WILLEMSTAD, Curacao -- At the turn of the century, great ocean
liners began flocking to this southern Caribbean island, with
passengers lured by fabulous bargains on perfumes, liquors, batik
fabrics, brocades and jewelry. During the 1950s, prestigious shops
like Spritzer & Fuhrmann saw passengers lined up and down the
Today, Curacao again is blossoming as a port for modern cruise
A $9 million megapier opens next year, joining new museums, a
rich cultural calendar, more adventure-oriented tours and a
spiffed-up downtown area.
miles off the Venezuelan coast, safely outside the hurricane belt,
Curacao is piquing the interest of cruise lines looking for more
Celebrity Cruises president Rick Sasso singles out Curacao as
among a handful of islands ripe for development. In addition to
building the megaterminal, Curacao has poured almost $10 million
into upgrading existing piers. The investments are paying off.
This year, a record 225,000 passengers sailed in on ships,
including Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Dream, Seabourn's
Seabourn Pride, Premier's Seawind Crown, Princess' Sun Princess,
Holland America's Veendam, Royal Caribbean's Vision of the Seas,
Windstar's Wind Song and Celebrity's Zenith.
Starting in November 1999, Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas
will make Curacao a winter-season stop on seven-day itineraries
from San Juan.
Cruise arrivals here are on an upswing, even though the number
of stayover tourists has been declining in recent years. The island
reveres cruisers, and it shows. A recent survey of passengers from
various ships ranked friendliness, safety, walking in the historic
downtown and water sports as major pluses.
A dramatic scene awaits ships sailing into the harbor at
Willemstad. When Queen Emma pontoon bridge swings open to admit
vessels, cruisers are afforded stunning views of a toy town of
red-roofed Dutch colonial buildings decked out in a rainbow of
Up to five vessels can dock at the existing cruise berths in the
Otrobanda quarter, a short walk from the downtown shopping area of
Punda. The megapier, which is being built just outside the harbor
entrance, will put passengers even closer to the heart of the city.
The new terminal will feature local artisans' workshops, a tourist
information booth, rental car offices and ample space for taxis and
tour buses. A landscaped walkway will lead toward Queen Emma bridge
A development with small boutiques featuring international
stores, a food court and entertainment venues is slated for the
area around the nearby 17th century Rif Fortress. Construction on
Riffort Village starts in 1999.
Meanwhile, the surrounding Otrobanda quarter is reviving, homes
in the formerly derelict Klein Kwartier neighborhood sport coats of
fresh paint and, while the famed Spritzer & Fuhrmann no longer
exists, stores in the Punda district burst with fine lace,
delftware, crystal and leather goods, replacing T-shirt outlets
that popped up in the early 1990s.
Along Handelskade, the widely photographed street boasting the
landmark yellow and white Penha building, new waterfront cafes are
drawing cards for music after dark.
A new Maritime Museum is celebrating the island's seafaring
heritage. The museum is the anchor of what will be a major urban
renewal project in the old Jewish residential district of
Cruise passengers can book shore excursions that combine, via
wooden boat, a visit to the museum with a historic harbor tour.
When the $6 million Museum Kura Hulanda, a cultural center,
auditoria and cultural studies center dedicated to African history,
opens in April 1999, on the site of a former slave yard and prison
across the harbor, it too will be accessible via small boats.
Outside of town, the Sea Aquarium, with its tanks of coral and
fish, continues to be the island's top attraction. Animal
Encounters brings visitors, after a course with a PADI instructor,
face to face with sharks and stingrays in the aquarium's tidal
Like nearby Bonaire, Curacao is gaining fame as a dive
destination. Cruise ships increasingly feature diving and other
soft-adventure tours such as canoe safaris, mountain biking treks
Also popular are cultural tours that trace the island's Jewish
community, established centuries ago by European refugees, and
focus on its African heritage, which dates to the days when the
island was a major slave depot.