Aruba Trip Reports
Tamarijn Aruba All Inclusive by Pete Hayes, October 2010
|15th to 29th Oct 2010|
Let me state, initially, that this report is largely concerning the Tamarijn because, in all honesty, despite our various plans, we hardly ventured off resort (more on that later). Also a lot of information in this report will be old news to regular visitors to the Tamarijn but it is intended as a ‘Warts and All’ description for anyone considering making the trip. So please bear with me:-
Firstly the outbound flight with ThomsonFly (Boeing 767):-
The following flight information will not concern our American friends but fellow Brits please read on.
I am 6ft 3in and approx 25st and I can assure anyone who has concerns about seat pitching, that it is ample and I had no problems at all. I had ordered a diabetic meal which was excellent. My wife ordered the standard meal and there was a choice of beef or chicken, both of which looked good. The cabin crew were very friendly and efficient throughout the flight which always helps. The usual drinks were available as well as duty free goods, the aforementioned meal and also a light snack before landing. The in-flight entertainment was good with decent quality seat-back touch-screen TV showing a good variety of movies and TV programmes as well as music, games and the obligatory ‘Where-are-we’ flight tracker. An upgrade in the package was available for £5 which increased the options available and also provided a ‘Skyplus’ style controllability to enable pausing and rewinding etc of movies. We were, however, delayed for approx one hour prior to take-off. Now I have suffered delays in the past for various reasons, late arrival of incoming aircraft, technical issues, adverse weather, missing passengers etc etc etc. This, though, is the first time I have known an aircraft be delayed awaiting the loading of toilet paper. Really, I kid you not. One hour because of absence of toilet paper. The pilot must have put his foot down though and because of this along with favourable tail-winds we made good time and touched down smoothly at approx 3-30pm local time. Just prior to landing we flew parallel to the Tamarijn at about 750ft and it looked really inviting and was instantly recognisable from the photo’s that I had seen. So first impressions were good.
On arrival at Reina Beatrix Airport and transfer to hotel:-
The first thing you notice as you step off the plane is the heat, it’s fierce. All those folk dressed up for October UK weather sneering at me for wearing shorts and t-shirt didn’t seem so smart now. The wife included, who thought that leather jacket and boots would be OK. The Immigration formalities were completed in relatively short time by friendly and efficient staff even though some queuing was innevitable. By the time the formalities had been completed all the baggage had arrived at reclaim and the First Choice rep directed us to our waiting coaches (blissfully air-conditioned). To aid identification all the coaches have been given pop-star names, we were on Jennifer Lopez parked next to Ricky Martin. All the passengers on our coach were bound for the Tamarijn and check-in was completed on the journey to the hotel (a very smart system which, I believe, is only done for the Brits) Onboard you are fitted with an all-inclusive bracelet and given your room key and a safe lock and key if you require one. Luggage is tagged with your room number before being loaded onto the coach and the next time you see it is outside your room. During the 15 minute journey we were glued to the coach windows trying to take everything in, as you do. Now, we’re not usually that squeemish about bugs and flying insects as a rule but that short journey certainly opened my eyes. I looked around and said to the wife “Bloody hell it’s like Avatar” I’ve never seen so much airborne wildlife before and if you’re not keen on dragon flies Aruba will cure you of your fear.................................... eventually.
