I love trip reports. I love being able to gather the well-informed opinions of Aruba fans to help with trip planning and always appreciate others' efforts to describe their experiences that provide such vicarious fun. This is written as a thank you!
This is the trip report of sisters, Jan and Dolly, 6-time returnees to Aruba. During our first trip in 1998, we bought a timeshare at CPV, gave our unit back to the resort this year, and were using our last banked weeks in a final hurrah visit, exchanging them for a week at the Renaissance and Paradise Beach Villas before our II membership expires next month.
Perfect, uneventful flight on JetBlue. Although Logan was busy that morning, all lines moved quickly. No trouble with overweight checked bags (we worried!) or with Visine-like oversights in our carry-ons. Relatively smooth flight with fun, free movies in roomy, comfortable seats. Great start!
Arrived to 98 degree, mostly sunny weather, and yes! those wonderful Aruba breezes. By the time we got through immigration, our bags were traveling around the carousel. Stopped to buy one-liter per person duty-free bottles of hooch (Skky vodka and Bacardi rum=$29) and were met by Dennis of Tropic Car Rental. He helped with our luggage and we were soon driving away in our newish Hyundai. The new traffic circle is really not a circle yet. Instead of making the left toward the high rises as before, we had to turn right out the airport parking lot, go less than 50 yards (bad at judging distances) until the road turns you back toward Oranjestad. There was little traffic and we quickly made it to the Renaissance Ocean Suites without incident or breaking too many Aruban road rules. Short wait to check-in; happily our unit was ready, so we were in our rooms by 2:30pm.
Sort of hesitant to write this because it may cause others to alter their expectations of this resort. We had stayed here about 7 years ago for a couple of nights, so had a good sense of the place. Had read recent reviews describing the units as out-dated and tired, so our expectations were properly lowered, which may help to account for our being so pleasantly surprised by just how nice everything is. While not glamorous or luxurious, our unit is lovely. All furnishing are in good repair, very pleasant color scheme/decorations, well-equipped with necessities, and, except for very minor mildew around the tub, very, very clean. Daily housekeeping visits help to keep it that way. Something rather refreshing here is the lack of time-share rules that seem ubiquitous elsewhere. No inventory to do, no time restraints on towel pick-up and return, no having to promise to give up your first-born for a remote control, and the pool is open 6am-11pm. Nice. There are tons of chairs/lounges/etc., at the pools and on the private island in both shade and sun at all times of the day. Never have seen anyone up early to “reserve” premium spots. Our view is overlooking the grounds and pools with the gorgeous multi-blue ocean just beyond that. So, it's our recommendation to keep expectations low only to find them easily exceeded.
Non-expert Ren tips:
Inside the L-shaped building, the odd-numbered rooms face toward the pool and ocean, however, there are views of the ocean/lagoon from some of the even-numbered rooms as well. Be aware that some of the pool/ocean view rooms appear to be blocked by random palms trees and other foliage on several of the floors. The third floor units look to be the most consistently frond-free. While free wi-fi is available in the open-air lobby, it is often warm and seating is limited there. Found out that it's possible to get connected in the stairwells on the first and second floors where it is air-conditioned and electrical outlets are available as well as by 3rd floor elevators (no ac/outlets).
After unpacking, emailed home from the lobby where free wi-fi is available. Not willing to pay the $70/week for wired internet in our rooms. All staff that we have encountered have been very friendly and helpful. We headed to the pool area for a little snoozing under the palms and enjoyed watching the pelicans diving in synch into the adjacent lagoon. People-watching revealed a mix of families w/children and all ages of couples. Lots of languages and accents; one of the very cool experiences in Aruba is that, although the USA is well-represented, there is a cosmopolitan combination of other nations/nationalities as well.
Walked through a quiet Renaissance Marketplace (which is looking very spiffy) to Cuba's Cookin' for dinner. Although this restaurant has been a favorite for years, this was our first time in its new location. Very friendly and welcoming staff. Knowledgeable server who seemed to enjoy sharing his own associations with the various dishes he was explaining to us and his experiences eating them when he was growing up.
