Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Cruise 2017: Day 6, Curacao

It was hard to believe this was day 6--the longest cruise we've done before was 8 days, and the other three were 7 days, so usually we'd be on the last sea day. We still had tons more to do on this cruise!

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!
 I asked this guy if I could take a picture of him in his "booster" seat. He thought these seats were a little sketchy.

 You get a little tour of Curacao, with a short pause on "the bridge" so you can see the town. More on "the bridge" later.
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?!
 The company is called "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.
 Well, take that, Scooby Tours. I had thought ahead and brought a 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!

 Just a random plane in someone's back yard.
 A huge white building on a hill. I think it's the "Bon Futuro". Now, I don't speak Dutch, or Spanish, and obviously not the local dialect (they gave us some basics on the trip to the shop), but I would interpret that as "Good Future". Clicking on the spot on Google map changes it to "Curacao Centre for Correction and Detention". I like "Bon Futuro" better!
 Some great views, it's a more scenic island than the parts of Aruba that we saw. We had to stop a few times because someone's Polaris kept stopping. It was an interesting drive...several times one of the leaders would zoom past us all, on the wrong side, and stop at an intersection to block traffic. One of those times he barely made it back into our line before oncoming traffic. Oh, that was a moment of concern!! One of the repair stops was on a hill, in the sun. My camera's battery was showing it was almost dead! It seems the heat didn't agree with it. I had been taking videos trying to capture the wonderful sounds of our machine LOL.
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 zoomed along dusty paths and came to an area that looked like a lava field covered in garbage. And there was the ocean. We all stopped and got out. We were offered a complimentary bottle of water. The landscape was interesting; there were some blow hole type formations along the shoreline. But sooo difficult to walk around to get close. I was wearing sport sandals and I didn't want to venture too far, despite usually loving rock hopping.

 But where is the "secluded beach"? Maybe just up the trail, around the point?
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!
 Thankfully the goggles were large enough to go over my glasses! We were covered in dust, but hey--we're stopping at a secluded beach soon, right?
 We headed out again. Rob offered to let me drive but I declined, and I'm glad I did, because it did become much more "off road"!
 Doesn't he look happy? Except for being so hot.
 Lots of interesting landscape!

 We drove around, saw either a drag strip or a landing strip. Considering the family is Colombian, I'm guessing a landing strip.
 A view across Sint Jaaris Baai.

 Some shots of the MX Curacao Moto Cross Club track. Looked like fun but we weren't allowed there.

 A bit of mud and puddles! Whee!

At some point, it was determined that one of the machines really was dead and we had a long stop on the side of the road coming back. This plant was heavily frangranced. Lovely!

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...
 So I skedaddled over to find one lounger partly in the shade for Rob and I to share. My butt was so sweaty, and I was so dusty, so I went in the water in my new navy linen shorts. Then got out and set them out to hopefully dry LOL. They didn't!
 Awww. It was refreshing, though not in the same way swimming outside in Ontario is refreshing.
 I made this bikini/bra top for the trip and needed pictures. I was also wearing a neck cooler though it dried out so quickly on the off roading and I didn't want to use up my entire water on refreshing it.
 Aww! Happy 20 years!! I have no idea what that guy photobombing behind us was doing with his backpack.
 It was a lovely little beach, connected with paths to other resorts. We were at the Cabana Beach Club
 Rob noticed a couple of these fish swimming around us. Freaky.
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!
 You can see the bus on the Scooby Tours website.
 It was a nice tour back, past these houses that seem so small to us...
 Dutch-Caribbean architecture
 A grave yard. There are a lot of churches in Curacao too. We also learned that gas is really cheap, beer is really cheap, but water is expensive. So the natives have no problem driving everywhere, and drink beer instead of water.
 "The bridge" we were on earlier. The Queen Juliana Bridge. It's interesting.
We finally made it back to the ship around 2:10. The cold washcloths and water felt so good!
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.

I love boats/ships. I think it's mind boggling how they float. I also think it's mind boggling how planes fly, but I feel a little safer with ships LOL.
Again, more of these bells on the outside of a building. We got to hear them play a song, which was really neat. For our wedding (this day was our 20th anniversary), I had wanted church bells to ring. But we were getting married in an old school that didn't even have a real bell. So our sound man played a CD of church bells for our exit. Getting to hear real bells on our anniversary was a real treat!

We walked all around the "right side" to find Diet Coke in a can. It took a while. I didn't finish it--it was really cold and seemed way more carbonated that usual.  Eventually we came to a square and saw these girls sitting on this cow bench. It was cool, so when they got up, Rob sat down so I could take his picture. Well, someone wasn't too happy about that!!
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!
 I tried the escargots again. I will say I did not enjoy them as much as the first time I had them on a Royal Caribbean cruise. Not that I really enjoyed them then either. Just give the garlic butter sauce and forget the snails :)
 I had wanted to get our cake topper on our table as a surprise, but it was hard to get away from Rob at any point and I just didn't trust the staff to remember, or not lose it. He thought it was silly to have brought it, but everyone else liked it. The sommelier gave us complimentary champagne (even though we hadn't bought any wine the whole trip). Neither one of us liked it LOL.
 Fruit cannoli for dessert
 Another one of those theater shows. We quite enjoyed it, it was using all current music.
 What would a cruise ship show be without some acrobats? I read a complaint on a review about these shows. But really, what else is there? You've got comedians--someone will complain. Magicians--someone will complain. Cover groups--someone will complain. Long Broadway shows--someone will complain. Even if this type of show isn't your thing, you have to appreciate how hard these people work, how talented they are, and how well done the shows are. These are not some high school musical. They are full blown theater shows that you'd see in any big city.
 The Celebrity stage band. A little smaller than the bands on the Freedom class of Royal, but still--a live band! Many ships don't even have that! We saw the guitar player kick his amp at one point.
We were given this lovely chocolate mousse/torte/cake but were so stuffed we couldn't eat it. Took it back to our room and ate it for breakfast the next day, I think.

There  was a late night show this night "Late Night Mind Reading with Chad Chesmark". We noticed Erica near the stage, and her group was nominating someone to be on stage. I think it was her sister. She didn't look too pleased, and quite uncomfortable, but was still a good sport. Why do people do this---volunteer someone they know is not a good choice? I felt a little bad for her!