Aruba Ritz Carlton
Credit: Don Riddle/Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba

Blame it on the Beach Boys: the perpetually sunny destination welcomes close to 1.5 million visitors every year—and it often gets a bad rap for being too touristy. And while the $1 billion that’s pouring into the 70-square-mile isle (an airport makeover, a redone cruise terminal) will bring even more people, its first true luxury hotel is changing the traveler profile. Located on the far, quiet end of popular Palm Beach, the Ritz-Carlton, Aruba ($$$$) is loaded with amenities: two pools, five restaurants, a 15-treatment-room spa (try the Dushi Tera salt scrub), and a flashy casino.

Dine off-campus at Baby Beach, where you can fill up on johnnycakes at local favorite Big Mama Grill (297/568-5688; no dinner; $). At Zeerover (297/584-8401; $$), in southern Savaneta, order the morning catch—wahoo or snapper—with plantains, pan bati (corn bread), and a cold Balashi brew. The capital city of Oranjestad has a new eco-friendly trolley system and 10-mile boardwalk. To see the island’s sights, including the landmark California Lighthouse and the Casibari Rock Formation, book a half-day excursion with De Palm Tours.