First I want to say, "thank you" to all of my fellow TA contributors for helping from choosing which island to the specifics about Aruba. Special thanks to Everyday for nightlife advice and to Amy.
We are a married couple in our 30s. Our stay was 5 nights/6 days.
My real trip journal is pages long, so I'll try to condense it a bit and hit the highlights. I'm nothing if not thorough so if you prefer to skip the length, the summary is at the bottom. For more info, I'll do individual reviews in the appropriate categories once I "recover" from this journey.
Unfortunately, getting to Aruba in Jan was more trouble than what it was worth. I planned it several months in advance, yet something kept "threatening" our ability to go month after month. Finally, after a slew of illnesses (some of whom were to take care of our 3 little ones), we finally just had to listen and give up 2 days prior and cancel. One should not have to struggle so hard to go on a "fun" vacation. At any rate, after jumping through some more hoops we were able to reschedule for Feb, including getting the same hotel room type at the same price with no loss of money for cancelling at the Radisson thanks to the wonderful GM there, Mark. I can't say enough about how easy he was to work with and how understanding he was of our circumstances.
Background: We like to be active on vacation: snorkeling, nightlife, renting cars and exploring, big pools and pretty beaches. Although I heard the water wasn't very clear and the snorkeling not so great, the idea of almost guaranteed good weather, pretty beaches and nightlife lead us to choose Aruba.
As you may imagine with 3 kids 4 and under my husband and I needed an "us" break and had not traveled on our own for 3 years, so weather was a big factor in our decision.
When researching, I was worried when I read the term "Americanized," hearing the water wasn't very clear, the Miami meets Phoenix comments,the idea of a bunch of hotels being all lined up together (reminded me of home) with patrons fighting over chairs, and it being constantly windy. Nevertheless, it still seemed to be the best fit.
Hotel/Room: Radisson Ocean view Aruba Tower. Would not have been as happy on another beach in another hotel. This was the ideal, very centrally located hotel with the best pool and beach area in the HR section of PB. Visited LR area. The Radisson was a bit sleepy for us at times, so Eagle and Mancheebo areas might have made me comatose. However, I can see why those who want to be somewhere very quiet and plan to mainly relax on the beach would be happy here. The beach is wider or perhaps has less people on it. I did not find it to have prettier water than PB. My second pick for what might be ideal for us is the Hyatt. I liked the architecture and bright colors there, but overall still found the Radisson more attractive. The full balconies of the Rad were important to me as well. Aside from the Rad, I really liked the beach or more so shallow water area near Divi Phoenix...the water was prettier there for some reason. More detail when I review the hotel.
Beaches visited: Palm Beach walked from Divi to the end of the HI near the Marriots....which btw so glad I did not stay at that end it looked chaotic and very crowded. Mancheebo, Eagle, Baby Beach and Boca Prins.
"Breathtaking" was the word for both Baby Beach and Boca Prins...bring your cameras
Activities: Hertz rental for car and Jeep for Arikok from Royal.
-Snorkeling offshore on Baby Beach...so so....when we went into deeper waters we got knocked around a lot to the point where I cut my leg on a rock, but it wasn't significant. I'm a good swimmer and many years ago on a swim team...very much a water baby so believe me when I say have someone with you and possibly wear a life jacket as it can be difficult and dangerous to snorkel beyond the "line."
-Snorkel Sail with Jolly pirates...again snorkeling so so (I would not travel to Aruba in hopes of great snorkeling...it was the worst snorkeling I have experienced, but still fun). The sail and crew were enjoyable.
-Beach and pool
-Kayaking from the far end of the Rad to the rock barrier by the Divi and back....My favorite experience. It was romantic, challenging, and quite the workout (but the good feeling kind). We have only kayaked once before so setting the goal of getting to the rock barrier and back in our hour rental was very rewarding to do as a couple. We even returned with time to spare.
-Took a Jeep to Arikok and did the Natural Pool trail. It was like a roller coaster. My never before driving a Jeep to off road husband did this beautifully, however in retrospect it is harder than expected and imo too high risk for mommy me...yes if I were without kids, but it was scary and felt really unsafe sometimes. I did not feel the NP lived up to the hype and saw prettier things elsewhere in the park---Boca Prins. The caves...worth a trip.
