Aruba

Hey guys!

We visited Aruba in Nov 2017 and spent 6 nights on the island.

We had initially booked a trip to Turks & Caicos but after booking our trip there, the island was hit by two hurricanes so we decided to change it to Aruba.

We had never been to either island and after finding out that Aruba was outside of the hurricane belt we felt it was a better option. Thankfully, we had booked our airfare with Southwest  (my favorite airline).

Southwest allows you to change your flight online without a change fee. You only have to pay the difference if the airfare is higher than your originally booked flight.

Our airfare to Aruba ended up costing us an additional $35.

enhanceOur first view of the island

After reading lots of terrible reviews on the car rental places inside the airport, we chose to book with an offsite car rental company called Wheels 2 Go.

I was a little hesitant because I don’t like having to prepay for my car rental..especially with it being an international rental; I wasn’t sure what would happen if I needed to cancel.

They picked us up right outside the airport and the driver took us to our rental car at a parking lot a couple of miles from the airport.

It was definitely a different experience than any rental I’ve ever had before as the car was sitting in some random parking lot and not at an actual rental business. Thankfully, it turned out to be a really good experience and I would definitely recommend them.

We rented a midsize car for 6 nights and the cost was $234.

After a lot of research, we decided to stay at the Modern Hotel Aruba. It wasn’t on the beach but we were ok with that since we like to spend most of our time exploring.

We try to find smaller properties when possible as I am not a fan of crowds. This place only had around 7-8 rooms so it was very quiet and we hardly ever saw anyone else there.

We had the Penthouse suite, which is their largest suite. It has a “private” balcony and a huge bathroom with a shower and tub. I would highly recommend this property!

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You could walk to Palm Beach from our hotel but I wouldn’t recommend it as it would have taken at least 10 mins or more and you had to cross a main road to get there.

I mean who wants to walk in the heat with all their beach gear and then risk getting hit by a car? 😉

Tip – Download the WhatsApp as most everyone in Aruba uses it. We had to use it on 3 separate occasions to communicate with people on the island. Click here for the best Aruba apps

After checking into our hotel, we went to Super Food to pick up a few items. This is a really nice grocery store and it’s huge!

I highly recommend you purchase plenty of water and keep some with you at all times. Aruba is a very hot, dry island and you can quickly become dehydrated. Also, take lots of sunscreen and wear it!!

We then headed to Oranjestad which is the capital of Aruba to find somewhere to eat. It was about a 20 min drive from our hotel. We ended up eating at Dushi Bagels & Burgers.

I ordered the coconut shrimp and the hubby ordered the usual burger. I wasn’t very impressed with this place. My shrimp tasted like it had little to no coconut on it and my hubby’s burger was too well done. enhance

After we ate, we walked a very short distance to a nearby beach to watch the sunset. To get there, we had to walk through the Playa Linda Beach Resort’s lobby.

I had read about the spectacular sunsets in Aruba but unfortunately we never saw anything like I had seen in pictures. Still beautiful though!

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Other nearby beaches in this area include Druif, Palm, Eagle, Hadicurari, Divi, MancheboMalmok, Boca Catalina and Arashi. All of these beaches are within a 10 min drive or less of Dushi Bagels & Burgers.

The next day we had planned on spending it exploring Arikok National Park. Since we wanted to see the Natural Pool, we had rented a jeep for the day.

Read reviews of the park here

Tip – Do not attempt driving to the Natural Pool without a 4WD and make sure it has good tires and is in good mechanical condition.

You could easily blow a tire and be stranded and a lot of the rental companies don’t cover you if you drive here. There are several tour companies that offer tours if you choose not to drive it.

After researching the best places to rent a jeep on the island, we reserved a jeep with More4Less. The total cost for the day was $175 for a 4 door jeep. They did have cheaper options available but this is all they had left when I booked.

Tip – Book your jeep before you arrive. They book up quickly!

It was a bit steep but cheaper than booking with a tour co and we got to explore the park on our time.

The rental co picked us up at our hotel at 9 am the next morning and drove us back to their rental location in Oranjestad to pick up our jeep.

