Monday, April 16, 2012

DiVi Aruba All Inclusive Resort

Divi Aruba All Inclusive Resort: Spring Break 2012 (overall 3.5 stars)

As far as first impressions go, my first impression of the resort was quite dissapointing. On day one I gave the resort a two star. First, my check-in experience was not good; Second, we started comparing this resort to some of the larger all inclusives on Cancun, Punta Cana and other popular destinations. You can't compare.. they are just different destinations, different resorts and each has its own pros and cons.

Check in (1 star): While booking our vacation, we had purchased upgraded beach side accomodations (FROM STANDARD ROOMS). When we checked in, our room was facing a fence (right outside our sliding door & window). When we asked to change our room and reminded them that we had purchased an upgrade from standard room, their first response was sorry.. nothing we can do.. rooms are not guaranteed at the time of booking, we are fully booked, we have no other rooms available, we have no more rooms with two double beds..yada yada yada. After an hour of arguing and haggling, we finally did get a beach side room which was very nice. We also noticed later, that there were another 1-2 rooms in our building that seemed unoccupied for the entire duration on our stay. It seems Room 402 in Vista II building is not a popular room (as it faces an ugly fence) and the resort management probably tries to assign it to every new guest hoping someone will take it without complaining. That just left a bitter taste and skewed my overall resort experience.  Oh, and ask for room 400 in Vista II if you can because it is larger than the other rooms, and also has a great view to the beach.

Resort Facilities (4 stars):
The Divi resort is a fairly compact, comfortable and clean resort. The lobby had several comfy couches, large screen TV's for kids to hang out in the middle of the day, a convinience store, kiosks for Herts and DePalm tours.
Next to the lobby is the snack hut, the main dining area, and the pool. The sitting area around the pool is nicely done. There is no swim up bar but the pool itself is not large, a rectangular shaped perhaps the size of a country club pool. There is a bar outside the pool and beyond the drink bar is the beach. The rooms are located on north and south end of the lobby along the beach. I think the rooms on the north end (Vista I and Vista II buildings) were really nice.

Resort Rooms (2.5 stars): The rooms in general were clean and comfortable. Each lower level room open to a patio. The bathrooms were clean but they could use a renovation. Our bathroom floor became completely wet after shower no matter how we positioned the shower curtain.

Food and Drinks (2 stars): If you like food spicy, gotta try Aruba's Papaya Sauce.

Overall, the food at the resort was mediocre, if that. The snack hut at Divi served pizza, sandwiches, popcorn and drinks. The bar served both alcoholic and non- alcoholic drinks, but the cocktail drinks were too sweet (seemed like you were drinking syrup) and used domestic brands of alcohol. We stayed with soda, fresh smoothies and drinks like gin & tonic. The main dining area served buffet style meals. The breakfast was fairly standard.. omelette station, various breads, yogurt, fruit, a few warm dishes, etc. It was the same breakfast every day.. same choices. The lunch had some more variety but not much. After a day or two, the buffet choices became too boring and bland. At dinner, the food was not much different from lunch menu. Between the two resorts Divi and Tamarjin (both allow guests to freely use each other's facilities) they had 4 reservation only restaurants, which offered some variety for dinner. All these 4 restaurants had limited seating. You had to make reservations by 8 am two days in advance or the preferred dining times were not available. In fact, despite our efforts we only got either 6-6:30 pm or 9-9:30 pm seating at all the 4 places. The restaurants were not great, but atleast had more variety than the buffet menu. The desserts in every dining area just about sucked. My recommendation is to not to go to the Italian or the Asian food places, because they weren't that great. 

Resort Beach (5 stars): The resort is located on the southern section of the Eagle Beach. It was a wide and a beautiful white sand beach. The waves were gentle, no rocks, no undertow nor steep declines, water was very clear. The immidiate beach area in front of our resort did not have any natural shade, no cocomut palms but there seemed to be enough palapas though they were usually gone by 7 am in the morning.

To resort's north lay the majority of the Eagle Beach, a very popular public beach fringing the main road. There seemed plenty of natural and man made shaded picnic areas and a variety of motorized water sports. There were several other hotels along the beach and also just across the road. During spring break (Easter week), we saw a lot of families camping in tents on the eagle beach, and on baby beach. It seems to be a local tradition for extended families to camp out on the beach during this week. The tents were pretty elaborate.. each gathering seemed to have 5-7 tents ranging from small to large, a separate tent for cooking and eating.

