Cruise To Aruba

We set off on our cruise by taking the train from Philadelphia to Miami. The train was on time, 70 % empty which is such a rarity at this time (Christmas) Our sleeper car was almost empty, except for the roomette across which was occupied by a somewhat elderly lady who talked on the phone a majority of the waking hours with a loud New York accent and never left her room even for meals, or to stretch out at station stops all during the 30 hour trip. I have to mention the fancy dining car which was all renovated and spacious. We spent a glorious 2 days in the South Beach area, (my favorite) with fabulous weather. Then onto the Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas the third day. This was the first time we had taken a cruise that was more than a week, this was 10 days, so of course there was a lot of elderly people, very cruise savvy, manoeuvering around expertly in their scooters. The ship itself, although grand was not so glamorous as the newer ones. Although it did have some wow features like a professional ice skating rink and a flow rider for water sporting events. First port of call was Labadee Haiti. We spent the day on the beautiful private island owned by RC. It was such a relaxing day amidst the natural beaches and stunning landscape. Activities besides swimming included 3 levels of zip lining and go karting. There was also a sumptous buffet lunch spread out in four different locations around the island. Next stop was Bonnaire. As soon as I stepped off the ship, I lost my hat in the sea. Oh well ! that’s what gift shops are for. The downtown area was right off the pier. As soon as we walked out, I was pleasantly surprised to see the pleasant chic shops that greeted us. Not the usual predators swooping down on us with their wares, like in most Caribbean nations I have been to. I was amazed at how clean, organized and sophisticated the town was. No seedy people hanging around in street corners waiting for tourists. The next day we docked in Aruba. I had heard so much of this island, it peaked my curiosity. Having had a taste of the Dutch influence in Bonnaire, I was not surprised to see the same kind of cleanliness and organization here. Our first stop was the Aloe factory . It was an interesting little enterprise with mostly hand driven machines. Our next stop was the American Rock, a very steep mountain with a spectacular view of the city. Being an organized tour, we all returned to the coach at the assigned time, except for one couple who also lost a hat while disembarking the ship. They kept us waiting while the lady was trying to choose the perfect hat. In the meantime another lady in the bus who was done eating the banana, asked the driver if she could go discard the peel on top of the rock, or should she use the garbage can ! Seriously ! Next we visited the black stone beach made of volcanic rock. Driving around the island, there were zillions of cactus, very arid land somewhat like Arizona, your friendly donkeys looking for food. The driver even joked that if you were ever to hit donkey with your car, the ambulance would first tend to the donkey !. And divers galore everywhere we went. No wonder it is called the Divers Paradise. There were pretty much all the American fast food franchises giving it a very American flavor, except for the Dutch architecture which was very distinct from the American style resorts around Momo beach. Curacao was the last port of call. It was the most Dutch looking of all the three islands. The Queens Bridge in Willemstadt had a spectacular view of the city, standing so high above. We stopped at the Curacao factory and briefly toured the manufacturing facility. I was looking forward to this since cuaracao happens to be my favorite liqueur. Of course it had a special tourist price, Super expensive !. The downtown area was clean, colorful and pulsating with tourists, shops, bars and restaurants all just outside the gangway. All in all, I was really impressed by the low rate of unemployment and crime in these Dutch assisted islands. They seem to be doing something right. From a tourist perspective, it felt so good to be walking around everywhere feeling safe and un-hindered.