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Our Tamarijn Aruba All Inclusive Trip Report June 2009

Hartsfield in Atlanta is where all of our trips begin. A great huge airport with every convenience and seemingly a zillion jets ahead of you waiting for take off. Our Delta flight was uneventful. We brought along our own sandwiches and snacks for the flight, not because we are cheap, but simply Jerry’s sandwiches taste better. As a new cost cutting measure on Delta’s part, they now only come through once with the beverage cart. On the way down we had a second run with coffee and on the way home glasses of bottled water. Needless to say we were happy that we had purchased our own beverages once past TSA security.

Lo and behold, with the time the airlines build into the schedules, our flight did arrive on time. By the time we were through Aruba Immigrations there was only a very short wait for our luggage. Thankfully we were waved through Aruba Customs, no questions asked, not that we had anything to hide. At the exit, “Bully the Taxi Driver” was awaiting us. He used to greet us with a sign with our names on it, now it is like having a member of the family waiting for you at the end of a long journey. I have written extensively about Bully and again cannot say enough kind things about this courteous, knowledgeable Aruban. Once he stowed our luggage and we were situated he was even thoughtful enough to provide us with our favorite cold beverages. Bully dropped us off at the Tamarijn confirming that he would pick us up to take us to dinner later that evening.

Where We Stayed
The Tamarijn Aruba All Inclusive Resort

Having found them to have the best pricing, we have now used MCM Tours for over ten years when booking our Aruba travel. Knowing, for our original all inclusive visit to Aruba, that we needed a spot which was affordable for a family of ten, it was they who originally suggested the Tamarijn because of the quality of the food, value and oceanfront rooms. MCM Tours has always provided us with the best customer service and are quick to respond to our questions. All around they are a pleasure to work with.

What can I say about the Tamarijn that I have not said before? For the money, this is one of the best values on the island. Certainly for us, having a 13 yo who loves to eat, and kids 17 yo and under staying and eating free at the Tamarijn, this works out to be the best for us. Our daughter can eat pizza and ice cream to her heart’s content while washing it down with unlimited frozen concoctions and sodas. Staying in room 1313, two times out of three, some of the members of the staff have come to call our dd, “Lucky”.

The rooms are by no means luxurious, the bathrooms need a facelift. To their credit, the Tamarijn in the past year have added new soft furnishings to the rooms as well as new flat panel televisions. There have been other people who have complained that the rooms are too small. This has never been a problem with us, once you have sailed on a cruise and spent seven nights or more in a cruise ship cabin, you never give it a second thought. I know members of the family and certain friends, who would not be happy with the resort and I would never recommend it to them because of that.

However, having said that, we are also not paying Radisson, Marriott or Hyatt prices. The only time we spend in the room is sleeping from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. and odd bathroom stops and showers. In Aruba, at the Tamarijn, our patio and the beach in front of our room are our living room.

Check in at the Tamarijn was smooth. While waiting for dh to fill out the paperwork Igmar from the activities staff spotted us and came over to say hello with hugs and kisses. He has worked there since we have been going to the Tamarijn and we know why. He is great at what he does and genuinely cares about his guests. Lo and behold we were assigned room 1313. We had stayed in this room on our first stay at the Tamarijn and loved it for its location. This time the beach in front of our room was in the best condition that it had been in all three of our stays. One of our loves of Aruba is the beach and this was just perfect. Our family had waited a year, but we were in our paradise of Aruba.

For anyone who has been to the Tamarijn before and was saddened to see the erosion of the beach over the past years, the beach was looking the best since our first visit in December of 2007. I hope for everyone’s sake that Mother Nature is cooperative and leaves the sand on the beach for some time to come. The sand on the beach makes a great resort even better!

