Thanks again to this group for helping my husband and I plan another great trip to Aruba! See the report below -- long and thorough!
Another fantastic vacation in Aruba that was heart-wrenchingly painful to conclude. But before we get to the end, let’s start at the beginning…
My husband and I flew Southwest from Detroit to Aruba with a stop in Atlanta on Saturday, September 27. I know some don’t like Southwest’s open seating, but we love it -- and this trip we lucked out on the long leg from ATL to AUA with a front row and an empty seat between us. Great start!
Arrived in Aruba half an hour early. Unfortunately customs was so backed up, it took us an hour to get through -- and of course, once we did, there were barely any other people in line behind us. Guess it was just poor timing. But our bags made it just fine and, after a quick stop at duty free, we went out to meet Bully, the friendliest face on the island and a sight for sore eyes!
Bully took us to our first stop on our ten-day vacation -- a couple nights at Club Arias Bed and Breakfast in Savaneta. We’d booked an ATV sunrise tour with Arias last year for our honeymoon and were offered two free nights at the B&B for our next trip, so we decided to take advantage and fly in two days early.
Now, I wasn’t expecting much for a free stay -- and I’d heard some rooms are nicer than others, so I assumed we would get a tiny room with little charm. How wrong I was! We were shown to Suite 4, which was a HUGE room complete with a king bed, sitting area, kitchenette, and private, large bathroom. It also had a small vestibule area with a set of bunk beds off to one corner. I couldn’t believe it, we could have had a party in there! We took a bit of time after checking in to roam the grounds. What a little gem of a place, there is no other word that comes to mind except “oasis.” We arrived just in time to enjoy the afternoon pastry (cinnamon rolls warm from the oven), and then walked over to G&G Pizza for wings and a couple cold Chills.
Sunday we’d arranged through the Club for a jeep rental, so after a filling breakfast (provided by Chef Gabriel) we waited outside for our 9:00 pickup. When the driver from Jay’s finally arrived at 9:15, he apologized and said he had been calling the Club and no one had picked up -- one of the downsides to a small B&B, there isn’t always someone manning the phones!
The rental place was out near the airport, but the transport to and from was free. This was our first time renting a car, so as a disclaimer, I’m not sure how much of this is the norm, but it was definitely different than any car rental experience we’ve had in the states. We were provided a Jeep Wrangler as requested: dusty, no windows in the back, every maintenance light in the dashboard blinking, and a malfunctioning gas gauge that always read empty. Again, we weren’t really expecting much to begin with, so we took the jeep, put some gas in it so we wouldn’t get stranded halfway across the island, and headed out.
We stopped for some provisions (gouda, salami, crackers, and of course, some Chills) and then headed west to Bocca Grande. We’d gone to this beach at the end of our ATV tour last year and vowed to come back because it was so beautiful, possibly our favorite beach on the island. We played in the waves and watched the 10+ kite surfers fly through the sky. After a couple hours in the sun, we moved up the coast, paid our entrance fee to explore the park, and eventually made our way back down to Baby Beach for another dip in the ocean.
We made it back to the Club without running out of gas, so we utilized the outdoor showers at the Club and got ready for dinner at Flying Fishbone. We’d managed to reserve one of the tables in the water and it was a very nice evening. Both of our meals were delicious (short rib for him, mahi for me) and we even got a special Happy Anniversary dessert. When we got back to the Club, we had more dessert -- some slices of cake from House of Cakes to stand in for the year-old wedding cake we left at home.
Monday it was time to switch accommodations, so we left Club Arias and took the jeep back to Jay’s. We decided to exchange the jeep for an economy car to do some more exploring of the island. This is where I really feel that Jay’s dropped the ball, and why I would not recommend them to anyone in the future. First, we got quite a bit of attitude from the attendant when we said we only wanted the car for two days, not the seven we would be spending on the island. He seemed downright angry that we would be dumb enough to not want a car. Then, we waited about 15 minutes since the car was being cleaned. Once it finally was pulled around to the front of the building, although it did look freshly washed, we were told it needed to be taken to have the A/C recharged, and that we would go with the service guy to the mechanic, that it would only take 5 minutes. We were then driven by one of the Jay’s employees who did not speak a word of English another 15 minutes into a residential area (so many twists, turns, and shortcuts, I had no idea where we were and I can guarantee I would never be able to find that place again). We arrived at what looked like a mechanic’s garage off the back of someone’s (Jay’s??) house. At this point, our driver shooed us out of the car, drove it into a fenced area, got out, and took off in another vehicle. We were left there standing on the sidewalk in the sun, no idea where we were or what was going on. Luckily, the mechanic that recharged the A/C did so in about 20 minutes and spoke enough English to get us back to the main road. At no point did we ever feel unsafe, but it was a very confusing situation that we could have done without. Everything is an adventure in Aruba!
