If your family cruise stops at the Aruba cruise port, these tips are for you. Find out what you need to know about the port and get tips on the best things to do in Aruba when you only have a day!
Visiting Aruba By Cruise: Key Tips For Aruba Cruise Port
In a Nutshell
If you’re sailing on a cruise with a Southern Caribbean itinerary, you will almost certainly have a stop at Aruba. And you may often find this listed as a stop on Panama Canal/Central America itineraries as well. Aruba anchors the ABC islands which are territories of the Netherlands and considered part of the Dutch Caribbean. Most cruises will spend at least 10-12 hours in Aruba. Some cruises will stay overnight.
Cruise ships dock in the capital city of Oranjestad. And cruise dock is literally inside the city. Once you cross the entryway to the pier, you will be in the middle of everything.
The weather in Aruba is both beautiful and reliable. Aruba has mostly sunny days year round with a temperature usually hovering in the high 70s and 80s. If this sounds hot to you, fear not. The tradewinds make the outside temperature feel cooler than what you’ll see on the thermometer.
Also, Aruba lies outside the hurricane belt. Thus, hurricanes rarely visit, or even brush by, the island. It’s something like once every 20 to 30 years. And, when they do blow through, they are smaller in scale.
In addition to the beautiful beaches that are the hallmark of most Caribbean islands, Aruba also contains some arid desert landscapes.
The trademark-worthy Divi Divi and Fofoti trees are unique to this region. Although they look almost identical, they are angled differently. But both types of trees always point in a southwesterly direction on Aruba because of the areas strong tradewinds that blow North to East.
Dollars & Cents
The official currency of Aruba is the Florin but U.S. dollars are widely accepted.
There is free wifi available in Renaissance Mall which is close to the cruise terminal, as well as at Renaissance Marketplace by the Starbucks.
Related Content: Your Cell, Texts & Wifi On A Cruise: This Is What You Need To Know
You can easily navigate Aruba by bus or taxi.
As soon as you exit the port, you’ll see the bus terminal. You should find clear maps posted showing routes to all major destinations, including beaches.
Public buses in Aruba are relatively cheap. You can buy a roundtrip ticket for $5.00 or a day pass for $10 that allows for unlimited number of trips.
Taxis are readily available outside the pier. Fares are regulated and are based on destination. There are no meters. Fares are charged by ride not by passenger, and you can have up to 5 passengers in a taxi at one time. Fares are listed on signs at the terminals, but confirm your fare before your ride starts.
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Aruba By Cruise: Activities Near The Ship
You can start enjoying the Aruba cruise port within minutes of stepping off your ship. You’ll find a range of things to do in Aruba that are within a 15 minute walk of where the cruise ships dock.
Riding A Streetcar
Aruba has a streetcar system that runs on a short loop from the cruise terminal through downtown. It’s free and the entire loop runs about half an hour. This is a quick and easy way to get acclimated to the island. There’s both a single deck and double decker tram.
The streetcar runs by Fort Zoutman, the Archaeological Museum, the House of Parliament and into the downtown shopping area.
The streetcars start running at 10:00 a.m. and the last one departs the cruise terminal area at 5:00 p.m. This should cover most of a typical visiting day during a stop at the Aruba cruise port.
Take a ride in a real live U.S. Coast Guard approved submarine and explore the ocean depths around the island. A great activity for kids and grown ups alike. The submarine submerges to a depth of 130 feet. It’s fully air conditioned. This is a great way for non-divers to experience the underwater marine life of Aruba.
The tour runs about 1 hour and 45 minutes with about an hour of that in the actual submarine. This tour takes guests by the Barcadera reef and two shipwrecks.
Children must be at least 4 years-old and 36 inches in height.
Fort Zoutman (Aruba Historical Museum)
Built in 1798 by the Dutch army, it is the oldest structure in Aruba. The adjacent Willem III Tower was added to the west side of the fort in 1868. The fort and tower were restored and reopened in 1983 as the Historical Museum of Aruba. The top of the tower offers spectacular views, but does require climbing some narrow steps to see them. Entrance fee is $5.00.
Bon Bini Festival
If your cruise ship is staying late in port, or if you are lucky enough to have an overnight stay at the Aruba cruise port, then be sure to check out the weekly Bon Bini Festival in downtown Oranjestad. It’s held on Tuesday evenings from 6:30 to 8:30 inside Fort Zoutman (above). The fee is $10.
“Bon Bini” means “Welcome” in Papiamento, one of Aruba’s official languages. And the Bon Bini Festival serves as an introduction to Aruba’s culture and history through music, dance and food. The festival features staged performances with costumed dancers and musicians that provide sample entertainment showcasing various historical periods of Aruba. The festival also has local crafts and food vendors.