Entertainment (2 star): During the day, there was not much organized entertainment. Our kids were quite dissapointed. They seemed to have one kid related activity a day e.g. bingo one day, tie-dye t-shirts another day, rock wall climbing one day, kite flying one day, beach side olympics one day. Rest of the time kids were on their own either at pool or on the beach. Now the good part is that the kids got a lot of R&R, simply hanging out with the family. The bad part is that after 2-3 days they were looking for things to do. During mid day when the sun was directly overhead and quite hot and there were no kid activities in the shade or in the pool. It also seemed that the staff and the schedule was a bit dis-organized, staff at Divi towel hut did not always seem to know what activities were scheduled for a given day, or if the time and location of an activity was changed. When the information got changed it was not necessarily communicated to them in a timely manner. Most activities were on Island time.. always a few minutes behind schedule. Not a biggie except it seemed that there were not enough supplies for most acctivities, so if you were not in front of the line when the organizers arrived, you may either have a long wait or out of luck. e.g. for rock climbing there was only 1 adult helper, 3 helmets and 4 straps between the two resorts and a line of 10-15 kids. So there was a lot of waiting around for helmets especially if there were kids who wanted to try multiple levels of climbing. Similarly, for tie-dye t-shirts there were insufficient kid sized t-shirts. Some kids ended up getting large adult sizes. For windsurfing there was one instructor and only 8 adults allowed per day between the two resorts, so if you did not sign up within the first 5 min once the signup window opened, chances are you could not windsurf that day.

For adults, there were almost no organized activities. We did manage to convince staff to teach us salsa dancing one day, and yoga another day. Thats about it.

Between Divi and Tamarjin, there was daily nightly entertainment. It usually included a band/music component, and a dance troup. There was also a small straw market every day (except Sat) at one of the two resorts.

Tamarjin All Inclusive Resort Facilities: (2 stars)
Divi Aruba All inclusive and Tamarjin All Inclusive are two separate properties located right next to each other and owned by the same company. Consequently, guests between the two are free to use the other's facilities and the two resorts share staff, gym, and activity areas. Tamarjin seemed older while Divi Aruba seemed newer. Since we stayed at Divi, I cannot really talk about the accomodations at Tamarjin, but based on what I saw, the rooms, the lobby, the dining room, and the pool area at Divi seemed much nicer. However it seemed that all the rooms at Tamarjin were ocean front. The gym, the watersport and the activity center were only located at Tamarjin. We had to go to Tamarjin to use the gym, to rent snorkling gear, for rock wall climbing, for kite flying, for windsurfing lessons, etc. The snack hut at Tamarjin also offered a little more variety in foods.. like fries and onion rings, in addition to pizza and sandwiches. Tamarjin had 3 of the 4 reservation only restaurants while Divi only had 1. It was an easy 5 min walk between the two resorts and there was also a free shuttle between the two so going from one to the other was not a big deal.Sometimes though it was annoying to have to go to the other resort for small things..e.g to just to get a plate of fries or onion rings in the middle of the afternoon.

Staff: (1 star)
More than anything else, I felt the resort was short staffed. Perhaps it had to do with easter week, but the staff seemed always rushed, had a "I'm busy" frown, they were never impolite never rude just not very warm. Don't think I saw very many smiles from the staff. The shortage was felt most acutely in the dining room and the snack hut. Periodically there were long lines. When the supplies ran short, the cook was running to get the supplies as well as trying to manage the orders from people waiting. In late afternoons, the snack hut was busy with people waiting for pizza and there was only one cook. Also the age group for majority of staff seemed to be in 50s. hmmmm

Suggestions to the Resort:
1. They really need to work on the quantity and quality of the staff. With more staff, perhaps the pressure on the existing staff will ease. If the staff is more relaxed the guests will feel more relaxed too. With younger staff, perhaps there will be more activities and overall energy at the resort to engage guests.

2.They need to organize more day time activities such as morning and evening yoga, dance classes for adults and kids, some board games, beach side games, family group activites etc. to engage the guests more.

 3. Improve the quality of the various dining options, especially the buffet menus, and the snacks and drinks available. They should make the quality of the food served in reservation only restaurant a bit more gourmet.