On arrival at the Tamarijn:-
First impressions are good with everything looking clean and tidy and all the staff appearing friendly and genuinely pleased to see you. Bottles of iced water are handed out on arrival and depending on which building you have been allocated, either a short walk or a ride on a golf buggy follows. We had been allocated room 2501, the furthest building from reception so we were driven there by a very chatty member of staff. After several drop-offs we arrived at our building. As we were exiting the buggy the driver gave us a few bits of advice regarding the local wildlife ie Mosquitoes. He told us that whatever repellant we had brought with us it wouldn’t work and we should get to the shops straight away and buy something called ‘OFF’. Obviously we didn’t bother as we thought our 50% Deet spray from Boots would be fine – IT WASN’T......................... I felt like a 25 stone ‘All-you-can-eat buffet’ The mosquitoes loved me and the wife didn’t fair much better either. When we entered our room the air-con was working and it felt wonderful. If people reading this think I am making a big deal about the heat please remember I am from Manchester England. Those of you who don’t know it, look it up and check the weather conditions then you’ll see my point. All you Californians out there probably come to Aruba to cool off. While waiting the delivery of our bags the wife popped out on to the Patio for a smoke and was soon shouting and banging on the window to get my attention. The first thing she had seen on going outside, not including the lovely beach and sea, was a five foot long iguana climbing a tree right outside our room. OK I know it may be common place where you come from but I would have to visit a zoo to see something like that and then it would be in a cage several yards away from me. Subsequently we came to realise that these creatures were virtually tame and would actually take food out of your hand. Good job really because there’s hundreds of them. A quick look round the room and we could tell everything was clean and in working order. OK the bathrooms are not the most modern but everything works and the maids do a great job in keeping everything clean and tidy. A quick scout around outside convinced us that we had made the right choice in booking the Tamarijn. It’s all about location, if you want five star luxury go to the high-rises, if you want the beach and the sea on your doorstep come to the Tamarijn. I actually paced it out one day just for the hell of it – 35 paces from my bed to the sea – beat that! The bags soon arrived and after unpacking and hanging our clothes in the ample wardrobe space we decided to go for a wander.
We were given a welcome pack on arrival and included in it was a sheet of handy hints and tips. The best bit of advice in there, and one with which I would whole-heartedly concur, is to stay up as late as possible that first night. The five hour time difference may not seem much but come 8pm or so we were both flagging. There were even people crashed out on sunbeds. Anyway, after unpacking we decided to walk down the boardwalk to the main bar/restaurant areas and check everything out. First thing we noticed was the state of the beach. Now, most of the pictures I had seen showed considerabely more sand than was evident now. This was probably due to the storms of recent weeks but it certainly was not as good as I had expected. I have done a series of photographs walking the entire length of the Tamarijn which,thanks to Arubalisa, now appear on the arubabound website. In brief there are a lot of rocks and a lot of areas of very sorry looking sand. Buildings 16, 17 and 18 have no direct access to the sea from the beach because of rocks and the beach around buildings 22 and 23 is approx 3-4 ft below the boardwalk. Luckily around buildings 24 and 25 the beach is OK with very few rocks. The pictures will reveal more and regular Tamarijn visitors will be able to judge the conditions and comment on their worsening. Anyway enough of the negatives for now. We walked down to the legendary Bunker Bar and it looked very inviting due to the heat but we carried on to the main complex centre because by now food was a priority for me. There are two A La Carte restaurants (3 if you include the ‘cook-it-yourself’ Palm Grill) available on your all inclusive package at the Tamarijn and prior booking is essential. There are other options available at the Divi all inclusive whose facilities are available to Tamarijn customers. As we hadn’t had the chance to book anywhere we chose the buffet restaurant which, being exposed to the elements, was incredibly hot. Pity the food wasn’t. We found this to be a recurring problem and I for one couldn’t understand how somewhere as hot as hell had touble dishing up hot food. That aside we found the variation and choice of food to be more than acceptable, plenty of things I would consider American (burgers, hot-dogs etc) and the odd Dutch item also. There was always something you could choose and I personally never walked away hungry. Our personal favourite for both food and drink turned out to be the Pizza per Tutti which provided mammoth sized snacks up until 1.00am every day. The pizzas were very good and cooked to order right in front of us. Some of the fried items, chicken nuggets, fries, onion rings etc may have been heated more than once but I couldn’t be certain. Be aware that an order of Mexican fries will comfortably satisfy two people. After a few Balashi Beers and generous measures of spirits it was 10pm and we were both ready for bed. A note on the spirits available, unlike some European All-Inclusives I’ve been to, most of the spirits served were International brands ie Courvoisier, Stolichnoya Vodka, Jamesons to name a few. A very weary 10 minute walk brought us back to building 25 and our room. It was very reassuring to see security staff patrolling the area during the night and even checking that everyone’s patio doors were locked. On entering the room the benefits of the air-con were obvious, it was wonderfully cool and it wasn’t long before we were in bed catching up on lost sleep. We were lucky enough to have a king-sized bed as opposed to two queens and it was very comfortable with very clean bedding.
