Arizona is arguably one of the most fun places for active families. From Phoenix and its suburbs to Sedona, Tucson and Scottsdale, we found 6 of the best Arizona resorts for families that you will absolutely love. Whether you want to take time to play golf or tennis, go hiking, or just hang out by the pool, these hotels can offer all this and more.
Driving outside of Tucson, we were treated to so many gorgeous views of mountains and deserts.
6 Best Arizona Resorts for Families
Enchantment Resort, Sedona
With Sedona’s dramatic red rock background, Enchantment Resort is a place families can go to connect to nature, and each other. Get ready for exhilarating adventures like mountain biking, tennis or golf. Or perhaps you want to opt for some deep relaxation at Mii amo Spa while the kids enjoy Camp Coyote. Guests ages 4-12 years old are invited into this unique space designed to educate and entertain them. With activities that explore everything from Native American culture and to the awes-inspiring natural environment around them, kids will never be bored. The peaceful, welcoming town of Sedona, about 2 hours from Phoenix, sets the tone for a family experience that melds outdoors with spiritual mindfulness. Read our full review here.
We had a blast cooling off in the pool at Enchantment Resort in Sedona.
Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort, Scottsdale
On our Big Gay Road trip of 2017, our family stayed at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak resort in the middle of the blazing hot summer. The best feature at this sprawling all-suites resort is its fantastic pool area. River Ranch Water Park comprises over 4 acres and includes a waterslide, lazy river, several pools, and a super sweet mini golf course to keep everyone refreshed and entertained. The resort offers standard suites as well as one and two bedroom casitas to comfortably fit most families.
We all loved floating in the lazy river at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort
Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock, Sedona
With views looking out over the desert directly at Bell Rock, the Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock comes perfectly equipped. The hotel is decked out with a spa, tennis courts, 2 outdoor pools, spacious rooms and more. If you want to stay active, visit the full-service air-conditioned Athletic Club with outdoor cross training area, 3 lighted tennis courts or on-site 18-hole championship golf course. Or you could hike or bike Sedona’s famous red rock formations. Read more about what to do in Sedona with kids here.
Bell Rock is one of the most photographed places in Arizona, and this was taken from our balcony at the Hilton Sedona.
Arizona Biltmore – A Waldorf Astoria Resort, Phoenix
Soak up the sun in the lap of luxury within the 39 acres of the Arizona Biltmore Resort. Built in 1929 in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright, families will find elegant rooms, suites and villas. Some even come with fireplaces, balconies or full kitchens. Upgrade your vacation by booking a Club Room. The complimentary drinks and breakfast that comes with the Club Room level is really helpful for families. At the Arizona Biltmore, you will probably spend most of your time at one of the eight outdoor pools. The main pool even contains a 92-ft waterslide. Kids will also love the playground and Camp Coyote supervised play area too. At less than 10 miles from Sky Harbor Phoenix Airport, this is one of the best Arizona resorts for families looking for a little luxury. Read about our restaurant recommendations for Phoenix.
Original tiles from 1929 are still in place at the Arizona Biltmore’s Catalina Pool
Phoenix Marriott Resort Tempe at The Buttes, Tempe, AZ
This hotel is the perfect spot for families looking to spend some time in Tempe or Greater Phoenix, Arizona. The Phoenix Marriott Resort Tempe is tucked up against The Buttes, a postcard-perfect rock formation. While visiting, we even took at morning hike up to the top of The Buttes and watched the city around us wake up. Curving naturally around these rocky outcroppings, this Marriott resort takes full advantage of its elevated desert views. And you will adore both the pools. The design is lovely and one boasts a waterslide! Read our full review here.
The Phoenix Marriott Resort Tempe at The Buttes has an interior waterfall in their lobby restaurant.
Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, Tucson, AZ
Families will find it a pleasure to stay at the luxurious Loews Ventana Canyon Resort. The rooms are spacious, and some are connected to a full suite with living room, dining room and even a working fireplace! The Loews is just the right amount of cozy and chic at the same time. Some of the rooms offer a Murphey Bed in the living room to help families spread out. This upscale resort in the Sonoran Desert has views of the Catalina Mountains, dotted with hundreds of saguaro cactus. The resort also offers two huge outdoor pools and is very close to magnificent hiking. It is only 6 miles from the historic cavalry post, Fort Lowell too. Read our full review here.
Loews Ventana Canyon Resort & Spa in Tucson is very family friendly.
What’s the best Arizona resorts for families that fits your needs?
No matter why you’re visiting Arizona or when during the year you’re there, it is a fantastic place for families. The best AZ resorts are all terrific home bases from which to explore all Arizona has to offer.
Arizona mountains are some of the most beautiful in the US.
Driving along the Southern California coastline to reach the entry parkway to Terranea Resort & Spa, we immediately relaxed into a sense of calm. It was like a fresh breeze washed over us, and made us all take a big, deep, meaningful breath. We had planned to have a family weekend here before the start of the new school year. Even better than our expectations, our family vacation at Terranea Resort & Spa was the perfect exclamation point to a fantastic summer.
It had been a hectic one, this past summer. We had traveled for work and pleasure and managed a ton of deadlines at the office. Sophia had finished a class in summer school and Ava was exhausted from volleyball practice. As the summer neared an end and the first day of school was looming, we needed a break. The weather had gotten hotter and tempers were flaring. It was time. A family vacation at Terranea Resort was just the ticket.
Early morning near the front entrance of Terranea Resort & Spa.
Family Vacation at Terranea Resort
More than anything, we needed to take the stress level down a few notches. Terranea Resort & Spa delivered the right backdrop, and our family needed to do the rest. It wasn’t much work really – relaxing into lounge chairs, eating healthy meals and focusing on mind/body exercises. This is all stuff that we aim to do regularly, but sometime forget about. In the rush of everyday life, it’s easy to get caught up in the doing instead of the experiencing.
We needed a reset, and we hit the right buttons with our family vacation at Terranea Resort.
The view of the main hotel complex at Terranea, looking up from the spa.
Truly Comfortable Beds
First things first. When we hit a new hotel room, the first thing we do is bounce on the bed. We can tell a lot from that first bounce whether the bed is going to provide a comfy sleep. You see, the worse the bounce the better the sleep. Makes sense when you think about it, right?
Our cushy king bed was the perfect comfort after a long day of relaxing.
A cushier bed just gives a softer bounce, and you don’t go as high. With a comfortable mattress, quality bedding, down comforter and big fluffy pillows you are assured a small bounce. Perfect sleep conditions for us! Triton and I had a California King bed in our room with the perfect soft bounce. In the girls room, the had two queen beds also with the ideal cush factor.
Without a good deep sleep, how could we have a relaxing vacation?
