Port and Shore Excursions
The island of Aruba (http://www.cruisecritic.com/ports/newport.cfm?ID=2 ) has many tours. We thought about hopping aboard the Kukoo Kunuku party bus, going on the Balashi Brewery Tour, and finishing off by doing some shopping at the duty-frees. "4x4 ing" on the island also looked inviting. But, we settled on the Best of Aruba & Beach shore excursion as it would also leave us a couple of hours of power shopping.
We got on the bus to start our Best of Aruba & Beach tour at 12:30pm. Our tour guide, Alex, was also our motor coach driver. We drove past the airport, Balashi brewery, and salinization plant. The plant takes ocean water and makes it drinkable and also produces the islands electricity. As this increased the price of potable water, there was usually a 50 cent charge to use a public washroom.
Our first stop was at a rock formation which we climbed and had a view of the island. We purchased bottle water and bought a couple gifts -- nightgown and beach bag. Then bus drove past a cemetery with mausoleums that were brightly painted. Alex said that the last inhabitant were to be put at ease because the color was to match that of their house. Then headed to the arid side of the island (lots of cacti along the way) to see the land bridges, our second stop. Our third stop was the California lighthouse where had a $3 coconut with a straw. As we drove past the public beaches, there were a lot of tents. Apparently the locals come down to the ocean for two weeks as family groups to enjoy getting away from their normal living. The action on the island is at Palm Beach where the resorts are located and our final tour stop. We walked along the beach and found a couple of chairs to enjoy the sun and beach ambience before out hour was up.
Many people on the tour including ourselves got off the bus on main street to do some power shopping. We were restricted as some of the shops were not open on Good Friday. First, we went to Effy jewellery. We got our free peridot coupon necklace and purchased the matching earrings for $10. Then, we went to the market and bought another nightgown, bag, souvenirs, and a matching "leopard" purse set. The market seemed to have the best prices.
Before boarding the ship, I bought Oriens, a Van Cleef & Arpels parfum and Million, a Paco Rabanne eau de toilette, at Maggies in the cruise terminal because they were not on the cruise ship.
Aruba was our favorite stop from the four ports we visited.
Curacao is an Dutch island close to Venezuela (http://www.cruisecritic.com/ports/newport.cfm?ID=15 ). The Sea Aquarium tour looked inviting but we swam with the dolphins in Cuba and the sting rays in the Grand Cayman. We chose the Discover Curacao Island Tour will allow more time to enjoy the ambience of Curacao and some shopping, although the Double the Fun Tour had raving reviews.
Our 62 year old driver, Marcel, and talkative guide "Wa Wa" drove us around on the tour that started at 8:30am. Our first stop was an old Dutch army infirmary. Inside the main building was old mahogany furniture from when the island had mahogany and an organ donated by Queen Julianna. Another building had the front part of an old airplane engine. Then we went by the salinization plant and a variety of neighborhoods before arriving at the Hata limestone caves by the airport.
Edsel, the cave guide, instructed us that we had to climb 49 steps before entering the cave. Inside we saw stalactites, stalagmites, bats, water pools and interesting configurations. One of which looked like the Virgin Mary.
We proceeded over a tall arching bridge to the curcacao liqueur factory. Our favorite sample was the orange flavored one. We purchased the taster pack -- 5 flavors. At the gift shop on site we purchased a postcard and stamps. Curacao has colorful stamps that are delights for collectors and grandchildren.
On the bus ride back we composed our letter to our youngest granddaughter. We were part of the group that got off the bus by the roundabout rather than the ship. It saved walking time.
We walked across the pontoon bridge into the main shopping area. We used our Effy jewelry coupon again and got citrine pendants and we purchased the matching $10 earrings. We then went searching for the Post Office which was closed on Saturday, however, the mailbox was open. It was a good thing I had bought stamps.
On the way back to the ship, we walked into a few of the stores but we mostly window shopped. We also walked past the produce market and fish market. After we walked back over the bridge we stopped at a kiosk and bought a pink dress for our granddaughter. The Aruba labelled nightgown my wife bought for $14 cost $4 more because it had a Curcacao label at the street kiosks.
The only regret is that we never saw the beaches on Curcacao.
We had stayed in the Grand Turks previously for a week and had enjoyed the third largest barrier reef, walking on the beach around Grace Bay, Jo-Jo the dolphin, the conch farm, and the unique experience of driving on the left hand side of the road (British roadways). Using a suggestion from the cruise mates forum http://www.cruisemates.com/forum/ we were looking forward to relaxing close to Jack's Shack (#2 of 9 of restaurants) -- beach, lunch, drinks. There is even a free rum shot coupon from the bar's website http://www.jacksshack.tc/CouponPrinted.php
When you exit your cruise ship you walk on the wharf and then walk through Dufry's Duty Free Shops which is on the cruise line properties. There are a variety of other shops on the property.
We proceeded past the cruise line property along the beach to almost the next wharf to Jack's Shack. I used my coupon to have a free rum shot. The price of drinks is cheaper than Margaritaville.
Most cruisers enjoyed the sandy beach or went to Margaritaville http://www.margaritavillecaribbean.com/welcome_grandturk.html .
In reflection, we should have stayed on the cruise line property. Although we were interested in taking the historical shore excursion tour, one of the couple's that took the tour was not impressed with it.
La Romana is in the Dominican Republic (http://www.cruisecritic.com/ports/newport.cfm?ID=92 ). We had previously stayed at an all inclusive, now called Be Live Hamaca Beach in Boca Chica. We took a tour to Santo Domingo which highlighted the oldest church in the Americas, locations where Christopher Columbus stayed and where his son the governor ruled. That is why our decision was to take Altos de Chavon village tour (#3 of 16 attractions). Also, we will follow the advice of wearing walking shoes over the cobbled streets. It was designed by Oscar de la Renta
We walked to the bus that was designated to go to the Altos de Chavon village. Our tour guide, "Tony" -- Anthony Torres was very informative during the short bus ride (25 minutes) about the area of Casa de Campos.
As a group, our first attraction was the amphitheater. It was incredible. Next we walked through a courtyard where some of the locals were in dancing costumes and some were playing music near the amber museum. Some of the group took pictures posing with the dancers.
Although we were given 15 minutes in the museum, the confined space with a large group made breathing muggy. Some cruisers persisted in the area, especially those purchasing larimar and amber jewelry.
We were given 75 minutes of free time to explore. The number of indoor shops was limited, small in size, and expensive --linen, cigar, golf, artisan. There were two outside booths -- one selling dolls under a tree and the other a table of handicrafts. There were photo opportunities of the buildings, landscape, and a costumed man and his donkey. Even after having a beer at one of the 3 bars, we had too much time to kill.
When our "free" time was up, Tony took us to the church in the main courtyard and then took us to a historical museum about past inhabitants. We saw those during our free time.
Prior to catching the bus to return to the ship, I noticed three people on a golf cart. They were using a map of the area because they would look at the map and then point. I would have liked to have a map that showed the highlights.
We felt we did not get value for this tour and could not understand why the village was such a high ranked attraction.