After arriving, the process took about 15 mins. While there, they told us about this app called Maps.me and let me just say, it was a lifesaver! It’s a GPS that works off-line so it doesn’t use your data.

The island is not easy to navigate. There are very few road signs and lots of roundabouts. This app worked perfectly and never steered us wrong… I highly recommend you download it!

I would highly recommend More4Less…..they were great!

We arrived at the Arikok Ntl Park’s Visitor Center and went in to check it out and to pick up a map of the park. You have to pay an $11 pp entrance fee before entering the park. There are also maps available at the entrance gate which is right beside the visitors center.

Tip- Have plenty of water, a full tank of gas, sunscreen and snacks.

enhanceOur first stop was the beautiful Natural Pool. It took about 30-45 mins to arrive and it was a stressful drive! We drove over so many sharp rocks…I just knew we were going to blow a tire! You can book a tour to the Natural Pool here.

enhanceenhanceI was so ready to get out of that jeep..I felt like I was going to have some kind of internal injuries after that drive!

Thankfully, it wasn’t too crowded when we arrived. This place is very popular with tourists and can get really crowded during the day so try to get here early or later in the evening. enhanceenhance

 

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This place is beautiful! But it can be very dangerous. Please be very careful as there have been deaths in this area. I recommend you wear water shoes as the rocks are very slippery.

After leaving the pool, we then headed to the Boca Prins Sand Dunes & Beach. We stopped along the way snapping a few….thousand pics! 😉

enhanceThere were goats all over the park!

enhanceWe first arrived to the Boca Prins Sand Dunes….they looked so out of place.

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We felt like we had the park to ourselves most of the day as we hardly ever saw anyone else. It was nice to escape the crowds.

We then headed just a short distance to Boca Prins Beach. It was beautiful but it’s definitely not a swimming beach. There are signs warning you not to swim here.

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There is actually a very small restaurant located near here called Boca Prins Bar & Restaurant.

Our next stop was the Fontein Cave. It’s one of the only caves on the island that has ancient writing on the cave walls. There are park guides that will give you a short tour.

We saw bats flying around in both of the caves that we visited but more so in this one..Within walking distance of the cave is a small pond where you can sit and put your feet in the water and get a “fish pedicure”..I just had to try it! Don’t be scared..it just tickles!enhanceenhance

 

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Tip – This cave doesn’t stay open all day long. It has a gate on it and they close it around 5-6 pm I believe.

We then headed a short distance to the next cave called Quadirikiri. It’s a lot bigger than Fontein. You will need to use a flashlight as it’s really dark until you get near the back of the cave where there are holes in the top of the cave that lets light shine through.

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This cave doesn’t close like the Fontein cave.

Next, we headed to Vader Piet which is simply a wind farm. enhanceWe stopped and took pictures along the way to Baby Beach and spotted this huge anchor so of course we had to stop and take a pic. 😉

enhanceAfter being in the heat and desert like conditions all day, we were ready to cool off in the beautiful waters of Baby Beach.

enhanceenhanceWe stayed here to watch the beautiful sunset. There is food available at this beach. There’s a place that sells just hotdogs and hamburgers and there’s Big Mama Grill where you can order a variety of food items.

The next day, we decided to explore the other side of the island. But first, we headed to breakfast at Taste of Belgium.

This place was really close to our hotel so we decided to try it out. The food and service was really good. We ate breakfast here twice.

Read reviews here

enhanceenhanceAfter breakfast, we headed to the California Lighthouse. The lighthouse was named after the S.S. California which sank prior to it’s construction in 1910. This is a popular location to come and watch the sunset.

You can also tour the lighthouse for $10. Purchase tickets here.

There is also an italian restaurant located here called Faro Blanco. The Faro Blanco Restaurant was once the dwelling of the lighthouse keeper but now serves Aruba and it’s guests the best in Italian cuisine.