Once we had our little Honda with a working A/C, we took the time to drive around the island and check out some of the sights we hadn’t seen during our last trip. We went up to the lighthouse, down through Malmok Beach, and stopped in the high rise area for shopping (got my Aruba Alex and Ani bracelet) and lunch at Moomba, where a passing iguana stopped to eat some cherries out of our hands while we sat at the bar.
We finally made our way to Bucuti, where we were greeted with enthusiasm by Frank the bellman. We were shown into the lobby for some champagne and cold towels while we waited for Mary-Anne to check us in. She showed us out into the lounge area near the bar and did the whole check in process via her iPad while we sat within steps of the water. Our room wasn’t ready yet, so we grabbed a couple chairs under an umbrella and were perfectly content to wait there -- at least until happy hour, because we were dying for some slippery monkeys from the Sand Bar! Karen, Aldrick, and Marina didn’t disappoint!
We eventually made it to our room, unpacked, and did a quick dinner at Pizza Bob’s. Went for a sunset walk on the beach and ended up back at the Sand Bar for late-night happy hour.
My full review of Bucuti will be posted on their page eventually, but just to note quickly -- it was another incredible stay. The service, of course, was impeccable everywhere we went on the resort grounds. We stayed in a ground-level garden-view room which was the perfect size and location for us -- it was great to be able to go in and out either door in the room. We received our Bucuti water bottles (which we’d been looking forward to, since one of ours broke in transit on the way home from last year’s visit), as well as cheese, crackers, champagne and flutes, and chocolate. A new addition to the room’s goodie bag was a full-size bottle of Aruba Aloe lotion, which I was ecstatic to find -- the smell of AA products brings me back to the island every time I use them.
Tuesday was a relaxing day at the beach in the morning, then we took the car for another spin around the island. We’d met a couple at the Sand Bar on Monday that were interested in checking out Bocca Grande, and we were happy to oblige them with a ride. On the way back we drove through a small pack of donkeys that were walking alongside the road, several adults and a few babies. They came right up to the windows for handouts -- unfortunately we had nothing to give them!
We were back in time to catch the second half of happy hour, and then got ready to head to the high rise area for dinner. We chose Salt and Pepper on an impulse and had such a nice time! We each ordered several tapas and a sandwich to split. There was live music in that area, so we got a little show as well. We walked around through the vendor stalls (which weren’t open during the day when we were there previously) and bought some Aruba Aloe products to bring home.
Wednesday was another day spent at the beach and in the ocean. My husband made a run to Superfoods in the morning and turned in the rental car. We had to leave happy hour slightly early to get ready for the Bucuti sunset sail. This was an activity we did last year as well and had a great time, so we decided to book again. We were not disappointed -- this is a great opportunity to meet other guests staying at Bucuti on a well-maintained and underpopulated catamaran. Plus, open bar!
After the cruise, we had reservations at Madame Jeanette. My husband particularly enjoyed their special that evening, mojito mahi. I love their salads and their bread with pickled onions! Late-night happy hour rounded out the evening.
Thursday we slept in a bit, and after a late(r) breakfast we headed down to Oranjestad to do a little more exploring. We bought a few souvenirs and spent some time looking for the West Deck for lunch, but had no luck -- and the few different locals we asked weren’t able to find it, either (we finally saw it when we were on our way to the airport a few days later, so it’s on the list for next time). We settled with lunch at Iguana Joes, which turned out to be a tasty option. While we sat in 2nd floor open-air restaurant, it rained very hard for a good 15 minutes. I was glad at that point that we weren’t still out on the street searching for our original lunch spot.
By the time we paid our bill (service was pretty slow), the rain had subsided, so we grabbed a cab back to Bucuti. We enjoyed some beach time and spent a part of happy hour watching the Detroit Tigers lose their first game of the playoffs. We ordered in from Pizza Bob’s again and had a quiet night.
