If you’re looking for a sweet spot on a Caribbean island with plenty of fun, sun and bathtub-warm water in which to float, Aruba more than meets your requirements.
First off, the small island nation is easy to navigate and everyone is extremely helpful and friendly. Not friendly just because you’re a tourist, but genuinely friendly as in, “Your car broke down? Come wait in my house to get out of the sun. Would you like a cold beverage?” The local language, Papiamento, includes the word dushi (sweetheart). It’s featured in everything from hot-dog stands to menu items to boat tours, and the word’s prevalence and simplicity serve as a soothing influence.
My home base was the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, right on Palm Beach. The hotel finished a $50-million renovation last year, and the room décor is modern and luxe, while retaining a feeling of island simplicity. The eight-story complex includes 411 rooms (including 23 oceanfront suites), a pool with cascading waterfalls, seven bars and restaurants (such as Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, La Vista, Simply Fish and Waves Beach Bar), the Stellaris Casino and Mandara Spa.
Room rates start at $279 per night, and depend on season and type of room. I had a pool ocean view room, with ample space to lounge and also get work done. If you must work on your Aruba vacation, it’s easy to do so with the hotel’s Jack Pack—a device allowing guests to plug in laptops or iPods to 37 inch-wide TVs in each room. My room’s refrigerator kept my drinks cold, and the in-room coffee maker gave me hot java each day, until the thing fell apart in my hands. (It didn’t take long to get another one, though.)
If you want an exclusive feel to your island getaway, stay in the Tradewinds Club, on the eighth floor of the Marriott. The upscale amenity includes a private lounge with breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and cocktails. In addition, you’ll have a secluded beach area to camp out under an umbrella and forget all about the stresses back home. Room rates for Tradewinds Club guests start at $504 per night.
On Palm Beach, home to high-rise hotels, I never found it too crowded. It was easy to get around the sun-worshipers when I wanted to hoof it down the beach. In the water, even though the kiteboarders zip by with speeds that make your jaw drop, it was never close enough for me to worry. Easy to relax? Check.
Just lounging on the beach not for you? Take a class at the nearby Dare2Fly kiteboarding center. For three lessons (kite mastery, “body dragging” and board lesson), the cost is $375. The Aruba Marriott also offers a special “Surf in to Luxury” package that includes accommodations at the Tradewinds Club and a free windsurfing or intro kiteboarding class.
If you’re looking for something in between, play beach tennis at the Moomba Beach Bar, right next to the Marriott. As instructor Sjoerd de Vries told me, “it’s a relaxed sport; you can play with a beer in your hand.”
Adventure seekers can take a tour of the island with De Palm Tours. The Natural Pool Jeep Adventure ($92) is a half-day trip covering such sites as the California Lighthouse, a natural bridge, the ruins of an old gold mill and a natural pool that’s perfect to swim and snorkel in. In fact, I didn’t want to leave the pool at all. I guess I’ll have to put it on my list for my next Aruban adventure.
I was in Aruba as a guest of the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, but the opinions in this article are my own.