Cali Lighthouse-ok for a pic
Super Foods: worth it to just stock up on cheaper drinks...bought water, soda and snacks
Nightlife: walked by Senor Frogs, not much was going on so we skipped it and decided to walk by Gustos where we couldn't tell what was going on at first. A staff member stopped us and told us half off drinks and no cover, so we said ok and decided to go in. The music was very good there, 2 shots and 1 mixed drink cost us literally $12, danced a bit but it got hot and decided to venture to our next place on the list, Confessions ($20pp including anything you wanted to drink till 2a). It was pretty cool inside, but unlike Gustos who had a good mix of hip hop and pop, Confessions (DJ Diiablo) was playing almost all house. I wasn't really feeling the music. I like house but not non stop where every time you get in a groove they either switch the song or slow it to the point you could sleep while waiting for the next one. We would have been happier staying at Gustos or doing the 2 in reverse, but glad we checked it out nonetheless
Restaurants mentioned on here frequently: Passions on the Beach (best dinner while in Aruba), but our sunset dinner was rained out :( so we came back around 8p to eat. Bugaloes--good, Gilligans--very good, Gasparitos....ummm can we say "interesting" and "eccentric"...could have skipped this one but the restaurant was charming, Casa Tua: very good Italian, Lagunas...not to my liking
It probably looks like we were there for weeks and I realize the average person wouldn't want to pack all that into 5 nights, but that is how we roll and like it. I unfortunately cannot really sleep anywhere but home and wake up so early the sunrise is still asleep. It is a mix of not being in my own bed and my brain thinking it is a little kid on Christmas Eve and if I don't wake up early then I might miss something (this is true even with sleep aids, melatonin etc.). I don't go on trips more than 5 or 6 nights (even to Europe) because I get so exhausted that I seriously can't form coherent sentences or walk with good balance by the end----which brings me to where everything turned bad again...
Our flight home was cancelled due to the ice storms. When I'm "done" I'm "done." We played hard, and even I, a mother of 3 including twins can only go so long on such little sleep. We wanted to be home and we wanted to see our babies. So although many might think there could be worse places to be stuck, we were going to do everything possible to get back home. We caught a flight the day we intended to leave on Surinam (great airline btw) to Miami and drove the 5 states home to happily reach our kids and home just in time for Valentines. My husband drove the NP and I drove through 60mph winds in FL, ice in SC and snow in NC. Good thing we made what may sound to some as an "irrational" choice b/c I predicted correctly that we would actually have gotten stuck 2-3 more days vs 1 if we stayed as the weather system moved north and the next day flights were cancelled as well..
Favorites: Radisson, the park, the sail, the rope swing, the kayaking, seeing Baby Beach and Boca Prins, eating at Passions and Gilligans, dancing at Gustos, being pleasantly surprised with the beauty and clarity of the water (seen clearer, but better than expected), riding around in the Jeep, snorkeling offshore, playing in the pool, and greatly fascinated by the diverse topography
Dislikes: We found ourselves constantly questioning the chant or mantra of "One Happy Island." We were happy to be there but did not find the majority of natives to be happy nor friendly but rather indifferent. Our theory here relates to the very annoying 15% service charges. However, I would like to note some standouts as exceptions: Avril at Passions, a doorman at the Rad, the JP crew and Valentino a park ranger---they were great!
It lacked culture and a good energy/good island music vibe for us. There is some culture to be had here, but it is like you have to search for it or stumble across it vs being encapsulated in it. My husband said he found the people and energy there to be "night and day" in comparison to our last island of St. Lucia. We found more culture flipping through radio stations state to state driving home and more friendliness in the state of FL than in our whole stay in Aruba.
Although I certainly see the benefits, I overall really did not like the constant wind. When you come from an area that is no stranger to tropical storms and hurricanes, constant wind is like a precursor to something bad...that is pretty ingrained in my system. We came home fried the first full day. Ladies (and guys)...I am a brown haired, brown eyed, olive skinned girl who usually just gets browner and I looked like a half lobster (fair skinned husband was full on lobster). This was with sunscreen. I'd advise if going in the winter, prep with a few tanning sessions prior to going to get a base. This has helped me in the past. Now with 3 kids I couldn't fit it in for this trip, but wish I had. This definitely put a damper on the remainder of the trip because we looked burned and it hurt to go out in the sun from there on out. Otherwise, upset about a rained out sunset dinner. It rained 2 straight late afternoon/evenings in a row. The sunset dinner day ---it rained 2-3 hours :( Otherwise, great weather, but cold water.
So, would I go again? Not likely, but only because I rarely vacation in the same place twice.
Was it worth what I had to go through to get to Aruba and get home? Part of me wants to say no, but Aruba was so beautiful, fun and gave us a lot of new memories and pics so it is hard to say.
Would I rec Aruba? Absolutely!