“ABC, as easy as 123…” I couldn’t get the Jackson 5 song out of my mind when writing this post.
I recently sailed with Royal Caribbean on the Navigator of the Seas to Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao, a group of Dutch islands in the Caribbean and coined the ABC islands for short. Labadee, Haiti was an additional port of call, and one I had been to several times before on my sailing ventures with this cruise line.
Cruises were a popular way to vacation growing up. Raised in South Florida, the Fort Lauderdale and Miami ports where the cruise ships sail in/out of were a stone’s throw away. With extended family usually joining, there was something for everyone, young and old. The last cruise I went on, I had to be in my late teens, so it has certainly been awhile. I was now cruising as a married adult, and this was going to be my husband’s first time ever on a cruise ship. When it comes to planning a fun vacation, my husband and I usually opt for something a bit more adventurous and dive into planning all the details ourselves. This time around, we wanted something easy. With a cruise, lodging and food is something you don’t have to budget for (note: there are beverage and dining packages offered for an additional cost for anything outside of the complimentary dining). Entertainment can be found right on the ship every day and night, including live shows, dancing, a spa, shopping, numerous bars and a casino. They also provide assistance with booking shore excursions with ease both online prior to departure or on the ship.
Like mentioned, I had been to Haiti before, but the ABC islands were going to be new territory explored. I included my likes and dislikes in this post because we definitely had mixed emotions after our cruise that we were able to reflect on. Would we do it again, yes! But we would probably go for a shorter period of time (this cruise was a 9-night/10-day voyage). Keep reading to learn more about our experience!
Our first port of call! Royal Caribbean actually owns the port of Labadee (so no other cruise ships dock there) which lends to a more exclusive experience. There was a good amount of shore excursions to choose from, including the world’s longest zip line over water. My husband and I opted out of these activities, and instead enjoyed drinks on the beach, sunbathing, and relaxation. We rented a beach cabinet (half-moon canopies with lounge chairs) and made that our post for the duration of the day. We didn’t stray too far from our set up aside from lunch and visiting the artisan market. The lunch was offered through Royal Caribbean, which served BBQ buffet style and the artisan market had locals showcasing their colorful craft from hand weaved straw hats to widdled wood figures and hand painted pottery. Despite the activities that we could have done at our first port of call, we were not disappointed with our decision, it was exactly what the doctor ordered. Another round of mojitos please and thank you.
Aruba is known for its colorful “gingerbread houses” brightly painted in Caribbean hues! It is an island that has a landscape more arid and desert-like (quite opposite to Haiti). We decided to do a snorkeling tour for our excursion that day. The first location we visited to snorkel was sub-par in my opinion. We didn’t see too many exciting or colorful fish but getting in the cool water in the high temps was a nice relief. The second location was the SS Antilla, one of the Caribbean’s largest shipwrecks. The water was quite choppy and violent while at this location, but that didn’t stop us from jumping in! It was my first time viewing a shipwreck, and it was equal parts eerie and thrilling! We didn’t spend too long in this location, as many other snorkel excursions venture out that way too. But it was something both my husband and I enjoyed. We had some time afterwards to grab lunch and explore the beach. I would have to say this was our least favorite port. It was incredibly touristy, and the snorkeling didn’t live up to our expectations. I think if I were to visit Aruba again, I would fly there and explore the island in its entirety.
Three times a charm, because port #3 was our favored destination! We decided to venture off and plan our own excursion this day. Be sure to note, this is typically not advised by the cruise lines, mainly because they have trusted vendors they work with that are aware of the cruise lines time constraints. But we felt confident with our research we would have zero issues. For this port of call, we wanted to incorporate some more adventure and have some freedom outside of a guided tour to explore as we saw fit. Upon disembarking the cruise ship (we made sure we were one of the firsts off the boat) we rented a car, a vehicle we had pre-reserved prior to our travels, and headed out towards Christoffel National Park. This is a 4,450-acre wildlife preserve that is approximately 23 miles NW of Willemstad (where the port is located). Upon entering the park, you are met with a checkpoint and will incur a nominal fee for park entrance. Our goal was to hike to the highest point on Curacao, Mt. Christoffel! Be advised that the park is very strict and will only allow hikers to do this if you set out early enough in the day. The heat can be lethal. We enjoyed the hike through the dry, rocky terrain and soaked in the cool breeze once reaching the top. It certainly was one helluva view! This hike was not crowded at all and it took us roughly about 2 ½ hours. We could have definitely spent more time at the summit, but we also knew we were limited on time, so we had to savor the short time we had and head back towards Willemstad. On our drive back towards the port city, we stopped at several beaches that sprinkle the coastline of the island, and they are some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. Water so blue it looks otherworldly. We found one beach that had a cove and decided to take a dip! We so wished we had more time to discover each beach, but it will have to wait until next trip. Once we reached Willemstad, we grabbed some smoothies for lunch (they had so many fresh fruit stands – even a floating produce market) and of course took some photo opportunities on the infamous Queen Emma Bridge. Fun fact: this is a pontoon bridge, which means it is hinged and opens regularly for vessels. We loved everything about this island and plan to revisit in the future! It was beautiful and I highly recommend it!