Read reviews here

It has some amazing views if you are seated outside. We didn’t try it out.

enhanceenhanceenhanceThe next stop was the Alto Vista Chapel. Our Maps.me app took us down this very bumpy road that I think may have been meant for 4WD but we made it just fine in our little rental car.

enhanceWe made a few stops along the way before we got to the church. We passed these big boulder fields along the way.enhanceOf course, once we spotted this big black rock that was almost perfectly round, we had to stop and take pics.enhanceenhanceWe finally arrived to the church. I think it took us around 30 mins or so to get there from the Lighthouse.

We later found out there was a different route that we could have taken however, I liked the road we took because it was much more scenic.

The church was built in 1750 and reconstructed in 1953. enhanceIMG_0149

Tip: Another church worth visiting is the Lourdes Grotto..it’s a Roman Catholic shrine that was built into the rocks. Read reviews here. It’s located 35 mins from this church in San Nicolas.

In front of the church, there was this little stand selling fresh squeezed lime so we decided to try it out…it was so refreshing!

IMG_0165We then headed to the Donkey Sanctuary . The sanctuary was founded in 1997 and is a non profit organization ran completely by volunteers.

The donkeys in Aruba were brought to the island over 500 yrs ago as a mode of transportation but as cars were introduced to the island the use for donkeys drastically declined.

They were left to fend for themselves and almost became extinct after an illness killed all but 20. They have now increased in numbers and have a safe place to live. It is free of charge but you can leave a donation.

Read reviews here

enhanceenhanceWe then headed to the Natural Bridge. The largest and most photographed natural bridge collapsed in 2005. However, it’s still a popular tourist attraction and the baby bridge can also be seen here.

Read reviews here

enhanceenhanceThe collapsed bridge

You can purchase food and drinks here. They mainly sold hotdogs and hamburgers. We ended up eating lunch here and the food was not that good.

Click here for the 10 best restaurants near the Natural Bridge.

IMG_0184We then headed to the Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins. The gold mill was built in 1874 during the “gold rush” in Aruba.

Read reviews here

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There is a refreshment stand at the site of the ruins.

We then headed to the Ayo & Casibari Rock Formations. This is a cluster of huge rock formations. They were really cool and best of all, they were free to visit!

There are several short paths you can walk along. There are also stairs that have been built into the rock where you can go all the way to the top for some spectacular views.

Some of the stairs were extremely terrifying because they were so steep!

Rock drawings dating back thousands of years can also be found here.

Read reviews here

enhanceenhanceAt the top, you get an amazing view of Hooiberg It’s a volcanic formation located in the center of Aruba and is the 2nd highest point on the island. You can walk to the top of Hooiberg if you want to walk up almost 600 steps! No thanks!

Read reviews here

The highest point in Aruba is Jamanota, a hill located in the Arikok National Park that stands at 189 meters above sea level.

enhanceWe then headed back to our hotel to get ready for dinner. After dinner, we headed to Arashi Beach to watch the sunset. This was one of our favorite beaches.enhance

The next day we decided to spend snorkeling and just relaxing at the beach. We went to Boca Catalina. Unfortunately, our snorkeling experience in Aruba wasn’t that great.

The water was always murky. We did, however, get to see an octopus for the first time.

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enhanceSince the snorkeling wasn’t that good, we decided to go back to Arashi Beach.

The water at Arashi is great for swimming but the snorkeling here is more for advanced swimmers and snorkelers. We didn’t attempt to snorkel here.

We loved this beach…it was never crowded.

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enhanceThe next day, Thursday, I had surprised my hubby with a couples massage at the  Renaissance Hotel’s private island. The hotel was located in Oranjestad. It was about a 20-25 min drive from our hotel.

The spa has several different packages you can choose from. I purchased the Caribbean  Morning Couples Package. It included a 50 min massage for two, use of the private spa cove from 9-11:30, use of beach towels and water floats, a fruit tray and 2 drinks each.

They do offer spa treatments at the hotel as well as the private island. If you stay at the Renaissance, the ferry to the island is free. If you purchase a spa treatment at the island, the ferry is included in the cost.

Tip – The private island is only for the guests of the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino. However, if the hotel isn’t at 80% capacity or more, they will sell day passes for $125 pp(includes lunch)but you have to either call or go to the hotel on the day you want to visit to check for availability because I don’t think they sell advanced tickets.

