Cozy in Curacao: Going Dutch in the Caribbean
By Melanie Reffes
Sitting pretty 70 miles east of Aruba and 35 miles north of Venezuela, Curacao is the gold standard for romance and a popular choice for weddings, honeymoons and vacations away from the fray. A multi-lingual melting pot of nationalities from around the world, the Dutch island is also one of a just a few Caribbean countries located outside the Atlantic hurricane belt making weddings and honeymoons a breeze to book year ‘round. www.curacao.com/en/
From a sunset on the beach ceremony to a more formal affair in a resort ballroom, couples have a myriad of choices to celebrate their special day. For couples opting for a religious ceremony, there are many churches dotting the island and for those marrying in the Jewish faith, Mikve Israel-Emanuel in Willemstad is the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Americas. “To proceed with a legal wedding, it’s highly suggested to use a planner to assist with the process,” recommends Gianina Atalita, sales and marketing coordinator, Curaçao Tourist Board in North America, “most large hotels and resorts have a wedding planner on-property and our website is also full of suggestions.”
Sweet Dreams at the Santa Barbara Beach Resort
At the base of Tafelberg Mountain between the Caribbean Sea and Spanish Water Bay, Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort is the largest hotel on the island conveniently located 15 miles from Hato International Airport and 10 miles from the capital city of Willemstad. With 350 seaview rooms and suites, the 4-diamond resort on 27 sprawling acres on the 2,000 acre Santa Barbara Plantation is the island leader in destination weddings. “We host 3 weddings a day during our busy season with 30% of our couples coming from the USA,” says Ezzie Cijntje, marketing and communications specialist, “weddings are so important to us that we have 5 onsite wedding planners ready to assist couples from around the world.” www.santabarbararesortcuracao.com/
Not an all-inclusive although meal plans are offered including a breakfast-only option and another one that includes 3 meals daily plus spirits, onsite restaurants include Medi with an international buffet for a breakfast and a varied menu for lunch and dinner, Splash by the pool for fish tacos and a decadent Banana Blizzard milkshake and fine dining at Shore and Jun’s Sushi Bar where local Chef Heinrich Hortencia works his magic in the exhibition kitchen after honing his culinary chops in Holland. Inviting with a Caribbean vibe and an extensive wine list, the Chef impresses with his crispy seafood ceviche, octopus carpaccio, coconut-y fish stew jazzed up with curry and plantains, expertly prepared surf and turf and chocolate desserts worth the splurge. “I am delighted to showcase our island specialities to our guests,” Chef Hortencia says recommending the delectable mahi mahi, “for wedding receptions and special occasions, we accommodate many dietary requirements from Kosher catering to vegetarian menus as we support our community by sourcing produce like lettuce, papayas and zucchinis from our local farmers.” www.shorecuracao.com
Options to keep busy include hiking and biking, 24-hour fitness center, 4 tennis courts, 3 pools, water sports, dive trips and massages in the Atabei Spa where treatments are rooted in the culture of the Arawak Indians. A couple’s spa suite ups the ante for newlyweds or nearly newly-weds while private rain showers and four indoor and outdoor suites are relaxation-central. A robust line-up for active twosomes includes aqua aerobics, horseshoe tossing, ping-pong tournaments and yoga. For the kids in the wedding party, there’s Camp Arawak ($55. per day including lunch) and for nature lovers; feed the iguanas every Wednesday and Friday at noon.
Brides, Grooms and a Bottle of Bubbly
Couples marrying at Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort have the options of creative wedding package that best suits their style and budget. Starting at $4,000, ‘Sun Kissed’ includes a wedding rehearsal, ceremony on Shaman Beach with gorgeous views of the Caribbean Sea, arch on the beach for the vows, colorful bridal bouquet and groom’s boutonnière, wedding cake and a champagne toast. Ratcheting up the appeal, the package comes with 2 hours of wedding photography, serenading musician and a gratis guestroom for the newlyweds. For couples with a higher budget, ‘Loving Kiss’ starts at $8,500 and includes a ceremony at the picturesque Caneye Pavilion at the water’s edge, five-piece band, five hours of wedding photography, champagne toast, corsages and boutonnières and a three-tier wedding cake. Add-ons include complimentary wedding night suite for the bride and groom, mani and pedi for the bride, couples massage in Atabei Spa and nightly turndown.
