What Do You Love to do in Aruba?

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Even though here in Houston we don’t get the arctic and snowy winters that settle in some parts of the country, it still gets far too dreary, wet, and cold in January to consistently enjoy outdoor activities.  To counter-balance our own southern version of winter hibernation, we headed to the Bahamas as a family last January, and had a great time swimming and playing in the sun for a few days.  So, when it came time to plan a trip for this January we thought we would try another beach destination to break up the cold and dreary weather cycle that can happen even in the Houston area.  I love my winter ski trips, but while they are very fun, they aren’t exactly relaxing in the same way a beach trip can be.

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January fun in the Bahamas sun last year

To pull this trip off, several months ago my family pulled the trigger on a very good airfare sale to Aruba from several cities in the US, including Houston.  The prices were so good for dates we wanted (under $300 RT each with decent flight times and no overnight layovers) that it made using airline miles a bad deal since I want at least 1.5 cents per mile return when I redeem my airline miles, and prefer closer to at least 2 cents per mile.  Instead, we will be earning US Airways miles on this trip, and using a combination of Club Carlson and Hyatt Gold Passport hotel points to cover our hotel costs.

Hyatt Regency Aruba

Hyatt Regency Aruba

Just as we did during our trip to the Bahamas last January, the main focus of this trip will simply be easy family fun in the sun.  We will swim in the hotel pools, go down the water slide, hang out on the beach, eat (hopefully) good food, maybe hit the spa while C plays at the Kid’s Club for a few hours, and we will just exhale for a few days.  I don’t expect (or want) to do everything under the sun in Aruba on this one long weekend trip.  On this trip I want to mostly be a stereotypical tourist with an umbrella drink next to the water, a bathing suit, a happily playing kid, and a dumb smile on my face.

However, I don’t want to miss any “must see or do” Aruba attractions just because I am blinded with visions of sitting next to the water with said umbrella drink.  I also am very interested in especially good food options in the area – bonus points if they are family friendly.

This is where you come in!  In addition to the online research we are doing for Aruba recommendations, I know many of you have been to Aruba and you guys have a track record of having very solid recommendations of things to see and do.  I’ve gotten a few suggestions from a few of you already, but I would love more.  So, if you have been to Aruba and have any suggestions or recommendations to pass on to our little family, I’d love to hear it!

In keeping with the very laid-back vacation mode of this trip, the family voted against a rental car and will be relying primarily on cabs and such, just in case that plays into any recommendation specifics.

On a side note, just as I hoped, since we have stepped away from taking as many trips in 2015 as we did in previous years, we are legitimately looking forward even more to this trip than I have many other recent trips.  Bring on the beach….as long as the commenters in this post were right and the bugs aren’t as bad there as some other Caribbean spots we have visited!

Comments

  1. We stopped in Aruba on a cruise in Sept. 2012, so I can’t speak much for the individual attractions on the island, but we did have drinks at the Radisson pool bar (which I assume is where you’ll stay at) and went to the beach and they were both very good. The beach is a must, so you’re clearly on the right path. We did take a private tour of the whole island and they took us along the north shore and there are really nice views there, a tiny but beautiful church where we stopped (but can’t remember any of the details) and lighthouse which has some great views, so I would definitely visit the lighthouse area as little C will probably enjoy the views.
    Michael

  2. Visit Baby Beach. Far from the hotel area but sooo worth it, and very shallow, so great for kids. You can snorkel without knowing how to swim.

  3. Make sure you stop at Scotts Brats for Lunch (they also serve breakfast). Great food for affordable prices and also extremely friendly owners.

    We loved Casa Tua for an Italian Dinner. Not as fancy or pricey as the other places we went to, but this ended up being our favorite meal.

    We didn’t end up getting to do this, but a cab driver told us it is worth it to rent a car for a day and explore the entire island on your own.

    The Radisson beach front was our favorite. Most pool bars and peers have great happy hour specials.