I would recommend if you want to visit the island, that you either book your entire stay at the hotel, book at least one night at the hotel or book a spa treatment.

I can’t say this enough, if you go to Aruba, you need to go here!! It was truly the highlight of our trip! It’s a 40-acre private tropical retreat with white sand beaches and crystal clear waters and it is beautiful!

Our massage was at 9 am but we had to check in at the spa inside the hotel at 8 am. The only place to park was across the street from the hotel. After we checked in, we had to walk back across the street to catch the ferry.

Tip – If you stay at the hotel, the ferry picks you up inside the hotel…very cool.

The ferry runs every 15 mins … It’s a 8 min ferry ride to the island. One side of the island is for families and one side is for couples.

As some of you may know, there are 6 beautiful flamingos that reside on the island and you can feed them right on the beach.

We arrived about 30 mins before our massage so we spent some time feeding and taking pics of them. Flamingos can only be found on this island and nowhere else in Aruba.

enhanceenhanceTip– I recommend if you book a massage that you book the earliest time available to beat the crowds that are all fighting to get their pic made with the flamingos. There was hardly anyone there when we arrived.

We then walked over to our BEAUTIFUL private bungalow right on the water to prepare for our massage. The therapists were already there waiting on us.

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enhanceThey explained what we needed to do and then walked outside so we could shower off and get on the massage tables.enhance

Tip– Make sure you have NO sand on you when you get ready for your massage or you may not have a pleasant experience.

Unfortunately, I still had a little sand on my feet and even though the therapist tried dusting it off, not all of it came off and I could definitely feel it when she began the massage.

This could have been prevented if they would have started the massage with my back and not my feet. I’ve never had a massage where they started with my feet.

I was a little worried about booking this for my hubby because he had never had a massage before but he ended up loving it and said he needed to start having more of them!

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There were lots of private little bungalows all over the island and I’m not sure if it was first come, first serve or if you had to reserve them through the hotel. There were also hammocks randomly placed throughout the island.

enhanceenhanceThis was a splurge for us because we were celebrating our 29th yr wedding anniversary but I loved it so much that I would definitely pay to do it again even if it wasn’t a special occasion!

Tip – You can actually book a dinner under the stars on the island even if you aren’t a guest of the Renaissance hotel. The dinner is served on the beach every Wed at 7 pm. The cost is $65 for adults and $33 for children ages 5-12.

After leaving our private bungalow, we headed to the Papagoyo Bar & Grill for lunch. I ordered the grouper sandwich and the hubby ordered his usual burger. The food and service was great!

You couldn’t beat the views either!

After lunch we walked around the island. Not only did the island have flamingos, but it also had tropical fish and iguanas.

After spending ½ the day here, we ferried back over to Oranjestad. I had also surprised my husband with a 5 hr private sailing tour that included dinner, snorkeling and a sunset with the Morning Star.

I had read rave reviews about it and decided to book it before we left on our trip.

Unfortunately, the weather had been calling for rain that day and sure enough it had rained quite a bit in Oranjestad but thankfully not on the private island.

Sadly to say, I received a text message from the owner of the boat canceling the tour due to the weather. Aruba is usually a very windy island but they had been having very little wind.

So, on top of the rain and no wind she felt it was in our best interest to cancel. Needless to say, I was VERY disappointed.

So, we ended up staying in Oranjestad and walked around checking out the shops & outside marketplace. enhanceenhance

 

Tip – You can go here and see how many cruise ships will be in port each day. You can then avoid the crowds.

We then headed to Mangel Halto Beach just to check it out. This is supposed to be a great snorkeling area but we never snorkeled here. It was really beautiful and the water was really calm and clear.enhanceenhanceLater, we headed to Savaneta to eat dinner at Zeerovers. We had tried to eat here earlier in the week but they were closed.

We later found out that the only day they close is Mon. This is a seafood place and they only sell whatever fish was caught that day.

This place gets very busy so I would recommend you get here early. It’s a very popular place with tourists and locals.

