Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tamarijn Aruba All Inclusive- Food, Beverage & Service

Food was excellent throughout the resort and there was always something for everyone, including the children. For food the buffet opened at 7 a.m. and Pizza per Tutti stayed open until 1 a.m. For a quick snack there was always popcorn. They made it throughout the day at per Tutti and dish it out fresh in small paper bags. My niece complained the pizza at the pizza bar had a "plain" sauce and was "not like the NY pizza she was used to.” She was supplied with oregano and red pepper- problem solved. We were totally taken by surprise by some of the more upscale offerings on the lunch buffet such as scallops in wine sauce and paella complete with shrimp, mussels and crabmeat (though I think that may have been imitation). Steaks at the Red Parrot were better than the ones we have been served on Princess and Celebrity Cruise Lines and in my opinion, the Churasco was better than El Gaucho's. The portions were also more than plentiful. If I had to say any part of the food was lacking it was the cakes for dessert, though there were a couple of chocolate cakes that were not half bad. Is anyone going to allow his vacation to be judged upon desserts?

My parents arrived at the Tamarijn a few hours prior to us so Mom was in charge of making dinner reservations. She was able to make reservations for the first three nights of our stay. Reservations the first day work out essentially, you get whichever seating's are left for the night you arrive and, except for those who have checked in already before you that day, you have first dibs on the next two nights. Then the following morning beginning at 8 a.m. you can make reservations for your fourth night's dinner and so on for the successive days. My husband is an early riser so was there at 8 a.m. each morning. The resort was full capacity for some of the nights we were there. On New Year's Eve, because of all the new check-ins of those who could book the 3 nights in advance, instead of 8:30 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. our reservation for that night was 8:45 p.m. We do not mind eating late, especially on New Year's Eve, a 15 minute difference was no big deal. Most every other evening we were able to reserve a table at 7:30 p.m. It was very sad arriving at the restaurants, which were supposed to be booked solid, and they sat half empty. From talking to the staff, they explained that from drinking all day, people get tired, take a nap and then sleep right through their dinner reservation.

You cannot discuss dining without mentioning the service. Again, a matter of opinion, we did not have high expectations for the service at the resort after reading negative things throughout the internet. We again, were very pleasantly surprised at how good the service was. Those Arubans who were outstanding included: Concierge Iris; at the Cunucu Terrace: Iso and Elvira; Tamarijn bartenders: John and Carmen and Calvin at the Red Parrot. These are just a few of the folks at the Tamarijn and Divi who made our vacation so enjoyable. I also cannot leave out the activities staff, which no matter how few participants they had, just carried on in their jobs trying their best to get the crowd involved. The biggest draw of the day was always poolside bingo. I knew the ladies from the kid’s club were winners when they surprised the kids during pool games by jumping in to the surprise of everyone, with all their clothes on! The kids thought it was cool, and so did I.

My husband was not keen on tipping at an all inclusive where the tipping was "included," but at my prodding, he quickly learned that a $5 tip here and there was worth a ton of good will. He visited the concierge first thing 8 a.m. each morning to make our dinner reservations. Twice he came forth with a $5 tip and both reactions were the same, utter shock. Evidently no one at the resort ever tips the concierge? Must have been a truly memorable moment for sure if dh received a hug and kiss from Iris the concierge as we were departing. $5 first thing in the a.m. helped us get prompt service the rest of the day at Pizza per Tutti, meaning if we walked up the same time as someone else, we were handed the drink first, rather than having to wait and the drink being slid across the bar. This also helped our dd who is a little on the short side stand out among the crowd when she was waiting to be served. Dd was having a difficult time in the beginning getting served her afternoon ice cream. When they found out she was with us that took care of that problem too. LOL...Was it a problem? Where was she rushing off to anyway?

There was no beach or pool service, but the bars served just about every kind of tropical drink imaginable. Alcohol served was name brands. They only served one brand of wine, Colon, from Argentina. Dh liked the merlot, Mom liked the Chardonnay, and I liked the Pinot Grigio. Beer is only available on tap. All bars served the local Balashi beer. Balashi is a light lager similar to Amstel Bright and Corona. Some of the bars carried Amstel and Heineken. For beverages, or food, for that matter, neither beach nor pool service was offered. If you ordered something at Pizza per Tutti and wanted to sit at the table and chairs they have under the canopy overlooking the boardwalk and ocean, the bartenders would gladly bring your food over to you after it was cooked.

