Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor


Caribbean Travel Roundup Newsletter Presents:
Aruba Information File

May 1, 1997
Paul Graveline, CTR Editor

The following information was extracted and edited from Aruba comments appearing in the Caribbean Travel Roundup editions from 9/96 through 4/97.

Please remember that the comments in the CTR are those of the contributors and could not be independently confirmed by the CTR. In many cases they are of a highly subjective nature and your views may differ. Also remember that some of the material appearing in the CTR is copyrighted by the original author and cannot be used without their permission.

Full text versions of the CTR can be obtained from the CTR website.


CONTRIBUTORS


ACCOMMODATIONS

ARUBA BEACH CLUB
The rooms at ABC have been redecorated. They are nice, but not sure it was worth the extra three year supplement we were charged. Totally new kitchen, but in doing so, they extended the cabinets so we lost some room in the dining room/living room area. Not real sure I like it. New drapes, new furniture. js9612

HYATT
We were breathless at the sight of the Hyatt's lobby. It must be the size of a football field, yet entirely open to the outdoors. The look and feel of the lobby can not be topped by anything Disney would put together! A wonderful lady named Fabiola took care of our check-in procedures and made us feel at home from the very beginning! Thanks Fabiola!! Our room was a "garden ocean view" (room 239) and was outstanding. Our balcony overlooked all the restaurants, pools, and bars in the Hyatt courtyard as well as the beach and ocean. It was a truly spectacular view!

The room was immaculate and modern in every way. Pleasant surprises included a room safe, and satellite TV. During one of the few hours spent in our room, we watched NYPD Blue, broadcast from the states. <g>

The daily concerns were quickly solved by the excellent bellmen and concierge folks. The concierge people quickly learned my wife's name, as she got the honor of calling with all our questions. (real men never ask questions, right?) The concierge was very helpful with reservations for dinner and shows.

The lobby contains several over-stuffed couches and chairs for you to sit and watch the world go by. It is a great place to sit and relax in the evening while listening to the band play in the courtyard.

The Hyatt's courtyard was filled with color and water. The 3 pools connect with a series of waterfalls, steps, and a slide. The slide is a killer! Give it a try! (Make sure you lay flat, and don't do the chicken sit-up like someone I know.) <wink, wink> There are birds and iguana and salamanders everywhere. If you eat at the tables by the swim up bar, you can hand feed the iguana parts of your lunch. They seemed to especially like pieces of the hot wings! On the walkway, the red and blue Macaws will say hello to you in several languages, and they have a huge "play tree" where they spend their afternoons.

There are 2 Jacuzzi's located off the walk way, and provide a nice quiet nook to melt in the hot water. My recommendation is to try it at night. Very, very nice.

One place we discovered on our last day was the Hyatt's workout room and spa. Even if you're not into the workout scene, you've got to go just to see the locker room and bathrooms! Sounds silly, huh. Well, just take a look and tell me you're not impressed! <g>

There was one very unexpected benefit to staying at the Hyatt. When you would buy something by credit card at the shops in town or make a reservation at a restaurant, they would ask where you were staying. When we would say the Hyatt, the clerk would say, "ooooh, Hyatt". We were big shots on the island. <g>

A coffee machine is in the room, but coffee for one pot would cost you $3.50 US from the room stock. Once again, hit the grocery store and you can get some great Norwegian coffee at a reasonable price.

On the beach you can rent anything your little heart desires. From SCUBA/Snorkeling gear, to wave runners, to water scooters, to wind surfing gear, to water sleds, to ski boats, to paddle boats, to..well, you get the picture. 9703mg

LA CABANA
That place is huge. Saw some of the model rooms and also the ones he has available to rent. Nice rooms overlooking the ocean. Most of the rooms he has for rent are ground floor, so the one drawback to LaC...entering through the BR is not a problem in his rooms because you can also enter via the patio through glass doors. Facility has a wonderful fitness center with weights, racketball courts, squash courts, Massage center...etc. A very nice property. We also walked through the Villas and the grounds are kept very nice there. A bit removed from the beach however. The pool section at LaC and the beach at Lac all have umbrella tables like many other hotels. Even the hotel was quite full, there were several umbrella huts vacant both by the pool and on the beach.sj9612


CABS

There are several rental car companies across he street from the airport, but my suggestion is take a cab to the hotel and rent one there if you desire. Cab fees are set amounts based on destination. The ride from the airport to the Hyatt was $14 US. Cabs are everywhere! You won't have any trouble finding one, and they can take you virtually anywhere on the island.


