Aruba might just end up being my retirement country. I loved this place so much I would go back in a heartbeat.
I went on my first baecation to Aruba in November 2020, when it was still very much pandemic-y. I opted to stay in a hotel instead of an airbnb just because I felt there would be more cleaning precautions. I usually book everything separately but decided to do an Air Canada Vacations package to stay at the Renaissance Hotel. We paid around $1,300 each for 7 days. We opted to get a negative PCR test within 72 hours because we didn't want to have to quarantine at our hotel in Aruba until we got our results. THANK GOODNESS we did because the line up to get the test done at the airport in Aruba was insane.
(buy this passport cover here)
The Renaissance Hotel is considered the flamingo hotel because it's where you have access to Flamingo Island free of charge. In the future, I would avoid staying here and just get the $125 day pass to see the flamingos. THE HOTEL IS NOT ON A BEACH, I REPEAT, THE HOTEL IS NOT ON A BEACH. Flamingo Island is the only "beach" and it isn't "beachy" and it's just crowded, not to mention you have to wait for a boat there and back just to get to the beach. I would stay in the high-rise hotel area that is off Palm Beach. We ended up switching rooms because our original view was of a dumpster. Thank goodness we brought our portable door lock because our new room didn’t have a working latch.
On the way to the hotel we drove past a restaurant that was right outside our hotel so we went there for dinner. We did not have the all inclusive option with our hotel stay because we wanted to try different foods. We ate at Yemenja Woodfired Grill and the food was amazing. This one meal started off the trip perfectly and I had high hopes for the rest of the meals I was about to eat. There are shops and I'd call it an outlet mall attached to the hotel so we walked around there to walk off the meal.
The next day it rained. It rained pretty much every single day we were there. We ate breakfast at the hotel restaurant. It was good but we didn't go back again. Due to the rain we didn't get to Flamingo Island until around 12pm, which is considered late. It was crowded on the Island with nowhere to sit on the adults only side. There were white flamingos on one side and pink flamingos on another. After I took my pictures I was over it and ready to go.
Across from the hotel, and where you catch the boat for the island is Lucy's Retired Surfers Bar & Restaurant. She has the best nachos I have ever had in my life, we had seconds. This is the type of restaurant that is chill, and you can write a message in marker or post a sticker on the wood posts of the place. Curfew was at 11pm and not many stores were open during the week so there wasn't much to do besides hang at the pool.
It rained again the next day, but this time it was pouring. We went to San Nicolas or Chocolate City to eat at a Caribbean restaurant called O'Neil’s Caribbean Kitchen just to find out they did not open on Mondays. There are no taxis in San Nicolas and our goal was to go to Baby Beach with no way to get there. We walked around and found a local restaurant called Charlie's. Let me just say, I was not expecting the food the taste the way it did, but as they say, don't judge a book by its cover. I had only ordered fries, but when I saw him bringing another patrons steak, I immediately added it to my meal and mannnn am I glad I did. It was amazing, and Charlie was the nicest man. I hadn't had a meal that disappointed me in Aruba yet.
We finished eating but we were still stranded in San Nicolas, and Charlie told us we couldn't walk to Baby Beach. Randomly, a bus driver we had asked for help had signaled his friend and asked if he could drive us down to Baby Beach, and he said yes! We made it to Baby Beach, and we had already arranged for our taxi woman to pick us up at 5pm so we were not worried about getting back to the hotel. Lesson learned.. rent a car to go to San Nicolas and Baby Beach.
That night, I finally had food that disappointed me. We went to The West Deck for a sunset dinner which was about 10 minutes from the hotel. I ordered a chicken sandwich and I was beyond disappointed. I definitely could have gone without. Our taxi woman recommended a bar called YOLO aka The Pink Panther so we went for a good time. We had 5 rounds of drinks and ordered a mushroom appetizer.
Right after, we went across the street to The Lazy Turtle for more drinks because it was their happy hour. By the way, YOLO and Lazy Turtle are in the high rise area so you don't need to take a taxi, like we did (rolls eyes). We got shut down at 11pm which was curfew and back to our hotel we went... in a taxi.