First full day:-
When I awoke it was still dark, not surprising really as it was only 2 am. I am an early riser most days for work but this was ridiculous, the jet-lag really does affect you. Anyway we managed to nod off again and next time I opened my eyes it was just after 6 am and I thought I saw someone walk past the patio door through a gap in the curtains. Must be another early riser out for a stroll before it got too hot I thought. WRONG it was actually someone grabbing one of the beach huts outside our room for the day ahead. When I looked outside I couldn’t believe my eyes, all the visible beach huts were occupied. It was only 6-15 am. Now we Brits consider the Germans to be the masters when it comes to sunbed reserving but I take my hat off to the world champions, USA take a bow, a truly remarkable effort. We decided to get ready and make our way to the buffet for breakfast, the battle for sunbeds could wait until later. Breakfast starts at 7 am and after the already familiar walk in the heat we were ready for it. Just a note regarding the temperature,it is still really hot at 7 am and if, like us, you are allocated building 25 you can always grab a ride on the regular golf-buggy shuttle service to save your energy. Breakfast food selection is excellent with most things you would expect and some other things besides like Dutch fried potatoes (very nice as it happens). All the usual things are there, cereals, fruits, breads,meats, cheeses, bacon, sausages, baked beans etc etc. There is an omelette station which is very good and the omelettes are enormous with most fillings available. There is hot coffee on every table and tea is available if you prefer. Once again the food could have been hotter for my personal taste but nobody else seemed unduly concerned. Another thing to be aware of is that because the buffet is open to the elements, there are birds everywhere. On the chairs, on the tables, flying around and perched above your heads. If this bothers you I suggest going to the Divi for buffet meals which is partially enclosed. We found it quite entertaining really and if you avoid sitting right under them you should have no bother. We also took the opportunity to book one of the a-la-carte restaurants while we were near reception. We chose the Asian fusion option called Ginger and had to book 2 days in advance (more on this later). We had a quick look round the reception area to see what was what as we didn’t really get a chance last night. There is a small selection of shops, internet lounge, beauty salon, in fact all the usual things you would expect to see. We attended the First Choice Holidays welcome meeting to be given the usual spiel and a bag full of leaflets which we read and duly binned. The rep, Claire, was nice enough and did the usual soft sell routine for various excursions and such. We listened but didn’t book anything deciding to give it a few days then see what we fancied. Turned out that there was so much to see just lying on the beach or floating in the sea that we did no excursions during the whole 2 weeks. In fact all we managed was one trip into town by bus. We really did enjoy the beach that much. Ah, the beach, when we returned to our room all the nearby beach huts were taken so we grabbed 2 sunbeds and positioned ourselves on the grass with some shade afforded by palm trees. This was good enough for the first day while we aclimatised ourselves to the heat but it would be different tomorrow. Basically we spent the day sunbathing and dipping in and out of the sea to cool down. An occasional walk down to the bunker bar and the obligatory trek for lunch were all that interrupted the day. There really is much to see during the day with iguanas strolling around, pelicans diving for fish, squadrons of dragon flies drifting by and cruise ships and aeroplanes passing by at regular intervals. It was bliss. The odd 5 minutes cooling down in the room was also a welcome relief from time to time. The sun is fierce all day and I would personally recommend SPF50 sunblock to start off. It seems extreme but believe me it is necessary. Also, when snorkelling, wear a tee shirt or you will burn your back. We were lucky in that the beach at our end of the complex was probably the best and least rockiest. My photographs on the arubabound website illustrate this more clearly with much of the beach falling victim to recent bad weather and subsequent erosion. Most of the following 2 weeks followed the same pattern as that first day with the only variations being where we ate at night. For this reason I am not going to devote any time to a day-by-day review. Suffice to say that we sunbathed and swam every day and loved it.
Cunucu Terrace Buffet for breakfast (as previously described), lunch and evening meals was quite good with plenty of variety. Evening meals generally followed a theme, Carribean, Italian etc etc but closed fairly early because the evening entertainment took place there. I have seen better buffets but also much worse. At least everything wasn’t swimming in oil as it is in Spain and other European countries. As stated previously there was always something to eat with plenty of fresh fish and meat as well as more snacky foods such as burgers, dogs, fries, wraps, pittas etc.
Pizza per Tutti for snacks available from 11 am until 1 am. This became our favourite haunt at night and we even had our evening meal there when we didn’t feel like anything complicated.