The view from our room overlooking the Main Pool at Terranea was pretty spectacular.
Clean and Healthy Restaurant Meals
One of the reasons we chose to have our family vacation at Terranea Resort was the restaurant menus. With eight restaurants onsite to choose from, we wanted to make sure there were healthy options. A goal of this trip was to reset our summer appetites, which had been focused on pretty much anything. Going forward, we decided to make more healthy choices in our daily meals. Perusing the restaurant menus at Terranea, we were pleased to see a ton of great options.
Nelson’s Restaurant at Terranea has amazing views.
Located at the Terranea Spa, Solviva has a sweet spot next to the fitness pool and overlooking the ocean. We sat outside with a heater to ward off the evening chill. The menu at Solviva is geared towards healthy dishes and light fare, with smaller portion sizes. We loved the attention to dishes the feed the mind and body both. Favorites here included the Hen of the Woods Tacos (mushrooms), Grilled Artichoke with Black Garlic Aoli, and the Skirt Steak which was favorful and cooked perfectly.
A highlight at Solviva is the cocktail menu, and we chose the signature drink, the Pisco Sour. Made tableside in what makes for quite a show, this Brazilian favorite is a blend of pisco, bitters, lime, egg white and agave. It was out of this world delicious.
The signature Pisco Sour at Solviva Restaurant was a tangy and delicious cocktail made tableside.
The next morning, Triton and I woke up early to watch the sun rise while the girls slept in. We ambled over to Terranea’s casual cafe, Sea Beans, to grab some coffee before heading to the shore. Entranced by the takeaway menu here, we came back for some breakfast. My cranberry scone was the perfect combo of sweet, sour and crumble. Triton was intrigued by the muesli, which we have never tried. It’s a cold combination of oatmeal, grains, nuts and fruit and it was dee-lish. He’s been making it at home ever since.
We snuck into Sea Beans early to grab a quick coffee and croissant.
Sitting right at the cliff’s edge overlooking the ocean, Nelson’s is the perfect place to enjoy the sunset. With both inside and outdoor seating, we choose outdoor so we could have a full view. The food here was pretty good, but frankly it was a fairly standard menu of favorites. Not as healthy as the other restaurants, Nelson’s still did a great job doing what they do. The real reason to visit here is the view and the casual California vibe. At a luxury resort, it is sometimes hard to find places to relax in your shorts and flip flops. People are sometimes so busy looking good, and that can be decidedly “unrelaxing”. Nelson’s serves up a great escape. Did I mention the view?
Our family loved the sunset views and casual vibe at Nelson’s Restaurant.
Of course if it’s burgers and fries you crave, Terranea has those too and I’m sure they are delicious!
Sunset view from Nelson’s Restaurant at Terranea Resort
Swimming Pool Choices
For a luxury resort with 582 rooms, Terranea offers several swimming pools to meet a variety of tastes. The Main Pool is family friendly, complete with waterslides, splash zone and lots of shallow spots for the littles. It looked really fun, aaaaaand we steered clear. Since our girls are teens now, we sought out the Vista Pool which is for guests 13 and older. It was quiet, relaxed and uncrowded – perfect for a zen experience in the sun on our family vacation at Terranea Resort.
The Vista Pool should be renamed the Quiet Pool at Terranea.
Other pools include the Spa Pool, which is available to spa guests and includes lanes for laps, a fire pit and other luxury frills. The cliffside Cielo Pool is for adults only, and offers bar service, cabanas and views of Catalina Island.
The Spa Pool is located between the Terranea Spa and the Fitness Center.
Fun Fact: Terranea is located on the piece of land closest to Catalina Island, which is just about 24 miles across the water. While we visited, we watched swimmers come in to shore after competing in a Catalina Channel Swim. They had started from Catalina at midnight (!) and were doggedly making their way to Terranea’s beach around 11 a.m. the next morning. No wetsuits allowed. What studs and studettes!
We didn’t have time to lounge at the Spa Pool, but it sure is gorgeous.
Family Activities at Terranea Resort
For some family bonding time, we wanted to spend time together doing some fun activities. It was important for us all to put our phones down, be present and enjoy normal conversation like families used to have before technology. We found a wealth of fun things to do.
After rousting the girls from their slumber, we headed down to the oceanfront fitness center for a group yoga class. We’ve done this together before, but not since the girls were a lot younger. No longer playing, we wanted the family to breathe and stretch and clear our minds. Our instructor was patient with us as we tried to bend our bodies in new ways. Of course, the girls were waaaaay more limber than the dads. In fact, at one point Triton decided to invent his own moves facing the opposite direction from the group. Love a little improvisation now and then!
Our family practiced a little more stretching than planned at Terranea.
This sound corny, but it was actually really interesting to take the free Nature Walk. Covering more than 100 acres of oceanfront land, Terranea is also a native plant habitat and home to endangered species. A naturalist guides the tour, explaining how the local flora and fauna are maintained. Since this was formerly the site of a defunct marine park, reclaiming the land and returning it to natural habitat has been an important role for Terranea’s owners. We viewed all kinds of cool flowers, cacti, butterflies, and other interesting inhabitants (no snakes thank goodness).
The views of California Coastline from every vantage point are so beautiful.
Ok, we had no idea was to expect from an archery class but it sounded like fun. The only one of us that had ever held a bow and arrow was Ava, and she did pretty well. But Triton was the ringer! First time ever, he hit the bullseye on the target and then proceeded to keep hitting it. He was so good at this, that our nice instructor pulled out a body target and placed it in front of the bullseye. It was outfitted like a zombie, and he challenged Triton to hit it between the eyes. He did. And then he speared the apple on top of the zombie’s head! If there is ever a zombie apocalypse, we knew who to call.
Our family archery lesson at Terranea was a fun bonding experience.
Our family vacation at Terranea experience was spectacular from that first breath through the drive home to San Diego. If you want to go, here are some details:
9 of the Best California Resorts for Families to Visit
If you are heading to California, these are the best California resorts for families you should consider. All are unique in their own way, exceptional above other choices, and offer a variety of family amenities we need to entertain everyone on vacation. No matter their level of luxury, all of them cater to families.
We live in California, so we should know what to recommend. Statistics show that all top 10 vacation destinations for California families are on the West Coast, with the majority in our own state. Take our word for it – there are a lot of really great places in California to take a family vacation. Our suggestions are among the best of our experiences.
9 Best California Resorts for Families
La Jolla Shores Hotel, La Jolla
This is one of the best California resorts for families primarily because of it’s awesome location overlooking the Pacific Ocean. There are tons of family fun activities in La Jolla at or near the La Jolla Shores Hotel. We had a blast just walking out of the resort and on to the sandy beach. There’s kayaking, snorkeling, diving and boating right from this beach. This hotel is well positioned for Southern California beach vacations with a relaxed beachy vibe and fantastic service. And the Shores Restaurant offers spectacular sunset vistas – we almost witnessed the green flash! Check out our full review.