This was our last port of call and the most colorful when it came to our snorkeling adventure! Bonaire is known as a “Divers Paradise” with more than 86 unique dive sites. Colorful fish, vibrant and thriving coral reefs, and crystal clear blue waters made for a truly remarkable experience. We booked our snorkel excursion through Royal Caribbean and could not recommend the vendors enough – Seacow Snorkeling. A family owned operation, they were incredibly knowledgeable and took us to a couple amazing sites. Our favorite location was Klein, a small uninhabited island about a ½ mile offshore that is protected by the national park. With shallow reef illuminated by the sunlight to a wall of coral stretching vertically about 10 feet before a very steep drop off into the deep blue sea, it offered all kinds of vantage points for spotting marine life. I will say it was a bit nerve-wracking to swim by the drop off, not knowing what was lurking below, but I did feel incredibly safe the entire time. After our snorkel trip, we had time to explore the island a bit and headed to lunch on the beach. We ate some fish tacos while sipping some tropical beverages and soaked in the sun at our final port. We still had a couple days at sea before docking in Miami, so the vacation technically wasn’t over, thankfully! I would love to someday get my scuba diving certification so I can have even more up close and personal oceanic experiences, but my ears always seem to give me trouble, even when snorkeling. Bonaire is a destination that slid right into second place as our favorite island (following Curacao) … a lot was left unseen and we look forward to the opportunity to travel there again in the future.
Navigator of the Seas
Although a large ship offering tons of activities for every age, there were definitely some things that we found less than desirable. But let’s start off with the good stuff shall we! The promenade offered a nice assortment of shops as well as several bars and the café where you can get snacks and/or beverages at any time of day/night. It was pretty in décor and I enjoyed the live music they played there in the evenings. When it comes to dining, there are two main restaurants on board: the Sapphire dining room and the Windjammer buffet. The Windjammer is great for a bite on the go, but don’t expect a 5-star dining experience (think: casual cuisine). In contrast, you can dine in the Sapphire which has a very classic, Titanic-like feel with oversized chandeliers and a dress code. We looked forward to dining there every night for dinner. The food was always great, and you are able to request the same server each night – we really enjoyed ours and felt like we saw a friend each night for dinner. There are a few extra charge specialty restaurants, but we were content with the ones included in our fare. In regard to activities, there really is no room for boredom. From a rock climbing wall, to a Flowrider (my husband was obsessed), to the spa, gym, pools, basketball courts, arcade, mini golf, casino, ice skating rink… you catch my drift. Your days could be spent doing a variety of things! Entertainment was decent, but I think the shows fell short. They were either geared towards a much older or younger crowd, nowhere really in-between. The bars and lounges were decent as well, and they only offered one late night “club”. I think if there was more of a variety of bars/clubs open later we would have had a lot more fun when it came to our evenings at sea. But don’t you worry, we still made sure to shred the dancefloor. I think our least desirable feature was the amount of solicitation for the restaurants, spa, and gift shops onboard. We realize the cruise line wants to take the opportunity to make some additional sales and showcase the plethora of options you have in addition to what you booked, but it was borderline intrusive. The worst of it is on the first day when you board the ship – holy cow, we were bombarded, and ended up heading straight to the top deck to get fresh air and a view away from the craziness.
Overall, we had a splendid relaxing vacation with a dash of adventure in between. It was great to cruise for the first time as a couple and if given the opportunity, we would probably do it again, but to different ports and on a different ship.
Have you cruised before? Have you visited the ABC islands? Leave me your feedback in the comments! I would love to hear some of your experiences!
[This is not a sponsored post]