When figuring out where we should go to celebrate my big 30th birthday, we set (almost!) no limits. First idea was Paris because, well, it’s Paris! As the cooler months started to settle in, however, a warmer and more tropical location became the more obvious choice. Where though?! Bahamas? Turks and Caicos? All inclusive or not? So many decisions!
We searched and searched for where to go. All I knew is that I wanted to spend as much time as possible under the sun in the bluest, clearest water with my love. After hours of searching, we found an awesome flight non stop from Boston to Aruba and, that was it! No layovers and the flight was only 4.5 hours, perfect! Aruba was a place we talked about going several times but never did, so what better time than now?!
The next debate was where to stay. We quickly learned that Aruba, while cheap to get to, was not so cheap to stay at. After filtering out the tiny shacks and high end high rises, we were left with two choices. The first was the Holiday Inn on Palm Beach. Palm Beach was where most of the hotels sat. The Holiday Inn was reasonably priced and was beachfront, but was advertised as “family hotel”. While we love children, we were looking for a more quiet and relaxed atmosphere (although, sometimes you don’t get that with adults either!). We then came across the Renaissance which had both a family side and adult side. The downside to this one, was that it sat on a marina, so no walking to the beach… BUT they have their own private island! As long as you stay 2 nights or more, any guest has access to Renaissance Island which was only about 10 minutes away by boat, and left right from the lobby. And to top it all off. The islands’ adult side had its own family of flamingos for the guests to get endless photos of and even feed. Done! It was settled, and by renting a car, we’d be able to drive to other beaches if we so desired.
Our flight arrived around 4:30pm and we arrived to the hotel shortly after picking up our rental car. We threw our bags down, changed and ran immediately to catch the last boat ride over to the island, we just couldn’t wait to see the water…and the flamingos! We got there just in time for sunset and we’re virtually the only people there. What a fantastic way to start off the trip!
We had made dinner reservations for every night except the first (given that we weren’t sure exactly what time we’d get in and how tired we’d be) as we heard during peak season it is best to make reservations well in advance if you want your pick of where to eat! We decided to eat at a place that had some local flair called The West Deck. Just a 10 minute walk from the hotel, it seemed like the perfect place for our first meal in Aruba. Boy were we disappointed. While it had nice decor, that was where it ended unfortunately. It took about 45 minutes for our food to come out, and once it did it lacked much to be desired. We were, however, able to try some of Aruba’s specialties, so we were happy for that… we just hope that elsewhere it would have been executed better…otherwise, maybe it means we just don’t like the local cuisine?! First disappointment, they were out of our first 3 choices. Fail. We ended up with the West Indian Samosas, which were similar to the traditional with just the hint of a different spice blend, the Keeshi Yena which consisted of a large round ball of cheese stuffed with shredded chicken. How could this be bad, right?! It probably is traditionally amazing but this place served it with a tomato sauce coating the chicken on the inside and covering the ball on the outside that tasted like they opened a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup, poured it on top and called it a day. The delicious cheesy taste was masked by that of salt and taste of tin. We also got the Funchi which we were so excited to try! Fried triangles of polenta covered in melty cheese, again… how could this be bad!! Flavorless! We almost wished they took some of the salt from the last dish and added it to this one. Blah. Since everything was appetizer sizes, we also ordered a side of Caribbean potato salad and Caribbean rice, which turned out to be the best things on the table. There’s just something about coconut scented and studded rice that gets us all excited!! We finished our food and just couldn’t wait to get out of there. We’d waited so long to get our food, and then to be disappointed in it.. we just wanted to leave! We were finally able to get our waiters attention and ask for the check and out comes a surprise piece of cake for my birthday! How nice! I had mentioned it was my birthday and given the experience we had, this was a nice touch. Or so we thought. Soon after the cake comes the bill, and what’s the last thing on it? A $10 SLICE OF CAKE! What?!? Who ever heard of a restaurant charging for a slice of cake ($10 at that!) that they willingly brought out for a birthday that was never requested?! Tired and annoyed, we paid and left… never to return. Hopefully this was not an indication of how the rest of the weekend would go!
