If you asked me to name my favorite Caribbean islands, Curacao would be towards the top.
To be fair, if you asked me if any of the Caribbean islands were my favorite, I’d likely tell you yes – I have a hard time choosing favorites. I’m completely indecisive like that. There are places like St. Maarten, which we’ve visited more times than I can count and has such a fun story behind it’s history. There are places like St. Lucia, which we’ve only visited once but whose beauty is imprinted in the forefront of my memory as if it were yesterday. And there are places like Curacao, with it’s Dutch influences in every detail and corner turned on this small island, with it’s grandiose bridge and streets lined in colorful buildings.
The Carnival Sunshine was docking at the Mega pier in Willemstad as we were waking up, an early arrival after a late departure only possible because of the short distance between Aruba and Curacao. We didn’t have a full day here: we docked at 8:00 am and back onboard was called for 3:30 pm, but it was plenty of time for what we had planned.
As we caffeinated and ate breakfast, we talked through what we wanted to do: both of our previous visits to the island brought us in the late afternoon for evening visits, and we did the same excursion both times (a boat ride to Seaquarium Beach – highly recommend it, by the way – you can read about our last visit here). This was the first time we had any real time in Curacao while the stores were still open and we had hours of free time to fill however we wanted.
I knew I wanted to walk through Punda to find the floating market. I saw a vlog about it on YouTube and thought it would be fun. Mom wanted to go shopping and Stephanie just wanted to get back to the ship as soon as possible to get in some pool time. So once we finished our breakfast, we took some pictures up on deck 10 to get an idea of the direction we needed to head through before heading down to deck 0 to disembark.
The first thing you’ll notice about Curacao is the colors. It’s impossible to ignore. The island is swathed in a bright array of colorful hues that coat just about every surface. The second thing you’ll notice, though, is that unlike many of the other Caribbean ports of call, Curacao is quiet and extraordinarily well developed. When you leave the secure area at the pier, you won’t be hounded by taxi operators hocking tours or women wanting to braid your hair. Shop owners won’t follow you down the street to haggle prices and when you peruse the merch at the shops, you’ll generally be left alone. Tourism isn’t the main standard of industry in Curacao. It’s a large industry in Curacao, no doubt, but the island isn’t dependent on tourism for it’s jobs and revenue, so a visit to Curacao is a little different than a visit to, say, the Virgin Islands or Nassau.
After we disembarked, we followed the path from the ship to downtown, a popular route that’s easily marked to find. The path goes through the Renaissance resort and into a shopping area that was built around Fort Rif, a fort built in the mid 1800s to protect the St. Anna Bay and surrounding area. Curacao is a Dutch territory and you’ll find the European influence throughout the island in European cafes, porcelain shops and photo stops in wooden clogs.
We climbed up a flight of stone steps to the top of Fort Rif, which offers some nice views of the water and access to more shops.
The Queen Anna Bridge the Punda neighborhood isn’t far thereafter – a few hundred feet past a series of souvenir booths that line the street. Christmas decorations were still hung along the roads. This little island has a lot of holiday spirit!
We made it to the bridge just as it had opened to let boats pass through, so we had a 30 minute wait before we could cross. If you’re on the bridge when it closes, you’re SOL – you’re standing on that bridge until it closes again. If you are in a time crunch (or just don’t want to wait), you can take a ferry across the water for a dollar.
When the bridge was back in place, we made the quick walk into Punda. Punda is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Curacao, known for the brightly colored buildings with classic Dutch accents that line the streets. Once you cross the bridge, you can make a quick left to walk along the street that follows the water path and you’ll find the floating market. The floating market is just as it’s named – a market on the water, where farmers from nearby Venezuela will bring their crops and produce to Curacao and sell it on the water, right from their boats. The trip distance from Venezuela is just under 50 miles, and the trip takes four hours each way. You don’t even need to eat the fruits and vegetables to know how fresh they are – you can smell it from the sidewalks. We couldn’t buy anything – customs laws prohibit bringing fresh produce back onboard – but we found many locals buying fruit by the bag on the sidewalk, some even from their cars (the vendors would bring it from their stands directly to the car window!).
We continued our walk through downtown along the colorful side streets, stopping in a few boutiques to buy some sun dresses and souvenirs and admiring the bright hues around us.
The walk back felt quicker than the walk there. A direct walk to and from downtown should take no longer than 15 minutes (20 if you’re really taking your time). When we got back to the Renaissance Casino area, we detoured into the Tiffany & Co. at Little Switzerland so I could see if they had a bracelet I’ve been looking for (…they did not) before making one last stop at Starbucks for some very large, very iced beverages. We lingered more than we planned on – the wifi at Starbucks was lightning speeds compared to the crawling wifi back onboard – before making our way back to the port and taking a few last looks into the shops before reboarding the Sunshine.
We dropped our bags at the room and changed into our swimsuits, grabbing a quick lunch on Lido deck before settling in at the Serenity pool for a few hours.
As we approached back onboard time, we headed down to the promenade on deck 3 to watch the pier runners. Back onboard was 3:30 pm. As we got closer to 4:00 pm, it was so interesting to me to see how many people would take their time in shopping along the pier. There was a family that got out of a taxi at 3:45 pm and stopped in every shop along the way. When a member of the entertainment staff asked them if they knew they almost missed the boat, one of them said that they didn’t think they were serious about that. The ship didn’t leave anyone behind today, but more than a handful cut it very close.
We headed back to the room to rest and relax for a few hours. I woke up from my nap just in time to catch the sun start to set before we headed out to dinner (where the S’mores Parfait might be my favorite new item on the American Table menus).
We sat out on the promenade for a bit after dinner, walking off the heavy meal and enjoying the fresh air, before heading in. We strolled the shops and looked through all of the merchandise as if we hadn’t perused these shops a dozen times before. Our walk through deck 5 came to a stop at Ocean Plaza, where we enjoyed some of the live music and entertainment. Live music is one of the most underrated parts of cruising, and I really hope Carnival continues to embrace it. Throughout the ship – in the lobby, in Ocean Plaza, in the Havana Bar, in the Red Frog Pub – there’s live music every evening. Every bar, club and lounge has a different genre on stage and there’s something for everyone to enjoy (my personal favorite is the unplugged, acoustic sets played in the Red Frog Pub).
It’s been awhile since we enjoyed the piano bar, so we headed in that direction…and got sidetracked at karaoke. I can’t even remember the last time we sat in on karaoke and I’d totally forgotten how fun it is. It really just becomes one really big sing-along. After the fourth or fifth song, Stephanie and I checked the Fun Times to see if we’d stepped in on country music night, but no such thing – turns out our fellow cruisers just really enjoy country tunes!.
And as the night drew long and we headed back to the room, we walked past the piano bar. It was closed for a private function anyways. Next time. There’s always next time.