Review – Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino March 2017
This review is unlikely to have the kind of detail I typically like to include, but I realize time is getting away from me, and I am apt to forget key details if I don’t get this penned soon. I reached out to the Insiders community in February for quick suggestions for a Spring Break trip in March. My bride teaches school, and we were simply looking to get out of town to a beach in the Caribbean, without encountering the typical student-oriented Spring Break crowd. I got several great suggestions from our fellow Insiders, and opted to hit Aruba because it’s been on my target list of places to go for a very long time, and the flights were not prohibitively expensive. That said, the Stellaris in Aruba which was so highly recommended was unavailable, so we opted to take a chance on the Renaissance. To note, with a points balance that was hovering near the million point mark at the time, I wanted to make a redemption stay to bring the balance down. Mission accomplished!
When booking, there was an option to spend extra points for a guaranteed suite. It required an extra 15,000 points a night taking the total for our five night stay to 230,000 points. In retrospect, I’m not sure the upgrade was worth it. On arrival, the valet told us we had been upgraded to the beach side of the resort, as opposed to the island (inland) which is down the street and separated from the beach front. A quick golf cart ride with our luggage got us to the check in desk at the beach front part of the property.
Check in was a bit tedious, and I soon realized we were nearing the end of our upgrade fortunes. To note, we arrived an hour earlier than our check-in on the mobile app, and the young lady at check in appeared to scramble to try and find us something. Initially, she was going to put us on a high floor overlooking the island. Then, she was going to put us on the 2nd floor overlooking the bay side where the cruise ships come and go. I told her the trip was for my bride’s belated birthday, which was true, as we decided on a delayed gift in February when we made the trip plan. When all was settled, she offered us a room on the 5th floor with the same bay / cruise ship view. That sounded good to me, and we took her up on this assignment. Of course, she then informed me that the room wouldn’t be ready for an hour or more, and offered me two drink tickets to the bar in recognition of my wife’s birthday. So far, so good, right?
We walked out to the pool bar, ordered a few Cuba Libres and settled in under some lounge chairs beneath a palm tree. Blood pressure started to drop, and it began to feel like vacation. Of course, we are still in the jeans we traveled in (it’s cold on the plane), and weren’t really going to relax until we could change… the valet was holding our bags, so we didn’t have clothes into which to change. That’s a reminder to us all… it’s always good to have a change of clothes in your carry on. We got through the first round, ordered another and began to decompress. I checked with the desk, and about an hour and fifteen minutes after arrival, and waiting a second time in line, the desk gave us our keys.
When we walked into our 1 bedroom suite, I was instantly disappointed. The room looked really worn. The tile floors were still wet from a fresh mopping, and were now marked up by our shoes and luggage. The décor was dated, carpet worn down, cabinet doors under the kitchenette unable to completely close, dingy counter tops, and the room was small. Yes, it was a 1 bedroom suite, with a kitchenette, but wow it was small. I walked out to the balcony and, yes, I could see the water… over the parking lot and the construction trailer down below. Exhale! You are on vacation… don’t be disappointed. I realized then that the second floor room she previously tried to give us was just above the top of the trailer… I would have been incredibly disappointed if that’s where we had been. As it was, I tried to be thankful for what we had, as I didn’t want to disappoint my wife. I couldn’t help but think that we had been “upgraded” to the least possible accommodations… I strongly suspect that if I’d been paying with cash, I would have had a pool and ocean view. Why? I heard no fewer than 3 other platinum guests traveling on points come back to the desk to complain about their rooms while I stood in line. I determined then and there that I was making my peace with the room assignment, and we were going to have a good time.
We unpacked and quickly changed into bathing suits, and went back down to the pool. Jac (Jacques) was our bartender, and he was terrific! In the matter of an hour, he had us “feelin’ alright!” We went back to our same chairs under the palm, quite a distance away from everyone else, I lit a favorite cigar, and the balance seemed to be restored. We talked for a while, and the sun started to get low in the sky. I took a few pictures (including the below) and realized we were as close to paradise as we could get.
After adjusting the thermostat to 60 to get comfortable, we hit the hay for a great night’s sleep with no alarm to wake us. And, the following morning we hit one of the little restaurants close to the hotel for breakfast. To note, when walking outside the front door of the hotel, there is a little collection of restaurants within 50 yards, and each of them has their own charm. For breakfast, we went to the Dutch Pancake House where we really enjoyed the familiar comforts of eggs, sausages, hash browns, toast and little Dutch pancakes with syrup. With no breakfast offered at the hotel, this was an outstanding option for us; it couldn’t have been more convenient. For $12, this breakfast was a real treat, and we enjoyed it several times during our stay.
