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Bonaire (Photo:byvalet/Shutterstock)

What Are the ABC Islands?

Bonaire (Photo:byvalet/Shutterstock)
Contributor
Melinda Crow

Last updated
Feb 9, 2024

Read time
7 min read

Welcome to the enchanting world of the ABC Islands in the Caribbean, a trio of sun-kissed islands awaiting exploration. Comprising Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, these three islands collectively form the ABCs, a tropical paradise with unique charms and vibrant cultures. Nestled in the deep southern Caribbean, each island boasts its own distinct character.

From Aruba's powdery beaches and desert landscapes to Bonaire's underwater wonders as a diver's haven and Curacao's rich blend of European and Caribbean influences, the ABC Islands offer a diverse palette of experiences for cruisers.

Cruise Critic has unraveled the secrets of the ABC Islands for you, exploring a bit about what makes each island a captivating destination. We'll look at which cruise lines visit the ABCs and what you might do on each island.

Aruba: The "A" in the ABC Islands

Aruba (Photo: Steve Photography/Shutterstock)

Aruba is the most popular tourist destination among the ABC Islands, and the farthest west. You're likely to find more ABC Islands cruises that include Aruba than either of the other two, with many cruise lines including it on sailings from South America or even the Western Caribbean.

Aruba is officially a fully independent constituent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The official currency is the Aruban Florin, but the U.S. Dollar is widely accepted, as are credit cards. Residents speak Dutch, Papiamento (an Afro-Portuguese Creole), English, and many also speak Spanish or French.

What to Do in Aruba on an ABC Island Cruise: Beaches, Boats and Off-Road Adventures

Beaches line the shorelines of Aruba, and in many areas, large resorts line the beaches. Eagle Beach, consistently ranked among the world's best, offers a tranquil escape with its powdery sands and gentle trade winds. Cruise passengers can indulge in water activities or simply relax under the shade of swaying palm trees.

Beyond the beaches, Aruba's rugged interior unfolds with desert landscapes and unique rock formations. Arikok National Park invites explorers to see the island's diverse flora and fauna, including indigenous species like the iconic Divi Divi trees and the vibrant Aruban Burrowing Owl. Both Aruba and Bonaire have ethical donkey sanctuaries to visit.

Off-road excursions provide an exhilarating journey through the island's untamed beauty. If getting out onto the water is more your style, choose from speed boats to leisurely kayaks.

Oranjestad, Aruba's capital, is a vibrant hub of Dutch-influenced architecture, lively markets, and colorful pastel-painted buildings. Cruise passengers can stroll along the bustling streets, exploring local shops, cafes, and capturing the perfect Instagram-worthy shots of the iconic Willem III Tower.

Finding ABC Island Cruises to Aruba

Dock on Palm Beach, Aruba on a Sunny Spring Afternoon (Photo: Jo Ann Snover/Shutterstock)

There are deals on cruises to Aruba often, which are often a bit seasonal in nature. Cruise lines that visit Aruba most frequently include mainstream lines like Carnival, MSC, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian. You'll also find alternative cruise lines like Star Clippers, Explora Journeys and Virgin Voyages.

Premium and luxury lines like Windstar, Oceania, Emerald, Silversea, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas and Azamara tend to visit the ABC Islands during the winter months.

Bonaire: The "B" in the ABC Islands

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If Aruba is the bustling wild west of the ABC Islands, Bonaire is the shy, quiet cousin. It is the easternmost island of the trio and the smallest. The terrain is mountainous and the shorelines primarily rocky remnants of reefs and volcanic rock, rather than sandy beaches.

Dutch influence is heavy here, and even though the island has its own government and accepts the U.S. dollar as its official currency, Bonaire is still a special municipality of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. You'll find Dutch spoken on the island in addition to the native Papiamento. Signage is primarily in Dutch. Most residents also speak English fluently.

What to Do in Bonaire on an ABC Island Cruise: Diving, Birding and Wind-driven Fun

Bonaire (Photo:byvalet/Shutterstock)

While sandy beaches are not abundant on Bonaire, there are stretches where sand and rock come together for easy access to the turquoise waters for those who enjoy beach sitting, but water shoes are a must.

