About Renee Blodgett

Renee Blodgett

Renee Blodgett is the founder of We Blog the World. The site combines the magic of an online culture and travel magazine with a global blog network and has contributors from every continent in the world. Having lived in 10 countries and explored nearly 80, she is an avid traveler, and a lover, observer and participant in cultural diversity.

She is also the CEO and founder of Magic Sauce Media, a new media services consultancy focused on viral marketing, social media, branding, events and PR. For over 20 years, she has helped companies from 12 countries get traction in the market. Known for her global and organic approach to product and corporate launches, Renee practices what she pitches and as an active user of social media, she helps clients navigate digital waters from around the world. Renee has been blogging for over 16 years and regularly writes on her personal blog Down the Avenue, Huffington Post, BlogHer, We Blog the World and other sites. She was ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes Magazine and is listed as a new media influencer and game changer on various sites and books on the new media revolution. In 2013, she was listed as the 6th most influential woman in social media by Forbes Magazine on a Top 20 List.

Her passion for art, storytelling and photography led to the launch of Magic Sauce Photography, which is a visual extension of her writing, the result of which has led to producing six photo books: Galapagos Islands, London, South Africa, Rome, Urbanization and Ecuador.

Renee is also the co-founder of Traveling Geeks, an initiative that brings entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, creators, curators and influencers to other countries to share and learn from peers, governments, corporations, and the general public in order to educate, share, evaluate, and promote innovative technologies.


Latest Posts by Renee Blodgett

Curaçao Cliffs, Waves & Oh So Quiet Moments…

December 17, 2014 by  

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The views are breathtaking and despite the fact that I have a perfect one before me, I decide I want to explore. It seems like the trail I’m on which goes along the ocean’s edge, will never end — not a bad thing for this bohemian spirit.

When you explore off limits and beyond boundaries, I find that you can discover a whole lotta magic when you’re least expecting it.

Awareness is always key to any transformative travel experience even at an otherwise seemingly standard 4 star property in the Caribbean, which is where the walk started.

My December visit wasn’t over crowded so I was always able to find a quiet spot, one which I only shared with some crashing waves and a few massive sized gekkos who discretely graced me with their presence at precisely the times I wanted to be undisturbed.

Like most Caribbean islands, they are harmless but everywhere.  Yet, they are a simple, pure and beautiful reminder that nature is what she is, as is her timing and there’s no point fighting it.

While I can see buildings in my view to the left as I make my way around the concrete path that follows the cliffs, to my right is nothing but wide open sea.

Known as a windy island, there’s a constant breeze in Curaçao, however it’s always warm enough that the breeze is a more of a welcoming addition than not, unlike the case in my late fall visit to Western Ireland where I longed for a fireplace more than the wind meeting my face.

I fell in love with the white washed rocks, all of which had cratered holes throughout – a bit moon-like at times. It must be appealing to the native gekkos too though it doesn’t appear to me they can hide their reptilian skin as well as more neutral colored rocks might.

The crashing waves are just loud enough to put me to sleep in that relaxing soothing way that a large sea shell’s calling winds make when you place it to your ear.  But, I don’t stop to rest just yet for I want to see what is around the corner.

More palm trees of course, an open thatched hut and a matching thatched umbrella with a few bathers hanging about.

There are views everywhere and it’s so quiet I find myself not wanting to leave – is there anywhere I really need to be I ask myself?

Most of us don’t take enough reflective moments to be so present in a destination that solitude fills your soul regardless of whether its soothing crashing waves you hear, crying babies or tooting horns.

For someone who finds it hard to meditate at the best of times, I am inspired to write more than sit although the pure silence minus those oh so lovely waves is telling me its time to sit and do absolutely nothing at all. And so, I continue walking and walking until there are no lounge chairs, no people, no footprints and no thatched huts.

Finally, there’s nothing at all except for the wide open sea….this is where I want to be, I think. This is where I need to be, I know…

Thank you Curaçao and the crashing waves for those oh so few but oh so precious magical moments.

For more great posts on Curaçao and the Dutch Caribbean, check out our Aruba/Bonaire/Curaçao section

 

Note: I was a guest of the Curaçao tourism board but was not paid to or asked to write this article. The choices for topics and what I write is entirely up to me and all opinions expressed are entirely my own. 

