So…it turns out I never published this trip report from January of 2016, so I’m posting it nearly a year later. As not much changed with my opinion on Hilton Diamond status, I figured it was worth the post
A few friends of ours head to Aruba every year and suggested we go this year. As Southwest flies non-stop from BWI, we have a companion pass (beginning of the fourth year with one), and lap-babies fly for a mere $17 in taxes, it was something that was difficult to pass up. Throw in a free night certificate at the Hilton from NSPwife’s Citi Hilton Reserve card that was expiring within a few weeks and Hyatt offering points and cash rooms, it was a no-brainer.
Our flight departed at 8:30am. We got to the airport with plenty of time to spare, but when we tried to check in there was a problem with NSPpeanut’s ticket that took 30 minutes to clear up. Then we noticed that there was no Pre-Check on our boarding passes despite both of us having Global Entry courtesy of our AMEX Platinum cards. Come to find out Southwest doesn’t offer Pre-Check for international flights…good to know [Update: Southwest now offers Pre-Check on international fares]. And frustrating. There was no line for Pre-Check but a healthy one for the plebs, so plebs we be. While not a run-through-the-airport rush, we did not have time for either a bathroom break or to pickup breakfast. The plane was also 100% full, so the 4+ hour flight required NSPwife to hold NSPpeanut the entire time.
The flight was bouncy but otherwise uneventful. We disembarked, went swiftly through customs (pro-tip: they pushed anyone with a baby and stroller to the front of the line…travel hack potential? Should I gate check a baby-less stroller on future flights?). We quickly grabbed our bags, a bottle of vodka from duty-free for our friends, and hopped in a cab.
The cab ride was a bit longer than I had expected due to the traffic – it was about 30 minutes until we pulled up to the Hilton. As my Hyatt Diamond status was coming to a close, I had jumped on the Hilton Diamond Status Match. I had been a Hilton Gold member for years due to my various Hilton Credit Cards and was excited to see how Hilton treated its Diamond members. When we checked in, I was cautiously optimistic that we would be upgraded to a suite since we were only staying for one night; however, they only extended us an Ocean View room upgrade. As I didn’t technically earn Diamond status from past stays, I didn’t feel comfortable even pressing the front desk for perks, so gladly took the Ocean View room.
The room was nice and spacious, with a small balcony overlooking the ocean.
Shortly after we got into the room, our bags and crib were delivered. I was curious if there would be any Diamond amenity, but it turned out that included only two small pieces of chocolate during turn-down service.
We applied our sun-tan lotion and headed out to the pool. The outdoor area is very nice, with multiple large pools, exotic birds in cages, and many different food and bar options.
We had a quick bite to eat, where I was introduced to the dominant domestic beer, Balashi (there would be more of that in my future). We met up with our friends who were staying at the Hyatt – only a short 3 minute walk, and joined them on the beach under their hut-like umbrellas. By that point it was getting to be evening time, so we relaxed for a bit, had a few drinks, and then headed to dinner at Bugaloe Beach Bar & Grill on a pier. It was about a five-minute walk, and talk about a difference between “resort” and “local” prices…this place was cheap. And good.
After dinner, NSPwife and NSPpeanut headed to the room so that I could spend a bit of time in the casino. The casinos at the properties are pretty nice, albeit small, even offering sports betting through electronic kiosks. After a bit of bad luck, I made my way back to the room and called it a night. Little did I know that when I woke up, I would encounter terrible service from both the Hilton and the Hyatt!
We woke up rather early, given NSPpeanut did not really want to sleep. We decided to head down for free breakfast, a Gold & Diamond benefit. We asked the front desk where to go, and they gave us the directions. We carried the stroller down a large set of stairs (why the front desk gave us these directions when we had a stroller I have no idea), and when we got to host stand, they told us our complimentary breakfast was in a different restaurant. OK, not a huge deal – although the buffet spread did look pretty good – just a bit of an inconvenience. When we got to the second restaurant, they handed us the menu and said that the complimentary breakfast was only the “continental breakfast.” This took me by surprise. I’ve had the complimentary breakfast at dozens of Hilton hotels across the globe, and this was, by far, the absolute worst offer: a few “breakfast pastries,” small fruit cup, and OJ/coffee. Yikes.
