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Family of Five Trip Report

Maryland
Level Contributor
33 posts
2 reviews
4 helpful votes
Family of Five Trip Report

Curacao Family of Five Trip Report—

We just returned from a week-long family vacation to Curacao. This was our first trip to the island and we could not be happier with our decision to visit Curacao. Thanks to all of you who posted information in this forum and responded to some of our questions – the information you all provided helped to make our trip a huge success. To continue the tradition, here is our trip report including information about our hotel, Papagayo Beach Resort. It is long, but we were frustrated by the lack of information about Curacao and the resort, so here it goes.

Who we are – I found it useful in evaluating particular reviews on this forum to have some information about authors, so here is our info. We are a family of five from the Maryland suburbs outside of Washington, D.C. My wife and I are in our early 40’s and we have three boys, the oldest 11, and 8-year-old twins. My wife and I have been to the Virgin Islands and the Bahamas, but this was our first family trip to the Caribbean. We chose Curacao because we wanted to go somewhere on vacation where we could expose our kids to a different culture, introduce the kids to snorkeling, and have a good balance between beach time and exploration. Thus, we had decided against going to an all inclusive. When we travel in the states, we often stay at Hyatt resorts or similar properties.

General Impressions of Curacao - Loved it. This trip met all of our hopes and expectations. The people were all extremely friendly; everyone you ran into put you at ease. For example, when we got lost while trying to walk to the Synagogue in Willemstad, a young lady actually walked with us for 4-5 blocks to make sure we found it. Getting lost is easy to do. The best way to get around is to view it as orienteering in a car. Once you get your bearings and learn a few landmarks, it is very easy to find your way around. Forget street signs, just figure out the general area you want to get to, drive there, and wander or ask a local. It is definitely worth while to rent a car because it is a fun island to explore, particularly the beaches in the West. The tap water there is very good and completely safe to drink. If you have kids, they will fall in love with the local sodas: Busta, Fria, and Colita. I also have to say they seem to love children on the Island, and were always very kind to our kids.

Lodging- Papagayo Beach Resort. This resort made our trip, and our one regret is that we did not spend more time just hanging out there. Their website does not show how beautiful this place really is. The resort is located east of Willemstad, and most of the tourists were Dutch families. The resort is comprised of a series of Villas built into a mountainside overlooking Jan Thiel Bay. The grounds are beautiful and contain walking paths and gardens containing tropical plants and cacti surrounding each Villa. The gardens are inhabited by iguanas, parrots, and dozens of beautiful birds. Even though the resort was booked, we never noticed other people while we were in our Villa. It is like having your own private vacation house.

Layout - The heart of each Villa is the wrap around porch. The two walls facing the porch slide open to create a vast open space stretching from the kitchen, through the living room area, to the porch. The porch contains comfortable cushioned chairs, a hammock, and a dinning table and chairs. Our kids spend their mornings on the deck feeding the birds, and we all loved to hang out together on the porch at night, under the stars, to share a few laughs. There are two bedrooms and two full bathrooms in each Villa. For $10 we had a third bed put into one of the bedrooms so that all three boys slept in one room and we had our own room. The showers were great and had plenty of pressure and hot water. This layout was perfect for our family. As we found out when we were researching this trip, there are very few places in the Caribbean that accommodate five people. This villa was perfect. The kitchen was also a bonus. We expected only the bare essentials, but the kitchen included a microwave, stove, refrigerator (great for keeping your Amstel Brights cool), utensils, knives, pots, pans, glasses, and plates (including kid’s plates and cups). As one other writer noted, there are small ants that do come into the kitchen, but as long as you keep the kitchen clean, this was not an issue (compared to your basic Maryland sugar ant, these things were downright harmless). Each bed was also equipped with a mosquito net, but we did not encounter any biting insects during our trip. (Our Villa was near the top of the hill and had plenty of wind, so that may have helped).

Breakfast - We had a rate through Expedia that included breakfast. Breakfasts at the Seasons were very Dutch, and were both generous and delicious. There was a menu to choose from and breakfast included up to 3 coffees (their basic coffee is similar to an espresso, my wife ordered cappuccinos which were also included), or juices. They also have a separate children’s menu that included staples such as eggs or their version of a pancake, which is similar to a large crepe. The restaurant was not crowded in the morning, and many guests ordered breakfast to be delivered to their Villa. We, however, enjoyed sitting by the pool sipping many hot coffees. We did not eat dinner there, but dinners were well attended, and they had one of the more imaginative dinner menus on the Island.