Our room at La Jolla Shores Hotel looked north towards Torrey Pines Golf Course.
Stanford Court Hotel, San Francisco
If your family loves luxury and history, you will not be disappointed with this classic Nob Hill hotel. Stanford Court Hotel exudes understated elegance and impressive amenities. Families will love the approachable form of luxury at this California hotel, where no one needs to feel like they don’t belong. The elegant hotel is only a 7 minute walk from Chinatown and 10 minutes to Union Square. Best of all, it sits at the intersection of the Powell Street and California Street cable car lines. Your family can hop on to a cable car and take a historic ride. Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square shopping and theater, the Ferry Building food hall and more are all a fun ride away. Check out our full review.
A corner room at the Stanford Court Hotel offers expansive views of San Francisco.
3. Brewery Gulch Inn, Mendocino
The Brewery Gulch Inn is a sweet little Bed and Breakfast perched on the craggy Northern California coastline. It is incredibly charming – and it is family friendly. We enjoyed our connecting rooms, because it was easy for our family to spread out. Surrounded by California redwoods, green fields and overlooking cliff and beaches, Brewery Gulch Inn is one of those special places our family will always remember. The environment is cozy with just 12 rooms and great attention to detail is incredible. The Inn has a unique design using salvaged local redwood. This qualifies on our list of best California resorts for families because everything is just impeccable. Design. Style. Cuisine. Cleanliness. We loved it. Check out our full review.
Charming entrance of Brewery Gulch Inn on California’s northern coast.
4. Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort, Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara is quite simply paradise, and the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort sits in its center. The quintessential California beach town, Santa Barbara is the ideal place for a family getaway. The Hilton Santa Barbara beachfront resort is great for families, especially after the recent remodel and room upgrades. Across the street from an expansive beach, the hotel is short blocks from the cool artsy Funk Zone neighborhood. Beach boardwalks lead you to Stearns Wharf and State Street, where shopping and restaurants abound. You can also rent bikes or lorries right onsite, and pedal along the paths for a scenic ride. The Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort is one of the best Hiltons we’ve experienced in the US. (And we’ve experienced A LOT!) Read our full review here.
Looking back towards Santa Barbara’s beachfront from Stearns Wharf.
5. Fairmont Claremont Hotel, Berkeley
The Claremont Hotel, part of the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts group, is an utterly impressive hotel. Nestled into the hills of Berkeley, the regal hotel offers panoramic views of the Bay and San Francisco city skyline. We could even see the Golden Gate Bridge from our luxurious but comfy rooms tucked into the eaves. (Plus the gigantic bathrooms won our entire family’s hearts!) Staff at the historic Claremont Hotel knows how to treat kids too, with sweet attention and little extras. Guests can hang out by the enormous pool or maybe work on their backhands on the pristine tennis courts. Whatever you decide to do, you’ll be pampered along the way. The Claremont should be on your California dreaming wish list. It’s modern luxury with a historic flavor. Read our full review here.
The grand tower of the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, California.
6. Hyatt Palm Springs, Palm Springs
Families don’t have to stay on the coast in California to have some fun! Pack up the car and head to Palm Springs to stay at the nicely located Hyatt Palm Springs. You’ll be right downtown on East Palm Canyon Drive in the heart of Palm Springs, perfectly in the middle of it all. The beauty of staying at a hotel like the Hyatt Palm Springs is that you are steps away from the relaxing pool. There is nothing like floating on your back in a Palm Springs swimming pool with nothing to do. From the hotel, families can easily walk to a variety of restaurants, shops, parks, galleries and museums. Even when the weather is chilly on the California coast, Palm Springs usually offers warm weather and star-filled nights. No wonder it’s a retreat for Hollywood celebrities and a favorite California resort for families! Read our full review here.
Golf course and mountain views from our room at the Hyatt Hotel Palm Springs.
7. Hotel Del Coronado, San Diego
Right in our own backyard, the historic Hotel Del Coronado is a prime example of a family friendly hotel that offers extraordinary accommodations. The hotel was built in 1888 and was the first hotel in the United States to be built containing electric lights. Long known as a vacation destination for many Hollywood celebrities, US presidents and visitors from around the world, it oozes casual California luxury. The hotel also retains one of the only private beaches in California where food and drinks can be served on the sand. So many family activities were at our fingertips on our last visit. We biked along the Strand, hiked the beach north and south and lazed by the pool in our own private cabana. The Hotel Del Coronado is now part of the Curio Collection of Hotels by Hilton. Read our full review here.
The Hotel Del Coronado glows at night from this view at the main pool.
8. The Beverly Hilton, Beverly Hills
The Beverly Hilton enjoys a long and illustrious history as a Hollywood icon. It is located at the intersection of Santa Monica and Wilshire Boulevards in tony Beverly Hills. It is the place to stay to make you feel like a Hollywood star from the Golden Age. Known for hosting the annual Golden Globe Awards ceremony, the hotel offers rooms and suites with a refined vibe. Want to upgrade your luxury quotient? Book one of The Beverly Hilton’s rooms with a fireplace, poolside patio or a balcony with sweeping views of the Hollywood Hills. Save time to hang out at the Aqua Star pool, the largest pool in Beverly Hills. If you are seeking one of the best California resorts for families, this one delivers the whole Hollywood experience.
Red carpet lobby entrance to the legendary Beverly Hilton Hotel.
9. Terranea Resort & Spa, Rancho Palos Verdes
This luxury, 5-star resort was constructed 10 years ago on the former site of Marineland. Overlooking the deep blue Pacific Ocean, Terranea Resort & Spa is a playground for the jet set. While celebrities vacation here often, others are married on the lawns below. Our family loved the pools, restaurants and spa/fitness facilities here. After we took a family yoga class together, we hung out by the pool to soak up some California sun. From there we headed down to the beach for an archery lesson and some tidepooling. Everything about this resort is perfectly maintained, with friendly staff and tons of kids’ activities. Terranea offers golf, tennis, spa and fitness areas, a family pool complete with waterslides and a splash area. There are so many food options we did not even get to sample them all. Impressive!
The grand entrance to Terranea Resort & Spa
We hope these recommendations have helped turn your family’s California dreaming into a reality! The best California resorts for families are the ones that make both kids and their parents feel well taken care of.
