We visited Aruba on New Year's Day which was great since there was little traffic since most locals were at home and day to day businesses were closed. We were able to get around quickly and enjoy the sights. After disembarking, we waited in a quick moving taxi stand and hired a van for 2 hours ($90 for 4 persons) to tour the island. We toured local neighborhoods with colorful traditional Dutch homes. We visited historic sites such as the outdoor church Alto Vista, Casibari Boulders Clusters, and the California Lighthouse. All these locations offered incredible views of the island and ocean. There was a nice Italian restaurant near the California Lighthouse parking lot that sat on the edge of a cliff that had arresting views of the beaches to the south and supposedly a great view of the sunset, but it was only open for dinner.
Our taxi van deposited us at our requested Eagle Beach. The beach had soft white sand and warm turquoise water. We rented a jet ski and had a blast riding the calm waters. Eagle Beach is less crowded than the more popular Baby Beach. Since it was a holiday, only one restaurant was open. Otherwise, there would have been plenty of dining and shopping opportunities.
Obtaining a beach chair or lounger or space under a shady grass umbrella was a bit of a challenge since most empty ones belonged to a hotel. The ski jet rental gave us 2 free chairs to relax on since there was a wait for the jet ski. We used them the entire visit.
At port was a small town which offered again the typical tourist souvenirs. For cheaper prices on T-shirts, trinkets, or tote bags we visited an open air market nearby.
We would visit Aruba again for the lovely beaches (comparable to Grand Cayman) and friendly islanders.
Curacao was our first southern port. Try to be on deck or on your balcony when you come to port because the island has lots of character. We took a short walk to the World Heritage Site that is Curacao's historic downtown Wilemstad. Before you get to downtown you walk through Rif Fort which is now full of nice shops. Be sure to go upstairs for a lovely view. To reach downtown, you cross the famous swinging lady bridge or you can take a free ferry. Wilemstad's bright pastel buildings were pretty from afar but the rest of the downtown shopping area was worn down. It has the typical overpriced jewelry and perfume shops and cheap T-shirt souvenir stores. I didn't see any Dutch pottery for sale that is noted in tour books.
We paid $15/person ( a bargain) to take a local 2 hour tour of part of the island which included touring the Curacao Liqueur Factory and a beach stop. The driver and tour guide were very friendly and happy to share the island's history.
Since our ship didn't depart until 10pm, we ate a traditional Dutch stew in downtown right on the water. We enjoyed the colorful lights, island music, and local vibe.
I would return to Curacao in the future for a longer stay.
Princess Cays in the Bahamas was on par with Royal Caribbean/Celebrity private island Labadee. Disney's Castaway Cay is still the best. For Princess Cays, a big negative was that everyone had to tender to get to the island which was ok but there were long lines if you chose to tender at the same time everyone else does. Since it was our first day, we slept in and didn't have much of a wait since we tendered after 11am. I recommend tendering back late after the crowds leave so you can enjoy the beach and ocean without standing in a long line.
On Princess Cays there were several attractive beaches. Luckily, no seaweed that we experienced last April at Labadee. The private bungalows were attractive but sold out. I never see much use for them.
The BBQ buffet was typical with lots of fresh fruit. All the cruise lines need to improve the lunch quality and offerings on these private islands.
We finally found 2 lounge chairs under a shady palm and watched the kids play on rental tubes. Just outside the compound was a local open air market where local sold their wares. Most of the ideas looked like they were made in China. What happened to the homemade items sold on the islands years before?
There were enough bars that of course closed up tight 1-1/2 to 2 hours before the ship left port which is so annoying (All the cruise lines do this). Staff said they close the bars and buffet early so they can get all the supplies back on the ship. I think it's to discourage passengers from getting too drunk and force them back on the ship early.
Overall, Princess Cays provided pretty beach day.