First Impressions of a Family Vacation in Aruba

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My family has been enjoying fun in the sun the last couple days in Aruba, and while I won’t have the full trip report ready for a bit, I wanted to share some first impressions and thoughts while we are still here.

1.  The beaches are as nice, kid friendly, and as accessible as everyone says.

If you just want a few days to lay on the beach without having to work hard to get to a nice and calm spot, then this is your place.  You can walk right out of the hotel and be on beautiful and flat water immediately.  I have not ever been to a safer (for kids) and more beautiful beach directly off from a points-friendly hotel in my life.  I can’t imagine there could possibly be one that tops this in terms of a great and easy spot for families.

Famil vacation in Aruba

Of course, hundreds of other tourists are doing exactly the same thing, so don’t expect a private beach experience, but it really wasn’t overly crowded during our stay even though hotels were sold out.

Famil vacation in Aruba

We haven’t done anything on this trip other than swim, sun, nap, and eat, and that has been great.  No rental car, no excursions, no day-long-adventures, nothing.  Just relaxation.

2.  Pay the extra to reserve a cabana/palapa to avoid the hassle and sunburn.

The hotels know that you can’t sit on the beach all day without shade, so there are hundreds of cabanas and palapas lining the beach, but getting them takes strategy.  At the Hyatt specifically, you can line up by 6:30AM to get one of the free palapas, or pay $50 – $75 to reserve a cabana or palapa in advance.  Only you know you what sleep is worth to you on vacation, but we were more than happy with the money we spent to reserve a cabana by email in advance and just stroll out to it at 10AM instead of setting an alarm to wait in line and claim our spot on vacation.  Still, if money is super tight, or you don’t mind an early wake-up call, it is nice they offer a free way to secure some shade.

Famil vacation in Aruba

$75 cabana at the Hyatt in Aruba

Whatever you do, just be sure and secure some shade somehow as I have seen countless people burned to a crisp here.

Famil vacation in Aruba

3.  The food and service are not award winning.

Thus far, at the variety of places we have visited (all in the tourist zone) the food and service we have experienced was typically been mediocre, at best.  There are some standouts and exceptions, but on the whole Aruba does not seem to be a mecca for amazing cuisine or outstanding service.  However, they do have lots of juice and smoothie stands, which I love, and can forgive the soggy and overpriced coconut shrimp in exchange for a fresh banana, pineapple, coconut smoothie.


Eduardo’s Beach Shack has good smoothies and acai bowls!

I also have to mention that even though the food we have eaten has often not been very good, it has been pricey.  This isn’t surprising for a Caribbean island, but a “cheap” meal for the three of us has been $30 – $35, and an average meal at a restaurant for the three of us has been $60 – $100 (without drinks).  If you have Club access at the Hyatt your food costs can be helped tremendously as they have water and soft drinks available 24/7, and have some sort of snack or light meal out during the day.  Quality again is not award winning, but the price can’t be beat.

Club at the Hyatt in Aruba

Club at the Hyatt in Aruba

4.  No bugs!

This really should have been #1 for me, as I am probably the biggest bug magnet alive, and I have had just one mosquito bite on Aruba all weekend even though I have not used any bug spray, and have been out at prime times like sunset.  I’m sure they do have some bugs, but on the whole this experience has been infinitely more pleasant than places like Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands where I was darn near eaten alive by monster mosquitoes and no-see-ums.

Beautiful Aruba sunset and no bugs!

Beautiful Aruba sunset and no bugs!

5.  Great spot to use points.

There are so many hotels right on the lovely Palm Beach that are points-friendly, so no matter what type of points currency you favor, you can use it to stay a few days “for free” in Aruba.  We used a combination of Club Carlson and Hyatt points to stay at those two resorts, and it is such a great feeling to have $0 in hotel fees for our long weekend stay even though the selling prices of the rooms are around $400+ per night right now.

Famil vacation in Aruba

Points friendly hotels all along the beach in Aruba

Aruba does not call to me like Hawaii does, but I have loved how easy it is to just have a fun time with your kids here, so I would be happy to return here again in the future for another long weekend.

A special thanks to everyone who contributed ideas and suggestions in this post on Aruba as they have been very helpful, and we have used lots of them!  Normal posting schedule will return soon, but until then, time to head back to the pool.  Or the beach.  Or the water slide.  Big decisions to be made here in Aruba.

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  1. Better food: Papiamento,, chalet Suisse, screaming eagle. Madame Jeanette’s Good and family friendly but often overbooked

  2. I liked Aruba, went there to get some sun in the winter and re-charge, not for any cultural or culinary excellence. I agree with your post – this isn’t Hawaii, but Aruba offers an easy getaway from the states and if you manage your expectations, is a nice change from the rest of the Caribbean or Florida.

    I stayed at the Westin and thought it was dump. Visited the Radisson (I am told it was sold recently and may not be a Radisson for long??) and the Hyatt to have a look around and wished I had picked one of those properties instead.

    Maybe you’ll get a chance to look at the Marriott and the Holiday Inn near the Radisson and report back? I didn’t get a chance to visit those properties, and wonder what they are like. Frankly, I was pretty impressed by what I saw the Radisson.