Kids’ Travel Experiences Last a Lifetime: Cambodia Family Vacation
Sometimes at dinner we reminisce about some of the amazing places we’ve visited around the world. Hawaii, Mexico, Costa Rica and other beach destinations are the obvious favorites. But recently Triton asked the our two teenage girls to list their most memorable foreign destination. When they did, it surprised and heartened us. Sophia and Ava agreed that our family trip to Cambodia sticks out in their minds as much as any place we’ve been.
When we asked why, they did us proud. Both girls agreed the trip had many interesting sights to discover, but it was the people – the other kids – that affected them deeply. “Their lives are so different from ours – so hard in comparison. Yet they smiled so much and were genuinely pleased to welcome us.”
It touched us. But it also underlined something important for us, the adult chaperones: our kids are wise beyond their years and understand more than they are often given credit for. They’re astute travelers who learn valuable lessons from their travel experiences that last a lifetime.
Can’t tell from this photo, but it was soooo hot that day at Angkor Wat.
Family Trip to Cambodia
Originally, we had planned our family trip to Cambodia so the girls could see firsthand the fantastic Cambodian temple of Angkor Wat. Our family had become obsessed with the film “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” and the girls wanted to channel their inner Angelina Jolie. They had visions of scrambling over the temple ruins, swinging on ropes and finding lost treasures. And yes, we did find treasures.
Not sure which Temple this is in Siem Reap, but descending into darkness was sure spooky.
Cambodia’s Tumultuous History
But we had also talked frankly at home before the journey about the history of Cambodia. We reiterated for the girls how, even though the country had won its independence from France in the early 1950’s, it remained war-torn for decades. Then there was the abomination of the Khmer Rouge who killed over one-third of the country’s population. Cambodians endured political riots was recent as the early 21st century.
Our girls were horrified to learn of the infamous Cambodian Killing Fields, where monuments like this one now stand.
When we talked about our Cambodian memories the other night though, it was the people our girls remembered. In particular, the high spirits of the kids in Cambodia really made them think.
Street vendors are everywhere in Cambodia, trying to earn money to support their families.
Shinta Mani Resort & Foundation
The resort we stayed in at Siem Reap was called Shinta Mani Resort, and is owned by a nonprofit (the Shinta Mani Foundation). The Foundation teaches local school kids how to read and write. But the girls also remembered the kids barely older than themselves that worked at he resort. You see, the Foundation trains the children in the hospitality trade, so they can become wage earners and financially support their families. The girls were really interested in this training concept, particularly because of the terrible poverty we saw just outside the manicured grounds of our resort.
The pool at Shinta Mani Resort was pretty spectacular.
Sophia and Ava totally got it as preteens. One even remarked that America could learn a lesson about educating and training young people. After all, we’ve got plenty of poverty here too. Hmmm – elect that girl to political office stat!
Our room had this amazing view of the Shinta Mani Resort from our balcony.
Villages in the Jungle
The next day we wanted to see more of the rural countryside, deep in the Cambodian jungles. On a steaming hot day, we pedaled through a guided 12-mile jungle bike tour on muddy paths. Along the way, we stopped in small villages and passed homes with no doors or glass windows – or sometimes even walls. Some houses had chickens walking freely inside.
Our bike ride on muddy trails through the jungle threw dirt globbers on our backs, but who cares?
The girls got emotional again, remembering a sweet small boy, wearing very little, running barefoot up the dirt path to greet us. He was all smiles – giggling and waving hello as we rode by. Looking back on that little boy, Sophia reflected on how happy he was – “and he had nothing”, she said. We had a great conversation afterwards about how having a lot of stuff doesn’t equate to happiness. Life lessons.
Our bike ride took us through Cambodian jungle villages where locals live in abject poverty.
Gender Inequity at the Monastery
Ava was particularly bothered when we visited a buddhist monastery at the end of our bike ride. Amid all the beauty, peace and love at the temple, she noticed there were almost no girls. All the young monks were boys, some younger than our girls own ages.
These young monks in training were fascinated to meet Ava and Sophia.
She asked our guide where all the girl monks were, and he told us a sad story. In this area of Cambodia, families have no money for private school. Because the monasteries include education as part of their training process for monkhood, they send their boys here. Girls cannot be monks, so they cannot attend the monastery schools. Therefore, girls do not have access to what boys are given the opportunity to learn. Both of our girls were really upset that girls get discriminated against, because they aren’t given the same chances as boys.
Monks making their way to pray in the temple at this Buddhist Monastery in Cambodia
A Comparison to Home
“We come back home,” said one of them, “and hear people complaining about how bad it is in America. Sure, it’s not perfect. But we’ve seen places they have it so much worse. Yet the people there are welcoming us in, while they go on about their lives with their family.”
On the long plane ride home, we had plenty of time to reflect on our family trip to Cambodia. It seems the most powerful part of the journey to Cambodia was not the monuments where the Hollywood movies were made. It was meeting the people, including the kids their age and younger in the remote jungle villages.
The floating villages of Lake Tonle Sap near Siem Reap, where families like this one live far differently than us.
Triton and I smiled, knowing that we are a family that is “different” in the eyes of even people in our own community. We feel a responsibility to show our girls as much of this diverse world as we can. Our kid’s long-term memories of our travels make them better, more empathetic people. And we’re more resolved than ever to allow them to experience for themselves that people everywhere really are the same. The vast majority of human beings just want to live decent lives. They deserve the same kindness and respect we’d give a family member or neighbor at home.
Make-do storefronts line the roads near Angkor Wat, waiting for tourists to shop their wares.
Sophia and Ava get that this is the key to being conscious, caring travelers – Citizens of the World. We carry that baggage proudly.
Imagine a world where mermaids swim through crystal clear blue waters, breathing underwater, dancing to music. A place where you can slide into crystal clear freshwater springs. Somewhere your family can explore and learn more about a former roadside attraction of the last century. There’s no need to imagine all this – it all takes place where you can see mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida.
History of The Springs
Located on the west coast of Florida, Weeki Wachee has the deepest natural springs in the United States. The springs expell about 150 million gallons of crystal clear fresh water per day and maintain a temperature of 72-74 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Named by the native Seminole Indians, the springs flow directly into the Gulf of Mexico 15 miles away.
Crystal clear waters of Weeki Wachee Springs (photo by Marcea Cazel)
Outside of the Native Americans using the springs and a skirmish or two during the Civil War, the area surrounding Weeki Wachee was fairly desolate until after World War II. Then in 1946, a Navy SEAL named Newt Perry came to the area. He came up with the idea of a roadside attraction that featured women swimming underwater using breathing apparatus hoses.
After cleaning up the springs which had become the area’s dump, Perry built an underwater theater. The theater is still in the same location but larger than the original 18 seats. Now it’s built into the limestone and is 6 feet below the surface. Perry found some women who agreed to be ‘mermaids’ and trained them to swim using the air hoses. They can also eat and dance, all while underwater!
