Infernal nightmare in store among the eager cruise shoppers of Aruba

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Dante’s Inferno contained Nine Circles of Hell. If he were writing today – and managed to travel from his native Italy to the Caribbean – he might have added a tenth.
Saga Pearl II is berthed in Oranjestad on Aruba, which although rather arid, has some beautiful beaches – presumably what originally drew visitors to the island.
We are squeezed between Celebrity Milennium and Grand Princess, with Caribbean Princess further along the quay.
Between them, the other cruise ships carry about 8,500 passengers and 3,300 crew – all of whom, it seemed, were trying to squeeze through the one gate of the terminal at the same time as Saga’s 440 passengers and 250 crew.
It was like trying to force molasses through a straw. Only sweatier.
The torture was mild compared to what was in store on Oranjestad’s L G Smith Boulevard. Tourists queued three-deep to inspect the souvenirs on sale in dozens of pavement-side stalls. There were T-shirts and flip-flops; Coke bottles filled with sand, and recycled car number plates; countless brightly-coloured enamel lizards and iguanas and, inexplicably, even Rasta-wigged headgear (Why? This is not Jamaica mon). All of it was in great demand – one woman was telling her husband she needed $100, and he dutifully peeled off the bills from a roll in his back pocket.
The crowning glory was the plethora of jewellery shops. In the space of a few yards I counted Ram’s Bijoux Jewelers, Queen’s Jewellers, the Milano Diamond Gallery, Gold Palace, Effy jewelers, Diamonds International, Touch of Gold, Noble Jewelers (advertising Hearts on Fire, the world’s most perfectly-cut diamonds) Gem Stone International, Shiva’s Gold and Gems, Diamante Jewels and Time, Gandelman, Gomani, D’Orlaiin, and Magnum Fine Jewelry. I could go on, but you’ve probably got the picture by now.
I almost added the Rock Shop to the list, but that turned out to be the souvenir shop for the Hard Rock Cafe. And there was Louis Vuitton, Little Switzerland (for those essential Christmas decorations. In March), Svarowski, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren . . . not to mention the Crystal Casino. The list is endless.
I can’t imagine there are many Saga passengers who were unleashing their credit cards in any of the shops. Even though it’s my wedding anniversary today and I am thousands of miles from my wife, I was not tempted to make an emotional purchase. That can wait until I get home.
So it’s just as well for the Arubans that Princess, Carnival, Celebrity and other cruise lines deliver thousands of visitors from the US, Canada and the UK each week – all determined to spend, spend, spend.
Our day had, in any case, started inauspiciously. Twenty minutes after the appointed arrival time, and five minutes later than the first tour was due to have left the Discovery Lounge, cruise director Tanya Whitehead burst onto the Tannoy to announce there had been a slight delay. She could not tell us why, but the Captain would enlighten us once the ship was alongside.
What could have happened? Why the hold-up, and why was the Captain so busy he couldn’t tell us himself? The journey from the neighbouring island of Curacao had been a short hop; we left Willemstad just after six in the evening and we could have almost crawled on hands and knees to reach Oranjestad by eight in the morning.
Had there been a medical emergency at midnight, forcing a return to port? Perhaps, like Holland America’s Prinsendam a few days ago we had been involved in the dramatic rescue of a fishing boat under cover of darkness. Or could Saga Pearl II have suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure?
The truth was nowhere near as exciting. By 8.30 a.m. Captain Alistair McLundie’s soothing Scottish tones came on the speaker to assure us all was now well. As the fourth ship into port, we had had to wait until the one and only mooring gang was available to secure our lines.
He had to switch from the expected berth because Milennium’s bow was jutting across the entrance, and a combination of tidal currents and the strength of the wind deflected by the two Princess ships – which he unkindly referred to as “skyscrapers” – had made for a tricky entrance. But all was now well. We could relax.
Until we hit L G Smith Boulevard.
Don’t forget that Saga Pearl II’s original schedule would have put the ship in la Guaira today. Nervous insurers, worried about the political situation and with concern over recent drug-related incidents, had demanded the diversion.
There will be a significant number of Saga passengers who would have preferred to take their chances with the drug dealers of Venezuela over a morning mingling with the shoppers in Oranjestad.

By | 2011-03-04T18:41:35+00:00 4 March 2011|Cruise destinations|4 Comments

About the Author:

John Honeywell is a travel writer specialising in cruise ships and cruise travel. Winner of CLIA UK's Contribution to Cruise award 2017.

4 Comments

  1. Margaret Rose 4 March 2011 at 8:42 pm - Reply

    Perhaps the nervous insurers should have been invited to enjoy the Aruba experience.

  2. Julia 6 March 2011 at 2:57 am - Reply

    I didn’t read anything bad about Aruba in your op, just a personal rant with a bunch of lists and nobody says you have to buy your wife a present in Aruba?
    The Aruban people are the most pleasant and friendliest people in the world. Something you will not find in Venezuela. I have no problem with Venezuelans, just not a place I’d prefer to go over Aruba any day of this decade.

  3. Robert 6 March 2011 at 10:28 am - Reply

    Its going to get worse, you might pay a premium to sail on a smaller ship, but if a couple of the latest build giant ships are in port, or even one large ship at some ports, your day will be ruined.
    I can see a time when cruise companies will fight over coaches for the tours and it will be down to supply and demand, and then the cost of your tour will go up.

  4. John 7 March 2011 at 4:52 pm - Reply

    If memory serves, there have already been ports that have witnessed days with total cruise visitors in excess of 15,000. I guess for a significant number of passengers, this doesn’t present a problem. It isn’t my cup of tea, however. If I want congestion and crowds of people, I’ll just stay in New York.

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