We booked a last minute trip to ring in my 30th birthday in Aruba and it couldn’t have been a better decision. I’ve spent my last 9 birthdays out of the country on a beach and didn’t want to break that tradition. Aruba is one place I hadn’t been and after seeing one of my girl friends @Meghan spend her birthday there, I was sold. We arrived on a Thursday spent two full days and were headed home Sunday. I’ll share the details on all we did as well as suggestions for what we’d do in the future so that if you do decide to go, you make the most of your time.
Aruba isn’t a huge island, but is bigger than most that I’ve been to. You can drive from one side of the island to the other in about 90 minutes. We flew American, which had a layover in Miami and arrived in Aruba around 3 pm. By the time we picked up our rental car and got to the hotel it was 5:30 pm. We booked all of our accommodations individually and only had flights, hotel and a rental car prior to arriving.
We stayed at the Marriott Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino which is in the “Renaissance Island” area that consists of many restaurants, a marina and plenty of high end shopping. The location was ideal for me since it was only 10 minutes away from the airport, central on the island and not incredibly touristy like Palm Beach where the majority of other major hotels were. The resort is huge and although it’s definitely not the most luxurious hotel that we’ve stayed in, it was clean, spacious and most importantly allowed free access to the private flamingo island. I mean this in the sweetest way, but this resort was like a retiree’s paradise. Almost everyone there was over 65 and sweet as pie! We actually enjoyed how ‘laxed and quiet it was. If you want to party, look to stay in Palm Beach which will give you more of a Spring Break vibe.
Another option that we will likely look into next time we’re in Aruba is Boardwalk. Several couples we met were staying here and although they’re not beach front, they are so charming and feel much more like the island of Aruba than a big name hotel. If you truly want to spend time exploring the island, I’d suggest Boardwalk since you’d have to leave for meals, the beach, and other activities. If you do want a big luxury hotel in the party area, Aruba Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino had a swankier feel than the Renaissance Resort & Casino and is also closer to the more lively area of the island.
We rented a car and would absolutely recommend that you do the same if you want to easily maneuver around the island. A jeep is ideal if you really want to explore, since they can take you off road into some parts of the island that can’t be accessed by car, but can also be pricey if they’re not booked in advance. The most popular cars are tiny Hyundai’s and Kia’s, so if you do rent one bring an AUX cord so you can vibe while you drive!
Dinner at The Flying Fishbone
Atardi | A beachside restaurant at the Aruba Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino. We went here our first evening for dinner and loved the vibe of it. Very romantic and also charming. There was a live singer and string lights. Not to mention, the food was great and healthy. I recommend the ceviche appetizer, as well as the sea bass entree.
Breakfast Buffet @ Marriott Renaissance | This is an onsite breakfast buffet that you can add on to your stay, or pay for a la carte. It’s outdoor near the pool and has the cutest set up with a huge array of food options. Omelettes, cereal, fresh fruit, green juice, pastries galore and good coffee. I enjoyed both the setting and the food.
Zeerovers | A casual and local lunch spot off of a dock. Get here around 11:30, no later than noon because then the line is out of the door. They have a small menu, fried catch of the day or shrimp, fries, plantains and cold beer. It was delicious, huge portions and very inexpensive.
The Flying Fishbone | This is the restaurant that everyone says is a “must” for the island of Aruba. When we went, we weren’t very hungry so that may have been why it was just OK for us. They have a lit beach-side table option, where you can even have your feet in the water while you eat. Nate had fish and I had shrimp and risotto, which was very good. It’s pricier because of the “experience” but is worth it if you want a nicer dining experience.
Anna Maria’s Autentico Ristorante Italiano | This is one restaurant that we couldn’t get a reservation at that we wish we would have! You have dinner in their home so seating is limited and reservations need to be made in advanced, but I’ve heard there’s no other Italian food like it on the island.
Papiamento | We didn’t get to try this restaurant out for dinner, but it’s another home-turned-dining experience where the tables are set up indoor and outdoor, around a lush garden and pool.
