The key to the magic of the island is, in a word, its charm - Aruba is a quaint, welcoming, easy-going, safe, accessible, and simply adorable bit of land on the southern end of the Gulf of Mexico. Located roughly twenty miles off the coast of Venezuela in the territory known as the Dutch Caribbean, Aruba is a Dutch-controlled island, and it evokes a symbiotic blend of both Aruban and European culture. Maintaining one of the highest standards of living and average incomes for native people among the Gulf islands, Aruba seems to have nicely balanced its colonial past with its tourism-oriented present. We traveled smoothly between the port city of Oranjestaad and the resort-heavy Palm Beach, using both taxis and the local busses. In fact, I would highly recommend taking the bus for at least some of your trips, for it was a cultural experience all its own.
Our time was spent around the pool at the Marriott Aruba Surf Club, and I'd highly recommend it. We easily drifted between the Surf Club, the Ocean Club, the Mariott Hotel, and even made our way up and down the beach to other hotels like the Ritz-Carlton and the Hilton. All the beaches in Aruba are public, so access up and down is easy and not restricted to hotel guests. One nice quality was the ability to visit the other hotels for their restaurants, shops, and or course casinos. In making our way between the resorts and into the shopping/dining area of Aruba, I always felt as safe as I do in my own hometown. The staff in and around the resorts are literally everywhere with quick assistance and a smile. Visiting a place like Aruba immediately leads me to an inkling to "retire in the Caribbean," and while I will do some additional research over the next decade or so, I will definitely take another trip to island gem that is Aruba.
In the meantime, I'm planning my next vacation and research trip for the US Virgin Islands: