Surprise surprise… I won again! We wanted to get out of the grey, cold weather and go somewhere warm, peaceful and familiar, because of the baby and horrible lack of sleep. So: Curacao. Where else?
As I have written about this beautiful island before, I won’t bore you with the same details again, but I did want to share our new finds! So for the general info, please read my original Curacao blog.
As we were now traveling with a little toddler and a five months old baby, we made sure to book well in advance and chose KLM again because of the schedule and the bassinet for George.
Again: preparation is key to have a smooth flight, so you might want to check our packing tips for your baby below- check my other blog for toddler essentials!
First of all, do not forget to take your baby carrier, as our baby dislikes his Maxi Cosi very much and we had to spend some time at the airport before we could board the plane. You have to leave the Maxi Cosi at the entrance of the plane anyways, so it is also convenient after arriving. We also brought our Joolz pram, as George was still quite small and we wanted to take him with us during lunch and to the beach, so he could lay down and (hopefully) take a nap.
Hand luggage is essential! Take extra clothes (both for the cold during the flight and the occasional accident- leaking diapers, air sickness, etc etc), toys (especially if it is a daytime flight- you have to keep ‘em busy, even if it’s still a baby) and favorite stuffed animals. And food! Both baby food and bottles are easily heated and allowed in the aircraft. Do remember to take enough formula because they might get extra thirsty or throw up because of the height. I also brought an extra woolen cap for George, and a hooded blanket, because the airconditioning is rather harsh, especially when you lay your baby down in the bassinet. Better be safe than sorry!
Try following your daily routine as much as possible; he slept and ate as he does at home, and in between we walked and cuddled a lot. Do not forget to bring duplicates of all favorite stuffed animals; nothing as stressful as having to search for a new duckie during your holiday… and if needed a few pacifiers. No matter how you put it, little ones will sense the different environment so things will be a lot easier if you go with the flow and come prepared. To say that it was a walk in the park would be a lie, but honestly, apart from the fact that you don’t get to read your magazine or close your eyes for a few minutes, things actually went very well!
This time we chose to stay in a hotel. We wanted to have the benefits of a hotel, but be able to cook ourselves as well, and have two bedrooms because of George’s insomnia. So we rented an apartment at Avila Beach Hotel– an old school hotel right at the beach. Normally we prefer to stay in a house, but as we were very tired and could use some pampering and on site facilities such as lunch, a gym and several restaurants, we both agreed on staying here. Apart from the fact that I have spent endless Sundays at this beach during my childhood, I also think it is perfectly situated as you are near the city center and quite some restaurants as well; we did not plan on going to all the beaches as we just wanted to relax and hang around.
Unfortunately, the great Barista coffee bar that used to be there closed just before we arrived, which was a big disappointment, but there were still two nice places to have lunch (both at the terrace and at the pool bar-all freshly made!) and coffee.
As we wanted to cook dinner ourselves as well, and we preferred have breakfast at our apartment, we had to go grocery shopping quite a few times. Besides that, we still wanted to visit some new places and friends, so it was essential to rent a car. Public transport does not function very well, you can hardly find or reserve a cab and should you want to go and explore you do not want to depend on shuttle busses. Biking is hardly an option and the roads aren’t that well kept, so I would definitely say that renting a car is by far the safest, most flexible way of getting around. We made arrangements with a special service, provided by the hotel, to have a taxi be ready for us at the airport to drive us to the hotel, and Noordstar Rent a Car agreed on a ‘drop off’ of our car at the hotel. They are much cheaper than the other companies and often offer the same types of cars. By the way, do not expect fancy rental cars! These are theft prone and since the roads aren’t that fabulous it would be a waste anyway. As long as you can safely transport both yourself and your little one(s) from one place to the next, preferably air-conditioned, everything is fine.
As for your toddler:
See ‘Getting there’ in my original post for the necessities during your flight, as well as the (non exhaustive!) list of things that proved very handy to us. Below a short list on what to pack specifically for your baby:
– Favorite toy and/or stuffed animal (if possible, take a second pair as these items easily get lost)
– At least two bottles; after months and months of trying without luck, baby G literally decided during takeoff to permanently decline breastfeeding… So we were more than happy with the bottles and formula we had brought ‘just in case’
– Your own formula if still needed. We tend to take enough for two or three days so that we have time to find a supermarket and check out the available brands there. Most of the time it is perfectly accepted by your kiddo but make sure to look up the different name so you won’t end up looking for a familiar name and not being able to find it
– At least three pacifiers if needed; attach them to the stroller/maxicosi/pram and your own handbag
– Enough diapers to get you through a few days- and nights! And follow the same directions as above-mentioned formula
– Sunscreen! Make sure that it is especially for tender baby skin. We rubbed him in first thing every morning morning and kept using it on his face as long as he was dressed. Do not forget to use it every few hours, preferably on their entire body, as the sun is extremely harsh. And some baby body lotion to keep his skin hydrated after a long beach day
– Sunglasses (preferably good ones and do not forget those little chains so they will not fall of their tiny faces all the time!) and a cap; we also brought the special UV protective parasol you can attach to the pram
– UV protective swimwear. As the skin is so very delicate and sunburn prone, it is absolutely mandatory to shield your kid(s) with at least a t-shirt but preferably an onesie. Especially when in the water, as it reflects the light
– Swim gear and a lightweight bamboo mattress for the beach. You can buy those there as well, but I hate spending the first few days looking for stuff like that
– An inflatable little bathtub. We don’t go anywhere without packing our Mommy’s Helper inflatable Froggie baby bath. You can easily place it in the bathtub or shower and fill it with water
– One or two slightly warmer vests or sweaters, as the nights (depending on the season) tend to be a bit windier, and some of those maxi swaddles as they serve as a blanket, scarf, wrap around, curtain, etc etc.