Palm Grill where you cook your own entree on a heated centre section of your table. We didn’t try this ourselves but reports were favourable. I thought it would be too hot to sit at a heated table when we were already sweating buckets.
Ginger Asian Fusion A-La-Carte restaurant for dinner. We tried this twice and had mixed feelings with the second visit far outshining the first. On our first visit I ordered Japanese Mahi-Mahi salad which was very lightly grilled Mahi-Mahi fillet and a japanese salad. In essence the fish was raw, which I wasn’t expecting, but I ate most of it anyway. It was tasty enough but not really my cup of tea, I’ve never been a lover of sushi so I think it was a bit of a shock to my system and not to be too subtle about it, the fish took about 3 hours to make a rather violent re-appearance. I had quite a miserable night thanks to that fish but was OK again in the morning. For main I had Tokyo Beef Noodles, big on portion size, small on taste. The wife faired much better with the spring rolls and skewered chicken with satay sauce and noodles. A recurring theme I know but once again the food was not very hot. We were so disappointed we didn’t leave a tip. Our second visit was altogether a better experience due mainly to our choices from the menu. A chicken salad followed by spicy chicken for me and spring rolls and beef noodle soup for the wife. Surprisingly the food was much hotter this time. We left a $10 dollar tip although nobody else seemed to bother.
Papparazzi Italian A-La-Carte for dinner. We used this facility only once and were very disappointed with uninspiring food once again served below desired temperature. The wine was OK but we left without leaving a tip. Maybe a second visit and different food choices would have been better but we didn’t have the inclination to waste another evening when we could be sitting at Pizza per Tutti drinking and making friends.
Facilities at the Divi are also available for use of Tamarijn residents and we decided to try the Red Parrot A-La-Carte restaurant one evening for dinner. In my opinion the best meal of the holiday, nice food, well cooked and manageable portions. Also our waiter decided to bring us a full bottle of wine as opposed to the 2 glasses we were expecting. We did wonder if we would be charged for it despite being on all-inclusive but we were not. It seems there are no limits on drinks even bottles of nice wine in the restaurants. I would advise trying the Red Parrot at least once and don’t worry about the long walk as the golf-buggy shuttle will take you there and bring you back. They run until 11pm every night and are a real god-send.
Everyone we encountered had a smile on their face and a friendly attitude. This is a real bonus for Brits who are used to being served by surly Spaniards on their holidays. I can’t say that we saw a single miserable face for 2 weeks, it was great. The bar staff are always replenishing your drinks without you having to ask and some nights we were trying to leave but were faced with another drink because we didn’t get away quickly enough. Nearly all the guests, ourselves incuded, buy or bring with them some form of insulated mug which the staff think nothing of filling with whatever you want. Now this may just be iced water, beer or vodka, it makes no difference, they just get filled up. In fact any type of receptacle, no matter how big, just got filled up with whatever you wanted. There is supposed to be a 2 drink per person per order rule but the staff seem to ignore this. We also started to get the hang of tipping which is something of a foreign concept to us Brits. Not that we don’t tip but we are a bit more restrained about it and usually reserve it for excellent service in bars and restaurants or cab drivers. I’m not sure it does make that much difference to the quality of service as those who didn’t tip seemed to get treated just as well but it makes you feel better if you do it. We usually gave about $5 per night but it varied depending on how long we stayed at the bar. The reception staff were very approachable and friendly as were the ladies who dealt with restaurant bookings. All the staff speak excellent English and as usual show up the Brits’ attitude to learning foreign languages. The only papiemento I learned was the tongue-twisting ‘bon dia’. Impressive eh? Our maid was excellent and did a good job keeping us clean and stocked with the necessary bathroom consumables. Towels and bedding are changed regularly. We tipped her $10 dollars each week which we thought was fare.
