01-08-20 Aruba – First port of Call – Princess Cruise day 4

Aruba was our first port of call on our trip through the Panama Canal.

Janeen on our balcony overlooking the port in Oranjestad

Aruba is a lovely island in the southern Caribbean and still a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It is 19 miles off the coast of Venezuela in the west part of the Lesser Antilles. The island measures 20 miles long and 6 miles across at its widest point. Along with Bonaire and Curacao, Aruba forms a group referred to as the ABC Islands.

A lot of Dutch  influence on the buildings for sure.

As a result of its link to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the citizens are all Dutch nationals. Unlike much of the Caribbean, Aruba has a dry climate and an arid, cactus-strewn landscape. This climate clearly has helped tourism as visitors to the island can reliably expect warm, sunny weather – and our visit in January was certainly was beautiful.

Sure, I could love Aruba!

Early human presence on Aruba dates back to as early as circa 2000 BC. The first identifiable group, the Arwak Caquetio Amerindians migrated from South American about 1000 AD and there is Archaeological evidence on many parts of the island.

Ayo Rock Formations – sure looks like the face of a monkey and maybe a dog on the hillside.
Yes, cactus and desert plants all around

We visited the Ayo Rock Formations – with one area showing rock drawings dating back thousands of years.

The gate protects the early cave drawings
Maybe 1000 years old!
Interesting color and designs
Nice little park at the Ayo Rock Formations

The first Europeans to visit the island were from Spain in 1499 – who of course claimed it. The early explorers described Aruba as an “island of giants” as the locals seemed to have a comparatively large stature. Spain began colonizing the island in 1508 and controlled it for the next 100 years or so. The Netherlands seized Aruba from Spain in 1636 in the course of the Thirty Years’ War and it has been under Dutch  control ever since.

No, this cactus is NOT giving you the finger.

With not a lot of resources on the island there wasn’t much industrialization. There are ruins of a gold mine but no active work being done at this time. In the 1920’s two oil refineries were built to process crude oil from the vast Venezuelan oil fields. This brought greater prosperity to the island and it grew to be come one of the largest processors in the world. These closed around 2009. Another industry on the island is Aloe.

A field of aloe with a windswept tree – clearly the wind blows in one direction over the island

First planted on Aruba in 1850, aloes seem to love the desert conditions. With a healthy demand for aloe products, it has become a continuing part of Aruba’s economy. One of our tours was to the Aruba Aloe plant where a new modern facility is active and selling a number of Aloe products in their gift shop.

In 1947, Aruba presented its first constitution as an autonomous state within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Ultimately the Netherlands Antilles was created that united all of the Dutch colonies in the Caribbean into one administrative structure.

Taking a rest and sharing some bull..
For years, Aruba had a large horse breeding operation – this is a reference to that history.

Our visit to the Island included an excursion out and about the island – The Butterfly Farm, Ayo Rock Formations, Aloe Plant and a general overview of the island. As we had some free time before our actual tour, we headed off the ship and walked around the town Oranjestad. Located on the northern end of the Island, it was lovely to walk around, pick up a few post cards and explore. We did find a Starbucks (I was asked to get a coffee mugs for one of Jason’s coworkers) and walked past, but not into, the Casino. We also were able to get a stamp in our passport!

First stop on our tour was the Butterfly Farm (www.buterflyfarm.com).

Jim and Sally joined us on the Butterfly Tour.

Started on Aruba in 1999 with hundreds of exotic butterflies from all around the world. Among some of the favorites are the iridescent beautiful Blue Morpho from the rainforests of South America. We started off with an introduction by a

Our guide for the tour showing off a butterfly

member of the Butterfly Farm Team and learned about all the various examples flying around us in the enclosed area.

Beautiful blue guy hanging around
Here’s a green one to enjoy
Everywhere I looked butterflies.

Butterflies all around us – landing on us, drinking from the various fruit plates set out for them and generally a lovely environment.

It said to be good luck to have one land on you.
Fruit plates around the enclosure ferment – and yes, the butterflies enjoy the juice, getting a little drunk before courting dances
Butterfly cocoons getting ready to hatch


After getting our fill of the beauty of the butterflies, we re-boarded the bus and headed out to Ayo Rock Foundations. It is clear the island is arid – lots of cactus along the way and dry desert plants for sure. The place is so dry they have to import water – and you see lots of rain catching systems on houses to collect what rainfall the do get. Ayo Rock Formations are monolithic rock boulders located around the island mostly on the northern end. While there are a number of areas, the one we stopped to view included an enclosed area with early cave paintings – most likely from about 1000 years ago or so. The boulders have unusual shapes resembling birds and dragons as well as other things we noticed as we traveled along. After visiting the rocks, we went to the Aloe plant.

