During a surprise birthday trip for my wife to Aruba, we tried a pair of resorts. This review focuses on the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort and a Food and Beverage heaven and hell of their own creation.
In my previous posts on the Hyatt Regency Aruba (first and second), you have seen some positive and some negative aspects of our stay but most of the negatives have been small, nitpicking little details that in aggregate add up to a lot. More importantly, this is a value for points/money issue for me and it feels like the staff is mailing it in.
In the following are some places where they shined – our best meal was at a Hyatt restaurant before we were staying there! There is also a ridiculous moment involving macaroni and cheese which perfectly demonstrates the lack of effort and the value for money problem. This is also my final installment on our trip to Aruba, One Happy Island, as long as you stay somewhere else.
We rented a car for this stay and thus had to park it. As mentioned before, the Holiday Inn Aruba Resort had free parking with ample space, it appeared many guests secured Jeeps and convertibles for their stay. When we arrived at the Hyatt just a block down the road, we were greeted, our bags were taken as was our car and we were given a slip for valet. The cost of the valet was either $15/day or $25/day. For $15/day, unless we were staying for a week, that seems pretty reasonable, as your car is pulled right up to the front on demand with the AC cooling it down, it’s an affordable luxury that I don’t mind paying to receive.
However, Hyatt Regency Aruba sends their drivers home pretty early. It was just after 10 PM when I called down to run out for a late night snack. We were told our car could not be retrieved until morning when valet returned. We were not told that we would not have access to our car, and again, for the money, it seemed like we should have been able to drive it whenever we wanted. I am not calling down at 3 AM and asking for it to be pulled around when there is limited staff, nor suggesting that in the middle of the night valets should sit idly by just in case I decide to call them. But a good rule of thumb for me would be midnight, or at least whenever the casino closes. Isn’t that a feature of most casinos?
What was more annoying than the inconvenience (since you are paying for convenience itself) was that of the three times I called for my car, they only delivered once. The other time, no one ran to go get it. Had I known this was the level of service, I would have parked it here instead (right across the street):
The running theme for this property is: service falls down, and bad value for money or points.
One major advantage of Diamond status with Hyatt Gold Passport is that breakfast is offered in properties with a lounge as well as afternoon cocktails. For hotels that do not have lounges, full breakfast for up to four people is available in hotel restaurant daily. When traveling for work, I don’t always get a chance to use this feature of my status. But when I am on holiday traveling with my family, it’s very important. It’s not only a great way to start your day, and get everyone together and on the same page but it also saves you lots of out of pocket money as breakfast tends to take the place of lunch as well (though not always).
Hyatt hotel lounges in the US tend to mail it in, while the foreign ones put on the ritz. At the Park Hyatt Beijing (yes I know that the Park chain is significantly higher than Regency properties) there were several menu order items, chefs making hot items in the restaurant, and more food than you could reasonably try even given several days on the property. Even at the Hyatt Regency Sha Tin outside of Hong Kong there were two daily menu items in the morning and two in the evening in addition to a number of hot and cold items available. For comparison here is the breakfast courtesy of the (less expensive) Park Hyatt Beijing which I will cover in more depth in the future:
This lounge was an afterthought. On every other floor, the elevator spills into a foyer and then a long hallway. On the left and right of the foyer there are two rooms and the rest are down the hallway leading to the ocean. This lounge took the place of those two rooms which meant that you got your food across the hall in one area, while you ate it in another area, both of which were very small. It was as if they looked at the economics of letting Diamond members eat in the restaurant versus half-assing the lounge and forfeiting two rooms and decided on the latter. Panoramic shots are great in some situations, in others, they are poor representations, but as you can see in the below shot, food on the left in a converted end cap room, a hallway to other rooms down the middle, checkin to the right and further to the right another converted guest room acting as the lounge seating.
