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Just say Ahhh to Aruba

If you are seeking pristine, powdery white sand beaches, calm, warm turquoise waters, good food, and hospitable locals, you will want to head to Aruba. Several cities, including Atlanta, Miami, New York, and Boston, to name a few, have non-stop service to Queen Beatrix International Airport in Aruba’s capital, Oranjestad.

Located 15 miles off the Venezuelan coast, Aruba is a true slice of heaven. Only 69 square miles ­ – and just six miles wide at its widest point ­­– Aruba is an autonomous, yet constituent country of the Netherlands, along with St. Maarten and Curacao. And Arubans are truly multi-lingual. While they all have native tongue fluency in Dutch, in which all government activity takes place, and Papiamento – a mélange of Portuguese-based creole with elements of Dutch and Spanish – the vast majority of Aruba’s population of 106,000 also speak perfect Spanish and English. Aruba together with Bonaire – a Dutch special municipality – and Curacao, are known collectively as the ABC islands. 

The Bed

A short 15-minute drive from the airport, and set directly on beautiful Palm Beach, the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is incredibly well-situated. A full-service property with 414 rooms and suites, it has everything one could possibly want with several great restaurants, including toes-in-the-sand dining, a lobby Starbucks, adults only pool, 24-hour state-of-the-art fitness center with daily classes, and talented entertainers. Did I mention the gorgeous beach?

For those who like to gamble, while somewhat tucked away on the property, the 15,000 sq.ft. Stellaris Casino has 17 tables including blackjack, stud poker, craps, roulette, and over 400-slot machines, making it the largest casino on the island.  While you also may get lucky on the tables or slots, luck is already with you since you’re on, as locals say, ‘One Happy Island.”

The other benefit of this property is that it is within a larger Marriott enclave that includes the Marriott Aruba Ocean Club with 371 one- and two-bedroom villa rentals and the Marriott Aruba Surf Club timeshare with 450-condominium-style rooms. For guests of Aruba Marriott Resort, it means that there are additional good restaurants to choose from, more entertainment, and the Mandara Spa. 

We hung our hat in a large ocean view room with a spacious balcony to watch those killer sunsets for which Aruba is famous. It had comfortable bedding, a good-sized working desk, double-sized, waist-level safe, plenty of USB ports, a 60-inch flat screen television, small refrigerator, and drip coffee maker. The dual-vanity granite bathroom had a bathtub rain shower combination, environmentally friendly amenities by ‘thisworks,’ and a walk-in closet.

The Meals

Wherever you are on the property, you can get a Starbucks coffee or a full meal from any Marriott restaurant delivered right to you with ‘mobile dining. Just point your smart phone camera at the QR code and in minutes, a perfect, hot latte or a seared tuna salad from Waves Restaurant or elsewhere magically arrives. 

A great treat is the Marriott’s Retro Picnic basket on the beach. We had ours for breakfast – though it’s also available for lunches, and it came complete with Mimosas, fresh fruit, house made muffins, breakfast sandwiches, period Life magazines, cool shades, and candies popular in the 1960s. 

At Mercát, the Marriott’s newest open-air Mediterranean dining concept, we delighted in shared plates of fig and beet salad, carpaccio, and steaming divine mussels.

Arriving to beachfront Atardi, our shoes went into cubbies, and our feet went where they belonged ­– in the sand – and enjoyed the finest sustainable seafood, including crudo with watermelon, scallops, shrimp tempura, and lobster. The gorgeous Atardi sunset desert of flambéed devil’s food cake with rum was nearly too pretty to eat. But I prevailed.    