The majority are American and on the whole I must say we found them to be most polite and friendly if not a little loud and over excitable sometimes. Many people chatted to us over the 2 weeks and were nice and friendly. One young American newly-wed approached my wife one night and asked ‘Would you care to join me in a shot maam’ Being British, this type of up front behaviour is a little strange and the wife’s response was something along the lines of ‘Are you mental?’ We didn’t intend any offence and when we got to know the young man in question, we found him to be very friendly and polite. We’re just not used to such overt friendliness. There are a lot of honeymooners and people celebrating one thing or another and for that reason there seem to be a lot of happy faces around. Aruba seems to be regarded as some kind of paradise by most Americans and they love their time there. We also loved our time there and will probably return in the future but it won’t become our whole reason for living. I think that the fact that Aruba is a fairly expensive destination somewhat determines the type of visitor it attracts and the yobbish element seen throughout European resorts are thankfully missing. There are many nationalities, besides Americans and Brits present, and all had a similar attitude ie we’re in paradise and we’re going to enjoy it. To this end many younger guests seemed determined to do everything. A typical overheard conversation may have gone something like this, ‘I’ve been horse riding, snorkelling, scuba diving, snuba diving, rock climbing, I’ve been on the jeep safari, rented a 4WD, been to the natural pool, been on a booze cruise, been on a bar crawl, played golf, visited the lighthouse, been to the donkey sanctuary, been jet-skiing, parascending, ridden on an inflatable banana and taken the helicopter tour. Now what should I do tomorrow?’ Good luck to people who engage in all the available activities, of which there are plenty on Aruba, but we prefer the more sedate relaxed type of holiday which is also possible. We did intend do do stuff, honestly, we just never got round to it.....................
The little buggers became the most serious hinderance to our enjoyment throughout the whole 2 weeks. In fact, it’s fair to say, we became a little paranoid and overly concerned about them. Having, thankfully, read that there is no malaria on the island but that the mosquitoes here are active through the day and carry dengue fever, for which there is no treatment, we were still worried. As mentioned previously the repellant we brought from home was pretty ineffective and we started to use ‘OFF’ which we bought from the hotel shop at $10 a can. We sprayed all exposed skin as well as hems and collars of clothes and even shoes. It seemed to work and after the first couple of days the bites we received reduced dramatically to the extent where we were only bitten once a day on average. This type of coverage may seem a little extreme to most of you but it made us happier. We engaged in a little people watching, checking out fellow guests for the tell-tale bright red lumps on their legs and arms which would show that we weren’t the only sufferers. We weren’t. Most other guests, however, seemed unbothered by the little pests and showed no signs of attack at all. What they did prevent us from doing is sitting out on our patio at night and enjoying the sound of the sea while enjoying a few drinks. How this would have been different than sitting outside at a bar I don’t know but we just didn’t feel comfortable enough to do it which is a shame. Also we kept our doors shut except when we needed to go in and out so that meant that the air-con was on constantly for 2 weeks. Be aware that a can of ‘OFF’ lasted about 2 days so we spent a fortune on it over the 2 week period.
Seemed to consist mainly of singers or dancers, some good, some bad. We didn’t really sit down and watch any of them in particular but people seemed to be enjoying them. The exceptions being when the entertainment was positioned near Pizza per Tutti and we enjoyed some good bands while consuming liberal amounts of Balashi. The one ‘act’ that stands out in my memory, not for the right reasons I might add, were the Barracudas who are, believe it or not, a synchronised swimmimg team. I suppose, in their own particular field, they are very good but I for one found them to be a bizarre choice for evening entertainment. For one thing the pool isn’t even floodlit so you couldn’t see them properly anyway. I may be being a little harsh and the girls do represent Aruba internationally and have done quite well apparently but as far as entertainment goes...........NO. I have no idea what happened later in the evening as we were usually ready for bed by 10-30ish and took some drinks back to our room and watched a bit of TV.
Throughout the whole 2 weeks it rained once during the day and once early evening. There were several downpours during the night but as they didn’t affect us it we didn’t really care. The wind, which we were expecting, was absent for a lot of the time and the humidity was incredibly high. Both of these factors probably increased the mosquito activity and I am assured that it was worse than usual. We did experience periods of cloud cover and, to be honest, they were a bit of a relief. Most of the time, however, we were bathed in glorious sunshine. I read loads of weather forecasts before we arrived and frankly I doubt the accuracy of any of them. Conditions change so quickly that accurate forecasting must be impossible. You just cannot judge what will happen next. Sometimes we would be surrounded by dark brooding rainclouds thinking we were due for a soaking then, five minutes later, they would have dissappeared and we were basking in sunshine again. One thing we were told, while we were there, is that you can’t normally see Venezuala and since returning I have read that it is somewhat unusual. Well, once some friendly soul had pointed it out to us, we could see it every day. Some days incredibly clearly and other days not so. It became a bit of a standing joke between me and the wife with one of us saying every day, ‘See that mountain over there, well that’s Venezuala and you don’t see that every day’ WE DID.
