I visited the island of Aruba for a week with some friends for a nice vacation. I exchanged my Starwood Vacation Ownership-Westin timeshare in St. John, USVI, for something a little more lively and entertaining, but of course, relaxing! I chose the Renaissance Ocean Suites in downtown Oranjestad because it is located in the thick of things since my friends wanted to be within walking distance of shopping, restaurants, and nightlife.
Flights: I had a somewhat strange flight itinerary that consisted of flying from Phoenix to Las Vegas in the early evening to catch an overnight flight from Las Vegas to Miami, which allowed me to arrive in Aruba by midday the following day. I flew Southwest to Las Vegas and then American from Las Vegas to Aruba. Returning, I flew American from Aruba to Phoenix via Miami and Dallas/Fort Worth.
When I checked in with American in Las Vegas, they had oversold the flight and were offering $300 vouchers if passengers voluntarily bumped themselves. I was in no rush, so I took the voucher and they also comped my upgrades to first class (I always try to upgrade since I am an elite member of Aadvantage.) Taking the voucher was probably a mistake since I received it at midnight, but by the time the hotel shuttle came, I did not get to bed until after 2am and had to be up again at 5am. The hotel they put me up at was the Emerald Suites near the Orleans Casino. It was definitely an economy hotel, but surprisingly clean and well kept.
The flights home were relatively calm and without major incident, other than a slightly delayed flight from Miami to Dallas.
Renaissance Aruba Resort- The Renaissance, part of the Marriott brand, is actually two different hotels on the island only a block a part. The Marina Hotel is across the street from the water and the beach, but a bit more upscale, with most of the restaurants and more up-to-date facilities. The Ocean Tower is home to the timeshare units, as well as the larger pool and a small stretch of beach. There is no direct access to the ocean, as it tended to be rough our entire stay. The Renaissance also has their own private island, in which you can get to via a boat shuttle from both hotels. The Private Island has a restaurant and two beaches- one for families and one for adults. The adult side is a topless beach for those who wish to participate or avoid it. There is also a small nature trail, but it is riddled with mosquitos. The only downside to the private island is the sound of the incoming or outgoing jets since it’s right in front of the airport. It’s VERY loud.
The resort grounds were somewhat nice, with a nice pool and swim up bar, a nice wood walking path to get to and from the shuttle to the private island. The beach area at the hotel itself was actually pretty nice and served as a nice substitute if you chose not to go to the private island. The Marina Hotel did not have as nice of grounds, mostly because it was more of a city setting. The pool, however, was very nice and had a covered cabana area.
The room we stayed in, on the 3rd floor facing a parking lot, was a little dated, but not terrible. The mold and mildew, although not visible, did cause some issues for some of my friends who have allergies. That issue is hard to avoid is tropical climates, but Aruba does not tend to be as humid as other tropical locales (more arid environment). The room had one king bed, a queen size pull out couch and we also had a cot rolled in. The room also has a kitchenette with two burners and two small refrigerators. The hotel does supply some utensils and dishware, but not any condiments or any type of food or drink, other than coffee packets. We definitely took advantage of this opportunity to save money by cooking some of our own meals and buying some of our own alcohol. It saved us a ton by having cereals and bagels for breakfast, the same for lunch, and pasta for dinner. We were able to supplement our meals with coffee from a nearby Dunkin Donuts, breadsticks from Sbarro, and dessert from Haagen Das, all located outside of the Ocean Tower. There are also a few other restaurants, such as Wendy’s, Taco Bell, The Waterfront, a Dutch Pancake House and a Japanese restaurant to name a few.
As I mentioned above, we chose to eat a lot of our meals in our room to save money, but we did venture out on the town for dinner three of our nights. The first night we went to a local favorite called Que Pasa. It’s a few blocks behind the Marina Hotel in Oranjestad. It’s small, but has an extensive menu and we were all very happy with our meal. We also tried El Gaucho, which is a more upscale Argentinian steak house. The portions were immense and again, we all enjoyed our meals very much. Same goes for our third choice, Aruba Destiny. Aruba Destiny is further away from Oranjestad near the hotel row and Eagle Beach. We were referred to this restaurant by Danny, our guide on our four wheeling ATV tour (see below for the ATV tour information). Danny’s uncle owns the restaurant, so he, of course, highly recommended it. I can honestly say I would recommend it as well. It’s a more intimate setting, and perhaps a bit romantic. We were very pleased with the food and the service, especially since there was only one other couple there. After Aruba Destiny, we headed to the famous Carlos n’ Charlies for drinks. The crowd there was very young and the music was very modern, which suited me very well, but it’s not for a more refined, older crowd or anyone who hates loud, obnoxious places.
As I mentioned above, I did the ATV tour with Four Wheelin’ Aruba. Some of my other friends did a snorkeling happy hour tour with De Palms Tours, and while I did not experience it, they said it was a little sketchy in that there were a lot of drunk people on board. Yes, it is a drinking tour, but it was a little wild from what I hear. Anyway, the ATV tour was also a bit wild, in that the trails we took were very steep and somewhat dangerous. The De Palms version of the tour is much more tame, as they do not visit the Natural Pool. The Natural Pool is at the bottom of a very steep hill on a very unpaved and rocky trail. We also visited the Natural Bridge, which unfortunately no longer exists, but it was still a neat thing to see and you can see some smaller versions of the bridge while there.
Overall,. I’d say the trip to Aruba was one to remember, but I probably would never go back and stay in Oranjestad ever again. It was too much “city” and not enough beach areas. If I do ever return to Aruba, it would be to stay in the area near Eagle Beach at a smaller, more intimate hotel or resort. All in all, Aruba is a great place for getting a taste of everything- city, shopping, nightlife, and tropical paradise.