I visited Aruba in April 2014, 2 weeks after my trip to Dominican Republic. I don't think I had ever been on back to back trips like this, but it seemed right on time as I continued to work on my chocolate and island high.
Going as an adult to my first family vacation, I knew I would enjoy & get frustrated at times, with being in the bosom of my family for a week straight. The destination itself was out of my control, but I welcomed it with open arms.
We stayed at the Riu Palace in Oranjestad, the capital of Aruba. The taxi to the hotel was only $25 which was impressive. If you are familiar with the Riu chain you can expect the consistent "royal" decor that you've been accustomed to at other locations. The exterior, indeed, looked like a palace - all white with castle-like trimmings, a luxe infinity pool, that leads into an open swimming pool with bar, that leads to the beach. The one downside to the design was the room decor which seemed very dated with older fixtures and furniture.
The pool was perfect. I could not ask for more. There were a few more kids than I would have liked, but that has to be chocked up to me going during public school Spring Break timing. But the beach was by far the best part of the hotel. The semi-private beach was topped with smooth sand that greeted aqua waters at the shore. Unlike my trip to DR where I was a little grossed out by the seaweed and other greenery, Aruba's waters were damn near perfect - especially early morning before filthy humans polluted the water with their cups and straws and whatever else didn't belong there. I spent hours upon hours practicing my floating, looking at how deep I could see down into the water and wading. To date, this was my second favorite beach of life, after St. Lucia.
I've grown accustomed to not expecting much from the food and drinks at all-inclusive resorts but I will say that the Riu pleasantly surprised me. My car driver wasn't able to tell me any Aruba-specific dishes that I should try while in Aruba so I wasn't on the hunt for anything in particular, but both the buffets and reservation-only restaurants were tasty. The drinks at bars all around the resort were also great tasting, though like most all-inclusive resorts, the liquor seemed watered down and I don't recall getting a buzz the whole trip.
At night there are cultural and comedy shows for entertainment. There's also tons of bars, a casino and a game room. Not to mention a bar on the beach that is open to the Riu and a few other hotels on the beach strip.
The staff at the Riu was friendly and they also allowed us to get a little deeper into Arubian culture. Arubians speak Papiamento, which is a hybrid between Spanish and Portuguese. All Arubians are taught Dutch and Spanish in school and everyone seemed to be able to speak English moderately well, so it's safe to say that the island is qua-lingual. I also didn't realize that Aruba was so heavily Hispanic, but after looking at the map I realized that the island is a hop and a skip away from Venezuela, so the cultural influence is definitely felt. And by a hop and a skip, I mean when we were jet skiing, we could see Venezuela and ride to it ... Though of course it wasn't permitted.
Speaking of jet skiing, there are a plethora of water activities to partake in on the beach - from parasailing, to jet-skiing, to sky boarding - the new water sport where you get jolted into the air - basically hovering from a jetpack attached to your feet. Check the video, it was an awesome sight.
The fam and I took part in just about every water activity and we were on an adrenaline high the entire time, particularly with the jet skiing which was a first for me. We also did an independent ATV ride around the island. Because Aruba is a dessert island, there were tons of off-roads to speed and get dirty in while the wind blowing in your face makes you feel like a bad ass motorcycle driver. The tour map we were given for the ATVs allowed us to check out many sites in Aruba like the natural bridge, caves, the natural pool, the chapel and more. I would highly recommend the ATV tour, not to be confused with the UTV tour which was being heavily promoted by all the staff.
I loved the weather in Aruba this time of year. Every day was 85/90 degrees (while I left behind snow and 40/50 degrees in NYC.) Because Aruba is a desert island, the nights get chilly and even during the day when it's hot it's not unbearable hot because the desert air keeps it dry.
On my last day at the Riu, I wanted to take it easy from all the high-energy, adrenaline gushing activities so we took a cab ride downtown, known as the "Capitol area." I was happy to hear that the cab to town was only roughly $10, which is much cheaper than other islands that seem to require $50 or more to go anywhere off the resort.
We went to a few of the malls, which were impressive in design but not so much in shopping selection. There were however a few bars and restaurants that seemed to offer a more authentic taste of Aruba, which was worth partaking in. You can see the Dutch and Spanish influence everywhere around the island. Aruba's motto is "one happy island" and I left a happy man indeed.
QUICK CHEAT SHEET: ARUBA Food you must have: seafood and chicken prepared locally. If you like sweets, try the Dutch chocolates Verdake Drink you must have: the locals say drink ArubaRiba but I preferred the Piña coladas and mixed drinks at the Bacardi bar in the capitol area Highlight: The beaches! Especially Eagle beach. And ATV Ride What I Missed: Submarine ride 13,000 feet below sea level Notes: it's affordable to take a cab to most places so get around! Length of Stay: 5 days, 4 nights & perfect