Travel Tuesday: Adventure in Aruba

Arashi Beach, Aruba

“Aruba, Jamaica, oooh I wanna take ya….”

That song has been stuck in my head for the past two weeks and you know why?! Because I took a trip to Aruba! And it was amazing. And now every time I think of Aruba, I can’t help but sing that catchy little line from Kokomo. Thanks, Beach Boys.

Anyway, back to Aruba (but actually, can I really go back?). I’m such a beach bum, and I have wanted to go to Aruba for years. I’m not exactly sure what sparked my desire for Aruba (maybe it was The Beach Boys’ song) but something just draws me to the sand and the sea and I knew Aruba would be the epitome of perfection of the two.

Eagle Beach at dusk

Eagle Beach at dusk

What I didn’t realize until I started researching was that Aruba is actually a desert, so it has an arid climate, an average temp of 82 degrees all year round, hardly any rain, and a nice steady breeze from the tradewinds. 18 miles off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba is even located outside of the hurricane belt, so there will hardly ever be any bad weather. So basically, to sum things up, Aruba is perfect all year round.

Exploring the Island

There are many different geological regions of Aruba, even though the island is only about 20 miles long, and it’s really interesting to drive around and see all the different parts of it. The western side of the island, where most of the resorts are, has the calm, bright blue Caribbean Sea with gentle waves that lap on powder white sand.

Eagle Beach

Eagle Beach

These are the beaches you want to spend your time at, with the most popular ones being Eagle Beach (where we stayed) and Palm Beach. Eagle Beach has the low-rise resorts and condos and Palm Beach has the tall, glitzy resorts with all the nightlife. You can also watch the sun set over the ocean at these beaches.

A divi-divi tree at Eagle Beach

A divi-divi tree at Eagle Beach

If you go north of these beaches, to the northern tip of the island, you’ll find Arashi Beach and Malmok Beach, which have some reefs right off of them that are popular for snorkeling, and California Lighthouse that looks out from the tip of the island. The beaches to the north are more rocky though, but also less crowded.

Malmok Beach

Malmok Beach

The eastern side of the island is for the adventurers. With tall cliffs and crashing waves, it’s not the side that you can (or want) to go swimming on, but it is beautiful to see.

The eastern side of the island

The eastern side of the island

Also on the Eastern side of the island is Arikok National Park. It costs $11 a person to enter the park but inside the park are the Natural Pools, caves, and even a beach with pink sand called Boca Prins. Unfortunately, you need an off road vehicle (like a Jeep or ATV) to get to the Natural Pools, so we didn’t get to see those in our little Kia Rio, but we saw everything else.

Boca Prins is carved out of a cliff, and the sand has streaks of pink sand made from crushed up shells. It was beautiful for photographs.

Boca Prins

Boca Prins

The caves were also really cool to explore. Aruba was formed from a volcanic eruption, and it’s interesting to see how these caves formed. Some people believe that pirates hid their treasure in these caves!

Quadirikiri Cave

Quadirikiri Cave

As I mentioned previously, Aruba is a desert, so as you’re driving through the park and also around the interior of the island, it looks as if you could be in Nevada or Arizona, with cacti, shrubs, and rocks and dust. It’s really interesting to see this juxtaposed with the beauty of the beaches.

Arikok National Park

Arikok National Park

Get Your Snorkel Ready

One of my favorite things that we did while in Aruba was snorkeling at Baby Beach, on the southern end of the island. I went on the trip with one of my best friends and her parents, who had previously been to Aruba, so they were able to give us some insider tips. They had gone snorkeling at Baby Beach on their previous trip and raved about it. Instead of paying to do a snorkeling excursion, we purchased snorkeling gear at home and brought it with us since you don’t have to be taken out on a boat to snorkel at Baby Beach. This saved us money and also allowed us to snorkel all day and be flexible with our schedule.

Baby Beach

Baby Beach

Baby Beach is a semi-circle beach that basically acts as a holding tank for calm waters and tropical fish. The mouth of the beach goes out to the Caribbean Sea and can have strong currents near the outlet sometimes, but as long as you don’t go past the buoys, you’re fine. There is even a roped off area for snorkelers over the reef. You will feel the current pull you, but since it’s roped off, the ropes keep you in the area and you don’t have to worry about drifting.

