Aruba always holds a special place in traveler's hearts with its white sand beaches, turquoise waters, year-round temperate climate and numerous seaside attractions. Whether you come for a long weekend or weeklong getaway, the island truly offers something for everyone from sailing and snorkeling to beach tennis and volleyball. My friend Sheila and I embarked on a girlsí getaway weekend (via nonstop flight from Boston on JetBlue Airways) at the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino on Palm Beach, which recently completed a $50 million renovation.
The eight-story hotel now houses more than 400 rooms, seven bars (one swim-up) and restaurants, including Ruthís Chris Steak House, a spa and a casino. If you are coming here with kids, be sure to sign them up for scavenger hunts, air hockey competitions, T-shirt painting and bracelet making activities. We enjoyed trying our hand at the blackjack table in the 24-hour casino that also had slot machines (Wheel of Fortune anyone?) and other card tables.
Our room had an enormous balcony where we enjoyed breakfast overlooking the pool area and waterfront beach. Be sure to request a guest room with access to the Tradewinds Club where you have exclusive access via room key to five daily food presentations, snacks and a private concierge. The on-site luxury spa, Mandara, offered a relaxing afternoon of pampering topped off with a French manicure and pedicure. There are also a variety of unique spa treatments to choose from here, including a Caribbean inspiration facial, a 50-minute aloe and milk wrap and, of course, the Massage de La Aruba.
For dinner, be sure to make an advance reservation at Ruthís Chris Steak House as the restaurant fills up quickly, especially on the weekends. We loved the cooked to perfection bone-in ribeye and accompanying side of mushrooms and loaded baked potato. One evening, we dined on Chilean sea bass and Thai caramelized shrimp at the South Beach themed Screaming Eagle Restaurant located just a few miles up the road.
Aruba is located in the southern Caribbean just outside the hurricane belt so you never have to worry about inclement weather striking the island. There is an abundance of water sports to do here such as sunset catamaran cruises along the coastline or you can rent a jet ski and see the island at your own pace. We took a short cab to downtown Oranjestad for some shopping at the open air markets that sell handmade crafts and where you can also get your hair braided by some of the locals.
One day we took a six hour, off-road adventure on a Jeep Safari tour of the island by De Palm Tours. Along the way our informative and knowledgeable tour guide gave us an amazing ride through Arikok Park, the islandís national park where we saw some goats, lots of lizards and some beautiful cacti. We twisted and turned by some unspoiled hot spots like the Alto Vista Chapel, Gold Mill Ruins and California Lighthouse before stopping in a secluded area that was home to the Natural Pool. Unfortunately, the waves were too high that day for us to go for a swim but typically the natural pool is open for swimming.
After a visit to Aruba, you will easily see why they call it one happy island.