Aruba Trip Reports

Marriott & Mandara Spa

May 2 -11, 2001 by Susan

First trip to Aruba last October was 7 days, this trip 10 days - still not enough! Thanks again to the many contributors to the bbs - the responses are always helpful and great resource for new ideas and recommendations! Many kudos to Mark at the Marriott for assisting us with our room request, ensuring every day of our stay at the hotel was wonderful, and for having dinner with us our last night and introducing us to his wife, Marlene, as well as Salt & Pepper restaurant - one of our new favorites!


When I knew we wanted to return to Aruba this spring and take my mom & sister along, I began pricing packages and looking at travel dates for a 10-day trip. Upon several bb recommendations, I contacted Amy at MCM Tours and we ended up booking with her. The prices were the best, and Amy was wonderful working with our flexible travel dates to get the biggest bang for the buck, and coordinating flights with Rick and I traveling from Washington Dulles and mom & sis from Pittsburgh. We got the best deal on USAir's new(er) nonstop from Philly - and the 4 of us could connect in Philly and take the same flight!

Wednesday, May 2

Well, the day has finally arrived! We departed Washington Dulles and mom & sis from P-burgh. Dulles flight was fine but P-burgh leg late taking off and landed in another concourse, so mom & sis had to really hoof it to make the Philly-Aruba leg! You may want to be mindful of carry-ons for this reason. Philly to Aruba was on time and uneventful. We landed in Aruba and took a cab to the Marriott, which was great. Check in was more crowded than last time we were there - we were looking all over for Glen, who is awesome and checked us in in October, but he wasn't around. We were finally assisted and told that, indeed, we had the rooms we requested (650 and 652 facing the lighthouse!!!) thanks to Mark, but they wouldn't be ready until 4. So, we went to the lobby bar for a "welcome" cocktail, made a small donation in the casino and, sure enough, at 4 our rooms were ready! Unpacked quickly, got changed and went to Waves, the beach bar, for 2 for 1 happy hour (peach daiquiris) and then to Tuscany's for dinner @ 7 pm. Alex was our waiter, and could not have been more friendly and professional. Mom had spinach salad, sis had shrimp in white wine, and I had insalada mista. Entrees: Rick - fruiti di mare, sis wanted something simple so she had angel hair pasta w/tomato basil, and mom & I both had wild mushroom risotto - they even made mine w/o onions for me! All food was excellent! Desserts included tiramisu, biscotti and bongo bongo, and with dinner we had 2 bottles of Castello Banfi Sumus - just outstanding. Spent a little time at the casino, then to bed.

Thursday, May 3

Up early, as always. They added small 4-cup coffee makers to the rooms - thanks Mark! Went down @ 7 am to have breakfast buffet - still very good but I noticed they took the smoked salmon off every day (only on Sundays now..). Securing a palapa is still a challenge but, since we're early risers, it was never a problem for us. The beach doesn't officially open until 8 am, but most of the palapas are gone by 9. We spent the day on the beach just trying to wind down and get in vacation mode! The wind was very strong today - stronger than in October. There was a most unusual event - there was a halo and rainbow around the sun! It was very interesting to see, and it made the papers the next day! Many naps, saw Mergie, our favorite beach waitress, and ordered lunch and caught up on how she's doing, had 2 for 1 happy hour at Waves, then went downtown to Cubas Cookin' for dinner. Rick really wasn't thrilled about going, but it turned out to be one of the best surprises of the week. We all had a few of their house drinks, which is white rum, club soda, lemon juice and sugar with fresh mint sprigs - mmmmm! Mom, Rick and I all had the combo dinner platter, which was roast port, shredded flank steak roasted in tomatoes, onions and spices, and ground beef sautéed with raisins and olives all served with "Moors & Christians" beans & rice and sweet plantains. I know the last combo sounds really strange, but the sweet and salty flavors were wonderful. Kathy had just the shredded flank steak dinner. Mom & Rick had flan and cappuccinos for dessert and I had "tres leches," pound cake soaked in 3 kinds of milk. All of our food was very tasty and seemed like very traditional Cuban food, which we love to eat. They had a great Cuban quartet that began playing who had just arrived from Cuba the previous week. The got the audience very involved by handing out maracas and other instruments, and Rick got up (after a few too many rum drinks!) and danced with the lead singer! 10% discount with ArubaPlus card. Walked a few blocks to Sonesta to catch cab back to Marriott.