You order your food at a small window as soon as you walk into the restaurant. After paying, they hand you a number and then you go find a table.

They sell a variety of fish but you never know what kind it will be. It could be grouper, red snapper, amberjack etc. It’s usually more than one kind.enhanceThey also sell shrimp. You have to tell them how many pounds you want of each(if you want both). The guys that took our order were good about gauging the weight based on the number of people you were ordering for.

They weigh it, put it in a bag and then it all gets cooked together…everything is fried. It’s served with fries. They also have plantains and cornbread.

Make sure you order the tartar sauce…it was so good!

Tip – They only take cash.

The food was really good but VERY messy…be prepared to get your fingers dirty!

enhanceenhanceWe sat at a table right beside the water and as we were waiting on our food, the local fishermen pulled up in their boats to drop off their catch of the day. enhanceenhanceFunny story…after dinner, we went to leave but then decided to walk down beside the restaurant to take a picture of the sunset. There was a house beside the restaurant that, unbeknownst to us, was the house of the restaurant owner’s sister.

She came out and started talking to us…She then invited us to come into her house where she began telling us that it was the house she was raised in. She was probably in her 70’s. Well, then one of her brothers walks up and joins in on the conversation.

He then takes us over to his house, which was next door, and introduces us to his wife. He is also a swim coach in Aruba and trains kids for the olympics. His name was Roly Bisslik.

His sister then asked us to stay for coffee but we told them we had to get going. It was such a neat experience. They were such a sweet family.

We should have stayed because we ended up stopping at the Hub Coffee & Juice Bar. The coffee was really good and I’m picky about coffee.

The next day was our last full day in Aruba. We really didn’t have anything planned but when we woke up that morning it was pouring rain.

We decided to get out and ride around. We knew the rain probably wouldn’t last long. We headed to Eagle Beach. It’s been voted the 2nd best beach in the Caribbean and the 3rd best beach in the world!

It’s also home to two of the most photographed and renowned fofoti trees in Aruba.

My husband apparently thought he could fly… 😉enhanceenhanceWe then ended up driving to the Bubali Bird Sanctuary. It wasn’t easy to find and we drove around in circles for a while.

Read reviews here

IMG_0325IMG_0310We saw about 4-5 different types of birds along with a turtle. There’s an observation tower you can climb for better views but we didn’t climb it.

After we left here, we noticed this place right on the side of the road that looked like it had shells. So, we pulled over and got out. The place was covered in coral and shells!

It’s located just north of the windsurfing area. You can see an old rusted out ship sticking out of the shallow water.

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We then headed out to find lunch. We came across a place right on the water and decided to give it a try. It was called The West DeckenhanceWe first ordered the grouper fingers and the fried funchi (similar to corn bread) with dutch cheese. The menu said it was a “must on the Aruban table” so we had to try it. Both were delicious!

enhanceWe then ordered the fish sandwich….it was so good! We both agreed that this was one, if not the best, meal we had in Aruba.

The service was excellent …very friendly people. I can see why they call Aruba “one happy island”…everyone seemed happy and were all very friendly.

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After we ate, we headed to a nearby beach to spend the rest of our day and hoped to see a beautiful Aruban sunset.

Sadly, once again, it was cloudy and we never got to witness that big orange ball sinking into the sea. However, every sunset in Aruba is beautiful. enhanceMy hubby is a burger connoisseur …he loves burgers and always researches the best place to get one anytime we go anywhere. So, during his research, he came across this place called Juanchis Burger.

So, for dinner that evening, that’s where we headed. It was located very close to our hotel in the Palm Beach Plaza Mall.

We both ordered the baby portobello burgers with an order of fries sprinkled with a garlic parmesan cheese. The burgers were awesome! So good! enhanceenhance

enhanceRead the reviews on this restaurant here. UPDATE: This place is now closed.

After dinner, we headed back to our hotel. We were flying out the next day.

The next morning, we headed back to Taste of Belgium for breakfast. This place is also located in the Palm Beach Plaza Mall.

We then headed back to the hotel to pack up. We checked out of the hotel around 11 am. We had a few hours to spend on the island before our plane departed.

