Aruba Cruise Tips, Activities, and Overview
Food and Drink in Aruba
Casual, In-Town Joints: The Old Fisherman is a family owned restaurant directly in front of Royal Plaza that serves fresh seafood and local dishes (from 11 a.m.)
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.).
Snacks: Maroc, next to El Gaucho, offers Spanish and Moroccan tapas at affordable prices and a decent wine list. It's a convivial spot for some casual fare (open from 5 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday). And just beside Maroc is Wilhelmina, a lovely spot opposite the B.J. Arends City Park, run by renowned local chef Dennis van Daatselaar. This is a high-end option, with price to match, but it's worth it for the outstanding local fish dishes, steaks and homemade pasta (open from 6 p.m. daily).
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 4:30 p.m., happy hour is from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., and you can get dinner from 6 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. The bar is open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Best Drinks: Try the legendary Pink Iguana -- a concoction of frozen strawberries, pineapple, rum and coconut cream - invented 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, at any number of spots along the main drag including The Paddock, where you can get a seat directly opposite your ship.
Beaches in Aruba
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 manmade 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.
Don't Miss in Aruba
Snorkeling: Try Malmok Beach, with small coral bays and plenty of colorful fish just 10 feet offshore; the wreck of Antilla, a WWII German freighter, is sunk here and is a popular spot for snorkelers -- book a catamaran tour if you'd like to snorkel the site). Those who like to snorkel independently can rent equipment from Red Sail Sports, on the beach, for \$15 for the day. 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.
Diving: A number of cruise ships offer Discover Scuba one-day courses, as well as adventures for the more experienced. The top dive site is the aforementioned Antilla, the largest wreck in the whole Caribbean, and which sits in 54 feet of water, making for an easy dive. The ship was blasted apart when it sank and debris lies all over the sea bed. You can look into spaces, but you cannot penetrate the wreck. Red Sail Sports offers diving should you wish to book independently.
Butterfly Farm: 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 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.
Casinos: It might 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.
Horseback Riding: You can go horseback riding, either to the California Lighthouse -- along the Malmok Beach stretch -- or to the Alto Vista Chapel, via Rancho Notorious (297 5860 508). Rancho Daimari offers clopping along the coast in Arikok National Park (+297 586 6284).
Golfing: Golfers should check out the Tierra del Sol, a Robert Trent Jones-designed, 18-hole (par 71) course. Reserve tee times in advance (+1 866-978-5158).