Friday, May 4

Up early again, breakfast. A little overcast in the am, but by late morning sun bright and shiny. Treated mom to early Mother's Day present and booked us both 50-min. aromatherapy "Massage de la Aruba" at Mandara Spa over at the Ocean Club. They ask you to arrive 30 minutes before your scheduled time - you fill out a short questionnaire to alert them to any health problems, then they assign you to a locker and take you to the locker room. In the locker there's a beautiful white cotton robe, rubber sandals, a towel and bottle of water. You can shower, take a steam or Jacuzzi before your treatment, but we just put our robes on and returned to the beautiful sitting area with big-cushioned wicker chairs. They then present you with a plate with a chilled washcloth soaked in mint and cucumber to rejuvenate your face and neck - it was luscious. Then, they also serve you a cup of chilled ginger tea. While you relax, they explain the scents and benefits of the 4 beautiful cobalt blue oil bottles on the table in front of you so that you can select the scent for your massage. Since we chose not to sauna or anything before our treatment, we had to wait @ 15 minutes before we went in, but the room smells so wonderful and they played soft Indonesian music that it was very relaxing. The treatment rooms are very softly lit and beautiful, with very crisp cotton sheets on the massage table. Massage therapists got mixed reviews: Mom had Sharmaine, who she said was great and worked out all of her kinks. She asked her what areas were bothering her, and spent extra time ensuring they were well tended to. My therapist, Maria, was very nice but didn't ask that question. Her massage was more like gently rubbing the oil in to my skin and not much "massage" per se. I still enjoyed it and left feeling relaxed but still had lots of kinks that didn't get worked out. I guess I'm accustomed to a much more intense massage experience. After your treatment, you return to the beautiful waiting area and can enjoy bowls of fresh fruit, small pretzels and other snacks with your water. After our massage, we chatted with a couple who had just had a "couples deep tissue massage," which is where you're in the room together with 2 massage therapists. They enjoyed the experience, but said it wasn't as "deep tissue" as they had hoped for. Each 50-minute session was $90, with a 15% service charge added for both of us (like they do in some restaurants to share among the staff). Then, we added an additional gratuity for each masseuse. Am I glad we tried the Mandara experience - yes. Would I go there again - well, it is pricier than most massages, and I would like to try Cosmos or Intermezzo Spas to compare, and they're services are less expensive, so I guess the answer would be not in the near future. I think had I felt exceptional about my massage, I would have gone back to try some of the more interesting treatments, which is what I was interested in before I got there.

Before dinner, we went and were playing the nickel slots, and Kathy hit for $60! We had 7 pm dinner reservations at Madame Janette - our favorite. We had a table on the inside section right in front of the small stage. At first we weren't thrilled - it's very warm at the inside tables, but our friendly and excellent waiter greeted us and we began to feel more at ease. Also, when the performer came on - he's a gentleman that was there in October and he sings very mellow tunes and plays guitar, a good mix of music - our waiter is good friends with him and encouraged us to make requests, so we had the whole inside singing along to Buffet, Neal Diamond, Jim Croce, etc. Very fun! Rick had special Lobster Bisque and I had mushrooms in puff pastry. Dinner: mom - special snapper parmesan with fettuccini, Rick - special duck breast in gran marnier sauce, and Kathy and I both had surf & turf - filet, lobster tail and shrimp. All were simply excellent. Enjoyed 2 bottles of the St. Emillion - one of the chef's recommendations. Desserts - Kathy had the cheesecake, mom the special Sacher cake (a light chocolate cake from Austria), Rick the special butterflake cake (recipe from the Titanic!) and I had the Mama Jamaica, which is dark rum-soaked pineapple with vanilla ice cream and toasted coconut. As always, Madame Janette never disappoints!

Saturday, May 5

Up early, had breakfast, lots of glorious sun all day. Decided to stay at beach until 3:30, then showered and dressed for casual dinner. Before dinner, Mom hit the 3 double diamond jackpot on nickel machine and won the $250 jackpot! Walked over to Hadacurari, right next to Ocean Club. Very casual place with outdoor tables - we watched the sunset sipping Balashis - all was right with the world. The "catch of the day" was Wahoo, which Rick and mom ordered, but Kathy and I had the bbq ribs. Delish! While we were eating dinner, the fishing boats were coming in at the dock in front of the restaurant, and we saw a guy put 4 huge fish in a shopping cart and wheel it toward the restaurant. Sure enough, he was bringing it to Hadacurari - so it's really fresh! Went to casino for a little while, then decided we needed something sweet. Thought perhaps we could just sit in the bar area at Tuscany and have dessert - nope! So we went to our room, ordered room service - tiramisu and biscotti from Tuscany as well as key lime pie and a big pot of decaf - room service came in @ 20 minutes and was great!