View of Mermaid Theater at Weeki Wachee (photo by Marcea Cazel)
By the 1950’s, car travel became huge in the United States and Florida was becoming more and more popular (thanks air conditioning!) Weeki Wachee was a roadside attraction and became one of Florida’s most popular vacation stops. Even Elvis Presley visited to see mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs.
Things To Do at Weeki Wachee
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is built into two sections: Weeki Wachee and Buccaneer Bay, which is the water park. Admission to the park provides entrance to both sides.
When visiting, it’s good to remember that the Weeki Wachee side was built in the 1940’s and has an old-timey feel. It’s not that things are run down. In fact, recent renovations were done to the walkways and mermaid theater. It’s just that it’s a small park and doesn’t have lots of flash and pizzaz, which is why I love it so much.
The park’s pontoon takes you down the Weeki Wachee River with a captain who gives a guided tour. The tour takes about 30-40 minutes and the captain will point out wildlife and give you some history about the area. It’s a great way to get a good view of the river without renting a kayak. If you visit in the winter months you might spot a manatee or two since they gravitate to warmer waters when it gets colder.
View of Weeki Wachee River from Pontoon Tour (photo by Marcea Cazel)
Florida Wildlife Show
The wildlife show is a great way for visitors to get a glimpse of the wildlife that resides in Florida. One of the rangers brings out native birds, snakes and alligators and explains how they interact with the eco-system of the state. Don’t worry if you aren’t keen on getting close. Everyone sits in bleacher seats while the animals are on the stage.
Wildlife Show at Weeki Wachee (photo by Marcea Cazel)
Let’s be honest – boat tours and wildlife shows are fun. But people visit to see mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs. There are over 20 mermaids that work at the park and swim int the shows 365 days a year. They also have mermen, or Princes as they’re called since they’re part of The Little Mermaid show.
Mermaids swim inside of the Mermaid Theater (photo by Marcea Cazel)
Sitting in the 400-seat theater, watching the curtains lift and seeing the mermaids performing to the music being piped into the theater is an experience unlike any other. While you know that these are humans with tails attached and you can see them holding their breathing tubes, it’s hard not to be mesmerized by the underwater ballet being performed.
Since Weeki Wachee is a living spring, you will even see wildlife like fish and turtles swimming by as the mermaids perform. During one of the shows we went to during the winter, we looked in the background and saw a manatee swimming by. Where else can you get that experience?
Mermaid performs at Weeki Wachee (photo by Marcea Cazel)
The shows are about a half-hour long. There is a video pre-show that shows the history of the springs along with footage of mermaids from the past performing. The theater can fill up quickly so I suggest that you arrive at least 40 minutes before showtime during the crowded summer months to see mermaids at Weeki Wachee. After the show, make sure to head to the area outside the theater where one of the mermaids who didn’t perform is available to meet and take pictures with visitors.
Getting a Pic With a Mermaid at Weeki Wachee (photo by Marcea Cazel)
Have you ever considered being a mermaid? Becoming a mermaid requires an audition and includes an endurance swim test and the ability to tread water for 10 minutes. If you’re like me and a little too old to audition but would love to experience what it’s like to be a mermaid, think about going to mermaid camp. For children who are too young to work as a mermaid, there’s a camp for them too!
Entrance Sign to Buccaneer Bay (photo by Marcea Cazel)
On the opposite side of the mermaid theater is Buccaneer Bay. A waterpark that features three water slides, a floating dock, swim area and lazy river, Buccaneer Bay is built right into the freshwater springs of the park.
View of Springs Inside Buccaneer Bay (photo by Marcea Cazel)
Buccaneer Bay has a sand area that has lounge chairs on it. You can also put your towels out on the grassy area to sit. People bring their own small tailgating tents or pop-up cabanas – those are only allowed to be set up in the grass.
Beach Area of Buccaneer Bay at Weeki Wachee Springs (photo by Marcea Cazel)
If you’re traveling with older children (pre-teen and above) you’ll feel comfortable letting the kids get on the slides or in the lazy river in groups since it’s a small place and there are lifeguards at every ride. If you have smaller children under the age of 11, you’ll want to walk around with them.
Floating On The Lazy River at Buccaneer Bay at Weeki Wachee (photo by Marcea Cazel)
There are height restrictions on the slides but not on the lazy river. The floating dock you have to have the ability to swim out to. The spring is more than 6 feet in some spots so swimming skills are required. Flotation devices aren’t allowed inside Buccaneer Bay unless the child cannot swim without it. So lifevests and baby floatation devices are okay; decorative pool floats aren’t allowed.
Only open during the summer, Buccaneer Bay can fill up very quickly resulting in both parks closing to additional visitors. Tickets aren’t available for pre-purchase so the best way to avoid this is to arrive at the park before it opens. You can also follow Buccaneer Bay on Facebook or Twitter for updates of when the park has reached capacity.
Food, Drinks and Rentals
Both Weeki Wachee and Buccaneer Bay have food and drinks available to purchase. Choices include burgers, wraps, chicken fingers, sodas and ice cream. The prices aren’t too high and the quality is good.
If you’d like to save some money, small coolers are allowed to be brought into both parks. No alcohol is permitted to be brought in from the outside. Buccaneer Bay does have a tiki hut bar that’s open for frozen drinks and beers.,
At Buccaneer Bay you can rent lockers, umbrellas, chairs and pop up cabanas. To ride the lazy river you’ll need to purchase a tube wristband for $7 but the wristband is good for unlimited rides throughout the day.
Where To Stay
Weeki Wachee is a very small town. There is a motel across the street and several in the surrounding area. I’d suggest that you stay in the Tampa/Clearwater/St Petersburg areas and make a quick day trip. It will only take about 75 minutes from any of those locations, and you’ll be closer to a wider variety of things to do during the rest of your stay.
A trip to Weeki Wachee Springs is a trip into Florida’s past and the days of smaller roadside attractions. An opportunity to see mermaids at Weeki Wachee shouldn’t be missed, and makes for a fun visit while vacationing with the family.
What to Do in Helsinki and Everything Else You Need to Know
If you are wondering what to do in Helsinki, this post will blow you away. There’s so much to see, do, and eat in this charming European city. Known for it’s fabulous winter sports areas and refreshing summer temperatures, this Nordic country is a good bet when looking for an off-the-beaten path, quirky, and breathtakingly beautiful city to visit.
Helsinki is full of surprises…delicious, fun, interesting surprises. It boasts an urban vibe while also being crazy friendly. It is sleek, yet warm, full of function as well as tradition. I consider myself honored to have experienced this wonderful Finnish city. And I hope you get to experience it too!