Every Hyatt features smoked salmon, capers, a cheese board, fruit choices and a variety of breads. That’s the minimum and we didn’t get much past that. There was a hot egg dish that was flavorless and tasteless (which at first may seem like the same thing, but really speaks to how the dish tasted and the class for which it was delivered). The second item was hot oatmeal.
Because we are to the point of the post where the reader starts rolling their eyes with my annoyances, I remind you that this is an issue of value, and not cost or selection.
For some airport hotel Hyatt Regency, the spread would have been fine, and perhaps even appropriate. For one of the most expensive properties in the chain (when using points), it was dismal, and other properties are making money doing a lot more for their guests.
We are in a tropical paradise and the juices were clearly canned or poured from a box. The previous week in a city location (Park Hyatt Beijing) for less points (20,000 instead of 25,000) or less money ($220/night at time of booking compared with $330/night) the experience was different. When my daughter wanted apple juice which was not on the menu, they didn’t even think about it, they just said, “no problem” and juiced an entire apple for her. In Aruba, where fresh produce abounds, juices were poured from a box. That’s just not trying. There were also no local offerings which, again, is just deciding not to try. What about some fish, we are on the sea? Nope – deli chipped turkey and olives instead, an odd combination for breakfast. I understand that our European readers (and there are plenty of visitors from the Netherlands to the former colony) might prefer this, however at least when considering that the General Manager indicated 90% of traffic was the United States, it seems like an odd choice.
It was almost as if the management either hadn’t stayed in another Hyatt property, or just didn’t care about the guest experience. Knowing that Mr. Bunde has been with the brand for 25 years including stops in Hawaii and Curacao, I am sure that it’s not inexperience, so then is it apathy or is he relying more on his direct report managers than he should? Is his dedication to the guest experience not filtering down? Maybe it is more that some Americans, used to paying this much for Caribbean destinations simply don’t mind. Since we have seen what Hyatts are capable of for far less money, it seems that this might be the case rather than budget savings.
We arrived the first day a little late, and when you arrive late to any buffet (lounge or otherwise) you should avoid asking for anything to be replenished and eat quickly out of respect for the staff. We were working on that, I was getting our daughter set up with a plate and started to eat when I noticed that almost everything was gone from the buffet table. I turned the responsibilities over to my wife and went in to try and grab something – anything – for breakfast.
I was met with disdain and told that the lounge closes for breakfast at 10 AM and it was 10:15. This caused me to look at my phone and it had just crossed 10:08. I don’t want to get in a pissing match with the lounge attendant about what 10:08 and 10:15 mean because, in the end, I am the one who was late to breakfast. But most clubs, that focus on the guest would have popped their heads around the corner (since the eating area is across a hall and in another room from the food area) and at least say that they are picking items up and that you should come get something if you want it.
One final note on the fire drill that was the lounge clean up. On “One Happy Island” they certainly move at island pace which is fine, that’s just how it goes when you visit an island. The one exception to this was the velociraptor-style approach where the staff worked together to herd the food into the kitchenette in stealth mode. I had not before, nor at any point following, seen anyone move at the speed and quickness of those ladies working the lounge when it was time to put food away. I took a picture but it was blurred due to their quickness (not really, but you can imagine what it would be like if I did).
I would love to be able to tell you about the afternoon offerings during our stay but we never bothered. If they weren’t going to put in the effort when a lot of people were in the lounge how would it be any better in the evening? Would I go waste my afternoon there out of spite? I had better things to do.
I returned the following morning only to take pictures because I know that I personally look at the lounge reviews when I am planning a trip and the food offerings were much the same.
I did make the Food and Beverage manager aware of my concerns and he apologized that I felt the way that I did, but did not acknowledge that he saw anything wrong with it, did not make any inroads as to what he would do differently, and generally had nothing to say as I cited in writing and in person my issues with the F&B at that location. I had voiced my concern with the staff who suggested I write a letter. I don’t like to write letters (emails) about service issues, however, these issues were all correctable and could have made this experience a 10 instead of a 5. When I wrote in the F&B manager requested a meeting with me to discuss it, but then didn’t say anything. I would have thought he would have at least defended his position, maybe there is a good reason why their lounge food is so limited.
