La Vista is a restaurant at Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, where guests can reserve a front-row outdoor table in advance and enjoy a Carnival-themed party each Thursday. // © 2017 Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino
Feature image (above): Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is a beachfront property on Palm Beach. // © 2017 Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino
As I tucked into a heaping plate of cheesy ravioli in a lobster sauce, a man — dressed in a white feather-and-sequin costume — regally marched into view. Antillean tumba music roared. Lights flashed. All eyes were on the evening’s emcee and his extravagant costume — what I could only describe as 1980s Cher impersonating a Victoria’s Secret Angel. The next thing I knew, his wings and headdress lit up with Christmas lights, and a trio of dancers in psychedelic Carnival attire joined him for a throbbing, high-energy performance in high heels.
Indeed, Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, located on Palm Beach, Aruba, likes to spice things up a bit. Each Thursday at La Vista restaurant, guests are treated to a feathered, sequin-studded Carnival extravaganza. (To achieve rock-star status with your clients, be sure to book them a front-row outdoor table in advance.)
Dining experiences are a major draw for the resort, which offers nine food and beverage outlets and around-the-clock room service. Atardi is Aruba Marriott’s pop-up restaurant on the beach, and one of the standout culinary options on the island. Each evening, the staff builds an elegant outdoor dining space fronting its Waves Beach Bar & Grill. Here, guests leave their shoes behind and dine with their toes in the sand. In the afterglow of the sunset, they sip on fruity cocktails and enjoy contemporary interpretations of local dishes, from macadamia-encrusted grouper with fried quinoa and red curry to snapper served alongside plantains, coconut basmati rice and pineapple salsa.
Clients who yearn for the familiar will appreciate the on-site Ruth’s Chris Steak House, as well as the resort’s brand-new Starbucks, which is the largest and most comprehensive Starbucks on the island. Ketsu Sushi Bar, located in the lobby, is ideal for a quick sashimi fix, while La Vista offers Italian and Caribbean dishes a la carte or buffet-style.
Visitors will likely want to sample local specialties, and no trip to Aruba is complete without trying “keshi yena,” a flavorful melted-cheese dish believed to have been created by slaves of the Dutch West Indies. Slaves in the region were thought to stuff table scraps — including peppers, raisins, shredded chicken and olives — into rounds of gouda cheese to make a hearty meal.
Food always seems to taste better when you have a hand in creating it. To that end, the hotel offers a keshi yena cooking class in La Vista’s kitchen. Miguel Garcia , the personable and informative executive sous chef, often leads classes for up to six guests at a time. The experience includes a wine paring and lunch for $75 per person.
A Place to Lay Your Head
The property is massive, with 411 guestrooms (including 23 oceanfront suites), shops, two pools, a casino, Mandara Spa and a fitness club. Much like vacationing on a large cruise ship, it might be days before clients discover all that’s on offer.
Guestrooms are spacious, starting at more than 500 square feet, and include a balcony, an LCD television and a mini-fridge . The eighth floor is dedicated to Tradewinds Club, an inclusive, hotel-within-a-hotel concept. Most notably, guests of this level have exclusive access to a lounge with complimentary food and drinks. Clients can expect a full American breakfast, afternoon tea, hors d’oeuvres, cocktails and more. Complimentary pressing of two garments per night is also included for those booked on the eighth floor.
Clients often choose Aruba Marriott for its prime location on Palm Beach. The 2-mile-long stretch of white-sand beach is known for its calm waters and access to a wide selection of beach bars and watersports. Flanking the resort is Vela Sports Aruba, which offers beach and stand-up paddleboard yoga, kayaking, kitesurfing and windsurfing. I tried Vela Sports’ Windsurfing 101 class, which included an hour of instruction and an hour of play for $60. Just about anyone can learn to sail (my instructor said he has taught guests from ages 8 to 80), but it takes practice to master tacking (changing direction) and to eventually catch waves.
There is much to do and see when staying at Aruba Marriott, and I highly recommend a desert safari through Arikok National Park. Daredevils might opt to drive themselves on an ATV tour. The saner set, however, will do as I did and book a Land Rover excursion. For $99 per person, De Palm Tours takes guests on a heart-racing ride through rugged, steep terrain with stunning coastal views. After a roller-coaster-like ride downhill, I was treated to a snorkel swim in the park’s natural pool. While the pool is protected by imposing rocks, crashing waves can make it challenging to swim at times. The desert safari, like Aruba itself, is a true adventure — filled with local color, natural beauty and the unexpected.