Pool Decks and Patios
With no shortage of scenic vistas for the Big Day, barefoot on the beach at Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort is the perennial favorite. On Shaman Beach, small weddings or larger ones of up to 300 guests are picture-perfect at sunset. For those who prefer to forego the sand-between-the-toes experience, sea view Caneye Pavilion comes with enough space for up to 500 dinner guests and a whirl or two around the dancefloor.
For smaller weddings, ocean breezes and majestic vistas are the signatures of a ceremony on the Stanibari and Huri Huri Terraces. The elegant patios host up to 200 guests for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. In the island’s largest ballroom, 600 partyers in the Arawak Ballroom guarantees a wedding to remember. For smaller receptions, Lokono Ballroom fits the bill. For casual couples, saying I Do on the Pool Deck is the perfect perch for sips and snacks and for weddings in the great outdoors, 500 guests on the Wakura Lawn is movie-star magic while the Zemi Lawn is a big green space for up to 600 guests. “We offer multiple ceremony locations in and around our premises including our outdoor wedding sites that boast gorgeous panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea,” says Vanessa Jacobus, wedding coordinator, “Shaman Beach offers a romantic and intimate wedding experience while the Caneye Pavilion creates an amazing backdrop for your ceremony and reception.”
Voted best golf course in the Caribbean in the 2018 USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Poll, Old Quarry is a Pete Dye-designed 18-hole course with spellbinding views of the ocean, Spanish Water Harbor and the Tafelberg Mountain. “One of our most creative ceremony venues and one of my personal favorites for a wedding is the first hole on the course,” Rob de Bekker, general manager, “the views of the ocean and the mountain are simply spectacular.” www.oldquarrygolfcuracao.com/
From an elegant dinner to a casual brunch or cocktail party, menus cater to every taste with specialities from the around the world. For those with a yen for Asian fare, options include a Sushi Bar with Hamachi Yellow Tail and Shake Salmon and the Sizzling Noodle Bar with yakisoba noodles and stir fried bok choy. Eating local is the real deal at the Flavors of Curacao buffet with Keshi Yena; the cheesy casserole made with Gouda cheese, chicken, olives and raisins and a drizzle of the house made piquant pepper sauce. Light bites are delectable at the Tapas station, kids love the Mashed Potato Bar and for fish lovers; the Seafood Bar is chockablock with wild salmon crispy crab cakes and jumbo shrimp gussied up with mint and lime. Dessert doesn’t disappoint with a Crème Brule Station and a Chocolate Fountain. Crafty bartenders shake and stir fruity cocktails like a Strawberry Martini and Passion Fruit Mojito. For couples spending their honeymoon on the island, there are plenty of options at the resort. www.santabarbararesortcuracao.com/caribbean_weddings/curacao_honeymoons/
Romance at the Renaissance
For a city wedding, 237-room and suite Renaissance Curaçao Resort & Casino is a colorfully delightful hotel on the Otrobanda waterfront in Willemstad that last year celebrated 20 years as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Close to the airport, beaches and island attractions, the Caribbean casual resort with a stellar staff offers a boatload of locales for a ceremony and festive reception. Couples partner with resort wedding planners to ensure that no detail is overlooked from culinary-curated menus for the reception, valet dry cleaning for the gown and tux, special rates when ten or more rooms are booked and honeymoon packages for the bride and groom.
For twosomes craving alone time, ‘Get Romantic in Curacao’ is a too-good-too-miss getaway package valid through December 21 with nightly rates from $328.00 – $341.00 (book online with the code LVU). Upping the ante, the package includes a stay in an ocean view room, breakfast pour deux in the Nautilus restaurant with a sumptuous buffet of international and Dutch treats, bottle of Vevue Cliquot champagne and dreamy dinner on the beach with a bottle of wine. www.Renaissancecuracao.com
Ballroom, Beach and the Blue Lobby Bar
The elegant ballroom is expansive with 2,692 square feet of space for a celebration of up to 252 guests. For smaller weddings, there are plenty of photogenic spots like the beach at the Infinity Club with sweeping views of the cityscape and a bar to toast the newlyweds. “We welcome couples celebrating special occasions,” said Karen Felida-Evans, marketing and e-commerce manager, “our staff are experts at arranging and organizing weddings from formal celebrations to more intimate parties.”
