Aruba Cruise Port Packed with Excursions, Shopping and Dining
The Aruba cruise port of Oranjestad is a chance to see a place of great colors – vibrant blue sky, warm aqua green water and especially the powdery white sand beaches.
Ignore the occasional cottony white clouds that sometimes turn a bit gray. No Caribbean island is perfect.
After three vacations in Aruba, I can offer a few travel tips for first-time visitors to the Aruba cruise port and maybe even the return visitor.
How do you rate Palm Beach Aruba?
Aruba is a small island with few roads, plenty of taxis and an efficient bus system. Although many people rent cars, we have never had the need.
Most visitors to the Aruba cruise port will spend time in downtown Oranjestad. It is an easy walk for even mildly fit people because everything is so close to the docks.
Anyone who plans to spend a half day or more on land will find easy access to beaches and attractions outside of Oranjestad.
The second most popular place on the island is Palm Beach, which is a brief bus or taxi ride from downtown. Palm Beach combines a beautiful white sand beach with a long and busy strip of hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues.
That leaves mainly the excursions, most of which are near the cruise port or Palm Beach. Others lie across the island. They are usually available by taxi or an excursion-sponsored bus.
Best Time to Visit Aruba
Cruise Port: The First Hour
Visitors will disembark in the country's capital, Oranjestad. The docks are just a few short blocks to an extensive dining and shopping district in the downtown area.
The dominant street in that dining and shopping district is Lloyd G. Smith Boulevard, which is about 100 yards from the docks.
After arriving at Smith Boulevard, first take note of the bus terminal across the street. It's a convenient and inexpensive option for getting around the island.
Now turn right to see most of the shops and restaurants on the main street itself. Go a little farther down find the Renaissance complex on the left and Seaport Village Mall and Marketplace on the right.
The Atlantis Submarine docks at the water's edge within a short walk of the docks.
Many of the shops that lie along Smith are high scale while the restaurants are mid scale. Like most Caribbean destinations, many of the restaurants are open air.
Some fo the better restuarants occupy the water side of the boulevard while the most casual restaurants sit on the retail side of the street.
Anyone who goes one block north of the water will find a smaller number of local shops and almost no restaurants.
The Renaissance Complex
Marriott owns a massive block of property on both sides of Smith Boulevard. On the left side is the adults-only Renaissance hotel coupled with The Renaissance Mall and Crystal Casino.
Crystal Casino is one of the largest casinos on the island. Visitors will find more of them at the larger resorts, especially at Palm Beach.
The Renaissance Mall has a heavy focus on higher-end fashion and merchandise, but it has few restaurants.
A unique draw of the Renaissance properties is Renaissance Island, a 10-minute boat ride from the properties.
Guests who stay at the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino on the left side of L.G. Smith Boulevard can jump into a boat in the lobby and go under the boulevard to reach the island.
It offers two human-made lagoons that are quiet and peaceful. Pink flamingoes saunter around guests.
Access to the island is free for guests but costs a fee for non-guests. It is one of our favorite places to visit on the island.
Seaport Village Mall and Marketplace
The right or water side of L.G. Smith Boulevard has the family oriented Renaissance hotel. It also has a smaller beach and the Seaport Village Mall and Marketplace that includes many open-air restaurants and the somewhat smaller Seaport Casino.
Shopping on this side of the street is more touristy with the usual collection of souvenir shops.
The better reason to visit Seaport is the restaurants.
We especially like to go to the far end of the Mall near the water's edge and a cluster of restaurants including Cafe le Plaza and Casa Tua Pizzeria. The most common cuisines are American, Italian and Dutch.
Many of the restaurants are open air and quite a few of them sit next to retail stores. So it's a simple matter to combine shopping and dining.
Live entertainment often is available at night in the park by the water.
The one shore excursion at the Aruba cruise port that I would recommend over any other is a visit to Palm Beach, one of the most famous beaches in the Caribbean.
It's not just the quality of the white sand and the hotels and resorts that face the beach. It's the shopping and dining district that lines this stretch of Smith Boulevard.
It especially comes alive at night with many good restaurants, street vendors, high-end retail and even live entertainment and water shows at Paseo Herencia mall.
Aruba cruise visitors whose ships will spend the night at the island would find it best to spend the morning in downtown Aruba, the afternoon on Palm Beach's actual beach and the evening shopping, dining and just strolling along the strip.
The island has the usual list of land excursions including horseback rides, ATV adventures and especially popular Jeep excursions. They usually spend time both on the beaches and on the island's desert-like Arikok National Park.
I took an ATV excursion that went through neighborhoods, across Arikok, over to Baby Bridge and up to the rocky top of the island's second highest peak, the 541-foot-tall hill named Hooiberg. On a clear day, Venezuela is viewable in the distance.
Snorkeling and scuba diving are popular on Aruba. It has more than 40 dive spots including some shipwrecks.
For those less adventurous, two other popular excursions are visits to the California Lighthouse and especially to the windy, rock-strewn Baby Bridge. Other attractions include the Natural Pool, butterfly farm, ostrich farm and donkey sanctuary.
The island has three golf courses: Aruba Golf Club (9 holes), Links at Divi Aruba (9 holes) and Tierra del Sol Resort (18 holes, par 71, Trent Jones design).
Water excursions are a little more exciting. Although snorkeling is a popular excursion on Caribbean cruises, we found snorkeling in Aruba less appealing than other islands.
Aruba water excursions are much more popular with two types of adventure seekers – scuba divers and wind surfers.
The island has 42 dive spots including shipwreck dives. It also is a windy island and attracts wind surfing enthusiasts to Fisherman's Huts, which is within walking distance of the resorts north of Palm Beach.
Fishermen will find plenty of opportunities to charter boats and try their luck.
© 2014 Scott Bateman
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