Breakfast buffet at the Cunucu Terrace at the Tamarijn was more than satisfying. There is a problem if you could not find something to your liking. Offerings included: yogurts, small platter of meats and cheese, chunks of fresh fruit: pineapple, orange, mango, melons, eggs cooked to order, hard boiled eggs, French toast, pancakes, pastries and breads, corned beef hash, scrambled eggs, sausage links, sausage patties, bacon, Dutch potatoes (baked cubed potatoes with onion) and juices: fruit punch, orange, grapefruit, tomato and cranberry among others. Dh did not particularly care for the coffee, but then again we have never traveled where he liked the coffee as much as he does his own at home. It is interesting to note that on New Year’s morning, dh and I decided to head to the Divi’s breakfast buffet and in addition to the above, they offered lox as well as egg’s Benedict and poached eggs. Overall the breakfast was a little more upscale, but if you do not like the walk or the even longer wait for the golf cart shuttle there from the Tamarijn, it is not a huge deal if you skip it. As a nicely added touch, on both Christmas and New Year’s morning, the resorts offered a choice of Mimosa or champagne at the breakfast buffet.

Monday Lunch Buffet
Cold Buffet: chef salad, nicoise salad, beet salad, fresh cut fruits, fresh cut fruits, salad bar; Soup of the Day: cream of asparagus; Hot Buffet: wild rice with mushrooms, macaroni and cheese, deep fried plantain and potatoes, BBQ ribs, turkey and mushroom; Action Station: chicken nuggets with honey mustard sauce, pork sate with peanut sauce, stir fried vegetables, Cajun mahi-mahi, grilled beef steak with chimichurri; Sandwiches: hamburger, hot dog, tuna salad, smoked turkey-tomato, pastrami-mozzarella; Dessert: variety of mousse and cakes.

Tuesday Lunch Buffet
Cold Buffet: crabmeat salad, baby corn salad, coleslaw, fresh cut fruits, salad bar; Soup of the Day: beef bullion with noodles; Hot Buffet: rice pilaf with curry, penne with basil pesto, mashed potatoes, cauliflower in cream sauce, Cajun beef stew; Action Station: fried calamari, beef skewer with spicy dip, pork loin stir fry, chicken stir fry with vegetables; Sandwiches: hamburger, hot dog, egg salad, gouda-lettuce-tomato, turkey-cheese-bacon; Dessert: variety of mousse and cakes.

Wednesday Lunch Buffet
Cold Buffet: Titi shrimp salad, turkey salad, potato salad, green bean salad, salad bar; Soup of the Day: Boston clam chowder; Hot Buffet: Cajun rice, tri-color rottini with pesto, potato bonne femms, sautéed zucchini, spicy chicken wings, pork in tomato basil sauce; Action Station: French fries, onion rings, fish skewer, stir fry beef, pork in mushroom sauce; Sandwiches: hamburger, hot dog, salami, roast beef-mozzarella; Dessert: variety of mousse and cakes.

Thursday Lunch Buffet
Cold Buffet: Italian salad, bean salad, egg salad, salad bar; Soup of the Day: Potato garlic; Hot Buffet: white rice with raisins and butter, penne carbonara, boiled potato in tomato sauce, mixed vegetables; steamed mussels in wine sauce, sweet and sour vegetables; Action Station: mini croquettes, chicken sate with peanut sauce, beef stir fry, pork in sun dried tomato pesto; Sandwiches: hamburger, hot dog, shrimp salad, pastrami-mustard, mozzarella-salami-onion; Dessert: variety of mousse and cakes.

Friday Lunch Buffet
Cold Buffet: mixed seafood pasta salad, beef potato salad, kidney bean salad, salad bar; Soup of the Day: Goulash; Hot Buffet: fried rice, bow tie pasta with four cheese sauce, fried potatoes and peppers, Asian mixed vegetables, BBQ chicken drumsticks, jerk beef ribs; Action Station: fish fritters with Thai sauce, meatball onion skewer, pork in pepper sauce, chicken with fajita spices, French fries; Sandwiches: hamburger, hot dog, prosciutto-provolone-pepperoni-onions; Dessert: variety of mousse and cakes.

