Last year Kris and I went on a Panama Canal cruise out of Galveston, TX. Anyone who knows Kris and I knows that we love to go on long cruises. Oftentimes, we will book our next cruise while still on the ship or in the following weeks after we get back home. Last year when we got back from our latest cruise we saw that there were lots of great deals on two week Panama Canal Partial Transit cruises out of our home-port of Galveston. Needless to say after about five minutes of discussion we booked the trip aboard the Carnival Freedom. The trip included stops at some of our favorite ports, some new ones in the Southern Caribbean and South America as well as the aforementioned partial-transit of the Panama Canal. Currently I am developing a manuscript (wow, that sounds pretentious) about our joint experience on this trip, but thought it would be fun to highlight some of the ports and our experiences in transit. Today I’d like to highlight our visit to the island of Curaçao.
I don’t know about you, but the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word “Curacao,” is that blue “orange flavored” liquor. Although tasty when mixed with tequila and sweet and sour mix, the Curaçao I am referring to is not that devilish blue liquor. Curaçao is actually a part of the Netherlands Antilles in the Southern Caribbean. The Netherlands Antilles consists of Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire. These islands are also referred to as the “ABC” islands (clever acronym I know). If I’m not mistaken they are about the distance from Venezuela as Cuba is to Florida. I’m not 100% sure on that “fact” cause I didn’t happen to measure or utilize a Google search. Anyway, I’d like to take a minute to discuss our experience on our cruise when we stopped at the port in Willemstad (Curaçao’s capital). We arrived sometime in the early morning and when we walked up on deck we were amazed at the sight of the city.
From our perch up on the Lido deck we could see the Queen Emma and Juliana Bridges, Downtown Willemstad (including the Handelskade) and the floating market. Fortunately when booking our trip we selected a shore excursion titled “Best of Curaçao”. This excursion would show us many different locales on the island. If I’m not mistaken the excursion included a trip to the Hato Caves, Fort Amsterdam, Floating Market and ended in the Rif Fort for dining and shopping… and my personal favorite imbibing the local brew. If there is one thing I love after a day of adventure in a foreign country is to sit down at a local bar and experience the local brew; a frosty treat made on the island utilizing desalinated sea-water.
The Hato Caves were interesting, but having done some extensive caving in the US they were “cool” but nothing too special. The cave itself is up a long flight of stairs and was sweltering warm and probably had 500 people inside. I guess the most interesting thing was that the cave was above ground. Not terribly exciting, but the view from the top was pretty impressive. Apparently there is an ostrich farm there as well now. Ostriches are mean as hell though, so I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with them while we were at the caves. I wonder if the ostriches are in the cave… that would be kind of weird… and terrifying.
As for the city tour, this was what I was craving all day. Our bus-driver dropped us off next to the “Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral” and gave us vague directions pointing to the East as means to return to the port on foot. Kris and I were the last people off the bus as usual and lingered around taking lots of photos of the cathedral. The cathedral is probably the most brightly mustard colored building (up to this point in the day) that I had ever seen. The yellow was the most pleasant and vibrant assault on the senses I had ever experienced.
Walking further down the block, after the impromptu photo-shoot, Kris and I posed in front of a giant “Dushi” sign. For those of you not in the know, “Dushi” is Papiamentu (a Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish Creole flavored language spoken natively on the ABC islands) meaning “Sweet” and is kind of the local slogan. We learned that most children of the ABC’s speak Papiamentu, Dutch and English as well as other European languages. As far as I’m concerned that is a magical thing, I hardly have command over the English language. In fact, I would say I have a tenuous hold at best.
Further down the boulevard we walked past a number of cafes, bars and shops. It was very difficult not to stop at the local shops and cafes down this block cause we only had half a day left to wander around. Both Kris and I knew once we sat and had a drink we wouldn’t be getting up until the ship was blaring its “we’re about to strand your ass/all aboard” siren. Someday when we come back we will have to stay for a week or two and really try to get the full experience of downtown. I hope to return in 2020, but we will see what happens…
Venturing northerly, we came to the waterfront along the bay where you can see the Queen Juliana Bridge in the distance and enter the Floating Market. The Floating Market runs the distance of several blocks along the bay and is full of some of the freshest and most diverse produce you will find in the Southern Caribbean. Visible on the other side of the tables are the actual boats that transport the items to market. Registrations on the boats were mainly from Venezuela and Columbia. Apparently the boats come up every few days with fresh produce and goods. I was pretty impressed with the offerings and upon staying on a longer adventure I’ll be sure to spend some more time and cash there.
Rounding yet another corner we were greeted by the Handelskade District. Remember the assault on the senses I mentioned earlier regarding the cathedral? Well, the Handelskade is that famous street/district where there exists a collection of somewhat large buildings along the waterfront that are so rich in color that you cannot deny its captivity. I think I must have taken at least a thousand pictures of this row of buildings and shops from every conceivable angle (sometimes stumbling into traffic to capture additional images). I found the best pictures could be taken from the Queen Emma Floating Bridge down at the corner of the Pehna intersection.
Passing the Handelskade we visited Fort Amsterdam which has an interesting history and maintains its function as an active fort and base until this day. Had I been paying attention to the tour guide I may have learned more that I could share with you. What I will tell you is that the guards take themselves very seriously and do not like being bumped into by a tourist trying to take pictures of mustard colored buildings. We spent a few minutes inside the fort in all of it’s mustardy goodness and then traveled on to the Rif Fort Mall a little further down the bay.
The Rif Fort is kind of the “in-port” offering most cruisers are familiar with. The Rif Fort is full of trinket and souvenir shops, vendors, bars and restaurants. There was a particular restaurant that was hopping busy and had a good vibe going so we stopped by to imbibe some of the local brew. After grabbing a table and ordering some ic e cold Brion Ale, we kicked back and hung out with what few locals were there and some of the crew of the various ships in port. Several drinks later and some tasty sampler plates too, we were stumbling back to our ship (prior to the “get your ass back on board” horn sounding) where we would continue our two-week journey.