Wednesday Oct 11 was our 20th wedding anniversary and we wanted to celebrate by doing something different. We've always shied away from more adventurous excursions because of horror stories of accidents and insurance companies that won't pay due to "extreme activities" clauses. But we were going to throw caution to the wind. We watched the Excursions TV channel, read the "pamphlet" with all the listings. We saw one for "Mini Jeep Adventure and Beach: Discover the sights and surroundings of Curacao as you navigate a mini Jeep through the untamed wilderness. Ride along the coast and arrive at a secluded beach that's waiting to be enjoyed." I grew up 4x4ing. We did an off road adventure in Jamaica on our second cruise, but weren't drivers. I didn't want to do an adventure where I'd be driving an ATV solo, but the info with this tour sounded great. Two people per "mini Jeep."
But what is a "Mini Jeep"?! I grew up in a Jeep household, going off-roading, with a local club and with just family. I had never heard of a mini Jeep, but we knew vehicles down here were different. We watched the "commercial" for the outing on the TV channel for Excursions. It didn't really show anything. So we went to the Shore Excursions desk to inquire.
Once again, she looked up the excursion and had no more info than the booklet. I just found the excursion on the Celebrity website, and they do show side-by-sides, and they also mention a secluded beach. All the Excursions desk could tell us was three hour trip, two people per mini Jeep, must take a driver's license if you want to drive. Wear bathing suits under our clothes because there's no amenities at the beach. It was listed as a "Manager's Recommendation" so we felt it should still be really good, even if they didn't have all the info at the desk. We booked the earliest time, 8:30am. Yeah, the morning after our booze cruise LOL. However, as quick and as strong as the open bar hit me when I got off the catamaran, it was short lived, and thankfully did not induce much (if any) of a hangover.
We got up bright and early, dressed in our bathing suits and suitable off-roading clothes. Water bottles, towels and waterproof camera rounded out our bag. Went to find our meeting place, we're just about set to go and an older man asks if he'll need his driver's license. It's in the booklet. It's on the excursion ticket. His daughter wanted to hold up the group while he went back on the ship to get it, but our leaders started walking us towards the bus.
The bus had free wifi. I didn't bring my phone because "no amenities" included "no wifi" to me.
We got on the bus and I thought, how are we going to fit this whole group in here? Well. What I thought was a little table to use in your seat, was actually a tiny seat that gets folded down over the aisle.
So, if your bus is full, and you need to evacuate in a hurry? Seats across the aisle. Yeah. If you have mobility issues, be the last to board, not the first. Why would someone with a mobility issue go "mini Jeeping"? Why not? Some people in this group were not who I would have expected on this excursion!
So we go off through town and come to a resort strip and the bus goes into one to point out the Curacao Sea Aquarium, and then they mention something about "the beach later". We pull up in front of a building with a line of side-by-side ATVs outside. What?!
"Scooby Tours" . They also rent scooters! We were told to go inside, stay away from the Polarises and wait. Of course, half the group didn't listen and went out and put their stuff in them.
It was a pretty bare bones operation.
Apparently, they were down two side-by-sides. However, they had two 4 seater vehicles, and would anyone like to partner up? Of course, no one was volunteering. We had paid for the opportunity to have two people possibly drive, not four people. They then offered to have some volunteers head to the beach portion first and then join the next tour later. But, we mumbled, the beach is secluded. How would we get there? Would they forget us? No one volunteered. There were one or two groups of six people, and finally some of them agreed to take the 4 seaters, as long as they got some money back. Scooby was fine with that. I'd be interested in knowing if they ever did get money back.
Then we had the safety talk. Stay close together so no one cuts into our caravan. At one point, we'll stop and that'll be when we need to put on our goggles (provided) and our bandanas. What? No one told you you need a bandana? Curacao is a desert island! It's going to be dusty! How lucky for us, they were selling Curacao flag bandanas at a bargain price of $5, compared to $15 at the souvenir shops. Of course, we don't have to buy one, but we'll need one. Uh huh.
Buff, because I knew what dusty Jeep Hair is all about (okay, mine wasn't a "real" Buff, but it was one I bought, not one of the ones I made).