Other - The Pool was small but was fine for unwinding at the end of the day. The hotel has a towel service that they do not advertise. When you check in they give you a beach towel for each guest. You can switch beach towels once a day, and at the end of the day trade the towels in (they give you new towels or cards to use the next day). We did not know about this service and actually hauled beach towels with us from home because we knew we were going to be beach hopping. They also have a starter kit for the kitchen that contains some basic groceries, so check with them about the contents and price ahead of time. Most of the other guests we saw were traveling with children, and the staff was very comfortable and easy going when dealing with kids. Even though there were language barriers, our kids still made friends with other kids at the resort. The Papagayo Beach Resort is simply fabulous and is perfect for families. If you have any questions about it, please feel free to ask.

Beaches - Snorkeling and lunches - Snorkeling was our main reason for going to Curacao, and it was not disappointing. We did buy snorkeling vests for the kids, which was a worthwhile investment because the water can get a little choppy. The beaches are very European, so expect topless sunbathing at most beaches. We were somewhat worried about this, particularly with our 11-year-old, but it is a part of the culture and was done in a way that was not obnoxious (i.e. no girls gone wild). Our kids were so busy playing on the beach, swimming, and snorkeling, that it did not become an issue or topic of conversation (we had warned them ahead of time). Also, at most beaches they will charge you a few bucks for each beach chair. We brought a small waterproof wallet with us that we used when we went snorkeling, but there was no evidence of any criminal activity anywhere we went. We also brought a cooler with cold drinks and fresh fruits (stop at the Centrum market on your way from the airport) and this was not an issue at any of the beaches.

Mombo Beach – This is actually the part of Seaquarium beach that is in front of the Mambo Beach Café. A lot of activity. The beach is sheltered by a long breakwater, and was the most crowded beach that we went to. If you have teenagers they would love this place because it has a beach party atmosphere. The snorkeling is not very good because the visibility near the beach is poor. There were some decent fish along the breakwater. We walked down the beach and had lunch at Hemingways. You can sit on the beach or on a deck overlooking the waterway along the Seaquarium. The price was reasonable and they had very good sandwiches, salads and pizza. It was a little quieter than the Mambo Beach Club, and had a more interesting menu.

Playa Langun - This was one of our favorite spots. The beach is small and has both a beachside snack bar and café (which was closed the day we were there). The snorkeling was fantastic, particularly because the cliffs surrounding the beach give it a very sheltered feeling. The water was crystal clear, and we saw lots of parrot fish, angel fish, and trunk fish. Although we did not see it, another person at the beach reported that he saw an octopus along the left wall. The beach has a very intimate feeling that put us and the kids at ease. The snack bar was not great. We had fish, chicken, and ribs, all served with fries. The fish was okay, but the chicken and ribs were not.

Playa Porto Marie – This was hands down our favorite beach. It is visually stunning, and is sheltered from the wind and waves. Some websites claim they do not have snorkeling here, but that is incorrect. They have used concrete “reef balls” to help restore the reef structure, and it has been very successful. Some of the reef balls are in shallow water, so the kids could dive down and look at the fish hiding inside of them. You can also swim out to the drop off, which our kids thought was cool. They also have a beautiful beach café. The lunch we had at the café was the best lunch we had all week. They also make a great fresh lime Daiquiri that is incredible and is the only drink I enjoyed more than my Amstel Brights. The folks in the dive shop were very friendly, and even though we were not paying for any dive services, they explained to us the best places to snorkel at the beach. Most people would rate Kas Abou higher, but we would disagree.

Kas Abou – A very beautiful beach, but it lacked the intimacy of Porto Marie, and their beach side restaurant was your basic bar/snack bar. Contrary to some websites, there was also good snorkeling here along the left wall of the beach. We saw a spotted Moray Eel which thrilled my kids (they claim they wanted to make sure they saw something deadly while they were snorkeling). They do have more beach activities here such as a banana boat ride and waterskiing.