Mexicado – Mexican Restaurant
For my wife’s birthday, the five of us left the Holiday Inn Resort Aruba just down the road in pursuit of a grilled dinner of some sort (my wife is not great at making hugely important decisions like where to eat, grilled was as close as we could come). After walking less than a quarter of a mile we found ourselves in front of the Hyatt. Some hotels know I write for a travel blog and we tend to try and avoid an artificial experience in most instances to avoid confusing readers or misleading them about an unusually good experience. Showing up a couple of days early, bypassing the front desk and going straight to the restaurant (this one is located in a stunning lagoon) usually means I will have an experience like any other guest at the hotel, or patron from the outside.
Our experience was amazing.
Tortilla chips were made in-house, cut and fried fresh leaving them warm but crispy. There was a homemade salsa (not hot enough but we fixed that) that I could have drunk from the bowl. We ordered a ceviche sampler to start, and some nachos. While the nachos used liquid nacho cheese (a big no-no for a Mexican restaurant that was otherwise authentic), I can’t lie – I couldn’t stop eating them. Megan (my wife’s best friend) and I split a pitcher of handmade margaritas on the rocks with only real lime juice, triple sec and tequila – no sour mix needed. It was outstanding. My wife and I split an entree while Megan and Jason each had their own, and our daughter helped herself to whatever she liked from everyone’s plate, including theirs of course.
In the end, it was not cheap. Jason’s margaritas (he had two) were $12 each, our pitcher was $22, appetizers were $15ish and entrees were $30s to 50s. There were a few rounds of chips and salsa and a birthday cake at the end. We did not pick up the tab, our very generous friends wanted to treat my wife for her 30th birthday. However, if we had I would have said that the value for money was exactly as it should be. The margaritas were worth the premium,
If you happen to be in Aruba whether you are staying on property or off, do make Mexicado a destination. There are plenty of chain US restaurants outside the hotel that you can try and taste exactly the same as it does at home, Mexicado was special and worth the trip.
Paying for Water
We have now been to more than 50 countries and countless cities across the world, first, second and third world destinations on every continent except Antarctica. Some hotels charge for bottles of water and so do not. I don’t mind paying for bottled water, we don’t drink from the tap in Pittsburgh at home so this is not a huge deal. But, if we are in a location where they suggest you do not drink from the tap, there is typically a couple of free bottles of water in the room.
Hyatt Regency Aruba left us with no free bottles and again, we understand there are premiums at this property which was very nice otherwise, however, a reasonable charge to me is $3USD for a bottle of water at most. For a bottle of Aquafina to ring in at $6.75 when the tap is off limits is close to price gouging. It’s sunny outside, it’s hot, and tap water is not suitable for mass consumption – it just seems again, highly unreasonable. What is perhaps more frustrating is that VOSS (purportedly a premium water) was substantially larger and offered at the beach for about the same price.
The size was almost 2:1 and the cost was $.25 more expensive, delivered by a waiter with my toes in the sand. It just doesn’t make sense, and again, it makes it feel like the room price was so terribly inflated that it was rude.
Footprints and Macaroni
My wife and I rarely do a special dinner on the beach, but as the hotel offered it and it was the Sherpstress’ 30th birthday, it seemed like a nice time to book one of these romantic, white table cloth dinners on the beach.
It’s about the details here at the Hyatt Regency Aruba, unless it comes to service, punctuation or spelling. (*from)
There are some gripes below that some of you will not like. If your tolerance for nitpicking has already exceeded its limit, let’s just skip to the summary now. If you are planing on possibly booking one of these romantic sunset dinners, please read on.
