By far, the most disappointing vacation experience of my life.
First, the good things:
1. The entire place was immaculately clean.
2. Very nice room.
3. Most of the staff was very friendly and eager to help.
4. There were three good food items (chicken wings, bruschetta at L'Olio, sushi at Zen). and one good drink (Balashi beer).
5. Excellent beach, decent pool.
6. Convenient to the Hyatt Regency, which has a very good outdoor bar.
The only bad thing about the place was the food and drink. I know this place gets very mixed reviews on TripAdvisor and I think part of it relates to different people's expectations for food quality. I don’t think I’m a food snob but in any case I was *not* expecting excellent food. I was expecting something akin to Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse, Olive Garden, etc. I was bitterly disappointed.
The dining options at Occidental are: the buffet, L’Olio (Italian), El Olvido (Mexican), Zen (Asian), and Desire aka The Beach Club (standard American fare)
Let us begin with the buffet. This was, simply, much worse than any food I have been served in the past 13 years. The food at my dorm in college may have been worse, but I doubt it. I remember finding several items at the dorm buffet that were pretty good, which is much more than I can say for the Occidental buffet. All the meat was cooked to the point that it simply had no taste. As a vehicle for ketchup, it was passable. Unfortunately, the cut-rate ketchup was not. The scrambled eggs were powdered. The pancakes, literally, would not bend. In all seriousness, I almost chipped a tooth biting into a *boneless* breaded chicken breast.
L’Olio: the bruschetta was good. The “risotto” was, in fact, rice. The rest of the food was a significant step down from Olive Garden. It seemed to comport with what I perceived to be Occidental’s food quality target: you will recognize that it is food, and you will feel somewhat confident that it won’t make you sick. It was nice, however, that men were not allowed to wear shorts here. I mean… shorts… in Aruba? Ridiculous. It was a welcome opportunity to showcase the variety of dressy slacks I had brought along for the trip.
Zen: the sushi was good. Everything else was in the “it is food, and it probably won’t make me sick” category. Noodles tasted like preservatives. Unlike L’Olio, which gives you the opportunity to purchase terrible wine for surcharges approaching $40 a bottle, there is no wine list at this place. I opted for the house red, which tasted like a solvent. My younger daughter was suffering from mild food poisoning and only wanted milk. She asked three times but never got it. She eventually gave up and shuffled off, dispirited, to bed, without the one freakin’ thing she wanted. Dude: I am not exaggerating. She shuffled. She was a trooper as always, and didn’t complain, but seemed legitimately surprised that the grown-ups who obviously had the responsibility for providing milk refused to do it.
El Olvido: My Spanish is rusty, but I’m pretty sure “El Olvido” translates to “The Forgotten.” If you eat at the buffet, and then L’Olio, and then Zen, as I did, you’ll probably do as I did and not give The Forgotten the chance to further ruin your vacation. That is, I didn’t go here and wouldn’t under any reasonably foreseeable circumstances.
Desire aka The Beach Club: chicken wings were good. Hamburgers were cooked beyond recognition, but were a convenient way to get some Royal Netherlands Navy surplus ketchup into my system. Ribs were, …, well, this is a family website, so, suffice to say, don’t eat the ribs.
Now, if I may, let us discuss the beverage situation. I *am* a drink snob, so take this with a grain of salt. Take the Occidental’s drinks with a grain of salt, as well, and you might be able to choke some down.
Balashi was one of the highlights of my vacation. A locally brewed beer, and it’s very good. And the best part is: it’s all you can drink! Yes, for only $4,000+ you too can take your family to Aruba and get absolutely crocked on American-style lager!
Otherwise, the bars stock mid-grade booze, like Johnny Walker Red Label. I think it’s possible to get a decent-tasting cocktail at most of the bars if you tell them not to make it too strong. We tried several standard drinks (Jack and Coke and vodka tonic in particular) and found them undrinkable, but maybe that’s just because they were way too strong.
