• Winter Destination: Aruba

    Time slows down at this charming, sun-soaked island with a (natural) wild side

    By Cassandra Aquart

    Aruba Marriott Resort

    Clear skies, pristine beaches, and abundant sunshine: That’s what you typically get when you visit Aruba. Located about 15 miles from Venezuela, this tropical island—just outside of the hurricane belt—will charm the family with its vibrant culture, delicious food, and wild side (think: undisturbed land). And with a plane ride that’s 4.5 hours from NYC, families can quickly learn why Aruba is called “One Happy Island.”

    STAY

    Situated on the famed Palm Beach, the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is a great choice for families. As you walk through their doors, you’re immediately immersed in an oasis of relaxation and surrounded by a super friendly staff. This upscale, beach resort boasts 411 spacious guests rooms, including 23 suites (perfect for larger families) with a 100-square-foot balcony offering sprawling views of the Caribbean Sea or the resort’s impeccable gardens. For parents who want some alone time, the nearby Marriott Aruba Ocean Club offers a weekday kids’ camp for children ages 4 to 12. While youngsters are creating their own fun-filled memories, parents can indulge in spa treatments at the Mandara Spa, hit the gym, beat the house at the Stellaris Casino, or take a catnap in a teardrop tree hammock.

    Arikok Rocks

    ENJOY

    The Aruba Marriott embodies the “One Happy Island” spirit with its menu of activities that’s sure to please the family. The clan can soak up the sun on the resort’s white sandy beach or cool down at its free-form pool with a cascading waterfall. There, a ton of kid-friendly water activities like aqua jive and volleyball will keep the kiddos entertained. And thrill-seeking families can enjoy windsurfing, kayaking, kitesurfing, snorkeling, and paddle boarding with Vela Aruba. Ready to dry off? That doesn’t mean the fun has to stop. The family can keep the fun going at the jungle gym and with activities like zumba, beach tennis (Aruba’s signature sport), ball toss, biking, shell painting, glow-in-the-dark basketball, cupcake decoration, and more! What’s cool: The tribe can learn to make Keshi Yena, a cheesy dish that’s a local fave, in a private cooking class.

    And when the family gets hungry, head to Atardi, an acclaimed pop-up beach restaurant. There, the clan can twinkle their toes in the sand while enjoying seafood and meat dishes with a breathtaking sunset as a backdrop. There’s also Ruth’s Chris Steak House, The Lobby Shake & Roll (sushi), and La Vista, which whips up International and Italian fare. Not to mention the swim-up bar, Gelato & Co., and Starbucks that round out the offerings.

    Donkey Sanctuary

    EXPLORE

    Given Aruba’s topography—tropical beaches, rugged terrain peppered with cacti, and windswept rocky hills—it’s easy to find offbeat adventure. Take a thrilling off-road tour with De Palm Tours’s through the desert-like ecological preserve of Arikok National Park to the Natural Pool—formed by volcanic rock—where the clan can snorkel. But the fun doesn’t end there. You’ll also see the Natural Bridge Ruins, the Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins, Wariruri, Alto Vista Chapel, and the California Lighthouse.

    Animal lovers can stop by the Donkey Sanctuary, which provides a safe haven for over 130 donkeys. They’re very sweet and docile. You can feed, pet, and snap a ‘gram-worthy pic with them. Admission is free, but donations are greatly appreciated as the money goes toward caring for them. Afterwards, refuel at The West Deck, an oh-so-good, beachside eatery showcasing authentic Aruban food that reflects the island’s culturally rich heritage.

    Sail across the deep blue sea on De Palm Tours’s snorkeling adventure where the family can explore the SS Antilla (a 400-foot-long German freighter) wreck, one of the largest in the Caribbean and home to barracudas, yellow tail snapper, butterfly fish, and corals. Other stops: Boca Catalina and Arashi Reef, where you’ll explore a sunken Lockheed Lodestar airplane wreck that sits among a ton of parrotfish, angelfish, and corals.

    Foodies looking for an immersive experience can forage with Frank Kelly (“Taki Aruba”). The foraging excursion includes an overview of foraging, an edible flowers tasting, and snack/lunch and adult cocktails. I explored salt deposits and tasted wild edibles like mollusks at Boca Grandi beach. Note: There’s some risk in eating wild food. Frank then whipped up wild-caught barracuda and octopus that was bursting with flavor.

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