On the upside, the Tamarijn/Divi has improved their golf cart shuttle service. Previously at night we have had some very long waits to get between the Divi and the Tamarijn. It is not a bad walk between the two, and I don’t mind walking after dinner, but when we traveled with my then 94 yo grandmother who was incapable of the walk it was an issue. This year, there were new shuttles were larger and seemingly there were more of them. In addition, there were clearly marked “shuttle stops”. Even though the Tamarijn was sold out while we were there, we never had to wait very long.

A negative was their change to their dinner reservation system. You are able to only reserve ala carte restaurants one day in advance. The concierge opened at 8 a.m. each day and lines were long each and every day. It was simply hit or miss that you would be able to get a reservation for a time of your choosing at a specific restaurant. My advice is to be very flexible about times and restaurant choices. The fussier you are, the earlier I would get in line to make your reservation.

I have read some complaints on different forums regarding the service at the Tamarijn and I would like to address this. We found out from Carmen, one of the bartenders, and by far our favorite, that the resort was short on bartenders. Two were out sick after having had surgery. Carmen, seemingly a “Superwoman” worked the pizza bar solo on our next to last day at the resort and had her vacation cancelled for the following week.

Our dd had a problem our second day at the resort. She went to the pizza bar to order a pizza and after fifteen minutes gave up and came back to our palapa crying saying that they, the bartender and his assistant, ignored her. Dh and I walked with her back to the pizza bar. Felix and Rudy were both working and though there were people at the bar, everyone was being taken care of. Felix came over and asked me what I needed and I told him what had happened. He seemed very surprised and questioned Rudy about it. Rudy gave it very indifferent shrug of the shoulders, Felix glared towards him and pleasantly took the order and we all moved on. Dd did not have any trouble the rest of our stay. Dh late the same day walked up to the bar to get he and I each a drink and Felix was alone tending bar. Rudy was busy counting the tip money and refused to come out from behind the back counter to assist Felix. Dh went to the front desk and explained what had transpired and Rudy was never seen again at the pizza bar during any of the other 11 days of our stay.

What We Did

Since our friends were joining us and we knew that there were some spots we wanted to visit as well as getting down to Palm Beach for an excursion, which would have cost us two taxis for the seven of us, this year we did something which we had not done in a very long time and that was to rent a vehicle.

When I heard about a specific opportunity for renting a vehicle at a discounted price on the Avis website this cinched the deal. It was a lot more complicated than that (you can read the full story at Avis), but suffice to say we had a very good experience and would recommend them to others. There have been many a time we have had some not so great rentals while in Aruba and this van was in excellent condition, with fully functioning everything- air conditioning, power windows, a full tank of gas and plenty of windshield washer fluid. Anyone who has rented in Aruba before understands that with all of the dust, this is a huge plus. We would recommend Avis to others. In our case, they have earned much good will. Dh picked up the minivan from their Schotlandstraat location and they were kind enough to drive dh back to the Tamarijn.

Since we knew we would have the rental, dh thought it was worth a try to download this map to our Garmin. After dragging along the Garmin and it's charger and holder, I can tell you it was not worth lugging. Garmin only showed the very main roads and was useless in using for any directions. Once we locked in on the Tamarijn and tested driving back there from any location, all Garmin did was keep recalculating. Anyone who has a Garmin know that the voice telling you that it is recalculating is bad enough, repeatedly voicing it, is pure torture.

Most of our days were spent at the beach and late afternoons at the pool at the Tamarijn. Our friends and their girls, who we met last year at the Tamarijn, arrived at the resort a few days after us. Jerry awakened mornings at 6 a.m. to work on his laptop out under a palapa. It was difficult having to work while on vacation, but I think he would tell you that the view of the ocean helps ease the misery.

Tranquilo Famous South Side Lunch Cruise

This ranks among our top four things to do. Last year we had an enjoyable time on Jolly Pirates and this year it was time to show the kids in our group what “real” sailing was like and some different snorkeling that Aruba had to offer. We had sailed with Captain Anthony in 2006 and hoped that our friends and their children would enjoy it as much as us. At the end I asked for a show of hands from our group of seven and indeed everyone loved it!