Saturday Lunch Buffet
Cold Buffet: chef salad, tri-color pasta with pesto, rice-fruit-raisin and nut salad, salad bar; Soup of the Day: chicken consommé with vegetables; Hot Buffet: rice with herbs, fettuccine with tomato basil sauce, curried boiled potatoes, corn on the cob, fish fillet in Creole sauce, beef stew; Action Station: breaded pork in zingara sauce, beef kabob, grilled chicken in BBQ sauce, mini pastechi; Sandwiches: hamburger, hot dog, bacon-lettuce-tomato, cheese-mushroom-pizza sauce, salamon salda; Dessert: variety of mousse and cakes.

Sunday Lunch Buffet
Cold Buffet: chicken vegetable salad, four bean salad, beef macaroni salad, salad bar; Soup of the Day: mushroom; Hot Buffet: paella, farfalle with mushrooms, potato quiche, yellow squash with onions, pork Roast with mustard sauce, sesame chicken in five spice sauce; Action Station: fried fish with tarter sauce, chicken with sweet and sour sauce, pork in pepper corn sauce, soy beef and vegetables; Sandwiches: hamburger, hot dog, crabmeat salad, roast beef-lettuce-peppers, ham-cheese-pineapple; Dessert: variety of mousse and cakes.

When we did not eat at the buffet for lunch, we ate at Pizza Per Tutti. We also walked over to per Tutti for most of our beverages since it was so close to our room. For water or soda, we walked to the other side of the swimming pool to Coconuts where there was a self-service station. My personal favorites at per Tutti were the made to order, thin crust pizza with mushrooms, tomato, peppers, onions and olives, the Mexican fries which are topped with salsa, sour cream, cheese sauce and guacamole as well as the onion rings. My Mom loved their garlic bread, grandmother enjoyed the garlic bread and, of course all the kids loved the chicken nuggets, ice cream, frozen virgin drinks and grape soda. In June I will try the Tuna on French bread as well as the meatball sandwich on French bread. If you were still hungry, everyday, many times a day they were making pop corn. Popcorn was dispensed plain so low calorie which makes it even better. On the subject of calories, dh and I thought we would gain some weight on this trip with all the terrific food, and it turned out we did not. He and I came to the conclusion that with all the walking back and forth between the bar and the buffet or per Tutti, we were burning the calories as we consumed them.

Some days my grandmother did not feel up to walking to the Cunucu Terrace so my brother or I, would fix her a plate “to go”. Usually, one of her favorites, a hot dog with sauerkraut or a nice salad from the salad bar, and she would eat it at the table on her patio overlooking the ocean.

In that we prefer a sit down dinner, by choice, our family did not dine at any of the dinner buffets. Each night there was a different theme. Menus were posted following lunch at the Cunucu Terrace, so you had the ability of deciding whether you wished to eat the buffet for dinner or ala carte, if you could still get a reservation.

For our ala carte meals, we ate many terrific meals at all the restaurants: Ginger, Red Parrot, Paparazzi and the Palm Court Grill. Being at the resort for 12 nights, and so the restaurant food did not become boring, we did rotate restaurants each night and overall were extremely happy with not only the quality, but the portion sizes. Some of the men ordered, appetizer, soup AND salad each night and were never told no or limited in any way. They just ordered whatever they wished. On Christmas and New Years the Divi and Tamarijn’s restaurants offered a special holiday menu with only three entrees. My Mom is a finicky eater and did not care for any items offered. One night she was able to order a Caesar Salad which was not on the menu and which she loves anyway. New Years night at the Red Parrott, she asked for broiled shrimp which they not only said was not a problem, but they even offered to prepare with garlic for her. Every night the server received a $10 tip. Too much or too little or not necessary I suppose is based on personal opinion. Tips were always gratefully accepted.