 

 

TravelPro Spinner Luggage: Lightweight, Innovative & Smart

December 16, 2014 by  

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Amazingly lightweight and innovative ‘smart’ luggage Marquis from TravelPro combines lightweight design with the best ‘smart’ technologies, making the line ideal for business and leisure travelers. 
I recently had a chance to test out one of their roller bags and we’re thrilled with its durability and design.  Their Spinner styles offer straight-rolling MagnaTrac wheels, Contour Grip and a PowerScope Extension Handle. This stylish collection also features 2-wheel Rollaboard luggage and matching Totes. 
Many extension handles I’ve tried out in the past are on the flimsy side — they tend to stick often or simply won’t close when you need them to. Below will give you an idea of the robustness and comfort of their TravelPro’s PowerScope extension handle.
Their Platinum Magna collection of luxury 8-wheel Spinner and Rollaboard luggage is incredibly lightweight and durable, which for this traveler, is critical.
I’m on the road all the time and it’s astonishing to me how heavy some major luggage brands are, reducing the amount you can pack for longer trips. It’s due to four revolutionary technologies TravelPro uses — MagnaTrac, Duraframe, PowerScope and Contour Grip — which not only make it lighter, but easier to maneuver.   
This was a huge plus and selling point for me. As a woman who still hasn’t learned how to pack light, lightweight luggage combined with durability is a godsend.
Easy to maneuver and steer is also a key feature for a woman traveler. While they obviously don’t specifically target women, I thought their combination of strength, light weight and ease-of-use was a great win for women travelers.

 The maneuver ease is because of its very cool self-aligning MagnaTrac system. Magnets instantly align the 4 spinner wheels to roll straight in any direction the user desires, avoiding the drifting and pulling that is so common with so many other 4-wheel bags out there. There’s also a very cool unique bottom tray which helps to stabilize the wheels for effortless mobility and enhanced durability over the long haul. The goal of this design was to make it easier for travelers to maneuver through ticket lines, crowded airports and airplane aisles. 

The bags are available in both stylish sapphire blue and elegant black. For those of you who read us often will know, we LOVE color here at We Blog the World and creative designs. Black, white and silver options only in bags, tech and travel accessories just don’t cut it for us. We look for the fun and the interesting, so we’re loving their Sapphire Blue.

A zippered, interior side mesh pocket serves as storage for bulky power cables, chargers, socks, belts, scarves or other accessories.

They also have a great compact Marquis Rolling Tote which we haven’t tried out but given that it has the same quality as what we have seen with the TravelPro Marquis spinner, we’d say it’s a great choice for overnight and weekend trips. The tote comes equipped with a business organizer, padded sleeve for storing a tablet or laptop computer and an area for clothing.

I also love the fact that TravelPro has a Lifetime Warranty for every piece in the collection. Sweet!  See this product video on the innovative Marquis Collection. 

Two thumbs up! We’d recommend this bag for both leisure and business travel use!

 

 

Note: TravelPro sent us luggage to test out however we are not getting paid to write this review and I can assure you all opinions are entirely my own.

Australia’s Flag Lady is an Icon for Sydney Railfans

December 15, 2014 by  

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Even though you may never have heard of her name, 87-year-old Kathleen Payne is Australia’s oldest trainspotter and a national icon. Known as the Croydon Flag Lady, she’s a breath of fresh air for Sydney railfans.

Kathleen Payne has inspired thousands of train riders who have made the 4,362 kilometer journey across Australia on the famous Indian Pacific train. This train apparently holds a special place in Kathleen’s heart because her late father Edward was aboard that same train on its maiden journey back in 1970.

She has been greeting the transcontinental Indian Pacific train with a wave of a full-sized Australian flag as the train rushes through the inner Sydney station of Croydon for decades. The friendly crew of the luxury train knows she’ll be there, and provide advance warning of horn and headlights, to let her get in position. It can’t be seen in the video, but both driver and second man give a familial wave.

Chris Myles, an old Aussie friend of mine, has been in the transportation industry for over 20 years and was interviewed in the Today Show segment – he sent me a link to the national story captured on film.

Below is a shorter video I found on YouTube of someone who caught her in action in 2010.