  4. While at the Radisson you need to remember that at 4pm the day before is when people line up to reserve the beach umbrellas for the next day. Some people are very particular about which spot they get and they get in the line about an hour before. I would get in the line about 3:50 and still have my choice of front row spots. Something to note is that when its a day that a cruise ship docks, the tents on the far left of the beach aren’t as good. There is a beach company that cruise guests pay to set up umbrellas directly in front of yours.

  5. My wife & I just got back from spending 5 nights at the Radisson over NYE.

    The bar at the end of the pier next to the Radisson was a cool spot with reasonable prices and a decent menu (drinks and food).

    Also, we went to a restaurant about 5 min walk behind the Radisson called Bavaria. It has GREAT German food and 50 imported German beers. The place (oddly) also servers Thai food, but we didn’t have any of that while we were there. They’re closed on Sundays so keep that in mind if you’re interested.

  6. Aruba is a barren desert island good for pool, beach, casinos, restaurants and that’s about it…. which is why I love it.

    Baby Beach is a waste of time in my opinion, it’s about 30-45 min boring drive and then it’s basically a beach overlooking the old refinery. To each his or her own.

    The Hyatt is great.

    The wind blows incessantly 24/7. It is incredible.

    For kids, try the ostrich farm, the donkey sanctuary, and I heard but did not try the Animal guy farm that’s like 1 on tripadvisor that’s supposed to be good.

  7. My wife and I are going to Aruba over Valentine’s day and staying at the Radisson. I’m planning on surprising her with a dinner at the Flying Fishbone. The location sounds amazing. Other than that, we plan on snorkeling and perhaps diving to some old sunken ships and planes. Enjoy your trip. I also got the $300 airfare because of one of your posts. Thanks!

  8. We took our family of 5 to Aruba this past summer and ate a great Italian Restaurant named Sole Mare Ristorante in Palm Beach, it’ll be a quick and inexpensive cab ride for you and the service and food were excellent as well as the portions. They don’t have a kids menu, instead you can have anything off the adult menu in a kids portion.

  9. I would ask other vacationers while you’re there or go on tripadvisor besides all the great advice above. I have been to many sunny destinations and have never been bitten except in St. Thomas. St. John and St. Thomas and a few other Caribbean places are known for it. Hope your vacay is bug free!

  10. We just returned last night from a 6 night trip to the Radisson Aruba & I’m
    working on a blog post. It was a relaxing trip & so nice to enjoy the sun (it is 10 degrees here…ugh!). We didn’t have a car & just walked to the restaurants from the Radisson (which is 2 hotels down from the Hyatt). There are TONS of kid friendly places to eat so close by.

    We did a Jeep tour with ABC Tours that was fabulous. Otherwise just hung out at the pool and beach, which the kids love to do! There are no pool slides at the radisson (maybe at the Hyatt?).

    For dinners & lunches we tried (all across street from hotels):
    – Bavaria (ok, not great for vegetarian)
    – Gianni (best meal)
    – salt & pepper (one of the worst meals we’ve ever had)
    – Bugaloe (on water right next to Radisson) – went several times, decent food, good drinks, great views
    – tomato Charlie (decent pizza and salad)
    – tango (very good steak & fish and kids meals)
    – Breadbasket for to go lunch to eat at beach (on the beach sidewalk heading toward Hyatt from Radisson)
    – Gelatissimo (right across from Radisson near Gianni’s and Senior Frogs)

    Everything seemed kid friendly because there were tons of families. It wasn’t a “romantic” kind of a place. More like either families or partying!

    I have lots more tips too, so hopefully I’ll get my post up before you go!

  11. Hey Summer – Glad you are heading to Aruba. It is our favorite sweet spot for my wife and son, given the companion pass and Club Carlson. It is great you are experiencing both the Radisson and Hyatt. For a short trip, don’t sweat the planning. There are so many walkable food options on the strip that you can easily choose your own adventure. The mall about four blocks from the Hyatt has a show in its courtyard every night around 8 (maybe on the hour) that is fun to watch. It isn’t an island to explore. We have been twice in three months, are going again in March, and have felt no desire to see vs relax. I would suggest splurging the $29/day for a beach palapa at the Radisson. Emailing the concierge in advance to reserve one is a good approach.