The next day (our first full day) was a complete 180 from the night before, thank goodness!!! Our night sleep was the best we’d EVER had. The bed was THE BEST! And you know from our travels, we’ve slept in a lot of beds!!! It was like sleeping on the clouds! we opted for the buffet breakfast at the hotel and were so glad we did! The spread was delicious, the staff was super friendly (thank you Yahlitza!) and we quickly learned there were many breakfast choices around our hotel, so choosing this was even more of a win! After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel we decided we’d spend our first day exploring the beaches of the island. First on our list was Baby Beach. (Thanks to the woman at the rental car place, she said this was the best one, and boy was she right!). Baby Beach sits at the southern most tip of the island and was a 30 minute drive from the hotel. Upon arriving we were hit with the most amazing eye candy. The bluest, clearest water you could imagine. This water rivaled that of Thailand, which held the record in our book. This was exactly what we wanted! Hot sun, white sand and the most beautiful water… absolute perfection! We threw down our things on the sand, sprayed on our sunscreen and frolicked into the water with not a worry in the world! The swimming area was surrounded by rocks to make a protected cove area, which made it the perfect water to play in. Not a wave in sight. We even saw a sea turtle swimming around our feet, it was so cool!
We played at Baby Beach for a few hours and then decided to head up the road to Rogers Beach which we heard was just as nice, and it definitely was! They had some gorgeously colored boats in the water that provided some fun backdrops for photos and the whole area was almost deserted, as if the beaches were just made for us!
After Baby and Rogers Beach, we thought we’d drive up to the very top of the island and see how the beaches on the North compared! On our way we took a pit stop at the famous Anchor and also met some fun wild donkeys. After our stop we first drove to the furthest point and checked out the lighthouse. The south to the north only took an hour to drive and we were able to see the entire country. After the lighthouse we went to Arashi beach for more playing. A day full of beaches = perfection!
After our day in the sun we started to realize a very important fact… spray on sunscreen does NOT work in Aruba! What we thought we were spraying on each other in fact was just getting swept away in the wind! After all, it is windy in Aruba.. why didn’t we think of this?! Luckily this lesson was learned early on in the trip… we stopped by the store to get some sunscreen lotion to make sure we had some coverage for the rest of the trip! Don’t make the same mistake we did.. 1 bottle of sunscreen cost $15!!!
By now you know how important photos are to us, especially on our travels. We make sure to document everything so we can relive our travels over and over again and share them with the ones we love. The one thing we hate the most? It is SO HARD to get a good photo of just the two of us! Yes, yes, Dean is the most amazing Instagram-husband and takes tons of photos of me, and I make sure to take as many as he’ll let me of him too.. but it is so hard to get one of the two of us that isn’t on selfie mode, (or without awkwardly asking a stranger!) Well, we have found the solution! Remember when we were in Prague and we found The Dovetail Experience? Dovetail is a vacation photography company that will hook you up with a local photographer in whichever country you are traveling to and set up a photo shoot for you…selfie no more! Simply tell them where you are headed and when and the do the rest of the work! Think Uber for photos! We’re talking high quality, professional photos of your vacation, that doesn’t break the bank! Plus, they hire people that know the area, so they’re able to take you to places that you may not have known of before! We had such a great experience with them in Prague (and such incredible photos!) that we decided to do it in Aruba too! They found a local photographer, Sombre Visuals and well, we’ll let the photos speak for themselves. We could not rave about Dovetail enough, we absolutely love the concept, love the photos and will keep this awesome tool in our pockets for vacations to come!