The Alhambra Casino:-
Part of the Divi Complex and free to enter. Also the obligatory golf buggy dropped you off outside the door and brought you back to the Tamarijn. I’ve never been in a casino before and probably won’t bother again, I was less than impressed. Not being too familiar with the various games, we spent a lot of time just wandering around watching. To be honest, due to our lack of knowledge, we were loathe to join in and spoil someone elses experience. For this reason we restricted ourselves mainly to the slot machines of which there are hundreds and despite the wife being $70 or so to the good, at one point, we still managed to spend $100 in less than 60 minutes. As I say, we left rather unimpressed which was probably due to our lack of experience but also we are not ‘hard-core’ gamblers anyway. An unusual thing was that everyone was allowed to smoke inside. Very different than back home where it is punishable by death. The wife still felt obliged to go outside to smoke even though she didn’t have to. Strange how you get used to something that you had initially been violently opposed to. I couldn’t say how the Alhambra compared to any other casinoes on the island and will probably never know.
The journey home:-
Homeward flight information is handed out by the rep the day before you leave. While waiting for the coach to the airport the news of the photo-copier cartridge bombs was playing on the hotel TV – very reassuring. Unbelievably, despite the relatively short journey to the airport, the coach picks you up 4 hours before take-off time. The reason for this is evident when you arrive at the airport. I think it was training day when we arrived. Firstly we waited for approx 75 minutes before the check-in desks even opened and then it was really slow going with, as previously stated, all the very young looking staff undergoing training. Eventually we made it through to the next queue which was a little faster moving. Not sure what we were being checked for this time, just a general passport check I think. Next is security which is again pretty slow and you have to place all electrical gadgets and metal objects in a separate tray from your bag. Also you have to remove your shoes. Oh, don’t forget the exit tax which currently stands at $34-25 per person for departures to non-US destinations. We were told that if you haven’t got it you ain’t leaving. Not sure how this would work in reality but we didn’t feel the urge to test it. Eventually we made it through into the departure lounge where there are shops, food outlets and bars. Be aware that the bar is expensive - $10 for 2 halves of Balashi. For anyone interested the bar area affords a good view of the apron for spotting/photography purposes. We boarded our plane, on time, and apart from the moron sat in front of me, the flight home was uneventful and seemingly shorter than the outbound flight. I’ve been on holiday twice this year and both times have had the fellow passenger from hell sat in front of me. Now I know you pays your money and are entitled to use all the facilities including the seat recline. But this bloke nearly broke my nose with the back of his seat, such was the force he used to slam it backwards. Then he couldn’t sit still, I could have done with vari-focal glasses just to watch my TV. Anyway enough of that. The landing at Manchester was a little heavy to say the least and begged the question ‘Did we land or were we shot down?’ Then for some reason we parked miles away from any recognised gates at Manchester and had to be bussed to the terminal. Baggage reclaim was no slower than the usual Manchester experience and we were soon passing through the ‘Nothing to declare’ lane of customs even though we had a few extra cigarettes. A 20 minute ride in a cab meant we were home approx 1 hour after landing. Glad to be back but pretty cool and very tired.
Despite reading through this review and noticing that it contains some negatives we really enjoyed our time in Aruba. The positives far outwayed the negatives. The fabulous weather, the beach, the sea, the friendliness of everyone we met, the staff, the beer, the non-threatening wildlife, the chilled out attitude of everyone, the location of the hotel etc etc etc. Once we became aclimatised to the heat and stopped fretting about mosquitoes we really did have a good time. Americans, as I stated previously, regard Aruba as some kind of Heaven here on Earth. We wouldn’t go quite that far but it is certainly worth the long flight time and we will probably return to the Tamarijn. Having experienced the location of the Tamarijn I would be reluctant to stay anywhere that was further than 35 paces from the sea.
Pete Hayes 15-11-10 or for the Americans 11-15-10 Photos