Dan and I just got back from a week in Aruba. This was our second year to enjoy a shared vacation there with our spouses; Dan and Elana have a Divi Village timeshare in Oranjestad, and they have been visiting the island for 20 years. This was Kev’s and my second time, so we are still learning about all that Aruba has to offer; we were really looking forward to exploring more of the island, enjoying the beaches, and trying some of the local tours.
If you have ever considered visiting Aruba, then you might enjoy some of the highlights and mini-reviews that Dan and I have put together from our trip.
Weststraat 1, Oranjestad
Entrées run $15 – 20
This restaurant was recommended to Dan and Elana by one of the people at the Divi front desk who had heard it was good. Elana and Dan went the first night, while they were waiting for Kev and me to arrive. Dan says that the fact that Queen’s is in the back and on the second floor of a mall should have given them some indication that it wouldn’t be their best meal, but the nicely appointed decor convinced them to go forward and eat there anyway.
The hors d’oeuvres were quite good and the portions impressed them. The entrees, however, left something to be desired. The entrees were cold, portions were small, and the taste was just mediocre. Dan says, “It wasn’t that the food was bad but that, on an island with so many good Aruban restaurants from which to choose, it doesn’t make the grade.”
Jimmy’s Ocean View Bar
Once Kev and I had finally arrived in Aruba, we immediately suited up so we could visit the beach across the street. Dan and Kev decided we needed to stop in and visit local celebrity Jimmy (the singing bartender) at his upstairs ocean side bar. Located directly across the street from the Divi Resort, Jimmy’s is one of those places that you may enter not knowing anyone, but you’ll have made a friend or two by the time you leave.On Thursdays, Jimmy’s band provides the house music.
Divi Village Sea Breeze Café
Entrées run $10 – 45
My first night in Aruba was derailed with an upset tummy. Elana cancelled our dinner plans, and everyone but me went to the Sea Breeze Restaurant right there at the timeshare. I took a shower, got in bed, and took a two-hour nap. =(
None of us had eaten dinner there before, but Elana, Dan, and Kev all agreed that it turned out to be a great meal! The food was fresh, plentiful and well-prepared. Elana has numerous dietary restrictions, and the chef could not have been more accommodating. Kev brought me back a small filet, and it was delicious! Finding out that there was such a great place to eat right at our resort was a happy accident.
Much of our second day in Aruba was spent on the beach and at the Divi pool. By the time dinner rolled around, we were ready to experience some delicious local cuisine …
Washington 61 Noord, Oranjestad
Entrées run $30 – 50
Papiamento is a 150+ year old historic cunucu manor, or typical old Aruban farmhouse, and belonging (then and now) to the Ellis family. They offer al fresco seating in a quiet, well-landscaped setting that will make you want to linger over your meal simply because you don’t want to leave.
The soups and salads are tasty, but the star of the meal is always the entrée. They offer a wide range of offerings, but you should look for those that are served “on the stone”.
“On the stone” is what Dan and Elana get year after year, and it is what Kev and I asked for again this year; these stone-served dishes are definitely a favorite. The protein (meat, fish or shellfish) is plentiful and served with a nice assortment of vegetables. We love the good, lightly seasoned food, but we especially enjoy the experience of eating off the stone after our meals have been cooked to perfection.
We went sailing with De Palm tours twice during out trip; both outings were fun.
The Sunset cruise was aboard the De Palm Tour’s catamaran. A large sailboat, it had room for one hundred with a crew of about five. The took us out, hoisted the sails, and sailed us to the tip of Aruba where the lighthouse is located. It was a great way to spend a few afternoon hours, and the sunset was gorgeous.
The boat’s bar was a big draw for many of the passengers, and it was open within minutes of setting out. They had plenty of local Balashi beer (which Kev and I enjoyed), a special Aruban “kitchen-sink” punch that Dan thought was yummy, along with assorted other generously mixed drinks. The appetizers were one plate to a customer, and they weren’t worth the calories.
Advice: Go for the sunset sail. Go for the open bar. Go for a great time with friends. Don’t go if you are hungry.
