To get right into it, we're obsessed with Aruba. Big time. We've gone to other Caribbean locations and nothing compares to Aruba, for both couples and families. And I get asked a lot for my tips/tricks to make a family vacation happen. So, here's my ultimate guide to a family trip to Aruba!
Everyone I talk to mentions that Aruba has been on a bucket list for a while. It's most likely due to the Beach Boys that has ingrained the name into our minds for decades. And yes....it's all true.
The entire island is basically catered to Americans. English is the main language. The US dollar is the main currency. US Customs is right at the airport. And most travelers are US folks from the northeast.
As far as location, its part of an island chain that combined, are the southern most Caribbean islands, right off the coast of Venezuela.
To help plan your trip, there are three key pieces (beyond booking some direct excursions / restaurants)
So, here's my step-by-step guide to booking Aruba, and then what we recommend once there.
Let's get straight to the point. Flights to Aruba are stupid expensive sometimes. So, we book our travel around flight prices. In general. flights average $800-$1000 round trip. But, you can find cheaper, and if you do it right, you can book some/all via points.
For us, we use the Chase Sapphire card year round for every single purchase (beyond mortgage and National Grid), boost our points balance, and then pay off monthly.
I love Kayak as my preferred travel search engine. The biggest benefits are:
For my searches, I usually add: NYC (which pulls in all NYC airports), BOS (Boston), and PHL (Philadelphia). All three of those airport locations have direct flights into Aruba. We've learned over the years considering costs and logistics, it's just better to drive the four hours to an airport where you can just fly direct.
If I were to pick any flight option, I'm going with JetBlue out of Boston. It's an easy 4-hour drive and the direct flights to Aruba are usually good times. If you do this, our recommendation is getting a hotel night at the Holiday Inn Express Boston. You can do their park and fly option so you get a hotel night, 7 nights of parking, and a shuttle back and forth to the airport.
And if you're reading this article soon after I published, check out this find! December 3-10, 2023 direct into Aruba from JFK for only $348! Usually, the flights are more than twice that.
There are hundreds of different places to stay in Aruba, including:
And then there are really three main locations to stay:
All types of accommodations and locations have their positives and negatives. (if you want more specific feedback, just reach out) But for this post, focused on a family vacation, my recommendation is easy --> Marriott Surf Club.
Now this is a Marriott Vacation Club property so people have timeshare points to stay there. So the better/cheaper way to stay here is to use RedWeek.com and rent someone's timeshare points and rent a week. The website is super easy to navigate and tons of options. Below is a screenshot of what the portal looks like, using the same Dec 3-10 travel dates as above for an example. (those prices are generally the same throughout the year, outside of key US holiday dates)
The above Facebook group is a super active community and is perfect for helping plan your trip.
The Marriott Surf Club is ideal for families. The photo below is the view from our ocean side room (the ocean is to the right, but I wanted to showcase the main pool and lazy river setup).
To be honest, I'm a trip planner and I love pre-planning every day before we leave for a trip. And my wife is the opposite and wants to just figure it out when we get somewhere. I'll give her credit here -- Aruba is definetly a spot you will want to go, experience it, and when you're there, pick out what type of excursions you want. With that said, we did pre-book just a few things to help with planning, but not many. Here's our suggestions.
Rental car: now I know this isn't directly an excursion, but we do recommend getting a rental car. It's super easy to navigate Aruba, cell service is good so you can still use Google Maps, and as you'll see below in this article, having a rental car makes it doable to drive to some amazing, exotic beach locations on the island.
For rental companies, we highly recommend YESS Rental Car. They have great prices, big vans, and they will be waiting outside the airport with your van after you land! (yes, I promise they will be there waiting for you!)
We'll talk about this in more detail, but the few excursions we recommend booking before leaving....especially if you have a larger group and want to guarantee a group spot:
There are so many ways to enjoy Aruba. And I know I will get some pushback on this, but ... never, ever book an all-inclusive resort here! There are so many ways to enjoy the island that you will want to leave your resort and go exploring. And I know what you might be thinking ... Aruba is 100% safe. Nothing like Cancun or other locations where you have to stay on your resort.
There are really three ways to enjoy Aruba:
If you book the Surf Club, most rentals are Saturday --> Saturday or Sunday --> Sunday. So, here's our recommendations on a perfect trip to Aruba if you went on a Sunday --> Sunday timeframe. So just a hypothetical breakdown of options.
Check in at the Surf Club, and other Aruba properties, are around 4pm. And based on US flight patterns, you'll most likely land at the perfect timing. So your first day will be full of traveling, checking in and getting yourself situated.
