Last October, my family and I decided to go to Aruba over the October half term break. It was beyond incredible and I promised so many of you I would write about it… so here goes!
First off, why Aruba? And where is it?? Aruba is a very small island just north of Venezuela and within the Caribbean islands – however, unlike other Caribbean islands, Aruba is out of the hurricane belt (awesome) and has sunshine ALL YEAR ROUND, so any time of year is a great time to go. I guess this is why it’s called ‘The Happy Island’ – and I wish we had known about all this when we planned our honeymoon.
Back in January last year, Jesse (my husband) and I started to look around for places to go over the October half term. We realised this was a great time to go away, as it’s cheaper than the ridiculous August prices and a nice time of year to get some sun before the winter months start to creep in. Aruba had always been on our wish list of places to go, but it always seemed like a dream that was too far away to become a reality. One cold January evening over a bottle of red wine, Jesse and I stared to dig a little deeper and found out more about this intriguing little island… and when we started researching, we realised we just had to go!
Flying to Aruba was cheaper than flying to Europe. Yes you heard me correctly.
For a family of 4 to fly to the Caribbean island was cheaper than our half term holiday to Greece in May. We flew with British Airways who always have really good flight times that work well with kids. Incidentally it’s worth signing up for a ‘BA Household account’ so you can accumulate air miles with every seat you book including your kid’s tickets – this makes it possible for my husband and I to take a city break in November every year (kid free!).
Our flight from Heathrow was at 10.40am on the Friday (luckily the school had an inset day on this Friday) and we flew via Miami for a couple of hours, which was enough time to find our next gate, have a cuppa (aka Corona at the airport bar) and freshen up. Our luggage went all the way through so none of the security and baggage claim faff to worry about.
The kids were great with the travelling too – Sonny our 3 year old had a good nap on the flight, and myself and Basil (he’s 6) kicked back and watched movies. When we boarded our connecting flight from Miami to Aruba, all of us fell asleep and woke up when we were landing. Actually Basil stayed fast asleep until we got to our hotel!
Whilst on the subject of travelling with kids through airports and connecting flights (an extremely stressful time and a marriage tester) I’d like to mention a great company called Airtots. I’ve written about them before here, and 2 years on we still use them.
You could tell we were in a magical happy place the moment we landed. The warm evening air and the chorus of the crickets hit us immediately as we stepped off the plane. Whilst queuing up for immigration, everyone started talking to each other about how lovely the flight was and how wonderful our children were (one was passed out and the other was riding on his Trunkie). I felt like Dorothy walking into colour for the first time. Were we in The Land of Oz?
When choosing a place to stay, we always like to research as much as we can before we book anything. Wherever we go, we like to pretend that we live there and do as the locals do. We’ve never been big fans of large built up chain hotels, we much prefer staying in boutique hotels or Airbnb apartments with personality and the freedom to go where you like and not be tied down to the all inclusive hotel food and pools. That’s why we decided to stay at the Boardwalk Hotel. As soon as we arrived it felt like home from home.
Owned and operated by Dutch twin sisters Kimberly and Stephanie and located on the grounds of a historic coconut plantation, Boardwalk offers unique hospitality in their casitas. Each have their own private patio or terrace, a BBQ grill, and a hammock that all radiate intimate charm and authentic island character.
Each casita had it’s own individual look, but all consisted of beautifully bright colour block decor, each room with it’s own splash of colour and extremely spacious rooms. Our casita had a living room, kitchen, huge master bedroom with en suite bathroom, as well as the boys having their own huge bedroom also with an en suite bathroom as well as an outside area to eat or hang out in a hammock and a shared swimming pool – all of this at the same price of a large chain hotel room.
Before we arrived, I spoke with Stephanie – a nice personal touch, and as a mother herself she was able to answer all my irritating and some what rhetorical questions about the island and what to expect in an exotic country for the first time – do we need injections, can we hire a car, where’s the best beaches for kids and so forth.