The top photo, Kathleen received a souvenir from Maurice Bezzina. Photo credit by DAMIAN SHAW. Second photo is a screen grab from the Today Show video.

7 Curaçao Resort Picks: From Chic & Trendy to Family Style & Convenient

December 15, 2014 by  

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On a recent trip to Curaçao, I had the opportunity to explore a few resort and hotel properties, some of which I stayed at and a few I didn’t, but either visited or did some in-depth research on ratings and who they cater to. Bear in mind that the Caribbean is relatively new for me as I haven’t explored the region as thoroughly as I have other parts of the world, so I won’t be able to give you other island comparisons (yet, that is :-).

It’s all in the details they say and since I pay such close attention to them, I can assure you when a hotel property “gets the details” and it comes out in either service or your room or dining experience, I’ll notice. Let’s take a meander through the island.

Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort

On west of the island, roughly a 45 minute drive from the island capital of Willemstad (refer to blown up map at the bottom of this post to get perspective), lies the very remote Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort.

What makes it so remote is not the fact that its a 45 minute drive from the nightlife and cultural activities of Willemstad, but the fact that it is spread across 27 acres of rare natural preserves. It also has a lovely private beach, which makes it both romantic and safe for kids.

Santa Barbara is an ideal honeymoon getaway spot and makes a fabulous venue for weddings — think tons of space, private beach, pool and rooms you can reserve in blocks in one area. It is also a great hotel for families. Because its secluded and they offer kids activities, you don’t have to worry about your kids on the property which gives you time to relax.

The property is lush, filled with palm and other tropical trees – below is a shot from my hotel room balcony. Bear in mind that it was a little overcast when we arrived, but the clouds typically clear up after a quick 20 minute tropical shower which is common during the months of November and December.

Golf lovers will have a blast at the Pete Dye designed golf course and while I ran out of time to try their spa, I’ve heard great things.  Imagine Caribbean views, an alluring white sandy beach with a swimming lagoon, and fine dining — below is a shot of the tuni poki and crab appetizer, my favorite memory from my dinner at Shore’s American Seafood Grill on the second night of the trip.

Details:

Santa Barbara Plantation

Porta Blancu

Nieuwpoort, Curaçao
+599 9 840 1234

Kura Hulanda Lodge & Beach Club

Beach clubs are common on Curacao — the greatest feature of course is that it feels private, it is private and everything you need is on the premises without the high rise buildings that you get from more populated island beach properties.

Like Santa Barbara’s resort, the hotel is a half an hour or so’s drive from Willemstad, so a little more remote than staying downtown. Each has its merits of course.

What’s lovely about Kura Hulanda is how peaceful it is. Also located on the west side of Curacao, the resort overlooks a secluded beach and there’s a charming outdoor dining area in that romantic southern European style that I love so much.

Below is an oceanfront suite. Rooms are tiled and feature light rattan furnishings and colorful cushions with a tropical flair.  There’s a large balcony, located on the second floor-all overlooking the ocean with breathtaking views of the sea.

Oceanfront one bedroom suites have a separate bedroom with a king bed and a separate living room with a sleeper sofa, kitchenette with dining table for four; large bathroom with tub and shower, tile floors, remote controlled air-conditioning, remote controlled cable TV, entertainment system with DVD player, direct dial phone, clock radio, personal safe and many other amenities.  There’s also an outdoor shower. Fun!

Details:

Kura Hulunda Lodge & Beach Club

Playa Kalki 1 Westpunt

932250, Curaçao
+599 9 839 3600

Blue Bay Hotel

Staying at Blue Bay is a bit like where luxury meets nature. They say that the animals feel as home here as people do and it’s not hard to see why.

It has had a turbulent history of many owners, dating back as far as 1700 — the plantation ‘Blaauw’ got its name from Anno Blaauw, who was the owner at the time. Old documents show that the plantation had varying success with its harvests and that its crops included lemons and laraha oranges, which are still the defining ingredient for the famous Curacao liqueur.

The plantation apparently also produced indigo, a luxurious blue dye that was believed to ward off evil spirits. This is what gave the Indigo Garden villa project its name. Today, it’s known as a place for pure relaxation, nature and there’s also a golf course for golf lovers.