Post-snorkeling at Baby Beach

Post-snorkeling

The fish were amazing. As my friend’s dad said, “it’s like swimming in a saltwater aquarium.” We saw so many tropical fish in shades of yellow, blue, yellow and black striped, silver, and more. My favorites were these type of boxy looking fish that were black with white polka dots and yellow fins. I think they are Trunkfish! (Soon I’ll have my underwater camera developed, too.) We also brought some bread to feed the fish and it was amazing to be surrounded by entire schools of multiple types of fish. Some even ate right from our hands! I would definitely recommend Baby Beach for snorkeling. And after you’re done snorkeling, you can relax on the beach under one of the divi-divi trees with a local Balashi beer. 🙂

Balashi Beer at Baby Beach

Relaxation at its finest

Aruba, mi Dushi

All in all, Aruba was amazing and I immediately fell in love with it. What also makes it interesting is that it is its own country, unlike many other Caribbean islands. It has it’s own culture and it’s own language (Papiamento), but it’s also part of the Dutch Caribbean, so you see the influence of the Dutch culture on the island, as well as a Latin influence from its proximity to Venezuela. Most Aruban people speak four languages (English, Spanish, Dutch, and Papiamento) and it’s fascinating to see all the cultures collide in one small little island.

Palm trees in Aruba

One of the words we learned from Papiamento was “dushi,” which means sweet or sweetheart depending on how you use it. Although it sounds like an American slang word that has the exact opposite meaning, we loved the saying and heard it used around Aruba quite frequently. So Aruba, mi Dushi, thanks for the amazing experience and I hope we will meet again someday!

Keep calm and be dushi

Want to know how you can visit Aruba on a budget? Check out my post on Family Travels On A Budget!

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Travel Tuesday: Planning a trip to Bald Head Island, North Carolina

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Hello lovelies! Sorry it seems like I’ve been MIA for the past week or so. Last week was crazy busy as I prepared to head up to North Carolina for 5 days for a good friend’s wedding. The wedding was in Bald Head Island, which is definitely one of the more unique coastal destinations I’ve been to. There are no cars allowed on the island, and there are also no hotels, so it can be a little daunting to try to plan a vacation there, so I’m sharing some insider tips of things you will want to know if you are planning to take a trip to this lush little island.

Although it may seem like a hassle to get there, it’s worth it. The island is extremely beautiful and serene and is a great option for those wanting to get away from it all. The 4 square miles the island covers consist of a number of different environments — you’ll find wide, sandy beaches, expansive marshes (keep an eye out for alligators!), and thick foresty areas with lush vegetation and Spanish moss draped trees. There is plenty to do, from relaxing on the beach to fishing to hiking to kayaking to visiting Old Baldy, the oldest standing lighthouse in the state.

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Bald Head Island is definitely a more exclusive destination, and it’s important to factor in all the costs associated with going. I’m going to break down some of those costs for you, and also give you some things to consider when planning your trip.

Getting There

Bald Head Island is accessible by ferry from Deep Point Marina in Southport, NC. The ferry is a passenger ferry (obviously since cars aren’t allowed), and you park your car and leave it at the ferry port for $8 a day. A ferry ticket (return trip included) will cost you $23 per person. You can check as much luggage as you want free of cost, as long as everything is contained in a suitcase/bag or plastic bin. Ferries to the island leave on the hour, and ferries from the island leave on the half hour.

To get from the ferry port to your accommodation, you will need to make reservations on the complimentary tram. You do not need to make ferry reservations, but you will need to make tram reservations because seats fill up fast. To do this, you can contact Bald Head Island Transportation (910-457-5003). In busy season, I would suggest calling the day before you need the tram, otherwise 2-3 hours is fine in off season. You just tell them what ferry you will be taking and where you are staying and it will be there to pick you up when you arrive at the port. The same goes for your trip home. Make reservations in advance and the tram will pick you and your luggage up at your accommodations and take you to the ferry port.

Staying There

There are no hotels or high-rise condo buildings on the island, so your best bet is to rent a beach house. I think there might be one B&B, but other than that, it’s all owner-rented homes. Some good resources to find homes are VRBO, HomeAway, Tiffany’s Rentals, and Bald Head Island’s site.

Consider what you’re looking for in your rental. If you want a private escape, look for homes tucked off of the smaller streets in the wooded areas. You might even spot a deer or two. For easy access to some of the boardwalks and trails, stay along the marsh. If you plan to spend most of your days enjoying the sun and sand, there are homes that are beachfront or right across from beach access.