CASINOS

The Alhambra Casino & Mall is across the street from Manchebo Beach Resort, Casa del Mar/Aruba Beach Club and the Divi Divi. Great place for perfumes, Cuban cigars and some good quality T-shirts. There is a "New York" deli there for good sandwiches. The casino is also rather low key, from nickel slots to craps and a good place for beginners to learn the ropes. In '96 I tried my hand at Caribbean Stud poker. I understand it has the worst odds of all the games of chance, but has progressively higher payoffs the better the hand you have. I walked out with the biggest winnings I've ever scored when I was dealt a full house! Casinos at the high rises are definitely "glitzier".cp 9610

Alhambra Casino looks like a dump, actually the whole little mall does. I pointed out on the t/s tour that Divi needs to do something about that or people's impressions of Divi won't be too good. We lost an appropriate amount of $$. Why have a new tax? Just leave the slots and tables the way they are now. I was told the slots at Alhambra were awful(after I'd lost my 3 rolls of quarters) and that the Marriott's were the best. bm9609


SIGHTSEEING

The next day we went horseback riding at Rancho Daimari. We tried Rancho Del Campo last time, so we decided to try this one. The horses here were in better shape, but much more spirited. Not good if you're a beginner as some people in the group were. The Natural Pool was great as always, but the ride home was a little exciting. ks9702

Depending on what you want to see, there is an wonderful wreck dive (German freighter Antilla - 60') and a number of reef dives. The Antilla is a must as both a day and night dive. The reef dive off of Baby Beach is fantastic (for Aruba), but not often done because it is a long drive (relatively speaking) to get there - in San Nicolas. There is a boat dive off the Sonesta's private island that has a couple of airplane wrecks - drug smugglers were caught and the planes sunk by the authorities in about 60 ft of water. The larger plane is great - you can swim through it as opposed to the smaller plane in about 40 ft of water that has little left of the structure. There are a number of other wreck dives that we haven't done yet and a shallower "underwater park" at Arashi Bay. '96 we added the Jane Sea - interesting, but I want to do it again as the current was strong that day and we couldn't stay as long or view the whole wreck. Generally speaking you won't see the volume of fish as at other Caribbean Islands and the coral is not as colorful - no comparison to Caymans where we went in October '94 or Provo (Turks & Caicos in October '95). You will still see a variety of fish and some good sized green moray eels. If you want more info on dives, let me know and I will pull out my logbooks! cp9610

The windward side of the island presents a stark contrast to the wonderful beaches on the leeward side. Massive rock and boulder formations are crashed into by the sea. The spray from the water towers over the shoreline.

Down the road from the Natural Bridge is the Old Gold Mill Ruins. I have no idea of the dating on this structure, but it is an amazing site. The building is made from rock and was used for some sort of gold smelting operation. You can walk in the building and look out the windows, which face the Caribbean Sea, and dream of what those people used to see. One of the few low points of our trip occurred here, though. It seems the local "youth" must not appreciate this site as much as we did. They have graffiti all over the lower rocks. It is truly sad.

We left the Ruins site, and drove North along the dirt path that follows the coastline. We were treated to vistas of unbelievable beauty all along the shore. While a 2WD vehicle can make the Natural Bridge and the Gold Mill Ruins, do not try the drive along the coast in anything but a 4WD jeep. There are a couple of places where 4WD's almost got stuck. The sites are well worth the $60 per day Avis charged for the jeep rental!

On the way, we were treated to some of Aruba's wild life. Four wild burros were feeding by the road.

At the end of the dirt trail is the Chapel Alto Vista. It is a beautiful little chapel on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Inside the chapel there are a few seats and a wonderfully decorated alter. The end of the chapel has large doors which, when open, allow people seated outside to see the chapel interior and its proceedings. It is a wonderful place to worship. Up on that cliff with the ocean all around, you feel very close to God.

Once more back on the blacktop, we headed for the California Lighthouse and it's view of the island. Be sure to bring some apples or something for the wild goats at the Lighthouse. (3/97 MG)


DINING SPECIFIC

Boonoonoonoos- very cute and tropical. The food is good and different. I had pina colada chicken which was very tasty. The service was a bit slow, but all right. The beach was beautiful. Calm. It rained a couple time, but for only like ten minutes. Casinos are not my thing but tried as little. If you have any other questions just ask.!! da9702