Although there are plenty of restaurants in the adjacent Rif Fort and Renaissance Mall, options at the pastel-pretty hotel include Blue Lobby Bar for light bites and crafty Caribbean cocktails and Nautilus with both outdoor and indoor seating for a Dutch Caribbean breakfast and local signatures for lunch and dinner.
For a swim with a view, the Infinity Beach Club is unique with a faux-beach fronting a saltwater lagoon that slopes into an infinity pool. Big on the chill-out factor, there are 3 spa cabanas for a pre-wedding massage, spa treatments on the sand, beach bar with a fruity menu of heady cocktails and sweeping views of the Caribbean Sea. Calorie-burners include a jogging trail and fitness center. When the sun sets, there’s live music in the lobby and slots and table games at the adjoining Carnaval Casino that stays open until 3 a.m.
Something Old, Something New
Reimagined by the Renaissance Curaçao Resort and Casino that sits in the middle of the mall, Rif Fort was built in 1828 to defend Willemstad from pirates and other enemies. On the Otrobanda side of the St. Anna Bay, the fort now guards shops, bars and restaurants in the Renaissance Mall. Close to the cruise ship piers, the open-air mall is chockablock with brand boutiques like Tiffany & Company and Freeport Jewelers and hangouts like Kandela Cigar Lounge for a fiery whiskey and Don’s Ice Cream Shop where a shareable hot fudge sundae is a sweet guilty pleasure. “My personal favorite,” adds Karen Felida-Evans, marketing and e-commerce manager, Renaissance Curaçao Resort and Casino, “is a scoop of the cookies and cream flavor.” At night, the Fort heats up with local bands and dance nights. www.shoprenaissancecuracao.com/
Out and About
Across the floating Queen Emma Bridge, Willemstad is remarkably easy to navigate on foot and the oldest part of town built in the 1600’s. The cobbled lanes and alleys are full of restaurants, galleries, shops and gabled houses that were painted white until 1817 when the Governor ordered them repainted in a palette of crayon colors to combat the glare from the sun. A few steps from the World’s Best Mojito Bar on a lively street called Columbusstraat, Ecco Bambu is an eco-friendly shop owned by five women who paint driftwood they find combing the west coast beaches. “We customize the driftwood with the names of the bride and groom to create souvenirs of the wedding and our island,” smiles Marisol Pomario, co-owner. For early risers, La Bohème opens at 8 a.m. for a pancake breakfast, strong cuppa Cuban coffee and people-watching from the tables on the sidewalk. www.labohemecuracao.com/
A three-hour flight from Miami, American Airlines adds a third daily flight from Miami on December 19. Jet Blue added Tuesday flights from New York’s JFK Airport through September 4 in addition to flights on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. To speed up arrival through the Hato International Airport, visitors can complete the entry card in advance. https://edcardcuracao.com/Default.aspx. “The new and additional flights will bring more connectivity to the island allowing travelers to customize their trip to their needs,” said Gianina Atalita, sales and marketing coordinator, Curaçao Tourist Board, North America, “the additional flights also mean additional seats as we aim to increase our arrivals from the North American market which will lead to economic growth for the island.” www.curacao.com/en/
Save the Date
September 26-30: Curacao Pride is a 5-day party saluting the LGBTQ community with shindigs on boats, drag shows on the beach, White Party at Club Spoonz and the grand parade that starts in Willemstad and struts along the coast. www.curacaopride.com
September 29 – October 6: Curacao Dive Festival is fun above and below the water. www.divecuracao.info/curacao-dive-festival-2018-schedule
November 12-18: Curacao Cycling Week is for fans of mountain biking.
November 25: KLM Curacao Marathon welcomes runners along the waterfront and across the Queen Emma Bridge.