Why Blue Bay over the others? If you want pure relaxation, nature and luxury and don’t want the hustle and bustle of being in central Willemstad for the chic clubs and night life. It’s a great place to bring a a bag of novels, games and simply get away from it all.

There are also walks nearby that will bring you closer to nature so it’s as much romantic as it is quiet and relaxing. While I can’t speak first hand about the sunsets, they’re apparently beautiful here and their Sunset Bar is right on the shore.

Here they have relaxed music, delicious bites and a breathtaking Caribbean view. There’s also dining on the property.

Details:

Blue Bay Hotel

Landhuis Blauw z/n

Willemstad NA Curaçao

+559.9.888.8800

Floris Suite Hotel

Floris Hotel is fairly central and just across a main highway from the Curacao Hilton. Note that it is an adult-only hotel, a key feature for older couples wanting to get away or a retreat for those who just want a break from their everyday hustle and bustle life. Its style is stark and modern, with a nearly all white lobby that is more loungey in feel than not.

The suites are both modern and incredibly spacious with the living area (living room and kitchen) in the front facing the pool and the bedroom, which is the main entrance to the suite. While most of the suites are the same, they offer more of a pure white look-and-feel (below) and also rooms with a bit more pizzazz and color (second photo shown below).

The rooms sit on two floors and all of them have balconies facing the pool which is the central hub of the interior of the hotel. It’s lovely. I’d recommend staying on the second floor since it’s a little quieter (there weren’t any throw rugs in my room) and not next to an alleyway that separates each building block (also a little quieter).

There were a few little quirks when I was there, such as the hot water running out early, however this has happened to me over the years in luxury properties in more remote areas and it’s usually a temporary glitch not a permanent issue, but worth noting nevertheless.

The hotel is known to be gay friendly, and they have fabulous cocktail receptions and happy hours at their on-site bar, where you can also dine day or night. They have spa services, but not a spa on-site yet. (apparently one is coming). You can have a masseuse come to you however in the privacy of your suite or beside their tropical free-form pool.

The real reason to stay here however is the service. Their mantra – “Let Me Spoil You” is written everywhere including on the staff t-shirts. They “get” service and make you feel as if you’re the only one.

I had the worst night of my god awful head cold on my second night there and the chef made me homemade chicken soup. Thereafter, they kept sending a selection of their organic herbal teas to me until they saw a smile and even sent a driver to pick up a congestion med from the pharmacy in town. I loved their staff!

The pool is also amazing and while there is no beach or hot tub on the premises, you can catch a complimentary golf cart from the main reception area across the road to the Hilton property where they have a hot tub, private beach, a sauna, steam room, spa and fairly extensive gym.

Note the ever so hip table in the middle of a shallow part of the pool. While soaking your feet in the refreshing cool water, you can relax here, have lunch, read a book or even work on your laptop as one of my colleagues did on our first afternoon here.

Details:

Floris Suite Hotel

Piscaderaweg

Willemstad, Curaçao
+599 9 462 6111

The Hilton Curacao Resort

For those of you who are Hilton lovers, Curacao has one, an ideal property if you have a family since it offers a comprehensive list of amenities on-site.

A stone’s throw from the Floris Suite Hotel, the Hilton is on the other side of the highway on a piece of land that is big enough to house a large swimming pool, hot tub, massive gym, sauna, steam room, spa (see my write up on the Color of People Spa on the premises), executive rooms and suites with views, two secluded, private beaches, on property dive center, casino, kids club, and restaurants.

Think golden sands, emerald seas, and natural wonders — I took a long walk down its paved path, which runs along the ocean’s edge (I wrote a reflective piece about my experience here).

Two of the private beaches below.

It was exquisite and despite the fact that there were people floating around, I was able to find spots where there was no one at all. Here, I was able to take in the serenity of Curacao and its warm ocean breezes, far far away from the bitter cold of New York City I had left behind only days before.

Below is the pool area — a small but lovely infinity pool is at the edge of the pool, facing the ocean.

The below shot received the most number of Instagram likes of the pool/ocean variations I posted on the We Blog the World Instagram feed on the trip.

