Family Vacation: Take One - Page 2

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Couple walking hand-in-hand on Druif Beach, Aruba
SUNSET IN PARADISE: Druif Beach, as seen from Tamarijn Resort  (Paul Grogan)

You know it's time for a change when you can't face another strawberry daiquiri, and Aruba's capital, Oranjestaad, provides just the incentive we need. Big enough to be bustling but small enough to explore on foot, it's a shopper's paradise. But its real appeal lies in its Dutch colonial architecture (Aruba, as any budding explorer will tell you, has been part of the Dutch Antilles since the 17th century, and Oranjestaad is named after William of Orange, who secured Dutch independence from Spain in 1648).

While Tom points excitedly at the candy-colored neo-classical facades that line the city's streets, we gaze longingly at the luxury goods in the shops below. It's thirsty work. After two or three hours of enthusiastic window-shopping, we duck into the air-conditioned confines of the Villa on the Marina for freshly-made mojitos and a fresh-fruit smoothie.

Once we've had our fill of rum, mint, and mango, we wander over to Fort Zoutman, the oldest Dutch building in Aruba. Erected in 1796 to defend the city against pirates, it's now home to Aruba's Historical Museum and provides a fitting venue for the island's weekly Bonbini Festival.

In Papiamento, the local dialect, Bonbini means "welcome." And while there's no getting away from the fact that the Bonbini Festival is aimed squarely at tourists, with the sun setting over the fort's cobbled courtyard, its old-fashioned charm proves hard to resist. As a succession of musicians and dancers take to the stage in vibrant, brightly colored costumes, we tuck into plates piled high with stewed chicken, plantains, and corn bread. Tom, meanwhile, munches his way through half an elephant ear before taking to the cobbles for an impromptu dance session of his own.

No trip to Aruba would be complete without a day at Baby Beach, so the following morning we head to the southern tip of the island in our supercharged Chevy Spark. So-called because its turquoise shallows are barely deep enough for a baby to swim in, Baby Beach overlooks a sheltered lagoon enclosed by a ragged reef. Even hundreds of feet from shore the bath-warm water is only waist-deep, and the reef itself is home to an abundance of tropical fish.

While Tom smears himself with ice cream and gets sand in every available orifice, we take turns snorkelling through a kaleidoscope of color: blue angelfish, green parrotfish, and bright yellow butterfly fish compete for our attention, seemingly oblivious to the snapper and barracuda that glide menacingly by. Lunch involves a gratifyingly greasy meat pastechi, a sort of deep-fried pastry, from the imaginatively named Baby Beach Snack Bar, and then it's back in the water for some serious splashing.

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