Ever since my first cruise, I’ve been wanting to see the ABC islands. Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao. Today it would be the latter.
Morning came and it was an easy one. The ship wasn’t due to make port in Willemstad, Curacao until 1pm. This meant myself and the rest of the ship could have a nice lazy morning without rushing breakfast. When I woke up, I immediately glanced over at the bow cam, thanks to my new habit. The water was little rough again. My heart started to sink a little. My travel agent friend who I was supposed to meet in Curacao had warned me that wind can be an issue with the ports of the ABC islands. I decided to try not to think about it and build up any anxiety. I showered and dressed to begin the day.
Even though I had slept in a little, most of the other guests on the ship had taken advantage of the late arrival time and slept in even more than me. Breakfast lines were nice and short. Even in the Lido cafeteria. Breakfast this morning was the always delicious Cinnamon Toast Crunch with fruit and yogurt. No breakfast burrito today because I was saving my gut for island food and drink. I didn’t really have much planned for the morning because I had put a lot of thought into the afternoon.
After breakfast and some time in the sun, I headed inside to browse some websites. On Deck 3 near the Customer Service and Shore Excursion desks, are windows with couches. I found that this area for some reason offered the best wi-fi and a good view of the sea when I looked up from browsing. I took a seat on the couch near the Customer Service desk which was a good and bad idea. Bad because I didn’t get through much, and good because I could overhear some of the awkward problems some people were having. I’ve worked face to face with customers before and it can certainly be a challenge. When you have to work with people who are coming in their underwear, are drunk, sick, or rude, I imagine the days (while probably interesting) are long. While just chilling there, Karen and Cindy from the main dining room stopped by. We talked for a little while. They mentioned how they had tried opening one of the forward open deck doors while the ship was underway the night before. Anyone who doesn’t know, when the ship is underway, these decks can be pretty windy. Also depending on how the doors open, you might get taken for a ride. They found out the hard way and while fortunately, they weren’t injured, signs were posted later in the night not to open the doors.
Karen and Cindy left and I got up from my perch to get a snack before the ship made port. I could see outside the window and on the MarineTraffic app that we were continuing with our approach to Curacao. This was encouraging considering outside the window the sea looked like it was stirring. I kept in touch with my friend on the island just to give updates. I enjoyed a couple of slices of pizza.
As 1pm neared, so did Carnival Breeze. I was thrilled to see that despite some of the winds and choppy water, we were making port. I quickly ran to the cabin to grab my Nikon, then hastily returned to the Deck 9 bridge wing to capture the ship’s arrival in Curacao. Before we got much closer, we were buzzed twice by a coast guard helicopter. It appeared to be a photographer who then waved to us. The copter then returned to the island as we approached. When we did get close, I watched on as pilot boats brought shore-men to secure the mooring lines. Willemstad appeared just how I had imagined. There was also former Royal Caribbean ship there in port. I could hardly wait to step off the ship.
I headed back to the cabin to meet up with Andrew. We both knew Shelien, our travel agent friend who lived on the island. She was going to show us around for the majority of the day. We headed down to a crowded deck 2 with our stuff and within a couple of minutes started making our way off the ship with about the other 75% of it. Stepping, off a little past 1 pm. The first thing I noticed was how breezy it was off the ship. No biggie though as we had made port, thankfully.
We made our way past some condos and gift shops in what seemed like a relatively new port shopping district We were to meet Shelien at a bar called Soprano’s around 2 but had a little time to kill. Andrew said he wanted to get a bottle of something to give her for giving us a tour and we set off looking for a liquor store, while checking out the city at the same time. It was really cool to see the floating bridge that everyone had been talking about. Willemstad’s trademark was the row of multi-colored, waterfront buildings. Sure enough, they looked as good in person as in photo and video. The other ship there was the Pullmantur Monarch. It operates cruises from Curacao and caters mostly to South Americans.
While enjoying the scenery, finding a liquor store wasn’t really panning-out. I bought a couple of souvenirs before walking back inside the newer shopping area to Soprano’s. Once there, I ordered a beer while we waited for Shelien. A Polar Pilsner was one of the island favorites. The small bottle provided enough to tide me over until she arrived.
After waiting a few minutes we were greeted with open arms by Shelien. I had met her before on Carnival Splendor, and had talked to numerous times in-between then and now on Facebook. It was great to see her again. I paid my bill at Soprano’s and we all hopped in her Jeep parked around the corner, setting off for a good few hours of seeing Curacao. Shelien said that there would be parts with a longer drive, but we were okay with it. She knew where all the cool stuff was and we could catch up, talk shit, and see the scenery along the way.
The first thing you begin to realize is how arid Curacao is once out of Willemstad. Shelien said “wait until you see Aruba.” I knew that Aruba was arid, but didn’t realize Curacao was as well (though not as much). She said, “it hasn’t rained much lately so I don’t know if there will be enough water for the flamingos to be hanging out.” Shortly afterwards we pulled along side the road and there was a large basin/reservoir. Much of it was very dry and cracking, but some pools were still filled with water. Sure enough, towards the middle were a flock of pink flamingos. Cool. The only other time I had seen them was at some theme park/zoo and it was neat to see them in their more natural habitat. Getting closer, I didn’t realize that they “honked” like geese or swans. There were some other Dutch tourists there taking photos. I walked past them to get a better look and they greeted me along the way. Nice people.
After seeing the flamingos, I hopped back in Shelien’s Jeep. There was more to see and only so much time in port. We carried on for a little ways, stopping at an old church that was this really cool shade of orange. We only stayed there for a minute before setting back off.
