I recently stayed at the Hyatt Aruba and loved it. Here’s a recap of my experience.
There’s a certain level of stress and bleh (bleh is the official, scientific term) that comes with calling NYC home for more than a few months. The sights, smells, and sounds all up in your soul after a while and at some point you just need to escape. That’s part of why New Yorkers are always skipping town on their weekends (the other reason is our insane work schedules), and we’re always, always, always looking for what’s new and best in the world of weekend getaways.
Now, I’m no stranger to hopping off to Africa or Australia for a full on vacation, but there’s a relatively short list of high-end hotels with oodles of amenities within weekend travel distance from the New York area. There’s Miami, but that’s just an extension of New York, or LA but that’s basically another borough. Sure, a lot of people hop off to the Bahamas, but the food scene there lacks, well, flavor. Aruba, however, has had a strong local flavor both culturally and culinarily and continues to be an easy escape for overworked New York types– myself included.
The Hyatt Aruba was built about 25 years ago, but has been upgraded, enhanced, and jazzed up on a fairly regular basis since her birth. The resort is nestled into the best patch of beachfront property on the Island from what I’ve seen (and yes, I did purposely take a look at the other hotel options and their beaches). Other hotels and resorts offered some good activities, or friendly service, but the Hyatt Aruba seemed to hands-down have the cleanest portion of beach with the easiest access to the beach-adjacent juice and cocktail bars. That makes a difference when you’re flying 4.5 hours from JFK Airport specifically to lay out on the smooth white sand, swim in crystal clear bath-temperature waters, and do just about nothing other than fully enjoy life.
My first day there I did literally nothing other than enjoy my mere existence, have a local hibiscus cocktail at the on-the-pier bar, and eat dinner. That was enough. That’s exactly where I wanted to be with life and everything felt right for it. By day two, I was activity ready and took on what I never expected: the history of Aruba. Now, call me an stereotypical American if you want, but I just didn’t see Aruba as a hotbed of history. Sigh. How wrong I was. Between centuries-old Dutch forts, stories of World War 2 war ships, and the tales of mainland South American natives sailing from the coast of Venezuela to the parched little Aruban island, there’s more history there than any long weekend could begin to unravel. So I did what I do best: talked to locals, walked around the sites by foot in between jeep tour stops, and took mental note of some of the highlights like Papiamento being the local language, Dutch culture being a very big deal, and the citizens taking hospitality very seriously.
After a huge dose of forts and rock formations I headed back to the Hyatt for some much needed spa time. The spa is situated in one particularly quiet wing of the hotel with Caribbean views, oodles of hot herbal tea, cold lemony water, and healthy, spa-like snacks. I was whisked back to a private room by a therapist named Olga who noticed the sunburn on my back– because time flies when you’re having fun and I forgot to reapply.
“Ms. Bryce, I’m going to apply something cool to your back before I massage. Then I’ll hydrate the area so you don’t peel or feel unnecessary discomfort.”
Few masseuses have cared about the happiness of my skin the way Olga did, and she was simply great. One hour of total bliss, followed by 30 or so minutes in the relatively posh locker room deep conditioning, face masking, and showering. A perfect, soothing end to an educationally sound day that was worlds away from my normal New York grind. I ate dinner with some newfound friends at one of the Hyatt Aruba’s on site restaurants (some of the best local red snapper I’ve ever had, by the way), enjoyed a beachside glass of white wine, and called it a night pretty early– I had water sports planned for the next day.
I’m not normally a huge adventure sport kind of gal– you won’t find me snowboarding down the steepest cliff in Switzerland or kiteboarding through a tsunami, but I do like that rush of adrenaline that only comes from trying something new. All I can say is that the Hyatt Aruba has a JetLev operator directly in front of their property (less than a 1 minute walk) and the experience is all glory. If you’ve never heard of or tried JetLev, you can read about/see my experience here. It was everything and then some, and could only be followed up by a full-on buffet back at the hotel. There’s something so fulfilling about having hovered above the sea and then filling up with unlimited made-to-order spinach and cheese egg white omelets.
Water sports, you may know, are an addictive drug. You don’t just start your day zipping around the top layer of the Caribbean and then take a nap (I mean you could, but you don’t). You continue. There needs to be a gradual progression for the comedown, a sort of sports ombre if you will. My obvious next step was piling onto a catamaran with other adventure-seekers from the hotel to spend the remainder of the day snorkeling around. Our first stop was a sort of typical oh-look-there’s-a-starfish-in-the-clear-water encounter. It was fun, but truthfully it could’ve been off the coast of just about anywhere tropical. What set this snorkel sail apart was the second stop– a chance to really explore and dive into a sunken German ship from WW2. Really.
Some people came back up from their dives crying. Others were just sort of shocked and creeped out. Others, like myself, just had no idea the Germans had any interest in attacking Aruba. And then we ate watermelon, sprayed additional sunscreen, and the guides turned up some Enrique Iglesias music to lighten the mood. Surreal, and totally worthwhile.
The rest of my trip was a special combo of laying around the beach, sipping fresh made-to-order smoothies from the juice bar directly next to patch of beach, enjoying a semi-sleep state, and being relatively disconnected from the world. There’s perfect wifi at the hotel and it’s easy enough to get cell service on the island, but, it kind of defeats the point. You don’t go to Aruba to toil away at emails. You go to relax, eat, adventure, and do your best beached-whale impression– and that’s exactly what I did.
-There are easy nonstop flights from JFK to Aruba every day. Both JetBlue and Delta offer flights.
-It’s pretty close to the equator. You will need sunscreen. I don’t care how well you tan. You’ll need at least SPF 45 in your bag.
-The Aruba airport is only about 15 minutes from the Hyatt, and is possibly the most laidback international airport ever.
-The hotel is quiet enough for friends getaways or romantic long weekends, but I did see several young families making the most of the separate (but close) water slide and kids recreation area. You will not be bothered by the sound of children if you’re a stressed out and babyless New Yorker.
-The bars and juice bar next to the beach are part of the Hyatt Aruba, so you can just charge your purchases and tips directly to your room. No need to carry anything but sunscreen and your hotel key with you.
-You should reserve your water sports as soon as you check in. They’re popular and you never know if the time slots you want will be available.
-Tipping is totally a thing in Aruba. This is not Croatia. 15-20% is standard for good service.
-Just about everyone speaks English, Dutch, Papiamento, and Spanish flawlessly. Don’t worry, the staff will be able to understand you with ease whether you’re from Long Island or Madrid.
For more info/to book the hotel, check out the Hyatt Aruba website, here.