Details:

The Hilton Curacao Resort

JF Kennedy Boulevard

Willemstad, Curaçao
+599 9 462 5000

The Papagayo Beach Resort

The recently opened Papagayo Beach Hotel is located in the well-known Jan Thiel region, an upscale neighborhood. The hotel and beach resort is located on the beach directly adjacent to Papagayo Beach Club.

The hotel consists of a main building of contemporary design and a number of detached structures. In the main building there’s an ever so chic attractive bar and modern reception area. The rooms have views of the Jan Thiel boulevard, the lobby with its garden and the Caribbean Sea. Some detached buildings located in the distinctive garden look out onto this garden or onto the sea.

The pool by night…

Architect Cees den Heijer spent a lot of time paying attention to modern design and managed to create a magnificent combination of the ever-pleasant, hospitable Caribbean climate and a comfortable cosy environment for guests.

Papagayo Beach Club is known as one of the hotspots on the island of Curaçao, highly popular for its international style and Caribbean atmosphere. Let’s just say as I turned the corner for the first time to dine at its chic restaurant, I couldn’t help but think “this is clearly where all the beautiful people hang out.

The beach club is adjacent to a beautiful beach with a salt water infinity pool which sits right in front of an open air restaurant, also tres modern in style.

The international cuisine and the breathtaking views from the restaurant are worth the experience – in fact, while I’m typically a fan of going to more local restaurants when I’m in a new country, I loved the lightweight feeling I had about the property.

Not only did I feel lighter, but I felt at peace — in other words, the feng shui felt just right. And, the food was exquisite. Our lunch was long and it felt as if the dishes would never stop coming. What’s key about this property is that it feels as if they focus on healthy living and amenities and this comes through in the Beach Club’s menu as well.

From the Beach Bar you look out onto the beach and the enormous swimming pool, stretching out all the way to the sea and beyond … Pure heaven!

Details:

The Papagayo Beach Hotel

Jan Thiel

Curacao

+599.9.747.4333 

The Renaissance Curacao Resort & Casino

Right in the heart of downtown Willemstad is the Renaissance Curacao Resort & Casino, which has an artsy lobby with a modern flair, a restaurant with windows on all sides that offers massive buffet lunches, a gym, casino and luxury rooms, all done in Caribbean style.

Below is a fun colored pillar I took a shot of in the lobby.

They have a gym on-site and even a Starbucks, so for those who don’t want the cultural diversity of a foreign feeling location, the familiar settings of the Renaissance may be your bet. You could easily be in any city of the world here with the exception of one spectacular thing – its infinity pool on the top floor that extends out into the ocean. Sweet! There weren’t many people swimming when I was there, so let’s just say I was one happy camper.

Built around the historic setting of Rif Fort in the capital city of Willemstad, you have your own private beach club to yourself.

On the top level, you’re surrounded by wispy palm trees and the facade to the hotel entrance from the pool and ocean exudes brightly colored Caribbean colors. There’s a bar right next to the lounge chairs, allowing you just to relax, read a book, sip that margarita and take in the property’s stunning ocean views.

The other cool thing about the hotel is its vicinity to downtown – it is the heart of it all, so you have easy access to shopping and nightlife. They also had some fun culinary surprises on their buffet which didn’t go unnoticed. YUM!!!

Details:

Renaissance Curacao Resort & Casino  

Baden Powelweg 1

Willemstad 97223, Curaçao

Phone:+599 9 435 5000

The Island MAP for Reference:

See my Curacao Foodie Guide write-up, my reflective walk through one of the grounds along the ocean’s edge, the Color of People Spa, as well as other posts on Curacao from my trip.

Photo credits: All photos marked with Renee Blodgett in the bottom right hand corner, courtesy of Renee Blodgett. Shots from my iPhone also Renee Blodgett, which include food shots, the infinity pool at the Hilton, the Renaissance lobby pillar shot. All other photo credits from the property’s websites.

Note: my trip to Curacao was hosted by the Curacao Tourism Board, but I was not asked to write a hotel review nor expected to. I also included a couple of properties not on our agenda — all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

UV Skinz Clothing Provides UV and UVB Radiation Protection

December 13, 2014 by  

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I recently discovered the UV Skinz clothing line, which offers a variety of travel clothing options with built in UV and and UVB radiation protection. Yes, really! So, while it may not substitute having to put sun block on your face, the rest of you is protected. The line is specifically targeting active families who spend time in the sun, whether that’s on a weekend getaway or a holiday trip. 