Cunucu Abao 37
Entrées run $30 – 50
Always a favorite, the outdoor setting is lovely, the portions are large and the live music is terrific; most nights they have a singer/guitarist performing, and you shouldn’t be surprised if some of the patrons start singing along.
Bread and spicy onions start the meal. This is followed by the appetizer and then, if you still have room, the entrée. Most entrees come with a small portion of vegetables and rice or potato. The almond grouper is a perennial favorite; I got this, and the serving was so ridiculously huge that I was able to share a bit of mine with everyone at the table, and I still had enough to bring substantial leftovers back to the room for a snack later. Kev had the lamb chops, and they were amazing.
Over the years many restaurants have come in and out of Dan and Elana’s weekly vacation roster; Madame Jeanette’s is on that roster, but it has never been in question. Yes, it is pricey, but it is excellent and makes for a nice meal and a memorable evening.
De Palm Island
Full Day Price: Adults $119.00 Children $89.00
Half Day Price: Adults $104.00 Children $79.00
Kevin didn’t want to go. Elana showed no interest. I was ambivalent, but Dan wanted to go … and everyone was willing to play along. A de Palm bus took us past the airport to their dock, where we boarded a small motor boat for the five-minute trip to De Palm Island.
The island is more like a sandbar that was built up and developed as a tourist trap, and as we drew closer, the voices in our heads screamed “kitsch kitsch kitsch!!”
We arrived and found a number of white sand beaches, a water park, an open bar — it was already officially happy hour — and a buffet restaurant that served breakfast when we arrived and then offered lunch starting at 11.
The beach area was not crowded at all; it was full of palapas to sit under and comfortable lounge chairs … but the noise from the blasting music and dance class made us feel like we were on a cruise. Kev and Dan snorkeled a bit off the shore, but they were disappointed with the condition of the reef.
Later that day, Kevin and Dan went on a snorkeling ”tour” that brought them to the wall, a point where the reef drops off and, apparently, doesn’t bottom out for 700+ meters. They thought that was interesting, and they did find the reef to be a bit better at some points along the way.
The water park was great for kids but were only stayed for one slide down the water park structure. The food was actually better than we expected, but it is certainly not why you should decide to spend the day at De Palm Island.
Overall it was good as a quick change of pace; we are glad we did it once, but once was more than enough.
Klipstraat 12 Downtown Oranjestad
Entrées run $23 – 50
If you want fresh fish, then this is the place to go; what they serve is fish that has been caught that day by Driftwood’s owner, Herby. Elana and Dan have been going to this restaurant for years, and Elana’s parents (Hi, Mark & Debbie!) had already discovered it long before that. Driftwood is popular with locals and tourists alike, and as a result you will usually have a bit of a wait – even when you have a reservation. Last year when we went, the place was completely packed. We must have come during a slower week this year, because we had no wait and the restaurant wasn’t packed; I bet we never get that lucky again.
The soups and salads are good — my favorite is the fish soup. The fish served for the entrée is so fresh it needs slapping; what they serve will depend upon what Herby caught that day. Last year we had Barracuda (delicious!), and this year we had Wahoo. The fish is always well-prepared and simply amazing. The portion sizes aren’t quite as large as the outrageous servings we’d experienced the night before at Madame Janette’s.
Driftwood is owned by a couple, and as I mentioned, Herby goes out on one of the restaurant’s boats to catch the fish that will be used that night. You can pay to go out with him and then eat the fish you caught during the day. They charge a fee to cook your fish, but it is worth it to have them do all the cleaning and preparation. Dan and Elana tried this once, but Dan got sick as a dog on the boat; he begged them go back in or kill him. Obviously he’s not dead, so they must have taken pity on him and brought him back to shore. I, on the other hand, am dying to go deep-sea fishing. I may need to look into this option next year!
Advice: Ask for the special meal deal — they won’t tell you about it, which is a bit annoying. Once you ask and they realize that you are “in the know”, they’ll give you a special three course menu that includes soup or salad, a choice of entrée, all the sides and desert and coffee. If I remember correctly, the total is $24.95 per person; this deal is an absolute bargain.