When we've been to Aruba before, it's always been in the summer, most often in August. It seems very quiet here now. Maybe this is just here in town and that will change when we head to the high rise area and/or to Eagle Beach, but the restaurants have been nearly empty. Cuba's Cookin' on a Friday night had maybe 4 tables filled. Initially, we were worried about what this meant for this favorite place since before the move it always seemed quite lively, but now think that the lack of diners is either a function of the low season, poor economy, or competition with the high rise area restaurants. All of the restaurants we have been to, with the exception of the Hyatt brunch, we have been able to walk into without reservations and there were many, many tables empty throughout the evening. By the way, Cuba's Cookin' still makes the best mojito (and free with coupon) ever!
Before our trip, spent time on-line researching restaurants that offer vegetarian options on their menus. Cuba's Cookin' does: we enjoyed yucca which seemed like a gigantic crunchy French fry but better and a grilled vegetable medley with a wonderful sauce, rice and beans, and ropa vieja for $64 including tax. As became our usual practice, we played for a while at the Seaport Casino on our way back through the Marketplace and, up 'til now, have just been making deposits.
Long day/we're tired! To sleep early in the very comfy bed!
Saturday August 18
Lazy morning. Headed to DeliFrance for breakfast after spending a couple of hours trying to make a left out of the Ren parking lot without breaking a law. Found out later that one needs to drive to the right to eventually go to the left on the other side of the lagoon. Great breakfast and service (15% service charge), neat atmosphere, and moderate prices for the high quality of food. According to their specials-of-the-day list, they offer some very reasonable choices for dinner. Too many places, too little time! Went to Ling and Sons and stayed far too long buying snacks, mixers, and beer ($130-worth-yikes!).
Back to the Ren/made drinks/to pool. There was a great 3 piece band playing and making the resort sound very festive. But, what a subdued crowd! I think that we were frequently the only ones clapping for this group that seemed to be trying to encourage some enthusiasm and excitement for the upcoming happy hour. Felt a little sorry that they were having to work so hard. While in the pool, sitting on the noodles we brought from home, we watched a Sox/NYY game on the bar's TV. Could it get any better? Yep, the Sox won! ;-)
Walked to Hung Paradise, a few doors away, for a light dinner in anticipation of the Hyatt Brunch tomorrow. Decent food/generous portions/friendly staff. Good vegetarian choices here. $39 including tip for 2 soups, 2 entrees and a beer.
Sunday August 19
Up at 8 to get ready to head to our highly anticipated Hyatt Brunch, a family tradition since our first visit to Aruba. It's not that the food is exceptionally wonderful but the hotel is beautiful, as is Ruinas del Mar, and the idea of all-you-can eat oysters, lox, and just about anything else one could imagine is only topped by all-you-can-drink champagne. A couple of changes (besides the general renovations of most of the Hyatt restaurants just begun): no caviar and a sign posted that you can only stay for 2 hours. Not deal-breakers. $39/pp for unbridled gluttony, just sayin'. One of our little group preferred to get most of her $39's worth in champagne and spent the rest of the afternoon in a food/wine coma. Rallied to go see the Bourne Legacy that evening in the Marketplace. Big city movie-goers must be surprised to hear that it cost $12 for two to get in. Enjoyed the movie; nice theater, too!
Monday August 20
Breakfast on the balcony. Made and took salads to the private island. Although there is a small sign at the departure dock that says no food or drinks allowed, we thought that they probably meant on board the boat not on the island. :-) If you are subtle about it, it seems unlikely that anyone will question what you have in your bags. We were the only two on the boat at around 10:30 and some of the very few who were on the island. Unfortunately, just as we arrived, the staff was bombing the foliage with pesticide. It was flying everywhere and made it difficult to breath, even though we were trying very hard not to. Spraying for bugs anywhere is usually a two-edged sword and that was the case that morning. As much as we have been enjoying our stay at the Renaissance and as much as the private island is touted to be a major part of what makes staying here special, it is not our favorite place. While I understand why many enjoy it, it is a bit too lagoon-y, buggy, and noisy for us. We mostly likely have been spoiled spending time by and in the beautiful, open ocean on our stays on Eagle Beach. Back to the room for some strawberry daiquiris using our requested/provided blender and then walked to dinner at Yemanja. We had no reservations, but the restaurant was mostly empty; maybe 3 or 4 other tables were seated during our time there. We had a scrumptious meal: potato soup appetizer, a filet mignon and smoked grilled vegetable salad entrees, 2 glasses of wine, and a walnut ice cream/espresso dessert for $83 including tip. The wait staff was friendly, efficient, the portions were generous, and food presentation was lovely. This has been our favorite dinner of our stay so far. It was easy to post a positive review for them on restaurantsaruba.com which they encouraged several times at the end of our meal.
