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While researching travel to Aruba, a recent endorsement of the destination jumped out at me due to its unexpected source: the Russian newspaper “Pravda,” which named Aruba one of the Safest Places in the World to Vacation with Your Family. The timing couldn’t have been better, since the Aruba Tourism Authority, several tour operators and 13 on-island properties have partnered to promote the One Happy Family campaign.
Aruba, part of the ABC chain of islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) carries the nickname “The Happy Island.” It’s easy to see how its combination of Caribbean charm and Dutch orderliness would have appeal for families traveling with kids. There’s also an element of being at a high-end U.S. mall when browsing the shops and restaurants of Oranjestad. This note of familiarity goes a long way toward soothing homesick teens and pre-teens. The island also has a choice of accommodation types, including all-inclusive resorts, boutique hotels and condos, giving lots of options for families.
“Aruba has always been a top vacation spot for families, due in large part to the array of activities offered at properties, from sand castle building and shell hunting tours, to Papiamento language lessons and merengue dancing,” said Ronella Tjin Asjoe-Croes, CEO of the Aruba Tourism Authority. “But resort fun is just the beginning, and one of the coolest aspects of the ‘One Happy Family’ program is that it gives children the opportunity to venture beyond the hotels with their parents to discover the real Aruba — where everything from snorkeling above the Caribbean’s largest shipwrecks and learning the island’s popular beach tennis sport to off-roading through the island’s exotic, desert-like terrain awaits.”
In addition to Aruba’s front-and-center family attractions noted above, there are some unexpected activities that would be a good match for families. The island’s Save Our Donkeys Foundation in the town of Saint Lucia has rescued many donkeys that have been abandoned by their owners for one reason or another. The animals are at risk, mainly from vehicles colliding with them. The sanctuary has guides that tell visitors all about the donkeys while visitors give them a pet and feed them. There’s even an option to adopt one of Aruba’s donkeys. Visiting the sanctuary is a heartwarming experience for the whole family.
The island-wide One Happy Family program runs through Sept. 30 and features deals, incentives and activities. Clients who book a stay at a participating hotel or resort and mention the One Happy Family package receive free nightly accommodations and daily breakfast for children under 12 years old, a souvenir gift for the family and discounts and special offers on island attractions and activities through Red Sail Sports, De Palm Tours, Pelican Adventures, Mermaid Divers, Jolly Pirates Sailing & Snorkeling, Gold Mine Ranch, Discovery Glass Bottom Boat Cruise, Butterfly Farm and Fofoti Tours.
The program also includes an interactive VIK (Very Important Kid) component and culminates in a week-long trip giveaway to Aruba. Upon check-in at participating hotels, children are given a VIK passport featuring several of Aruba’s kid-friendly attractions, including Baby Beach, Archaeological Museum, History Museum, California Lighthouse, Aruba Aloe Factory and Arikok National Park, which covers nearly 20 percent of the island with caves, hidden beaches, cacti and indigenous fauna. As families visit and explore each of these locations, the VIK-holders are challenged with answering questions and completing puzzles. Once finished, kids submit their passports to the hotel to be entered into a drawing for the chance to win a one-week return trip to Aruba for four (airfare included). Winners will be announced at the end of September.