Boonoonoonoos for dinner. Bill ordered the Jamaican Jerk ribs and they offered to bring him a sample to be sure he didn't think they were too hot. He loved them. I had chicken Barbados. Very good. About $84.00... but really good meal! Wed. Went to Buccanneer. Robert's choice. this is ok to me, not one of my 1st choices. I was disappointed with my shrimp stuffed with crab. I don't know when the crab walked through the breadcrumbs, but it definitely didn't stay around long. I mentioned it to waiter who told me they "looked at my plate, and the orange stuff was crab" I was going to tell say it was ground pretty fine, but thought something would be lost in the translation. $77.00 total. Bill had crab stuffee swordfish, and there seemed to be a handful of langostinos (we think) dumped on the top. Their presentation and stuffed potato and vegetables are nice, but I don't think it compared to the other meals in the same $$ range.(9/96 BM)

Brisas del Mar: This restaurant is a "recent find" (1994) that is worth the $14 cab ride to San Nicolas, particularly if you enjoy seafood (best to go there on a day when you have a rental vehicle). The prices are moderate, dress is definitely casual, the food is "local" and exceptional and the ambiance is nice - would be better if there was a little more room between tables. The restaurant is not big - definitely make reservations - and it is located right near the water. The long wall facing the water would otherwise have large picture windows, but they have been removed for a wonderful open-air view of the ocean. (No bug problem whatsoever due to the ever blowing breeze.) You are facing west, so the best time to go is early evening to watch the sunset while enjoying lobster, conch, squid, wahoo fish (excellent white fish) and other delicacies of the sea. They also have beef, chicken and pork for those so inclined. Sometimes you wait awhile for a return cab ride and may hook up with other diners returning to a resort in the same area where you are staying.cp9610

Buccaneer Restaurant - Buccaneer was also as good as always. It is Fred's favorite. He love the Pailla (sp) there. The fish tanks are starting to show their age. Perhaps they need some new plants in them. We ate lunch one day at La Petite Bistro downtown and it was also very good. We had the best cup of coffee on the island there. We thought about going to the restaurant at the golf course, but the night we were going to do that, we had some of our Aruba Friends over to our hotel and we wound up eating in our room that night. js9612

Chalet Suisse- very busy and could not handle the business. The waiter comes over after 20 minutes and just say What do you want? No welcome nothing. The owner walks around with his shirt hanging out of his pants. The veal was dry like shoe leather. I have to say though the chocolate fondue is to die for. They were just to busy. Maybe try again later on. da9702

Chalet Swisse - unbelievable veal dishes, excellent service, beautiful dining room/chalet. More expensive ($45 from appetizer to dessert) but absolutely worth it. In '93 we went twice. The apple strudel was a disappointment - go for the chocolate fondue if you have room or the flan if you don't. Real good peach melba! '94 had an awful headwaiter. Holly commented to the manager and he begged for a letter of complaint. They were trying to get rid of the guy. Holly did write the letter eventually and she received a letter of thanks, a copy of the reprimand letter to the headwaiter and a certificate for dinner for 2. We returned in '95 and greeted the manager who told us that the headwaiter was gone thanks to Holly's letter and some others. We were treated to a fabulous meal, appetizers & drinks to dessert (thought just the entree would be complimentary) and he wouldn't take a cent - had to fight to leave a tip. That's customer service CP 10/96

Chalet Suisse on Friday- I had Wiener Schnitzel and bill had the red snapper creole. R-filet mignon. All was excellent. I asked why they don't serve spatzle with the schnitzel and the waitperson said Americans want potatoes. Oh well, my loss. Finished with Toblerone fondue. All three of us shared. I think they put a bit more fruit and cake on b/c of that. $98.00. No wine or cocktails b/c we'd been on that MiDushi and I reached my max (reached very early incidentally!! don't like more than one or two. (9/96 BM)

Driftwood- poor service, very limited menu. Out of a lot of items. The only descent thing was the lobster tail. I would not recommend this. da9702

El Gaucho - excellent beef, especially the gaucho steak. Those sauces are great. Garlic shrimp excellent. Service very good. Very busy. da9702

El Gaucho - If I could tell you about only one restaurant, this would be it. The Argentinean beef is cooked to perfection and is incomparable to anything I've had anywhere. Don't even think of getting anything other than the beef if you go here. Must make reservations 3-4 days ahead, so call within the first day or two. The restaurant is in town (Oranjestad) and dress is casual. We usually designate a day for "in town" and then have dinner here at the end of the day. In '95 there was talk of expansion and in '96 ... wow, you should see the place now!! a number of rooms were added, but still call to make reservations ahead of time.cp9610

Gasparito - Coupon in airport booklet for 4 course meal/for 2/ $50.00. The fourth course makes me laugh a bit... coffee or tea. But you get choice of soup or salad, choice of all but 2 items on menu (filet mignon had $8 extra charge and surf/turf had $10.) Two of us had coconut shrimp (no batter, done in sauce with coconut sprinkled on it)' one had shrimp scampi special, only we think he got garlic shrimps from menu( heads left on) but he said it was great and didn't care, and one had special of Mahi-mahi. All were excellent, as was service. Had a variety of desserts... mocha cake, pear/pineapple strudel, mocha mousse. Also split a bottle of zinfandel wine. $70. each couple. (9/96 BM)