Tug Boat – Caracasbaii – Simply the closest thing to scuba diving you can do with a snorkel. The snorkeling here was unbelievable. Not only were the fish great, they had the biggest Blue Parrot Fish I have ever seen, but there were a lot of intact coral formations. The wreck itself was also spectacular, especially for the kids. There are hundreds of fish in and near the wreck. Finding the tugboat is somewhat difficult. Take the road to CaracasBaii, and go left at the circle to Caracasbaii (Caracas beach). Follow the paved road past Pop’s Beach bar until you get to a dirt circle. Take a right at the circle toward a large tanker. When you get near the tanker take a left which will take you past another beach bar, through a dirt parking lot, where you will take a right into another parking lot near a small dive shop. Go through the shop and down the stone beach until you get to a large rock near a concrete slab, where you can leave your towel and shoes, etc. (They also have lockers at the dive shop). There are three concrete pylons forming a triangle about 50 yards out. Swim towards them and take a left when your are in the middle of them. Swim beyond the pylons along the shore until you reach the wreck (about another 35-50 yards). The wreck is in very shallow water, so stay close to the shore. There is a mooring buoy to the right of the wreck, but it is far to the right of the wreck -- a little hard to find, but well worth it.

Dinners – Thus was our only disappointment. Part of it was our incorrect assumptions about the cuisine, which we figured would be rich in tropical fruits, fresh fish, etc. I do not know what the average cholesterol level is of the average resident, but it must be through the roof. Most meals are built around bread (usually baguettes), cheeses, and fried foods, including French fries with mayonnaise. I will say that the service in the restaurants was better than some had suggested it would be. I also commend all of the restaurants we went to for how they treated children. Every place we went to, all the kids we saw were treated like customers, not a plague of some sort. Hosts, waiters, and waitresses would often engage the kids in conversation, and made them feel welcome. There are also some odd practices that seem to apply to all restaurants First, you must ask for your check. This is unlike most restaurants in the US that give you your check right away so they can turn the table over. In Curacao there is an expectation that you will linger after a meal, and nobody rushes you out. Second, there is no discernable set practice on tipping. If nothing else, read the menu and bill to see if it includes a 5% service charge, and go from there. Finally, waiters or waitresses will often wait for you while you sign your bill, so think about the tip ahead of time.

Grill King – This was our first dinner after being up since 4 a.m. We stumbled across it while we were trying to figure out the roads. The food was fairly good, but what made the meal worth while was the oceanfront location for dinner. Nothing says vacation like dinner with the sound of crashing waves. Like many places we went, the ambience was more memorable than the food. There are two other restaurants at this same location, Scampi’s and Portofino (I think). They were all well attended and had great ambience.

Rodeo House of Ribs – The food was good (but skip the salad bar which was like something out of a prison cafeteria), and the service was very friendly. The problem was that this was a meal we could have had at Friday’s or Applebee’s at home. If you crave some home cooking go there (kids eat free on Tuesdays). If you want more ambience, skip it.

Der Klein Werld – we kept driving by this place near Caracasbaii and figured we would check it out. This place has a very cool/chic atmosphere and stood in sharp contrast to the House of Ribs. It is located on the waterfront of a small marina and has a set of tables on a floating dock. They had a very nice beer and wine selection. It was very well attended, and we got the last available table for dinner. Dinner was good; my son claims they had the best onion soup on the island. I had fish that was good, but, nothing to write home about. I would definitely go there for a drink and a light snack, or lunch, but I would probably skip it for dinner.

Hook’s Hut – This place got mixed reviews, but after several mediocre dinners, we needed to take a gamble on beach front dinning. We actually loved it. Again, there is something about having dinner while there is sand running through your toes. Their Banana Soup was delicious as were our entrees, I had the Tilapia, and my wife had the Steak. My wife’s steak was undercooked, but they quickly corrected it and gave her a fresh plate. Hook’s Hut also had the best desserts of any of the restaurants we went to. The service was a little slower here, but it was such a relaxing atmosphere that we did not mind. Very good for the kids because they can swing on the dock swings, or walk out on the pier, while Mom and Dad look on as they sip a glass of wine. Gimmicky, but good.