If you’re looking for a free outing that’s near the Aruba cruise port, then a stop at Wilhelmina Park would fit that bill. The park is named after Queen Wilhelmina, the former ruler of the Netherlands (and thus Aruba). This park also features a statute of famous diarist Anne Frank.
Often billed as an oasis of tranquility in the middle of downtown Oranjestad, the park is home (or way station) to several iguanas, pelicans and other birds. The park also hosts an abundance of shade trees and flowering shrubs.
Wharfside Flea Market
If you are a bargain souvenir hunter who likes to haggle, this is one of the best spots to visit during while you’re at the Aruba cruise port. The market stalls feature a wide range of crafts, t-shirts, hats, local arts and traditional souvenirs. Don’t be surprised to find, however, that many of the typical souvenir items are made in China.
If you want locally made items, look for stalls that feature a crafts person actually working.
All transactions are cash-only. And be sure to bring small bills if you plan to do any serious haggling.
This design shop and gallery features arts and crafts from local artisans. You’ll find a wide array of pottery, sculptures, paintings, handcrafted jewelry, glass and ceramic art and more.
Things To Do In Aruba: Activities & Excursions
One of the most popular beaches in Aruba, Eagle Beach, is only a few minutes away from the cruise terminal. You can reach Eagle Beach by bus or taxi in about 10 minutes. The beach is open 24/7 and there’s no entrance fee.
The famous beach features crystal clear turquoise water and a fine powdery white sand punctuated with the trademark wind-bent trees. It’s also the longest and widest beach in Aruba.
This beach often makes various lists as one of the top beaches in the Caribbean or top beaches of the world. Check out the 2020 Trip Advisor rankings, for example, where Eagle Beach ranks as Number 7 on the World list and Number 4 on the Caribbean list.
Amenities include restrooms, and palapas for rent, and various water sports, such as snorkeling, jet skis and kayaks. There’s also places to grab snacks and beverages and picnic tables.
The Natural Bridge
Visit the site of the original Natural Bridge to check out stunning ocean cliff views. The original Natural bridge stood 23 feet high and 100 feet long. Unfortunately, it collapsed in 2005. But its legacy can be found in the Baby Bridge. The Baby Bridge runs about 25 feet and stands about 3 feet above sea level. This site is inside Arikok National Park.
Bushiribana Gold Mines
This site hold ruins of a 19th century gold mine and smelter that operated during the height of Aruba’s gold rush. Located in an area of the island that’s frequently described as “rugged,” the buildings were constructed entirely of natural stones and mortar. The already striking picture is made even more impressive by the backdrop of the coastline.
If you walk down to the ocean, you’ll also see hundreds of carefully piled wishing rocks. This is a tourist made rock garden. Not a historical or cultural artifact of the island. And, it’s strongly discouraged.
Quadirikiri and Fontein Caves
Aruba has many striking natural caves filled with ancient petroglyphs (and also peaceful bats). The Quadirikiri caves are one of the most popular to visit, and you can do so for free! Although these caves (along with the Fontein caves) are part of the Arikok National Park, because the Quadirikiri caves sit just outside the park boundaries, you’re not required to pay an entrance fee.
Ayo Rock Formations
You will often see the Ayo Rock Formations mentioned in the same breathe as the Casibari Collection, but the Ayo site tends to be less crowded. This site consists of large boulders that tower above the dessert and appear to have been deliberately gathered, assembled and stacked. Sort of a Caribbean version of Stonehenge.
The original indigenous residents of the island, the Arawak Indians, considered this to be a sacred place, and you’ll find various ancient petroglyph drawings and paintings in the area. Visitors can navigate the area using marked trails.
If you’re planning on spotting some of those beautiful pink flamingos that you’ve seen in Aruba photographs, you can only find them in one place. That’s Flamingo Beach on the private Renaissance Island owned by the Renaissance Aruba Resort Hotel.
Guests of the hotel receive free access with their accommodations. The hotel also sells day passes to Flamingo Beach on a space available basis for $125 each.
So you have two options: try to purchase a day pass online the day before your arrival or book a hotel room at the Renaissance. Depending on the time of year, the options may be very close in price.
Day passes go on sale at 7:00 a.m. the morning before online. Up to 5 passes can be purchased at a time (subject to availability). The first boat leaves at 7am and every 15 minutes after that. The last boat leave the island at 645pm. The price of a day pass includes one lunch and one cocktail at Papagayo Bar & Grill or Mangrove Beach Bar. No outside food or drinks are permitted.
