Great shopping, dining and bar-hopping are within walking distance of the dock. Several malls are located right across the street from the terminal, and a stroll along the waterfront is a great way to take in the Dutch colonial architecture and tropical pastels.
The main shopping drag in Oranjestad is Caya G. F. Betico Croes. Royal Plaza and Seaport Village Mall, across the street from the terminal, are hot stops for unique jewelry and famous designer clothing stores (from Tommy Hilfiger to Guess). In the heart of Oranjestad are Benetton, The Sting, Mango, Lucor Jewelers, Artistic Boutique and many others. Handicrafts at Vibes Aruba (Royal Plaza Mall) has a wide selection of locally made and uniquely Aruban collectors' gift items, such as handmade driftwood candles and paintings and artwork from local artists.
Baby Beach is perfect for beginners, surrounded by baby-fine powdery white sand and shallow waters, protected by a man-made breakwater -- great for tiny tots. Another great beach for snorkeling is Malmok Beach, with small coral bays and plenty of colorful fish just 10 feet offshore; the wreck of Antilla, a WWII German freighter, can be seen peeking out of the water here (though it's too far to swim to -- book a catamaran tour if you'd like to snorkel the site). Because it's a beach largely frequented by locals, there are no facilities at Malmok. Those who like to snorkel independently can rent equipment from Red Sail Sports, near the cruise terminal, for $15 for the day.
A fun diversion for both children and adults is the Butterfly Farm, located on Palm Beach. The Butterfly Farm is a huge, enclosed tropical garden, home to hundreds of beautiful butterflies. Tip: The best time to visit is in the morning when you can see the new butterflies emerging from their chrysalises. The farm is open daily from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.Serious Snorkeling:
Bachelor's Beach is a little rough for leisure swimming but offers experienced and adventurous snorkeling aficionados all kinds of underwater sights on its coral-covered bottom. Boca Grandi is another decent option for snorkelers.
It may not be Las Vegas, but Aruba is certainly up-and-coming on the gambling scene, with 11 casinos island-wide. (The World Poker Tour even stopped here.) Many of the hotel casinos are quieter during the day (slots are open, for example, but tables are closed until early evening). However, the downtown Renaissance hotel -- close to the cruise port -- operates one of the few 24-hour joints on the island: Crystal Casino, always hopping with slots and table games. The Seaport Casino, also a Renaissance-operated facility, is another minute or two down the road featuring plenty of one-armed bandits.
You can go horseback riding, either to the California Lighthouse -- along the Malmok Beach stretch -- or to the Alto Vista Chapel, via Rancho Notorious (011-297-860508). Rancho Daimari offers clopping along the coast in Arikok National Park (011-297-866284).
Golfers should check out the Tierra del Sol, a Robert Trent Jones-designed, 18-hole (par 71) course. Reserve tee times in advance (011-297-860978).
On Foot: It's an easy five-minute walk from your cruise ship to downtown shops and restaurants; a trip to any of Aruba's beaches requires a taxi or car ride.
By Taxi: Taxis are readily available on the dock; they do not have meters, so be sure to settle your fare up front. Fares are listed on signs at the terminals. A ride from downtown to Palm Beach takes about 10 minutes from the terminal. If you want a two-hour island tour, you can fit up to five people in a car for one flat per-car rate.
Renting a Car: There are several car rental companies in Aruba; Royal Car Rental (866-978-0965), Smart Rent a Car (866-581-0785) and Speed Car Rental (297-582-8045) have locations at the cruise terminal. The best way to self-explore the terrain is by Jeep.
Editor's Note: You should have no problem renting a car without a reservation -- but the Jeeps do go first, so either debark the ship as early as you can, or book ahead of time.
By Bus: If you want to get out of town but don't feel like paying for a taxi or rental car, the hourly public buses that run from Oranjestad to Malmok or Arashi also make stops in front of all hotels along the beach strip (look for the L10 or L10A). The roundtrip fare is $2.30, and exact change is appreciated, though the driver will break U.S. and Aruban bills. The main bus terminal is right outside the cruise ship pier gate.
Best Beach for an Active Day: Palm Beach, a 15-minute taxi or bus ride away from the terminal, offers water sports facilities such as scuba and parasailing. Other activities include beach volleyball and banana boat rides. Many of the large resorts are located right on Palm Beach, so gamers can duck into one of the hotel casinos for an added diversion.