When we arrived she had given us a box full of toys from her own house for the boys to play with and a bottle of champagne for us… this is just one of the many special aspects we loved about the family run Boardwalk hotel.
The Boardwalk outfits each casita with a Treasure Box filled with hidden gems and authentic adventures. Kim and Stephanie provided us with great local insider tips that gave us ways to discover the real Aruba beyond the tourist areas.
I would highly recommend hiring a car for your time in Aruba. We spoke with Stephanie about this and she put us in touch with a car hire company called Aruba Royal. We were quite specific with what we wanted – a drop top Jeep (Basil’s request on every holiday to date – finally we fulfilled it). The car cost $600 for the week, which was cheaper than hiring per day – and we used it every day going on adventures, exploring the island (you can drive top to toe in 2 hours!) We wanted to try out different beaches and find hidden gems, restaurants, shops and bars. As mentioned before, one thing we love to do when we travel is to go where the locals go – that’s when you get a real taste of Aruba life…
The beach is a short 5 minute walk away (if that) on Palm Beach. Boardwalk has a private area for their guests that is affiliated with the nearby Ritz Carlton hotel. This is a brilliant deal between the two hotels as it means guests from Boardwalk can be served by the waiters from the Ritz Carlton Hotel. They wait on you at your personal palapa using a segway to get around quickly. Watching the waiters silently wheel up to you with a Pina Colada on a tray was a show in itself and an extra dose of paradise. My kids were mesmerised, but then shortly distracted by the stunning sea!
The beaches in Aruba are unlike any I’ve seen before. They’re the ones you always dream of or see in a travel TV commercial. Fine white sand, stunning clear blue water, no seaweed, warm temperature, shallow enough to walk out a good 15 metres with no sudden drop in the sand and they’re so very clean. Ticks all the boxes for kids and for me who loves the sea, but doesn’t usually get in it due to all these aspects not being available. Jesse can back me up when I say this but, for the first time in years I swam in the sea instead of my usual pathetic attempt of getting my feet and ankles wet and retiring back to my sun lounger because the sea is too cold, or stoney, or seaweedy. This time I was in the sea. And it was literally like vitamin sea.
We stayed in Aruba for 9 days and within this time explored as much as we could. The island is the perfect size to for a week of adventure. Below I have listed the best of the best beaches and restaurants to visit. Should you encounter an off day when there is little rain (we had a tropical downpour for half a day) I would recommend a trip on the Atlantis Submarine! This goes 150ft under the ocean where you can see ship wrecks and a plethora of beautifully coloured and exotic fish. Basil was in his element. So was I as I kicked back in the hammock at our casita waiting for the boys to return!
This is where Boardwalk Hotel is based so if you stay there, you can use their palapa’s (free of charge). Any other guests can pay the usual $7 per sun lounger for the day. Most beaches you’ll find government funded palapa’s to shade yourself in peak sun shine hours. These are free and first come first served – but many people share them as they’re large enough. There are water sports activities there too from jet skiing to paddle boarding and even Fly Boarding. As mentioned before, if you’re a guest at the Boardwalk Hotel, you’ll be served from the segway waiters from the Ritz Carlton Hotel and stay to watch sunset.
This beach has been rated one of the best beaches in the world! Boasting the widest beach in Aruba and famous for its pristine and soft white sands, Eagle Beach offers a clear Caribbean, ample parking, shaded areas, some beach huts, and a variety of water sports, extremely family friendly…and also where turtles make their nests. In the evening, restaurants lay out tables for the evening meal and sunset watching. Absolutely stunning.
Probably the best beach for smaller children. It’s called ‘Baby Beach’ because the sea level is the same depth for metres and metres – and the sea front is the closest to the tents that can be hired for $60 for the day or again the $7 sun beds for the whole day under the palapas. We splashed out and went for a tent (things you do for research right?) and to be honest it was great. It protected us from the sun and any strong sea wind when Sonny took his nap, it’s private so changing the kids shorts wasn’t for all to see (Basil is now aware that he doesn’t want strangers seeing him naked so he enjoyed this privacy).
