Arubaman says Bon Bini
Looking north in the High Rise Beach Area
We just wrapped up a wonderful five day stay at the Aruba Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino. With several hotels today slapping resort onto their title, it was very pleasant to actually stay at a property that was a full fledged resort. Rather than struggle in an attempt to write a review (besides, another badge pushes me into a higher tax bracket) I'll just stick to the old technique of spilling my scattered thoughts onto the screen.
Top notch customer service, friendly personnel throughout the property, a fantastic beach location, and excellent food virtually at every locale, makes this a superb vacation spot. Checking in, I received one of my best platinum food gifts ever with a fruit and cheese plate that went beyond just brie with several cheeses, fruits, breadsticks, crackers and two wines. We stored it in our fridge and nibbled on it for three days, once as a breakfast. The room came with two robes and two pair of slippers, which proved useful as after a day in the pleasant, due to soft wind (but hot) 90 degree weather, I would throw the room into arctic chill mode (thermostats worked great) and mrs. erc would throw on her robe and all was well.
The resort is northernmost of the three Marriott beach properties, next to the two vacation club sites and we shared some amenities, like a very nice adult pool, restaurants, lazy river, and a 24 hour fitness room with plenty of free weights, cardio and strength machines and TV's (which had excellent channels and coverage). Two free local daily newspapers were provided which were both informative and enjoyable and Marriott also provided a photocopied issue of the day's previous world and financial news, another nice touch. One of the many benefits of visiting in the 'off' season, besides the terrific rate, is the modest crowd (yet, still lively) with easier access to all of the goodies the resort offers (and still great weather) and smaller lines and no wait. Here are some other remarks about the excellent vacation 'true resort' property:
Simply Fish; Not wanting to arrive and have to think, we booked (Opentable) our first night's meal at the property's, on the beach, restaurant, very close to the water with peaceful sunsets and evening stars (photos below). We had superbly prepared, fresh caught fish with two tasty sides (plantains, yucca, coconut rice, potatoes...) , an amuse bouche (ours was a seafood ceviche), tasty breads with local/delicious spreads, and a palate cleansing sorbet for $35. Some wine and the crisp, smooth tasting locally brewed beer, Balashi, a nice pilsener, made for a marvelous beginning to our vacation, where the service and food was excellent throughout.
Simply Fish - on the beach at the Marriott Simply Fish - actual photo (not skilled enough to alter)
Casino - Slots from a penny to multi-bet $5 were open 24 hours and the table games (mostly $10 and above, so bring your big kid pants, whew) ran from 2 pm to 4 am. This is an 'old school' casino with smoking allowed, and it doesn't go away, so I recommend assigning one gambling outfit exclusive for the casino, providing you with that Mad Men/Rat Pack fabric aroma for your stay.
Speaking of Mad Men, the lobby bar offered a daily martini and mojito (original, peach, strawberry) happy hour (2 for $10) from 5:30-7:30 pm, a good way to relax post pool/beach before going out to dinner. The lobby cafe had nice breads, pastries, gelato,coffee and salads, a good spot for morning or afternoon quick meals and the lobby sushi bar Ketsu had excellent sushi, offering deals from 3-6 pm, which yours truly gladly participated in. Unfortunately I can't write about the sashimi platter, because my Omega 3 health argument fell on deaf ears with the calorie gestapo, who turned me down flat; perhaps I should have attempted to state my case earlier in the stay before my nightly dessert consumption weakened my argument.
The lobby (air conditioned and very spacious, as compared to the open aired Renaissance) also had a functional market store with non-extortion prices for sodas, waters, beers, wines, snacks, cigars etc. and proved very useful. I've seen Res. Inns in Bofunk, Va. charge more, so this was a crowd pleaser. An activities/concierge desk was available, as was an on-site Hertz, jewelry and clothing shop.
Champions - in the neighboring Marriott timeshare, was your typical Marriott Champions adding $3 per item vs. the states - but was there for anyone interested in keeping up with the home team and you could charge it to your room.
Ruth's Chris on site - similarly with regards to pricing; same as the one three miles from my home. I walked thru it - pleasant enough and seemed busy each night, so they probably do a fine job.
La Vista - we had a solid (as in good value/terrific variety) breakfast buffet for $25 a piece. This is where our welcome gift proved invaluable, we had fruit and cheese at sunrise, ate at the buffet at 11:30 and were full until dinner (or so I was told).
The pools were great and in spite of what I call the mad dash mentality of folks sending a rep down at 7 am to horde six chairs that they may or may not use, there was plenty of space available throughout the day. There were just enough children to add to the atmosphere as we enjoyed their glee in playing, without having to watch our step. The pool bars, beach sandwich spots, and the beach lounge chairs were very nice also. Music, taped and live, provided a nice tropical isle vibe.
Location - this is truly a beach resort. On the beach and a leisurely 25-30 minute walk on the beach all the way down to the Westin which is the southernmost property of the high rise beach area. This area has many restaurants, shops, casinos, and water activities. The bus stops right in front of the Marriott parking lot. The bus is only $2 all the way downtown - take it. The bus drivers are friendly (as were the cab drivers), the buses are either new vans or clean regular city buses, all nicely air conditioned. Cab fare from the airport is $25 and serves as a good site seeing tour - so keep your eyes open as you come out. Going mid-week to Monday proved fortunate, as it saved us long customs lines, which people informed us happened on weekend departures.
Aruba Restaurants - again, the great value of Insiders. We dined at Yemanja downtown (bus roundtrip) and Papiamento to the east ($7 cab) and both were fantastic; service, food, ambiance, thank you Insiders. We ate the rest of our meals throughout the beach area, several were casual spots on the beach and others a couple blocks inland from the hotels, all walking distance. Essentially you can't go wrong with pan fried, grilled, or almondine, fresh fish like grouper and snapper, each meal was enjoyable and most were eaten outdoors. Be sure to glance thru the coupon books, worthwhile savings are provided on meals and activities; not necessarily on our top notch Insiders' hangouts, but enjoyable casual places like nearby Moomba, Hadicurari on the beach and Salt and Pepper across the Hyatt (very nice property grounds) 10% off total.
Papiamento Restaurant - Poolside Dining under the Trees and Stars
Friends have asked which I would choose, the Marriott or the downtown Renaissance. I'll let the Ren fans sing the praises and have no bone to pick with them, but to me, my money is clearly on the BEACH Marriott. The marina Ren is smack dab in the cruise port traffic (cars and tourists), which is being torn up for trolley construction, not their fault, of course, but certainly a negative; a nine month project now in it's third year. The Ocean suites Ren across the street, sits on a lagoon (you hear the planes from the airport) and you must be transported to their island. I also wasn't a big fan of the small open air lobby, I want a relaxing chill after a day at the beach, but again, that's just me - so to each their own.
5th Floor of the Aruba Marriott Resort Down the block from the Aruba Renaissance Marina
And in closing, the Aruba sun. Perhaps it was the breeze, perhaps it was my many years of ball in the dog days of summer, but I enjoyed every day and had no problem with it. My point being that despite being near the equator, it didn't strike me as anything more dangerous than Florida, but it might have been because it was April, and as always, just like in booking pre-paids, be careful.