Central Oranjestad is 10-minute drive away where retail therapy needs can be met, and additional good dining experiences await. At The West Deck Island Grill & Beach Bar, you’ll want to start with their tasty and potent passion fruit margarita, served in a large, square, flower vase-style glass. So if you are planning on walking out of the restaurant on your own accord, only order one. Local Aruban dishes, like Keshi Yena – a delectable chicken, prune, and cashew dumpling wrapped in Gouda cheese and surrounded by a tomato, garlic, and basil sauce – along with fried funchi – the ubiquitous Aruban polenta-like dish –were the ultimate island comfort foods. Though I felt like a jerk for not finishing my spicy, savory jerk shrimp, I had to save room for the chocolate mousse cake which was a chocoholic’s indulgent Nirvana.

As the Netherlands had a lengthy, storied past with the Indonesian archipelago until 1942 and its subsequent independence in 1945, it’s no surprise that there’s a good Indonesian restaurant in Oranjestad. At Nusa – which means island in Bahasa – small plates of sateh, nasi, spring rolls, and grilled duck are traditional and enjoyable. There’s also a lovely patio and an extensive wine and cocktail list.

The Finds

On Tuesdays and Friday nights, the supremely talented Amy Sorinio delights guests at Aruba Marriott’s Lobby Bar. Entirely and stunningly self-taught, she is without a doubt, Carnegie Hall worthy. The Lobby Bar has marvelous fresh sushi and sashimi, while skilled mixologists make a meanly delicious Dirty Pickle Martini. For long cocktails, try the vodka-based Celebrity Aruba Ariba and the Aruba Mule whose “secret” ingredient is aloe vera, one of Aruba’s top export products.

In addition to complimentary beach volleyball and beach tennis, the Marriott offers complimentary use of paddle boards and floaties. As the beach fronting the hotel was lake-like, paddle boarding was particularly enjoyable.   

Based on Balinese principles, Mandara Spa has a highly curated spa menu combining European modalities and the area’s indigenous elements providing a plethora of healing and beauty choices promoting health and wellness. I reserved time for a deep tissue massage with hot stones. Had I really indulged, I would have opted for one of their packages combing six treatments into a half or full day affair. The only issue with that is that I would probably still be in Aruba in a serious state of bliss.

For snorkelers and divers, Aruba is a fishbowl with unrivaled visibility. Bathtub waters, abundant, colorful fish, and shipwrecks in shallow waters make for perfect exploration. For a large catamaran experience, De Palm Snorkel Cruise has a 70-foot by 40-foot catamaran with an open bar that takes guests to Boca Catalina and the SS Antilla shipwreck for snorkeling or diving. Originally a German sulfur carrying cargo ship, the Germans sunk it during WWII so not to cede it to the Dutch. The bow and stern are in excellent shape providing a rare glimpse just feet below the surface. For those wanting a more private experience, Adventure Sports offers a 23-ft boat for two to four hours and can accommodate four to eight guests.  

If you are looking for a souvenir that truly stays with you long after your tan has faded, between January and June 2024, Aruba is offering visitors the opportunity to get a complementary Aruba-themed tattoo from local participating tattoo artists to permanently remind you of “One Happy Island.”

The Lessons Learned

Whatever makes you happy, whether a strong cappuccino, perfectly prepared meals, delightful cocktails, or warm and hospitable people living in a gorgeous place under the sun with pristine waters, all you must do is remember your ABC’s. Then say Aruba please. Happy travels!

Julie L. Kessler is a journalist, attorney, and the author of the award-winning memoir: “Fifty-Fifty, The Clarity of Hindsight.” Her work has appeared in several major publications around the world, including The LA Times, The SF Examiner, The Asia Times, The Jerusalem Post, and The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, among many others. She can be reached at Julie@VagabondLawyer.com.

Julie L. Kessler

Written by Julie L. Kessler

Julie L. Kessler is Money Inc's Senior Travel & Luxury Editor and writes for several major media outlets in the U.S. and overseas. She is also an attorney and legal columnist and the author of the award-winning book "Fifty-Fifty: The Clarity of Hindsight." She can be reached at Julie@VagabondLawyer.com

Read more posts by Julie L. Kessler

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