Swimming with the Fishes – Grand Turk, La Romana, Willemstad, and Oranjestad – Gonzalo and Elizabeth Dream Vacations

Swimming with the Fishes – Grand Turk, La Romana, Willemstad, and Oranjestad

By now if you’ve read our ship review, you know, dear reader, that we were on board the Carnival Breeze from August 28 through September 6, 2015 for a seminar at sea with other agents from our network. Our seminars only took up a small portion of “at sea” days, which left us time in the ports to go play in the water. And play we did! Four magnificent southern Caribbean countries’ aquamarine waters beckoned us - Turks and Caicos, Dominican Republic, Curacao, and Aruba. Ay carumba!

Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos

Divers may be more acquainted with Providenciales (Provo) as a dive spot. Provo plays host to two resorts divers base out of like Beaches and Club Med Turkoise among others. Grand Turk showed us a beautiful wall just a few hundred feet off the beach and it was still a lovely place to dive. The dive shop utilized offers many tours and activities and works with the cruise ship passengers. They were one of the most professional we’ve found especially for a shop still okay with taking divers from a cruise ship.

Upon arrival in to Grand Turk, you’re greeted by the public beach which is literally beside the cruise pier – a definite rarity. Of course, there is a Margaritaville and duty-free shopping all at the end of the pier and walking distance for those not wishing to participate in an organized tour. After proceeding through the main shop, you’ll find the meeting places for all the tours. It was a short walk from there to embark the dive boat and set out for our two-tank dive.

The two different spots along the wall were named, Austin's Reef and English Point. So many sponges, corals, fish, and even our first sea horse sighting ever!

Next stop on our itinerary… La Romana, Dominican Republic.

And we didn’t dive. I know, I know. The waters were beautiful and there are some really great dive spots all around the DR, but our desire to visit one of the local all-inclusive resorts in person won out. Dreams La Romana will be soon joined by Dreams Dominicus by the end of 2015. Family-friendly, Dreams La Romana is a very popular choice for destination weddings and families looking to experience a quieter side of the DR. Punta Cana, about 1.5 hours northeast from La Romana, boasts additional resort choices for adults-only and families. We will probably be pulling together a dive group that'll stay at this resort sometime in 2016, so we wanted to get eyes on it first.

Two groups of agents, including us, boarded taxis for the 20 minutes ride to reach Dreams La Romana from the cruise pier. It was $10/person/ride. Not too bad. Once there we used our Master Agent status to self-tour the resort (minus room tours as the resort was booked to capacity), try some of the food, beach, pool, and, of course, the swim-up pool bar.

While you’re in the DR make sure you try out their signature cocktail of sorts, the mama juana. We’ve heard some places bill it as an aphrodisiac or sickness cure-all; I wouldn’t recommend falling for any claims, but trying out the unique concoction brewed with tree bark and herbs shouldn’t be missed by folks who like to try local drinks. And, yes, the bars at Dreams La Romana stock their own brew.

Willemstad, Curacao

. Neither wind nor choppy-looking water was going to keep us from visiting the only all-inclusive on the island, Sunscape Curacao, and doing our night dive with Ocean Encounters. Several agents joined us on the resort tour where we got to see first-hand several accommodations from deluxe to their more private Sun Club area. With an extensive beachfront complete with ocean break to keep swimmers safe to excellent food choices, Sunscape has a lot to offer visitors of all ages in Curacao. You even have access to walk to a nearby area called the Boulevard where there’s local restaurants and shopping if you or a member of your travelling party want a bit more local flavor.

Ocean Encounters has a location on the pier at Sunscape which is where we departed from for our night dive. We met up with the small group at 6:30 PM to dive a wall and a small tug boat wreck. The shop does the night dive every Wednesday and it is not to be missed. Along the dive we saw squid, plenty of fish, and beautiful sponges and corals. And even several of those pesky lionfish. It was the first night dive for several on our trip and our divemaster and the shop employees also diving with the group took great care with everyone to ensure an enjoyable experience for all.

Our final destination before returning to the U.S. was Oranjestad, Aruba. The dive shop we used this time was one found through our exclusive shore excursion group provider. The experience held up to others we’ve had – small group, professionally run crew, and well priced. The shop picked us up just outside of the security area in Aruba in their vehicle and brought us the 15 minute drive to their shop which was near the airport. Once checked in, we were able to set-up our gear on the boat and await departure which didn’t take long.

Our two dive sites for the day were steeped in World War II history. The first being Pedernales, the wreck of one of two oil tankers set as refinery decoys which Germany torpedoed decades ago. The Dutch shut down the refinery that fateful night and placed the tankers just offshore with lights onthem to fool the Germans; one tanker ended up further out from the coastline and deeper after the explosion. But Pedernales is located in 20-29 feet of water and is teeming with sea life from eels to crabs and plenty of fish in between. Don’t discount it due to its shallow depth!

Our second dive site was the famous wreck, the Antilla. Many stories surround the ship's arrival and perhaps this one supplied by our dive ship is the best. The wreck itself is a beauty. 400+ feet long and laying on her port side. You can still see the rivets on the decks, cannons are intact, and port holes. She’s becoming more unstable, so penetration is not allowed by divers anymore. The site can get stirred up by light current and lots of snorkeling tours, so go early. But this is the Caribbean, so even 50-70 feet of viz is difficult to complain about.

Four countries, five dives, eight days, one time unpacking = priceless.

Been to these places and want to share your take? Say it in the comments!

P.S. More pics and video reside on our Facebook page.

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