Beach or pool, beach or pool, beach or pool? It’s a fairly common family holiday dilemma but when the choice is between the turquoise Caribbean sea and white sands of Palm Beach on Aruba, and the two pools of the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino, I was pretty happy with either answer.
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If you’re wondering where to stay in Aruba, you’ll inevitably find yourself looking at hotels on Palm Beach. The majority are grouped along this slice of the island’s coast, apart from a scattering around Oranjestad, stretching from Manchebo Beach past Eagle Beach to Hadicurari Beach.
And while there are smaller boutique properties and villas, this is also where you’ll find the best hotels in Aruba, including a string of big-name US chains – but as you’ll see from my Hilton Aruba review, there are also a string of reasons why I’d choose this hotel over the others.
Hilton hotel Aruba – vital statistics
Celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2019 – originally the Aruba Caribbean hotel, the first luxury resort in Aruba – the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino (to use its full name) underwent a multimillion dollar renovation in 2016 to update the facilities but still keep the design heritage.
It’s one of the lower-rise among the high-rise stretch, as Palm Beach is known… just another reason I liked it. The three towers, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, house 357 rooms and suites between them, including the Palm Beach Club on the 8th floor of the Aruba Tower (keycard access only).
We were upgraded to a room here with perks including a lounge with breakfast, afternoon tea and cocktails, reserved palapa on the beach and discount on the pool cabanas. We also had two Queen size beds, although you do have the option of one king size.
The other rooms also have the option of a king size bed or two doubles, some with space for rollaway beds or larger suites with Queen sofa beds. There’s also free WiFi across the whole resort.
The resort also has several restaurants – Laguna for breakfast, plus Gilligan’s Seafood Shack, the Mira Solo bar (which also serves sushi and bar food), Castaways Bar and Sunset Grille steak restaurant, as well as Oscar’s Market for coffee, sandwiches and pastries.
Along with two pools and the beachfront loungers (the beach is public, the loungers are for hotel guests), there’s also a kids club, daily activities including watersports, the chance to have diving lessons, plus the eforea spa, a fitness centre and the huge casino – which, despite being attached to the same tower that our room was in, we would barely have known was there as it’s tucked away downstairs.
Hilton Aruba with kids – the good
Not a day went past at the resort without us going in one of the two pools – in fact, a reasonable amount of time was devoted to wondering which pool we liked best (and in my daughter’s case, practising underwater handstands).
One was slightly quieter, with some arcing sprays of water in the shallower end (very fun for kids), the other also had a water volleyball net in the centre and any activities tended to take place around there.
We did settle down on loungers in the shade there one morning and still managed to comprehensively relax. One of the big bonuses was that they’re both ‘zero entry’ pools, so the water slopes gently into the pool.
Perfect with kids as the littlest ones can sit in the shallows and splash, older ones and new swimmers can venture further out but not get out of their depth, and there’s also space for adults to swim.
An extra bonus is the little separated pool before you reach the shallows which got rid of most of the sand before you went in completely. We never rented one of the pool cabanas (or poolapas), but always found a shady spot (and there are always fresh towels at the towel hut) plus you’re not far from the bar either.
I’m normally far more focused on the room and what there is to do at a resort than on the grounds themselves, or the way it’s laid out – but the Hilton Aruba resort is so beautifully designed, it has to feature high up.
There are lush gardens and curving paths, little bridges stretching over some of the water, even a pond with koi carp and an optimistic visiting heron near one of the restaurants. Despite covering 15 acres, nowhere ever seemed more than a short walk away, and often deliciously shady in the hot Caribbean sun.
Best of all, among the high-rise hotels – some of which dominate the coast from every angle – it felt a lot more welcoming and enjoyable to explore than the imposing towers of some of its neighbours.
And unlike some chains, which follow a corporate plan that doesn’t change from country to country, it fitted the laid-back atmosphere too.
I’m a sucker for a lavish breakfast buffet, especially when there’s champagne thrown in – and while we could have breakfasted in the Palm Beach Club lounge, we wandered over to Laguna restaurant instead.
Fresh waffles and eggs, all manner of bread products and pastries (including gluten free), fruit, meat and cheese plus some fabulous smoked salmon… I’m fairly sure I’ve forgotten something in the spread.
Not to mention juice and that Pol Roger champagne.
There are tables indoors in the air conditioning but we loved sitting out on the deck overlooking the pond, to watch the fish (and feed them) plus an iguana who all but hung into the water to snaffle a stray morsel and the sleek white heron who appeared every morning, and who my daughter decided to name Max.
I had visions of Max flapping successively to every hotel along Palm Beach as part of his morning routine…
We also tried most of the other food options during our stay – Gilligan’s Seafood Shack was great for a casual lunch but also for dinner, with various fish and seafood options (plus a foot-long beef hotdog which quickly became my daughter’s favourite despite its size).
We stopped in at Mira Solo one afternoon to discover the fabulous poke bowls as well, but the highlight was easily Sunset Grille. Set near Mira Solo, with the tables on the deck looking toward the sea and the sun setting behind the palms, they have some fabulous steak (plus fish and a kids’ menu).
Mine was perfectly cooked, plus a rare chance to have vegetables, accompanied by some equally wonderful red wine.
