Water activities in Aruba characterize much of the draw for those who like to be active when taking a beach vacation to this Caribbean destination. We had heard that great scuba diving sites in Aruba were plentiful. So our family sought out a private charter company that could share some of those locations via snorkeling to accommodate our two young kids.
We originally set up a private sailboat charter with Morningstar Aruba but due to several days of snafus (weather, fire on the other side of the island), we were left one day before our departure without a private sailboat operator. Scrambling to see who had availability during the very busy Week 51, we happened across Octopus Aruba. We contacted them via email after breakfast and received an immediate response stating they had availability for a private charter sailboat snorkel tour. We agreed on a 3:30pm departure.
One of the positives is the location. We were quoted $100 US round-trip from our Marriott to Morningstar. The launching point for Octopus Aruba requires no taxi if you are staying in Palm Beach. It is conveniently located between Playa Linda and Holiday Inn Beach Resorts.
Another is the payment method. Octopus Aruba conveniently uses Paypal so no need to carry large sums of cash or call ahead to an international number with credit card details.
We gave ourselves a good 30 minutes to walk down the paved beach promenade and arrived 15 minutes ahead of schedule.
An energetic Dutch woman let us know the boat had not yet arrived. We were seated under the shaded tent where the kids could play in the sand and watched our launch time come and go. Sunset was rapidly encroaching on our 3-hour excursion. But...we had been on the island a while at this point. We realized we had to find it within ourselves to stop watching the clock and just roll with the punches.
When the beautiful white and orange catamaran sailboat did finally arrive, we were more than pleased that this was to be ours for the next 3 hours.
My family kicked off our flip-flops and boarded the small dingy that carried us to the proper sailboat. Along came the Dutch woman because the Dutch-speaking Captain did not speak much English.
We were so excited to begin our first sailboat ride and the closer we got to the ginormous catamaran, we were mesmerized by its beauty. The boat just went through a major renovation and we were the first to take a ride in the comfort of the new digs.
My family crawled up the long ladder to find an immaculate and roomy boat with several great spots to lounge.
Juice was brought out for the kids and the Aruban signature drink (Aruba Arriba) for the adults. We moved at a gentle pace close to the shore. A fresh fruit platter of Cantaloupe and Pineapple was presented.
We were getting closer to our snorkeling destination and we were questioned about sandwiches. My vegetarian husband requested veggie, my little one and I opted for turkey and we said Kid Allergy would just eat cheese and no bread because he was allergic to wheat.
We dropped anchor and off we went to explore the Antilla Shipwreck.
The Antilla was a German freighter boat caught in Dutch waters on the coast of Aruba when Germany and Holland went to war in 1940. When Dutch Marines went to confiscate the boat, the German captain refused, opened the valves and set fire to the boat. The 44-member crew was arrested and the Dutch could do nothing more than watch the boat sink in the harbor. The Dutch struck a deal with the British who agreed to take this crew along with 185 other prisoners of war to an internment camp in British Jamaica where they would spend the remainder of the war.
Today, the Antilla is the largest shipwreck dive in the Caribbean. The entire wreckage is 400 feet long and houses a host of marine life.
The little one decided to stay on the boat. He happily snacked his way through our snorkeling adventures on potato chips and Dutch heart shaped cookies.
Honestly, visibility was a bit more obscured than I would have liked due to some choppy waters, but we did get the opportunity to see a handful of fish and the hull of the ship.
When we returned to the boat, we were knackered from fighting the waves and were each given a sandwich.
Why? Because while we were snorkeling someone had rowed out to the boat with an arsenal of gluten free food they purchased especially for Kid Allergy!
WOW. Now that is impeccable service!
The chips were labeled in Dutch so our lady guide translated the ingredients to ensure there was no gluten that could harm Kid Allergy. He opted for some paprika flavored chips and gobbled two packages down quite quickly.
When we arrived at our second snorkeling spot, my youngest son decided he wanted to come in the water. We brought a noodle to aid in floatation.
But...the ocean was getting more and more rough and it was very difficult to get him to shore. I lost control of the noodle and there were tears. I had to quickly throw the little on the pebbled beach and swim back out to retrieve it.
Exhausted, I finally made my way back to land. I was too tired to even want to snorkel. I just lay face to the sand like a beached whale.
But my rest was soon interrupted. I began to hear complaints about the beach being too rocky and unappealing for sandcastle play. The little one wanted to swim back to the boat. He preferred cookie eating to hanging out on this beach.
So I battled the waves to get the toddler back to the sailboat.
Eventually, I did go back in the water. I found a large starfish colony in the sea grass and I hunted for sea turtles (although I never succeed in finding one).
When I returned, I was handed a dry salad of walnuts, carrots, fresh greens and Brie with a dollop of chicken salad. It really hit the spot.
We set sail heading toward our original pickup location while the bright orange and yellow sun was setting in the distance. Mid sunset my little one announced he had to potty. And no...he couldn't hold it.
Luckily, the Octopus Aruba sailboat has a bathroom aboard! It is spotless with room enough for mom and toddler. It made for a quick in and out ensuring that the whole family could be together to finally enjoy the last ray of sunshine on our final night on this one happy island.
Kid Allergy - two thumbs up
He loved that they kept him snacking the whole trip on good tasting safe gluten free food.
Mom - two thumbs up
The service was incredible. Like...I have never been cared for so warmly. We take maybe 5 boat charters a year across many different countries. I can say hands down this was the best service my family has ever received on a private boat charter.
Private chartering a boat of this size for only four people is very expensive. We only went with something so large because we couldn't find something smaller at the last second. We were able to negotiate with them on price though so if the initial quote doesn't fit your budget don't be intimidated to ask if you can meet halfway.
If you can, advise them ahead of time of any food allergies. They were very accommodating and took it very seriously.
Be careful with your footing as the the sailboat can be slippery. My husband slammed his knee in to a metal piece of the boat while carrying the toddler. We were offered a ride to the hospital (that we declined) and we did get follow up texts inquiring about his health the next day. We very much appreciated this kind of customer service.
Be clear: you are taking this boat for sailing and service not necessarily for snorkeling. It is not smooth like Belize or Grand Cayman. It isn't even like the sometimes rough waves of Mexico. The ocean is very strong and choppy here and snorkeling visibility is impacted by this.
The snorkeling conditions for children are particularly challenging. Make sure your kids are strong swimmers. They will spend a bunch of time fighting the ocean and not necessarily a large portion of time finding treasures.