The skylights of underground Amos Rex Museum pop up at street level in unusual shapes.
What to do in Helsinki
Here’s everything you need to know regarding what to do in Helsinki…and everything else.
I didn’t know much about Helsinki in particular and Finland in general before I visited. Honestly, that’s half the fun of travel, experiencing the most fascinating things you never knew existed. Helsinki blew my mind with it’s rich history, awe-inspiring architecture, and variety of tourist destinations. Here’s a few I really enjoyed.
Helsinki is filled to the brim with interesting art, like the collection at Amos Rex Museum, and it’s all housed in immaculate, intriguing buildings. The curving mountainous skylights at the Amos Rex Museum are breathtakingly beautiful, but also functional as they provide light to the museum below. This museum houses 20th-century and contemporary art collections and exhibitions. It just opened last year but has quickly become a tourist hotspot. Over 10,000 people visited within the first few weeks it was open! I can see why!
When I was here. there were two amazing exhibitions. There was a collection on display by the famous painter Magritte, and it was amazing. Only thing missing was his most famous painting, Son of Man (man wearing a bowler hat with a green apple in front of his face).
However, the showstopper for me was Floating Monolith, by Studio Drift. A gigantic block that looked like concrete literally floated in the middle of the gallery, untethered and without any visible wires. It defied logic, and was so very cool to see in real life.
This floating cube defies logic, gravity and physics. Or it’s a fantastic ruse.
Want to go back in Nordic history? Then make sure you visit World Heritage Site Suomenlinna. It is an 18th-century military sea fortress turned nature area, spread across several islands linked together by bridges. Suomenlinna is filled with ancient-looking cobblestone walkways and centuries-old artillery and defensive walls. Mixed in are modern touches like a local micro-brewery and several restaurants. Walking trails cross rambling park land and waterways with bridges abound. Popular sights include the King’s Gate drawbridge and Suomenlinna Museum, which tells the story of Finland’s military history.
During the summer, Suomenlinna is a huge hit with locals. Families, lovers and everyone in between all swarm to the island for picnics and scenery. When we visited it was relatively quiet, but crowds gather when the weather warms. Trees blossom, flowers spring up, grass greens and locals love it. You will too.
Suomenlinna is very important in the history of Finland, from the time the country was part of Sweden and then Russia before its independence.
Oodi Central Library
A library is a tourist attraction? Uh…yup! The brand new Oodi Central Library in Helsinki is a masterpiece! Honestly when it was suggested we visit the library, I rolled my eyes anticipating extreme boredom. Quite the contrary. Never have I seen a library more innovative, inviting, and thoughtfully-designed.
Opened less than two years ago, Oodi is a masterpiece inside and out.
Oodi was warm and inviting and lives up to its goal of being the free, open-to-all “living room” of Helsinki. It’s architecturally interesting, lively and filled with people. No one was stage whispering “Shhh!” in here! I totally could have hung out there all day. It has two coffee bars, a cafe, meeting rooms, kids play area, recording studios, 3D printers, sewing machines and tons of places to relax. (Oh, there are books there too I’m told.) Locals can access all of this and more with just their library card.
The interior top floor of Library Oodi slopes upwards, giving views of unusual perspective.
Loyly Helsinki Sauna
There are something like 2 million saunas in Finland, and there are only 5 million people in the country! Finns adore their saunas! If you visit this tremendous country, it’s mandatory to check out at least one of their saunas. When I was in Helskini, I visited an uber-cool and luxurious sauna, Loyly Helsinki. It seriously rivaled a health club. Their public saunas fit about 20 people each. They are co-ed and swimsuits are required. (Thank God.)
Loyly sauna is positioned right at the water’s edge, with striking architecture.
I tried both the smoke and regular sauna and both were HOT. So hot that I even dunked into the freezing Baltic Sea to cool off…3 times! It was unbelievably cold AND just the ticket after baking in the sauna. The whole experience was surprisingly refreshing. Once again travel expanded my horizons.
After baking in the sauna at Loyly, guests are encouraged to dunk in the freezing cold Baltic Sea.
Helsinki can be a fantastic family destination, with a variety of things to do that will keep the kids occupied and happy:
Helsinki Zoo: Situated on an island, Helsinki Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the world. (Established in 1889.) It boasts 150 animal species.
Sea Life: This Aquarium offers lots of colorful fish species and even sharks. There’s also an ocean tunnel at Sea Life where you can walk below the sharks…if you dare.
Amusement Park Linnanmäki: Unlike amusement parks in the US, the entrance to the park is free of charge. Linnanmäki was opened in 1950 and still has a vintage feel. The most popular ride is the wooden rollercoaster from 1951. Would you ride it? Uh, I’m OK with missing that one I think!
How to get to Helsinki: Finnair
Look, there are probably a lot of options to get to Helsinki from the US. However, the luxurious personal service I experienced on the official airline of Finland, Finnair, was pretty darn special. Finnair recently invested heavily in its fleet by adding 13 new Airbus A350 wide-body jets over the last few years. And they also added a direct flight from LAX to Helsinki. And I had the good fortune of being on the inaugural flight between these two amazingly different destinations. It’s a 10.5 hour flight which goes over the North Pole, Greenland (that is icy) and Iceland (that is green) all the way to Finland. If you can splurge on Business Class, the lay flat seats are like a little cocoon of heaven.
Flying on Finnair to Helsinki was a dream, direct from LAX and so comfortable.
When to go to Helsinki: Helsinki weather in Spring won’t freeze you to death
I visited Helsinki in April and thought it was the perfect time to go. It was coldish but not freezing. Typically, in April Helsinki weather averages to be about 39 degrees. Winter tends to last through mid-May. Coming from LA, the Helsinki weather was fun and different and made me appreciate the sun and warmth back home. It was novel to see the last remnants of snow in a couple of shady spots. Honestly, it was all rather lovely. One day was even legit Spring-like.
You will need to pack a heavy coat, hat, scarf, and gloves. It can get chilly year round, especially at night. You could go in summer when the average temperature reaches a balmy 65 degrees, but it’s crowded and can get pricey. The best part of going in Spring was that there were almost no crowds. By the way, it also gets crowded in winter because these hearty Scandinavian folks love their outdoor snow sports.
What to eat in Helsinki: Everything
I enjoy good food, so I was honestly very worried about what I would eat in Finland. Was every meal going to be like the food in Ikea? Not always. (Fun fact, Finland used to be part of Sweden so the food does seem kind of similar). My meals were all really delicious. If you want smoked fish and gamey reindeer meat, you can definitely find it. But if you want contemporary cuisine and international restaurants, you can find that too.
The Finns do a fantastic job with pastries, including these traditional berry-topped numbers.