  12. I have been traveling to Aruba every year for the past 25 years. My kids are now teenagers but have been going to Aruba since they have been born. If you are staying less than a week I would say stay on the beach. Honestly can not think of one site or attraction that I would do a second time. Save the site seeing for Europe. Also usually feel like the excursions leave me frustrated having wasted valuable time that could have been spent relaxing. Our fondest memories from when our kids were little all involve sun and sand. Just returned from the Radisson last week and it did not disappoint. There is no shade at Baby Beach so keep that in my mind it is also pretty far from Radisson. For a great strong cup of coffee there is the Bread Basket (food is just ok) located on the beach near Rad. My kids enjoy having there first dinner of the trip at Smokey Joes (Caribbean themed bbq) across the street from Rad. they say it gets them into “Aruba mode”. Have a great time!

  13. Hi Summer,

    Since your blog helps my family hopefully I can help you out.

    Food
    ACAI Bowl from Eduardo’s shack next to hyatt and scott brat’s. They sell out by 12pm each day so get one before a must try. Also sells all kinds of smoothies. Kids love Scott’s Brat’s grilled cheese and we love the Brat sandwiches. Closes at 3:00
    Amore Mio right across from Radisson. Great pizza salads and love the stuffed artichoke we order it with the Focaccia Bread.
    Amore Mio’s owned by Gianni’s which is a huge restaurant next door.We like Gianni’s other restaurant on the beach called Azzurro Restaurant(next to Hyatt). Same quality of food better service in my option.
    List of other kid friendly restaurants
    smokey joe’s ribs burgers etc

    Le Petit Cafe cook food on hot stone

    mexicado in hyatt stick with apps and fajitas and drinks (look for specials each day)

    Texas De Brazil All you can eat Brazilian steakhouse. Just visited and family not the biggest eaters and was one of our highlights of trip.You can sign up for email coupons

    Blossoms hibachi kids love but it’s in a hotel that changed owners and is now adult only hotel. I don’t know how the restaurant allows kids for dinner anymore.

    Piazza Italia and KonoPizza
    Pizza in a cone had to try it and it was great. close to le creperie below. Comapany was just on GMA

    La Creperie de Paseo kids loved to end night with a nutella crepe with ice cream.

    We don’t rent a car and walk to dinner most nights, to take a cabs to restaurants for fine dining that my kids don’t enjoy we don’t go that often
    fine dining – local dining
    wacky wahoo close by can eat there every day not much for my picky kids but best fish on island
    papimento’s beautiful outdoor restaurant food was good
    annamarias never been but gets rave reviews from friends
    chalet suisse food was good not great
    barefoot dining on beach at sunset what could be bad close to airport cab is around 20-25.

    We always pick up a few bottles at airport prices are very good.Super Foods is a great super market around 2 miles from hotel.

    We didn’t take a tour but rented a jeep wrangler and explored the other side of island. It was amazing and was able to go into town and out for dinner.
    If you have any questions about hyatt regency club hut line etc email me.

