This was my first time in Aruba. We did not go all-inclusive. I traveled with my boyfriend (26, I'm also 26), mother (50's, who'd been a few times before, we stayed through her RCI timeshare), aunt (late 40's/50) & grandma (early 70's). I wanted to include the age ranges because I often find it a little hard to relate to many reviews on this site due to the fact that it seems rare someone in my age range actually makes a review. My boyfriend and I stayed in a room separate from my family & spent most of the time as a couple. My family stayed in the Dutch Village area. Also, even though it was my first time in Aruba, I have been on several trips in the US as well as multiple all-inclusive trips to Cancun/Riviera Maya & Punta Cana. There is so much to say about my experience that it's hard for me to keep my thoughts together, but I'll try and keep it as organized and readable as I can. Get ready for a long one.. :)
My boyfriend and I noticed when we landed in Aruba that we were by no means within the average age range. There seemed to be a few common types of groups. 1. Newly married couples, usually in their mid-late 30's. 2. People/couples my mom's age or older. 3. Families with young children.
I think Aruba is aimed more at these types of people than those of us in our 20's, overall. This to me makes sense because it is a more expensive place to vacation. The experience we had wasn't exactly that of a party place. (Not really a complaint. Just an honest review for people who may be looking for more of that type of thing.)
We didn't rent a car. I'm not sure it would be worth it to us. It was $22 to/from the airport in a taxi. $10 to/from the city. $9 to/from the high rise area. The taxi drivers seemed to be the happiest people on the island & were where we got most of our information about Aruba. I enjoyed getting to talk to them. The trips never took long either. The driving is a little more aggressive, but nothing in comparison to what I've seen in Mexico/Punta Cana.
It was beautiful and picturesque most of the time we were there. I believe the average high was around 86 degrees & the low around 76. On occasion it would get a bit cloudy, but it was only an issue when in the water. My mom told us there would be a constant "breeze", which there was. But, most of the time it was just flat out WIND. When the wind was an actual breeze it felt nice, but at times it made it too cold for us to be in the water. The beach was a little easier because there was a lot less shade than at the pools. It did rain at some point on each of the first three days that we were there. It did rain hard a few times, but it wasn't anything that really disrupted our plans. I overheard a few other people complain, but we're from Pittsburgh, so it was like nothing to us, especially since the sun was still shining.
My boyfriend and I stayed in a one bedroom in one of the 2 story buildings with the winding stairs. (You can see what I mean from pictures) Our room was pretty much as far from the beach as it could possibly be, which was worrying when we checked in and looked at the property map. In reality it wasn't that far at all. The resort maps are NOT done to scale!
The room was absolutely gorgeous. You walked into a full living/dining room with enough seating in each area for 6 or more. The couch was a pull out bed & looked like it would be pretty large. I always hate the pull out couch in the living room thing, but I think it would be fine for a family with younger kids who don't need a ton of privacy. We had a full kitchen, which was very visually impressive. Off of one side of the dining room there was a nice large closet, washer/dryer combo & a BEAUTIFUL bathroom with both a jetted bath tub and a stone walk-in shower. Off of the other side of the dining room was our bedroom, which was also pretty large & had a separate closet & bathroom with a full shower/tub. There were also TWO patios. One that was a little smaller with just a chair and a lounger, which you could access from both the bedroom and living room. The other was larger with a table, chairs and lounger off of the living room. From both patios we had a view of the pool that was right behind our building.
We're not the types to spend much time in our room, but I was absolutely impressed. I could see some small imperfections/possibly a lack of up keep, but nothing to really complain about. Also, they provided new towels every day, but only cleaned and changed the sheets once. We were told this would be how it worked at check in, which we were fine with.
Our room was FAR nicer than my family's room in the Dutch Village area. We weren't over there much, but if you want an impressive room, stay on the Golf side.
Overall, it was smaller than what I'm used to, but by no means too small. I usually select larger all-inclusives else where because you can't always leave the resorts, which isn't even the slightest issue in Aruba.
It was pretty simple to navigate the property (even after a few too many drinks). One thing my boyfriend and I found strange was that the sidewalks just seemed to end in certain spots that were clearly areas of higher tram/car traffic. It was kind of irritating to have to walk into trees to avoid being hit.