De Gouverneur DeRouville – HEAVEN!!!!! This establishment overlooks the harbor entrance between Punda and Otrabanda. We called two days ahead and were told there were no openings on the terrace. They generally only have seating for dinner at 6:30 and 9:00. We had someone from our hotel call back and they were able to get us a table. The view from the terrace is spectacular. If you are traveling with kids ask for the porch on the end of the terrace. This is where we sat and it was great because there is a stone courtyard below the porch, so the kids could wander around between courses. The view is spectacular. Go to the early sitting so you can watch the city transition from day to night. Several large tankers entered the harbor while we were there and that was quite a sight. The food here was spectacular. Their Banana soup was delicious, with a generous helping of a sweet curry. The waitress recommended the Creole fish, which was probably one of the best fish dishes I have ever eaten, and I grew up in New England. My wife had the carbonara, which was delicious, but beware; it was very rich and was a very big portion. They also had a kids menu which was nice, and a cigar box that I took advantage of. If you are going to Curacao make sure to call ahead and book a table on the terrace. It can be windy, so if that bothers you, or you can’t get a table on the terrace, get a table in the garden. There is a small fountain there, and the candlelight does make it very romantic. Our meal was delicious, yet including cocktails, a bottle of wine, two salads, two appetizers, entrees, two desserts, a cigar, and tip, our bill was still under $200. This was our most memorable meal.

Zannzibar – On Jan Thiel beach. After a great meal at De Gouverneur, we decided to play it safe and just go out for pizza at Zannzibar’s for our last night. Much to our surprise, Zannibar’s was a very trendy, and very crowded, restaurant at night. The pizza was very good. We also had gazpacho with grilled shrimp, and onion soup, both of which were very good. Zannzibar’s was more expensive than we thought it would be. We saw several families picking up pizza and bringing it back to their villa, which would be a smart move to save a few bucks (the soups were more expensive than the pizzas). The service here was also a little slower than the other restaurants we visited. For a romantic meal you can reserve one of the covered beach cabanas in front of Zannzibar’s for dinner – they surround them with candles and serve you at the cabana. I have no idea how much this cost, but it looked really cool.

Activities - The three main attractions we visited were the Ostrich Farm, the Synagogue, and the Boka Shete National Park. The synagogue is beautiful, and if you are a history buff visiting the city, it is definitely worth the trip. There is a small fee for adults, children are free. Make sure to leave time to go to the museum that is located in the synagogue compound. The Ostrich farm was a big hit, and no, you do not get to ride an Ostrich. You do get to hold a hatching Ostrich, and a new born Ostrich, and the kids get to feed adult female Ostriches. The tours leave every half hour or so. We were daring and had lunch at the farm. The pumpkin soup and wings (chicken) were good. I was daring and had the Ostrich burger. I have no idea how Ostrich is supposed to taste, so I have no idea if it was well prepared or not. Candidly, I have marked eating Ostrich burgers down as a once in a lifetime activity. We also went to Boka Shete National Park on the outskirts of Westpunt. The landscape is very striking, similar to the lava fields of the Big Island of Hawaii, and the kids loved “the Pistol.” It is a long drive, so make sure to combine it with a trip to one of Westpunt’s beaches. I would recommend Playa Kaliki. We just stopped by there, but the beach was beautiful and they also had a very nice looking Beach Café. The beach is near Sol Food, which has received many good reviews, but, unfortunately, it was closed the day we were there.

Final Thoughts – We were surprised there was so little information that was available about Curacao. This lack of information almost scared us away. The fact is that Curacao has the perfect balance between things to do and lying on the beach doing nothing. Each day we combined an activity such as the Ostrich Farm, the Synagogue, or Boca Pistol with beach time and it worked out great. You do have to get out to see the best sights, so it is definitely a destination for families that are willing to get up and go. We had a fantastic time and hope we can pull it together to return some day soon.

New Jersey
Level Contributor
5,038 posts
21 reviews
284 helpful votes
1. Re: Family of Five Trip Report

Wow...it's not even 6:00 a.m. and I'm standing up applauding! Amazing review - thank you SO much for sharing it. I've saved it for our trip to Curacao next month.

Awesome!