  14. I echo the recommendations for Smokey Joe’s (all you can eat ribs Tuesdays, only open evenings) and Scott’s brats for an inexpensive lunch.
    If you take a cab or bus into town, LG Smith steakhouse in the Renaissance mall should give you a pretty good meal. You might even hear a good sax player. Oh yeah, there’s a casino there too.
    Monday is Lobster night at French Steakhouse at Manchebo Resort near the eagel beach area. It’s half way between the high rise area and downtown. Check out the reviews. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g147249-d1061402-Reviews-French_Steakhouse-Palm_Eagle_Beach_Aruba.html
    Also if you get tired of the high rise area beach crowds check out their beach!!
    Some friends we met on a previous Aruba trip simply hired a cab for a dinner trip one night, and later rehired the same cab driver to give them a personal tour of the island. Cheap and very accommodating.
    Listen to The advice to secure a beach umbrella. The sun can get quite strong, even for a Texan.
    The only time we had rather rough water was a day or two after cold fronts hit Florida. The weather patterns really kicked up some big waves bringing out the locals riding their boogie boards. Still fun within reason.
    Research Aruba Carnival schedule. You might witness some cool parades while you’re there.
    The nice thing with Aruba is that its south of the major hurricane belt, so you can always be assured that the room you booked 6 months ago will still be standing.
    US dollars are accepted everywhere.
    You gotta go downtown and get your pictures taken in front of the ‘I love Aruba’ sign for that true touristy experience. 🙂
    One bummer is that the local beer is pretty generic and tasteless. Treat yourself to a bottle of Cuban rum instead.

  15. We also never had problems with bugs. The occasional fly while eating from a beach chair… that’s a problem I’ll take anytime!!

  16. The beach is where its at in Aruba and for a long weekend I wouldn’t plan anything beyond an afternoon walk on the beachside walkway that connects the high rise hotels. Dining was great for a small island and almost all was family friendly. Scott’s Brats was just wonderful and we enjoyed talking to the owner and other patrons around the beach bar. The lighthouse was cool (the drive to get there thru a very exclusive neighborhood was the best part.) I would save it for next time. Skip the butterfly thing, too. HMNS has much more to see. The beaches on the side of the island where you’ll be staying are far superior to Baby beach and it takes too long to get there. Enjoy! I wish I would have snagged that deal. And no bugs when we were there.

    • I disagree. My teenage daughters even loved the butterflies. If I recall, it was right near the Radisson, was cheap and with the one admission you could go back multiple times on multiple days if you wanted to. With your daughter being younger, it is a MUST SEE.

      The island is SMALL, so even Baby Beach isn’t too far away. And you get to see the desert scape along the way – yes big cactuses and all! Great restaurant at Baby Beach (Big Mammas) and the best snorkeling is supposed to be here too.

      Don’t bother looking for the bird sanctuary – nothing really there, just a swamp.

  17. My family of 5 will be there for spring break. This will be our 5th time in 6 years. The entire trip air and 2 rooms at Radisson is booked using miles. Thanks to all of you on FF forums.

    We love Aruba. High rise area is kids friendly, as the rest of the island.

    For a long weekend I would stay in high rise area.

    Pelican’s Nest is nice casual place.

    Papimento’s and Madame Janette’s restaurants are very good and romantic, but I would not call them kids friendly.

    P.S. Does anyone has an email address for Germaine (Guest Relations Manager at Radisson)?

  18. Hey Summer. I stayed at the Renessaince in Oranjestad. I also went on the jeep tour by ABC Tours & it was an awesome experience! I recommend a restaurant called El Gaucho.

    Rich

  19. My husband and three kids ages 13, 11 & 8 went to Aruba a couple of years ago and the kids have been begging to go back ever since. Palm Beach is gorgeous and very walkable with beautiful sunsets. As far as I could see all of the restaurants were kid friendly and the Dutch people were incredibly warm and welcoming. Our favorite restaurant by far was Madame Janette. The best steaks we have ever had, even better than the ones we had in Argentina. A beautiful atmosphere as well. Enjoy !

  20. Just spend Christmas at the Radisson with my toddler. Don’t bother waiting in line for the palapas. There is a private company that sells large beach umbrellas and they set up right in front of the palapas – can get right in front of the water. It is only $25 and they’ll bring over the radisson lounge chairs. We used the palapas the first two days and got so annoyed that people were able to set up in front of us blocking our view and walk to the beach. I highly recommend bringing a cooler bag with you. Very convenient and much cheaper. The gift shop at Radisson sells beer, wine, water, ice cream, etc. I didn’t find the food in Aruba to be very good. Except for the amazing acai bowl at Eduardo’s – HIGHLY recommend. Right next to the Radisson is a bar/restaurant on a dock called Bugaloe. The food isn’t very good but prices are cheap and the atmosphere is great. There is a gelato stand there too. Live entertainment almost every night.