The property was gorgeous and well maintained. I didn't see as many staff members/landscapers as I'm used to at other resorts. One thing I will say that kind of annoyed me is that when I did see anyone doing any landscaping it was usually with a weed whacker. I'm talking everything. We had breakfast at Muligan's which has a nice view over the golf course one morning & were probably there an hour. The entire hour we listened to a man trim what seemed like randomly around one spot of the golf course with a week whacker. Half of the time he was just standing there holding it, letting it run. Neither of us golf, but we did see quite a few people using the course and it made for a nice view from Muligan's.
There were more iguanas/lizards than I'm used to, which I loved. They were also a lot more laid back than in Mexico or Punta Cana.
We did have to cross the street to get to the beach, which wasn't an issue at all. Most of the time cars actually stopped for us. The beach was absolutely gorgeous & very large. The water was freezing most days. It is February after all, I guess. The set up was a little difficult for us at times because my boyfriend burns & likes to have access to shade, where as I want to constantly be in the sun/water. The portion of the beach that was directly across from the street was so big that it was quite a distance from the shade huts that were provided to the actual water. One thing I was impressed with was the fact that even with the water as blue as it is, there are some waves. (Not at all like the East Coast beaches we're used to, but the water is by no means still) But, you couldn't hear them from where the huts were. Instead you heard traffic from the street. It made it feel less beachy to me. If we walked a little there were areas closer to the water with huts, but they were all taken all the time. (We were usually out and about by 9/9:30am. The boyfriend isn't the earliest riser & it's his vacation too, so I didn't want to drag him out at 7am.)
One major complaint we had that some what involved the beach was that we couldn't get a drink any where near it until at least noon. Not even water. There was a bar on the beach, which is what supposedly opened at noon, but I'm honestly not sure it even opened some days. Aside from that, the closest bars to the beach were all-inclusive (a portion of the resort called the Tamarin is all-inclusive. It spans most of the resort property on the beach) and we couldn't pay cash for anything at them. We could walk across the street to get drinks at the Seaside, but we just wanted to stay on the beach, so we usually either just brought bottles of water or walked (probably a distance of about a half mile) to the nearest pay bar on the beach, Matthew's. Matthew's is awesome! It's attached to the Casa Del Mar, which is the next resort over. (If you're walking on the beach facing the water, it's to the right) The water there seemed to have the strongest waves. Matthew's opens at 7:30 in the morning, so there's no waiting for a place to open to even get water. The food there was pretty delicious. Very fresh. The drinks were also some of the best we had on the whole island. The view from the bar looking at the beach is absolutely gorgeous & the bartenders were very friendly. We talked to quite a few people that came to Matthew's from other resorts because of all of the reasons I just listed.
The water was like an ice bath at all times. I'm thinking this was also associated with the time of year.
We did have a nice looking pool right behind our room, which we unfortunately didn't use. I like to go the beach in the morning and go to the pool at some time between lunch and dinner. By that time it was too shaded for me.
The infinity pool, which has a swim up bar, was also pretty close to us. It's a beautiful pool. The infinity portion over looks the golf course and there were always iguanas on the rocks below. There was a rock water fall in the opposite side of the pool which was beautiful as well. Sometimes it was a little too shaded for my liking because its surrounded by buildings. The wind could make it really cold. The pool bar may as well not have been there as far as I'm concerned. Drinks were awful. They used Myers Dark rum for any rum drink. Once we figured that out we switched to a different type of alcohol, but it didn't help. The woman working behind that bar had no business being there. (I'm a former server/bartender and in my experience have had to work/earn my way behind the bar, so to me there is no excuse for someone in that position not knowing how to make a good drink.) I know from past experience that they have limited types alcohol with which to make things and may not be familiar with specific shots/drinks that I'm used to, but usually there is something they can make that fits. I asked her for some sort of fruity/tasty shot one day and she offered a shot of tequila. I said no & again asked if there was anything fruity they could make. She said she'd tell the guy she was working with and walked away. After a couple minutes he put two green shots in front of us and just walked away. They were drinkable, but mainly just sugar and I have no idea what I was given other than I believe it had coconut rum in it.