Sunday, May 6

Rick and I overslept a little, but mom & kath to the rescue with the palapas! Breakfast and beach for the day! We had dinner at Papiamento, which was one of our favorites in October. We had an excellent table right by the pool --the pool was very clean, with fresh flowers and tea candles floating - just beautiful. Rick and I had escargot apps. Mom, Rick and I had the Neptune for dinner - catch of the day (mahi mahi), lobster and shrimp cooked on a stone and Kathy had the snapper - all very good. Enjoyed with a bottle of Sancere. Mom & I shared apple pie and Rick had poached pear dessert - both good. Back to hotel to watch Sopranos (can't miss it!) and to bed.

Monday, May 7

Knew we were going downtown to shop in the am, so slept in a little and had breakfast. Headed to Oranjestad in search of souvenirs and a "bauble" for Kathy. Went to Shivas, and Kathy began looking at small diamond pendants. We eventually selected a loose stone that was of the quality and size we were looking for - they went out of their way to get some stones from their other store to meet our needs. Kathy just wanted a plain 4-prong setting, which they did for no charge, and gave us a good deal on a gold chain too. We worked with Larry and the owner (forget his name), but we were very pleased with the price and the service. Shopped around for souvenirs also went to Birkenstock shoe store and they had good prices - cheaper than states - so Rick and mom bought new Birkies. We wondered over to the vendors along the wharf by the Paddock, and had an awesome fresh fruit drink at one of the little stands - must have next time too! Had 6 pm reservation for Chalet Suisse for early bird special. We had never been there and it's now on our Top 2 list of favorites! Mom, Kathy and I all had the Early Bird special - choice of Caesar salad or soup of day, choice of 4 entrees, choice of 2 desserts and coffee for (I think) $23.99. Mom & sis had Caesar salad, I had mushroom soup - both delish. Mom & I had Wienerschnitzel (sp?), which was as good as we had in Vienna, Austria! Come to find out one of the owners is from Austria - mmm! Kathy had a NY strip steak, and we all tasted it and remarked it was one of the tastiest, best pieces of steak we'd ever had! Rick started out with escargot and had one of the dinner specials - rack of lamb, which was done to perfection and carved tableside. Had 2 delicious bottles of Poulliac. Since mom & I wanted infamous Tobleroni fondue for dessert and not one of the 2 choices (apple strudel and one other one…), that's what we ordered - the waiter was so sweet - he wrapped 2 pieces of strudel for us to take with us and we had them as a late-night snack! Kathy got the strudel as well - it was truly excellent. Service, ambiance, menu - all tops in our book.

Tuesday, May 8

We knew Tuesday would be a busy day - renting car, BB Happy Hour @ Manchebo, manager's cocktail party at Marriott, and dinner @ Promenade over in San Nicholas! I had rented a Dihatsu Terios (thanks for the suggestion, ArubaLisa!) from Economy over the internet - they had a 3-day special price and I got 10% discount at the end from Aruba Plus card - all in all, a good deal! The Economy guy brought the car right to the Marriott - we filled out all the paperwork, looked over the car very carefully and he marked down every scratch or ding, and then went inside to rent snorkel equipment from Red Sail. If only the snorkel equipment was as easy to rent as the car! You have to go to the Red Sail hut on the beach for the equipment, which was fine except we couldn't find anyone that was manning the hut! After @ 15 minutes, someone finally came and he told us that there was a $50 (I think…) security deposit per day per set of equipment that couldn't be charged to our room, so Rick had to run up and get a credit card. The cost of the rental itself could be charged to the room - just not the security deposit. It took the guy what seemed like forever to get 4 sets of equipment together, but finally we were on our way. We headed up toward the lighthouse, then decided to stop at Arashi Beach. It was great! There was hardly anyone there, we got a palapa and a shelter, and we began teaching mom how to snorkel. The snorkeling was really fun there, but you had to go out pretty far to see the good stuff! Went to BB party organized by JanGail at the Manchebo @ 4 pm. So much fun to meet everyone - let's see if I can remember who all was there: JanGail and her hubby, Scott & Helen, Julie and Bart, Steve and Joy, Audrey, and JJ with his wife - sorry if I forgot anyone or got names wrong! It was really fun finding out where everyone was from, where they were staying, etc. We had to leave then to get to the Marriott's manager's cocktail party, where we stayed for a little while, then headed toward San Nicholas for dinner at the Promenade. Thanks to Carol's directions, we found it with no problem! It's a beautiful little restaurant that smells of this great potpourri. Had bottle of Australian chardonnay-semillion blend while we looked over the menu. We had a terrible waiter - which I think was one of the main reasons we didn't like the restaurant that much - we were inquiring about the menu and asking him for some recommendations - he was less than pleased to respond to us and walked away while we were finalizing our decisions. The food, when it came, was ok - Rick had the Lobster Thermador, Mom & I had twin tournedos and Kathy had what she thought was Cajun shrimp but turned out to be Creole shrimp instead. As I said, the food was ok, but didn't really hold up to the other restaurants we'd been to. We had a few other waiters helping out with the table - they all help each other - and they were so very nice, we were really disappointed we were stuck with this nasty guy who reminded us of Big Pussy from the Sopranos! The best part of dinner is the homemade corn pudding that they serve. A gentleman at the next table heard us raving about it, and said they'd give me the recipe if I asked. Well, of course when I asked the waiter for it, he said they didn't give it out, so I just let it pass. Sure enough, the gentleman heard this and asked his waitress for a copy for me. Out it came, and the waitress happily handed me a copy. Dessert was disappointing - "homemade" apple pie that was really like cake with tiny chopped apples on top, and not so good crème caramel. Perhaps we just ordered badly, perhaps we let the nasty waiter ruin our experience - either way, we'll skip the Promenade next time. Kathy won $562.50 on the 5x quarter slot - she got triple bars and two 5x icons, which meant 25x the payout of 90 quarters!