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I stayed in the Bald Head Island Villas, which were super convenient to everything, especially the Bald Head Island Club (where many of the wedding events where held). These villas are right across the street from the beach, and are smaller, 3-bedroom homes. Ours overlooked a pond and golf course. It was about a 5 minute golf cart drive to the market and shops, and about 7 minutes to the restaurants and Old Baldy Lighthouse.

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I believe most rentals come with golf carts, but make sure of this before committing to anything. If they don’t have carts, or if you need extras, you can rent them from Riverside Adventure Company on the island.

Eating There

There are only a few restaurants on the island, and they can be a little pricey because they are the only ones, so if you’re staying for a week, I would consider cooking in some nights.

Mojo’s on the Harbor is classic coastal dining, with seafood entrees, pasta, burgers, and sandwiches. For entrees, expect to spend $20 and up per entree.The burgers are a good, less expensive option. They are very sizable and the fries that come with them are delicious. Mojo’s also has a good selection of cocktails, but things can get quite pricey if you start throwing back more than one. They range anywhere from $9 for a mojito to $15 for a margarita.

Delphina Cantina serves Latin cuisine with the influence of fresh seafood, and is a littler cheaper than Mojo’s. You’ll find tacos, burritos, tortas, and entrees such as fish and chips, seafood enchiladas, and cubanos. I really enjoyed the BHI Favorite tacos with tequila marinated shrimp, jicama slaw, watercress, and chimichurri sauce ($13 for two tacos). We got a pitcher of white sangria for $22, which yielded about 6 wine glasses worth.

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The Maritime Market Cafe, located inside the market, also has breakfast and sandwiches for lunch. There are also grab-and-go breakfast options like muffins and donuts. The market has a selection of groceries if you need anything, but regular products are a little overpriced, so I would suggest doing your major grocery shopping on the mainland and bringing it over in a cooler on the ferry with you.

The Bald Head Island Club also has a few restaurants but you have to be a member to dine with them. Some home rentals include a temporary membership to the club. Check with your rental company to see if it’s included for you.

Sandpiper Coffee and Ice Cream is great if you’re in the mood for a sweet treat after the beach or a little afternoon pick me up.

Things to Consider

-The beaches in North Carolina don’t truly get warm until the end of April, and it will take a little longer than that for the water to warm up. Peak season starts at Memorial Day, but you will be able to get better rates before that, and the weather probably will have warmed up a month or so prior.

-Bald Head Island is a favorite for golfers. If you plan on golfing, consider renting a home that includes a temporary membership to the BHI Club. If the home doesn’t include it, you can purchase a guest membership.

-If croquet is more your style, the BHI Club also has a regulation croquet court. But if you want to play, you have to wear all white and have your croquet cleats on (I mean, who doesn’t have these in their closet?).

-There is no liquor store on the island. The market sells beer and wine, but if you’re wanting to mix up your own cocktails, make sure to bring liquor with you.

-And speaking of liquor…getting a DUI on a golf cart is the same as getting a DUI in the car. There are police, and they will pull you over if you’re driving your golf cart a little too crazy. Same goes for open container. Don’t drink and golf cart, y’all.

Hopefully these tips will help you in planning and preparing for your vacation to Bald Head Island! A good resource to see upcoming events and plan some outdoor adventure activities once you get there is Bald Head Island’s site.

And now, here are some pictures of the beautiful wedding I attended! They’re just too pretty not too share. Bald Head was such a gorgeous setting for a destination wedding. The ceremony was held outside on the grounds of Old Baldy Lighthouse, and the reception was at the Bald Head Island Club. Enjoy and let me know if you are planning a trip to Bald Head!

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Travel Tuesday: Best Restaurants in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach

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Orange Beach, Alabama

Breaking news: Alabama has a coast with beaches. You would be surprised at how many people don’t know this and have actually said to me, “Wait, Alabama has a coast?” I knew Alabama had beaches, but never thought much about them growing up (I grew up in NC), but once I moved down here I realized we actually have some pretty beautiful beaches.

The 50 miles of Alabama shoreline butt up to Florida’s Emerald Coast, which as you know, has some of the most beautiful beaches (Destin, anyone?). But since we’re right next to it, we get those same beauty benefits. With white sand and blue-green water, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are definitely worth a visit. And with spring break coming up, it’s the perfect excuse to book a trip to the Gulf Coast.