The only other pool we went to was closest to the lobby by the Sea breeze restaurant. It was a little small, but nice. This pool had a good amount of seating, easy access the the Sea Breeze bar and an area where you could exchange towels and get your own water. Again the drinks weren't always the best, but we noticed most people at this pool brought their own beer. They were also yearly resort regulars/timeshare holders and seemed to feel like they owned the place. They kind of took over the entire pool area at times and made it uncomfortable for anyone who didn't know them. This isn't the resort's fault, but it did make us avoid that pool at certain times.
On Resort Restaurants/Service:
The bellmen/doormen that help people with luggage and when getting a taxi were very nice and very quick. We never had any issue getting a taxi from our lobby. We did wait a little longer once at the Tamarin lobby.
The people at the front desk were very nice, efficient and helpful. The women working the concierge desks, however, were not so much. The first morning we were there we decided to go right to the concierge for help making dinner reservations and possibly choosing an excursion so that we had our plans made and could relax the rest of the week. There was frustration right away when I told her that we wanted to go to Windows "one night this week around 7/7:30". She asked which day & I told her that it didn't really matter to me as long as it was around that time, so the first day available would be fine. (I'm used to all-inclusives where you have to book your dinners ASAP. You tell them where you want to go. They tell you when its available and book the reservation.) She cut me off saying "well it matters to me because I need to know what day I'm looking at". I think something may have been a bit lost in translation with this conversation, but she came off extremely rude. We booked another dinner for another night for the whole group. Then we asked if she could recommend any places where the two of us could have a nice dinner on the beach one night. She huffed, told us there were several places to eat on the beach and that we can check the "black book" for that. The black book was a list of restaurant menus that was in an area behind us. We had no idea it was there. We went over and looked through the book. Nothing clearly stated that it was located on the beach with tables in the sand, so we gave up and decided we'd look some where else & come back when we decided. We still wanted to book an excursion, so we settled on De Palm Island without asking questions or any information offered by the concierge because we were so frustrated and just wanted to be done. (More to come on De Palm)
Muligan's was the main restaurant on the property. They were open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Prices were mostly reasonable & they offer a pretty good selection. My boyfriend and I kind of consider ourselves foodies & we were pretty happy there. The drinks were also pretty good, although I don't think there is an option for anything not name-brand so it is a bit more expensive for drinks. The service there was so-so. We some times felt a little ignored and no one was really friendly. We learned though that service in Aruba is generally pretty slow, so maybe the feeling of being ignored was just us from working in the service industry at home. The view at Muligan's was beautiful and we never had any trouble getting a table. They're open the latest out of any where on the resort (11pm). One complaint: there are obviously flees or some sort of biting bugs in the carpet. It took us a couple trips there to realize it, but the carpet really needs to be removed.
Seabreeze Cafe located by the pool is also open for breakfast lunch and dinner. Apparently they had a breakfast buffet, but we never ate any of it. Again, we were pretty satisfied with the variety of food. The quality wasn't exactly the best, but we mostly ate lunch there and felt it was good enough for that. The service here was also much better than else where as long as we got Marie as our server. We met Marie the first night shortly after the five of us got settled into our rooms. She was absolutely awesome. She seemed to make a connection with most of the customers, which wasn't common there. Most servers/bartenders didn't even make eye contact. Marie really went out of her way to be welcoming and make things fun. She also made a really good long island..
..which is why we never did make it to our dinner at Windows night..
"Jimmy's" aka the Oceanview (across the street overlooking the ocean) was mentioned earlier in the portion about the beach. We did go there once for about 20 minutes. It seemed like it would have been a really fun place to hang out, but again most people were much older than us.
The City (Oranjestad):
We didn't get to spend much time here, so there isn't a ton for me to say. We drove through a few times. It seemed that most things closed pretty early.
I've never seen so many jewelry stores all right next to each other. I mean commercial jewelry stores, not like the locals made jewelry in open air shops.
We did go to El Gaucho (all 5 of us) for dinner one night, which is an Argentinian steak house. It was absolutely delicious. I don't have any complaints. It was pricey, but the portions are massive. My boyfriend and I don't often order steak out because we can't stand when it's overcooked, but everyone was able to get their preference here. Everything was so good, we even had desert. I wouldn't recommend it for a vegetarian. I think they had one non-meat option.