Turtles swim freely at this beach and we were lucky enough to see a beautiful large turtle swim with us and almost show off! The kids (and us) were amazed.
There’s a great restaurant on the beach called ‘Big Mama Grill’ that served fresh fish and a kids menu too. An awesome place for kids to play on the FlintStones car and dinosaur.
North of the island where you have views of the California Lighthouse. This quiet and secluded beach is known not only for its excellent snorkeling but a variety of water activities including windsurfing, scuba diving, deep-sea fishing, swimming and sailing. Great beach with government owned palapas that are free for the public to use and to share. There is a small restaurant that serve cold drinks, water, beer, soda etc and some basic food.
Renaissance Private Island/Flamingo Beach
This is the beach to find the flamingos. And can I just say WOW. To be clear, Aruba doesn’t have flamingos walking around on all their beaches – only this one, and yes it is a huge tourist attraction and obviously a great place for a photo!
It was difficult to get the correct information we needed to make it to this island. I didn’t actually think it was going to be possible with kids. I had contacted Renaissance Hotel directly and asked them that we wanted to see the flamingos with our kids, but we were told to get a babysitter or to book a very expensive spa treatment in order to get in. It seemed impossible for us and the kids to see the flamingos BUT we persevered and found a way to get to this ridiculously beautiful and private island – and it’s much easier than I was lead to believe.
Here’s what you need to do –
You can only buy tickets to the beach on the day you want to go. You can’t buy online or in advance, so head to the Renaissance Hotel lobby (across the road from the main hotel) and make sure you get there for 6.30am!! Tickets go on sale at 7am and only a certain amount of people are allowed on the beach per day. You’ll be surprised how quickly the queue forms!
Tickets cost $125 per adult, $62.50 for our 6 year old and free for our 3 year old. Sounds expensive but actually you get more than you think. The deal includes 2 speed boat journeys to the island (a treat itself), entrance to the beach AND Flamingo beach, lunch for the entire family (anything on the menu) and cocktails. On top of this, it’s pretty much like a zoo there too so consider it a great experience for the kids as well.
Children are only allowed on Flamingo beach from 9-10am and that’s it. After this, you can go back to the main beach and chill there until the last boat departs at 5.45pm.
After our time at Flamingo beach, we went to the beach next door (2 minute walk over a jetty). This beach took my breath away. It was the most beautiful, relaxing, perfect beach I’ve ever been to. Real talk. It even has a small playground for the kids, I found myself saying ‘wow’ under my breath a lot and just taking it all in. The restaurant there was fantastic – the food and cocktails were perfect. What’s also great about this place is how quiet and peaceful it is. Everyone is there to relax and respect other people’s time on the beach. Even our kids seems more in a trance than usual. Perhaps this was because of the pelicans that were head diving into the sea in front of us to get their lunch, or the iguanas nonchalantly walking past our sun loungers.
The only noise you can hear on this beach are the lapping waves and the live steel drum musician from the restaurant playing Bob Marley covers. It really was true paradise and even writing this now and going through my photos of the time we had there whilst it’s raining in London on this cold February day makes me want to book it again for this year’s family holiday too.
Having our own kitchen in our casita meant that we could save money with some meals. Important note! It became clearer soon after we arrived in Aruba that there can be a lot of disparity in the prices you can pay for meals/drinks in the restaurants, supermarkets or activities. Keep in mind everything is imported so get familiar with the exchange rate and save where you can. For example we always had breakfast at the casita before we headed off for the day’s adventure, and made a packed lunch for the beach – a cool box was provided by Boardwalk that we took with us everyday.
In the evenings we would feed the kids a little something before we headed out for our evening meal. The chain of supermarkets in Aruba are called ‘Super Foods’ and if Carlsberg did supermarkets…. They sell everything. But the best part for the kids were the trollies! They had kid sizes trollies to walk around in and help with the shop, or there was a car trolley that they say in whilst I pushed the trolley. They loved Super Foods so much they still about going there now. Why don’t our supermarkets have this genius idea? It would make shopping a lot more fun with the kids.