  21. Forgot to mention that the Tuesday night carnival style party is great at the Radisson. And bring a wine bottle opener – they charged us $10 to deliver one to our room!

  22. My wife and I visited Aruba with our 5 year old son this summer and the highlight of the trip for him was the Jolly Pirates boat tour! Search it on Tripadvisor. Well worth the money. We went on the morning trip. They take you to three locations on the island to snorkel. Even if Little C, is not a strong swimmer, she will be able to get off (with your help and a provided floatie) at the third location, which is very shallow and calm (the first spot is the best for snorkeling, as it is a shipwreck, but it is deep and currents can be strong). They play music on this ship, serve lunch and drinks (included) and it is a overall great time for everyone, including families. Also, at the third location, they pull out a rope swing which is fun to watch and do. My 5 year old went on it three times — he loved it.

  23. Here is the sum total of advice you need to enjoy Aruba: take clips of some kind (chip clips, hair clips, clothes pins) to hold your beach towel on your chair. Otherwise, the towels tend to blow off because of the constant wonderful trade winds. Four clips per chair are best, but you can get by with two.

    Do I sound mellow and low stressed? That’s what you’ll feel like in Aruba. Instead of the pressure you often feel in Hawaii and other places to go out and do everything there is to do, in Aruba you’re content to sit and enjoy the gorgeous beach.

    I have to say I prefer Eagle Beach over Palm Beach where you’ll be staying, Palm Beach is lovely. You’ll be right in the zone with tons of bars, restaurants, and shops.

    Take cash (US) because I’ve been surprised each time at how many places didn’t accept credit cards.

    And the customs situation is a bit odd…you do it all before you leave Aruba, so your Global Entry doesn’t really get you anything.

    Enjoy!

  24. You guys are awesome (no surprise!). 🙂 Thanks for all the suggestions. I’m so happy that Aruba will mesh will with our low-key enjoy the beach plans and I’m looking forward to trying out some of the eating spots recommended (and saving others for next time).

    Can’t wait for our trip and to come back and share details. Many thanks for those who took the time to share their experiences!

  25. I am looking forward to your trip review of each hotel. I am planing on a trip to Aruba in the summer and can’t decide which hotel to stay at (Radisson or Hyatt) I am taking a trip without the kids. any advise?

  26. No mention of El Gaucho Steakhouse in town? It’s always been my go to each year.
    Haven’t heard of Madame Janette (mentioned above) but I will check it out. Always stay at the Hyatt.

  27. El Gaucho is very good. You can get 2# of delicious ribeye with sides for $49, that’s like 2-3 meals if you take it home.

    Madame Janette was pretty good, but not outstanding in my opinion despite the hype. Everything was very overbuttered. the beer list was outstanding however, but how much beer can you drink with a buttery almond crusted fish? also, they should get a more upbeat live music performer imo

    The holiday inn is dated, but the casino seems loose with an interesting poker room

  28. Prepare your little one for a couple of long waits in lines for your departure from the Aruba airport. That’s the only bummer of clearing both Aruban and US customs before you board.
    Also, you can find Aruba Aloe everywhere. Its a nice local made product. We especially liked their lip balm.

  29. I’ve stayed at both Radisson and Hyatt. As your husband is diamond, you’ll enjoy the excellent lounge. The palapa situation at the Hyatt is very, very frustrating–prepare to rise early early or just pay to reserve. I’m a diamond and I’m not sure I’d stay again at the Hyatt due to my frustration with the palapa situation there. The palapa situation is much better at the Radisson where you can reserve the night before at 4pm–much more civilized. The soundproofing of the rooms at the Radisson leaves a bit to be desired–you can hear everything going on in the rooms around you. Otherwise the Radisson is a great choice.

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