ENCORE FOR EXPLORER OF THE SEAS

Caribbean winters are pretty inviting

Caribbean winters are pretty inviting

After eight consecutive seasons as a dedicated ‘New York ship’,Royal Caribbean International stalwart, Explorer of the Seas is being deployed for a season of cruises originating in Port Canaveral, Florida, over the winter of 2014/15.

The 140,000 ton Voyager class megaship is the only one of the five ship class not to be sent to Europe since her completion. Owners Royal Caribbean international have instead largely ran her on nine night spring and summer Caribbean cruises from their New Jersey base at Cape Liberty, augmented by five night Bermuda cruises in the summer, and on a series of longer, twelve night ‘Deep Caribbean’ itineraries through the winter seasons. In this role, the Explorer of the Seas has become a popular and familiar staple on the North American cruise circuit.

Eight cruises to the Caribbean and the Bahamas have been announced for the ship from Port Canaveral so far. These commence on November 15th, following her fourteen night repositioning cruise from New Jersey to Florida, via the Eastern and Southern Caribbean. The itineraries are as follows:

Nine night Southern Caribbean: Two departures to Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao in the Southern Caribbean. Sails on November 15th and December 4th, 2014.

Five night Caribbean and Bahamas: Three departures to Cozumel and Nassau. Sailing on November 24th, November 29th and January 4th, 2015.

Five night Bahamas cruise: This one off cruise visits Nassau and Royal Caribbean’s private island at Coco Cay. Sails December 18th.

Four night Christmas cruise: Another one off, arriving at Royal Caribbean’s private island of Labadee, Haiti, for Christmas Day. Sails on December 23rd.

Eight night Eastern Caribbean cruise: Ports visited include Labadee, St. Croix, St. Maarten, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Sails on December 27th.

Make winter history with Royal Caribbean

Make winter history with Royal Caribbean

The redeployment of Explorer of the Seas from Cape Liberty to Port Canaveral will give Royal Caribbean a three ship presence in the Florida port, along with ‘short cruise’ ship Enchantment of the Seas, and the larger Freedom of the Seas.

For UK passengers, these cruises are ideal combinations with a stay in Walt Disney World, or even with a beach holiday in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Clearwater or Tampa. A Port Canaveral departure means convenient flights from the UK into Orlando, and also offers the scope to visit such attractions as the space centre at Cape Canaveral, with its huge display of rocketry, space capsules and lunar memorabilia.

This is a good selection of cruises from a European perspective, as it cuts out the often cold and stormy first day or so encountered in winter time sailings from New York. Definitely worth taking a look at next winter.

AAH-RU-BA- THE DUTCH ANTILLES POLISHED LITTLE GEM

Main street, Oranjestad

Main street, Oranjestad

One of the most seductively styled and enduring of all the Caribbean islands, Aruba actually sits less than twenty miles from the northern coastline of South America. Aruba is part of the ‘ABC’ group of islands in the Netherlands Antilles- the other two are Bonaire and Curacao- and today, it retains more than just memories of its Dutch colonial days.

The capital of Oranjestad (literally ‘Orange Town’) is where most of the cruise ships dock. It’s a funky, breezy little brew of fussy, overly ornate shops, restaurants and buzzing waterfront bars, many of them with upper level balconies that offer stunning vistas out over the sparkling Caribbean itself. For some reason, Aruba seems big on casinos and, indeed, gambling in general.

Still more bars crouch along the edges of the languid, sun splashed waterfront, with umbrella shaded tables within strolling distance of fleets of idle, immaculate yachts bobbing at their moorings. The more eclectic establishments might boast life size pirate mannequins haunting the waterfront, or the odd cow, grazing contentedly on the roof. No, I don’t know why, either.

Aruba is also well known for being one of the Caribbean’s premier petrol refineries. The German navy certainly knew. Back in 1942, a surfaced German U-Boat attempted to shell the refineries here, but without much success.

Eagle Beach

Eagle Beach

Unlike many of the Caribbean islands, Aruba has a dry climate. It also lies outside of the main summer time hurricane belt. As a result, it’s temperature is pretty constant year round. If you ever needed an excuse to enjoy a day at the beach, you now have it. Those on the south west coast are more sheltered from wind and waves than on the other shores.

Fortunately, you’ll find the likes of Eagle Beach are fully set up for some serious hedonism, Dutch style. Hammocks slung between palm trees resemble nothing so much as a series of slow, languid smiles, framed against the dreamy blue expanse of the ocean. Thatched huts and thrilling jet ski rides, para gliders and pina coladas compete for your custom and attention.

And if all that showing off is exhausting, just smile, slouch back into a hammock, and grab an ice cold, aptly patriotic Dutch Heineken. After all, this is Holland in the Caribbean.

Waterfront bar, Oranjestad

Waterfront bar, Oranjestad

Not that you need an excuse, mind you. But the symmetry is kind of sweet….