I just returned from a week in Aruba with my husband, brother, son (17) and nephew (18) and thought I would share my opinions for anyone considering Aruba as a destination under similar circumstances. First off, I chose Aruba to appeal to the number of folks with diverse interests we were traveling with.
We stayed in the high rise area and rented a time share unit at Playa Linda directly from the owner. Although this can be a gamble, it worked out wonderfully for us...the unit and views were better than I expected. We loved having a full kitchen, which we kept stocked with beverages for the adults and snacks for the teens. Something to note is that by renting directly from the owner, you are not subject to most of the taxes charged by the resorts. One down side to this resort (though I can't speak for the others) is that to guarantee that you get a chickee for the day, someone in your party needs to get up at the crack of dawn (or well before!) and reserve one with the beach attendants. Not very relaxing for a vacation.
The high rise area has tons to do as far as beach bars, casinos, water sports, etc. A lot of action, which kept the teens occupied. What it also has is every American chain restaurant imaginable. As a matter of fact, Aruba is so Americanized...I felt like it was "foreign-travel-light". Disappointing. I've traveled to Europe, Mexico, the Bahamas, St. Maarten, Anguilla and St. Barts and at times while in Aruba, I felt as though I hadn't even left Florida. Well...except for the weather. Which was phenomenal! Even on the hottest day (at 92 degrees), with our shaded chikee and the breeze, we were completely comfortable. I cannot express how great the weather is!
Palm Beach is crowded. And loud. Period. I've never been around so many New Yorker's outside New York. And I am from New York...my entire family is from New York, so no offense. I just visited the City three weeks ago...I love New York. But New Yorker's are loud. The noise on Palm Beach also comes from families with small children and speed boats. After living in Florida as long as I have and enjoying the it's nice, quiet beaches, as well as beaches on other Caribbean Islands, my beach experience in Aruba was not exactly what I would describe as "relaxing". I didn't hate it...Palm Beach is just not a relaxing beach. It is active and buzzing with people and families with young children and chatter and speed boats. Laying back and listening to the waves crash onto the shore is very difficult here. Perhaps Eagle Beach is better suited for this; however, due to traveling with the teens who needed the entertainment that Palm Beach has to offer, we chose to stay there. So for those facing the same dilemma, be forewarned.
The teens wanted to do the Jolly Pirate Boat, which we all actually enjoyed! No beer on board (only liquor), but it was overall pretty fun and the constant breeze out on the water made it a great time for everyone.
We rented a Jeep for a few days and really enjoyed checking out some of the other beaches as well, including Arashi Beach, which were not as crowded. For anyone undecided on renting a vehicle and checking leaving the resort area, I highly recommend it. Personally, the trip would have been a bust had we not done this.
We took a chance and drove to the Natural Pool, which was well worth the risk. We arrived just as a tour was leaving, so we had the place to ourselves. The snorkeling was great and the tranquility and beauty made it a highlight of the trip. On our way out of Arikok National Park, we encountered two other jeeps that couldn't quite handle the terrain. We also went to the California White Sand Dunes North of Arashi Beach, where we saw not another living soul, and spent some time in Oranjestad.
We hit most of the casinos in the high rise area and they were about what I expected...not Vegas, but better than St. Maarten. I'm not a gambler though, so I can't really rate. The only drinks that were free when we were at the tables were Balashi (the local beer), which in my opinion is on par with bad Corona. I did not care for it at all...but I wasn't there for the free drinks anyway. The Amstel Bright was pretty tasty though. Another thing I noted is that draft beer was few and far between. I saw Stella on draft at a few bars, but everything else was bottled. We spent a few hours at Bugaloe one night and enjoyed the live music there (and had a great mozzarella sandwich), as well as a number of the other beach bars whose names escape me. My personal favorite was the Zombie Room, which was straight up rock and roll when we stumbled in on Thursday night (and stayed way too late).
Since most of our group are vegetarians, I was very pleased with the number of vegetarian options I found! We stopped at two grocery stores during the week and both had a good selection of veggie burger/meats. Ling and Son's had the best selection. And we had no trouble finding food when we at out either. I was slightly concerned about this because when I was researching prior to the trip I couldn't find much (however, since we had no trouble finding food in Anguilla and St. Barts, I knew we wouldn't starve). So hopefully, google will find this.
Overall, for our group, Aruba worked. The teens obviously had a really great time and were asking about going back before we even left. My husband and I personally prefer a bit more local culture and peace and quiet from our beaches, but we will do the trip again if the group doesn't want to explore another destination option.
Since 1980, and throughout the many changes, we still love going downtown in Oranjestad.
Sounds like you had a great time in Aruba. Your comments are well-written and give a good sense of what you thought about the place. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.
A few comments about your comments.
The "Americanization" of Aruba gets brought up from time to time. It would seem that Aruba has deliberately chosen this direction for the development of its tourism industry. It's never stopped us (We're from Canada) from enjoying Aruba. It's neighbour, Curacao, on the other had, seems to have tried to head in a different direction. We enjoy them both.
The whole business about having to get up in the middle of the night to reserve a chickee, palapa, chaisse lounge, etc is another topic of discussion every now and again. Not sure what to make of this. I guess that's what happens in a place as popular as Aruba.
We have been to other Caribbean destinations but we always come back to Aruba. The people (Arubans and visitors alike), the weather, the beaches, the restaurant/bar/club/casino scene, the shopping and everythuing else that makes Aruba Aruba are all there in abundance.
As for local culture and quiet places, come to the other side of the bridge as some of us refer to the southeast side of Aruba. Be warned: very little vegetarian options. But a few quiet little beaches, local fisherman wharves, and the breeze to hush you to sleep.
The recommendation to move south to Eagle beach is a good one. Not as crowded and often practically empty.
While there are a lot of American chain restaurants in Aruba, there is a wealth of locally run establishments that provide a better level of dining than the American chains. I look at the Americanization of Aruba as a benefit to be taken advantage of. No currency changing to do, no foreign languages to learn, etc.
If you decide to go back, check back here first for some good advice on where to go and what to do to avoid the issues you listed for your recent visit and enhance your visit.
Bucuti Beach Club, Natural Pool, Donkey Farm, Alto Vista Chapel
You definitely want to try Eagle Beach. I highly recommend the Bucuti since you will only have adults the next time you come. The young adults will be old enough to wander up to Palm Beach for activities. You need to check out Savaneta and San Nicolas for more local culture. In Organestaad, try The Old Fisherman for lunch. You have to experience the Bon Bini Festival at least once in Aruba on Tuesdays. In Savaneta, Zeerovers is the place for a casual beach dinner with locals. The Flying Fishbone is great for upscale dining on the beach. In San Nicolas, check out Charlie's Bar and the Carubbian Festival on Thursdays. I'm planning on hitting the local rum shops this trip down.
I share many of your feelings about the palm beach area and usually don't spend as much time there because of it. There really is a great island waiting to be found, it just takes a little effort, as you started to find out at Arashi.
Aruba is for nightlife, beach and watersport. *That's it*
If we skip tourism, Aruba would be a very very quiet island, as there is not much of a vivid cultural life. I knew it would be "americanized" (with all respect) but I had no idea it would be this hard to see Aruban tradition.
We have been here almost a month, and we have mingled with Arubans, drove around many times, spent time in local neighbourhoods, but cultural life is limited. It is not as visible and vivid as on Curacao (which had a different role than Aruba in the past)
If you are good with 3 ingredients Aruba has to offer, than this is your heaven.
But we decided Aruba is not for us to stay. Yet, every time I see the turquoise blue ocean and feel the powdery sand between my toes I am in awe.