Monday, June 17, 2019

Aruba Travel Guide :: Where To Stay & Getting Around

Happy belated Father's Day to all the Dads out there! We came home late last night from an amazing week in Aruba. Back to reality today a.k.a work. A dear reader has asked if I could share some notes from my trip as they're planning to visit the island soon. That's what I am doing today. I'll split the information into 2 posts. I'll share where we stayed and how to get around the island in this post. Next post, I'll talk about top things to do in Aruba.
{Taken at the Renaissance Aruba} 
It was our first time in Aruba and it's been a wonderful experience. For a beach vacation, I've been to the Bahamas, Cancun, Dominican Republic, the Keys and Aruba. Aruba is actually the one place that I'd love to come back. No direct flight from Columbus, OH. We flew into Baltimore then Baltimore to Aruba. Total air time is about 5.5 hours.

Where to stay: For the first half of the trip, we stayed at the Marriott Renaissance. For the remainder of the trip, we stayed at the Marriott Stellaris. I'll explain why later in this post. There are 3 main areas in Aruba:
1. Downtown Oranjestad: The Marriott Renaissance is located in the heart of downtown Oranjestad. The resort has 2 separated buildings: the Marina Hotel (adults-only) located on top of the Renaissance mall across the street from the water. The Ocean Suites (family-friendly) directly on the water.
2. Eagle Beach (low-rise hotels): Eagle Beach is breathtakingly beautiful. It's ranked 3rd best beach and I can totally see why. I will talk more about this particular beach in my next post.
3. Palm Beach (high-rise hotels): This is where the Marriott Stellaris located. In summary, if you're looking for family-friendly vacation and/or a bit cheaper hotel rates then downtown area is a good option. If you want to spend your entire stay at the beach then definitely check out hotels near Eagle Beach. If you want to experience Aruba's nightlife then you'd want to look into one of the high-rise hotels in Palm Beach.

The main reason that we decided to stay at the Renaissance because the girls wanted to see the flamingos. It's a private island owned by the Renaissance. Access to the private island is included if you are a hotel guest. If you're not a hotel guest, a day pass to the island is $99. The private island has 2 sections: adult-only section (where the flamingos are) and family-friendly section. However, kids can feed, take pictures with the flamingos everyday between 9:00 a.m - 10 a.m. It can be chaotic during that time period. Tip: To avoid the crowds, go later in the evening. There are very few people on the island and they don't care if the kids are on the adult-only side after 6:00 p.m. The speed boat runs every 15 minutes to take the guests back and forth (the last ride is at 6:45 p.m). Since it's a private island, the number of visitors are limited. It never feels crowded.The water was calm and inviting. Is the flamingo island worth it? We enjoyed our stay there but to be completely honest, I don't think the price was worth it. We paid a little over $300 per night. The hotel is a bit dated and the suite was just alright. However, it's waking distance to everything you need and offers a laid back atmosphere which is a perfect vacation spot for families with young kids. There is a Starbucks and the Renaissance mall steps away from the hotel.
Inclusive or non-inclusive? I booked an all-inclusive hotel package when we were in Dominican Republic and the food wasn't anything to write home about. I did some research and found many great options within the walking distance of the hotel so we decided not to do an all-inclusive option. However, I wish we did. Everything is very expensive in Aruba. On average, a simple family lunch would cost between $60 - $75. A dinner for 4 is well over $100 and we're talking about bar food. We are creatures of habit when it comes to food. The kids are happy with cheese burgers, pizzas, chicken fingers and spaghetti. Even though there are many wonderful options available outside the hotel, they don't have an appreciation for international cuisines (which is fine). All depends on your preferences, if you're more adventures when it comes to food then I would not recommend doing all inclusive. If you're OK with typical food choices then all-inclusive is probably the way to go.
For the second part of the trip, we moved to the Marriott Stellaris. It's a beautiful ocean-front hotel located on Palm Beach. It also comes with a hefty price tag of $500 per night. I have nothing negative to say about this resort. The room was nice and clean. The service was great. Again, there is a Starbucks onsite along with several high-end jewelry stores in the hotel's lobby. They play live music every night. If you want to be in the heart of Aruba's busy touristic town, this is it. There are endless dining and entertainment options. At night, you can enjoy a romantic dinner on the beach and watch the sunset.

Other hotels to consider: 
Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort: I've heard great things about this resort but it's an adult-only resort
Tamarijn Aruba (all-inclusive): Between downtown and Eagle Beach

Getting around: You can get a rental car, utilize public transportation or take a cab (what we did). One of the easiest ways to get around is getting a cab. They line up in front of the hotel or the hotel concierge can get one for you. It's super easy to hail a cab from point A to point B. Taxi drivers are incredibly friendly and helpful. Taxis in Aruba do not have meters. Rates are based on destination and set by the government. Each driver should carry a rate card. It's $21 from the airport to any of the low-rise hotels, $25 to any of the hotels in Eagle Beach and $31 to any of the high-rise hotels. The fares are fixed. The cab drivers cannot charge you prices different from the rate card. We did not encounter any issues with taxis.
Where to eat: As mentioned previously, we're not foodies. The kids basically lived in their swimsuits the entire week. For the most part, they weren't into taking a shower, changing clothes, finding a place to eat, waiting for their meals. If having something quick and easy makes them happy then so be it. Both of my kids are picky eaters so I am not going to sit at a fancy restaurant to hear them whine about their meals. I am sure there are wonderful dining options available if you're interested. That being said, we did enjoy our meals from these places
{Sunset at the Stellaris}
Other notes:
  • The US dollar is widely accepted. Taxis accept cash only. There are ATM machines throughout the island that you can get cash from. Some have fees, some does not. You just have to pay attention.
  • When travelling with the kids, safety is definitely our number one concern (especially with numerous of incidents reported in Dominican Republic). We felt really safe in Aruba. We walked around at night with the kids and never once felt it was unsafe. Aruba has a very low crime rate (1% - 2%)
  • Everyone was super nice and helpful. There was more than one taxi driver thanking us for visiting the island. It helps creating job. Did you know that Aruba attracts about one million visitors each year?
  • The temperature doesn't change much throughout the day (between 81-85 Fahrenheit everyday). 
  • It's really windy. The average wind was 20 mph during our entire stay. Don't bother doing your hair. It'll be a mess as soon as you step outside. Same with makeup. The only face product that I put on was sunscreen =)
I hope you find this post helpful. Stay tuned for part 2 if you're interested!

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