Pinchos Bar and Grill | This restaurant is located on its own dock underneath string lights and with views of the coast. It’s the perfect choice for a romantic meal on the water or for sunset. Try the mahi mahi!
Papagayo Bar and Grill | If you do decide to go to the Flamingo Private Island, this is the bar that you can get lunch + drinks at. Nate and I shared a pizza and wings. Both were good, but ask for hot sauce for both. It’s exquisite.
Gianni’s Ristorante Italiano | We went here our last night because we were tired of eating dinner outside in sand, LOL! This place is known for their on-fire spaghetti that they prepare in front of you in a giant cheese wheel. The restaurant is huge, but the service was great.
Aruba also had so many American restaurants, from Pizza Hut to Hard Rock Cafe. So if seafood isn’t your thing, there’s a drive-through around the corner with your name on it.
What to Do
Flamingo Island | Honestly, this is a must-see for a day where you just want to lay around. It’s also kid friendly. If you stay at the Marriott Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino, you can visit this island from 7 to 7 everyday with your room key. You take a quick 5 minute boat ride to get there. If you are not a guest at the hotel, they sell day passes to the island for $100 a day, per person. If you want to go specifically for photos with the flamingo’s, I suggest taking the 7 am boat and being the first ones there. Any time after that you’re chancing people in every photo you take.
Small Natural Pool and Cave | This is one thing we regret not experiencing while we were there, but it’s one of those things that you either 1) have to take a tour for and 2) need a jeep to get to. You need to take an off road to get to it so think about the best way to do that whether it be a guide or a rental vehicle. The swimming hole is located adjacent to the Bushiribana Ruins. To find it, look for a ladder down. The swimming hole is located to the right, and formed naturally when the rocks collapsed on one side to form a protected pool with ocean water. I will be back just for this!
Baby Beach | A popular beach that offers some of the most pristine white sand on the south side of the island. Baby Beach features snorkeling, an ocean-front restaurant, and calm waters. We spent an afternoon there and thoroughly enjoyed just standing in the water for hours at a time.
Eagle Beach | Eagle Beach is known to be one of the world’s best beaches. The water here is turquoise, clear, and the long stretch of sand makes for beautiful photos. As you venture south down Eagle Beach, you’ll find a beach bar on the sand plus a few restaurant options.
Boat Ride | The morning of my birthday we took a brunch boat ride with Octopus Aruba. They served mimosas and served a selection of appetizers while sailing us out to an old shipwreck and then some amazing snorkeling. They have many different boating options that are fairly priced and very enjoyable!
Other Things to See and Do
California Light House – This light house has the most spectacular views of the island. It recently opened to the public so you’re able to climb to the top and see panoramic views of the island at it’s most northern point.
Gusto | We went to Gusto for a night out the evening before my birthday. They had happy hour and free entrance until 11, so 2 shots of Patron were $13. The music was great, especially after a bottle of wine at dinner, but Gusto overall had a very Spring Break feel. You could have a good time there if you really wanted to!
Stairs Into the Sea |
Arikok National Park | Located on the south side of the island, there is plenty to do and see here. If you’re looking for photo ops, look no further. There are two caves (one has bats!) and a natural pool.
What I Wore
In Aruba, you will not need much. A bunch of swimsuits, cover-ups, shorts and sandals. The only time you’ll dress up (if you want to) is dinner. Everything is casual. I still did my best to make the most out of the 20 outfits I packed, but of course some didn’t get worn. Linking all the items that I packed with me below for you all!
SHOP THE ITEMS:
We didn’t find things to be any more expensive than any other island. Side note: Mexico takes the cake in cheapest vacations once you’re there. Our most expensive dinner was $200 and we had a bottle of champagne or wine at all of them. Meals during the day averaged between $25-50. We spent the bulk of our money on food and drinks. Aruban florin is their local dollar, but most everywhere accepts US dollars, including cards.
I am anxiously awaiting taking a family vacation in Aruba in the near future. It’s easily a place you can come and lay around for days, or even weeks. If I left any info out that you’ll need to plan your own trip to Aruba, let me know in the comments below. I’m happy to fill in any blanks!