So, we decided to drive back down to Eagle Beach. It was about a 10 min drive from our hotel.

When we arrived, there was this amazing dark cloud in the sky. It made for some great shots.enhanceenhanceenhanceAfter spending some time here, we headed out…but about that time, I told my husband that it looked like a water spout was forming. I had never seen one in person so I was really hoping that’s what was happening.

Sure enough, by the time we got parked again, one had formed! It was so cool to actually see it in person!

enhanceI only had time to snap a few pictures with my iPhone before it dissipated so the quality isn’t the best.

It was a great way to end our time in Aruba!

We then headed back to the parking lot where we had initially picked up our rental car. The rental company was meeting us there so we could drop off the car and then they were going to drop us off at the airport.

We had a great time in Aruba and I highly recommend you visit this beautiful island.

enhanceGoodbye Aruba..it was fun!!

Other things to do while you are there:: Every Tue they hold what’s called a Bon Bini Festival in the outer courtyard of the historical museum near Ft Zoutman.  You can also climb the stairs of the fort for 360 degree views.

Shopping – Seaport Marketplace Mall and Seaport Village click here for more

Wilhelmina Park – lots of lizards hanging out

Ostrich Farm  – read reviews here

Butterfly Farm – read reviews here

Behind the boat docks in downtown, fishermen can be seen cleaning their catch of the day. You can also see large pelicans near the yacht slips.

Eagle Beach – most popular and widest beach & home to 2 world renowned Fofoti Trees

Palm Beach – pretty but crowded and not good for snorkeling

Best snorkeling beaches: Arashi, Boca Catalina (small bay in the Malmok beach area), Catalina Cove (close to Boca Catalina – you have to enter the water at Boca then swim north – swim along the edge of the coves to see fish). Baby Beach – warning: the currents can be strong here, Mangel Halto – 4 star snorkeling but must be a good swimmer – located in the city of Savaneta. Tres Trapi – next to Catalina Cove(has 3 steps in the rocks to get into the water – apparently lots of colorful starfish here). We checked out Tres Trapi and there is no way I would have gotten in the water here….the water was very rough. Maybe it’s usually calm but not the day we went.enhance

Click here for top 10 beaches in Aruba

Click here for best restaurants in Aruba

Click here for most romantic things to do in Aruba

Click here & here for most popular tours in Aruba

Click here for most popular hotels in Aruba

Click here for best things to do with children

Click here & here for very useful Tips for traveling to Aruba for the first time

Click here to find out about 3 hidden gems in Aruba that most don’t know about

Click here for 16 facts that may surprise you about Aruba

Click here for a list of all the beaches in Aruba shown on a map

Click here for 27 fun things to do in Aruba

Click here for 14 things NOT to do in Aruba

My own suggestions for romantic things to do: Watch the sunset at the lighthouse, book a private dinner on the beach, book a couple’s massage on the beach, take a stroll on the beach during sunset, book a private sunset cruise, have breakfast/dinner delivered to your room & stay in, have a picnic in a secluded area or on the beach during sunset, take a horseback ride on the beach or take a midnight swim in the pool..I would say ocean but I’m terrified of sharks so I can’t recommend! 😉

Thanks for reading. I hope this helps you plan your own trip to Aruba!

If you have any ideas or suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment.

4 thoughts on “Aruba

  1. onthespur February 8, 2018 / 1:50 pm

    We were in Aruba just for a few hours while on our cruise and we did like the place, although we did not explore it the way you guys did. Now we feel we missed alot and we will need to consider going back. 🙂

    • Planes, Trains & Autos February 9, 2018 / 12:15 am

      You really should consider it…it’s such a beautiful island with lots to do! We really enjoyed our time there.

  2. Kathleen November 5, 2018 / 2:08 pm

    Excellent read! Going in January 2019 with my hubby and 30yo & 20yo, will definitely look for that beach with the huge shells!

    • Planes, Trains & Autos November 5, 2018 / 6:02 pm

      Thank you so much Kathleen! I’m so glad you found it helpful. You will love Aruba! Have fun! 😊

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