After our photo shoot it was time for sunset and dinner. A few months prior we were researching of where to eat and came across Passions on the Beach, where you can actually have dinner ON the beach! Tables, chairs and toes in the sand!? Say no more! We booked a time right at sunset and were lucky enough to have gotten a front row table, right in front of the gorgeous sunset, which would be our show for the night. We paired the sunset with glasses of Rose and started our meal with samosas to share and a bowl of their famous Caribbean Coconut Chicken Soup…OMG THAT SOUP! We could have had just that for our entire meal and been two very happy people. The coconut flavor was so prominent and fragrant and the chicken was so tender… yum! The samosas, not to be forgotten, were super crispy and exploded with Indian spices in every bite. They were served with a lavender scented polenta which was just as delicious as it sounds. For our mains, I got the tender chicken breast with garlic mashed potatoes (yum!) and Dean chose the slow roasted Lamb Shank, both cooked to perfection and melted in our mouths. As the night went on, the evening got more beautiful by the minute, with the sun setting and the waves crashing. As the dark night sky crept up on us, lanterns were lit and set the mood even more. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect evening. Truly a night to remember and one that will be hard to match! Dessert was presented in true Julie style with a sparkler in cheesecake to celebrate the big 3-0. As if this place didn’t impress us enough!! If you are looking for a true Arubian experience, Passions on the Beach is a must!
Day 2 we decided to explore Oranjestad and do some shopping! Being that Aruba is a tourist destination, there was more than enough shopping to fill everyone’s desires. Jewelry store after jewelry store, clothing, trinkets… it was so fun to walk around and see all the Arubian architecture and gear for sale.
After shopping we decided to check out Palm Beach and quickly realized that was not going to be a possibility. Since all the high rises were there, we couldn’t find a way to enter any of the beach!! Not to worry, just a few minutes down the road was Eagle Beach with plenty of spots for us. More playing in the ocean made for a wonderful afternoon before another delicious dinner.
We decided to get ready for dinner early and stop by a spot to watch the sunset with a special bottle of our favorite champagne. Sunsets every night? We could get used to this!
Night 2 dinner was truly spectacular. BLT Steak has locations throughout the US and in a few countries and one of those is Aruba! Located in the Ritz Carlton, this high class steakhouse housed what turned out to be one of the best meals of the vacation. We stuffed ourselves full of their famous popovers, mouth watering appetizers of thick cut bacon, beet and goat cheese salad and creamy burrata. There almost wasn’t enough room for our main meals! Committed to the conquest, we devoured our mains, Cowboy Steak for Dean and Salt Brick Chicken for me. We agreed this was the best of each we’d had in such a long time!! To top of the amazing evening, we were presented with yet another birthday desert, this time of key lime tart… just thinking about it makes our mouths water all over again!
Since we had a private island all to ourselves (mostly!) and hadn’t yet spent much time there, we decided that our final day would solely be spent there. We made sure to get an earlier start and it was well worth it when we hopped off the boat and were one of the first people on the island. We grabbed our front row beach chairs and settled in. Our day was spent playing in the water and taking tons of pictures of flamingos and iguanas. What a gorgeous place! Not too long after getting there, Dean realized that the island had some pretty awesome snorkeling opportunities! As I soaked up the sun, he spent hours upon hours playing with the little fishies. We had such an incredible last day on the island! After hours and hours, however, Dean realized one thing.. he forgot sunscreen on the back of his legs! He’d just spent hours floating around under the hot sun, just under the reflective water.. this wasn’t going to be good. Poor guy ended up with 3rd degree burns with humongous blisters and horrific scabs. Lesson to be learned… LATHER UP EVERY INCH OF YOUR BODY! You just never know.
Dinner was at a place we heard was great by so many people, Madame Jeanette’s. We sat in what felt like a garden with live music and all made for such a nice evening. We started with Tiki Drinks! What else do you get on an island but some islandy drinks to set the mood?! For our mains Dean opted for the Pork Schnitzel al Montero which was topped with sautéed Onions, mushrooms and their famous Oxtail Glace. I got the special, Spinach Gnocchi with truffle cream. Eating outside makes everything taste better, doesn’t it?! This setting was no exception. We finished off the night with another happy birthday dessert and were satisfied with yet another amazing day in Aruba.
Aruba was truly paradise and we couldn’t have chosen a better spot to celebrate my 30th birthday! It was so safe and every was so friendly! With fantastic weather, white sands and crystal clear ocean, there really is nothing more you could ever want or need. It is safe to say we will DEFINITELY be back! We love you, Aruba!