Aruba - One Happy Island

"Palm trees, the cool ocean breeze,
salty air, and the sun kissed hair,
That endless summer, its all there." (unknown)

ahh the palm trees and the cool ocean breeze
The one thing I absolutely loved about Aruba was its most wonderful cool ocean breeze. This cozy beautiful island which is about 15 miles from Venezuela in the southern Carribean sea and outside the tropical hurricane belt is a perfect tourist haven.
Divi Tree
the arid country side

It has hot hot sun made bearable by the constant cool breeze, no rain, no humidity, gorgeous white sand beaches, and a very laid back island atmosphere. You can go from one end of the island to the other and see just about everything there is to see on the island in one whole day. The vegetation is quite sparse and arid. While the island is known worldwide for its Divi trees, most of the native vegetation seems to be cactii, aloe vera and tumbleweed trees. We saw only two Divi trees our entire trip. In residential and resort areas, we saw coconut palm, mango, Poinsettia, Hibiscus, Bougainvillea, and a few others. If you are looking for a lush green island, this is not it. There were no signs of poverty, and generally it seemed the island was very well maintained and clean.

Most resorts and most of the popular attractions are located on the north to north west end of the island, and much of it in and around the capital city of Oranjestad. Most of the smaller, low rise all inclusive resorts are located on the Eagle beach (ranked #2 among the world's best beaches) just north of Oranjestad. The larger, newer and high rise resorts are a bit further north on the Palm beach.

The North east coast is fairly rugged, made of volcanic rock, no sandy beaches and very arid vegetation. The ruins of the gold mine and the natural bridge are on this side of the island. The Natural Bridge, once a very popular attraction in Aruba, was a formation of coral limestone cut out by years of pounding surf, and was one of the largest in the world, some 23 feet above sea level and more than 100 feet long. Due to natural causes this bridge collapsed a few years ago, but it still remains a very popular spot to visit. There is no admission fee or specific hours for visiting. This coastline is carved into coves by the wind and water action. Sharks supposedly take shelter in these coves to birth. All along the coastline (eastern shore), you can see small rocks stacked on larger rocks.. a local tradition to make wishes come true. The other popular attractions in this area are California Lighthouse (named after a ship that sank near this coast), Ayo and Casibari rock formations. The rock formations are clusters of huge rocks quite unique to the area, they inexplicably rise up from the desert soil to create an unusual setting. It is believed that these rocks had sacred significance for the Arawak Indians. There is nothing special about the lighthouse except the area is high enough that both east and west coastlines, and the capital city are visible.
Collapsed Natural Bridge

The south east end of the island has Arkok National park (we did not go there, so cant talk much about it). The national park is supposed to have caves with Arawaks cave drawings,and a natural pool worth a visit.

The south west end of the island is more residential as you go towards San Nicholas. San Nicholas itself looked quite deserted. Since Valero oil refinery shut down (located in San Nicholas) most of the island economy is supported by the tourism. At the SW end of the island is a popular beach and snorkling spot named Baby Beach. It is a shallow, sheltered lagoon frequented by locals and tourists. It is named Baby Beach as the water is so calm that it is considered safe for very small children. The beach is popular mostly due to the lack of waves and its shallow waters. The snorkeling here was OK. Most of the fishes were closer to the reef (inlet).. but they were not very colorful. Aruba did not seem to be a snorkling haven. It was very expensive to rent cabanas and chairs on baby beach..approx $25 each for an hour or $30 per day. There were a few trees for shade but not a whole lot.

To tour the Island, there seemed to be two companies that were most popular.. ABC tour company and De Palm tour company. Their Jeep Safari tours (whole day island tours) seemed most popular. Most of the guests in our resort that we spoke to enjoyed these Jeep tours. We did not tour with either of these two companies, but chose instead to rent a van with a driver independantly. He took us to the most popular 4 attractions above, then dropped us off at Baby beach for about 2-3 hours. At the designated hour, he picked us up and brought us back to our resort. The total cost came to approx $350 for about 12 people and 5 hour tour (approx 2.5 hours touring and 2.5 hrs at baby beach). Contact Johnny at if you wish to hire him for a personal tour. He can also help rent vehicles cheaper than what Hertz and other companies provide.

Dutch Colonial Architecture
The downtown was very convinient from our resort. There is a public bus that runs from right outside the resort for $1.25 each way and it takes approx 10 min or less to get to the downtown. It is a touristy port with a local straw market and lots of souviniers and jewellery shops. We took about 2-3 hours just walking around and it was sufficient. The Dutch colonial style buildings were quite unique.. I called them colorful gingerbread houses.