Our day started when we greeted Captain Anthony and his mate Gregory on the beach next to the De Palm Pier. Here is where he takes care of the paperwork and then we are off in his dingy to the awaiting sailboat. Once aboard the Captain gives some instructions and Gregory reviews what beverages he has available to serve from the bar. The day we sailed, it seemed the rum punch and Balashi’s were the most popular adult beverages.

We were very fortunate in that the last time we sailed on Tranquilo our day did not start out with the best of weather. Mother Nature was on our side this trip and it was going to be a sunny day. The sail was raised and under a combination of sail and motor power we headed off to Spanish Lagoon and Mike’s Reef. A very important stop on the way to our final destination of Spanish Lagoon is a dockside for pick up of the Captain's mom’s delicious Dutch pea soup.

Spanish Lagoon, in my opinion, is one of the gems of Aruba. The outside of the barrier reef is “Mike's Reef” and is named after Anthony's father who had begun offering tours of those waters in 1977 prior to Anthony's taking over the "family business". His Dad has since passed and in my mind this is an honorable recognition to an Aruban.

Once we arrived at Spanish Lagoon and were anchored. The Captain and Gregory began handing out the snorkel gear. Once everyone was geared up we had the option of swimming over to the platform which straddles the barrier island or taking a ride over on the Captain's dinghy. Once aboard the platform, everyone meets with Gregory for final instructions on the first snorkel. This is a shallow snorkel in 4 - 6 feet of water, out on your own on this shallow part of the reef. Guidelines are given as to how far to stray. My biggest surprise was the amazing recovery of coral in this spot. The last time we had snorkeled here it was looking pretty beat up. This snorkel stop, there were some beautiful corals as well as sponges and the fish were plentiful.

Next you have a choice of staying in this spot to continue snorkeling on your own or hopping aboard Captain Anthony's dinghy for the real thrill of snorkeling while drifting on the reef in deeper waters. The waters here were about 25 feet. Admittedly, there were not as many fish as we saw on the shallow snorkel, but in my mind the colors and variety of coral are always awesome.

The procedure for getting back into the dinghy is thoroughly explained. You snorkel and drift more or less follow the direction of Captain Anthony's dinghy. When time is up the Captain, with your help by kicking with your fins, literally hauls you back on to the dinghy. The idea is to kick with your fins in order to get you high enough out of the water to allow the Captain to pluck you up in order for you to be able to swing one leg over the side. Jerry was the first to get back on and kicked his fins so hard that the Captain could haul him up, but dh nearly went flying clear over the other side of the dinghy. I, on the other hand, ended up on the side as I was supposed to, but went I went to pull my second leg over as instructed I ended up on the floor of the dinghy. It is more than likely going to be one of the least graceful things you are going to do in life but it is better than being stranded out in the ocean. I was happy to be back aboard and it was only the Captain, dh and dd already on board, so no audience. We especially did not feel bad when we saw the men coming back aboard as gracefully as I. <<NOT>> I felt terrific after watching a svelte young 20 something on her honeymoon land back in the dinghy EXACTLY the same way I did!

After all this swimming and snorkeling, needless to say, we were hungry and thirsty. Lunch was served by Gregory as soon as we were back on board. This is not a gourmet spread, but besides the delicious Dutch Pea Soup, we were served ham and cheese and salmon salad sandwiches on nice soft rolls. Filling and satisfying, even the kids had seconds on the soup. My dd never liked Pea Soup until three years ago when she had Captain Anthony's mom's soup for the first time.

Beverages were refilled and we were soon headed off back “home” to Palm Beach on our long relaxing sail. Captain Anthony had the fishing pole out; Gregory cranked up the tunes and served fresh cut fruit as well as kept us hydrated. All around, this is a very relaxing way to escape the beach for a day.

