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July 8, 2009

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    Aruba Marriott

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From the outside of the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, it doesn't look like anything to write home about. The u-shaped building (to block the trade winds) dates back to 1990 when it was a condo complex until Marriott took it over in 1995. But just last year, Marriott completed a $50 million renovation, which makes this eight-floor, 411-room hotel special.

To begin with, the hotel's lobby is impressive. After walking through the automatic sliding door, visitors are in an eight-storey atrium, which lets a lot of natural light in. Not too many people take advantage of the comfortable, stylish furniture because everyone is busy at the beach or pool. But also off the lobby is the Stellaris Casino, Aruba's largest casino with 32 gaming tables and countless slot machines. There's also a sushi bar and a lobby bar where the signature drink is a mean Orange Citron Mojito with Aloe ($12).

Natalie and I didn't check in at the front desk because we had signed up to the exclusive Tradewinds Club, an upscale hotel-within-a-hotel concept that occupies the entire 8th floor. I asked the porter where the Tradewinds was located and he immediately whisked us up the elevator. The Tradewinds costs an extra $100 a night for two (kids under six stay free, kids six to12 stay for $25/night and additional adults and kids over 12 pay $70/person per night) but depending on your habits, it might be worth it as it comes with some money-saving benefits. For one, there's a lounge where they serve a filling breakfast, an average lunch, snacks all day and free alcohol during happy hour. There's also free use of the computers in the lounge and the in-room Wi-Fi fee is waived (normally $14.95). Guests also get a reserved section of the beach. The concierges and waiters up there were super-friendly and greet guests by name and make them feel as if they are long lost friends. The negative: it's only open from 7am to 9pm and the lunch is pretty much the same each day: chips and salsa, vegetable crudités, club sandwiches, wraps and generic chocolate cake.

Since the building was designed for condos, the rooms are spacious by Aruba standards (400 square feet). Natalie and I got upgraded so our room was even bigger. But no matter what room category you are in, every room offers Marriott's comfortable Revive bed, a working desk with 4 U.S. type plugs, contemporary bathrooms and a 37" flat screen TV with a ton of channels (99% are in English). But the best part, besides the robes, which Natalie described as so soft and cuddly, they're like a hug, is the view of the Caribbean Sea and the large (100 square foot) private balcony. The balcony would be even better if they put lounge chairs so you could nap out there but the standard chairs will do.

The Marriott is located on Aruba's best beach: Palm Beach. The water, white sand and sunsets are simply amazing. We were a tad bit disappointed with the Tradewinds special section of the beach as we showed up thinking we would get chairs and umbrellas steps from the water but it was late in the day, so we'd missed out on all the good spots. I guess the trick (which I despise) is to wake up super-early and go reserve your spot by putting towels and a book on the chair before someone else does. Also, I'm not sure if it was just an understaffed day, but the drink guy took a while to take our order (we couldn't pass up the 2-for-1 pina colada special for $13!) and then took 20-plus minutes to bring them – the couple behind us were freaking! But there are no worries in Aruba as the water is warm, calm, shallow and inviting. As Natalie described it, the place was brimming with activity: kite surfing, jet skis, parasailing, boats, snorkel, kayaks, wind surfing ...

We didn't lay out by the pool because this place is so family friendly (we were there during Spring Break), that all day long, all you could hear was "Marco – Polo!" BTW: Who the heck invented that dumb game? They should change the rules so you can only say Marco Polo underwater. Maybe if I had kids, I would be a Marco Polo lover and I would bring them here to contribute to the noise, since they would have a ton of fun meeting new friends and hanging out at the kids club.

The Marriott has seven restaurants to choose from so there was no reason to spend money, take time to get a taxi or rent a car and deal with driving. Basically, when you come to such a nice resort, you don't want to leave, which is why they have seven restaurants!