Beach break excursions are found at resorts offering loungers, as well as food and drinks. But don’t expect as many high-rise flashy resorts as you might experience on Aruba. Resorts on Bonaire are considerably more low-key.

Active water sports rule the list of things to try while your cruise ship is docked in the port of Kralendijk. The wind rarely stops blowing on Bonaire. There's a shallow bay dedicated to wind surfing, a safe zone for learning to kite surf and mangroves to kayak through.

Both scuba diving and snorkeling can be arranged from boats, but the beauty of visiting Bonaire is that the reefs are swimmable right from shore. Rent or buy gear from the local dive shops, look for the yellow rocks that mark entrances and walk right in. Local guides are available to hire for shore diving if you are hesitant to head out on your own.

Landlubbers can enjoy historic tours, safe, walkable shopping from the pier or perhaps birding tours seeking flamingos or the native, yellow-shouldered Amazon parrot or "lora" as they are called in Papiamento. There are five lighthouses to find and photograph along with pink salt pans framed by mountains of white salt awaiting the next transport ship.

The more adventurous can arrange hiking, biking, or four-wheel driving tours in the national park. There are cave tours (including cave snorkeling) and land surfing. Many of these activities can be arranged through excursions, but cruisers can also rent a car, pickup or even a golf cart for the day and drive themselves. It's an easy island to explore independently.

Finding ABC Island Cruises to Bonaire

Arriving at Bonaire at the Capital of Bonaire, Kralendijk in this Beautiful Island of the Caribbean Netherlands (Photo: Paulo Miguel Costa/Shutterstock)

Cruise lines that visit Bonaire include most of those we listed for Aruba, plus lines that cater to Europeans like Costa and P&O. You'll also find Ponant and Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection cruising the ABC Islands with stops in Bonaire.

Curacao: The "C" in the ABC Islands

Views Around Knip Landhouse and Beach on the Caribbean Island of Curacao (Photo: Gail Johnson/Shutterstock)

As your cruise ship docks in the vibrant Caribbean port of Curacao, prepare to be enthralled by the unique charm of this populous island within the ABC Islands trio. Nestled between Aruba and Bonaire, Curacao unfolds as a kaleidoscope of colors, culture, and captivating landscapes, ensuring an enriching experience for cruise passengers.

The port of Willemstad is in the capital of Curacao, which is Willemstad. The capital city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its iconic pastel-hued Dutch colonial architecture. As cruise passengers disembark, they'll find themselves immersed in a lively tapestry of history and modernity. The Queen Emma Bridge, a floating pontoon bridge, adds to the picturesque scene and connects the two sides of the city, offering breathtaking views of the harbor.

Like Aruba, Curacao is a fully independent constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The official currency is the Antillean (or Caribbean) Guilder. U.S. Dollars are widely accepted, but change may be in Guilders. Language is rarely a problem. Most native speakers speak both Papiamento and English.

What to Do in Curacao on an ABC Island Cruise: Beaches, Watersports, History and Geology

Curacao (Photo:Sorin Colac/Shutterstock)

Curacao's beaches are part of the island's natural beauty and are often tucked away between hillsides. From the popular Mambo Beach with its vibrant atmosphere to the secluded Grote Knip with its crystal-clear waters, cruise passengers have plenty of options for sun-soaked relaxation or aquatic adventures.

Snorkeling and diving enthusiasts will be captivated by the underwater wonders, including vibrant coral reefs teeming with marine life. Both are possible from shore with a little research. Local guides will supply gear and transportation.

Venture beyond the coastal delights, and Curacao reveals a diverse landscape featuring desert terrain and limestone cliffs. The Hato Caves, with their stalactite formations and hidden chambers, offer a fascinating journey into the island's geological wonders. Look for off-road adventures as well as fascinating bus tours.

Curacao's cultural richness is showcased in its museums, craft markets, and local festivals. The Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, one of the oldest synagogues in the Americas, stands as a testament to the island's religious diversity.

Finding ABC Island Cruises to Curacao

Celebrity Millennium

In addition to the lines we've already mentioned, look for Curacao on sailings with Princess, Holland America and Celebrity throughout most of the year.

Publish date February 09, 2024
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