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Trip Report Hilton Curacao Trip Report (26/2 - 12/3)

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My wife and I recently returned from a 2 week vacation in Curacao. It was absolutely wonderful. Thanks everyone for your contributions to this board. It helped in our choosing the perfect place.

Hilton Hotel - A prompt check-in, in an open-air reception area, complimented with our first of many rum punches, started our holiday on a perfect note. Our second floor non-smoking room had ample room and was very clean. Our balcony overlooked the pool. Most importantly, I got the king-size bed I requested. Contrary to earlier opinions expressed here, I didn’t think the hotel looked dated nor in need of renovations. There certainly was a large number of staff continuously cleaning the grounds, pool area, hallways, etc. One suggestion I would make is to have the guy who cleans up the bar after closing to wait until later in the morning. Hearing bottles breaking at 4:30 in the morning was annoying.

Staff/Housekeeping - The staff at the front desk were always helpful and seemed genuinely interested in ensuring our stay was problem free. Our room was always well cleaned each day but you were never sure if it would be in the morning or not till after lunch. As we are early risers our preference would have been in the morning (perhaps I could have made such an arrangement at the front desk, didn’t ask). We tend to spend the mornings swimming, reading or out on excursions. After lunch we often like return to our room for that short nap you need before heading out to happy hour to watch the sun set.

Restaurants - The buffet breakfast at the Yellowbird was amazing, especially the coconut pancakes. I couldn’t think of anything they had forgot (well, they didn’t have Canadian maple syrup). Our breakfast was included in our package. However the full buffet only costs $15 with the continental costing $11 if I remember correctly. Even at those prices the buffet would be well worth it. Each morning we were greeted by Tijan with his wide smile and full carafe of coffee. A truly pleasant gentlemen. We had several dinners at the Aqua restaurant. I fell in love with the Caesar salad and the fish (talapia) and chips. Service was timely. Omar and Reilly made sure our dinners were perfect. We ate at the Cielo once and thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks Josee for the recommendations. The beach bar also provided some wonderful bites. I really enjoyed the burger, my wife the tuna sandwich. I didn’t eat a Captain Bligh’s bar but I assume it would be similar fare. I had wanted to try Captain Bligh’s beer but the taps were broken the whole time I was there. Now I offered to tap a keg and do my tasting with a long straw but soon concluded from everyone’s comments that Captain Bligh’s beer would be a two straw draw.

Pool/Beach - The pool was quite nice with the ‘infinity’ end overlooking another lounge area and the ocean. One morning a pod of 20 (?) dolphins came to feed just off the lounge area. They stayed for at least an hour. What a pleasant surprise. We never had a problem finding lounge chairs and some shade no matter what time of day we arrived. We only saw two couple rushing out in the early morning to stake out their chairs with towels. Yes the beaches are a little rocky. Having read this before I went we brought along our swim shoes. The small beach is fine but the larger beach towards the Marriott is much better.

Entertainment - They had quite accomplished saxophone player (Gato Barbieri-ish) entertain I believe twice each week. Another night there was also a very good jazz guitarist who could give George Benson a run for his money. The Folk and Cultural dance troop was interesting but got to be little too close to Caribbean polka for my liking.

Shuttle Service - The free shuttle runs twice a day.....8:30 with pick up at 11:30 and again at 1:00 with pick up at 5:00. The shuttle drops you off about 2 blocks from the ferry service. The driver was always on time.

Island tours - We did the East/West tour and would suggest it as a ‘starter’. We drove through Willemstaad onto Spanish Harbour. From Spanish Harbour, up the north coast (in to Boca Pistol and Boca Tabla) with a stop for lunch at Jaanchies (been in operation since 1936, soon to be managed by 3rd generation). You can get a combo plate for $16 or a regular meal for $13. I had the mahi mahi and conch combo plate that was out of this world. During your meal the owner comes out to your table with an offer of his own little delicacy. BBQ or roasted (unsure which) iguana. It was quite tasty, do try it. From there we spent an hour a Knip beach which was wonderful. We then followed the south coast back to our hotel. We also did the semi-sub from the dock at the Hilton. This was quite interesting. We felt that both excursions were money well spent.

