Georgina Cruz, a seasoned traveler and frequent Holland America Line guest, recently cruised to the Caribbean aboard the beautiful Koningsdam. Wondering if this cruise is your dream getaway? Read below for a peek into her tropical vacation!
My husband Humberto and I have always known about the joys of a Caribbean cruise: idyllic beaches, tropical forests, waterfalls, colonial architecture. On our latest adventure there, we appreciated it even more as we came to this fabled sea on the amazing Koningsdam, Holland America’s newest ship launched in the spring of 2016. It was the ideal combination: Caribbean and Koningsdam. Our 10-day Southern Caribbean Seafarer cruise was as easy as A-B-C (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) along with such idylls as Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic and Grand Turk in Turks & Caicos.
At Grand Turk, the weather was splendid: dazzling sun and 79 degrees. When guests managed to tear themselves from the white-sand, aquamarine beach for a couple of hours, options included a tram ride around the 7-1/2-mile long island in Turks & Caicos. The tour cruises along Duke Street to the tunes of soft calypso music and offers views of the island’s old Bermudian-style homes and of talcum-powder-sand beaches. Several stops are made at various points of interest including Cockburntown to browse for island crafts and souvenirs or visit the Botanical And Cultural Garden with native plants and a collection of cacti and succulents, and at salt ponds that date back to the 16th century, as well as at the Grand Turk Lighthouse with views of neighboring islands and friendly Grand Turk donkeys.
Other highlights of our voyage included the following: Amber Cove – this port, on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, near Puerto Plata, offers touring options that include several beach and snorkeling breaks to Coconut Cove and other 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. Ship-organized tours to Ocean World Adventure Park include a Day Pass for visitors who just want 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 Pirate’s Pool area. We took this tour and it was a fabulous tropical day!
Giving Back on Cruise With Purpose Tours
Two Cruise With Purpose tours, Holland America Line’s program inspired by 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 to thrive so it can hire more local women, providing critical income in a region with limited employment opportunities.
The second Cruise With Purpose tour, the Recycled Paper & Crafts Entrepreneurship, also in cooperation with Fathom Impact Travel, introduces participants to a recycling micro-business, RePapel, founded by women. Beautiful paper products and jewelry are just some of the products tour members help produce for sale – an opportunity to give back and make a difference in this community. Volunteers are an integral part of the organization, assisting with English-language skills and helping the women sell their products more effectively, thus assisting to provide critical income and to allow the women to expand their association as their business grows. At the end of the program at RePapel, there is time to browse among the variety of handmade crafts the Dominican women have created including brightly colored coasters, paper cards and jewelry that make lovely souvenirs.
It’s as Easy as ABC
Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, the so-called “ABC Islands” of the Netherlands Antilles, the centerpiece of the voyage, are always a Dutch treat coming on a Dutch ship like the Koningsdam and enjoying along the way such delights as Dutch split pea soup, Dutch almond cookies and Dutch apple pie. We had a luxuriously long call at Willemstad, Curacao – from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. so we set out to enjoy it all as it is, in our opinion one of the most picturesque cities 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 its floating market, the distillery making the world-famous Blue Curacao liqueur, institutions like the Kura Hulanda museum, Fort Amsterdam (now the home of the governor of Curacao), and the Queen Emma Bridge, a floating bridge that unites the east side of the city, the Punda, with the west side, Otrabanda. The picturesque pontoon bridge is affectionately called “the Swinging Old Lady of Curacao” by locals.
On this nice long visit, we revisited some highlights and also opted for something different and booked 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 also saw an adorable baby ostrich.
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 and sampled fresh aloe (tastes kind of like cucumber, very refreshing).
In Aruba, sightseeing opportunities included island tours that travel to scenic highlights including the California Lighthouse, Alto Vista Chapel, the ruins of the landmark natural bridge and Casibari Rock Formations. During a half-hour drive from the cruise pier in the capital of Oranjestad to the lighthouse, the tour passes through the island’s arid terrain (Aruba lies below the hurricane belt, off the coast of Venezuela), an ideal habitat for cacti and divi-divi trees that always point to the west in the direction of the trade winds that blow from the northeast (because of this convenient and beautiful feature it’s almost impossible to get lost in Aruba!).
Stops are made at the Alto Vista Chapel, a yellow structure in Dutch style that dates from the 18th century, and the “Baby Natural Bridge,” a small rock bridge carved by the wind and sea erosion – it is located next to the ruins of the famous larger bridge that collapsed in 2005 and had been an icon of the island. A final stop is made on this island tour at the Casibari Rock Formations, where giant boulders appear as if strewn about by a gigantic hand. A selection of snorkel and diving programs were available while in Aruba and many passengers opted for a visit to the island’s famed Palm Beach, a two-mile strip of talcum-powder-quality sands and aquamarine waters that often makes the “Top 10 Beaches of the Caribbean” lists. Palm Beach is home to high-rise hotels, restaurants and bars, and is dotted with water sports concessions, so passengers may opt for a day-room at one of the hotels for an idyllic and comfortable day at the beach, or simply wear their bathing suit under a cover-up and just go for a dip in the warm, crystal-clear water.
Known as a world-class diving center, Kralendijk, Bonaire is a boomerang-shaped island, encircled by a coral reef with more than 80 dive sites – and waters in the most glorious shades of blue. 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, and Seru Largu, atop a mountain for panoramic views of Kralendijk and the southern part of the island. As we made our way back to Kralendijk, we stopped at the salt pans with their pink color and towering white mounds offdry salt.
Stay tuned for guest Georgina’s impression of our magnificent Koningsdam.