The first night, Natalie and I went to the closest restaurant to our room (besides room service!), which was Ruth's Chris Steak House, just steps from the elevator. I usually don't go to American chain restaurants when I'm overseas but Ruth's Chris was so convenient and always consistent, so I figured why not? We had very cool Haitian and Colombian waiters, who brought me a tomato and onion salad with crumbled blue cheese to start ($9). The tomatoes weren't in season so they didn't have much flavor. Then a petit filet ($36), which was cooked perfectly. At Ruth's Chris, since everything is a la carte, you have to get some side dishes: I picked the sautéed spinach ($9) and the sweet potato casserole with crusted pecan topping ($9.50). It was so good and rich, it could've been for dessert. I was going to skip dessert but you-know-who wanted some and she ordered the most fattening thing on the menu: the cheesecake ($10). Of course, she took just a few bites and left the rest, but I have a problem not cleaning my plate (or someone else's, apparently). So I gained five pounds from one meal.

One night, we tried one of the other hotel restaurants, La Vista, for Italian food. I was still full the next day from dinner at Ruth's Chris so I just had an individual margherita pizza ($13), which was surprisingly good and tasted even better because we sat outside in the balmy weather.

However our hands-down, favorite meal was at Simply Fish. Reservations are a must and I recommend you make them for 6:30pm when they open so you'll have plenty of time to enjoy the spectacular sunset. Our table was literally eight steps from the water and although everyone is well dressed, they're barefoot, which you simply have to love. We had two waiters (one Aruban, one Colombian) whose service was exceptional. I had aloe punch ($4.50), a caprese salad ($13), lobster tail with mashed potatoes ($38) and coconut and banana cake with caramel ice cream ($9). It was all good! The check came in a little wooden treasure box with a light inside.

We arranged for massages at the Mandara Spa, which is next door at the Ocean Club. I didn't see any of the rooms but the lobby and pool area make it seem like a pretty cheesy timeshare. When we arrived at the spa, the clerk wasn't friendly at all. She even scolded me for taking a picture of the different oils and unfortunately, the experience got worse before it got better. After changing into my birthday suit and donning a robe in the small locker room, which could use a makeover, I hung out with Natalie in the co-ed waiting room. This room needed some serious help and it had an 80s feeling to it. For a moment, I had a flashback and felt like I was in high school again, hanging out at my friend's house. The staff walking by didn't acknowledge us and they just weren't happy. At one point, I even asked Natalie, "Is it me or do you feel bad energy?" It wasn't just me. It also didn't help that the TV was on the Sci-Fi channel, which has to be one of my least favorites (and an odd choice for a spa) and there was no remote to change the channel. Believe it or not, I was hungry and I so wanted to devour the almonds just sitting in the bowl on the table but I passed since there was no spoon, which meant who knows whose grubby hands had pawed them?

Things started to turn around when our therapists arrived. They were both very nice but their protocol of putting their arm around your waist when walking down the hallway to the treatment room was a little weird. The treatment rooms had the complete opposite look and feel of the locker room and waiting area, which was a relief. I picked my choice of oil (choices are: Harmony, Tranquility, Mandara or Island Spice) and was ready to get on the table. Interestingly, the therapists don't leave the room when you take your robe off. Instead they shield their eyes with the sheet they're going to put over you. While she was holding it up, I said, "You sure your eyes are closed?" When she said yes, I did a naked dance just to see if she laughed but she was a good girl. The Swedish massage was relaxing but I don't know what's up with the Caribbean masseuses as they rub you so gently I should've just signed up for a back scratch (wouldn't that be nice?). I guess it's my fault. I should have asked her to work my knots out. Natalie said her masseuse did the same. Upon checkout, the nasty clerk was much friendlier so all is good.

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Copyright 2009 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


Aruba Marriott


Front Desk


Friendly Service


Hotel Lobby


Lobby Seating


Orange Citron Mojito with Aloe


Tradewinds Club


Tradewinds Concierge


Tradewinds Seating


Tradewinds Breakfast


Back Side of Hotel


Our Room


Revive Bed




Incredible View


Hotel Pool


Palm Beach


Sunset From Balcony


Ruth's Chris


Simply Fish Table


Simply Fish Sunset


Mandara Spa


Mandara Spa Oils



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