High Rise Area:
My boyfriend and I took I taxi to the high rise hotel area twice. One day we went down around 3pm. At that time most stores were closed, but restaurants were open. We went to Salt & Pepper. I HIGHLY recommend this place. It's small and in a strip of other restaurants, so it's easy to overlook. The food was DELICIOUS! We each had a few drinks & started with ordering 3 of the small plates. Well, 3 small plates turned into 6 because the food was so delicious. The service was slow.
Next we went to Senior Frogs. I never did make it to the one in Cancun, so I wanted to check it out. The drinks were pretty good, but it was clearly more of a sleazy kind of place. The male employees were all over two drunk girls, but I think it kind of goes with the theme. It could have been a fun place with a group.
In the same night we had a late dinner at Aqua Grill. I would not recommend this place for the price, unless you're someone who likes their food a little more bland. We chose this place because they offered oysters on the half shell, which we fell in love with on our trip to New Orleans. They were tasteless here. My boyfriend had a really nice piece of tuna for his meal, but nothing else was anything to write home about. The service was ok, but the waitress couldn't give me any opinion on any of the food. Everything she said seemed scripted. I had one glass of wine. My boyfriend had two. Between the two of us the bill was over $200. We should have left thrilled for that price.
Next we went to the Hard Rock for drinks, mainly because there was a live band. The band was awesome and we ended up staying for several more drinks than planned. The band consisted of a drummer, guitarist/lead singer, bassist, and sax player. They did covers of songs ranging from the early 90's to today & really got the crowd into it. The drinks were the same price and quality as at home, which was really good for Aruba.
Our second trip to the area was on Valentine's day. Another couple told us about how beautiful the lobby of the Hyatt was, so we decided to walk through. Absolutely gorgeous, waterfalls, birds, fish. It was apparent that the Hyatt is a high end place to stay. We ended up kind of stumbling into Footprints, which is a restaurant on the beach attached to the Hyatt. They had open tables, so we decided to have dinner there. We got a little nervous when we got the menus and saw that it was a 4 course Pre-Fix dinner for $72/person, but the options looked pretty good, so we decided to put the Aqua Grill experience out of our minds and stay. Great choice! It was probably my favorite meal of the week! I'd love to go back to see their normal menu. The service was a little slow, but I think it was supposed to be romantic. A man came around playing acoustic guitar & sang to us.
We did all of our shopping in the high rise area.
We were disappointed to find that despite all of the stores, its kind of all just more of the same. The same general trinkets that you'd find any where else, but with "Aruba" on them. There were only a few different patterns for t-shirts, many of them too cheesy for someone our age to find them amusing. You could find most of the same things in the shops on our resort. It was entertaining to walk around and look at everything though.
De Palm Beach:
This is a day long all-inclusive island with unlimited food & alcohol. We thought this would be our day to really just drink and hang out in the sun since drinks were so expensive to buy else where. Little did we know it's aimed more at families. There was never a lack of screaming kids, or people who they belonged to not taking care of them. The drinks were awful. My boyfriend described them hairspray with sugar in them. The food was also pretty bad. Everything tasted like it was from a freezer bag. Half of it wasn't even warm. They never even served dinner as promised and ran out of food at the snack bar before the day was over. We tried to go banana boating, but were told you needed a minimum of four people by an employee that clearly couldn't care less if anyone got to do it. Snorkling was pretty decent. The water was shallow and full of rocks, so swimming/standing got hard, but there were a lot of fish. The scenery was beautiful.
The island as a whole is absolutely beautiful.
There are a lot of older people and families. We didn't meet anyone our age. It doesn't seem to be a huge drinking/party culture for people in their 20's. Don't come if you're looking for a spring break style party. If you want something more laid back with beautiful views & you can spare the money, it can definitely be worth it. But, this is definitely not some where I'd go planning on drinking fruity drinks by the pool all day, unless I want to make them myself. If you are in Aruba & want more of a party, go to the high rise area. You may still not get anything too crazy.
Most of the food was absolutely delicious. To me, it was the main perk that you get by coming to Aruba instead of doing a less expensive all-inclusive, but you pay for it. The service is SLOW.
If you want information or a real opinion on anything, ask a taxi driver. Aside from them there isn't much in the way of culture because most people working in Aruba aren't from Aruba.
Lastly, if you stay at the Divi and go to the Seabreeze, look for Marie!
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.