My wife and I just returned from our honeymoon in Aruba. Since I had been lurking on the boards to get suggestions over the past few months, now I want to give back by providing some reviews from our trip!
We really enjoyed our time on the island - we enjoyed the diversity of cultures, the friendly people, the scenery, and the great food. Everywhere we went for the first couple of days, we encountered many northerners stranded because of Hurricane Irene. Other than that, we were surprised by how many South Americans were there are on the island, both tourists and immigrants. In fact, many people assumed that we were South American and spoke to us in Spanish! My wife loves speaking Spanish, so it was very cool.
Sunday 8/28 - Arrived on the AirTran flight nonstop from Atlanta around 1:30pm. The flight was very smooth, and we caught a taxi at the airport to our resort - the Divi Phoenix. The common areas of the resort are all gorgeous. Our suite in the tower was a little dated, but the view was amazing, it was very sizable, and having a little kitchen and living room was very convenient.
My wife was feeling a little ill, and we stopped by the resort restaurant (Pure Beach), where they specially prepared her chicken soup - she still talks about how great it was! That evening we wanted to relax after traveling, so for dinner we ordered pizza from Pizza Bob's (they deliver!). We got the BBQ chicken pizza, which was delicious and featured a thin yet doughy crust and somewhat lighter flavor than pizzas in the US. My wife generally does not even like BBQ chicken pizzas, but she loved this one!
Monday 8/29 - We got up around 8:30 and reserved a palapa on the beach. There were many available, but unbeknownst to us, we ended up choosing one that was very exposed to the wind (We corrected our selection later in the week). We ate breakfast at the resort deli (Pure Deli) and hung out at the beach for a few hours. Not having a car yet, we grabbed lunch at Pure Beach, which included a Mahi Mahi BLT that was great.
Later that afternoon, we walked up to a grocery store on Palm Beach, past the Radission. Then we got ready for dinner at Passions at Amsterdam Manor. This was our best culinary experience of the honeymoon! We arrived just before 7 pm and were seated at a table in the row closest to the water - they were so simple and elegant with the white linen covers and tiki torches. Watching the sunset at our linen draped table on the beach was beautiful, and we found the food to be excellent (overall slightly better than Barefoot, which we visited Friday). They even have glow in the dark menus for after the sunset. My wife had the seafood sampler that included lobster tail, shrimp, and grouper, and I just had the catch of the day, which was grouper. The shrimp were huge, and this was the first time we noticed the freshness of seafood on the island. After dinner, we walked own Eagle Beach, then went back to Amsterdam Manor to find a taxi. When we returned to the Phoenix, we walked up Palm beach to check out the other high rise resorts - it was very beautiful.
Tuesday 8/30 - We had reserved a rental car with Hans at Tropic Car Rental back in February, and he met us at the Phoenix just past noon. We can see why people here recommend him - he is very friendly and professional (more on this below). The car was a Toyota Yaris and we loved having it to drive around the island.
After getting the car, we checked out the Butterfly Farm across the street from the Phoenix. My wife loves butterflies, and we learned a lot about them and got to see so many of them there. After that, we headed over to Linda's Pancakes and Pizza's to try some Gouda cheese pizza, which was something we were both really looking forward to. It is fairly heavy, and my wife did not care for it too much, but I loved it!
That night we had dinner at Anna Maria's - eating on the back porch of their house was truly a unique experience. The food was great and we enjoyed interacting with David (their accomplished neighbor) and Anna Maria in such a beautiful setting. Their calamari is delicious - it does not look extremely appealing, but it had a very tender texture and amazing flavor. My wife loves pasta and had a relatively plain spaghetti bolognese that she thought was perfect, and I had a seafood pasta dish that had good spicyness. Dessert was a chocolate "salami" with an ice cream custard - very unique.
Wednesday 8/31 - By Wednesday morning, we had both come down with a little bit of a head cold, but we did not let that stop us! We decided to explore the other side of the island in the Yaris, so we drove out to Baby Beach, where we got to take in the natural scenery and wildlife. Seeing the island outside the tourist areas was interesting, especially seeing how dry the island is along with all the cacti.
