I just wanted to thank everyone who gave me advice regarding my first (but certainly not last) trip to Aruba! My husband and I had an amazing trip and it made our first anniversary so very special.
I thought I'd give a quick summary/review of our trip so to hopefully help others in their planning!
Weather - We were on the island from Monday June 13 - Sunday June 19. The weather was steady in the low 90's throughout and was windy and humid most days (but both were tolerable). It rained overnight and into the early morning hours twice, but by the time we were up and about the clouds had cleared out (9am or so).
Hotel - We stayed at the Renaissance Aruba Marina Hotel. Some of you may remember that I was having a bit of anxiety about it after reading some bad reviews on TripAdvisor. Well, thank you to all that promised me it was untrue. We LOVED this hotel. Okay, let's be honest, the bathrooms needed updating. But last I checked, the bathroom isn't the highlight of an island vacation. The hotel had everything we could have wanted - between the Marina and Ocean Suites it had 7 restaurants, two pools, market place, two casinos, high end shopping mall, extremely courteous and helpful concierge, live entertainment, a private island and the list goes on and on. We honestly could have stayed in the hotel and not gone anywhere for 7 days and been perfectly happy….and this coming from someone who is VERY particular about hotels.
Activities - We didn't do a lot by way of activities because we really were looking to just relax - but we did go Parasailing and on a Jeep Tour.
For Parasailing we booked Island Adventures for an 11am pickup at our hotel. At about 1130, still waiting in the lobby, we were getting ready to call it quits on waiting for them when they finally showed up. Bad start, yes, but the rest was nice from there on out. They brought us to a beach where their stand and gear are set up. We paid and almost immediately hopped onto a boat with a very nice driver who made nice conversation during our ride. When picked up some other passengers and were off to transfer to our parasailing boat. All in all it took about 20 min to get there. We switched boats and found two more very pleasant guides. My husband and I sailed first - they allowed us to go in doubles. We were up for a good 10 minutes - which was plenty of time to relax, take some photos and enjoy the beautiful view. At $120 I suppose it was a bit pricey, but it was worth it.
For our Jeep Tour we booked ABC for a 740am pickup (oh boy). They were there promptly with some other passengers already in tow. We took a bumpy ride through town to their main location. We signed some documents (waiving them of any responsibility!) and separated out onto the jeeps. My husband and I requested to be in the jeep with the tour guide, but some other adventurous spirits drove their own jeep. The stops we made were at the Natural Bridge, Gold Mill Ruins, Donkey Sanctuary and Natural Pool. The Natural Bridge was a quick but beautiful stop. At the Gold Mill there wasn't much to see but everyone had some fun listening to the tour guide explain a little about it and climbing the rocks. The Donkey Sanctuary was too cute - we enjoyed seeing and feeding the donkeys. The Natural Pool was not for weak stomachs! It was a bumpy ride to and from, an up and down climb of 85 man-made stairs and a slippery climb into the pool itself - but again totally worth it! Some advice for this tour - wear sunblock because you're in the direct sun a lot, wear sneakers - there's lots of climbing, don't bring much because you don't really need anything and all of your belongings will be filthy by the time you're done and lastly prepare to jump in the ocean or shower right when you get back because the dirt from the windy ride will be embedded on you from head to toe!!! http://abc-aruba.com/
Food - As many have said, too many places to eat and not enough time.
Breakfast: We enjoyed breakfast as the Aquarius restaurant in our hotel twice during the trip. They offered an abundance of food for $17.95 per person and all of it was of good quality. Something for everyone! Another day we ordered room service and enjoyed that food just as much since it was from the same kitchen as the buffet. We also had breakdast at the Plaza Café in the Marketplace - that was the only disappointing meal during our entire trip, but I blame it more on the service. I ordered a vegetarian omelet and got one with ham, we ordered coffee and never got it, the pancakes were undercooked, etc. I wouldn't go back there. I was very disappointed to see that the Dutch Pancake house was closed for the month of June - I was itching to go there!
Lunch: For lunch we mostly ate poolside. We enjoyed the food at the Ocean Club pool moreso than the Marina pool but both were good. We tried Quesadillas, Turkey Club, Chicken Sliders, Fruit Salad and different drinks. All were delish! One day we did have lunch at Cilo in the Marketplace - I remember enjoying it but have forgotten what we ate!
