Our Incredible Aruba Trip



Aruba or "One Happy Island' was our beach vacation choice for this year! We were debating between somewhere in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Aruba and ultimately decided on Aruba. Aruba was the best choice for a variety of reasons: perfect weather, crystal clear water, direct flights and an incredible Marriott property I could use points for the trip.

I did a fair amount of research, but nowhere near the amount of planning and research I typically do for the trips I go on. We had the hotel booked, dinner reservations at some great restaurants, and that's about it. I knew that the island is fairly small, easy to get around, and safe. We also were not staying at an all-inclusive property with the intention of eating dinner at some great restaurants.

We had a heck of a trip and I want to provide you with a summary version of our suggestions and adventures, along with some awesome photos to convince you that Aruba is well worth it.

Photo Gallery of us:

Photo Gallery of Aruba:

Link to Recap Video: Click here

Aruba

The island itself is located right on the equator, so pack a TON of sunscreen and apply it regularly. The sun is no joke, even though it might not feel that hot. The hours of 1pm through 3pm is when the sun seemed to be the hottest. The west side of the island is where are the hotels are because the east side is basically a desert with very choppy water.

Flights

We took a direct flight on United from O'Hare to Aruba and it was great. It was under five hours each way and we ended up having an entire row to ourselves both ways. There are a lot of less expensive options that connect through various cities, so that's an alternative if you're looking to save some money (we booked by using points).

Accommodations

The Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino was the perfect place in Aruba to stay. It's located with the 'high-rise' hotels, but it by far seemed to be the best option for the price. The hotel was immaculately clean and the room was fantastic. We were upgraded to a center room with a balcony overlooking the main pool area, which looked out onto the beach. The beach was perfect and it was easy to find a spot, while never being too crowded. There are families with kids that stay at the hotel, but overall it wasn't like the other hotels where kids are running around everywhere.

The two happy hours a day were a nice perk and ordering lunch from Waves Beach Bar & Grill was fantastic, well priced, and super convenient. We ate dinner once at Atardi which is located on the property and it was actually one of the best meals we had on the trip (see below for more details).

One great aspect to the Marriott property is the fact it's connected to other high-rise hotels via the beachfront paths, which lead to some other restaurants and bars as well. We discovered this our second night in Aruba; it's really hard to tell via Google Maps. For example, you can walk from the Marriott Stellaris hotel to Hadicurari and Moomba Beach restaurants.

Restaurants

The food in Aruba is INCREDIBLE, absolutely INCREDIBLE. The fish is so fresh and all the places have HUGE portions. You will generally pay between $20-$40 per dish at dinner at some of the better restaurants, but the places we went to were definitely not shorting you on anything. Below are the top restaurants in Aruba.

  • Atardi - This restaurant really shocked us in a positive way. It's located at the Marriott Stellaris property on the beach. It's somewhat confusing because during the day it's actually Waves Beach Bar and Grill. At night it turns into Atardi and they bring out the beach dining setup. The seafood will not disappoint.

  • Waves Beach Bar and Grill - It's the same kitchen as Atardi and they do beach lunches the right way. The portions are massive and the fish tacos will have you coming back for more. I think we ordered the fish tacos four days that we were there and I could have ordered them more! The tables on the deck outside the bar area are a nice break from the sun as well.

  • Hadicurari - Located just a walk down the beach from where we were staying, this is another beach front dining property close to the high-rise hotels. Overall, this wasn't as good as Atardi and we ended up having to send the fish back. The ambiance was great though!

  • Nos Clubhuis - This bar is basically the second floor of the beach front restaurant Hadicurari. In fact, if you sit along the railing you look down at Hadicurari and out onto the ocean. The menu is mainly fried food, but it's super reasonably priced and the drinks are very reasonable. It's a fun low-key place to check out.

  • Moomba Beach - The restaurant / bar is situated right next to Nos Clubhuis and Hadicurari and down from the Marriott properties (all connected by beach paths). The food was surprisingly good and you're sitting on the beach just as you are at the other nice places. At night, the one side to this beach front property essentially turns into a club. There's live music and it's definitely a mixed crowd (teenagers to adults)! We enjoyed walking down here from the hotel for a drink.

  • Flying Fishbone - Quite the drive from the north hotels on the island, but this restaurant is one of the top rated restaurants on the island. It's fancy dining, but not like what you're used to. Half of the tables are actually IN the water. We purposely didn't want one of those tables, but we were in the sand right above the water. Our meals and cocktails were on point and the seafood was delicious.

  • Madame Janette - Although Madame Janette's isn't on the beach, they have a fantastic outdoor patio with incredible food. This restaurant has a very lively atmosphere with a live band playing most of the time. The portions are huge and the menu has a lot to choose from!

  • El Gaucho - One alternative to a seafood restaurant on the island is this Argentinian style steakhouse. The meal was a great way to break up all the fish we were eating and enjoy a nice steak! The meat was almost as good as the food I had in Argentina when I visited (click here to read that post).

  • Gianni's Italian - Another alternative to seafood is Gianni's Italian restaurant. I will say it felt a bit touristy, but the food is incredible. Be sure to ask which pasta dishes are homemade and try one of those!

Tourist destinations

I would recommend not pushing your trip in the direction of endless tours or destinations that are 'top rated' on the island. The Natural Pool is something everyone recommends, but after talking to several people who have done it they say it's just overcrowded and a pain to get to. So, if you're feeling adventurous, I would recommend a guided ATV tour that would take a half day or full day and make that your one day off the beach! We rented a regular car and checked out several places, below are my recommendations for the top things to do in Aruba:

  • Arashi Beach - Make this your number 1 destination point if you're looking to explore the island. The water is even more clear than it is by the high-rise hotels, the water is super shallow and the views are stunning! This beach is known for being a top snorkeling destination, but we didn't even snorkel here. There's free parking and tons of great sights to see (including the California Lighthouse). There isn't much in the way of dining up by Arashi Beach though, so plan to pack food or eat beforehand.

  • Jolly Pirate - We did the Jolly Pirates snorkeling trip and had an absolute blast! The dive sites were great with the first one being a massive ship wreck and the others being more calm areas. The boat was fun with free drinks and a rope swing. I wouldn't recommend factoring lunch into the equation since it was small portions and just okay. At first it seemed gimmicky, hey a big pirate ship, but we are really glad we did this!

  • California Lighthouse - This is cool to see only because of the views overlooking north west Aruba. It's typically crowded, but we are glad we went to see it.

  • Alto Vista Chapel - Very old chapel and we were there when not a lot of people were there, which made the experience even better. From Alto Vista Chapel you can walk down about a mile to the East shore to check it out. It's basically rocks, cactus's and very choppy water.

  • Eagle Beach - The only reason why we went here is so I could take pictures of the Divi Divi trees and that was about all it was good for. Otherwise, you might as well just stay at the beach your closest too since this one is similar to the others.

  • Renting a Car - We decided this was the best way to see the island and avoid getting stuck in a tour doing things we didn't want to do or see something we didn't want to see. Driving in Aruba is very easy and similar to the US. There are a lot of roundabouts though, so if you haven't used those before, just pay attention when you're in the cab going to your hotel from the airport.

  • Downtown Oranjestad - I'm glad we spent time walking around downtown, especially by the port area, but it's all just basically for tourists. We only spent about an hour in town and then headed out.

My favorite picture of Aruba, the Divi Divi Tree I captured on the famous Eagle Beach. This was taken mid-morning using a 10-stop ND filter. I actually ended up blending two photos together to capture the movement of the clouds and the stillness of the tree.


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