so I will try to answer the best I can.
Going on a tour, you can see the island in half a day, but I would not recommend you do this by yourself. We have been coming to Aruba for ten years and this past March my son decided to take a private tour as his GF had never been before. He couldn't say enough about it as he learnt so much history and facts that he never knew. You don't get that from exploring on your own. He took a tour with Cyril Croes (Serry) and highly recommended it. Bully, another favourite on this site also provides this service. What was nice about the private tour (although expensive at 40/hour for 3 hours) as it was tailored for exactly what you want to see. Another option is to do a short tour (not the big bus thing) where you get to see the island and it is explained to you. While the sights are great, without the historical facts/explanation it doesn't have the same effect.
Palm Beach is a lot of fun and there is a lot going on right at your finger tips, all sorts of beach activities, night life, etc. From my friends, they said the food at the Occidental was OK but after a few days were very tired of it and decided not to eat at the restaurants for dinner anymore. As I and many others do recommend on this site, All Inclusives in Aruba are NOT the way to go. There are some less expensive restaurants surrounding the Occidental where you can go for dinner. I am afraid you may be dissappointed if you do an AI and are expecting grandour. Because Aruba is the type of island that you can travel around safely, the AI resorts are not the huge, lush, "over the top" resorts that islands like Jamaica are. They must cater to the customers in that way because you really can not leave the resort.
Golfing is available at two places, Divi (which is cheaper) and Tierra del Sol (which is gorgeous). If you play at 3pm, the fees are much cheaper. You play until dark which generally does not allow you to get in the full 18 holes. The cost usually offsets that.
Enjoy Aruba. And don't forget...DON'T RENT FROM AVIS!
Also, is car rental available through the Occidental?
The resort says they have a rental desk on site, but not who the vendor is. Speaking from experience, it is a convenience, but not necessary to rent from the on site vendor. Other car rental companies "should" and the ones we have used, do, come to your resort to pick you up. I would shop around and take it from there.
Another activity I was interested in learning more about (for the bf) was golfing? Which course would you reccomend and what is the going rate?
Again, you need to view each site for pricing. Pricing varies according to time of day. June is the windiest month of the year. The further the day goes on the windier it will be. Gusts of 35 mph are not uncommon. Tough playing conditions.
Finally, where is the best snorkeling on the island?
Tierra Del Sol is by far the best for golf, it is a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design. AI are just fine, eating out can be very pricey 3 meals a day. Depending how long you are there, 1 week ? 2 or 3 nights off site for dinner plenty of restaurant's to choose from. Romantic sunset dinners are the best.