At the other end of the spectrum, however, is Sound, which waters down its booze. I know this because my friend and I tried Red Label and Jack Daniels at various strengths, including straight up, and could not get it to taste right. The Assistant Food & Bev Manager swore up and down that they don’t water down their booze, so maybe this was just a bad batch. Maybe. I will say this for Occidental: they do not advertise top-shelf liquor. Their website simply promises that you can “enjoy your favorite cocktail.”
The only truly horrible aspect of the booze situation was the complete absence of specialty tropical cocktails. My friend and I were hoping that our wives could relax on the beach and have a quality fruity cocktail with a little umbrella in it. Instead, they were offered a cut-rate Slurpee spiked with Everclear. Bring your own little umbrella.
At this point you may be wondering: did I complain to management? The answer is, I spent a surprisingly large amount of my vacation trying. I will spare you all the details, but here is a brief summary: I walked up to Guest Services. Beautiful young person, beautiful smile, genuinely interesting in helping me. “I’d like to speak with the hotel manager,” I said. She asked why. I said, “To complain about the food.” I was about to go into my complaints in greater detail when she interrupted me and said simply, “I know.” Oh yes - she interrupted me and said, “I know.” That happened!
Apparently customer satisfaction is beneath the hotel manager, because I would not be allowed to meet him. At first, I was told that the hotel manager was in a meeting but would be available in 30 minutes. I came back in 30 minutes, only to find that he was still in a meeting. Another 30 minutes later, same story. The Guest Services lady assured me that it was a busy day, packed with many important meetings. She said that the Food & Bev Manager would meet with me. I said that I just wanted to speak with someone who could authorize a partial refund. So instead I spoke to… are you ready? The *Assistant* Food & Bev Manager! Can he process a partial refund? I asked. “I don’t know. They said he can do something for you,” was the response.
The Assistant Food & Bev Manager (let’s call him Ed) politely launched into a well-rehearsed speech. “The liquor in Sound is not watered down. If you don’t like the drinks elsewhere, maybe they are too strong for your taste.” [Editorial note: so far, so good. He’s meeting my eyes and speaking truthfully.] “If you don't like the food, that's not because the food is bad, it's just because you have different tastes.” [Ed was not able to look me in the eyes on that one. I truly felt sorry for him. He seemed like a very nice guy in an impossible situation.] He offered me this: if I wanted some particular type of food, he would make sure that I got it. I told him: I don’t care what type of food it is, I just want something good. He said he would talk to someone who could process a partial refund. After going back and forth twice more, I got a final answer: no refund. I asked them to state in writing that they heard my complaints and would not give me a refund; they refused. He did assure me, however, that no one else ever complains about the quality of the food, which made me feel better.
After I got back, I priced out the Occidental compared to similar hotels that are not all-inclusive. Eight-day stays at the Occidental, Radisson, and Hyatt Regency were quoted at $4,643, $1,840, and $2,009, respectively. The difference between Occidental and the average of the other two is $2,719, or $340 per day. For $340 per day I could have taken my family to the nearby Texas de Brazil, which is truly excellent, *every day* for dinner, and still have had plenty of money left over for breakfast and lunch. Instead we got prison food and gut rot liquor. And all the Balashi we could drink!
Of all the tourist traps we visited on the island - and all the guys on the beach trying to sell us Snuba, parasailing, inner tube rides, Jet-Ski rentals, etc. - we always got very good value for our money. The Occidental was the only place trying to rip us off.
P.S. some miscellaneous Aruba tips: Garufa is an excellent cigar bar, with live South American music on some weekend nights. De Palm Tours is a good company with reasonable prices but do *not* go to their private island; there is not much to do there and it’s an island so you can’t leave when you want to! If you like bourbon, bring your own; it is almost non-existent on the island. The best place to buy Cuban cigars on the island is La Casa Del Habano in the Royal Plaza Mall. El Gaucho is an excellent steakhouse, but expensive. The people on the Kuku Kanuku party bus seemed to be having a great time.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.