Monday, 11 March 2013

Panama Canal Cruise, Day 4 – Aruba

Continuing the day-by-day account of our big Panama Canal cruise, sailing round-trip from Fort Lauderdale with Princess Cruises.

Netherlands Antilles

After two full days at sea to get the hang of our sea-going home, we arrived at the island of Aruba bright and early this morning, ready to stretch our legs ashore for the first time since Thursday afternoon.

Curiously, we are here only until 1pm, when we set sail again for Colombia, but it is long enough to have a good wander around the main city of Oranjestad, where we are moored barely five minutes away.

In many ways, it is typical Caribbean port fare – jewellery stores, T-shirt and souvenir kiosks, and cafes. But there is also something not typically Caribbean about Aruba; it is more arid, windswept and barren; it is also far more European, with the Dutch stewardship still well in evidence. The musical sounds are more Latin, and the overall vibe is somehow a distinct mix of all three sources – European, Caribbean and South American.

There are a number of tempting tours on offer, including submarine and snorkeling varieties, but we are happy just to stroll the streets of Oranjestad and take in the shops – and wildlife. Because the island’s trademark iguanas are never far away and the bird and marine life is also rich and well in evidence.

It is a comfortable 30-minute walk from one end of the town to the other, and, while it is pretty hot and humid, it is good to be out and about, although a stop at a harbor-front bar for an ice-cold beer is also a pretty good idea.

We are easily back on board by the appointed mid-day return time, with the chance to see more of Aruba from the top decks before lunch in the Provence dining room.

Our next ‘appointment’ isn’t until 3pm – a well-attended Sommelier’s Wine Tasting session – so we have some more balcony reading time (and more chance to get through the book that has quickly become an addiction, The Path Between The Seas).

We have a 4pm meeting with Hotel Director Martin May to learn a bit more about the ship’s recent refit in Bermuda and get an insight into this particular cruise, which, it turns out, is a classic example of Princess’s Panama Canal operations, with a high repeat factor among the passenger list and a slightly older clientele due to it being more than seven days in duration.

Retreating to the balcony once more, we are enthralled by the sight of an array of gulls and other sea-birds ‘dive-bombing’ our wash to snatch flying-fish out of the air as the fish are startled into flight by our passing. It is an amazing nature lesson – and a fascinating insight into avian evolution, as the birds have obviously learned this tactic over time from other passing ships.

Finally, it is dinner-time again, and we are ushered to a table for eight in the Bordeaux restaurant to enjoy another lively evening of swapping shore excursion stories and other travel tales while enjoying possibly the best meal in the main dining room so far – fresh ceviche, calamari steak and a superb Grand Marnier soufflé.

Once again, we are impressed by the full range of dining choice, and the evening concludes in style with The Ultimate Deck Party as we head for our next port of call, on the South American mainland…

Tomorrow – Cartagena.

For more info and bookings – in the UK, call Princess Cruises on 0843 373 0333 or visit the expert cruise agents of The Cruise Line Limited on this link; in the US, call 1866 335 6379, or visit www.princess.com.