aruba - occidental grand (all inclusive)
just back from a week at the occidental. here is a run down of their all inclusive options:
The Palm: The main dining room for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Standard buffet fare. Broad selections. Mid-level quality. Breakfasts include cereal, fresh fruit, cheeses, lunch meats & salmon, eggs, french toast, pancakes, sausage, bacon, corned beef hash (pretty good), and made-to-order omelets. Lunches include a lot of salads, soups, pasta bar, lunch meats, rotating hot dishes (i.e., rice, beans, lamb curry, tilapia, hot vegetables, etc.), chips/salsa/guacamole, a carving station (lamb, turkey, beef), deserts, and ice cream. We did not eat dinner in The Palm (opted for specialty restaurants).
The Beach Club: Outdoor lunch buffet located by the pool. Hamburgers, hot dogs, hot vegetable, rice, one meat/fish. Mid-level quality.
L'Olio (Italian a la carte): Selection of a salad/appetizer, entree, and a desert. Salads were decent. I had a salad with calamari which was ok. Other salads included Caesar, mixed greens, etc. For my entree, I had grilled grouper that was prepared nicely, but was overpowered by tomato/pepper/olive sauce. My wife had Chicken Milanese that was just ok. Kids had pasta, which were good. Deserts included ice cream, a napoleon, and cheesecake, which were also ok.
Zen (Asian a la carte): You can choose to eat at the tappan table or in the dining room with a menu that included sushi and typical rice and noodle dishes. We ate at the tappan table, which was standard fare: salad with garlic dressing, chicken fried rice, choice of meat/seafood. I had squid (good) and sirloin (ok). The rest of the family had filet and shrimp. Our cook was good with a little, but not too over the top of a show. We had desert, but it was not memorable.
El Olivido (Mexican a la carte): The best of the specialty restaurants. Upon being seated, a plate of fresh fried tortilla chips was set down along with salsa, guacamole, and a an addictive papaya hot sauce. For a starter, I had an excellent spicy shrimp soup. My wife had an excellent ceviche that had a bracing lime flavor. My kids had shrimp cocktails with a passion fruit cocktail sauce. My piece of pan fried grouper was very good (rice and vegetables were ok). The wife and kids enjoyed their chicken and beef fajitas. For desert, we had tres leches (good) churros (good) and buneulos - Mexican donuts (very good).
Desire (Caribbean a la carte): The worst of the specialty restaurants. Located nearest to the beach, this restaurant does not have its own kitchen. The food is prepared elsewhere and brought to the restaurant and kept in warming trays. Essentially, this is buffet food brought to you by a waiter. The ceviche appetizer was as good as the Mexican restaurant. The shrimp cocktail was as good as the Italian restaurant. The mains were poor. The grouper was nothing special. The surf and turf consisted of an 6 oz steak buried in a sauce and a small half of a lobster tail that was overcooked and cold. Service was indifferent, at best.
Royal Club Dining Room (exclusive to Royal Club (concierge level) guests): Excellent food and service. We had three or four breakfasts (small buffet - good - or a small made to order menu), one lunch (good mahi mahi and group dishes, a good burger) and two dinners - I had excellent sea bass twice. With only six or seven tables, the service was exceptional. A very nice bonus that justified the more expensive room (we had a two room suite with a 7th floor pool & ocean view.
Bars: The beach and pool bars were good places to hang out during the day. Unlimited strawberry and pina colada smoothies for the kids! The disco was lame. The lobby bar was fun place that had good sized, festive crowds. The outdoor Desire lounge above the Desire restaurant was ok. Draft beer is native Balashi (bottles of imports can be had in the restaurants and indoor bars). Serving size is 8 oz. Liquor outside were bottom shelf brands but you could get better brands (but not ultra premium stuff) at the indoor bars and restaurants. House red is a Chilean merlot. Better bottles are available at an additional charge.
Bottom line: The all inclusive was decent and worth the money, particularly if you have access to the Royal Club dining room. Based on looking at menus and prices at the tourist restaurants across the street and in downtown Oranjstad (add $11 cab fare each way) and the number of beers, mixed drinks and smoothies we consumed, the cost of the all inclusive was a push or slightly better than staying at a hotel (the Hyatt, Radisson, Marriott, etc.) and paying for food and drinks along the way. If I go back for a week, I would eat at the Mexican place once or twice, the Italian place once, the sit down Asian place once to try it, and fill in the rest at the Royal Club.