This Southern Caribbean series is not in my usual chronological order. It just made more sense to me to include the ABC Islands in a single grouping rather than interspersing these three islands of the Netherlands Antilles among other destinations. And to take it a step further, I’m presenting the ABCs in alphabetical order just for fun.
Thus, today I present to you the “A” in the ABC Islands, Aruba, as I take you on a visual tour of its capital Oranjestad. There’s not a whole lot to photograph if you stick to the more touristy area along Lloyd G. Smith Blvd., which is what Ursula and I did on this cruise. Nevertheless, there are some interesting things to see and if you’re into shopping this is where you need to be. But more on the shopping aspect below and on Wednesday.
Stepping beyond port security takes you through the Paardenbaai Plaza kiosks, which offer various touristy fare such as keychains, shot glasses, T-shirts and hats, as well as information booths and tours. Look left upon reaching Lloyd G. Smith Blvd. doesn’t look like a whole lot:
Instead, let’s turn right, which holds an array of restaurants, bars, and jewelry stores:
One of the most impressive sights along this street would have to be Royal Plaza Mall, which I love to photograph from various angles:
And, yes, there are places here to pop a cold one while watching the world stroll by, such as Iguana Joes Caribbean Bar & Grill:
Here’s an area for the high-end shopper seeking name brands such as Louis Vuitton, Prada, Ralph Lauren, Cartier, Bulgari, Chopard, and Gucci:
During your window-shopping stroll, don’t forget to look out over the waters of the Caribbean:
Now a word about jewelry shopping, which will be the major topic in Wednesday’s article. You may recall that last November I gave a review of our favorite jeweler now that El Paso’s Greg Kligman decided to shutter Sheldon Jewelers. Aurora Jewelers of Skagway, Alaska is still our favorite, and Sachin “Shawn” Kishnani is still our trusted friend in the business. But we were in the Caribbean, after all, and Ursula’s jewelry collection lacks one specific gemstone. I’ll give you a hint: (remember last week’s series? before we reached Aruba we were in Cartagena). Yep. Emerald.
During this voyage I wanted to fill that hole in Ursula’s collection. The Grandeur of the Seas‘ onboard jewelry store had a few examples, and they were not too badly priced. Indeed, we returned several times to look over a narrowed field of two or three pieces, but decided to wait on what Cartagena had to offer. What a disappointment. Poor quality compounded by prices higher than those aboard ship. If a stone had the deep, intense emerald color, it was marred by cloudiness. If it was clear, it invariably had a light green tone. If it looked even halfway reasonable on clarity, color, or size, it was ridiculously priced. The ship seemed to be the better source. And if you know anything about jewelry shopping in cruise ports, then you know that Diamonds International, Tanzanite International, and Emeralds International are price-gouging rip-off stores that sell at prices four, five, sometimes ten times higher than warranted.
Got your attention yet? Don’t let that poster above mislead you. It’s just that diamonds are Ursula’s best friends, and after visiting several stores on Oranjestad to look at emeralds we hit a place she wanted to see because they had Hearts on Fire diamonds. You’ll see more on that store Wednesday, but I’m setting you up for that tale today.
This store was of the smaller mom-and-pop variety. So, imagine our surprise as we looked around at both emeralds and diamonds when our salesman, Mukesh “Max” Kumar (yes, I asked; no relation to Kumar Patel) informed us that this unpretentious shop is the world leader in the sale of Hearts on Fire diamonds. Okay, I saw you roll your eyes, but…
And how did they come up with a name like Hearts on Fire? Well, under magnification and looking at the bottom of the diamond, you’ll see hearts. Max showed us this effect, as well as the spikes seen from the top of one of these gems.
But we weren’t here for diamonds. We were looking for an emerald. We’d already hit several stores, including a Milano (good people to do business with; located throughout the Caribbean and several ports in Alaska) and one promising store called Queen’s Jewelers. Then we found this place (name to be revealed on Wednesday), and I saw a pair of earrings in a setting I knew Ursula would love. Alas, she does not wear earrings. On Wednesday I’ll show you how this wonderful little store solved our problem.
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