Snacks: One day we discovered Lecce Lecce … a Gelateria behind our hotel. YUM! Having gone to Italy last year we weren't sure it would measure up but it did! I had a Nocolla scoop and Almond Scoop and my husband had a Chocolate scoop and a Coconut scoop. Two scoops each came to $10. We loved it so much we wanted to order a second round! (but didn't)
Dinner Night 1: Passions. Oh Passions. This was by far the most beautiful dinner of the trip. We got to Passions at about 615pm when the sky was just starting to dim and the sun beginning to set. It was breath taking! We were seated quickly and our waiter promptly brought water and bread. We ordered vegetable rolls, almond chicken, lamb chops and dessert. My chicken was a bit dry but otherwise the food was delicious. The service was outstanding, our waiter even had the live singer dedicate a song to us for our first anniversary. He also went around to each table to offer to take a picture of everyone as the sun was setting. It was a great evening! http://www.passions-restaurant-aruba.com/menu.php
Night 2: Gianni's. We were originally set to go to the BonBini festival that night but upon arrival it wasn't our cup of tea so we left for the Paseo Herencia mall area where we had heard there was a red carpet movie event. After we watched a few celebrities take the carpet, we began to walk around the area. We saw all the popular bars, high rise hotels and tons of restaurants. We had made reservations at Gianni's later in the week but since we were passing by we decided to go that night. The place was packed and they only had indoor seating but we were really hot so it was okay. Being that it was nearly 10pm we didn't want a lot of food so we just got entrees - Chicken Parmigiana and Rigatoni Arrabiatta (at the waiter's recommendation). The dishes came out so quickly I hardly know how they had time to cook them! They were perfection! I'm not a big pasta eater but I wanted to eat every bite (but had to allow my husband to try some haha). Thumbs up Gianni's! http://giannisaruba.com/giannisaruba.aspx
Night 3: Madame Janette: We couldn't go to Aruba withouth trying MJ since sooo many people recommended it. It was a little off the beaten path but when we got there we thought it was really nice. All decorated in white lights with an outdoor/rustic feel the atmosphere was really nice. There was a live band (as there tended to be at most places) and they were great! Unfortunately this night my stomach was on edge - I'm not used to eating quite so much! So I just wanted to eat light. I ordered a chicken and pasta special and the waiter must've noticed my concern that it would be too big because he offered up a half size at half the price. I was so happy because I hate to waste food. I'm so glad I got half because it was HUGE! It was okay at best - the chicken was fried and greasy and the pasta was a bit dry. But my husband ordered 'burgers' and he said it was hands-down the best meal of the trip. I don't eat red meat or else I would have tried it and told you what I thought. He's still talking about it a week later! http://www.madamejanette.info/joomla/
Night 4: Casa Tua: We decided to stay in the hotel area on night 4 because we wanted something low-key after all the nights of eating big. So we went to Casa Tua in the market place. We got two free sangrias courtesy of the hotel coupon book! Then I ordered the Italian onion soup (which was the same as french onion soup). It was perfection! My husband started with a side salad. For dinner we share a Margherita Pizza and Chicken al forno. Both were tasty but a bit too cheesey for our liking. It was nice because it was close/convenient and the food was decent. http://casatuaaruba.com/
Night 5: Barefoot: We loved Barefoot! It's a new restaurant (open for about 6 months now) that took over the old location of Marandi (or so I was told by Concierge). We went at 8pm so we didn't see the sunset there but it was nice to be on the beach in the dark. Barefoot, by far, had the nicest and friendliest staff. Although we made our reservation last minute they were sure to ask where we wanted to sit. We wanted the beach so they asked us to wait a bit for the table. As we were waiting they came over multiple times to see if we were okay, offer us water/drinks, appetizers. Once we were seated they made friendly conversation and would come by, pick our camera from the table and take pictures of us without us even having to ask! We ordered more vegetarian rolls for appetizer and they were excelllent. I then ordered sweet and sour chicken. Though there was a bit too much sauce on it, I did enjoy it. My husband got a platter of different meats which he seemed to thoroughly enjoy. For dessert we got a tasting platter which included chocolate mouse, berry pudding, cheesecake, brownie and crème brulee. Each dessert was delicious!!! http://barefootaruba.com/index.php?page=default
Night 6: Flying Fishbone: My husband is allergic to shellfish so we were hesitant to go there not knowing how they were keeping things in the kitchen but we called and were reassured he could be accomodated. It was a bit of a hike from the hotel ($26 taxi each way) but it was nice to see a different part of the island. When we got there, it was a bit more cramped than the pictures made it out to be. Tables were somewhat on top of one another - but in time we got used to it and it was okay. The sunset wasn't directly in front of us like it was at Passions but as the sun began to dip everyone got up and walked to the part of the beach where it was easier to see .. and another beautiful sunset it was! I got the vegetarin truffle wrap and my husband got a crusted salmon. Mine was good, but again a bit too drenched in sauce. My husband said his salmon was excellent (did I mention I don't eat fish either?). For dessert we had the Tiramisu which had much too much alcholol in it - we didn't end up finishing it. I wasn't entirely fond of FF. http://flyingfishbone.com
Transportation - We used Bully taxi for our transportation to and from the airport. He was great! He was exactly on time, friendly, informative and made the transfer extremely smooth. I highly recommend him! For all rides to and from dinner, we just grabbed a taxi outside of the hotel. They were always there and the pricing was consistent since it's government regulated.