Located across the street from a major school, and next to a large field of Aloe plants, the Aruba Aloe Company is clearly a going concern.

Aloe Balm Factory tour

A demonstration was given on what parts of the Aloe plant are used, how they are processed and what kinds of products are created. The history of the plant, how it’s been part of the Aruba culture for 150 years or so was interesting and filled out the day with a pleasant tour.

These aloe plants were next to the factory – makes harvest easy.

Once back to the ship, and everyone on board, we slipped away to continue our adventure towards the Panama Canal.



01-05-20 January Cruise – Pacific Princess

This past January, we took a Princes Cruise through the Panama Canal.  Our voyage started in Fort Lauderdale, Florida made stops in Aruba, Costa Rica and two stops in Mexico – Puerto Chiapas and Cabo San Lucas before ending the journey in Los Angeles

Our friends Sally and Jim

 This was a much different cruse then we experienced over Thanksgiving on Carnival Cruise – first, this is a small ship, only 650 passengers and didn’t do anything like a round trip cruise as we did in November.  In fact, we boarded the ship on its first leg of an around the world trip lasting 111 days.  Our part of the overall trip was only 15 days so just a small piece of the trip being taken by a lot of the passengers on board.  The entire trip had only the four stops so most time was spent at sea.

Pacific Princess off Cabo San Lucas

We had booked this cruise after a long conversation with our friends Jim and Sally.  They have been on a number of cruises but never on a small ship such as the Pacific Princess.  As a matter of fact, Jim had recommended we try this ship for our Alaska cruise that is scheduled for June.  After we booked that cruise,he started looking at it’s overall itinerary and found the Panama Canal leg of the around the world trip (the ship goes completely around before we re-board it in Alaska in June).  Once he discovered the Panama Transit trip he booked passage and we did too.

The stairs from the “front desk” to the retail area of the ship.
One of the shops in the retail area – there were only 2 actual shops on board.

Pacific Princes, as I mentioned, is the smallest ship in the Princess Fleet – with 11 decks and is 592 feet long as compared to their other ships with 19 decks and over 1,000 feet long.  The smaller ship still provides many of the same amenities found on the larger ships, specialty restaurants, bar entertainment and cabaret shows, but certainly nothing like the crowds for sure.  Yes, there was a small Casino on board – with various game tables (no craps for some reason) and slot machines but we were not tempted to play.

Slots were part of the casino for sure
Entrance to the Spa and fitness center.
The pool area and sun deck
Our dinner group – Sally with our waiter Alex next to Jim with Janeen sitting next to Denise with David behind her next to Al and Ron and Carol on the right side of the group.
Janeen with Executive Chef Giuseppe Pollara

Our cabin was on deck 7 as was Sally and Jim’s.  We had a nice room with a balcony but we didn’t spend a lot of time in the cabin, as there were things to do and places to explore.  Dining was either in the dining room with wait service on deck 4 (most evenings were there) or in the buffet on deck 9.  Also on deck 9 was the spa (Janeen spent several relaxing hours there) with the pool in the middle.  On deck 10 forward was the Pacific Lounge Bar where we met each evening for an adult beverage before dinner or to just hang out and see the sights.  A nice library and reading room on deck 10 aft was also a quiet place to enjoy the afternoon.  At the opposite end of the ship from the dining room was the Cabaret Lounge with entertainment in the evening and various presentations during the day.  

Here we are enjoying a bit of outside time
There was a fireplace in the library – of course it was not functional but a nice touch anyway
Lots of board and other types of games available
Janeen with the Capitan – Paolo Arrigo

Our Dinner seating was early, 5:30 or so, and we shared the table with 2 other couples along with Sally and Jim.  One couple – Al and Denise – were on board for the entire adventure of 111 days while the other couple – Ron and Carol  – were getting off with us in Los Angeles.  I would have to say we had a good group of people at our table and really all the people we spoke to seem to be having a good time and enjoying the adventure.  I did speak with one passenger who was on his 10th around the world cruise (on the same ship!) and he had his grandson with him as his full time caregiver. I’m not certain about going on a cruise for 111 days ,but to do it 10 times seems a bit much ,however if you enjoy it and have the money why not?

Rondell Sheridan – a Comedian did a good job keeping us laughing
Sonia Selbie – vocalist very enjoyable and loved her act.
The on board dance and singing company did several nice musical evenings in the Lounge.
Eric Buss did comedy magic

Over the next few blogs I will try and give some highlights about the various port of call and of course the adventure of going through the Panama Canal.  Until then, as Rick Steve’s always says, “Keep on traveling”.

Jim, Sally, Janeen and David waiting for the evening’s entertainment to start – everyone has their own device!