I ate in some swanky restaurants and was definitely impressed with each of my meals. I did not go hungry! One thing I couldn’t make myself try is the Finland favorite, salmon soup. It looked as disgusting as it sounds. I could not do it. You find it EVERYWHERE though and the Finns adore that stuff. Next time I come to Helsinki maybe I’ll be brave enough to try it. Maybe.
Delicious steak tartare from Restaurant Emo in Helsinki – every dish here was out of this world.
The top restaurants I experienced:
Restaurant Emo is located in the middle of the city center. It is described as “modern European with a Nordic twist”. Delicious.
Story is a restaurant/café found in the Old Market Hall in Helsinki. It offers traditional market fare, incorporating the ingredients found at the market and nearby sea.
La Maison is exactly what you think it is: a charming French bistro. It’s the kind of place that makes you remember you are in Europe.
This fresh seafood salad at Cafe Maison was created from 100% locally raised ingredients.
Where to stay in Helsinki: Hotel Katajonkka
I stayed in a Helsinki prison. No really. I did! The Hotel Katajanokka was once the Helsinki County Prison, dating back to the 1800’s. Prisoners were still being held here as late as 2002. You’d never know that by looking at this magnificent hotel though. Look for a post soon on this modern, service-orientated hotel. https://www.hotelkatajanokka.fi/en/
The Hotel Katajanokka in Helsinki used to be a prison – until 2002!
If Helsinki is not on your bucket list of places to visit, it should be. It’s a city designed to welcome visitors. Don’t let the fickle Helsinki weather scare you away! Open and friendly, the Finns love to show off their jewel on the Baltic Sea.
Las Vegas is known by some as Sin City, but that moniker has not been fair for at least 20 years. Yes, it is possible to find plenty to entertain an adult in all the ways you can imagine (and some you can’t even). There is also a very strong family component to the Las Vegas Strip. We’ve taken our kids on enjoyable vacations there several times, and there are tons of fun things to do with kids in Las Vegas.
Whether your kids or big or small, we’ve got a bunch of options for you to consider as you make a list of things to do with kids in Las Vegas. Depending on where you plan to stay during your visit, some of these activities may be very close to your hotel. Regardless, it’s easy to get around with the Las Vegas Monorail trains that connect some of the destinations. Plus there’s always our good old friends Uber and Lyft, especially if it’s too hot to walk.
Las Vegas is chock full of neon art, practically anywhere you look.
Fun Things to Do with Kids in Las Vegas
There;s even more fun things to do with kids in Las Vegas than we’ve listed here (in no particular order). But this is a good start. You may not have time to visit all of these activities, so there’s always a good reason to go back!
1. Roller Coaster – New York, New York Hotel & Casino
Rocking and rolling around and through the hotel and casino, this rollercoaster is legit. Complete with a full loop, the Big Apple Coaster begins and ends in a gaming arcade. The full carnival and electronic games here will entertain the family members who are too short to ride (or too chicken like me).
2.Bellagio Fountains – Bellagio Resort & Casino
Free to the public every 15 – 30 minutes, the Bellagio Fountains are choreographed to music favorites. Dancing waters mingle with water jets that spout 460 feet into the sky. The whole show is quite a spectacle.
Breathtaking views of the Bellagio Fountains from the top of the Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas
3. Eiffel Tower – Paris Hotel & Casino Las Vegas
A slightly smaller version of the real thing in France, the Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas includes a high-speed elevator to the top. A lookout platform allows guests unparalleled views of the Vegas Strip, the surrounding city and the mountains beyond.
4. Aquarium – Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino
The Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay is very well designed, complete with open tanks to touch manta rays and squishy sea cucumbers. Neon-colored fish swim in enormous tanks. Our favorite was the moon shaped jellyfish, which undulate in slow motion.
Tickets are $25 for adults, $19 for kids.
5. Bodies…The Exhibition – Luxor Hotel
Fascinating to many and gross to some, the Bodies…The Exhibition showcases real human bodies and organs preserved through a special process. The Exhibition provides an up-close look inside our skeletal, muscular, respiratory, and circulatory systems. They even show a healthy lung next to a smokers’ lung to show the damage smoking can have on our bodies.
There are a total of six Cirque de Soleil shows in Las Vegas, and five of them are suitable for the entire family. Our family favorites are “O”, which happens above and below the waters’ surface. The other is Michael Jackson ONE. ONE is set to Jackson’s famous hits and features impressive dances inspired by his performances. Read more about the best Cirque de Soleil show in Las Vegas for families here.
Ticket prices vary by show, and start at $79.
These zebra creatures as a central image in the incredible “O” by Cirque de Soleil in Las Vegas – photo credit: Veronique Vial
7. Water Park – not hotel located
When the weather is hot (and Las Vegas can hit above 100-degrees in the summer), a water park is a fun way to cool off. Kids love Wet ‘n’ Wild Water Park Las Vegas because of the water tubes, lazy river and other daredevil slides and activities.
8. High Roller Ferris Wheel – The LINQ
The world’s tallest “observation wheel”, this enormous High Roller ferris wheel has become a staple of the Las Vegas skyline. It can be seen from the planes landing at McCarran International Airport and pretty much anywhere else in Las Vegas. Cabins that can host up to 40 people each are slowly rotated around the circle, with fun views and really good air conditioning.
Tickets start at $25 for adults, $10 for kids (children under 6 are free).
9. Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum – The Venetian Hotel & Casino
Famous the world over for the lifelike wax figures invented by Madame Tussaud back in the late 1700s. Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in Las Vegas has something for all ages. Pose with Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper and Beyoncé, along with old Hollywood stars and modern sports celebrities.
Tickets start at $19.
Captain Jack Sparrow was a huge hit with our kids at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in Las Vegas.
Where to Stay in Las Vegas with Kids
We’ve stayed at several hotels on the Las Vegas Strip with our kids, and our favorite so far as been Vdara Hotel & Spa. Free of smoke, Vdara is also casino-free so they offer a cleaner and more healthy environment. All of Vdara’s rooms are large suites, with mini kitchens and a fold out couch for the kids.
Vdara is part of the MGM Hotels group, and rooms start at around $100/night.
An favorite hotel for families is the Paris Hotel & Casino Las Vegas. The hotel’s replica of the Eiffel Tower sports amazing views of Las Vegas in all directions, and the restaurants and kid-friendly. Our girls loved the Creperie on the main lobby floor, where fresh crepes are made to order (nutella and whipped cream seemed to be a big hit).
Paris is part of the Caesars Entertainment group of hotels, and rooms start below $100/night.
At night, the Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas shines like a beacon across all of Las Vegas
*Our visit to Aruba was hosted by the Aruba Tourism Bureau, and we are grateful for the experience. As always, the content and thoughts expressed here are our own.
