By Sofia Perez
[Published by Saveur.com, January 2013]
From couples’ cabanas to mountain biking, Aruba’s Marriott Resort has something for everyone.
A trip to the Caribbean means different things to different people, and the Aruba Marriott Resort seems to want to please all of them simultaneously. Traveling with the kids? Enroll them in an arts-and-crafts class. Itching to kite-surf? The concierge will hook you up with a local outfitter. Seeking a relaxing afternoon with your partner? Reserve a private cabana at the adults-only pool. But though the hotel’s “something for everyone” approach indicates a bit of an identity crisis, the staff members largely make up for it with their good-natured demeanor.
First opened in 1995, the Marriott is located on the west coast, where most of Aruba’s resorts are lined up like a platoon. A $50 million renovation in 2009—including an upgrade of the lobby and all of the 411 guestrooms—has made it one of the island’s premier properties. Though the spacious, comfortable rooms all have sizable balconies (or patios, on the first floor), you’d do well to choose your view type carefully. It’s worth the extra cost to avoid “adjacent construction” rooms, which face the half-finished Ritz-Carlton going up next door, and opt instead for an ocean or ocean/pool vista. Fronting the impossibly blue waters of Palm Beach, my balcony offered a peaceful respite at the end of each sun-drenched day.
The northernmost resort on Aruba, the Marriott provided the ideal base from which to explore the less touristy parts of this former Dutch colony. After renting a mountain bike from the mellow surfer dude at the shack up the beach, I pedaled north along the coast to the California Lighthouse, named for a ship that sank there over a century ago. Though the last stretch of the ride was decidedly bumpy, the breathtaking view from the promontory compensated nicely.
For those seeking a less physically taxing afternoon, the concierge can book you on a two-hour sunset sail, where the vistas are even more intoxicating than the cocktails served up at the catamaran’s open bar. Or if it’s the tropical heat you need to escape, let your wallet follow the siren call of the slots that bleat and ping at you through the open portal to Stellaris, the resort’s in-house casino—the largest on an island where gambling outposts seem nearly as ubiquitous as palm trees.
Just a short bus or cab ride away, the capital city of Oranjestad has its culinary charms, including The Old Fisherman, where I was greeted with a basket of pan bati (corn pancake) sprinkled with grated cheese. The criollo platter—shark keri-keri (shredded fish patty), shrimp, and balchi di pisca (fish cakes, made with red snapper the day I visited)—was simple but succulent fare, brightened further by a generous lashing of papaya hot sauce.
Though the Marriott offers a range of on-property dining options (including an outpost of the Ruth’s Chris Steak House chain), the place to sup is Simply Fish. Like the mild-mannered protagonist of a superhero flick, the hotel’s beachfront transforms from day to night, morphing into a romantic candlelit restaurant at water’s edge where you can wiggle your toes in the sand as you sip your Sauvignon Blanc. The focus of the menu is seafood, though there are “turf” options as well. While the scallop risotto and the macadamia-crusted grouper were fine, make no mistake about it—the star of this meal is the view. Be sure to time your reservation to that magic hour when the glowing orb of the sun is poised just above the horizon, and any stress that you carried with you from home recedes as gently as the ebbing tide at your feet.
Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino: L.G. Smith Boulevard #101, Palm Beach, Aruba; tel: 800/223-6388, www.marriott.com/hotels
- Your spot in the sun: Reserve your own palapa (thatched umbrella) on the hotel’s beachfront, and ease your way into the sharp equatorial sunlight.
- Happy hour: Float over to the main pool’s swim-up bar for a cocktail, or have a staff member ferry a daiquiri to your chaise near the quieter adults-only pool.
- Pamper yourself: Visit the hotel’s Mandara Spa and indulge in a body wrap featuring the soothing properties of aloe vera, one of the island’s leading commodities.
IN THE AREA:
Linda’s: Aruba’s Dutch heritage is front and center at Linda’s, the place for a hearty breakfast of pannekoeken—the thin, platter-sized pancakes for which Holland is famous. Go savory with the crisp-edged bacon and apple pancake, or sate your sweet tooth with the almond and amaretto-doused version. Palm Beach 6-D; tel: 297/586-3378; lindas-aruba.com
The Old Fisherman: At The Old Fisherman, start off with a bowl of the fish soup, follow with a seafood entrée, and chase it all with an ice-cold bottle of Balashi, the local beer. Havenstraat 36, Suite 1B, Oranjestad; tel: 297/588-3648; www.theoldfishermanaruba.com
Hot Sauces: If you need a gift for that hot-sauce fiend back home, pick up a jar of Hot Delight’s Papaya or the considerably more incendiary Madam (also known as Madame Janette, after the pepper that gives the condiment its scotch bonnet–like punch), available at most local grocery stores.
Mountain Biking: Rent a mountain bike for the day or week at Aruba Active Vacations, a small blue shack on the beach about a quarter-mile north of the Marriott. Tel: 297/586-0989; www.aruba-active-vacations.com