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When I discovered our next filming trip for Travel With Kids would be to Curacao, I didn’t know what to think. Honestly, I didn’t know much about the island. I knew it was very far south in the Caribbean and thought there may be a connection to the colonial Dutch times. And, when we arrived that link was immediately apparent. Colorful European style buildings lining the waterfront and innovative engineering like the Queen Emma Bridge showed the Dutch influence.
We arrive in Willemstad just in time to see the Queen Emma Bridge swing open to let a couple of tug boats pass by. And, we actually get to ride on it as it swung open! Different color flags indicate how long this pontoon bridge will be open. When it closes, we explore the waterfront including the floating markets, where Venezuelan fisherman sell fresh fish, fruits and vegetables from their fishing boats. We stop for lunch at Plasa Bieu and try some traditional island favorites like stewed chicken, fried fish, plantains, rice and beans and funchi, which is like polenta and the famous pumpkin pancakes.
After lunch , we head out of the capital of Willemstad to our hotel, Royal Sea Aquarium Resort, which as the name implies shares its grounds with a sea aquarium…every child’s dream hotel!
We head over to explore the Curacao Sea Aquarium Park– admission is free because we are staying at the hotel. After checking out all the sea life in the tanks and watching the dolphin show, the boys are thrilled when we tell them we get to be part of an exhibit. We don scuba gear and head below the waves for an Animal Encounter. Fish and sting rays circle around us as soon as we reach the bottom of the enclosure. That’s because our dive instructor has a bin of fish to feed them.
Still yearning for learning about the ocean, today we head even deeper below the waves with Substation Curacao, a submersible capable of going 1000 feet below the surface…although we won’t be going quite that deep! Used for a combination of scientific research and tourist enjoyment, the sub seats four people plus the pilot. It ends up being a real highlight on our trip! Not many places in the world can you ride a private submersible hundreds of feet below the surface! With thoughts of the movie The Abyss in my mind, we climb through the tiny hatch and take our spots in front a giant bubble windshield. I am a bit nervous (remember…thoughts of Abyss are in my head), but am put at ease by the excellent captaining skills of Barbara and the constant safety checks with the surface.
In the afternoon, we decide to check Curacao Ostrich Farm. Known for its arid climate, Curacao has vast aloe plantations, lots of cacti and this ostrich farm reminding us of South Africa. A safari style truck takes us exploring the farm where the guide dances with an ostrich (but not too close as it’s the bird’s warning dance, which will be followed by a very dangerous kick) and let’s the kids feed the ostriches. The kids think it’s really funny that ostriches cannot remember much past 10 minutes and recount numerous silly situations where that short memory would make for funny comedy sketches. They have lots of fun petting and watching the other animals on the farm as well including ponies, pot-bellied pigs, peacocks, chickens and more.
Since we are virtually staying in an aquarium, we have one final surprise for the kids…another animal encounter. But, as the seas are a bit rough today, we decide to stay in the lagoon. As soon as we jump in the water, the dolphin swims over, curiously darting around us as we descend to the ocean floor about 12 feet below. Once on the ground, the trainer calls the dolphin over and we pet it, and he teaches us about the dolphin – his blow hole, his mouth, his fins. We play games with the dolphin and get a kiss before he leaves. It’s truly magical seeing such a large, but gentle creature swim around us. He seems to be checking us out just as much as we are him.
In the afternoon, the boys join a Pirate Treasure Hunt at the hotel, which ends back at the aquarium for a fin to hand encounter with a sea lion. They even get a whiskery kiss! And as the sun sets, we enjoy beach side dinner while the kids kayak in the lagoon and play with some local kids.
Through ingenious Dutch engineering and colonial history – swinging bridge, man-made island, submersible sailing – Curacao has taken full advantage of the underwater paradise that exists here and it makes for some amazing commune with nature and family fun!
For more information on travel in Curacao, visit Curacao Tourist Board.
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