Aruba Donkey Sanctuary

This was another fun diversion from the beach for a few hours. The day we were there it was hot and surely dry and dusty, but seeing all those happy donkeys devouring the apples and carrots we had brought for them was priceless. Even more special was being able to meet the two sweet babies Mirna born in February and Roulette born in January.

A lesson we learned was that upon entry, you will be swarmed by the donkeys if they know you have the food. Hold the food above your head and walk through and up to the building where the store and refreshments are. It has a nice patio which is fenced in. There you can slice up the apples, behind the protection of a railing and feed the donkeys one by one.

The sanctuary is run entirely by volunteers and all of the donkeys are fed with hay purchased solely through donations. There is no admission but donations are appreciated and this organization is surely a worthwhile cause. Their next goal is raising $300,000 in order to build a fence around their future location in Bringamosa. I have already added the T-Shirt Hay Donation to my Christmas list.

Snorkeling Boca Catalina & Catalina Cove

There is something about this spot that I love. First off the entry is easy at Boca Catalina. Snorkeling here on your own, rather than with an excursion, you can go where you wish and spend as long as you like. The water here is fairly shallow and this trip I saw a good variety of fish as well as sea urchins and various colors of sponges. My favorite, and a very beautiful fish, was a Triggerfish who played “hide and seek”. The Longfin Pompanos were awesome and graceful as well. There were no turtles around on the days I have ever snorkeled there, but there are many reports of sightings. I have directions on how to get to Boca Catalina & Catalina Cove here.

Where We Ate

Passions on the beach at the Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort had been recommended to us by a friend and my parents last year. We thought it would be the perfect spot at which to celebrate our wedding anniversary. It was so wonderful last year that we returned again this year for our anniversary.

It is very easy to imagine how beautiful a spot this is watching the sunset over the ocean while sipping your pre-dinner cocktails. We usually end up staying on the beach or at happy hour until at least 6 p.m. so prefer to eat later. Even after dark, with the stars over head and the Aruban tradewinds, this spot is a gem.

Upon arriving, Humphrey the maître d' greeted us immediately. From the ambiance to the food to the service, we again had a perfectly relaxing evening seated at table set under a palapa whose trunk was decorated by mini white lights surrounded by some torches. Our server Daniel was exceptional. Daniel even went above and beyond by jotting down some words in German for our very curious daughter.

For appetizers I again ordered the oh so delicious Caribbean Crab Salad, dh had Cold Strawberry Soup and dd, the seafood lover, ordered the Aruban Seafood Soup. Dd and I shared a Caesar Salad while adventurous dh, sampled the Tropical Watermelon Salad. Entrees were the oh so tender Filet Mignon for myself and dh and dd each ordered the "Get Together" with grouper and shrimp in a creamy spicy sauce. Dd is not fond of spicy so Daniel offered to instead top it with Mango-Passion Fruit Chutney. I am not crazy about Mango and even I thought it was yummy!

Passions has placed a portable rest room on the beach for their guests so Dd checked it out and gave it her approval.

Dessert again was amazing. Dh and I shared the Passion Surprise! For two which included Cheesecake, Tiramisu and Passion Fruit Mousse and dd had the Chocolate Brownie Sundae. Need I say we are looking forward to returning again next year for our anniversary?

Our other new favorite on the island is the Screaming Eagle. Arriving at the Tamarijn later in the afternoon, we figured our chances of being able to get a reservation for an ala carte restaurant on our night of arrival were “slim and none”. At the suggestion of a friend who has similar tastes as dh and I; we decided to try this restaurant. Bully picked us up as we had prearranged, at 8:15 p.m. and as soon as we walked in, we knew we had made the right choice. We were extremely pleased and look forward to returning. The ambiance is very contemporary. Because of the heat, dh is a little hesitant to dine outside at night during the summer, unless like at Passions, you are out in the open wind. Seeing the ambiance of their patio was, next time I definitely would like to sit outside.

