The Hilton Aruba recently opened on the grounds of the now re-flagged Radisson Aruba. The hotel is located in ‘Noord’ – arguably the premier strip of hotels on the north-west side of the island. Together with the Hilton Aruba you can find the Holiday Inn Resort Aruba, the Ritz Carlton Aruba, the Marriott Aruba as well as the Hyatt Regency Aruba along Palm Beach. If that sounds like a lot – it really is. The area is stylish but also jam-packed in the main season with sun lovers around the (public) beaches and the (private) hotel pools.
We arrived after a rather grueling journey with Copa Airlines (Review). There are few transportation options form the airport. The many local buses don’t go to the airport (no need to guess why). The taxi fare is fixed at $25 for the 20-30 minute journey. The lines for taxis were about 30 minutes long when we arrived – what we did was walk all the way to the front of the airport drop off area and talk to the many lingering taxi drivers (that were not in line). Seconds later a friendly cab driver agreed to take us for the official rate (but no less).
The hotel front desk staff was exceptionally friendly and professional. I had made several reservations that all needed to be merged into one at check-in. The agent had no trouble looking up 3 out 4 two night reservations I had done when the hotel was still under Radisson management. The last remaining reservation took a few hours longer to look up but the agent found it and called our room later.
The resort does honor ex Club Carlson redemptions and ALSO honors Hilton Honors benefits. I have fallen back to Hilton Honors Gold last year and we got continental breakfast as a benefit. There is a lounge but we were not upgraded to an executive floor. So Diamond status might have been a great status to have here.
The guest rooms are spread out to three towers and the room we got was of decent size and pretty modern. It had a patio (but no view to speak of). The bathroom was large and the installations worked well throughout the stay. The beds were high up and way too soft for me (I actually slept on the floor for a few days since I also had gotten a back injury during my stay). The room was very clean and tidy.
Two bottles of water came complimentary every day. The housekeeping did an excellent job of cleaning all the mess we left every day. The first few days the hotel seemed below capacity with many empty beach chairs and very fast WiFi. Later in the week this would change and pool sun benches would be a sought-after-commodity and the Internet would slow to a crawl. The hotel still uses the old Radisson system which does not throttle bandwidth (like during my stay at the Radisson Mexico City). Once it’s upgraded the bandwidth will be spread more evenly (but this does not make it much faster). The fastest WiFi was always at the pool during my stay (10 Mbit and more).
The hotel grounds are kept in fantastic shape. It’s like a botanical garden with two huge pools. The pools are divided into an active and passive pool but in reality there is little distinction between the two. There is a rather complicated beach/ pool char reservation system in place which I honestly gave up on. You will see lots of beach towels spread around the empty chairs for most of the day and few people making use of their reserved space. I thought a first come- first serve policy would utilize the place much more efficiently.
The full breakfast is served in a big restaurant and the continental in the Giligans restaurant. To my surprise it wasn’t the horror show as I got used to in many Hilton properties (i.e. the Embassy Suites Waikiki (Review) or the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort (Review). In fact for every registered person in the room a credit of $14 + tax + mandatory 15% service would apply. There were a bunch of more options (pancakes, eggs) on the menu that you could substitute with for the same amount. Since the prices at Giligans are rather reasonable in the first place this was a fantastic deal and the breakfast a treat despite the varying quality (from excellent lox bagels an juices to mediocre espresso).
The ‘hotel beach’ is well integrated into the property but it is in fact public. Between 11 AM to 2 PM a huge number of tour groups would make use of the beach – making it extra crowded at times. After that it was a rather pleasant affair. The water was very clear, the surf gentle (with a one day exception) and the daily sunset just a beautiful delight. After 4 PM the beach would get pretty deserted and the atmosphere was much to my liking.
Immediately behind the resort are a number of strip malls. Make no mistake these are either the big fast food chains (Starbucks, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger king) or overpriced tourist traps with varying quality of food. The Italian mega restaurants Giovanni’s and the Amore Mio are of rather good quality but prices are of fine dining NYC Manhattan level. There aren’t any great food options unfortunately – you can either go cheap and fast food or decent but incredibly expensive. We usually had a light lunch and varied between the two options.
The Hilton has a coffee shop in the lobby that I only discovered on the last day! The Starbucks and Juan Valdez (which only opens at 7PM) aren’t great options.
I had the impression some of the other guests were on a all-inclusive package as they kept on ordering drinks like it’s their last day on earth. In general however most of the guests were a great bunch. Almost everyone originated from the US East or Midwest.
Another thing about Hilton Resorts that irks me is there ‘towel police’ – towels are only given out in one spot and need to be registered with your room number. There is a constant threat to charge $20 for un-returned towels. We simply left beach towels in the room (as the beach towel ht closed at 6PM every day) and never got hit with a charge.
The staff was either very friendly (breakfast, front desk and housekeeping) or super bossy (mostly related to any kind of pool activity). Almost everyone was fluent in English.
The hotel has a better pool/room ration than what you find in Hawaii. The beach is comparable with Hawaii. While it’s not exactly high end luxury it has less of a mass tourism approach than the Hawaii Hilton properties.
Room rates were an incredible $599 + 9.5 service charge and tax in early February. Pre-paid rates are usually closer to $250 + taxes and fees.