Many would-be cruisers, aware of the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in the Eastern Caribbean this past fall, are hesitant to book a Caribbean cruise. Not Georgina Cruz and her husband Humberto!
They called Cruise Specialists agent, Bridgett Quinn, and booked a 10-day Southern Caribbean Seafarer voyage on Holland America’s Koningsdam. The Caribbean was their first destination in 1976 and it holds a special place in their hearts. Here Georgina recaps much of what they saw an experienced, to help you better know what to expect.
Post Hurricane Status?
As things stand, a few islands in the Eastern Caribbean were severely damaged by hurricanes and rebuilding efforts are underway. Ports in the Bahamas and on Western and Southern Caribbean islands suffered minimal or no damage. And by November, 43 ports were already open to the delight of visitors and the remaining ones scheduled to open soon afterwards.
All of the cruise lines’ private islands, so popular with passengers, are open including Holland America’s Half Moon Cay, Royal Caribbean’s CocoCay, Disney’s Castaway Cay, Princess’ Princess Cays and Norwegian’s Great Stirrup Cay. So, the Caribbean cruise that we were dreaming of became a wonderful reality for us.
As Holland America Line communicated to booked guests, “there is no better show of support for the Caribbean and its people than to continue to visit.” And we just did!
Our cruise took us to the ABC Islands of the Netherlands Antilles: Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. to the idyllic ports of Half Moon Cay, Holland America’s private island paradise in the Bahamas, Grand Turk in the Turks & Caicos and Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic.
In Amber Cove, on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, near Puerto Plata, sightseeing opportunities included several beach and snorkeling breaks to Coconut Cove and other area beaches, tours to the colonial cities of Puerto Plata and Santiago, dolphin swims, sea lion encounters and even swimming with sharks at Ocean World Adventure Park.
The Holland America tour to Ocean World Adventure Park included a Day Pass for visitors like us who just wanted the opportunity to snorkel in the park’s Tropical Reef Aquarium and learn about marine mammals.
Other activities available to Day Pass visitors include feeding exotic birds, walking through a tropical rain forest, and taking in the Dolphin Show, Shark Show, Sea Lions Show and Tropical Bird Show. Day Pass visitors also have free access to the dolphin beach, as well as the fresh water pool located in the Tiger Grotto.
Cruise with Purpose Tour
Cruise With Purpose tours, Holland America Line’s program inspired in the idea of “giving back,” were also offered in Amber Cove in conjunction with Fathom Impact Travel, a company founded by Carnival Corporation for social impact journeys.
One of these tours goes to the Cacao & Women’s Chocolate Cooperative in Puerto Plata where participants take part in a hands-on visit to a chocolate factory founded by enterprising women of the Dominican Republic in their search for meaningful work so they can support their families.
At a local nursery, tour participants begin with the cultivation of the cocoa plant by preparing organic soil and planting cocoa seeds. In the chocolate factory, tour members work alongside the women of Chocal at various workstations to transform the cocoa bean into a delicious chocolate bar.
Participants also help the women package the chocolate and prepare it for sale. By helping to improve production and increase sales, tour members also help the organization thrive so it can hire more local women, providing critical income in a region with limited employment opportunities.
Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, the so-called “ABC Islands” of the Netherlands Antilles, the centerpiece of the voyage, lie below the hurricane belt so are always unscathed by this type of storm.
We had a long call at the port of Willemstad, Curacao, from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. –and we were glad: it is, in our opinion one of the most picturesque ports in the Caribbean with views of rows of Dutch-style architecture gabled houses in Caribbean ice cream colors overlooking Sint Anna Bay, a waterway that divides the city in two and connects the Caribbean Sea to the protected Schottegat Bay.
The historic center of Willemstad, founded in the 17th century, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and on previous cruises we had visited its highlights including:
- floating market
- the distillery making the world-famous Blue Curacao liqueur
- the Kura Hulanda museum
- Fort Amsterdam (now the home of the governor of Curacao)
- the Queen Emma Bridge, a floating bridge that unites the east side of the city, the Punda, with the west side, Otrabanda
We revisited some highlights on this call and we also opted for something different: booking a ship’s tour to the Curacao Ostrich Farm.
On the way to the farm, a photo stop was made at Riffort village with panoramic views of Willemstad’s city center, the narrow port entrance, the colorful Dutch colonial-style houses and Fort Amsterdam.
A safari truck at the Ostrich Farm took us to explore the facility and we were able to hand-feed the impressive birds. We saw many ostriches including an adorable baby. A souvenir shop at the farm offers African art and other merchandise.
The tour also included a visit to another of Curacao’s industries, the Aloe Vera Farm, where we were shown the process of extracting juice from the plant and learned about the beneficial powers of this natural product.
Bonaire is known for its world-class diving with more than 80 dive sites and a coral reef encircling the entire boomerang-shaped island.
In Kralendijk, the capital, we set off on an island tour following a route north along the coast to take in some of isle’s highlights. We made a stop at Lake Goto, Bonaire’s land-locked saltwater lagoon, to see the long-legged pink flamingos that make their home in the area. The flamingos’ plumage is pink because of chemicals in the food they eat: shrimp and algae, our guide told us.
Other sights in our agenda included:
- Rincon, the oldest settlement in the ABC islands
- the Rose Inn for a taste of the liquor made from the cadushy cactus and to learn about its distilling process
- Seru Largu, atop a mountain for panoramic views of Kralendijk
When our 10-day voyage was done, we sure wished we had booked back-to-back cruises!
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