Tuesday August 21
Woke up to find the grounds wet after what must have been a substantial rain. This was the first rain we've had since arrival. It's been fairly typical Aruba weather: hot, humid, thankfully breezy, with occasional clouds that quickly part to allow the intense sunshine to break through again.
Went into town for a late breakfast and some shopping. Navigating through Oranjestad seems significantly more difficult due to the trolley construction limiting access to some streets making is hard not to get stuck driving on a one-way street that takes you helplessly out of town or somewhere else you don't want to go. Extra messy, torn-up sidewalks and traffic congestion made walking not that much fun either. Found and enjoyed our experience at de Suikertuin: it's in a lovely building that is charmingly decorated. The food we ordered seemed so fresh and wholesome and included Dutch pea soup, the hotch potch special (mashed potatoes and sauerkraut with an egg instead of sausage), and a seafood salad, all for $35 including tip). Everything was tasty and nicely presented. Highly recommend this spot for breakfast or lunch when you're in town. Shopped and stumbled our way around town and then headed back to the Ren to get ready for our sunset snorkel cruise aboard the Black Pearl. It was exactly as described in countless reviews on Tripadvisor. Fun! Highly recommend. (Note: get there early if where you sit is important to you. Seats are assigned on a first come basis and some seats are better than others, in terms of shade, facing forward or back, and ease of getting on/off the lounge-like seats. The left hand side of the boat, facing the helm, or closer to the dock when you board, (yep, sure know those boating terms ;-)) tends to be shadier on the way heading out toward Malmok and on the sunset side on the way back.) Had a quiet evening back at the Renaissance: played a word game, read a bit, and then off to sleep.
That's our trip so far. Time is flying by. Glass more than half full; we have nine days left!
Wednesday August 22
Left the hotel around 10am and headed toward Baby Beach. This is the first time that we attempted to visit this highly recommended site and only the second time that we've taken the trip to the San Nicolas-end of the island. Not unexpected: we got lost....but we found some cool places. Ended up at a beautiful beach that did not compare to the photos of Baby Beach although we thought we were in the right general location. We were the only ones there except for an older gentleman who was reading the newspaper in his truck. The beach was beautiful and the water was lovely. After a swim and some snorkeling in the shallows, thought we should go look for Baby Beach since that had been our goal. Asked the gentleman where we were and he responded that we were at Rodgers Beach. As we were stowing stuff in our car, he regained our attention and explained that this beach was called Rodgers Beach because it was named after Captain Rodgers, one of the first men to guide tankers to the oil refinery. We thanked him for the info and told him how beautiful this beach was. He pointed out Baby Beach's location to us and, as we got into the car, he thanked us for enjoying “his” beach. Sweet!
Baby Beach was busy and very pretty. After taking in the scene there, our hunger led us away to our second destination: Zeerovers. This was our first time here and most likely would never have found it and thought to stop if not for the recommendations on the boards. Also, without the info found on-line, we would have felt even less empowered when trying to order our fish. Initially, the very pleasant woman behind the counter told us that they were temporarily out of shrimp, but if we waited to order for about 15 minutes, some would be available and ready to cook. There was a substantial line at this point (it was around 12:15), so we said we would be OK without the shrimp and just get fish. Well, she then insisted on “taking care of us” and left her station to hunt down the shrimp. Nice! We ended up with a whole red snapper, two mahi-mahi steaks, about a dozen shrimp, pan bati, plantains, and pico di cibolla (pickled onions) for $29, and found the perfect spot to sit out on the pier. It was delivered to us quickly and hot and we enjoyed every messy bite of that delicious seafood!
Very curious about the buildings that are perched along the barrier islands in this area. The one by Zeerovers has colorful flowers painted on the walls and what appeared to be outdoor seating. What are/were these buildings used for?