Shelien told us it was a relatively far drive to the beaches but it was no biggie. She told us about the island and some of its cultural/social aspects. One thing she specifically mentioned was how people tend to get the pronunciation of Curacao wrong. Just so you know, it is pronounced “Kyur-eh-sao,” NOT “Kur-a-cow.”
After a little drive, we arrived at the first beach we’d see, Knip Beach (Playa Kenepa). It was beautiful. The shade of water there was the exact hue you’d expect the waters of a Caribbean beach to be. Completely photogenic. We stopped and got out of the Jeep. There was an overlook area where I took a few photos, before continuing down some old stairs onto the beach. There were groups of people there, but it was by no means crowded. Many of them seemed to be speaking Dutch, but I did see a couple of Carnival beach towels, so some from the ship had made it there. I walked up and down the beach shin-deep in the water. It was a great temperature and I was tempted to jump in. I didn’t bring my trunks though and I didn’t want to get the inside of Shelien’s car wet either. As I continued walking the beach, i noticed how much of it was shell and coral. it was pretty cool to see. I picked up one shell to keep before heading back to the others so we could continue. I didn’t really want to leave though. Who could blame me.
It was getting more into the day and I was starting to get hungry. It was well into the afternoon and being that I’d probably be having a late dinner, it was given that I should grab something on the island. Shelien took us to the Kura Hulanda Hotel at Westpunt. Along the way, we passed a property that had a “Williwood” sign like the infamous “Hollywood” one. Once at Kura Hulanda, it was a nice property. Where the bars and restaurant were was a palapa-covered area. The view was amazing from here as we enjoyed bottles of Amstel Bright (Amstel’s beer for the Caribbean). Andrew and I ordered some sandwiches. We talked about the ship, islands, and those who were also on the Carnival Splendor last November. Shelien told us about her job and living on the island. I sat there enjoying my beer with a tiny bit of envy.
Before too long, it was time to continue. We drove past the mountains (Curacao has few mostly towards the north) and in the direction of the eastern side of the island. The sun was starting to get low in the sky and we were trying to be back in port for a photogenic sunset. After some more driving we arrived at Shete Boka National Park to see the blow holes (where the sea washes in under the ground and then jets up through holes). Unfortunately we were just a couple of minutes late as the park had just closed for the day. No biggie, next time. Instead, we drove back to see some other areas south of Willemstad. We drove over the massive bridge that spans St. Anna Bay, and had a cool view of both the sea and bay sides of Willemstad. The interior (bay side) is actually a lot more developed than I had assumed. There were the Dutch Navy, a dry dock facility, warehouses, and a small ship scrap yard.
On we drove to the south. We drove through some of the more run down neighborhoods. As we did, Shelien told us that many Dutch people were actually buying the properties and restoring them to their original state. Through the neighborhoods we continued onwards to Mambo Beach. This was a fairly developed oceanfront area that resembled some of the boardwalks we have here. There were shops, rides, and bars, some boardwalk was there as well. We left Mambo Beach after a very short while and drove through the downtown port area. The buildings were all really cool looking. There was this one run-down theater in particular that looked pretty cool. Apparently, the city wasn’t sure what to do with it.
With the sun getting even lower, Andrew asked if Shelien knew a good place to see ship and sunset. With time beginning to get short, she took us back up to the tops of the hills, to Fort Nassau. This mostly now decommissioned fort now served as an observation area and restaurant. Views from here were awesome. You could see so much of the entire island. Way down below was the center of Willemstad and the ships. A tall ship had actually come into the bay and made port along the pier with the shops. Later I’d find out it was the Royal Clipper.
With the sun near setting, Andrew asked if instead there was a better place to see the sun set. In a last-ditch effort, Shelien got us all back in the Jeep and took us to a beach near the Sunscape Curacao Resort. There were a couple of cool bars next to this beach. The beach property itself looked a little worn and tired. There was a jetty and small pier going out into the sea with locals hanging out. Walking to the end of the jetty, a man was giving some of the younger locals swimming lessons. I noticed a couple of odd looks from some of them. Shelien said that there was a slight bit of discrimination happening specific to that area. The resort next door had its beach front guarded. Those who didn’t look like guests were made to leave or go to the public area where we were standing. People who looked like guests vs people who didn’t… well… you probably get where I’m going with this, but I will say that I probably would have gotten away with being on the resort property. Sad, but true. It was still nice though being there and watching the sun set into the sea with the locals who even after a couple of second glances were cool with us. The sun set into the sea beside the ship and the evening had begun.
Shelien took us to a local grocery store before bringing us back to port. I needed to restock my tissues (which I was actually needing a lot less) and Andrew was trying one more time to see if he could get some booze for her. I got some crappy Kleenex and Andrew left empty-handed. I had given Shelien a pair of sunglasses earlier in the day. With it now being dark outside we headed back to port and said goodbye to her.
It was roughly 8pm and I wanted to get some dinner. Andrew went to walk around a little more and then have dinner on the ship. Earlier, Shelien had suggested dinner at The Gouverneur De Rouville. I followed and walked up the steps and sat at the last outdoor table available. It was cool looking place across the waterway from Willemstad’s trademark waterfront. I enjoyed a Polar, then a Brion, as I took in the scenery and watched the floating bridge open and close. I ordered a seafood dish that was small but pretty good. Before too long I noticed fewer people around me looked like they were from the ship. It being after 9, I figured I should head back.
On the way back to the ship, I watched as a tanker entered the harbor, escorted by a tug. I also stopped to grab a couple of souvenirs before stepping back on the ship. Within half an hour of being back on board, it was time to sail. I took my perch on Deck 9 that I had before to see us leave Curacao. It was bittersweet because the next port was the last. At about 11 I hit the hay. All the sun had taken its toll. I was tired as hell.
Curacao though… I WILL be there again.