If there’s any doubt that Caribbean travel is back—or at least very close to it—just look at Aruba’s beaches. On a recent weekend in May, I remarked to a fellow traveler that in my six visits in the last three years, I’d never seen One Happy Island so busy, so energetic, so alive. Travelers from the northeast U.S. especially seem to have the itch for the A of the ABC Islands, and who can blame them?
When it comes to Aruba, we always think we know exactly what to expect. Beautiful beaches, no rain but plenty of wind, maybe a little overcast but otherwise mostly sunny, and a lot of people with huge smiles willing to ensure we have the best vacations possible. In many ways, it seems as if nothing ever changes here.
That’s not a knock—consistency is a traveler’s best friend. But the more creative resorts know that what really makes Aruba a special destination is the unique touches that can be enjoyed on-site before heading out on the rite of passage De Palm UTV tour of Arikok National Park and then the sunset catamaran tour. Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is an especially great example of this, as the property is home to at least four activities that all guests should want on their itineraries.
The Proof is in the Pastechi
I’m always first drawn to the food, and one of the best, most versatile, and fulfilling food items you’ll find anywhere in the Caribbean is pastechi, a deep-fried dough treat that can be great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, all depending on what you use for a filling. My personal favorite is just gouda smothered in Pica di Papaya hot sauce, because that’s about as Aruban as it gets, but thanks to this resort, I now know how to make my own, using cheese, beef, chicken, and vegetables.
We highly recommend taking cooking classes at resorts, especially in the Caribbean, because there’s an almost 100 percent guarantee that the “teacher” will be a delight. (It’s also great for learning about the culture and authenticity, naturally.) Guests of all ages will love spending time with Chef Charles Wagner, who makes learning how to create pastechi from scratch extremely fun and educational. The only caveat is to not book this lesson too close to dinner time, because you will make a lot and you will want to eat it all.
Put Your Personal Touch on a Cocktail
Of course, if you’re going to learn how to make local dishes, you’ll want to add a special cocktail or two to your repertoire as well, especially since everyone who loves this island should already have the Aruba Ariba memorized. However, the outdoor cocktail class at this resort teaches guests to live up to the creative vibes, and instructor Sharon especially has a new trick up her sleeve that will make everyone cheers and cheer when the drink is ready.
Pairing nicely with the island’s classic sunset, we made a delicious pink vodka martini with an egg-white foam that has become a welcomed trend throughout bars around the world. Simply knowing the trick to perfecting that element will serve amateur mixologists very well back home. However, the pièce de resistance here is the wizardry of using a special machine to imprint each guest’s face in the foam of his or her martini.
It’s a truly personal touch that is guaranteed to blow up any Instagram feed.
The Best Dinner on the Beach
Aruba has plenty of great, creative dining options, including well-kept secrets, up-and-coming culinary delights, and absolute must-visit landmarks. The Aruba Marriott is home to an “all of the above” dinner concept called Atardi, which hosts nightly meals on the resort’s beautiful stretch of beach. A catamaran tour is usually the preferred to see the island’s spectacular sunsets, but land lovers will be more than happy to observe from this spot, while devouring phenomenal dishes.
Surf and/or turf, the starters and main entrees are nearly impossible to choose between—that’s why we highly recommend the filet and lobster—but the broad wine selection guarantees a perfect pairing (or just choose an Aruban gold to with everything), which makes this the ideal candidate for return visits.
Feel It in the Winds
With its subtle, natural design and vast space, Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is a prime candidate for special events, like a destination wedding, milestone family celebration, or even a company conference (the ballroom accommodates up to 880 people, in case generous employers are reading). But for those occasions that truly deserve the above and beyond treatment, guests will want to experience the resort’s Tradewinds Club.
Among the perks of this exclusive experience are private check-in, access to the dedicated lounge, complimentary snacks any time of day, a premium bar, deluxe, reserved beach space, and upgraded ocean view rooms. What puts it over the top is the availability for group buyouts, meaning wedding guests will feel like the only people at the resort.
But that’s the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino in a nutshell, because every experience and amenity here is designed to make every visitor feel like the most important person on One Happy Island.