Families flock to Palm Beach's sugar-white beaches in droves; Aruba's kid-friendly atmosphere prevails at Palm Beach's resorts and restaurants, and a number of programs sponsored by the island's tourist office cater to families with young children, offering discounts and freebies around the island.
With miles of clean shores, tranquil waters and picture-perfect weather year-round, Aruba sees its fair share of tourism. The island offers accommodations in a variety of price ranges and enough activities on land and sea to satisfy everyone's wishes.
Unlike some Caribbean islands, which seem geared toward couples, Aruba welcomes kids with open arms. The island features plenty of fun, child-friendly stuff, such as Kibaima Miniature Village and Park (297-586-0536), where little ones can explore miniature Aruban-style houses and buildings, and observe live animals and plants. Playgrounds like Tira Koochi Park and Neptalle Henriquez Playground provide hours of entertainment, and Aruba is even home to Adventure Golf (L.G. Smith Blvd., across from La Cabana Resort), billed as the world's largest mini-golf course.
But parents hoping to escape for a romantic dinner date or excursion need not despair. Many of Palm Beach's hotels and resorts offer kids' programs and baby-sitting services.
Reina Beatrix International Airport (297-582-4800) is serviced by American Airlines, Continental, Delta, United Airlines and US Airways. The flight is only 2 �� hours from Miami and 4 1/2 hours from New York.
Hotels do not provide shuttle services, but taxis are readily available at the airport. Additionally, a range of car rental agencies have offices at the airport.
Fortunately Aruba lies outside the hurricane belt, making it a popular year-round destination. The average temperature is 82 degrees, and there is no rainy season, though it does rain occasionally. High season is from mid-December to mid-April, and while prices generally increase at hotels, entertainment options across the island increase as well. If crowds aren't a deterrent, head to the island for a festive spring break during Carnival in February or March, when parades and parties fill the streets.
Family-friendly lodging options abound in Aruba; the island's many large resorts participate in a program called "One Cool Family Vacation," in which participating resorts offer kids 12 and under free bonuses such as tours, snorkeling, cruises and other activities. These resorts also offer family discounts on things like car rentals, horseback rides and submarine tours. Thirteen hotels, including the Aruba Marriott Resort, Renaissance Aruba Beach Resort, and Wyndham Aruba Beach Resort and Casino, participate in the program. For a complete listing and contact information, visit: www.aruba.com.
Aruba cooks up an interesting array of local cuisines. Some must-haves include giambo, a fish gumbo made with fish fillets, shrimp, okra and basil; deep-fried turnovers called pastechi, which are filled with cheese, shrimp or spicy meat; and, pudin di coco, a coconut pudding infused with rum and served with lime sauce.
For folks craving continental cuisine, many resort restaurants cater to European-style menus. Foodies will appreciate the Aruba Gastronomic Association's " Dine Around" program, which for a set price offers meal coupons to popular restaurants and allows children under 13 to eat at half price.
Once on the island, visitors can find information at the Aruba Tourism Authority (L.G. Smith Blvd. 172, Eagle, Aruba; (297) 582-3777).
U.S. citizens do not need passports to visit Aruba (though they are accepted). Only an original and official state-issued birth certificate with a raised seal AND a government-issued (state or federal) photo I.D. (i.e., a driver's license) are required. Children under age 18 traveling with both parents must have an original or certified copy of a birth certificate and the same last name as the parents. A photo ID is not required.
The Aruban florin is the local currency, but US dollars are often accepted in stores. ATM machines are easy to find on the island, and some even dispense dollars. Credit cards are accepted at nearly all hotels, restaurants and businesses.
While You're There
Lying beached under the sun on Aruba's pristine sands might seem like the perfect way to spend a vacation, but visitors will miss out on the island's natural wonders if they bypass exploring its wild outback. At only 21 miles long, Aruba can be easily explored via a guided four-wheel-drive tour through the desert hills, dirt roads and rocky coastline. Most excursions also include swimming and snorkeling (check out the most popular, De Palm Tours, 297-582-4400; www.depalm.com).
Water lovers will find no shortage of activities at the beach and in the water. Sunset cruises, windsurfing, water safaris, jet skiing and fishing are among the off-shore activities visitors love diving into.
To Fake That You've Been There
Flex your muscles and claim to feel like a million bucks after hitting Conchi, a natural pool in the island's countryside said to have restorative powers.
Linking for a Better Vacation
For more information and bonuses like restaurant reviews and online reservations, visit www.aruba.com.