One Happy Island: Aruba

After over  a year of not traveling internationally, we picked up where we left off and decided to tap into a part of the world that we had never ventured to before. Living in Florida you would think that the Caribbean would have been an obvious destination for us to have already dove into. Some may know the location we chose as One Happy Island and others as Aruba. Thanks to a deal we found on Scott’s Cheap Flights, we were able to find a flight deal before taxes at about $180 a person/round trip. We had been eyeing the Caribbean for a while and weren’t sure where we wanted our first trip to be. I knew that at some point I wanted to see the ABC Islands -Aruba-Bonaire-Curacao. So when the opportunity to check one of them off the list appeared, we were all over it.

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I have an obsession with awkward animals: camels, giraffes, elephants, llamas, FLAMINGOS, etc. Oddly enough after doing some research on the island of Aruba, we were able to book hotel accommodations almost solely based off of my unusual obsession. The Bahamas are known for their swimming pigs, while Aruba is known for its flamingos. After a little more investigating to nail down how exactly we could visit the flamingos, we found that Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino was the owner of Flamingo and Iguana Island and booked our 5 night stay in one of their island view rooms. **Side Note: if you are planning a stay at the Renaissance Aruba: there are 2 choices of rooms and 2 separate buildings. Island view rooms are actually views of the city and you may be able to potentially see the marina. The Marina view rooms are just as they are stated. The buildings are across the street from one another.**

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For those looking to visit Flamingo and Iguana Island, I highly recommend staying at the Renaissance. Renaissance guests have unlimited access to the private Flamingo and Iguana Island between 7 am and 7 pm. A boat leaves the hotel every 15 minutes to transport guests to the island. If you are not a Renaissance guest, access to the island is not guaranteed. You will be subject to a $100 charge to get there and that is only if there is room available that day for non-hotel guests. As others have said, it never hurts to call and find out if there is availability to visit the island. Ryan and I managed to make it to the island on 2 separate occasions. If you manage visit the private island on a few occasions it definitely makes the stay at the hotel well worth it.

As usual, before we headed to Aruba I did my sight seeing and dining research. Ryan rented a Jeep for the duration of our stay and we were able to head over to the Palm Beach area to walk around and try the highly recommended Eduardo’s Beach Shack. Eduardo’s sits right on the beach and is well known for its smoothies, acai bowls, as well as number of other healthy food options. We opted for the Eduardo’s Acai Special which included acai, bananas, strawberries, peanut butter, granola, and coconut. It was a great way to help fight the escalating June heat.

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Since our accommodations were not on this side of the island, we walked down the beach to see what it had to offer. Palm Beach houses a number of the other large and luxury resorts as well as a number of  cute shops and restaurants including Texas de Brazil. 7516835776_IMG_2734.jpg7583916000_IMG_2740.jpeg

As we wandered down the beach we were blown away. I cannot begin to explain how crystal clear and beautiful the water surrounding the island is. It does not matter which part of the island you are exploring, the conditions of the water are consistent.

After a stroll on the beach, we hopped back into the Jeep and headed further north towards the lighthouse and golf course to see if we could find any caves. After a little off-roading we were able to find a beautiful cliff side and watch as the waves came crashing in.IMG_8295.jpg

After our second day spent wandering the island, I made a reservation at a restaurant called The Flying Fishbone . I had read a lot of positive reviews on it. The wonderful thing about this particular restaurant is that the seating in the restaurant is all outdoor and makes for the perfect sunset view. A good number of the table rest right at the edge of the water. So as the tide rolls in, diners in that area will potentially be sitting roughly ankle deep in water. The rest of the table as slightly elevated to lay in the sand and the restaurant provides each table with a small shoe rack which allows you to enjoy a barefoot beach dinner.

This meal was meant to be an early anniversary dinner for us. Although we would have loved to been sitting with our feet in the water, our table was perfect. Having the opportunity to watch the sunset and the occasional excitement of crabs running under other guests tables definitely made this a dining experience to remember. This is a restaurant that I would recommend for the experience alone. The meal was also delicious and of course they offer a plethora of seafood dishes. Although, the land options were limited, the steak skewers that I had were pretty darn good. If you’re looking to dine at this restaurant, be sure visit their site well ahead of time and make an online reservation. You will want to call the restaurant upon your arrival to the island to confirm that they still have your reservation.

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Now quite possibly for the details on the most important part of the trip… Flamingo Island! In my Aruba Pinterest search, I came across a blogger named who Christine who is the author of Planes, Trains, and Champagne. Christine had written all about her experience at Flamingo Island and without a doubt her mention of renting a cabana also played a huge part in our visit.

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As soon as I read Christine’s blog, I knew that we had to book a cabana. In a desire to make the experience as amazing as possible since this would be our anniversary/my birthday trip I made sure to contact the hotel as soon as we made our hotel reservations to see what the availability was for the cabanas. That was back in February. Clearly I was not letting this opportunity slip away, especially because we wanted the largest aka the Ultimate Private Cabana which came with a swing, a feature that the other 3 cabanas did not include. I was advised at that point that they could only take reservations up to 3 months prior to your booked trip. Rest assured when that 3 month mark came, I quickly hopped on my email again to book the cabana.

