- CROSSING THE PANAMA CANAL WITH KIDS ON HOLLAND AMERICA EURODAM
- OUR FASCINATING/TERRIFYING DAY EXPLORING THE PANAMA CANAL
- BRIEF OVERVIEW OF OUR CRUISE STOPS IN CURACAO, ARUBA AND HALF MOON CAY (THIS POST)
This post is long overdue, but as they say, better late than never. Last Thanksgiving my family got a chance to take a 10-day cruise to the Panama canal. Obviously, the canal crossing was the star of the show, and the whole reason I booked this voyage in the first place. So, I’m happy to have experienced it. We have friends who went on Panama canal cruise, and due to some storms in the area, the captain decided to scrap it and go to Cozumel instead. Can you imagine?
Speaking of, we were supposed to stop in the port of Limon in Costa Rica, but it ended up being canceled due to various factors. But we plan to take the kids to Costa Rica later this year, so I wasn’t super upset. It is what it is, and it doesn’t pay to have your heart set on a particular port when going on a cruise.
Anyway, after Panama canal, we still had three more stops to make: Curacao, Aruba and Half Moon Cay. Here are my brief thoughts on all three.
A pleasant island close to South America, a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It’s famous for its colorful houses along the waterfront and interesting architecture, some of it dating to 17th century.
We decided not to take a tour through our cruise line, and instead hired a local guide. There are plenty available for hire right in the port, so no need to venture very far. It worked out to be $160 for 5 hours of sightseeing. I thought that was fair.
It would have cost us close to $200 if we went through Holland America, and we would have had to share a bus with twenty people. So we went the private route, and I recommend you do the same. The more people you can cram into a van, the cheaper the price per person.
Our tour guide was a very nice local lady. She told us about the history of the island, as well as some local traditions. Curacao has a very low crime rate, a rarity in the Caribbean. In fact, she was joking that her husband (a police officer) got fat over the years since there isn’t anything for him to do.
I’ve heard that Hato Caves is a must-see in Curacao, so of course we had to go there:
My verdict: interesting, but I’ve seen better. Also, be aware that it’s very hot inside the caves.
Probably my favorite part of of the tour was seeing flamingos in their natural habitat. Apologies for poor quality photo.
After we were done driving around Curacao, our guide dropped us off in the capital of Willemstad, where we did some shopping. Due to rainy weather, we didn’t get a chance to check out any local beaches. But I’ve heard they are lovely.
All in all, I give Curacao a thumbs up. It had a unique vibe compared to other Caribbean islands I’ve been to. Would I fly there for a land-based vacation? Perhaps, if the deal is good enough. Though I prefer Puerto Rico and St. John when it comes to scenery.
Keep in mind that you have limited flight options, and will likely have to fly through Miami on American Airlines.
We only had a few hours here, so I took the kids shopping for souvenirs and my husband stayed on the ship. Once again, the weather was rainy, but it didn’t dampen my kids enthusiasm for buying more junk.
At one point I was lured into some beauty shop where a guy tried to convince me that I need a certain miracle cream. I just wanted to escape, so I asked him how much it was, thinking I’ll get a jar for $20 and be on my merry way. He said it’s $1k. Do I look like someone who spends $1k on creams? Spoiler alert! I do not.
So, not much I can say about Aruba other than it’s apparently normal for tourists there to drop $1k on face creams. But based on what I’ve seen, Aruba is totally skippable IMO. It struck me as a busier, more fancy cousin of Curacao. Just not my cup of tea.
Again, I haven’t seen the rest of the island, so do your own research.
Half Moon Cay
Love, love, love it! Out of all the private islands owned by cruise lines, this one is my favorite. They haven’t yet ruined it by building a water park, and I hope it stays that way. It’s just a beautiful place, with an absolutely gorgeous beach.
Using chairs is free, but costs $25 to rent an umbrella, which is what we did. My husband had skin cancer, so we don’t mess around with stuff like that. I started chatting with a lady next to us, and turned out, she was the wife of our cruise captain.
My kids had an absolute blast here.
I also went ahead and paid $25 per person for a stingray experience. If you’ve done it in Grand Cayman, this won’t really compare. However, it was convenient, and the price was reasonable IMO. We first had to take a trolley to the cove where they keep the stingrays.
Snorkeling gear rental is included in the price:
My kids loved petting the stingrays:
We got our lunch on the island, provided at no extra cost by the cruise line. All in all, I give Half Moon Cay thumbs up, way up. Highly recommended, as long as the weather cooperates.
To me, one of the appeals of cruising is the ability to “sample” different places. Some may view only having a few short hours in port as a negative, and I get that. You certainly won’t get the whole picture on what the place is truly like once the cruise ship hordes aren’t in town. But sometimes you know an island isn’t your cup of tea right away. Fortunately, there are other ports ahead and at least you didn’t invest your entire vacation in a place that doesn’t appeal to you.
On the other hand, if you like a certain island, you can always fly there and explore it at a slower place in the future.
How does my family travel so much? We use miles and points from credit card bonuses. See my Travel Hacking 101 post as well as current credit card offers here.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.
Good review, thanks.
Haven’t been on ABC islands yet, but judging by your review and other input I think Aruba and Curacao are on par in terms of scenery/vibe/things to do. I’d much prefer the beaches of Puerto Rico, Caymans, Bahamas and Half Moon Cay (of cause) – it just depends if one goes for snorkeling or just pleasant sea swimming and unspoiled beach.
St Kitts and St Lucia both have nice scenery but not many beaches, so those are good spots for scenic drives, hikes. San Juan is unbeatable champion in terms of historic old town in the whole Caribbean: both in scale and beauty, plus lowest prices as well.
Bermuda is in its own category, its super safe there, it’s part of Great Britain and have many gorgeous swimming places, plus Hamilton is really nice town to stroll. Local bus is only $2-3 to take a round-trip tour. Cristal Caves are one of the best caves around. Fortunately not many cruise ships go to Bermuda, so the place is relatively unspoiled.
@Aleks Yes, Aruba and Curacao appear to be similar. I would say that Aruba seems to be more touristy, which makes sense since it has many more flights to the US. I think it’s a perfectly nice island, I just don’t feel compelled to go back. But I know many love it.
St. Kitts and St.Lucia are on my list of places I’d like to visit. Maybe we can do a cruise from San Juan that includes both of the islands. Puerto Rico is an amazing place, very underrated. I keep thinking we need to fly there at some point. My husband and I are planning to fly to Saba in a few months, so I’m looking forward to that. That’s definitely off-the-beaten-path kind of Caribbean.