The ocean view from my balcony at the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is stunning. And yet, aside from a quick dip at the beach, I plan to remain almost totally ignorant of the water. There are no catamaran rides on my itinerary, no deep sea fishing excursions, no kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding.
I can plainly see that the water looks incredible. But I’m more excited to discover what this “One Happy Island” has to offer beyond the surf and the sun.
We begin our explorations inside the Marriott’s beautiful lobby, where the expert bartending staff teaches us how to stir and shake exotic cocktails. Although I quit drinking years ago, I’ve always loved making drinks, and I soon find myself burning woodchips with a small blowtorch and piping the smoke into a decanter to add flavor to an old fashioned (which, my traveling companions tell me, is delicious). As night settles over the island, we dine at Atardi, Marriott’s on-the-beach restaurant, and I dig my toes into the sand while digging into a delicious macadamia-encrusted grouper.
In the morning, we travel to San Nicholas, on the opposite end of the island, to check out a couple of museums. The first, the Museum of Industry, provides a fascinating look at how Aruba evolved from a gold mining colony to a country whose economy relies predominantly on tourism. (Along the way, other major industries have included aloe, oil, and guano – petrified deposits of bird droppings used as fertilizer). Just down the street, the San Nicholas Community Museum provides a more intimate look at Aruban history, with displays including a colonial kitchen and a 19th century barbershop.
Each September, San Nicholas hosts the Aruba Art Fair, and it feels like half the buildings in the small city are covered with stunning murals. Walking around, we spot colorful fish, sea turtles, and flamingoes, and even a half-boy/half-spider character who, according to our guide, is spirit that owns all the world’s stories. After turning one corner, we’re greeted by a gorgeous 20-foot-long iguana made out of repurposed junk, clinging to the wall of a building.
My group tries to get in on the artsy game ourselves with a stop at Cosecha, a store and creative center where local artists hold workshops. Our mission is to replicate a seascape painting on little square pieces of driftwood. The driftwood pieces have magnets on the back, and we’re supposed to bring our paintings home with us and put them on our refrigerators, so the pressure is on.
Although I took a painting course in college, I was never all that good, and I find that I can’t quite get the acrylics to mix the way I want them to. I think that, perhaps, everything will magically come together at the end, Bob Ross-like, but despite the instructor’s patient efforts, I achieve results that, at best, can be described as “not entirely embarrassing.” Still, it’s a real souvenir of my time here, instead of a cheap trinket from a store, and I resolve to display it proudly on my fridge, next to my son’s (honestly much superior) artwork when I get home.
At dinner, we take in the Marriott’s weekly Thursday carnival show. I’m expecting corny dinner theatre, but it’s actually a hit! The dancers’ costumes are totally over-the-top, with enormous wings and headdresses, and the emcee has an infectious energy that keeps everyone involved. (Still, I breathe a huge sigh of relief when I’m not picked to participate in the dance contest. First prize goes to a pair of Texas women who the emcee has nicknamed “Double Trouble.”)
On our last morning, we head to the Aruba Aloe farm and factory. Outside, next to a field of aloe plants, a young employee severs a spike and then fillets it in front of us. We take turns feeling the mucousy, hydrating inside of the plant and head inside to see how it gets transformed into soaps and lotions.
For our grand finale, we rent UTVs, which are sort of like super-powered, all-terrain golf carts. We drive them on streets for a bit, which makes me nervous, but then we pull off into a national park, and I step on the gas, revving up the hill of a dirt road and then whipping my way around curves on the way down. It’s an absolute blast, and I can feel myself smiling under the bandana they gave me to keep the dust out of my mouth.
I race our guide twice (losing handily both times), and then we end up at a natural pool, cordoned off from the ocean by ten-foot-tall rocks.
We scramble down slippery stones, then slide into the warm water, swimming over to the far side where some people are climbing and jumping from a small cliff. But just as we get there, I hear a wave crash against the rocks. When I look up to see the huge spray, sea foam fills my mouth.
I spit it out and shake my head. I should have known; in Aruba, the water will find you.
Located on sporty and swanky Palm Beach, the luxurious Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casinoserves as both a tranquil oasis and a launching pad for island exploration.
- The property opens out onto the white sands and calm waters of Palm Beach, where guests can reserve cabanas or simply pull up a beach chair at the shore.
- A large pool with a waterfall and swim-up bar help create a festive atmosphere. For quieter moments, guest can escape to the adults-only H2Oasis pool.
- In addition to a Ruth’s Chris Steak House and several other restaurants, the Marriott features a 24-hour casino, a 24-hour fitness center, and a full-service spa.
- For next-level vacationing, the resort’s adults-only Tradewinds Club provides access to a reserved beach and lounge, special services, and upscale amenities.
Linda’s Dutch Pancakes– Planet-sized pancakes, with options including bacon & apple, strawberries & whipped cream, and brie, walnuts & honey. lindas-aruba.com
Pinchos Grill & Bar– Romantic fine dining, over the water and under the stars. The menu is overflowing with fresh seafood, but the “Meat Market” selections (such as the maple bourbon BBQ skewers with chorizo, black angus tenderloin, pork tenderloin, and chicken breast) are also tempting. Maybe make it a surf-and-turf kind of night … pinchosaruba.com