This past Thanksgiving holiday, the husband and I decided to do something drastic – something we had never done before. We decided to selfishly take a trip. Specifically, a long trip outside the country that would let us use our (er, my) newly minted passpor – to Aruba. I don’t get a whole lot of time off, and the Thurs/Fri extra double whammy afforded us more vacay with less PTO deficit.
Originally, we were targeting the homeland of my maiden name, Ireland. However, after some research and being totally turned off by the prospect of planning a trip on our own, with manual car rentals and whatnot, we decided to put that off for a timeframe with more favorable conditions (spoiler alert: this upcoming spring! Stay tuned.) So, we looked elsewhere. The criteria wasn’t terribly strict, but we did have some guidelines set in place: little to no Zika, warm climate, more relaxing and less touring, preferably exotic-ish. Aruba is all these things.
THE LOWDOWN ON THE DUTCH CARIBBEAN
A small island only about 900 miles from the equator and about 20 miles off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba is a unique little country – a “constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.” Its position affords it a dry, desert-like climate (most of the time), and it has its own currency (the Florin) language (Papiamento), and culture, which some say is one of the most diverse concentrations in the world.
Despite these facts, they would rather accept US currency and pretty much every person speaks English. They also have a Papa Johns, Dominos, Pizza Hut and Sabarro all within a few miles of one another so it’s pretty US-friendly. Not that we were going for that. Fun fact: it’s also one of only 6 countries in which you go through US customs while in the country, essentially you are on US soil at the airport and don’t have to worry about it when you get back.
OFF TO ARUBA WE GO
Fast forward to our glorious 8 full day, 9 night stay at the incredibly unique and amazing value for the money Amsterdam Manor Beachfront Resort on Eagle Beach (another shout out to the husband for doing all the extensive research and booking!)
While we did a LOT of relaxing (which is weird and very hard for me to do; you will learn this about me) we also did some really neat stuff (including jet skiing, crashing a volleyball tournament beach party and sweating through all of our clothes.) Check out my other top 5 favorite recommendations for must-dos. In no particular order:
- The Kukoo Kanuku Party Bus Tour
- Thanksgiving Dinner at Passions on the Beach
- Couples Aromatherapy Massage at Pure Ocean Indulgence
- Jolly Pirate Snorkeling Tour
- “Dinner in Bed” at Screaming Eagle
THE KUKOO KANUKU PARTY BUS TOUR
Okay. So being honest here, if we had seen this “excursion” while we were in Aruba, we may probably not have booked it. Super cheesy, overly loud and obnoxious, the Kukoo Kanuku party bus comes off as something you’d do only after consuming a lot of liquid courage and amongst the company of fraternity brothers or sorority sisters. We are so glad we did it.
We opted for the dinner + 3 bar stop package, which includes a sunset champagne toast, BBQ dinner + drink, plus 3 stops at local places + 1 complimentary drink at each for $67 a person (including tax). We didn’t actually book our reservation until we were already well into the trip – we tried for a Wednesday evening and called the morning of. We found out they were booked until that Friday, so we confirmed. If you have a tight schedule, it’s probably best to book well ahead of time.
So, on to the tour. After receiving instructions to wait outside our hotel, we patiently stood out front with our party pants on. All of a sudden, we heard an engine humming in the distance which quickly materialized into a loudly hand-painted open-aired school bus with hilarious sayings, benches and a bumpin’ sound system. After “Mama” (who we would come to know and love later on) checked us off her list, we climbed up into our seats and were greeted with fist pumping 30 and 40-somethings pushing maracas in our faces. We grabbed a pair and started clapping along as we pulled away to pick up the rest of the group.
After that, we all headed to a gorgeous Arashi Beach for a photo opt and a flute of champaign, and then on to a delicious BBQ dinner at another local spot (a little touristy, and the food wasn’t blow-your-mind amazing, but it gave us a nice solid base for all the imbibing we were about to do.) After that, the night dissolved into a little bit of a blur as we hit up 3 local taverns and listened to more 00’s throwbacks than I have in the past 10 years. Overall, we had an absolute blast. We loved this tour because we got to see a lot of places we probably wouldn’t have if we had been on our own, plus we met some pretty cool people too. Definitely worth the money!