Wednesday, May 9

Decided this would be our "adventure" day with the car. Even though the guy from Economy reminded me the Terios is only all-wheel drive - not 4-wheel - and I should absolutely not try and go to the Natural Pool in the Terios, I wanted to try anyways, so we set off looking for it. Thanks to directions posted on the bb, we found our way there, but it was an experience! When we finally began going up the hill, we stopped and let Kathy go to the top to survey what we were about to get into. The first part of the hill is very steep with very large, sharp rocks and I was beginning to understand Economy's advice! Well, she came back over the hill shouting, "retreat!" so we all had a good laugh and headed off for the Natural Bridge - very cool - then headed toward San Nicholas and to find Baby Beach. Baby Beach was our favorite but please know that there is no shade there, so either wear tons of sunscreen or only plan to stay a few hours. We were off to the side in a smaller cove, and we pulled the Terios up to the beach to unload. We had a blast snorkeling, and mom felt much more comfortable snorkeling there since there was hardly any current and she could sit in the very shallow water and get her gear on. We only stayed for @ 3 hours - walked over and got hotdogs, sodas and chips from the little snack bar - then headed back to hotel fairly crispy from the lack of shade. We decided to go back to Madame Janette for dinner, and this time I requested a table outside. The hostess remembered us from the previous night and gave us an excellent table outside with a great breeze. The specials were the same as the previous Friday, which thrilled Rick - he repeated with both the Lobster Bisque and duck breasts in gran mariner sauce! Mom had the grilled grouper special, which came in the huge clay bowl with fresh salad. I asked if they would do the "grouper & salad special" but make it with snapper, and they happily obliged. I had been raving about the rack of lamb, so that's what Kathy ordered. Had another 2 bottles of St. Emillion - starting to feel effects of too much sun @ Baby Beach! Rick repeated butterflake dessert while Kathy and mom split vanilla ice cream with fresh strawberries. Another awesome dining experience at Madame Janette!

Thursday, May 10

Last full day in Aruba - sad! Woke up not feeling so well - got too much sun @ Baby Beach even though I wore 30 sunscreen, so I stayed in room in the am. Mom, Rick and sis took off in car for another snorkeling morning at Baby Beach. They came back to the hotel @ 1:30 to pick me up, then we went up to Arashi again where the snorkeling is good and there are palapas & shelters for shade. There was a front in the Atlantic the past few days and there was hardly any wind - very hot and humid! Today the tradewinds returned - a refreshing change! For dinner, we met Mark (at the Marriott) Purcell and his wife Marlene at Salt & Pepper for dinner. We had delicious sangria (by the pitcher!) and ordered a variety of hot and cold tapas. We sat at a table outside and there was a live band playing out in front of the restaurant. Mom, Kathy Rick and I shared this huge dessert, which is a sampling of everything on the dessert menu! We had a blast getting to know Mark and Marlene, and hope to see them again the next time we're in Aruba. Salt & Pepper was really fun and good - a definite for next time too!

Friday, May 11

We awoke very early to get a good place on the beach, had breakfast, then got in our last hours of sunshine. Showered and checked out of our room by noon - stored our luggage with bell desk, then mom, sis & I had lunch at La Vista - didn't want to rely on airplane food for dinner! We all 3 had double cheeseburgers - to carry us through lunch and dinner - they were delicious! Lost a few last $ in casino, then off to airport. Flight full again back to Philly but uneventful. We were glad we had such a filling lunch - dinner on USAir was terrible. All flights on time, connections fine. Got home @ 11:45 pm, had our 2 big black labs greet us at the door, and all-in-all glad we were home. We had a fantastic vacation again - Aruba never disappoints - and are already trying to figure out when our next trip will be.