It rained.... again the next day. We rented bikes anyway and rode around half the island. We went right back to Lucy’s for more nachos and another fish sandwich. We rode around to some of the stores to go shopping. We finished our day at the pool just lounging. That night we stayed close and went to the restaurant in our hotel. L.G. Smith’s Steak and Chop House. I ordered a steak experience where you choose your ounces and the salt you want. The chef comes to your table, cuts and weighs and salts your steak in front of you. It was a great experience that has never happened to me before. My boyfriend ordered salmon and Mac and cheese. This was the BEST Mac and cheese I’ve had in my life. I asked for my steak medium well but it ended up being well done but it was still good. Let me tell you this meal was expensive though and took a hit on the pockets.. it’s was $200 including tip. We had a tour early morning the next day so we cut the night short.
We booked a Natural Pool tour through the front desk of our hotel. We did it through a big truck because we were told ATVs weren’t allowed anymore. I have zero regrets about not taking an ATV. Those roads were rough and bumpy as hell, and I guarantee you we would have gotten lost on the drive. Our tour guide was super nice and it was just us and two other women on our tour. We got to Natural Pool around 9am which was early so it wasn’t crowded at all, it was just one other tour there. On the tour we went to the Gold Mine Ruins, Natural Bridge and the Alto Vista Chapel. By the end of the tour I’m pretty sure my back was broken. The Renaissance has two hotels that are across from each other that is accessible by a shuttle. We went to the other hotel at the end of the tour to visit the pool and it was depressing over there, so we went back to our hotel pool. We had a reservation to do a sunset dinner at Atardi (again, at the high rise hotels), but we changed it to a later time. Now THIS, I regret. The restaurant is on the sand in front of the water so the sunset view would have been spectacular but instead we just got darkness. I had puréed cauliflower for the first time and sea bass and it did NOT disappoint. It was amazing. We walked over to The Bulldog for drinks where they also have karaoke nights. The service was super slow we ended up leaving after two drinks.
98% of our cash we brought was going towards taxis so we ditched them and got a rental car. The amount we paid for the car was less than we paid for taxis in two days, it was crazy. Parking at the hotel was free too so there were no extra costs. Every night we went back to the high rises hotel strip so it made sense to just rent. It gave us the freedom to go where we wanted and when. It was super easy to drive on the roads too.
Since we had a rental car we went back to San Nicolas to try O’Neil’s. We ordered saltfish fritters and festival for appetizers….yum. For lunch I had fish and chips and it was so good. The portions are large so I had to get a to-go box for the rest of my meal. We drove over to Eagle Beach it was empty and so peaceful. This is my second favourite beach on the island, after Baby Beach. There is free parking and free wifi too. We went back to The Bulldog where I lost my karaoke virginity and it is now my favourite thing to do.
We went back to Flamingo Island on our last day but this time we were on the second boat out around 7:30am. It was cloudy and gloomy but it was empty so there were no bodies in our photos. Food for the flamingos was about $1, and one bit me while I was feeding it. I didn't do that again. There were birds everywhere and bird poo everywhere we didn't stay for long. We went to the high rise area to eat at Pelicans’ Nest Grill and Restaurant and ordered a burger and fries. The restaurant was over the water and right off Palm Beach so the view was beautiful. We walked over to Palm Beach to chill, but because it’s right on the hotel strip it was super crowded. We left to go back to Eagle Beach but we were rained out… again. For dinner we went to Flying Fishbone which is near San Nicolas. I’m going to start by saying that the waiters and servers were all beautiful. If you are looking for a meal with eyecandy… go here. This restaurant is on the water so you can opt to have a table where your feet are in the water but we were rained out so we didn’t have the option. Make a reservation in advance because they rarely take walk-ins. I ordered a Carpaccio of Artichoke with Goat Cheese for appetizer and it was the bomb.com. I had chicken pasta and this did not let me down either. We finished the night at happy hour at YOLO.
On the day we left we had breakfast at Salt and Pepper (again in the high rise area) to finish up our amazing baecation with even better food.
Watch my Aruba vlog here.