So, of course, Rob was going to be the driver. I was looking forward to driving a "mini Jeep" but not a Polaris side-by-side. Even if it was automatic. I didn't know how far we had to go through town. I wanted to enjoy the trip, not be anxious and scared with driving. And it's a good thing too. The Polaris stalled before we even left the parking lot. And then the backfiring started. OMG. It was so loud and lurchy. And then we noticed the ATV in front of us had no brake lights. And the one in front of them had their right turn signal on the entire trip. The ATV behind us did not seem to want to be close to us LOL.
Lucy had been saying "It's lit" a lot prior to the trip so I had to get a picture of this sign!
We drove past signs for an Ostrich farm, and an Aloe farm. If you look at Google Maps, you can see that, on the east coast, near the Sint Joris Baai. At one point we stopped at a construction area with gates, and then entered. This was the start of the off-road portion, but the first part was still a (construction) road.
We had a nice chat with the tour guide. Most of the garbage gets washed ashore. So many single shoes! The tides aren't very high here, only around 1.5ft difference. We talked about tourism, hurricanes and how close we were at that moment to Bonaire. And also about the landowners. A family from Columbia apparently owns most of the eastern part of Curacao, including where we were. The matriarch watches the entrance gate closely and charges something like $10 per buggy. Don't really want to mess with her!
So, we had a similar drive back to the shop, with the guides zooming in oncoming traffic to get ahead to block intersections. Our machine was still backfiring. Fun.
We pull back up to the shop, shut down, dust off, gather round our guide. It's about 11:30 at this point. This was supposed to be a three hour excursion. He says it's time to go to the beach portion.
What?! We follow him across the road to one of the resorts. He's unsure of what we have included, and asks us if loungers were included. What?! It was supposed to be a secluded beach! Someone said "no" but we should have said yes LOL. He pointed out a few loungers he thought would be for us--not nearly enough for our group. And said he'd be back to get us at 1:40. What?! An older man pointed out that we were supposed to be done at 11:30. The guide didn't know anything about that, but have fun--there's showers, restaurant, beach...
Cabana Beach Club.
We were hungry, but Rob had only a bit of money. We walked up the path, through another resort, and found a Starbucks. That was the best cold creamy coffee concoction I have ever had. We had just enough cash LOL. And no phone to use the wifi.
We headed back to the meeting place at the specified time. I was caffeinated but still hungry. We get led to our bus for the trip back. A school bus with chopped out windows!
The Queen Juliana Bridge. It's interesting.
We enjoyed our excursion, though it was not at all what we were expecting. But could we "complain"? We got more than two extra hours...but missed lunch, and what if we had booked an afternoon excursion? They weren't "mini Jeeps" but really, we were pretty certain there would be no such thing. The beach wasn't secluded and without amenities and we couldn't take advantage of some of the amenities because we weren't prepared, based on what we had been told. So, if you're reading this in advance of a cruise to Curacao, take note, and investigate a bit more. Ask at the Excursions desk and push for answers. I'm not sure how this could have been a "Manager Recommended" excursion, when it was so different than the little blurb in the pamphlet. Not just a little different, but very, very different. I worried that some of the older people might even be missing their medications because we were gone over the lunch period, when we should have been back at 11:30.
After getting back on board, we got some lunch. I had to convince Rob to head out to explore the city and especially the Queen Emma Pontoon bridge. He wasn't keen on going, but I was still hoping to find Del Sol for souvenirs.
The port shopping map, once again, is seriously lacking. We had an idea of where to head, but no map. There was a path, but it seemed to go in to the Renaissance Resort.
We walked along a street, zig zaging in the general direction of the river (actually a bay). At one corner I looked down and saw something we never thought much about--the difference in roadkill between Ontario and the Caribbean. This was a squashed iguana. Yeah. They're like squirrels there!
We eventually came out along the water and saw the pontoon bridge. We knew there was a ferry to take across once the bridge opened, so we found it and went across.
As soon as the bell rang, we crossed over the Queen Emma Bridge. It was like something from a commercial...one group of people coming from one side, another group coming from the other side and meeting in the middle. I felt like both groups would stop at the middle, face each other, and break out into song and dance!
We got ready for our anniversary dinner!