There were seemingly endless choices on their menu so after much perusing; we were finally ready to order. Dh, the daring epicurean in the bunch, chose the “Carte Blanche”, described as the chef’s daily changing 3 course surprise menu. This night for an appetizer it included Lobster cappuccino- lobster bisque with frothed milk served in glass goblet accompanied by crab claws and tuna tartare on a bed of sea weed salad garnished with hard boiled quail eggs. This was followed by an entrée of duck breast and seared duck liver served over sauerkraut mashed potatoes. His dessert was served similarly to his appetizer, a slice of lemon pie accompanied with lemon sorbet and a goblet of a chocolate mousse.

Dd and I ate a bit more “plainly”. Dd had the lobster bisque while I had the Alaskan snow crab meat and claws on salad ‘a la grecque’ with light tzaziki dressing. For a salad we shared their “traditional” Caesar. Our entrees consisted of my grilled sea scallops served with hollandaise sauce, sautéed herb artichokes and sun dried tomato risotto and dd’s beef tips “stroganoff”, which were grilled tenderloin beef tips, pommes lyonnaise and sugar snaps. Both were absolutely delicious. After all of that food, only because it included chocolate, dd still had room for dessert. It was a “trilogy” of chocolate mousse consisting of layers of dark, white and milk chocolate mousse with summer berries ice cream.

Another night, because we had the rental vehicle, we chose to visit another restaurant we had not visited in a few years. With a location in Savaneta, as lovely a setting as it is, the taxi fare from any of the resorts is very expensive. Marina Pirata to its credit has not changed one single bit and we still love it every bit as much as the first time we had dinner there. Whenever you walk into a restaurant in Aruba and see a bunch of locals dining, you can pretty much be sure it is a diamond in the rough. For those who have never been, the restaurant is set on the water with most tables on a dock set out over the water. There are lights on the water and invariably the fish come up to the top looking for scraps.

Our friends joined us for dinner this evening and the three girls were kept quite busy guessing which fish was going to take their scrap. Everyone ate fish and we also had some appetizers. All in all we dined on fried calamari, calamari in garlic sauce and onion soup for appetizers. Our entrees included amberjack with Creole sauce, grouper and shrimp combo and mahi mahi. Diners are given a choice of having their fish grilled or pan fried and is accompanied by fried plantains, and a choice of rice, French fries, funchi, fried funchi or pan bati. No one needed dessert; we all left with full bellies.

We had difficulty in getting an ala carte restaurant reservation on another evening so chose another option which the Divi/Tamarijn offers. For $30 per person you may have dinner at Windows on Aruba. You are able to order a three course meal off of their “regular” menu. There were I think two surcharges, one was for lobster. At $4 I did not think that was unreasonable. Drinks and alcohol were also not included. A concern for us was the dress code. When the restaurant opened, men were required to wear long pants. Since then it seems that the management has dropped this restriction to entice more diners. It worked for us. Dh no longer travels to Aruba with long pants.

We hopped a ride aboard the Divi/Tamarijn golf cart shuttle for a ride over to the restaurant. Upon arriving and having a reservation we thought it a bit odd that we were asked to have a seat at the bar while our table was readied. There were plenty of open tables. After about 10 minutes we were led to our window side table. That was what the wait for and it was worth it. We had a table overlooking the Divi Link’s island green as well the swimming pool. The entire restaurant is very elegant with beautiful floor to ceiling windows, large elaborate armed chairs and granite topped tables with linen tablecloths or linen runners.

Our dinner consisted of Tuna and teriyaki...Tuna tataki with seaweed, curry mayonnaise and teriyaki sauce as well as two orders of Scallops and mango...Grilled scallop, gratinated scallop and pan fried scallop with sea weed salad and mango papaya chutney. Entrees were two orders of Sea bass and risotto...Atlantic sea bass fillet, jumbo shrimp, spinach risotto and white wine sauce with flying fish caviar and Tenderloin and beans...US black Angus tenderloin, mashed potato, spring vegetables and a port sauce. Everything was delicious and beautiful arranged. I don’t remember what dessert consisted of, but I am sure dh and dd had something chocolate.