We ate only once at Ginger since my parent's are real fond lovers of that type of cuisine. We only ate twice at the Palm Court Grill since there were 10 of us and preferred eating together. My personal favorites were the Caesar Salad at Paparazzi and the Red Parrot, the Dutch Onion Soup at the Red Parrot and the Churasco a Moda at the Red Parrot. This steak was served with a delicious, hint of garlic, creamy "almost" mashed potato as well as tomato vegetable relish and orange soy barbeque sauce. These were spicy, which I have a hard time with, so just asked for them on the side the next time. Special requests like that were never problems.

At Ginger, the Asian restaurant, some of the items we sampled included: Appetizers: Spring Rolls, Sushi, Green Curry Mussels, Tempura Mix (included fish besides the Vegetables), Miso Soup, Won Ton Soup and Entrees: Tokyo Beef Noodles, Spicy Chicken, Spicy Green Curry Chicken and Mango Chicken.

The Palm Court Grill Restaurant was a different concept. The table is your cook top here and you cook your own food. You grill your own two choices of Shrimp, Pork, Chicken or Beef. Some in our family just doubled up and ordered two beef or two shrimp and it was never a problem. Before bringing out your entree for cooking, there was a choice of two salads and two soups were offered as well. Along with your selections for the entree, each table was also served a fresh vegetable mix for grilling, French fries or fried rice, and three yummy sauces: Chimichurri, teriyaki and garlic mayonnaise. Besides the ice cream, the best dessert was found here, what they referred to as cream puffs! In actuality, even better, Profiteroles!

What would an all inclusive resort be without an Italian restaurant? At the Tamarijn it was called Paparazzi Restaurant. I would label the food here more Aruban Italian, than true Italian but we made out just fine. With that said, I was never daring enough to try the Lasagna al Forno with cottage cheese. Perhaps next time I will be daring enough to try it? In the 12 years we have been traveling to Aruba, never have we found a true Italian meal. No matter where we have been it has always had that blend of Aruba mixed in. Imo, it would only be the real Italians looking for some of Mom's "homemade gravy" who would have a tough time at Paparazzi since again, like all the restaurants, there was something for everyone.

At Paparazzi we sampled just about everything. Appetizers: Bruschetta, Prosciutto E Sopressata, Carpaccio Di Pesce, Caesar Salad, Beef consommé with ravioli and Entrees: Ravioli Al Formaggio (Cheese ravioli in a creamy mushroom sauce served with basil and parmesan), Pasta Di Penne (Mediterranean ratatouille with penne pasta and tomato), Frutti Di Mare (Spaghetti with shrimp, mussels and squid in a creamy crustacean sauce), one of our favorites: Rinforzare E Salsa Delia Senape- Grilled beef tenderloin with cheese ravioli and grain mustard butter sauce and Dessert here: try the Torta Di Formaggio Di Amaretto- Amaretto cheesecake with marinated raisins and rum raisin ice cream. No need to go out drinking when you get a taste of their rum raisin ice cream. With the amount of rum in that ice cream the spoon stands up all by itself.

The other most popular ala carte restaurant is the Red Parrot Restaurant located at the Divi Resort. Items we sample here included: Appetizers: Nicoise Salad, Caesar Salad, BBQ Chicken Wrap, Island Seafood Gazpacho, Bonito Carpaccio (tuna loin), French Delight (Baked Brie cheese on toast served over poached apples finished with honey and red wine drizzle), Chorizo Delight (dh's least favorite item in all the restaurants), Dutch Onion Soup and Entrees: Creole Snapper, Coconut Shrimp, Lomito Famoso (grilled medallions of beef tenderloin accompanied by a garnish of potatoes, onions, bacon and carrots served with a creamy pepper sauce) and Churasco a Moda (Marinated and grilled sirloin steak served with creamy garlic potatoes, tomato vegetable relish and orange soy barbeque sauce).

If there were one thing I could fault on the service, it would be the golf cart shuttles between the resorts. Sure it is an easy walk, for most adults, but for my elderly grandmother as well as mother who had a hip replaced less than a year ago, it was not possible. The shuttles were just not dependable. Whether it was the mornings to get a ride over to the Divi for breakfast or even worse, to come back from dinner at the Divi’s Red Parrot, either way expect a wait. One night we waited a half hour for the shuttle from the Divi back to the Tamarijn. There were plenty of shuttles around but they were taking folks back and forth between wherever and the Alhambra Casino.