    I thought Smokey Joe’s BBQ was decent in terms of price, quality and service (hey, it ain’t Texas BBQ), but don’t really remember any of the other restaurants as being noteworthy.

  3. Just returned last night from 8 days at the Radisson.Love this place and Aruba weather. You can eat reasonably if you stay away from hotel food. Tons of Places across the street from fast food to high end places. We went to a grocery store 2 blocks away and stocked up on beverages ,fruits and snacks. Sad thing I”ve heard a lot lately is that the Radisson is being sold -so a good chance that this won”t be a Club Carlson property in the future. Only Time will tell.

  4. Yes yes yes!
    The beaches are the draw. One happy, casual, laid back island at 1/2 the flight duration compaired th Hawaii, for most of us.

    Sometimes this is all you need- no day long excursion, no dress code requirements for dining and a no beach vendors bugging you all day long like Mexico beaches. Just an umbrella, a drink with an umbrella in it, and your bqwch bucket.

  5. Hawaii calls to us, either. Aruba was really nice. But it doesn’t call to us.

    Hawaii is a very special place. Aruba, though, is still very nice and I’d go back in a heartbeat.

  6. What flight did u take as I know your out of Houston. I’m from lafayette and can’t find any direct flights out of Houston. I hate to go North to go South!

  7. We love Hawaii, too. However, I think this is what we enjoyed about Aruba. That there is nothing to do there but relax. You don’t feel that you need to have an itinerary and fit in all of the culture, etc. We visited while I was 5 months prego with my second, and it was exactly the rejuvenation I needed.

  8. Is there anything uniquely Arubian (or ABC islandish)? Is there any culture they way you would experience it in let’s say Barbados?
    Or is the experience similar to staying only along boulevard kukulkan in Cancun?

  9. sorry i missed your first article on suggestions for Aruba. We travel there a few times a year. I am shocked about what you said about the food. Where have you gone to eat? We love Aruba for easy quick flight out of NY. Use of either Radisson or Hyatt points. Great weather. Great food… If you get a chance walk eagle beach.

  10. MP –

    As other commenters have mentioned (and I’ve experienced in a dozen visits to Aruba) there is actually GREAT food down there if you know where to go. Most of it is outside the walking distance of the high-rise area so it’s a cab ride or a rental car, but it’s definitely there.

  11. Carla you can fly non stop Houston to Aruba on United on the weekends. We are booked in March non stop going and connecting in Panama on the return. Even got award seats thru Lufthansa!

    • United does have Saturday service from IAH – AUA at least some of the year. Every other day of the week you have to connect somewhere. 😉

  12. Can’t wait to hear more about your trip to Aruba – we have been considering a trip there with our 4 year old son and 18mo baby girl. I was able to find 6 nights at the Radisson w/ our Club Carlson points and workable flights on AA for our dates. I still have the hotel nights reserved but I let the hold on our AA tickets expire because I’m just not convinced yet that Aruba would be a good time for us. My husband tans fairly well, but the kids inherited by Nordic complexion (read: we *never* tan, always burn) … We went to Hawaii in August and did okay by staying on top of the sunscreen and keeping out of the sun between the hours of 10am-3pm. In Hawaii, that worked well because there was plenty to do during those hours. On Maui, we visited the aquarium and took some very scenic drives (to the blowhole and to the lava fields) when the sun was too intense to be out in it. On Kauai…same thing… scenic drives or just exploring the Grand Hyatt’s shops/birds/etc.

    Aruba looks like it would provide the family-friendly sort of vacation we’re looking for (my son wants to go someplace with an awesome pool/beach more than he wants to go on our already-booked Disney trip!) but it doesn’t sound like there would be anything for us to do as a respite from the sun during those hours where we can’t be outside. (We were hoping NOT to rent a car there, too, since it doesn’t seem like the scenery in Aruba justifies the trouble.) Lying beneath a palapa during those hours wouldn’t work for us either. First, I can only lay somewhere like that for awhile before being bored, and besides, keeping the kids confined in the shade with us is unrealistic. They’d run and play and have a blast, all while getting burnt to a crisp 🙁 I can only imagine how nice it would be to not have to carefully think/consider the sun every time we want to do anything outdoors.

    So, yeah, seriously torn. The CC points make it an almost-too-good-to-be-true deal, but if we’d be bored and miserable, I suppose it still isn’t worth it.

    • Tara, there are a few other things to do (that we didn’t do), but not to the extent that there is in Hawaii. We are all pale from winter and none of us got burned, but we were sure to have a cabana/palapa every day, and we spent time in it just digging in the sand and and such. Our day was often to the beach pool by 9:30 – 10A, swim til lunch, then eat, then nap/have inside time, then back out from about 4-5:30P. Then get ready for dinner and eat. I think you can have a great trip, but you are right that there isn’t as much outside pool/beach as some other destinations. Another idea is just do four nights. We did three nights, and I think that was a good amount for us since we didn’t really want to rent a car and explore the island. Four might be a great way to not get bored, and still have a fun trip!

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