If you do the Surf Club, we totally recommend Moomba Beach Restaurant. If you walk towards the ocean, it's the second restaurant right on the ocean. And two years in a row, they've had tables for 10+ people walking up. You'll get some great food, music and kick off your vacation with a sunset dining experience right on the beach.
Afterwards, go throw on your bathing suits and end your first night with a relaxing scroll around the lazy river at the Surf Club.
After a long day of travel, we always opt for a beach day. Secure an ocean front location and experience all of the ocean / pool / bar / restaurant locations that the Surf Club has to offer. A nice, fun relaxing kinda day to kick off your trip.
Kick off your day with a Jolly Pirates tour. You'll get an amazing pirate ship experience, fun and safe crew, and you'll get to snorkel in some of the most exotic locations, unlimited bar, lunch, and a rope swing contest! It's our favorite excursion in the world.
Here's a great video recap as well!
For those folks who love fishing, Aruba has some amazing fishing locations. And most charters do both deep sea fishing and close to shore fishing. Most tours are four hours, so it won't take up your entire day, but give you a break for a few hours.
One amazing location in Aruba is the Renaissance Island. It's a private island owned by Marriott. And if you stay downtown at one of the Marriott / Renaissance hotels, you'll get unlimited access to this amazing island.
But on Wednesday nights, they open up the island to anyone. They have a private dining experience you can book, check out the island, swim with flamingos and enjoy an awesome sunset dinner.
Another beach day, but hop in that rental van and drive to two exotic beaches, both less than a 10-minute drive from the Surf Club area.
The first recommended stop is Tres Tapi (you can throw this into Google Maps, but if you take a left out of the Surf Club, you will hit this spot five minutes later)
Basically, you're talking crystal clear water, jumping into the ocean and your chance to swim with sea turtles!
After that stop, drive five minutes further and hit up Arashi Beach.
Think private swimming, beautiful water, not that busy and an amazing local ocean front quick service restaurant (yes....I miss Disney World!)
Beyond the Jolly Pirates, this is my second must-do. Half of Aruba is full of amazing hotels, bars, restaurants, casinos, etc. But many don't know that the other side of the island is a national park, full of the most amazing sights we've ever seen in the world.
We highly recommend ABC Tours. They have a few options to give you a 4-5 hour tour of these amazing views.
If you want to squeeze in one more activity today, hit up a sunset cruise. Many options out there right in front of the Surf Club and most are two hours of a relaxing catamaran tour, open bar, snacks and some of the most beautiful sunset views you will ever see.
Now, if I were to pick my favorite full day in Aruba, here we go! Hop in your rental van again. You'll drive from one end of the island to the other. It's around 40 minutes from one end to the other, but you'll experience some amazing views.
First recommended spot: Mangel Halto Beach. Full credit goes to my daughter, Stella. She found this spot that has become popular on TikTok. A hidden gem that almost no tourists know about yet. Park the van, and jump in the crystal clear water for an hour so.
And when you're done, throw in Baby Beach into Google Maps. Maybe 20 minutes beyond, you'll be at the other end of the island and you'll spend hours soaking up the sun and playing in some more beautiful water.
Now if you like seafood, go five minutes out of your way on the trek back to your hotel/condo. Put ZeeRovers into Google Maps. This is the local's seafood spot. Fresh seafood right off the boat, pay per pound and enjoy some ocean front dining. The best shrimp we've ever had in our lives.
And one minor, but great trip addition. On your way back, go the extra five minutes out of your way and take the downtown/scenic tour back. If you follow the route below, you'll head back to the hotel/condo sections but you'll drive through downtown and all of the mid-rise and high-rise condo sections and see more beaches, restaurants and picture stopping locations.
This is the worst day....the day you have to leave.
But as most US flights are early afternoon, you'll have time to at least enjoy one more breakfast stop on the way back. Dutch pancakes are an island speciality and we recommend King Fred and Princess Diana. Hit up some awesome breakfast on your way to the airport.
You'll hear this a bunch and it's true -- sometimes, the Aruba airport takes FOREVER. That's because you have to go through all of the Aruba checkpoints and then US customs. But... as US customs is in Aruba, once you're done, you're basically back on US soil. No additional stops once you land back in the US.
And there is a new lounge in Aruba if get through everything early. (reach out if you want to learn how to get access to lounges with credit card options) One near gate #1 and one near gate #8.
If you were to follow the options above, you would have a pretty well-rounded experience in Aruba. A few additional recommendations not included above would be:
In the end, no matter what type of vacation activities you like, you will love Aruba. Just don't tell too many people about it so it doesn't get too busy! :)
My key takeaways:
Any questions, or if you need help planning, let me know! I love Aruba and love helping others figure out ways to make it there as well.