After Baby Beach, we ate at Pueblito Paisa, a really authentic, hole in the wall Colombian restaurant in San Nicholas (across from Hollywood Smokehose). If you saw this from the outside without knowing what it is, you most likely would not wander in! Nobody there spoke English, but the food was incredible! My wife had carne asada, and I had something called carne machada (resembles ropa vieja). The plantains were excellent and the rice was the best rice I had ever had (seriously!).
That evening, we were getting ready to head to Marandi for dinner when we discovered that the battery in the Yaris had inexplicably died! After getting a friendly hotel staff member to unsuccessfully give us a jump, I called Hans to let him know of our predicament, thinking nothing could probably be done until the next day. He personally showed up 15 minutes later and changed the battery out, saving our evening! Excellent customer service. Then we headed off to Marandi - we were one of the only parties there, but after our day of exploration, we really wanted to enjoy a relaxing atmosphere. Being fairly alone on the pier, Marandi definitely fit the bill. I had the grouper, which was quickly becoming my favorite thing to order on the island, and my wife had grilled shrimp, which was again amazing.
Thursday 9/1 - One of my goals on this trip was to try the Dutch pancakes at Linda's, so we headed back there for breakfast and ordered the apple bacon pancakes (sounds amazing right?). I loved mine, but like their pizza, it was a little too heavy for my wife. After breakfast, we wandered up to the California Lighthouse to check out the NW tip of the island and enjoy the scenery.
After returning to the Phoenix and hanging out by the pool for a bit, we went out to B55 for lunch. The food was good and came in large quantities, but having been spoiled by great beach vistas at other places, we were underwhelmed by the inland views of B55. We are probably more ocean people than mountain people. On the way back to the Phoenix, we stopped by the open air markets in Oranjestad and checked out the watches in Little Switzerland.
For dinner, we came back out to Cuba's Cooking. The food was not quite as good as Pueblito Paisa, which is to say it is still incredibly delicious. The live music there really adds to the Cuban atmosphere of the place. My wife again had a carne asada type dish (did I mention she loves that?) and I had Cuban ribs, which apparantly is cooked with a sauce that is smuggled out of Cuba. Following dinner we wend on a romantic stroll through the Rennaissance Marina.
Friday 9/2 - Having not actually spent time on the beach since Monday, we decided that we better hit it up before we leave. We woke up early and, learning from our experience on Monday, reserved one of the choice palapas in a less windy area (away from the shore line). After a simple breakfast in the room, we relaxed on the beach for a few hours before seeking a quick lunch. The concierge recommended Bugaloes, Salt and Pepper, or Hadicurari. We got in the Yaris and headed to Hadicurari, getting turned around a couple times at the Marriott but finally finding it. We loved the Mediterranean architecture on the beach, and if you go at the right time, you can see the Jolly Pirates ship, which takes you back to how the scene may have appeared 300 years ago. We both got a seafood salad that was just what we were looking for.
That evening, we wanted to eat on the beach again for our final dinner on the island, so we headed out to Barefoot in time for the sunset. We liked Passions so much that nothing could top it, but Barefoot was decent. The setting is more casual and the food is pretty close in quality. We shared a baked bried salad, then I had the grouper special (with shrimp mousse) and tiramisu (which was much richer than the tiramisu in the U.S.), and my wife had the pepper tuna steak and a selection of walnut, hazelnut, and pistachio ice cream.
Saturday 9/3 - Since we cooked breakfast most days, we were interested in checking out the Sunset Bistro at the Phoenix for their breakfast buffet. This ended up not being anything special, but it was definitely filling. There is a friendly cat that walks around and ingratiates himself with the diners - not really looking for food, but merely trying to find a spot to relax.
After packing and checking out, we drove up the high rise section to check out the Paseo Herencia mall, where we grabbed a quick lunch at Taste of Belgium. Finally, we headed back to the airport, where one of Hans's colleagues met us in front of the US departures to receive the Yaris from us, and we proceeded to go through check in, customs, and the like before getting on the 3:30 flight back home.
We both thought our honeymoon was amazing! We loved taking in the sights and culture of another country. If we had more time, we prob would have checked out Madame Jeannettes, Carte Blanche (closed for vacation), and Cooks. Not sure if we would head back soon, simply because we enjoy traveling and want to see so many other destinations, but it was still such a wonderful first trip as husband and wife.