Thanks again.

alabama
Level Contributor
27 posts
4 reviews
11 helpful votes
2. Re: Family of Five Trip Report

Capecodcrew,

Thanks again for a wonderful post as it is most informative. I have a few questions. First, you speak about the restaurant food at most of the places as being average. Is that average compared to a nice D.C. restaurant, average to a U.S. tourist location restaurant or average for south Caribbean/ south American/ Dutch restaurant? We have a 13 year old girl and 11 year old boy. When we go skiing in Big Sky they ski by them selves, other people they just met, strangers, and even with their family (sometimes). They have been doing that for a couple of years. We also let them wonder around with friends early evening or to the pool without us. We do the same way at other places within the U.S. In Aruba, we were stayed at the Radisson at pool level and let the children go to the pool without us if we were in the room (which was right beside one of the pools) or to the pool if we were on the beach. Neither I nor the kids like to sit inside a hotel room for any length of time. My question is, how far of a walk is it to the beach from Papagayo Resort. Another family may be traveling with us and one member of that family likes to just sit on the beach and maybe take one excursion. Would Papagayo still be acceptable for that type of traveler too? My wife wants to stay at the Marriot and I want to stay at Papagayo. I would hate to choose the wrong location as my wife would not let me live it down for being wrong. (ha ha) Thanks again for you most generous report.

Maryland
Level Contributor
33 posts
2 reviews
4 helpful votes
3. Re: Family of Five Trip Report

Thanks. As far as food goes, we are clearly spoiled in the D.C. suburbs. None of the dinner meals we had were bad even by D.C. standards. The only disappointing meal we had was the Rodeo House and that was only because it did not have the type of environment we are looking for in a vacation. With an 11 and a 13 year old some of the nicer restaurants such as Astrolab and Jaipur may also be realistic options for you. The other recommendation I would have is to talk to the folks in your hotel and other travelers. For example, every tourist we ran into had tried the Boathouse, but they all said it was not very good and was very overpriced. At the same time, the De Gouverneur DeRouville got rave reviews from the hotel clerk and some tourists who had tried it. We also ran into some guys from Canada who had gone to some smaller places and said they had great food. So I guess my best advice is to forget the Big Red Restaurant Guide and talk to the locals to find the best restaurants for your taste.

As far as Jan Thiel Beach, it is at most a five minute walk down the hill to the beach, and the walk itself is very enjoyable because of the flora. I do not think Jan Thiel could entertain a family for an entire week. It s a smaller beach, that is built around a concrete walled artificial beach (there is sand on either end) and it gets a little crowded. It drew a lot of very young kids because of the water playground. Candidly, I would not recommend that anyone just stay at one beach the entire week or so, the small beaches of the Northwest are simply too beautiful not to explore. Places like Kas Abou, Porto Marie, Big Knip, and Playa Kaliki would be better for you and your companions because they combine fine sand for beach lovers and lots of activities for the young.

As far as Marriott vs. Papagayo, we had the same dilemma. For us it was not economically feasible to rent two rooms, and cramming all five of us and snorkeling gear, clothes, etc. into one room for a week just is not our idea of a vacation. Plus with hungry kids we knew having a fridge and a kitchen would pay for itself. We drove by the Marriott and it is, as the pictures show, quite beautiful, much nicer than the adjoining Hilton (at least from the outside). One advantage the Marriott has is if you are going to travel to the West a lot is that it is located on the western side of the city, so you would save 15-20 minutes of driving time over Papagayo which is located east of the city. I do not know how nice the beach is at the Marriott. When we ate at Hooks Hut which is located along the same cove we noticed a lot of large commercial boat traffic in the area, but I do not know what impact this has on the beach. The only other issue I would look into is air quality. The Marriott is located in Piscaderbaii near some of the oil refineries and another industrial site that is just to the west. Check with others who stayed there to see if it was an issue. In know nearby Bluebaii has had some negative comments based on wind direction.

I'll try and get you the pictures of Papagayo. I do not think you can go wrong with either place. As far as Papagayo goes we let our kids roam more than we might back home because it had a very safe feel to it. The same was true for all of the beaches we visited. It was not like going to a crowded South Florida beach where you feel as though you have to watch your kids like a hawk. To us, when choosing Papagayo it just came down to a matter of having more room, and fewer crowds, so that we could spread out and relax.

Ottawa, Canada
Level Contributor
1,342 posts
5 reviews
13 helpful votes
4. Re: Family of Five Trip Report

Brought forward

5. Re: Family of Five Trip Report

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