NSPwife hung out with the baby while I headed back to the room to pack up (they could only give us an extended hour for check-out). And, while I may have the spirit of a 90-year-old-grandma, I really wanted to play bingo. So I asked the front desk where bingo was located. They told me it was on the pool deck right next to where NSPwife was eating. Perfect. The three of us went back up to the room, showered, and took all of our bags down. NSPwife and NSPpeanut hung out at the pool, and I walked over to the Hyatt to see if we could check in early. They said we could check in by 2pm, but they couldn’t guarantee anything earlier than that. OK – 2pm is fine. I made a 3pm massage appointment at the spa for NSPwife, and headed back to the Hilton. 5 minutes before bingo was supposed to begin, I asked the bartender if it usually started late (you know, the whole island-time thing). He said it should start any minute. 15 minutes later, I walked around all of the pools to see how I could be missing bingo. After a 15 minute walk, it was almost 30 minutes passed the start time, and there was no bingo. So the three of us assumed it had been cancelled and walked over to the Hyatt. I went back to the desk and asked if the room was ready. To my great surprise, they told me that an early check-in had not been requested, and that we could check-in at 4pm.
I told them who I had spoken to, and that my wife had a massage appointment at 3pm and needed to shower and change beforehand, as she was in a swimsuit and lathered up with sunscreen. They said they would see what they could do, but made no promises. We hung out at the pool with our friends, and my buddy and I headed back to the Hilton to place some sports bets at the Hilton casino. When we walked in, there were nearly 100 people there. PLAYING BINGO! I couldn’t believe it. No signage. Front desk had no idea. Bartenders had no idea. All gave incorrect information. It was just a very frustrating way to end that stay.
Move back now to the Hyatt. At 2:30pm I went back to the desk. They told me they had a room. OK, NSPwife wouldn’t be happy about such a quick turn-around time, but lo, if anything should resolve that stress, it should be a massage. So we schlepped up all of our baggage, including our 6-month-old’s-baggage, and use the key to go into our room. Hmmmm, lots of alcohol in the entryway. A new Diamond Amenity?? Awesome. Wait. There’s a ton of luggage in the room. Oh. And someone in the shower. We race out and head back to the front desk. They apologized and told us they had assigned that room to the people just in front of us in line. OK – massage was now not happening. We went to the spa and were told that unfortunately we would be charged the full amount. We tried to explain the situation, but there was no hearing of it. So we went back to the front desk. Luckily someone intervened and spoke to the spa – and despite a heated conversation between them and the spa – they allowed us to cancel the appointment.
We finally got into our room around 4pm. If they had simply told us that they couldn’t get us in until then, that would have been fine. We would have crashed in our friends suite, hung out at the pool, or went for a stroll at the local shops and restaurants. The issue was purely the lack of credible information and service. The manager even reached out directly to us to give us a $100 resort credit – we didn’t make a scene, ask for a manager or anything like that. Someone working there must have told the manager what had happened. That was a nice touch, and we appreciated the service recovery, but almost an entire day (one of 4) had been lost to this.
When we settled in, we took the milk & cookies and wine amenity. We explored the very spacious 2-room suite:
The suite was very nice, with a completely separate lounging room. The bathroom was OK, but it amazed me they didn’t have a double-vanity. Not a huge deal, but just a little bit of a miss on the details, as there was plenty of space for it.
We spent some time on the beach, as well as played the umbrella/hut lottery. Here’s the thing: there are way more people who want umbrellas on the beach than actual umbrellas. That presents a problem. The hotel has apparently made a number of changes over the years to try and create a fair system that guests are happy with. Unfortunately, they have failed spectacularly on the latter. I’ve never felt so bad for a hotel staff. Dozens and dozens of guests screaming at workers. Every single day. It was nuts. The system that was in place was that at 4pm, you could log into the hotel’s web site (also mobile-friendly) and reserve an open umbrella. Think of it as Ticketmaster releasing tickets for the hottest show of the summer. If you are good with technology, you have a decent chance to score an umbrella, somewhere. If you are technologically challenged, good luck. Once guests realized they couldn’t secure an umbrella, they go straight to the customer service hut and start screaming. This lasts at least 90 minutes. At that point, people who forgot about the 4pm time remember, and head over to the hut to scream for another 90 minutes. Then people who check-in late are told at check-in the umbrellas are unavailable and head over to the hut to scream for 90 minutes. It’s really quite terrible. Anyways, as the tech-savy individuals we are, we had no problems securing umbrellas each day 🙂
The grounds are great:
After a short time at the beach, we headed to the lounge. The food spread is minimal; however, what they don’t tell you or advertise is that you can ask the staff for beer or wine, and they’ll provide you with an unlimited supply, all gratis. This makes happy hour quite an inexpensive ordeal.
Overall, Aruba was a nice Caribbean island. I was surprised by how windy it was…all the time, and the lack of overall customer service. While I think we will explore other Caribbean islands in the future, the weather was good, the price was right, and non-stop service from Baltimore to Aruba made it a fairly easy trip.