Why and Where
Curacao, the “C” of the ABC Dutch islands is the closest major island off the northern coast of Venezuela.
Part of the Netherlands Antilles, Curacao is about 38 miles long and varies in width from two to eight miles. For cruise guests, a nice feature is that the island is out of the normal hurricane paths, so calls there are not going to be affected.
Time, city growth and the trade winds blowing constantly have not seriously damaged the colorful Dutch architecture that has been a feature of Curacao since the 19th century.
In fact, it’s this famous colorful array of buildings that is featured in any photograph showing the waterfront in Willemstad, the island’s capital. Curacao has also become known for its famous dark-blue liquor, the eponymously-named Blue Curacao.
Curacao offers one of the more intriguing arrivals of any Caribbean island. As ships get closer to the island, the floating Queen Emma Bridge that reaches across the two sections of town swings open to allow the ship to enter, swinging shut after the ship clears.
The best way to get an elevated view of this operation is from the stern of the vessel. Guests will see the bridge open and shut several times during their visit.
The primary dock for today’s larger ships is the Curacao Mega Pier. Various facilities such as rental cars, taxis, souvenir shops, bars, tour facilities and an international call center are available.
Shorter ships that can get under the 197-foot high Queen Julian Bridge will dock at the older Curacao Cruise Terminal. It’s easy to walk from either dock into the main part of town, but taxis can shorten that walk.
It’s not necessary to change money into the local currency. American dollars are welcomed. Also, if visitors charge something on a credit card, it’s usually done in U.S. dollars so that no transaction fee is added to the bill.
Curacao is an easy island for arriving guests who can pretty much do one of two things: Spend time in Willemstad or see the rest of the island by renting a car, hiring a taxi or taking a tour offered at the pier.
For first-time visitors, wandering around Willemstad may be the best thing to do. On one side of St. Anna’s Bay, the main attraction is certainly the Kura Hulanda museum, showcasing Curacao’s extensive African-based history, including riveting info on the slave trade. Also, the best views of the colorful waterfront are from this side.
After crossing the bay via the swinging Queen Emma Bridge or by the free water taxi, visitors can wander the narrow streets to browse shops, museums and historic sites such as Fort Amsterdam. Recommended: the old but beautifully-maintained Mikve Israel Emanuel Synagogue. Founded in 1651, it’s the oldest continuously operating Jewish synagogue in the Americas.
For those that want to wander farther out from the main city, driving around the island offers various things to see or visit including lighthouses and lots of beaches (but Curacao is not one of those island’s offering miles and miles of that famous Caribbean blue water and beach.) Other attractions include the Hato Caves, Curacao Sea Aquarium, Liquor Factory, Ostrich & Game Farm, Aloe Vera Park and Butterfly Gardens.
Shopping & Dining
Shopping opportunities are offered by many of the well-known Caribbean shops, but this is not a duty-free port. Purchases should be limited to souvenir items or local arts and crafts.
Restaurants are dotted throughout Willemstad. Take a seat on one side or the other of the waterfront and simply watch the other side and the boats going past as well the bridge swinging open.
If venturing beyond Willemstad, stop for lunch at Jaanchi’s Restaurant in Westpunt (the far end of the island) for Antillean food.
To do some advance planning, click on http://www.Curacao.com, the island’s official website.
Avid Cruiser contributor Art Sbarsky originally wrote this article for Vacation Agent Magazine