Years ago while working as Teen Editor for Newsday, a New York daily newspaper, my husband Richard and I took a trip to the ABC Islands: Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao that proved a game-changer in our lives. While we loved these Dutch West Indies Islands, the trip hardly ran smoothly due to bad management by the travel agency that set it up. After returning to work my feature editor asked how our vacation was and when I mentioned the glitches he asked me to write about it for Newsday. It was my first travel article and the launch of a free-lance career that has taken us around the world. (I continued as Teen Editor and moonlighted on the side).
So it was propitious that a recent (and fairy-tale ) voyage on the Crystal Serenity we stopped in Curacao (pronounced “Cure-a-sow’ )only this time it was smooth sailing. Pulling into the island is magical with the colorful pastel Dutch-like buildings glistening off the St. Anna’s Bay. (FYI: about 400,000 cruise passengers pass through Willemstad annually on various ships).
Curacao is known as the Amsterdam of the Caribbean. It’s about 40 miles from the northern coast of Venezuela and is known for its eponymous orange liqueur. The 38-mile, volcanic island houses 150,000 people of all ethnic origins, but many of course are of Dutch heritage.
It’s a perfect port stop on any cruise because you can walk to all the chic shops along the five-block commercial district of Punda in Willemstad. While the bargains aren’t as good as they used to be, you do save the tax and can score about 10 to 20% off US prices. The best buys are on French perfumes, Italian silks, Swiss watches, jewelry and some cameras. Another spot for deals is the floating market where vendors sell everything from food to crafts and clothing.
Willemstad is divided into two areas, Punda and Otrobanda by the picturesque St Anna Bay and connected by a quaint pontoon Queen Emma bridge. The town plays host to a variety of restaurants, one of the oldest of which is Gouverneur De Rouville which offers good, moderately-priced food and a spectacular view. One of the must sees is what they call Infinity Beach at nearby Renaissance Hotel. It’s a pool, filled with warm sea water, with a sandy bottom that is built to look like it spills out into the sea. The hotel is the perfect place to stay if you want to be near the town but have a resort feeling. Besides the amazing pool, there’s a bustling casino, fitness room, restaurants and free WiFi.
While English is spoken everywhere, Papiamentu is the official langue, it’s a sing-song-style mix of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, English and Arawak Indian. and is spoken through all levels of society.
Curaçao sports more than 35 beaches and a balmy climate of 80 degrees year-around. The LGBT-friendly Island puts on a popular Gay Pride and South Caribbean Pride Week celebrations. There are more than a dozen hotels and attractions with International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) memberships, the largest membership of any one island in the Caribbean.
Whether you stop in Curacao during a cruise or go for an extended vacation, you will love the hospitality and friendliness of the native and all the island has to offer.