ARUBA, “One Happy Island”
“One Happy Island” certainly describes the atmosphere of this fun-loving, adventure-filled and romantic island! As a matter of fact, it is the motto of the gorgeous Dutch Caribbean paradise. You will see these words on every license plate, on signs, souvenirs, shirts, towels—you name it, these people want you to know that they consider themselves “one happy island” and they definitely live up to their motto. We were constantly pleasantly surprised at the common courtesy we were shown by even the average citizen, not just the hotel staff, where you may expect to experience a warm greeting. Even just trying to cross a busy street, cars would quickly stop, whether we were at a crosswalk or not, and wave us past. We had rented a car and wondered how terrible the traffic might be. Well, I must admit that at certain times of the day there was a lot of traffic, but once again, the “one happy island” mentality kicked in and drivers showed consistent courtesy to each other. Any time a car was trying to enter the main road from a side street, not more than two or three cars would pass before someone would stop and let them in. And this happened everywhere we went, every day! People were always kind, considerate, respectful and helpful, no matter what we needed. One customer service agent at the hotel resort where we stayed even pulled some Aruban coins out of his pocket to give us for the parking meter and wouldn’t let us pay him back with American money! Now that’s the kind of treatment I could get used to! In keeping with this mindset, everywhere you go, you’ll also see “I LOVE ARUBA” and “Biba Dushi” which means “sweet life” in Papiamento, their native language. And by the way, there’s no need to be intimidated by any language barrier because almost everyone there speaks English, Spanish, Dutch and Papiamento! And to make things even easier, U.S. money is accepted everywhere. These people really know how to accommodate tourists and make them feel right at home even in a foreign country.
Aruba is an island with an arid climate, so there is seldom rain except during the rainy season which lasts only a couple months during the winter. Average daytime highs are around 85 degrees with overnight lows around 78. It sits below the hurricane belt so you never have to fear your vacation being canceled due to hurricanes, which is nice to know, especially after this year! Aruba is very small, only about 70 square miles and may be hard to find on a map. Just look about 15 miles north of Venezuela and you’ll find the three A-B-C islands. (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao) Aruba is the one farthest west.
There are so many things to do in Aruba! Snorkeling, scuba diving, jet-skiing, fly-boarding, stand-up paddling, parasailing, swimming, sunbathing, hiking, exploring on an ATV, riding in a submarine, shopping, dining, clubbing, or just simply relaxing on the beach are just some of the activities you will find there. You can find out more scheduling and booking information at the customer service desk of your hotel. I highly recommend getting information beforehand or you may miss out, as certain events are scheduled only once a day and need to be booked in advance.
FOOD AND DINING EXPERIENCES
If you are a seafood lover, this is the place for you, and if you’re not a seafood lover, this is still the place for you! Naturally, there were tons of places to get seafood, being an island, but for those of us not too keen on seafood, there were plenty of other options. We saw Mexican, Italian, French, Caribbean, Dutch, Cuban and Asian restaurants and had the pleasure of dining at many of them. And I am not exaggerating when I say this: virtually every meal we had was so delicious, perfectly cooked and served with a smile. Besides the normal restaurants, there were many cafes, bars, and full restaurants right on many of the beaches which also served a nice variety of meals. You’re always on island time in Aruba, so don’t be surprised if it takes a bit longer to get your meal because no one there is in a hurry. But when you do get it, I promise you, it will be worth the wait! Another thing we noticed was that in many of the restaurants they were playing 80s music which caters to those of us around retirement age, which I personally thought was awesome!
Tip: Try out the Flying Fishbone beach restaurant on the south side of the island. It’s a bit pricey, but the food is delectable and there is a variety of steaks and seafood to choose from. And here’s something that surprised us: most of the tables were outside in the sand, but some were actually IN the water! You could put your shoes on a rack by your table and eat with your feet in 3 to 4 inches of the refreshing waters of the Caribbean, which might feel really inviting in the 85 degree heat! What a great idea! Do remember to make a dinner reservation and to dress up as this is a fine dining experience.
LAYOUT OF THE ISLAND
North: The north side of the island is where all the action is. All the high-rise hotels are lined up along “the strip” and many shops, plazas, restaurants, and souvenir booths can be walked to in minutes. These hotel resorts are also right on Palm Beach so you can just walk out the back of the hotel and be right on the beach immediately and enjoy the gorgeous, shimmering turquoise water. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Beach Resort Hotel and Casino on the third floor with a balcony overlooking the beach. It was so picturesque, just like a post card! Twice while we were there, we heard top notch jazz/blues artists playing live right on the beach! As a musician, I was duly impressed with their musical skill! A little south of Palm Beach is the low-rise hotel area across from Eagle Beach where the water is a deeper and brighter blue and the beaches were much less crowded, at least during the times we were there. Also on the north side you can do all the water sports, golf, shopping, dining, sight-seeing, or you can just lie on the beach and relax with a cool, refreshing drink in one hand and your camera in the other!
Central: In the center of the island on the west coast, you will find the capital of Aruba, Oranjestad. Here you will find plenty of shopping and dining as well as the Renaissance Hotel right across the street from the port where the cruise ships let you off. Right near this port you’ll find a place called Atlantis Submarines where you can take a real submarine ride about 130 feet down to take in the underwater scenery with all the coral and other marine life as well as two sunken ships. It’s about $100 per person but it includes the boat ride to and from the sub and lasts about an hour. They also offer a less expensive option at a different location for about $40 in which you only go just below the surface of the water. Be sure to book a day in advance at depalmtours.com.
South: The south side is much quieter with fewer restaurants, activities and shops, which is great if you want to just relax and distance yourself from all of the hustle and bustle of the north and central parts. We stayed at a very nice and uniquely designed B&B called Club Arias which is named after the owner. It was in a residential/commercial area that was just a bit crowded but the property itself was gorgeous with 11 rooms, 2 pools, a pizzeria, and nicely manicured grounds. It is also only about 5 minutes from the Flying Fishbone restaurant which I mentioned earlier. It’s not on the beach but you can drive about 20 minutes to Baby Beach where we were able to rent snorkeling equipment and got to enjoy swimming amongst a variety of colorful fish in the shallower waters. You can also try out some fresh seafood or burgers and dogs right there at Big Mama Grill. The south side does look a bit older and run-down in some places but we were assured that it is very safe everywhere on the island. There is hardly any police presence on the island because it is so seldom needed.
If flying into Aruba, you will fly into the very modern and recently renovated Queen Beatrix International Airport. It is very well-laid out, easy to navigate, and all signs are in English and Spanish. We had no trouble at all finding our way around. And rental car agencies are just across the street. One very convenient surprise we discovered was that upon departure, we went through customs right there in Aruba instead of waiting until we arrived in the U.S. That was very nice, especially since we were trying to make a connecting flight and didn’t want to be delayed at customs. Customs was simply a matter of answering about eight questions on a computer screen. My husband and I were both done in literally like three minutes. So easy! We went through Aruban and American security, and along with customs, the whole process took us about an hour. But you may want to allow extra time just to be safe.
Whether you’re looking for luxury, adventure or some rest & relaxation you are sure to find it and more on the “One Happy Island” that is Aruba.