We were ready to find a place to take a dip and remembered reading about Mangel Halto. Got lost again but found it; what a lovely spot! Spent some time paddling around and doing some snorkeling before heading back to Oranjestad. Got past the construction in front of the airport OK but, whoa, it took a half hour to crawl our way to the Ocean Suites' driveway. Don't know what was going on the other side of the bridge, but through most of the afternoon and early evening this traffic jam up continued. Back out again for 6:30 dinner at Marandi's in time for the beautiful sunset again outside on a pier, albeit a much more elegant one. Watched the seabirds dance over the water and enjoyed a couple of martinis, the vegetable tarlet, and a chicken dish ($86 including tip) until the mosquitoes encouraged us not to linger. Again, it was pretty quiet there: maybe 5 tables filled and a few people at the bar. As tricky as Marandi is to find, it's a little more challenging to get back to the highway in the dark, but, after a few wrong turns, we found our way. There was still a back up headed into town and we were very glad not to have to stay on the road any longer. Our intention to go out and get dessert in the Marketplace faded once we got back to the hotel; it had been a busy day.
Thursday August 23
Off to a very slow start today. It was overcast and very still all day which is likely the result of Issac swirling around in the Caribbean. Our intention was to go back to the private island and eventually we did get on the boat to head over. While enjoying the boat ride, the discussion among the passengers and driver, most of it in Spanish, turned to mosquitoes and one young woman was showing the bites that she had gotten on a previous trip out there. Since we had not remembered to bring our repellant, we opted to stay on the boat and visit the pool at the Marina Hotel instead. Think it was a good choice: the people who boarded the boat at the island were covered with bites and one woman told us that, even with repellant on, she was bitten several times. The mosquitoes must have been especially bad because there really was no wind to keep them at bay.
Enjoyed our first ride through the tunnel and into the mall. The atmosphere at the Marina pool seems sophisticated and cool. The chaises and couches surrounding it are very comfortable and the bathroom on the bar level there is quite elegant. Interesting contrast to the pool at the Ocean Suites where children and their noisy enthusiasm abound. It's a nice feature of staying at the Ren that these options exist. Walked back across the street to do a little shopping in the Marketplace (can't resist the Mopa Mopa) and then back to the room to get ready for our 6pm reservation at Que Pasa? The restaurant was pretty empty when we arrived but was about 2/3's full by the time we left. Had a very nice meal that included the all-you-can eat sushi special and a special vegetarian risotto, a free glass of white wine, an enormous draft Heineken, and the most delicious dessert special ever. It ranks among our top 5 favorite items eaten in a restaurant. It was a trio of white chocolate crème brulee, a still warm gluten-free brownie, and a mocha mousse with whipped cream. We basically licked the plate clean. ($63/including tip). Broke even at the casino, so we left happy. To the room to watch Project Runway and begin to pack. We'll be sorry to leave the Renaissance; we had a much better time here than we thought we would. We would recommend this resort to those who are looking for a laid-back atmosphere, roomy time-share accommodations, solid hotel amenities including daily housekeeping and room service, pleasant staff and guests, and lots of nearby entertainment and dining options.
Tomorrow we are filling our “gap day” with a one-night stand with the Hyatt . Palm Beach here we come!
Thanks for your responses. To answer the questions above:
When we were on the private island it was very peaceful except when the jets were flying in and out of the airport. While they could mostly be ignored or considered exciting, at times their sound was jarring in such a idyllic setting.
Why might this be my last trip? The sad truth is: I'm getting old and I have a bucket list. Never thought that I'd end up vacationing in Aruba more than any other spot on the planet and, while it's a wonderful island with the warmest people and beautiful beaches and we always have so much fun when we come here, there are places that I long to see before I can't. Now that we have given up our time-share here, it seems more likely that we'll opt for different destinations in the near future.
"Why might this be my last trip? The sad truth is: I'm getting old and I have a bucket list. Never thought that I'd end up vacationing in Aruba more than any other spot on the planet and, while it's a wonderful island with the warmest people and beautiful beaches and we always have so much fun when we come here, there are places that I long to see before I can't. Now that we have given up our time-share here, it seems more likely that we'll opt for different destinations in the near future."
Really appreciate your report! Hope you get to finish the bucket list twice and get back to Aruba again and again.