Our family just returned from the gorgeous Caribbean island of Aruba, and we loved it there. Since we had never been here before, we didn’t know how easy or difficult navigating the Aruba Airport would be. I googled “tips for navigating the Aruba airport” and since nothing helpful came up, I’m writing this now so others can find their way easily.
Everything about Aruba is friendly and laid back. The beaches are postcard pretty, the people are so nice and welcoming, and the ocean is the bluest, aquamarinest, turquoisest I have ever seen. When you get off the plane upon arrival at Aruba’s Queen Beatrix International Airport, you feel immediately lulled into a relaxed state and slower pace. We call it “Island Time” because everything slows down, including your need to care.
The departures area of the Queen Beatrix International Airport in Aruba is quite colorful. (photo from Aruba Tourism Bureau)
In order to help maximize your enjoyment of this beautiful destination, let’s get you prepared for navigating the Aruba Airport when you arrive (easy!), and when you leave (not as easy, but still not bad if you leave enough time).
Tips for Navigating the Aruba Airport
It’s a small airport with one runway and eight gates, so the walks aren’t long and it’s very clean and spacious. There are a few things you’ll want to know as you deplane and prepare for customs, and when you are departing and fumbling with your passport and papers.
Arriving into Aruba Airport was a breeze for us! (photo from Aruba Tourism Bureau)
Arrival at Aruba Airport
Granted, we arrived after 9 pm when most flights had long ago deplaned all their passengers. As it turns out, arriving that late does have some advantages. As we walked directly off the plane and into baggage claim, we saw there were just three baggage carousels. Since I am a veteran over-packer, we had checked bags to accommodate my need for wardrobe options. But if you can carry-on, even better.
The new buildings and terminals at Aruba Airport are really quite stunning, full of colorful art and design. (photo from Aruba Tourism Bureau)
Tips on Arrival at Aruba Airport:
The bathrooms are super clean if you have to go. You will have some time to kill before your bags arrive (remember, Island Time), so might as well!
You will need that customs form they gave you on the plane, so keep it handy with your passport.
After claiming your bags, you will go through local customs. This took us just a few short minutes. Our passports were stamped, the customs form was torn in half, and the remaining half was handed back to us with our passports.
It’s important to remember this remaining half of your customs form. You will need it when you leave, and you absolutely won’t want to go through the long and laborious process of getting a new one if you lost it.
Taxis will be waiting outside to the left, with a fairly long queue during daytime hours. At the front, an attendant will ask your destination and then give you a slip to hand the taxi driver. This slip will tell you the exact fare you will pay upon arrival. Fares vary according to destination. We stayed at the wonderful Tamarijn All-Inclusive Resort in the Low-Rise Hotels area, and the fare was $29 US. The High-Rise Hotels area is farther away, so expect a higher fare if headed there.
If renting a car, all the rental agencies are just across the street via a short crosswalk from baggage claim. The rental cars are right there waiting, and our whole process was quick and easy.
If you are driving, the navigation is a little tricky. GoogleMaps did not work for us here, but Waze worked great. There are all sorts of little quirks and odd turns on the roadways that will keep you alert!
Colorful architecture and friendly buildings greet travelers at the Queen Beatrix International Airport in Aruba. (photo from Aruba Tourism Bureau)
Departure from Aruba Airport
Our hotel suggested we arrive at the airport three hours before our flight – which we have NEVER done anywhere in the world. Maybe our family likes to live on the edge, but it has never been a problem. In Aruba, we understand now why they recommend this. Knowing it was a small airport, we planned to arrive two hours beforehand. We all have Platinum Priority boarding on American Airlines, as well as Global Entry passes to breeze through US customs. Boy are we sure glad we did, because the entire process took us 1.5 hours before reaching the gate area.
We flew American Airlines to Aruba, and thank goodness we had Priority status! (photo from Aruba Tourism Bureau)
Tips on Departure from Aruba Airport:
When they say to arrive three hours before your flight, they mean it. The lines were very long.
Luckily we had Priority boarding access on American Airlines, which diverted us to a far shorter line to check in at the counter with our bags. It still took about 20 minutes to reach the counter, with two agents working the Priority line of maybe 10 people deep. Three agents were working the regular line, which had at least 75 people waiting.
Keep your passport handy, because you will need to show it A LOT. We counted eight separate stations where we were asked for our passports. Check-in at the counter was #1.
Once checked in, you proceed to Aruba customs to depart. Outside this area, a man seated at a desk asked to see our passports and boarding papers (#2).
Inside this same area, a woman tending the very short line asked to see our passports again (#3). She directed us to automatic kiosks.
At these kiosks, we stood on the little feet symbols on the floor, scanned our passports (#4) and posed for our photos to be taken by the machine. The gates opened, and we were approved by Aruba customs to leave the country.
From there, you will go through security with all your carry-ons, etc. No TSA Pre-Check line, so shoes come off and laptops out.
Then you are ushered into a large room with two baggage carousels, where you will reclaim your luggage that you just checked at the original counter.
With your luggage, you will then go through US Customs. There is a huge benefit to doing it here, rather than the long lines we typically experience on US soil. We were especially happy, because our connecting flight was only 55 minutes from the time our first flight landed. There would have been no time to go through customs, security, and make our gate in time.
If you have Global Entry, now is the time it will pay off. There is a separate line inside the door to the right, and no one was waiting here. We flashed our Global Entry cards and passports for the guard to check (#5) and proceeded to the kiosks. This whole process took just minutes.
The line to present our papers to the US Customs agent was very short – versus the line with no Global Entry, which was very long. We presented our passports and papers for approval (#6) and passed through the gates.
Important: This is where you will need to present those little slips of paper from your original Aruban customs form.
Leaving this building, we rechecked our bags by placing them on the correct conveyor belt. There are two belts, so don’t confuse which airline you are flying or your bags will end up gawd knows where.
Then we stood in another line to show our passports to the door attendants again (#7). This line was waiting to go through security again – shoes off, laptops out.
Once through this second security checkpoint, we were finally within the gate area. This area is very clean and has nice shops, duty–free, and a few restaurants. Not sure why someone would want to eat sushi in an airport, but hey. Lots of other food choices.
We proceeded directly to the gate, with barely enough time to visit the restroom before boarding. As we boarded, of course we were asked to show our passports one last time (#8).
Although this might seem like a long, exaggerated list of departure rituals, it went smoothly and easily. And people in Aruba are so nice! No grumpy guards or surly customs agents. Since we were so relaxed from our beautiful vacation on the island, we were remarkably calm throughout the process.
Our advice? Allow for the three hours to avoid that inevitable stress and impatience we can sometimes feel when waiting in lines at airports. Better safe than sorry in this case!