Friday, March 1, 2013

Curacao: Where We Stayed

The view from our resort

The next time I fly to Curacao (and I can see there being a next time), I'm going to take a direct flight. WestJet does now directly fly once a week to the island however, we’d already booked everything by the time this route debuted and it wouldn't have been possible to move everything so that we could take that direct flight.

So instead we took a direct flight to Aruba, which was fine, and then a quick flight from Aruba to Curacao aboard Insel Air, a small airline that flies mostly in the Southern Caribbean. While it was only a 20-minute flight it was one that was stressful. Husband’s seat was double-booked (as were some other people’s), the AC didn't seem to work and at the end of it, we discovered that Insel Air had broken one of our bags. So no, I don’t recommend Insel Air however, I'm told that all these little, puddle-hopping airlines are equally crappy.

Also less-than-impressive is the island’s approach to customer service. On Bonaire, while customer service might have been slow, it generally came with a smile. Not so on Curacao. More often than not we were treated like an inconvenience and several times we were flat out ignored.

Most visitors to Curacao are Europeans but the treatment we too often received had nothing to do with the fact that we’re Canadian. Everyone, regardless of race or language, received the same usually poor service (unless you were friends with the server, which I noticed was a pretty common occurrence).

Despite these issues, Curacao has a lot going for it: Small but pretty beaches, tons of activities and picturesque Willemstad, the capital city that perfectly blends Europe with the Southern Caribbean. While it might not be the friendliest island out there, but it is certainly one of the more interesting ones.

Our Hotel: Lion's Dive & Beach Resort
We chose the Lion’s Dive as our hotel for the same reasons that we selected the Divi Flamingo: The location and its dive shop.

Sadly, because of a last-minute issue with my retina, we didn't get to check out the dive shop. However, it did look well-organized and its boats were big and new.

As for the location, it worked for us though I can see how some people might find this hotel too isolated as it’s not near a city/town and there’s not a lot within walking distance. However, it’s on a great beach, has even better snorkelling and there are a few things, including the sea aquarium and a handful of restaurants, that can be easily walked to. While Curacao’s capital Willemstad does have plenty of great hotels, the city doesn't have a beach nearby so if you’re visiting this island you have to choose: City or beach. For us it was an easy decision.

Overall, Lion’s Dive is a very mid-range hotel. While it does look a bit nicer than Bonaire's Divi Flamingo, it’s a far cry from Aruba's Riu Palace or most Caribbean all-inclusives. While it’s certainly not a bad hotel, I can see how some North Americans might be disappointed by this resort because, in full honesty, I've stayed at Holiday Day Inns with better customer service and attention-to-detail.

So maybe that’s why so few North Americans stayed at this resort. The vast majority of the people staying there are Europeans, mostly Dutch, and they seemed to be having a great time.

The customer service issues that I mentioned above are very present at Lion’s Dive though the front desk staff was very friendly and helpful, as was the activities desk woman and the woman at the car rental shop. But elsewhere, a helpful nature and even just a smile were often lacking.

Overall, this is a hotel with a lot of potential that it's just not fulfilling. Lion’s Dive is situated on a nice piece land, is an ideal size and has some wonderful features. But because of various little things, this resort just isn't as great as it could be. I really don’t know if I would stay here again. While I liked it, I didn't love it and I can easily see myself staying elsewhere just to see what else the island has to offer.

Our Room
Our room did have some great features: An ocean view (that we didn't pay for); a recently renovated bathroom that had a nice tropical feel; new tiles on the floor and all the usual items like a fridge and a flat-screen TV.

However, it also had some drawbacks. The biggest was easily the noise issue. We actually didn't hear any noise from our neighbours (unless they were out on the communal balcony) but we did hear a lot of noise from the roads and the strange industrial lot that faced the resort. If you do decide to stay here, request a room away from the road; it’s worth sacrificing the ocean view over.

I also wasn't a fan on the communal balcony, having two single duvets on a double bed (I know, that’s a European thing) and how beat-up some of the furniture was. Nor was I wowed by housekeeping. While they did a great job in some areas, like the floor and the linens, they struggled when it came to cleaning up the many glass surfaces in the room (to be fair, cleaning glass is a pain in the ass).

Besides the traditional-style hotel room that we were in, Lion’s Dive also offers apartment-style units. I'm told that those units are a bit nicer however, they’re all located next to some on-going construction so it might be best to avoid them for the next little bit (while you could hear the construction on the beach, you couldn't in our hotel room).

Pools and Beach
Lion’s Dive has three pools, two small ones that I only saw ever used by families and an infinity-style lane pool that was surprisingly popular.

Husband and I never used the pools but they all appeared to be in good condition. We spent our time on Lion’s Den lovely beach. While the sand isn't as nice as the sand on Aruba’s Palm Beach, and the loungers were sometimes beat-up, the overall set-up was above fine, especially since you could almost always get a shaded seat at any time of the day.

Above fine is the resort's snorkelling. Tons of the pretty fish and eels that call the area home and because of Lion’s Dive location, there are a lot of different spots to explore. We checked out both sides of the beach’s man-made break-rocks though I wouldn't recommend going on the outside unless you’re a strong swimmer or it’s a really calm day. We also swam over towards the island's sea aquarium. You can actually see the lemon sharks swimming around in their enclosure though sadly the dolphins all live on the side of the aquarium, which isn't accessible by snorkelling.

Since I'm planning on writing about the resort's restaurants in another post, this section will just focus on the bar. Unfortunately, Lion’s Dive does happy hour only once a week, on Fridays, and we missed it. However, we did show up to the bar shortly afterwards and it was clear that a lot of the hotel, as well as many locals, had turned up for that event. Once happy hour has wrapped up on Fridays, as well as on Sunday nights, the bar features live music, which was a great touch and something I really liked.

Drink prices, while not cheap, weren't bad, I think I paid $7 for a frozen drink, and there are plenty of varieties to choose from.

On Friday night we sat at the bar, which is completely the way to go. On a couple of previous nights, we sat at a table and waited forever for service because the servers were all busy visiting with their friends (I'm not exaggerating; one night the friends were seated at the table beside us and one waitress spent close to 10 minutes chatting with them). The bartenders though are efficient and will quickly get you your drinks.

So those are my thoughts on Curacao in general as well as were we stayed. Up next is a post on what we did while in Curacao.

1 comment:

  1. I love that you can snorkel up to the Aquarium enclosures! Very cool.