“Why wouldn’t you stay at a resort right on the beach?” questioned friends and online friends alike when we mentioned that we were staying at the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino for five nights during our first trip to Aruba. As some of the only people who pretty much despise heat and sand, the idea of staying Downtown and away from the crowds appealed to us – as did the idea of getting to visit the Renaissance exclusive island.
The Renaissance Aruba is divided is essentially divided into two hotels. The Marina is adults-only and boasts one “infinity pool” overlooking a road, the marina, and the cruise port. There is also a surplus of seating and lounge areas by the pool where you’re able to order drinks and food from the Blue Bar located directly inside the lobby. We ended up booking the Marina as the updated rooms seemed a bit more modernized and well designed – and we didn’t necessarily dislike the idea of “no kids”.
The Ocean Suites said is family-friendly, made up one-bedroom suites and timeshares, and boasts two pools, one of which has a swim-up bar in and in-pool lounge chairs. Unlike the Marina side, the Ocean Suites side also has a small “beach”, essentially a sand-surrounded lagoon. But this does give guests more of a beachfront vibe and there’s even a net for some beach volleyball.
Fortunately, there is a shuttle that runs back and forth between both hotels and you’re able to use all pools, restaurants, and facilities from either side when staying at the resort. For those who’d prefer not to wait for the shuttle or groups of more than four, the resorts are no more than a ten minute walk away from each other at most.
THE ROOMS AND AND VIEWS
The two benefits of staying on the Ocean Suites side would be that it’s family-friendly and offers room sizes for those visiting with children or additional family members; and that it sits on a beach as opposed to the adults-only side that views the marina or island.
When booking an Ocean Suites room, you do have the option to book an ocean view room as well as two other views. I don’t have any photos of the actual rooms on the Ocean Suites side but they’re easy to find online. And while they do appear in need of a decor refurbishment, it is nice that each room has a bedroom (note: these bedrooms do not have windows), a living room with a pull-out sofa, and a kitchenette with a full fridge. For families or those planning extended stays, it’s easy to see the benefits. The Marina on the other hand only offers standard rooms with either a king bed or two doubles, and various views.
The least preferable view offered is an atrium view which essentially means your window pears into the large lobby of the resort. The two more scenic views offer an island view which can vary (one of our friends had a room with a view of Zara, while we had a view of rooftops, the marina and what appeared to be a church); and an ocean view, which technically offers a further view of the ocean and the docked cruises. Though, we actually got lucky as our island-view room had a very semi-ocean view to the right.
Many visitors choose to stay in the Palm Beach area, primarily to stay at a beach-facing resort or it’s proximity to the beach and certain activities. Personally, after visiting the Palm Beach area, we were happy that we chose to stay at the Renaissance which is located in downtown Oranjestad. We were steps away from a shopping area, literally connected to a mall, across the street from two popular restaurants but able to walk to local beaches if we chose.
THE RENAISSANCE PRIVATE ISLAND
The most popular reason for staying at the Renaissance hotel, as was ours, is that hotel guests have access to the Renaissance Private Island (informally known across social media as Flamingo Beach), one of only two private-islands on Aruba. There is even a boat that picks you up in the middle of the lobby, takes you through a tunnel, out into the water and directly to the island. There is also an additional pick-up stop outside on the Ocean Suites side. All-in-all, the ride took no more than 7-8 minutes.
Renaissance Private Island is divided into two halves – Flamingo Beach, home to about 7 flamingos and Iguana Beach, where you’ll find several large Iguanas. Though, you’ll come across a couple of other beach birds and at least three different types of lizards on both sides. Similar to the resort, Flaming Beach is adults-only except for the hours of 9-10am while Iguana Beach is family-friendly for the entire day.
Q: How’s the water?
A: In order to protect visitors, the actual ocean is walled off with giant boulders to avoid swimmers being pulled out to sea due to strong currents. So don’t expect open-ocean. However, you should expect a rocky and in certain spots, a mossy floor. We read several reviews from folks who detested the water because of this, however, we found it easy to get over. If you think the floor will be uncomfortable for you, I suggest purchasing a pair of water shoes. A couple of my friends love these as they look just like a pair of sneakers as opposed to traditional water shoes and can be worn out-of-the water as well. If you enjoy snorkeling, you’ll also find several types of fish in the water as well as a crabs and a couple of other sea critters.
Q: Is there food and drinks for purchase on the island?
Yes, and some of the offerings are delicious! The Mangrove Beach Bar and Papagayo Bar and Grill offer several lunch and drink options. We had rented a cabana for our full-Renaissance Island day so we were limited in regards to the signature cocktail options; but in terms of drinks, you can’t go wrong with their frozen options, especially the Mango Daiquiri and Pina Colada.
I had scanned the menu and knew before we even arrived that I wanted the shrimp tacos to which they absolutely did not disappoint. Others in my party enjoyed the Renaissance Burger, the Grilled Octopus, and Chicken Salad Sandwich.
Q: Are there additional activities on the island?
A: There is a nature trail that begins on either Flamingo or Iguana beach and leads to the opposite end. According to the welcome sign, the entire walk takes about 10-minutes. While we did see a few hermit crabs and lizards, there wasn’t much additional to see and it’s the only place in all of Aruba that we experienced bugs (perhaps mosquitos?) and one of my friends got pretty badly bitten up. I’m not saying not to do it, but I’d probably throw on a shirt over your bathing suit and use some bug spray. But even if you stray from the nature path you’ll come across sea birds, flamingos, small lizards, and very large Iguanas.
There is also a gift shop where you can rent kayaks and floats for the day.
Q: Was the cabana rental worth it?
For starters, there are five cabanas on each beach which means ten cabanas total. Unsurprisingly, they do sell out very quickly. A hotel confirmation number is needed to make your reservation via. the resort’s official cabana site so be sure to check for availability soon after booking your hotel stay.