Passions on the Beach
The beachfront dining experience at Passions on the Beach is complemented by the soft light of torches, sugary white sand between your toes, soft sounds of waves and a beautiful sunset on Eagle Beach. Sunset in Aruba is around 6.30pm so if you’re dining on the beach, best to make a reservation for 6pm. We didn’t make a reservation at this restaurant and just turned up hoping to get a table, which luckily we did. The food was wonderful as was the wine but unfortunately the live guitarist seemed a little out of place with the loud and odd song covers that didn’t quite match the peaceful scenery… I think the guests would have preferred to listen to the waves lapping instead. It wouldn’t stop me from going back though.
Barefoot restaurant is exactly as the name suggests. With the sounds of the Caribbean ocean caressing the beach in the background, the tropical breeze through your hair and your feet in the white sand, all while enjoying great food, marvellous wines and friendly, yet professional service, this was our favourite restaurant. You had the choice of eating on the beachfront or in the open palapa where the bar was. We chose to sit on the beach and were in luck with the most stunning sunset, that even the locals who worked at the restaurant stopped to take in the views.
Zeerover is a local hangout that over recent years has become a must-visit destination all by itself. Locals relax, eat and drink here, shoot pool, and have a great time while fishermen prepare their fresh catch. Zeerover- a Dutch word which means ‘pirate’- is a very casual eatery that serves fish and drinks at local prices. The freshly caught fish is served in ‘finger-food’ style, straight from colorful baskets. The vibe here is very laid-back and this place is popular with both locals and tourists. On your way in, there’s a counter on the left where you can purchase fresh fish to go, or to enjoy on the pier. Take cash with you as they don’t accept any cards.
Since its inception nearly 30 years ago, Lucy’s has remained true to its staples: great grub, famous cocktails, and an authentic, casual dining experience. Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar & Restaurant is now making waves in Aruba’s capital. Very cool vibe, with live music, a radical bar scene, and 12 large screen TV’s, Lucy’s Aruba is more than just a restaurant. It’s a place to eat, drink and mingle with locals and tourists. Great views too as it’s situation on the marina and docks. We went here after our day at the Renaissance Private beach – the speed boat pulls up outside Lucy’s. We had a beer, some finger food, the kids had a milkshake and I also managed to do some shopping in their very cool shop.
If you venture out to Arashi beach and fancy a nice lunch, head towards the California Lighthouse (a 5 minute drive) and dine at the stunning Italian restaurant Faro Blanco. Beautiful views overlooking the sea and I hear great sunset views too. Delicious food that really feels like a taste of authentic Italy – highly recommend the seafood pasta. Be careful when eating at lunch time though as there isn’t any shade on the terrace, so we opted to stay inside – better for the kids.
Ten facts about Aruba
1. Aruba is teeny tiny. Only 33km long and 10km wide.
2. The nationality of the citizens of Aruba is Dutch
3. Sun all year round
4. Outside of the hurricane belt
5. Plastic bags and straws are banned (by the law!)
6. The local language’s are Dutch and Papiamento. English and Spanish are also spoken widely.
7. Tap water perfectly fine to drink
8. Take ID with you – it’s asked to see when you pay for things on your credit card
9. Currency is US$ and Florin – and are the same ratio. 10US$ is 10 Florin. Easy!
10. Called ‘The Happy Island’ – because it literally is exactly that
Aruba was more than a holiday – it was a dream family break and a place I will always remember and want to go back again and again. My kids still talk about our holiday and ask why we don’t live there all the time. The beauty, tranquility and laid back attitude to life there is something I try to hold onto when I’m back in the hustle and bustle of spinning plate working mother life.
I would highly recommend staying at the Boardwalk Hotel Aruba to anyone – I literally cannot fault it. It’s gonna be a hard one to beat. Almost tearful this post has come to an end – I’ve loved writing about it and reminiscing over all our photographs.
Thanks for reading and please comment below if you have any other questions.