Best Beach for the Dedicated Beach Bum: Eagle Beach, a hangout for tourists and locals alike, is the longest stretch of white sand on the island. All of the amenities are here, including lovely, shaded picnic areas. It's approximately 10 minutes away from the cruise pier by taxi or bus.
Best Secluded Beach: Rodger's Beach, on the eastern tip of the island (a 40-minute taxi ride), is a picturesque spot (if you can ignore the view of the refinery), known for its lovely shade palms, beach huts and crystal-clear, reef-protected waters. Arashi Beach, on the northern tip of the island, is another quiet option.
Best Beach for Families: Baby Beach, 40 minutes away by car, is a good stop for small children or inexperienced swimmers. The water, in a shallow pool created by man-made rock breakwaters, is no more than 5 feet deep. One drawback: There's only a handful of food stands. In addition to taxis, you can get there via public bus with a transfer in San Nicolas.
Casual, In-Town Joints: The Old Fisherman is a family owned restaurant behind Royal Plaza that serves fresh seafood and local dishes (from 8 a.m.)
Water View: The Seaport Marketplace has a variety of eateries from which to choose. CILO City Lounge serves breakfast, coffee, lunch and dinner with a marina view (7 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily).
Gourmet Lunching: El Gaucho, Aruba's best Argentinean restaurant, is located in an atmospheric old-town house on the east end of Oranjestad (open daily for lunch and dinner from 11:30 a.m.).
For Late Diners: If you are in town for dinner (some ships disembark as late as 11 p.m.), consider skipping your onboard seating for a meal at Pinchos Grill & Bar (L.G. Smith Boulevard 7). The outdoor eatery is casual but chic; there's a funky bar, lit with Starbucks-esque lamps, and seating for diners is located along the perimeter with fabulous views of the water. The restaurant is actually located on a pier under-lit by twinkling, blue lights. Grilled meats round out the menu (5 p.m. until midnight or 1 a.m. daily, except Monday; sunset happy hours occur daily from 5:30 until 6:30 p.m.).
On the Beach: If you are spending the day on Palm Beach, stop for lunch at the Pelican Grill, set on a pier, over the water, behind the Pelican Tours outfit and near the Holiday Inn. It's not a fancy place by any means, but it's perfect for strolling in off the beach. The restaurant features a full bar (with a host of specialty drinks on the menu) and dishes from fresh fish sandwiches and burgers to a seafood platter costing more than $30. The ceviche appetizer is excellent. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Readers Recommend: Passions on the Beach at the Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort (J.E. Irausquin Blvd. 252) is a great choice for a romantic meal alfresco. Member Arubalisa writes, "Everything from the food to the service -- it was nothing less than perfect and a wonderful evening. Our table was closest to the water with torches and a lantern on the table. I can imagine how nice it would be at sunset." Grilled meats and fish are main events, and the menu features a seafood sampler platter with Caribbean lobster tail, shrimp, grouper and mahi-mahi. You can make reservations online. Lunch is served from noon until 5 p.m., and you can get dinner from 6 p.m. until 10:30 p.m..
Where You're Docked
You'll be anchored in downtown Oranjestad, Aruba's capital city. The terminal features the Tourism, Culture and Heritage Information Center, phones, ATMs and small souvenir shops.
Watch Out For
If you are planning on driving, use caution on the roads, as some international signs may be unfamiliar. (Driving is on the right side of the road.) Also, exercise the same common sense and safety as you would in any foreign location, particularly if your ship stays in town late and you decide to walk into town at night.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The official currency is the Aruban florin, approximately 1.79 to the U.S. dollar. However, U.S. currency is widely accepted, and some banks' ATMs will even dispense it, including the Caribbean Mercantile Bank in the cruise terminal next to the information center.
Most locals speak English, Spanish and Dutch, as well as Papiamento -- a language native to the ABC islands. If someone says, "Bon bini," he or she is welcoming you to Aruba.
The local grocery store is a must for bringing back edible mementos, such as Dutch coffees, chocolates and cheeses. (Customs allows one pound of hard cheese back into the U.S.)
Try the legendary Pink Iguana -- a concoction of frozen strawberries, pineapple, rum and coconut cream -- at Iguana Joe's Caribbean Bar & Grill (right next to the port, open from 11 a.m.). Or throw back a Balashi, the local brew.