Museum/Synagogue - The museum at the Kura Hulanda complex was the outstanding. We did not expect to see stone tablets (and other antiquities) from Iran, Iraq and Ethiopia. There is a mock-up of the below deck area of a typical ship that would have conveyed the slaves across the Atlantic. The whole slave area was disturbing. We also visited the oldest (since 1700) continuously used synagogue in the western hemisphere. It has a sand floor in remembrance of the Exodus. Neither of these visits should be missed.

Shopping - The capital city of Williamstaad is divided in two sections by a canal. The Punda side is known for it's shopping (the Otrabanda side to a lesser degree). There is a free ferry service between the two sides. We went in town shopping on our first full day in Curacao. The immediate shopping area in Punda is about 5 blocks by 8 blocks. The stone and brick reminded me of the walking mall in Amsterdam. The first thing I noted was the cement benches strategically placed throughout the area. While my wife undertook the souvenir hunt I could sit and relax in the shade. I thought this was a great idea. I affectionately referred to them as the 'husband' benches given the fact that other men soon joined me while awaiting their wives return. We would exchange pleasantries and patiently wait...and wait...and wait. On our second visit (well I knew that would happen) my wife re-visited most the stores we passed earlier. However this time she had a definite idea of where she was going, something about a real good deal on a Prada (knock-off) purse. I now know that Prada is a 'make' not a fabric. During this visit I noted the increase in the number of men on the benches. I joined them of course and had some interesting conversations about the 'saving grace' of the benches and how this 'service' could be expanded to include TV's in store windows, perhaps 2...one on news and one on sports. Others suggested maybe pumper pool table, draft beef pumps, etc. We all had a good time sharing our shopping horror stories. Now I was not amused when I was informed that a 3rd trip would be required (yes gentlemen, a 3rd trip....be warned). This time I quickly engaged the other husbands in disparaging discourse. Others too had just about had it. One poor guy had already been sitting there 45 minutes when I arrived. When he saw his wife coming his eyes lit up and he bid us adieu. He got perhaps 30 feet when his wife re-entered another shoe store. He looked back at us and slapped his forehead. Rather than returning to his earlier perch with us he moved on to the next bench. He looked totally dejected, sitting by himself, embarrassed (?) to return to the sanctity of us, his brethren. As I was leaving I noted he'd been joined by 2 other 'fortunates'. One of the lads in my group was heading off to get beers for everyone on our bench. It was suggested he get rum for our recently 'departed' brethren. There is also shopping in Otrabanda but I did not find a husband bench. Oh yeah, when the cruise ships are in dock the outdoor market tables come out too (all trinkets, no treasures). I don't have any suggestions here lads..you are on your own. While there is the cement seawall to lean against there is no shade. It just wasn’t the same shopping experience without the bench. So gentlemen...if you go to Curacao and you know your going in town shopping...put your foot down and insist that you will only go to the Punda to capture that husband bench experience.

Comparison to the Marriott - We walked over to the Marriott a number of times. The entrance is certainly more attractive than the Hilton. The pool is nice but I preferred the Hilton. I did not see one empty lounge chair but did note a lot of towels resting in the shade. The whole pool area seemed way to busy for us. We had lunch at the pool bar but were frustrated by the poor service. Even accounting for Caribbean time, a one hour wait for a burger with fries is way to long. Contrary to opinions expressed on this board we quite enjoyed our meal at Portofino’s. The bruschetta was a surprise with it's topping of mussels. Service was excellent. We also pickup subs at the deli outside the Emerald casino a couple of times. The whole wheat turkey or salmon were great. We were not impressed with the beach but did not walk its whole length. The Marriott seemed to be the favourite destination of most Americans whereas the Hilton had more Europeans, Canadians and South Americans.

Comparison to Aruba - Aruba is probably a fifth the size of Curacao and has a more interesting topography given its size. Both islands are windy. It is nice to have the steady breeze to cool you down but you need to realize that the hot wind can also give you a burn so be careful. I found Aruba very busy with many more side-by-side-by-side hotels than Curacao. The beaches on Aruba were less rocky. It was the sales representatives for the timeshares that bothered me the most in Aruba. Far too many of them, continuously pressing you to come for the presentation. In Curacao I met the same sales representative twice and a polite no was all that was required..

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