We saw several folks condone the cabanas for being too expensive or for being pointless since it’s not too difficult to grab a chair on either beach. However, the beach itself is a bit small and if you’re planning to spend a good portion of the day on the island, then I felt that the opportunity for shade and items included made the cabana worth it. If you’re splitting it with a few friends or family members then it’s even more worth it. We rented our cabana June of this year (2021) and the four smaller cabanas (designed to fit four people) were running approximately $370 USD before tax.
Each beach has a “special” cabana on the end closest to the water, which are designed for six people and offer additional perks. The Iguana Beach special cabana has a small water slide, which would definitely be added fun for kids. The Flamingo Beach special cabana has a large bed swing, which can fit up to three people. Both of these cabanas ran for $420 USD before tax. We ended up grabbing the Flamingo Beach cabana with the swing and it was well worth it, if only for getting to nap and swing to the sound of the ocean.
All cabanas come with the following:
- Two full-face snorkel masks
- Two floats
- A bottle of Champagne
- A fruit tray
- A couple of jars of trail mix
- 2 bottles of Voss still water (3 bottles if you note 5/6 people on your large cabana reservation)
- 2 bottles of Voss sparkling water (same as above)
- A server who will bring any food and drink orders directly to you cabana
The cabana added a little extra sense of luxury and fun, our servers were outstanding and friendly, and it was awesome having a place to cool down in the sun. In my opinion, reserving a cabana was 100% worth it and I would do it again should we return.
Q: Is there any way to visit the Renaissance Private Island without staying on property?
A: Yes! There are a select number of day-passes offered at $125 USD per person (which include one cocktail and lunch at Papagayo’s) which can be purchased here. Please note that these book up ridiculously fast and you should attempt to grab your day passes as soon as your booking window opens. As of now, new day passes are released every Saturday at 9AM EST for the following week.
Alternatively, you can book an open-air massage with the Renaissance’s Okeanos Spa. While the physical spa in on the Renaissance Aruba Marina property, open-air massages are done in a private palapa on Flamingo Beach. My boyfriend and I ended up visiting the island two-days before our full-day visit as we had booked an Open-Air Couples Massage, which included a 50-minute full-body massage and two Frozen drink vouchers to be redeemed on the beach. Not only was this session entirely relaxing, due in part to the Aruba air and ocean sounds happening around us but if you aren’t a hotel guest, you can then stay on the island for the remainder of the day.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS ON RENAISSANCE ARUBA PROPERTY
There are several restaurant and bar options between both halves of the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino. The first two that I’ll mention are the two I personally tried while staying at the Renaissance.
The first is The Blue Bar, which is located in the lobby on the Marina side and a walk away from the pool. It’s essentially the first spot you pass while checking in and a great spot to hang out at until your room is ready. The vibe is laid-back and food and drinks from this bar can be ordered to the pool or your poolside table as well. Highly recommend the Renaissance Burger, the Asian-style wings, and any of the sushi rolls.
The second is Fresco, which serves as the breakfast buffet spot for guests in the morning as well as an Italian(ish) eatery in the evening. I say “ish” as intertwined the small Italian menu are random items like quesadillas and tacos. The vibe in the afternoon is very casual but romantic for those looking for a date-night spot after a long day. Located on the Ocean Suites side, Fresco sits beside the larger family pool and glows red giving it a cool ambiance. Highly recommend the Caesar Salad with chicken, which and not to be dramatic, was the most delicious Caesar salad I have ever had; and the pizzas, my favorite being the Ghetto Veccio.
We also ordered in-room dining twice. For breakfast, we had gotten the French toast, a side of bacon, and the best yogurt parfait I have ever eaten. We also ordered a pot of tea and a chicken quesadilla with chips one night after a less than spectacular meal not on Renaissance property – budget friendly and tasty.
But you’ll also find several other options:
- Bar Sole – a swim-up bar on the Ocean Suites side; highly recommend the Pina Coladas
- Aquarius – Buffet style and a la carte Aruban cuisine, as well as breakfast
- LG Smith’s Steakhouse – an upscale steakhouse and the resort’s signature restaurant
THE RENAISSANCE ARUBA CASINOS
The primary casino on Renaissance Aruba property is the Wind Creek Casino on the Marina side but there is a Seaport Casino (owned by Wind Creek) almost next door to the Ocean Suites side of the hotel and next to several restaurants and shops. The casinos may be the only thing that let us down. Those in our party who enjoy a bit of gambling tend to enjoy strategy games like Blackjack or Roulette, however each casino has maybe one of each of these tables running (which were also difficult to get on) while virtually 98% of the casino is dedicated to slot machines. But if you enjoy spending some time at the slot machines, then you’ll have the opportunity to do so at your convenience regardless of which side you stay on.
ALL-INCLUSIVE OPTIONS AT THE RENAISSANCE ARUBA
Yes, there is an all-inclusive option which includes on-property drinks and three meals a day. In my personal opinion, I would not book an all-inclusive option while visiting Aruba. All-inclusive packages make sense when restaurants are far or few – or in locations where you’re most likely staying on resort property. Considering how safe Aruba is, how easy it is to navigate, and how outstanding the dozens of restaurants are (view some of my favorites here), I think it makes sense to just book a standard stay sans all-inclusive.
I have two degrees in Hospitality, and this is resort really does tick of almost every box for a well-run resort. If you’re one who enjoys spending long days on the sand or taking part in water sports, then it’d be best for you to take a look at the resorts further down the island. But if you enjoy the authentic downtown atmosphere and the perk to visit an exclusive island, you really can’t beat the Renaissance.
Book the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino with Booking.com for great deals!