As I said before, we really needed this vacation as we were all so very exhausted from the months and months of sleepless nights. That is why we did not plan a single outing beforehand. But, once we were there, we decided we did want to get out of the hotel every now and then so we ended up going to a few new and interesting places.
First of all, we had coffee quite a few times at Il Barille da Mario, one of my all time favorite places on the island. They still make a true Italian coffee and if you sit inside you feel like you could be in any bar in Italy. Lunch is also great! Opposite from this tiny restaurant is the beautiful synagogue Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, very much worth a visit as it is the oldest surviving synagogue in the Americas. You sense so much history there and the building is beautiful, both inside and out.
Needless to say we had lunch at the Marshe Bieu (Old Market); if you really want to taste local food, this is the place. Make sure to choose a table at ‘Zus’, one of the last stalls in the area, as they serve the most delicious and fresh food and service is good. We asked them to heat George’s bottle and they went out of their way to make sure everything was clean and we got served quickly so the kids did not have to wait too long. Such a treat!
Then there’s this rather new place called Hofi Cas Cora, a lovely vegetable farm that aims to raise awareness on local produce consumption. Open on Saturday and Sunday only, but such a cool place for brunch. Kids are very welcome but be prepared for the rather long wait.
Unfortunately we did not make it to Purunchi, a local fish joint, but it’s supposed to be really good and low key; go check it out!
The coolest thing we did, however, was our visit to the home (and workshop, and museum) of the internationally famed Curacaoan artist Yubi Kirindongo. It is like entering his sanctuary and it has a slightly surreal vibe. There are countless numbers of his art, and it is just breathtakingly beautiful. Not very easy to arrange nor find, but very much worth the effort!
Well, we did not do that much grownup stuff this time… We arranged for a babysitter to come help us out a few times, but ended up staying at home most of the time anyways. However, we did have one date night as my family offered to babysit which was amazing. So I could finally change into the one dress I had managed to pack, and we went for dinner at Cristal, a cute little restaurant, located in a beautiful old house. We chose to sit outside as the weather was amazing, and it was so nice to just enjoy the evening together. They have a nice wine list and the food is quite good. A very much needed diner a deux!
I had lunch with a dear friend at Bij Blauw and it was nice. Fantastic view as they are located right by the sea, the food was good and service quick and friendly. The styling is rather cool and the place is also open for breakfast and dinner.
Curacao on a whole:
I am still in love with this island. Even though I think some spots are way too touristy, there are so many hidden gems awaiting you. If you are willing to take some time and effort to discover those, you will have a fabulous time. Again, this is not your average tropical island; it is raw and (in my opinion) not very glamorous. But that’s what I find charming and interesting! There are many things that could or need to be changed (politically, etc), but I find it touching to see how many local people truly care for their island and keep trying to make things work and better. Service at hotels and restaurants is slightly improving and our kids had the best time, also because of the undivided attention they got from so many people. They love kids! So this will forever be my happy place.
Avila Beach Hotel:
Well, location wise this is the best spot on the island, as far as I am concerned. You can easily walk into town during the day, and as it is pretty much in the middle of the island, you can either drive up to the beautiful beaches, or down for all kinds of water sports. The two small beaches are superb, especially for kids, as the water is shallow and waves aren’t too high. The beach does get crowded during holiday season, but you can always find a spot and even if all the umbrellas are occupied, the palm trees still provide enough shady spots. You can have coffee at so many different spots; whether it is on the beach, under the pergola, at the bar or on one of the round squares overlooking the sea. Lunch can also be ordered at different places (the poolbar has the best food!) and the service is improving. Overall I must say service was good and friendly. At the time of our reservation, the apartment we wanted to rent would only be available the second week of our stay, so we had to move halfway our holiday. However, as soon as we arrived the manager told us he arranged for us to immediately stay at the apartment so that we did not have to move- this would be easier for the kids. How’s that for service!
As for the apartment, we were a bit disappointed. The size was perfect: two separate bedrooms with big bathrooms, a huge terrace overlooking the ocean, a kitchen and quite a large living room with a dining area. However, the state was horribly old fashioned and run down. I think the last time this apartment had a makeover must be at least fifteen years ago. Ugly tiles, broken curtains, water stains and a nonworking washing machine did not add to the joy… The kitchen was completely empty; we had to ask for pans, cutlery, towels and so much more. Pretty strange considering the price you pay per night… So would I stay here again? That depends. I love the place, I love the hotel and its location, but it does need more than a touchup to meet the standards they claim to set. As the hotel just switched owners, I am hoping it will upgrade the looks and interior, but keep its charm and old school vibe. Fingers crossed!
As stated in my previous blog on this wonderful island, Curacao is pretty child friendly! Basically every restaurant offers high chairs and a simple version of the grownup menu. People generally love kids and it is never a problem to bring them anywhere…A most of the restaurants have a garden or big outdoor space, the kids can run around and play while you are still at the table, and this is even more so if you dine or have lunch at the beach. Do make sure that you want a car seat while making reservations at the car rental, as this is not standard!!
So my question is: what are you waiting for? Go!