I can also vouch for the great service. Two mouthfuls in, Minnie decided she urgently needed the toilet. I almost cried as I had to leave my steak, which was whipped away until our (very swift) return.
Sometimes I feel like my requirements for a hotel room are pretty simple. Comfy bed in a room where there’s space to swing a cat. Bathroom with space for toiletries (also room to swing a cat) and ideally a bathtub as well as a shower.
Somewhere to sit that’s not the bed. Plug sockets. Lights which don’t require you to press 209 buttons or have a degree in electrical engineering. Space for clothes. A safe (ideally).
It’s amazing how many hotel rooms fail to manage this. The Hilton ticked all my boxes (and a queen size bed all to myself? Bliss!) plus we had a Nespresso machine too, air con and a balcony with a great view across to the sea.
Our chunky US adaptors meant I couldn’t quite get everything plugged in to the sockets by the bed, but there were plenty around without needing to disconnect all the lights.
And a standard lamp that seemed to be made of driftwood was a rather nice bonus.
Cool, comfortable and practical. Perfect.
If you’re visiting the Caribbean, you want to be able to enjoy the Caribbean – and after being quoted $60 for a cabana on Baby Beach at the other end of the island, knowing there were loungers with palm umbrellas reserved for guests was ideal.
It’s easy to wander along the beach to the restaurants on the sand, to pick up boat trips or for water sports too if you’re interested. Plus sandcastles and paddling, of course.
You can even borrow sand toys, according to the hotel information, although as we’d packed a few essentials including plastic spade, we didn’t check this out.
Certain palapas are automatically reserved for the Palm Beach Club rooms, and you can also pay a fee to reserve one for the whole week. Alternatively you can book them for free from 4pm the day before (and if they’re not claimed, they become available once more to avoid people putting their names down and never appearing).
While our room had a reserved palapa, there are plenty to go around so seemed to be more than a few available as we were lounging.
We did encounter one woman complaining at reception that she couldn’t book one, although when the member of staff on the desk offered to phone up and sort it out (as that shouldn’t have been the case), she declined… So if you do run into problems, you shouldn’t have too much trouble resolving it.
The many many things to do
Between exploring Aruba, swimming, lounging, sandcastles, eating and occasionally sleeping, we definitely didn’t struggle to fill our days.
But if you’re concerned you might get bored, there’s a huge amount to do in terms of activities and little touches. A bit board by the pools proclaimed the daily options from yoga and Stand Up Paddleboarding, to archery, pingpong and mixology. And that was just one day.
Some have a minimum age of 16, but there’s also the Shocoland kids club for age four to 12. The first hour is free to try it out, plus there are scheduled activities as well as other options to play – not to mention Friday night babysitting and a family movie night, plus a couple of outings to the nearby Butterfly Farm.
When we looked in, there was no-one else inside so Minnie was told that if she fancied staying, she could dictate the activity too but in the end, the lure of the beach and pool was too strong.
For older guests, you can take diving lessons, try watersports, plus lots of little touches including the option to borrow Kindles.
There are even bikes to rent.
At the south end of Palm Beach, it’s easy walking distance from the restaurants which line the road behind, plus you can wander up the beach on the boardwalk for more options. It’s only around 10 minutes from the Butterfly Farm too if you’re visiting independently.
And if you’re taking any organised tours, it’s one of the hotels where they’ll pick up and drop off (unlike some of the smaller ones) – there’s a concierge desk plus a separate desk for De Palm Tours in the hotel as well as for Hertz.
Hilton Aruba resort – the not so good
There’s always something to pick out in any hotel stay – but I’m struggling to find much beyond a couple of minor niggles.
One was the tiny plastic bottles of water we were given as we returned feeling distinctly hot one day.
Frankly they were very welcome to help us cool down, but on an island which is moving towards a total ban on single-use plastic and where even the straws were paper, it seemed unexpected.
Perhaps in a year, they’ll be phased out entirely too. And staff who can look at a hot and slightly jetlagged mother and daughter and conjure cold water up simply because they look like they need it, are always good.
The other thing to highlight is the Bird Garden: various parrots and exotic birds in separate enclosures near the pool – among the activities is a chance to meet the birds, and we spotted two beautiful red macaws squawking and preening in a tree next to the pool one morning.
They showed no signs of wanting to fly away, and all the birds looked healthy and well cared for – we saw staff keeping their cages clean as this pair stretched their wings – but it struck me as surprising to find this in a hotel rather than a zoo.
Hilton Aruba review – my verdict
When you’re looking for the best hotels in Aruba, there’s plenty of competition – but as I said at the start, the Hilton Aruba Resort on Palm Beach has to be on the list.
It might not be the cheapest option (but then Aruba isn’t the cheapest holiday either), but for a hotel which manages to balance facilities with a warm welcome to both adults and kids, plus plenty touches of luxury, it’s hard to beat.
I think my daughter would go back to the Hilton Aruba for the pools alone. If you’re still wondering where to stay in Aruba with kids, wonder no more…
Book a stay at the Hilton hotel Aruba with kids at Booking.com
PIN FOR LATER: HILTON ARUBA REVIEW
Disclosure: We were given a three night stay plus a credit to spend on food and drink at Hilton Aruba for the purposes of review – all opinions and pool-obsessed small girls are my own. This post contains affiliate links: any purchases you make are unaffected but I may receive a small commission.
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