If you are a guest at one of the Divi resorts and wish a golf cart shuttle ride back to your resort, ask the hostess to telephone for a pickup. Windows and Mulligan’s, the casual restaurant downstairs from Windows (not included on the all inclusive) are both listed as shuttle stops, but being off the beaten path so to speak, I don’t believe it is a “regular” stop.

The nights we ate at the resort we ate dinner at either the Red Parrot at the Divi or Paparazzi at the Tamarijn. We enjoy both and there are plenty of choices for us. Well at least dh and I. Dd only orders the coconut shrimp when we are at the Red Parrot. It is her favorite and until she grows tired of it, probably will be. Both restaurants offered a nightly special. Sometimes it was a fish and sometimes tenderloin.

Another night that we ate off property was dinner at the Chef’s Table. We loved everything we ate here and this restaurant was another hit with us. It was nice that we were given the choice of eating outside in the courtyard or inside in the air conditioning. Again, being summertime and seeing that the courtyard was a bit “close”, even though we were offered a fan for our table, we chose inside dining.

Appetizers consisted of Shrimp Tempura– three jumbo shrimp fried tempura style and served with a sweet & sour sauce, “A pair of tuna”- yellow fin tuna tartar and tuna "tataki" style served with wasabi mayonnaise & teriyaki sauce and goat cheese- goat cheese & honey served warm with a small salad and apple honey mustard dressing. Dd and I split the Apple & Blue cheese salad- fresh salad topped with blue cheese crumbles, fresh apple and walnuts served with a apple, honey mustard dressing and dh had the home smoked Carpaccio salad - home smoked beef served on a fresh salad with Parmesan cheese, bacon bits, pine nuts and pesto dressing. For dinner we had Grouper Napoli- fillet of grouper topped with fresh tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil pesto, served with a tomato sauce, grouper cheese crust and white wine sauce- grouper filet topped with herb cheese & parmesan from the oven served with potato mash and fresh vegetables and a Mediterranean style fish pot- with grouper, shrimp, calamari & mussels prepared with fresh garlic, green herbs and tomato sauce.

Desserts here at the Chefs Table are very unique. They are a number of “tapas” selections. We chose five of them: Ponche Aruba- with white chocolate chunks, Hazelnut-chocolate mousse - with frangelico, Banana split- home made ice cream with banana, chocolate & whipped cream, Coffee Amaretto ice cream, and Dame blanche- vanilla ice with chocolate sauce & whipped cream.

Our last dinner off property was at the Old Man and the Sea. This is a very romantic location. Unfortunately our dinner service did not go as well as we had anticipated, but thought the food was very good. The meal consisted of two appetizers- Scallops Seaside Duet and Stuffed Oysters, followed by three salads- Spicy Caesar Salad with Shrimp, Crab, and Avocado Salad and a Pear Walnut Salad. Dd and I split the "Concert for two"- shrimp, chicken, fish, lamb chops, tenderloin, scallops and dh had the Sober Capt. Joby’s Seafood Exploration. For dessert, dh and dd had Quesillo and mint chocolate mousse.

I emailed the owner upon our return and he in turn replied with a sincere apology and some details as to the facts behind what had happened "behind the scenes" that evening.

The owner also detailed the steps and actions he is taking in order to make his restaurant the best that it possibly can be. Dh and I are both satisfied in knowing that he does indeed care very much about his restaurant. again, it was indeed a heartfelt apology and I thank him for that.

Sadly our twelve nights on the island dwindled very quickly and it was time to return home. Bully picked us up at the Tamarijn three hours before our Delta flight departed and as usual, during the week, we were through the entire check-in, immigration and US Customs process within 50 minutes. Bring a good book to read just in case.

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