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Access to the cabanas starts at 9 AM. They include both sparkling and still Voss water, sparkling wine, towels, floats, fruit, full face-snorkeling equipment, and a personalized cabana butler. They all also include an over the water hammock. Renting a cabana is a must if you plan to visit Flamingo/Iguana Island. Beach chairs on the main island fill up fairly quickly and if you aren’t out there bright and early to claim a spot, you will likely miss your opportunity to find a chair that is not in direct sunlight. Not to mention as the crowd comes in everyone rushes to see the local celebrities (flamingos) to get the perfect photo. There are a few other hammocks out in the general beach area that one could snag. However, 2 rest in an inlet in the water and the third is usually bombarded with visitors attempting to again get the perfect shot.

The best part of having a cabana is the ability to know that you can leave, wander, and come back to a space is that is specially reserved for you without over crowding or uncertainty of where you might find shade to hide from the beaming sun for some relief. I was able to use that time to read and relax while Ryan enjoyed floating and snorkeling. We got up occasionally to wander to the other side of the island and snap a few pictures with flamingos, but having a day to just relax without a care in the world was just want we needed after a year of working with very little play.

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We couldn’t have had a better time in our cabana. We had to most incredible butler by the name of Woody who really made our day worth it. Towards the end of the day he surprised us with a little treat… none other than a favorite of Ryan’s… ICE CREAM!

We were sure to maximize our cabana time and waited to catch one of the last boats back to Oranjestad for a low key night.

The next day was a mile stone birthday for me and a perfect last afternoon and night to end our trip on. After a stint of heat exhaustion and a quick recharge nap, we decided to head south to Baby Beach just in time to watch as the sunset. There aren’t words to describe the beauty of the sunset that night. So I’ll let the picture speak for itself. It was truly remarkable and a masterpiece that could only be crafted by God.

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We wrapped up our final night by strolling over to a restaurant near our hotel called Yemanja. Yemanja is a blend of European and Caribbean Flair with many of its dishes being cooked over a woodfire grill. If you’re looking of a nice, fulfilling, and possibly one of the most delicious meals to be experienced on the island, this is a must. There were dishes for everyone… vegetarian, gluten or nut free, etc. It was a great contrast to a lot of the fried and Americanized foods that we found ourselves stumbling upon throughout the trip. The food was light, refreshing, and truly delightful.

After enjoying our wonderful meal and somehow being completely oblivious to the fact that Ryan was being way too pushy about us having desert and my attempts to convince him that I did not need dessert, to my surprise 2 of the servers snuck up behind me and presented a dessert like to no other. One that I could easily ask to be my last meal. A beautiful coconut ice cream and whip cream with a light wafer cookie topped with fresh fruit. I could not contain my laughter once it all clicked and needless to say that dessert did not stand a chance between the two of us.

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As I reflect on this trip, we needed it for so many reasons. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my 30th birthday than with the man I love and with so many incredible views and memories. After 5 days of beautiful beaches, sunsets, relaxation and celebration returning home was a bit difficult. 

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Although I wish we would have been able to get a better a look into the culture of Aruba, it is clear that there is so much more to be offered. Aruba is a blend of so many cultures and I encourage anyone that visits the island, to attempt to dive into that aspect of the island. We did notice that the island caters heavily Americans. English is spoken almost everywhere, the American Dollar is widely accepted, and you will find a influx of Americans everywhere that you go. The Dutch influence is mainly only felt in town and you can pick up bits and pieces of the local language, Papaimento, which appears to be a mix of Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish, as you venture around town.

My final thoughts on Aruba:

  • Aruba is a great quick get away. You’ll experience some of the most incredible beaches that I have possibly ever seen.
  • The island is not big. Go get out and see as much of it as you can. Rent a Jeep or a dune buggy to go off roading  and explore.
  • Visit the Natural Pool. See as many beaches as you can.
  • It can be pretty pricey as lot of the currency is pegged and caters to the US dollar.
  • Bring bug spray.The CDC still has Aruba identified as a threat for Zika.
  • It is incredibly windy. Bring a light sweater or jacket for night time. The temperatures appear to be fairly consistent and warm however for the most part.
  • Find cultural experiences that shed light on how the country developed into what it is today. There are a lot of cultures in Aruba that will spark your interests when you learn how they got there.
  • It truly is ONE HAPPY ISLAND!

There are so many parts of our trip that I didn’t get a chance to touch on like the natural pool and some other restaurants that we really enjoyed, but I am more than willing to share about them. I would like to know, if you’ve ever been to Aruba, what are some of your favorite places to visit? What are some suggestions or recommendations that you might have for others looking to visit the island? Did you feel that it was truly “One Happy Island?” Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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