Went on this trip with my pregnant wife and my in-laws. I've been to Aruba 5 times previously as my Grandparents had a timeshare at Costa Linda for decades. Being that my last trip here was in 2007 and with a little one on the way it seemed like the perfect time to come back to the Happy Island and enjoy some quality time with the Mrs. and fam. When we came back from our awesome vacation I was unable to register for a username on the forum, hence the delay in posting this report. Nevertheless I got a lot of good info from this forum prior to our trip and wanted to contribute a report, even if it is late and missing some detail. My wife is having camera issues but once those are worked out I will try to post some pictures as well. So...
Airport experience and flight from Newark to Aruba on a Monday was smooth, airport experience and flight from Aruba to Newark on a Saturday not so much. Once on the island, most of our agenda consisted of beachside/ poolside lounging and eating without much sightseeing, so we opted for using cabs instead of renting a car. No issues with the cabs on this trip.
We stayed at the Mariott Stellaris which was a big change of pace from what I've been accustomed to at the Costa Linda. The hotel itself is big and beautiful. Definitely more people than you'd find in a low rise hotel, but we never felt crowded during our stay. The rooms were nice and the room/ turndown service was very good. The gym facilities were clean and current. I'm not much of a gambler but my father-in-law seemed happy with the casino in the resort, particularly with the fact that it had a sports book. Though overall I prefer the low rise atmosphere we really enjoyed the Mariott and would stay here again.
Palm beach was a new experience for me having spent all my previous Aruba trips on Eagle Beach. Shorter and more crowded beach with water sports every few hundred yards. Water was cloudier than I was used to and ocean floor was more silty and film-like, I assume due to the water sports. That being said it's still Aruba, and the white sand and turquoise water is as beautiful as ever. The beach area immediately in front of the Marriott was well kept. With wifey being pregnant we opted to just reserve palapas a few days rather than play the first come-first serve towel reserving game and it was worth the peace of mind. Had we not had a hut I don't think the beach would have been doable for long stretches of time...that sun is brutal!
We spent a great deal of time at the adult pool as well during our trip; really a great set up. Opted to reserve a cabana here as well which was awesome; if not reserving I could see the potential frustration with trying to find and reserve seats. The bar at this pool was great and utilized often during our stay!
Philip's Animal Garden
This was the one and only thing I wanted to drag my wife out of the hotel to explore and wow were we both glad we did. Philips animal garden is a nonprofit animal rescue organization that supports itself entirely from their tours and donations. The animal variety is great and you get to interact with quite a few of them. I highly recommend anybody with a remote interest in animals or just looking to kill a couple hours to check this place out, good time for a good cause.
I posted reviews on restaurantsaruba.com right after we returned from our trip, so I'm going to copy/paste some of those here as it is undoubtedly fresher and more detailed than if I tried to summarize the experiences again from 3 months ago (ie my other sections above). Overall you really can't go wrong with the dining options in Aruba, lots of variety and quality to choose from (noticed this is one of the more popular topics so put a little more detail here than the rest of the report).
The Lobby Cafe was where we grabbed any small breakfast items we needed. Little pricey but quality was always good. At night it served awesome gelato which wifey definitely appreciated! On our last day before going to the airport we had a really nice breakfast at La Vista, which had a nice spread with a lot of variety.
Waves Beach Bar and Grill
We basically had lunch here every day except one, and every day it was delicious. Service was great as well, whether dining on the beach or poolside they were quick and attentive. Fish tacos were fantastic! No complaints from anyone in our group with this place all week. Little pricey but def worth it. The only day we didn't eat at Waves was when we decided to try...
Bugaloe Beach Bar and Grill
Read all the positive reviews of the place and decided to walk down for lunch one day. The pier is pretty cool and we saw some puffer fish swimming near the edge of the dock which was fun. That's where the good notes end...
Took over an hour for 3 grouper wraps, salad and a slice of pizza to be served and the place was only half full. The wraps were tasteless and came with no sides. My wife's pizza looked so bad I had to try it out of morbid curiosity, and I can confidently say it was the worst bite of pizza I have ever had. Ever. We didn't complain about the wait for the food, but the staff must have noticed and didn't charge us for our drinks when the bill came; though we only had one round each the gesture was appreciated. Overall can't think of any reason to come back here. I wasn't expecting world-class fare and service but it was really just not good in any way. Worst dining experience of our trip.
Champions Sports Bar and Grill
First night dinner we decided after a day of travel to take our time eat somewhere on the resort property. There was a big college basketball game playing that night that my father-in-law wanted to watch as well so Champions seemed like the best option. I was pleasantly surprised with our meals here. Enjoyed a pitcher of Balashi, some solid appetizers, and had a delicious Caesar Salad with a real nice piece of grilled grouper. Nice low key meal to start the vaca.
By far our best dining experience. Everyone's appetizer, entree, and dessert was thoroughly enjoyed. I had the fabled rack of lamb exceeded the hype ...every piece was cooked perfectly and was absolutely delicious. Service was great too, Benny the manager is awesome, all class. Can't recommend this place highly enough.
Family really enjoyed this place and we had a nice night to dine outdoors. Wife and mother-in-law ordered the Parmesan wheel pasta which they loved. I had the Linguini Frutti di Mare, which was mostly excellent with huge tasty shrimp and mussels...only knocks on the dish was that the calamari was a bit chewy and an unopened clam made it's way past the kitchen which could have been a potential disaster if consumed. The waiter said he would take care of it but never did. Anyway, the rest of the meal was great, outside dining was a treat and the violin player was very good. We'll be back!
First visit to El Gaucho and it was a good experience. Seated and served promptly, waiter was attentive and the guitar players added to the atmosphere. I had the El Gaucho Steak, which was a huge, tender, correctly cooked filet with a nice charred outside. Flavor was a bit bland though which was disappointing. My father-in-law had the tenderloin which he definitely enjoyed, but said his filet at Chalet Suisse was a bit better. I also didn't care for the wooden plates the steaks are served on; I would have preferred a normal dish. My mother-in-law had a nice piece of salmon and my wife had shrimp scampi which I had a bite of; it was very good. Desserts were great and the fudge layer cake was my favorite dessert of the vacation. Good dinner at a good value, we would go back.
Passions on the Beach
Saved this dinner for the last night of our trip. The beach is beautiful and we had reservations right at sunset which is highly recommended. Everyone loved their dinner, only knock on my Seven Seas Parade dish was that the grouper was dry...I actually had a better piece of grouper at Champions Sports Bar earlier in the week, which given the prices at Passions is disappointing. The other items were all great though. Service is a bit slow, but probably no point to rushing a beach dining experience.
One big issue which thankfully happened before our food was served was that the porta-potties that are utilized by the restaurant were being drained by a big commercial cleaning truck during our dinner. The smell quickly found it's way to the dining area and multiple tables around us were commenting on it. Took about ten minutes before the smell dissipated. I can understand the porta-potty being the only option for the beach side restaurant, but it should be common sense to schedule cleaning any time except during dinner. Hate to spend a large piece of the review on this item because the dinner really was a great experience, but it had to be mentioned.
I've been here three times as a youngster, once in high school, once right after graduating college, and most recently three months ago. I'm pleased to say it's still Aruba, and it's still incredible. We can't wait to come back with our daughter one day!