Friday we’d booked a snorkel catamaran cruise with Pelican Adventures. We got to the high rise area early so we could hit up Scott’s Brats (delicious!) before picking up our tickets. We had a credit from last year due to some miscommunication, and chose to book the snorkel tour so we could at least say we’ve snorkeled once in Aruba. We were severely disappointed in this tour. I was prepared for the boat to be more crowded than the Bucuti boat, however I was NOT prepared to be on a local school’s field trip and have to share the boat with 50 middle school-aged kids (to note, I would have been fine with SOME kids. But these preteens were rude and ALWAYS in the way, clogging up the aisles and jostling other passengers at the bar -- was also very surprised that the locals send their kids on field trips where there is an open bar!). I was very glad that this was a very quick 2.5 hour cruise -- I couldn’t wait to get off of that boat. Oh, we stopped at Malmok beach and the shipwreck, and that was it. Again, I didn’t even care, I wanted off that boat so badly. Still waiting for a reply from the email I sent them -- I wish they would have alerted us to the situation because I would have gladly changed the date if I would have known.
Anyway, after the unfortunate cruise, we decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner at Screaming Eagle. This was one of our favorite meals from last year, and we were not disappointed this year. I had a delicious vegetarian meal (potato pancake) and my husband had their specialty, the peppercorn steak. The tableside sauce making was a show in itself. We were very pleased with our meal here -- and the lack of children in the dining room. :)
Saturday was bittersweet, as the friends we had made during the week were all departing, but we were both very much looking forward to our dinner that night at Carte Blanche. Sorry to keep comparing to last year, but we did Two Fools last time and were excited to try Carte Blanche this year to see the difference. It was a very close race, but I think I enjoyed Carte Blanche more -- the food was more plentiful and the chef and sommelier were both more personable, taking time to speak with each person/couple individually during the course of the meal. My only critique is, while Two Fools asked us to stay and drink on their patio after dinner, the Carte Blanche team was ready to clean up and shut down shortly after the dessert course. Even so, it was a fantastic evening with some incredible food. Also very convenient that it was just a stumble away from our room at Bucuti.
Sunday was our last full day and it was incredibly depressing -- not just because of our impending departure, but also because it rained. all. day. long. Many of you know what a rarity this is in Aruba. Even the bartenders at the Sand Bar seemed glum. We spent the day on our covered patio drinking beer, or at the bar watching both the Lions and the Tigers lose. Very, very sad day indeed.
We didn’t have any plans for our last night, and we ended up going to Barney’s at the recommendation from a woman I sat next to at Carte Blanche -- she and her husband were on their 21st visit to the island, so I trusted her word. The scene at Barney’s was quiet, but that was ok since we were both in poor moods. The food, however, was very, very good -- we split a large salad and a pasta dish, along with some soup. My husband wasn’t feeling well prior to dinner, so we took most of it back to the room for lunch the next day, but we both said we would return next time when he was feeling better.
On Monday we woke up early and got in a couple hours on the beach before we left for the airport. I was, of course, in tears while we were checking out of Bucuti -- which apparently my husband is a sucker for, because he reserved our room for next year before we left. :)
Bully met us early for our 2:15 flight via Delta. The airport was practically deserted -- we made it through customs and were to our gate in about 45 minutes. Unfortunately the rain returned right before takeoff and delayed us about an hour, causing us to miss our connection in JFK. We spend an extra night in New York and caught the next flight to DTW at 9:30 the next morning.
And so concludes our second trip to Aruba! We’re happy to already have #3 to look forward to next year. Thanks for reading!
Sounds like you had an excellent time overall. Too bad about the snorkel trip though. We're going for number 6 this year. Can't wait. Your husband sounds like a sweetheart!
Great trip report ! Thanks, I'm more excited than ever for our next trip in 5 weeks
I really like the way you take the tough parts and keep on having a good vacation! Thanks for sharing!
Great report....enjoyed reading it...will have to try out Barney's next time..
What a fun read! Thank you for sharing. Last summer, we went to Barney's, I got sick and the chef's wife drove me home with a big box o' ribs, which I snorked down the next day, gallbladder be damned.
Nice report, thanks for sharing.
I enjoyed your trip report. Your rental car experience is not normal. For seamless service, I recommend Hans from Tropic Car Rental. You need to reserve several months in advance though. I already have mine reserved for June. Thanks for sharing!!
Thanks for your trip report. Had fun reading it. We now rent our car from Tropic. Do it when we buy our plane tickets.
Now time to plan the next trip. Plane travel cam be so much fun.