THANKSGIVING DINNER AT PASSIONS ON THE BEACH
Seeing as we were going to be on a Dutch island in the Caribbean and staying on one of the most famous beaches in the world that happened to house one of the best eat-your-food-with-your-feet-in-the-sand restaurants available, we made the decision to go big or go home and book our reso for Passions on the Beach on none other than Thanksgiving. It was so worth it! The food was amazing, and the sunset was to die for. The service was impeccable and I actually just recently got a follow up email from the manager asking how everything was, which I very much think is a great sign of attention to detail and an indication of passion of a company (no pun intended!) Also, the fact that we could walk back to our room for a food-induced catnap was a serious perk.
COUPLES AROMATHERAPY MASSAGE AT THE PURE INDULGENCE SPA
If you think massages are a frivolous waste of money… you feel the way I used to feel. Working as a marketing manager for a chain of health clubs in the city for the past year and a half and basically acting as managing editor for our blog, I have learned a LOT about massage and its relationship with physical health and well-being. Okay, yes, sometimes treatments can be a little excessive but overall, it’s something I have really started to believe in.
Again, relaxing is actually very hard for me to do so I figured if I had something to look forward to (and yes, plan, because that’s just the way I am) I would do a better job at it. I found the Pure Indulgence Spa on Trip Advisor after doing a fair amount of research on reviews and pricing and based on the time of year made sure to book our appointment a few months in advance (highly recommended, they fill up quick!) I am so glad we did this.
We walked a very sweaty but pretty quick 25 minutes north up to the Divi Aruba Phoenix Beach Resort and were immediately welcomed with huge smiles and fluffy robes. We stashed our stuff and rinsed off the sunscreen and deep woods-strength bug spray in the gorgeous locker rooms and sat down for a mimosa and a foot soak with rose petals. The husband was definitely weirded out, but I’m pretty sure he appreciated it. After relaxing a bit, we were ushered into our couples room and jumped on the tables for a really great massage. I can’t say enough about the spa – everything from the naturally-lit decor to the staff and aromatherapy oils – and even the email follow ups – were amazing. Wonderful value and moderate pricing made this a must-do!
JOLLY PIRATE SNORKELING TOUR
Again, this could’ve easily been something we glossed over because it was advertised too frequently to cruise port visitors and seemed a little cheesy. Again, we were seriously proven wrong. We opted for the $45/person half-day 2-site snorkel & rope swing excursion with gear and open bar as opposed to the full day trip. The Jolly Pirate Snorkling Tour was probably one of our top-top favorite things out of this list that we did. I personally don’t love the idea of high-pressure deep diving underwater but snorkeling was definitely something I could do. We got picked up and dropped off on the ship via dinghy. After a quick safety talk, gear collection and my first drink order, we set sail. It was basically like a Pirates of the Caribbean meets National Geographic booze cruise.
The crew was friendly and the drinks were plentiful. The first dive site they took us to was the SS Antilla shipwreck, which was deeper than the second coral reef. I didn’t descend too deep during the first dive, but ventured down far enough to be able to see a ton of fish – including a barracuda! The second site was much more shallow – sea urchins and coral abound. I even found myself inside a school of fish – who were harmless and very good at navigating away from me. I seriously felt like I was a conductor. Last but not least was the rope swing. Even if you don’t like diving boards, you really need to give this a shot. It’s almost like flying on a trapeze! Some of the FAQ I wish we’d known beforehand 1) there is a bathroom onboard and 2) there are a few open-ish cubbies underneath the benches around the perimeter of the bow of the ship to put your stuff in, but they’re not the most secure. However, if you bring a zippered backpack or other bag with you, they do the job.
“DINNER IN BED” AT THE SCREAMING EAGLE
This was probably the best sleeper surprise of the trip. It was the evening of our final full day on the island and we wanted to treat ourselves to a nice-ish dinner. We had been eating a lot of Caribbean, so we wanted something local with good reviews that would offer a bit more diversity. After a quick bit of research on Trip Advisor, we settled on Screaming Eagle because it was close enough to walk, looked to be in a moderate price range, and had some really interesting looking dishes to offer (as well as an indoor dining room – the mosquitos had gotten pretty bad toward the end of our stay because of a bout of rain early on.)
Upon arrival, we let the hostess know we didn’t have a reservation. She indicated it wasn’t an issue, and bent over to check the availability. After a beat, she said, “It’s going to be a bit of a wait for the dining room, but we have a bed.” I responded with, “Excuse me, did you just say bed?” Sure enough, part of their unique dining experience includes dinner in bed – an elevated lounge area of dressed mattresses separated by sheer curtains. Very South Beach. I had some of the best pork belly, potato truffle soup and swordfish I’d ever eaten anywhere. We will definitely be going back if we make it to Aruba again! Have you been to Aruba? What are some of your favorite local spots? Let us know in the comments!