There are two beaches (Flamingo Beach and Iguana Beach). Flamingo beach is adult exclusive. Access of kids on this beach is only allowed between 9 AM – 10 AM. Children can come to Flamingo Beach to interact with the flamingos from 9 AM – 10 AM. All kids must be supervised.
Special note for folks traveling with kids. The flamingos reside on the “adults only” side of the beach. There is a limited window each morning when children are allowed on the flamingo side of the island. Kids are allowed to visit the flamingos on the adults only side from 9AM to 10AM.
The Spa Option
Another option to consider is to book a spa appointment at the Okeanos Spa that’s part of the Renaissance. Non-guests may book appointments for an additional fee of $25. While there is a traditional spa space in the main hotel, the spa also has space on the private island – the Spa Cove.
The Spa Cove has a limited menu of services – primarily massage oriented. All packages include entry and a one-day stay on Renaissance Island. Eligible spa packages start at $155.
De Palm Island
If you’re looking for an easy fun-filled and relaxing day in the sun with your family, without necessarily exploring the history and culture of the island, then a trip to De Palm Island could be a great choice for you. This all inclusive private resort island offers a wide range of activities. There’s sure to be something that appeals to everyone in your party. There’s a beach, a pool, a small waterpark play area, a range of water sports and adventures, as well as dance lessons and spa services.
Aruba Aloe Factory, Museum And Store
Aruba is billed as the world’s largest exporter of aloe. This museum, factory and story provides an opportunity to learn about the history of aloe cultivation on the island, as well as its present day production. The 15 minute tour is free. You can also visit the store where you’ll find a wide array of aloe based products that could make perfect souvenirs and gifts. Or, just stock up for your own personal supply.
Bubali Bird Sanctuary – a former wastewater treatment facility – is a vast wetland with rich ecosystems that nurtures a great variety of resident and migratory bird species. Herons, egrets, cormorants, ducks and fish eagles are just a couple of celebrities to spot while visiting the (locally known as) Bubali Plas. Visitors can access this expansive habitat by vehicle or on foot. There’s no admission fee.
Note that in recent years, this excursion has received very mixed reviews. This may be attributable to a devastating fire that took place a couple of years ago that had a negative impact on existing wildlife. Intrepid nature lovers should be sure to take some binoculars.
Best Things To Do In Aruba With Young Kids
Baby Beach is a shallow, sheltered man-made lagoon located near Mangle Cora in Seroe Colorado, on the southeast end of the island of Aruba. It is frequented by locals and tourists. It is supposedly named Baby Beach because the water is so calm that it’s safe for very small children.
Donkeys were brought to Aruba hundreds of years ago, and served as a major source of transportation. In more modern times, they become abandoned and mistreated. But, as of 1997, they have a home at this non-profit sanctuary that’s entirely run by volunteers.
Visitors can feed and pet the donkeys. And, depending on the time of day, they can also assist with caring for the animals.
You have the option to bring your own food to feed the animals. (Items such as apples and carrots are recommended). Peacocks also roam the grounds. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.
The farm features hundreds of colorful butterflies and caterpillars from around the globe. Learn everything you’d want to know about butterflies and caterpillars on a short guided tour. Variable admission fee based on status.
Philip’s Animal Garden is a unique animal shelter that rescues and rehabilitates exotic animals. Residents have included pot belly pigs, exotic snakes, red kangaroo, shetland pony, ocelot, plus a variety of parrots, cockatoos, parakeets and more. Admission: $10 for adults, $5 for kids, children under age 3 are free.
Visit the Aruba Ostrich Farm to learn more about this unique bird and its cousin, the emu. Interactive tours run every 30 minutes, and include the opportunity to hand-feed the animals. Although these birds are quite large and might be intimidating to some folks. A tour includes a visit to the incubator, hatchery, and the special pens for young ostriches and emus. You can see how large ostrich eggs truly are. Property also features a souvenir and gift shop with items from local artists, and a restaurant. Admission is $14 for adults and $7 for kids.
Aruba Cruise Port: Activities For Adventure Lovers
If you’re visiting Aruba by cruise ship, your cruise line will almost certainly offer a menu of shore excursions that will include some of these fun activities, but be sure to do some preliminary comparison shopping. You may save a substantial sum by booking independent shore excursions with reputable tour operators directly.
If you are traveling with teens and tweens, you may be interested in touring the major island sites via a mode of travel more adventurous than a taxi or air-conditioned bus. Several tour companies offer guided tours using jeep 4×4’s or UTV tours.
Drive along Aruba’s rugged northeast coast visiting sites such as the Natural Bridge, gold mine ruins, the Ayo and Casibari rock formations, and the Alto Vista Chapel. Some available versions of these tours include beach stops.