I went to Orange Beach again just recently and decided it was about time I made a list of the best beach eats down there. Orange Beach and Gulf Shores are right next to each other, so I’m including places at both.

Best Fried Seafood
Mikee’s in Gulf Shores has the best fried shrimp in the area. They are served to you steaming hot from the fryer (I know this because of the temperature, duh, but also because our waiter told us it would take a little longer since they fry them fresh). I appreciate this. I would much rather wait a few more minutes (and honestly it doesn’t take long at all) then eat soggy shrimp that has been sitting out for a while. The breading at Mikee’s is also perfect. It full coats the shrimp but isn’t overwhelmingly heavy. I hate when the breading is crumbly and falling off the shrimp or too heavy. Mikee’s is not like that. AND you can do all-you-can-eat fried shrimp, catfish, or whitefish and it’s only like $3 more than the regular platter.

Pro Tip: Ask for a side of the tartar sauce. It’s by request only since it’s homemade.

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Best Sushi and Best Happy Hour
Cosmo’s in Orange Beach is a fabulous restaurant for sushi and/or a nice dinner of steak or seafood. We went for sushi and ordered some appetizers as well. For appetizers, the Firecracker Shrimp is a must. The shrimp are fried and tossed in a spicy remoulade sauce. We also had the crab cakes with a roasted yellow pepper aoili and remoulade. Also delicious. For sushi, we got a Philly Roll, Shrimp Roll, and Volcano Roll. The Shrimp and Philly Rolls were extremely fresh tasting and also the perfect bite size (I hate huge sushi pieces). But the Volcano Roll is what steals the show. Topped with a spicy krab salad, the roll comes out looking unlike anything you’ve ever seen. But once you pull a piece off, you have a warm, flavorful roll filled with tuna, red pepper, and asparagus. The krab salad is what makes it though. It was so, so good. I literally crave it every day now.

Pro Tip: Go for happy hour. Certain appetizers and sushi rolls are $5, and it’s $1 off all other sushi rolls.

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Best Bushwacker and Royal Red Shrimp
One of the most popular places down on the Gulf coast is the Florabama, the bar that sits on the Florida-Alabama line. It’s a dive bar, but they have the best Bushwackers on the coast and some damn good Royal Red Shrimp. You’re probably wondering what both of these things are if you’re not from the area. A Bushwacker is basically an alcoholic milkshake commonly made with Kahlua, Creme de Cacao, rum, and cream of coconut. They are awesome, and Florabama makes them the way they should be – thick, cold, and strong.

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Royal Red Shrimp are a type of shrimp only found 100 miles off the coast of Orange Beach. They were originally considered bycatch, but then someone tasted them and realized they were delicious. Their skin has a bright red color and they have a texture and sweet taste similar to that of lobster. Florabama offers them steamed and tossed in Cajun seasoning with melted butter to dip them in. They are phenomenal, and are cheaper, better, and easier to eat than one of the more famous place to get Royal Reds — King Neptune’s (who serves them with the heads on for $8 more meaning you get less shrimp since it’s done by weight).

Pro Tip: Go during the day, especially if you’re with the family. Things can get a little rowdy at night, and they charge a cash-only cover on certain nights.

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Best Dessert
If you listen to one thing I tell you, make it to go get the Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Pie from Original Oyster House in Gulf Shores. It. Is. Out. Of. This. World. We ate it more times than we should have in one weekend. It isn’t dense like some peanut butter pies; it has a light and airy texture with the perfect combination of sweet peanut buttery filling and an Oreo crust. Get it topped with whipped cream and thank me later.

Pro Tip: One slice is big enough for two people to share. Trust me, it’s huge.

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Best Breakfast
If you love a good donut in the morning, you have to check out City Donut in Orange Beach. They have a huge selection of donut flavors and you can tell they are all made fresh. We ordered a half a dozen and tried a variety of cream filled, cake, and old-fashioned donuts. The Bavarian Cream and Red Velvet were my favorite. (Disclaimer: there are obviously places to get heartier breakfasts in the area, but I just love donuts.)

Pro Tip: Go early. They often sell out of the most popular donut flavors since they make them fresh each morning.

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Now take these recommendations and get a drink in your hand and your toes in the sand!