The name of the beachside restaurant is “Footprints” and they did create a romantic setting. They were accommodating to our daughter as much as possible, and we appreciated the effort. Some things cannot be avoided, like sand from the beach blowing into our food. There’s nothing the hotel can do about that right? Still, for $130 for the two of us and our daughter, it was unpleasant to crunch sand with our entrees, salad and especially dessert.
The food itself was pretty good, though not to the same quality and standard of Mexicado. This may be due to the distance as the food was cooked inside, placed on room service trays and then delivered to the table. There was some cheesy music playing that some people might love, it was not for us.
Service was lacking generally. The dinner service itself was very, very slow and we even had time to play with the Sherpita on the beach in between meals, which was fine, but she has a short attention span. Three courses on the beach over two hours just seemed like a really long time.
The child’s menu, however, was the perfect embodiment of the hotel’s approach to guests, value, and food service. One of the choices was “Pasta with Sauce” choices of cheese sauce or red. At a cost of $9, we thought we would get some rigatoni, or penne noodles with a made-from-scratch bechemel or alfredo. It didn’t have to be fancy, but we expected something they made.
Instead, we got a microwaved serving of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. For the $1 box of mac and cheese they couldn’t even be bothered to cook it on the stove. How do I know it was microwaved you ask? Because the top was molten lava hot and the middle was out of the fridge/freezer cold. I understand that there are costs, and how much does my kid really care about what kind of cheese sauce and noodles are there, the answer is she doesn’t. But she is not the one picking up the tab, and if you are passing it off as ‘pasta with cheese sauce’ you are trying to make it more than it is. Just call it by name and maybe we still would have ordered it, but I doubt it.
I understand the “resort tax” you pay by eating on the beach and staying on an island when I am in an airport I know that the same price for a Chili’s cheeseburger will be 30-50% higher inside the terminal – fair enough. But Hyatt seemed a little deceptive on this point, and it reiterated the “mailing it in” I discussed earlier. If it was a cost issue, it’s hard to imagine that a handful of noodles and their own alfredo costs more than it does to import Kraft, and it would be assumed to be easier and faster. The noodles are quickly blanched, and the sauce is already there for other dishes; cheaper, faster, better. Nope – just throw it in the microwave and charge them $9 (plus service, hotel tax, and tip).
It was not one single issue that ruined this otherwise nice property for us. The hotel was really beautiful, the grounds were fairly well cared for (there were a couple of swamps/ponds under construction or renovation) and the staff was mostly nice. The problems were two-fold; first, service was inadequate and staff members from the Food and Beverage manager down were interested in the minimum rather than exceeding customer expectations and the value for money (or point redemption) was terrible. For a hotel that charges 3x the rate of the Holiday Inn down the street with the exact same view, same beach, and similar rooms, you should expect three times the quality, three times the service.
To put in perspective how expensive this property is in terms of points required per night, at 25,000 you could stay instead at the Hyatt Ziva or Zilara all-inclusives elsewhere in the Caribbean ($350-500/night), the Park Hyatt Maldives ($1000/night), Park Hyatt Buenos Aires ($400/night), Park Hyatt Chicago ($500/night), Andaz Maui ($400/night). In fact, of the 600+ hotels in the Hyatt system only seven properties are more expensive than this one.
Regardless of the internal factors within Hyatt that inform award pricing, management should realize they are in a certain classification of very high standard hotels. To remind you, it is not one issue but all of the following that compounded to create a substandard experience for the guest. I won’t be back.
- Problematic pool chair reservations
- Palapa issues
- Charging insane amounts for water ($6.75/bottle)
- Parking gouging
- Valet service
- The lounge itself
- The service in the lounge
- The food in the lounge
- Sandy romantic dinners
- Kraft Macaroni and Cheese at depression-era inflation ($9)
- Apathy from management and staff
- Terribly over-priced in cash or points
Have you stayed at this property? Did you have a better or worse experience than we did? Where is your go-to resort in Aruba?