You can also enjoy a tour of the island on horseback. Options for horseback tours are available for both the novice and experienced rider. Visit the Arikok National Park, ride along the beach, and canter by popular sites such as the Baby Natural Bridge, the gold mine ruins, and more.
People in the know consider Aruba a kitesurfing paradise. Crystal clear turquoise water and constant trade winds allow for kitesurfing pretty much all year round. Aruba offers several options for kitesurfing schools where you can learn how to kite board and sail within a couple of hours. The Aruba Kitesurfing School is one of the more popular options. Check out reviews here.
If kitesurfing seems a little outside your comfort zone, stand up paddle boarding could be a good alternative option to consider.
One benefit of paddle boarding is that you can do it on relatively calm flat waters instead of catching waves. Although you also have the option to seek out small waves.
Also, paddle boarding can be incorporated into a tour that takes you away from the beach area. For instance, the Aruba Surf & Paddle School offers a popular Mangrove/Eco tour where you paddle down a quite canal lined with mangroves and filled with wildlife.
Sail & Snorkel
One of the more popular snorkeling spots in Aruba is the Antilla shipwreck and this spot features prominently in a variety of snorkeling excursions.
These excursions typically include sailing on a catamaran to visit the shipwreck along with one or two additional stops. Tours also include some combination of beverages and snacks or lunch.
Things To Do In Aruba: Local Events
Another way to fill out your day when visiting Aruba by cruise is to check out local events and celebrations taking place while you’re in port. Here’s a sampling of events to consider.
Things To Do In Aruba in March
The National Anthem and Flag Day is held each year on March 18th and celebrates Aruba’s independence.
This patriotic holiday is celebrated with a scout parade, a classic car parade, sporting events, many cultural events showcasing gastronomy of Aruba, and games throughout the island for kids and adults. Because this is an official Aruban holiday, some shops may close early or not open at all.
In Aruba International Half Marathon, competitors from around the world participate in Aruba’s longest road race covering the length of the island from San Nicolas to Oranjestad. The course ends in front of Alhambra Casino Aruba. This event takes place March 22, 2020.
Things To Do In Aruba in April & May
Aruba Fashion Week is an annual fashion, entertainment and lifestyle event that features collections from local and international designers. Program includes runway shows, trunk shows and various social celebrations. Runway shows are typically held outdoors under the sun.
The International Boulevard Race attracts hundreds of runners worldwide to compete in Aruba’s most popular running race. Race features hundreds of competitors from throughout the Dutch Caribbean, Venezuela, Colombia, USA and The Netherlands. April 27, 2020.
The Aruba Soul Beach Music Festival is an annual star-studded, two-night concert series over Memorial Day weekend. The main stage headliners for 2020 will be Mariah Carey and The Roots. In addition to a range of live music performances, the festival also features comedy shows and beach parties.
Things To Do In Aruba in June
This music festival features award winning musicians and the best local DJs and bands. The event takes place at Aruba’s Harbor Square Arena and delivers spectacular performances to thousands of locals and tourists! June 26 & 27, 2020
Dera Gai is an Aruban cultural festival which has been celebrated for about 100 years with traditional song and dance. Traditionally, the Dera Gai celebration was centered around an unusual ritual involving the decapitation of a live rooster. More modern celebrations have substituted a more humane activity involving substitutes such as flags or plastic roosters. June 23, 2020.
International competitors participate in a triathlon comprised of a 1.5 km of swimming, 40 km bike race, and 10 km run. Beginning at Eagle Beach, the event takes place on a closed circuit. More than 100 athletes expected to participate in this event hosted by the Aruba Triathlon Association. June 28, 2020
Things To Do In Aruba in July & August
Aruba’s highly favorable wind and water conditions and year-round pleasant weather, make it a windsurfing mecca. And it hosts this annual amateur competition for windsurfing, kiteboarding, and related activities in July. Amateur competitors are grouped by age and sex, and there’s also a separate Pro category.
All events are held at Fisherman’s Huts (a section of beach on the north part of the island that’s popular for boarding and surfing).
A fun event for competitors and spectators alike. In addition to a slate of exhilarating competitions that are exciting to watch, other festivities on the beach include beach chic fashion shows, live concerts, and beach parties. July 2-6, 2020.
For the fourth year in a row, Aruba will be hosting the Caribbean’s largest Vow Renewal Celebration. Couples from all over the world participate in this grandiose affair on Eagle Beach. This year’s event takes place August 19, 2020.
Aruba’s Annual International Regatta
This sailing event features fun, action, and competitions among international yachts, catamarans, sunfish, kitesurfers and windsurfers during the day, combined with music, beach parties, and dinners at night. Events take place at Surfside Beach. August 21-23, 2020.
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