Le Petit Cafe fun place with a great steak & shrimp combo cooked on a lava rock at your table. There are two of these restaurants, one in town (Oranjestad) and one at the Americana Hotel. I recommend the one in town as it is well ventilated - the hotel restaurant gets real smoky, according to others. This place does get crowded - definitely make reservations if interested. cp9610

Paddock - Big Mistake. Tom's Filet Mignon was fine, but Joanne ordered shrimp and almost passed out when they arrived heads and all. She got past that but when she realized they were never cleaned (deveined) she lost her appetite. The waiter told us that was the European way of serving them. We said, we don't think so. (they smelled also, not fresh) ks9702

Pirates' Nest - On Sat. pm. Ate inside. I had a chicken and puff pastry appetizer (they were out of my 1st choice mushrooms). Bill had onion woup which he said was very good. He had a meal called ABC special(we think Aruba, Bonaire Curacao) and it was a sampler platter. I had chicken with pink peppercorn and mango sauce. Both meals were excellent. $88.00 including service. I will type all totals including service and not write that each time. (9/96 BM) The Pirates Nest - beach walk

Rigoletto's - Just tried this place out in '96 after hearing about it for many years (We try to go to new places, but its hard when you have so many good ones to choose from!) We had a wonderful time. Met one couple from Indiana and another from Michigan - people tend to get friendlier the longer they are on the island. The food was excellent. My dinner was on the expensive side (one of the night's specials). It was a seafood medley with everything - lobster, shrimp, mussels, calmari, octopus, clams, scallops and some fish (though I can't remember what kind) It was awesome, but the $24 price would even make me choose something else next time! cp9610

The Ruinas Del Mar at the Hyatt is designed after an old Gold Mine. You can eat inside, or out on the patio overlooking the pond with black swans and red flamingos. Very good food and excellent service. One thing you will see is that everywhere on the island the dinner check includes a 15% gratuity already on the bill. I have no idea whether that goes directly to the server or if they split it with the "house." With the type of service we received, I always added an additional tip. The del Mar was some of the best service we received.

Valentinoes - Outstanding in my opinion. The service was wonderful and very kind. The food was great. The steak stuffed with garlic was excellent. Everything was good from beginning to end. Edwyn the manager knows what he is doing. When he sings happy birthday in Dutch it is great. da9702

The Waterfront where we've had dinner. They are particularly convenient if you are ending your day of shopping at this mall and getting ready to pack it in. The Waterfront has an indoor restaurant with a great outdoor dining area - casual. '96 we had an nice dinner, but the food and the place really didn't interest us as it used to - getting expensive and we didn't think the meal warranted the price. Too many other excellent places to choose from.CP9610


DINING GENERAL

We had good meals at Tony Romas and Mama Mia's; and excellent meals that the Golf Course, Chalet Suisse and the Tuscony Room at the Marriott (twice). The Tuscony Room gets our vote as most enjoyable meal although Chalet Suisse is a very close second. Meals at Rigalletos and The Flame were sort of a disappointment. Breakfast at the Marriott's Buffet was well worth the price--you won't walk away hungry and quality was high. Breakfast at the LC Casino was OK if you gamble. Without the benefit of the $5 coin buy-in, the $10 price would be a bit much. (9/96 TR)

Here is a list of the restaurants we ate at over the two weeks along with comments on them: The Sun Club at Costa Linda (very good), Valentino's (overpriced and fair), The Monday night barbecue and show at Costa Linda (very good and an excellent show) - our daughter and son in law went to Chez Mathilde that night and said it was one of the best meals they have every had, Boonoonoonoo's (very good - I survived the Jamaican Jerk Ribs), The Driftwood (excellent seafood), The Tuscany at the Marriott (superb), El Gaucho (superb - we brought leftovers back and had them for lunch the next day - steak sandwiches), Mama's & Poppa's (good but the service was very slow), Trattoria El Fero Blanco (excellent - sat out on the terrace), Chalet Suisse (excellent - superb duck and excellent Weiner Schnitzel, and then Twinklebones (our first time there and it was lots of fun and the Roast Beef was excellent). They put our grandson in the show, picked him up a danced with him and he loved it. He's a real ham. Eddie entertains at both Twinklebones and Mommas and Poppa's (same owners) and entertains during happy hour by the pool bar during happy hour at Costa Linda. (3/97 AL)


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