The absolute highlight of our trip was the Renaissance private island. It’s accessed by tenders (little boats) that leave the dock behind the hotel every 15 minutes or so. If you happen to have an inland room, you can catch a tender from inside the hotel. That’s very cool, and we made that loop just so we could take the boat ride through the tunnel and into the hotel. The island itself has two primary options when you get off the tender: the family side or the adult only side. The adult only side has a flock of pink flamingos that hang out on the beach all day every day. You can literally have them eat out of your hand! There are semi-private cabanas that you can rent for the day, although you have to arrange that with the hotel concierge before taking the tender out to the island. There are a string of chairs for sunbathing, and you can walk right out into the crystal clear blue water on the adult side. There is a small bar on this side, and you can have drinks delivered right to your chairs.
On the family side, which is where we spent the majority of our time despite there being some kids about, there are ample palm frond umbrellas right next to the water. We found those to be delightful, and the drink and food service to be timely and attentive. The food, however, was not particularly good despite there being a restaurant on that side of the island. bejacob had warned me ahead of time about the food, so while I wasn’t surprised, I was still a little disappointed. That said, spending the entire day leisurely walking the 10 steps back and forth to the water on a private island, while sitting under an umbrella, drinking great drinks can cause one to build up an appetite. We made the best of it, and it was awesome! You can walk out into the water in this little cove and simply plop down. It has to be one of the nicest beach arrangements I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying. We spent three days on the little private island, and met some great folks from Canada whose company made it just that much more special!
At the hotel, the pool isn’t anything particularly special, but it makes for a wonderful place to relax because of Fatima’s service at the poolside bar. There is both a walk-up side and a swim-up side, and we enjoyed them both! If you are a bingo fan, this is your place, because I think they had bingo going the whole time! The music was great and we met a lot of great people at the pool! It’s a nice crowd with a mix of young and “mature.”
As for our restaurant experiences, we stayed pretty close to the hotel for most of our meals because there were quite a few restaurants very close by. The Café Plaza – “All American Breakfast” for $10 that almost matched the Dutch Pancake House in quality, but with no waiting time in line. The only thing missing… the little silver dollar pancakes. They had regular-sized pancakes instead! We ate breakfast here twice, and enjoyed it almost as much as the Dutch Pancake House. Casa Tua – a quaint little Italian place had outstanding pizza and lasagna that we enjoyed when we were looking to carb out! Another in the little collection of nearby restaurants was Sidebar – we ate there twice and the food was good, but the service was merely ok. Breakfast is always my favorite meal of the day, and the meals on this trip were no exceptions. Room service was available, and we enjoyed it a time or two as well! Good food and great service!
Here are a few more little things about our room, in case a manager at the resort should read this review. The bathroom had extremely slow draining sinks. If you are the type that likes to make sure you wash out the basin after brushing your teeth or shaving (like I am), you will find this maddening! There was a loose tile step in the shower that could have proven quite dangerous if I hadn’t noticed it right away. As for the shower itself, there was very little water pressure and we never had hot water. The best we could get was lukewarm, and that was no better than half the time. Cold showers will indeed wake you up! I don’t know what size person the rooms were designed for, but I find resting my head on the shower glass while on the commode a little uncomfortable. I’m 5’9”, so this shouldn’t have been an issue, but the extremely tight layout made it so. Lastly, the toilet paper holder was loose and falling off the wall, and I found that down- right infuriating as I kept trying to fix it to no avail.
Both of us wanted to enjoy a massage while we were on vacation, and we had read that there was an exceptionally good massage on the other side of the island near Eagle Beach. Clinical Massage Aruba and Spa (Palm – Eagle Beach) was the place we chose based on the reviews. Florian, the owner, has a fantastic reputation, and that drove us to his door. Unfortunately, he was not present the day we got our massages, and both of us left feeling a little disappointed. We got shorted on time, as one young lady started late, but made sure she finished right on time. Also, as they had nobody staffing the front desk, my wife’s massage was interrupted twice when someone showed up to make an appointment. My recommendation would be to skip this place, unless of course you can confirm that Flo himself will be there to take care of you.
For my fellow Amex Platinum travelers, The Priority Pass lounge at the Aruba airport was oh so much better than hanging at the gate. I never know when that card is going to come in handy, but it made our departure day so much better. Good bar service, snacks, comfortable chairs, and plugs to keep your electronics charged made for a nice experience.
As for the flights themselves, I couldn’t get direct flights to Aruba on United from Houston, so I opted to burn some Amex points to get first class tickets on Delta. Despite connecting in Atlanta from Houston, we still covered the entire trip in under 7 hours total. It was our first time enjoying the lay flat seat/beds, and wow, now I realize what I’ve been missing! The service on the flights was impeccable coming and going, and the in seat entertainment enabled me to watch a few movies I had really wanted to see. I will spend the points or cash to do this again as I am now spoiled forever.
To sum it all up, we had a marvelous time! Relaxing together on the private Renaissance Island and enjoying our time pool side was just what the doctor ordered. I do hope to return to check out the Renaissance Stellaris in the future, as you can access the private island as a guest of that property too.
Happy Travels fellow Insiders!