Driftwood has earned a permanent place on our Aruba Restaurant Roster.
De Palm Tour’s Snorkel Cruise
Adults $77.00 / Children $57.00
Much to our surprise, the snokeling cruise took us out two days later on the same catamaran with the same crew that we had on our sunset cruise; that was fine by us. Even better, the boat’s capacity was 100, but there were just 45 of us — including the crew. We sailed north for a bit and dropped anchor. From there we had a chance to snorkel around a German ship that had sunk decades ago. It was fascinating to see the interaction of the ship and the ocean and see all the fish darting in and out; this experience alone was worth the price of the cruise.
Hopping back on board, we motored a bit further north, stopped again, and went for another 45 minute snorkel. This time out, we were on a reef that was in poor repair. Kev spotted a few live tube worms and we saw quite a few live sponges and brain corals, but it wasn’t anything like what you would expect to see based on a travel brochure. In other words, avid snorkelers would probably be disappointed by the sea life. We, however, didn’t mind, since it made for a nice swim off a beach we would not have otherwise visited.
Back on board we motored a bit toward the disembarking point, dropped anchor in a bay and had lunch. Salad, fish, chicken and rice were plentiful and surprisingly quite good. While you certainly wouldn’t make this trip for the food, we didn’t go hungry.
The crew was quite nice. The bar was open the entire time, and it was a great way to spend a few hours in the sun, on a boat, drinking, laughing and enjoying Aruba.
Advice: Carve out a half day of your vacation and spend it here. The snorkel cruise is a good time and money well spent. Had we done it earlier in the week, there would have been serious conversation about doing a repeat a few days later.
Texas de Brazil
J.E. Irausquin Blvd 382, Palm Beach
Regular Dinner is $44.99 and the Light Dinner is $24.99
We thought we would try something different, and this restaurant certainly fit the bill. The salad bar was generous, fresh, and chock loaded with soups, appetizers, and salad choices. Honestly, most people could do fine simply getting the salad bar and calling it a night — but we were in it for the meat! Skewer after skewer of seasoned beef in various cuts, lamb, pork, chicken and Brazilian sausage were brought around by servers on a frequent basis, but we found that the quality was hit or miss. Kevin and I loved the lamb; it was perfectly cooked. Dan and I loved the chicken, which was juicy and flavorful. All of us found the filet mignon far too salty; Elana ate from the salad bar and called it good.
This was a fun meal, and we are all glad we went … once. Next year though, it won’t be on our list.
Savaneta 270, Savaneta
Shrimp and fish sold by the pound
This is probably the best find EVER. Last year Elana was chatting with her massage therapist, and she asked about eating places off the beaten path. After dropping Elana off for an earlier flight, Kevin, Dan and I went there and we found that it was indeed “off the beaten path”, but it was also excellent.
This restaurant/bar is basically a house with a huge covered patio and a dock with a few tables. Food is ordered at a window by the pound. The selection is small and includes fish (the day we were there, it was Wahoo), whole shrimp, french fries, fried plantains and the local flat (pancake-style) cornbread. If those items don’t sound appealing, then you shouldn’t go because there is nothing else on the menu. If those items sound good to you, then this place is a must. Of all the places that we ate at last year, this was the one we continuously brought up all year and looked forward to the most.
The fish and shrimp are fried unbreaded, and the result is crispy, delicious goodness. If you can, grab one of the three picnic tables down at the dock — they are the best seats in the house.
We went back for lunch our last day in Aruba, and the four of us split a large basket of fried shrimp, fried wahoo, french fries, and fried plantains. We also had a fair number of Balashis. Yes, the food was all fried, but it was done nicely and didn’t feel at all greasy. The food at Zeerover’s is simply delicious; it is also a bargain. The four of us had more than enough to eat for just over $50 plus the drinks.
We are already thinking about which day we’ll go next year.
Have you ever visited Aruba? If so, did you make it to any of the places that we did? Do you have any local favorites that you’d like to share? Do tell!