Not what they want you to think... Posted Nov 26, 2012
I just came back from a vacation at the Occidental Grand in Aruba, here's what I think: the location is great, the beach and the natural resources of this island are incredible. Rarely I have seen such clear waters and wonderful weather and although the land is not very lush, its deserted quality is not to be dismissed. Now, what they have done with this island, it's a completely different story! After asking, I was told that this hotel was built more than 20 years ago and it's apparently owned by a big company who owns 86 hotels around the world. I don't think they care much about maintenance or proper staff training. To address a few aspects of this hotel: CUSTOMER SERVICE - This is the lowest point of all, the staff is not trained at all to receive customers, the workers might be overworked and perhaps not paid enough, as a result their interest in the customers is non-existent. They are not bad people, but most likely unhappy workers who have to deal on a daily basis with disgruntled customers. This is not a good combination because as a result you will encounter problems non-stop everyday, all your requests will be almost ignored and nothing will happen unless you'll raise your voice a bit. It's very tiring having to fight over small things all day especially when you pay money to be on vacation and relax. FOOD - When advertising, they should explain that all the restaurants are not open at the same time! This is very disappointing because your choices become suddenly very limited. On top of this, you will have to book each restaurant for the whole week at once, and perhaps do it very early in the morning.. We were told to book our dinners right after checking in and it all became quickly a comedy sketch: - Annoyed receptionist, chewing gum: 'Would you like to eat at the Italian restaurant tomorrow? We have a table available for 6pm'. - Us: 'Well, actually 6 is a bit too early, how about 8pm?' - Annoyed receptionist: 'No, 6pm is the only time available'. - Us: 'Ok, how about we eat at the Asian restaurant instead?' - Increasingly annoyed receptionist: 'No, it's closed tomorrow' - Us: 'How about we have some Mexican food then?' - Fed up receptionist: 'Yes, but only if you eat at 10:30pm' - Us: 'Is this a joke?' - Receptionist: 'I don't make up the rules and it's annoying having to deal with upset customers all the time' Going on with my review about the food: stay away from the 'Oriental'. The miso soup was not made with miso, but a dark gravy-like substance that reminded me of my military service, the sushi was made with long-grain rice and smelly fish, the sake was good, but was coming from a brand bottle and they charged extra for it. The Italian restaurant 'L'Olio' is where things got interesting. For a moment we thought that we were being too demanding before we ate there, and it felt good for at least one meal, to taste normal food again. It seems like they made a little extra-effort with this restaurant, although the furniture and decor will make you wonder if Dracula could jump out from one of the drapes singing like Pavarotti before you get bitten. The food there was good, and so was the service. The only problem is that the all-inclusive deal won't allow you to eat at the same restaurant for more than one night in a row. Ouch... Enjoy the Fettuccine with Truffles because you won't be able to eat many of them in a week. The buffet restaurant food quality was close to hospital food on bad days and leaning towards airline food on good days. I guess breakfast there could be called of average quality, but all things considered, being on such a nice island in the Caribbean, the hotel management could have gone the extra mile and serve local produce and food specialties. Not one freaking coconut in sight! THE FREAKING BRACELET - They should let you know before you pay for this vacation, that you are forced to wear a plastic bracelet at all times. They will really get upset if you take it out or lose it, you will be charged $45. This to me was the biggest flaw in their weird system: why not give each customer a card, since the whole complex has all-inclusive customers? Why having to walk around with a piece of plastic at all times? I wonder how honeymooners deal with wearing a bracelet for their whole romantic holiday. Holding hands with a shiny bright yellow plastic bracelet watching the sunset? As soon as they put the bracelet on our wrists, we took it out and told them we couldn't wear it. After several upsetting remarks from more than one staff person at the concierge desk threatening to kick us out if we won't wear it, we had to agree to at least keep it loose so we could take it off at night. A small victory... If it wasn't for the... ROOM SERVICE - We had to fight literally every morning to have any type of room service. We even offered to pay, but it was always a minimum of 15 minutes on the phone getting close to a one-to-one meeting with the manager to get a pot of coffee and two croissants in the room! We were upgraded to the Royal Garden (fancy name!) but couldn't still get a cup of coffee in the morning. My final thoughts: I have seen people enjoying their staying there, it was also very loud and there were lots of outdoor 'activities', like Bingo, aerobics in the water, DJs at night playing commercial club music. This wasn't really what we expected but perhaps if you have lower expectations and don't mind being treated like they're doing you a favor while they're taking your money and treating you like a prison inmate, you might find something good in all this. I honestly enjoyed spending time in Aruba with my girlfriend but only because we took a lot of daily trips around the island (go to Arashi Beach, it's beautiful) and the all-inclusive experience became a joke between us more than anything else. I would recommend checking out other hotels on the island, if you like the same type of accommodation they have a Hyatt Regency next door and other high-rise, or there are also smaller accommodations on the other side of the island. I hope this review helps!