They offer a line for men, women and children. I absolutely love their hoodies! Below is a stylish men’s hoodie in blue, although the same one comes in a variety of colors, something else I love about the UV Skinz clothing line – they believe in color and give people choices. Unlike so many travel clothing options which often only have tan, blue, white and black, or the standard very masculine red, you can get this hoodie in orange, green, black, a deep blue and a bright, fun turquoise color.

Flatlock-stitched seams throughout, heat transferred label and covered neck seam are smooth next to skin for zero irritation. Since they’re so family friendly, they even offer matching hoodies for kids.  They are made from their certified UPF 50+ pique fabric and are chlorine and salt water resistant.

In fact, all of UV Skinz sun and swimwear are made with UPF 50+ fabric specifically designed to block 98% of the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays.

They also do swim gear, shirts, pants, shorts, hoodies, jackets, and even hats. While the below bucket hat for men is shown in an off-white, true to their commitment to color, it comes in four fun color combo options, the tan/blue combo being my favorite. And, what’s great is that the price point is reasonable, the below hat available for only $24.95, a small price to pay to protect your face.

In addition to hoodies and more traditional gear, they have a great and colorful line of water jackets for only $55.95. It’s a casual, breezy jacket, which is perfect for wearing over your swimwear or a favorite tee to stay protected from the sun. It makes for a great option for water aerobics or while you’re out on an open boat for the day.

Like the rest of their gear, the material is made from their certified UPF 50+ breathable sun fabric, which makes it quick drying and chlorine and salt water resistant. The jacket has a two-way zipper and front pockets, flat lock seams throughout with contrast piping.  It comes in multiple colors including a fun bright pink and they offer plus sizes as well.

Speaking of bright pink, I recently tested out the hooded beach cover up for women on a trip to Curacao this month. And yes, they offered bright pink, as well as aqua green, a turquoise blue and black. In hindsight, I think the blue may have been the way to go despite my initial reaction to the ever so loud but fun pink.

I loved the fit and its breezy, fluid knit fabric makes it easy to throw in your beach bag or pool bag for everyday use, not to mention your luggage. Note that it didn’t really wrinkle despite the fact that I packed and repacked three times over the course of my trip.

It’s hard to stay out of the sun when you travel and while I use sunscreen, it’s easy to forget that sun can still be damaging particularly when the sun is Caribbean “hot.” I think this hoodie option is a great option for boaters as well. After all, who doesn’t want to be styling when they’re cruising on the wide open sea?

What I loved most about this one was its feminine features — rather than the traditional more masculine sweatshirt cut, it has soft belled sleeves and a front laced neckline, with an oversized hoot and a lapped opening at the neck, making it wearable for more occasions.

It was nice to know I was protected out there — a sense of relief if you will. I definitely plan on bringing it with me on my next trip, but yes yes, I should have gone with the blue — a better outfit matcher making it more likely me to wear in non-Caribbean and beach environments and it would be a bit easier in the blazing heat.

They also have Warm Skinz products, which are designed for extended water activities, which is great for boating, swimming, waterskiing and other fun water sports. The clothing is made with lightweight, quick drying microfibre knit sleeves and .5 mm neoprene body — all engineered to also provide 98% protection from the sun’s damaging rays.

The passion behind the company came from a sad, personal story. UV Skinz creator and CEO Rhonda Sparks lost her 32 year old husband to melanoma. This tragedy drove her to start the company and create a UV protective product line for the entire family, ranging from 3 months to 4XL.

While we haven’t tried out the kids products yet, we’d like to in the coming months, so stay tuned for a kid-friendly version — kids treat clothing a little differently than adults, so we’d love to see how it holds up to travel and wear and tear, and of course, those hot beating rays.

Two thumbs up so far! We’d love to see where this company goes and what other clothing offerings come out in the coming months ahead. For more information and to order, check out their site.

 

 

The Ultimate Curaçao Foodie Guide

December 13, 2014 by  

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Established in the 1970′s, Plasa Bieu is Curaçao’s traditional old market in Punda, a main meeting place where locals interact over Creole dishes in the island’s capital city Willemstad. It is the place I would learn about cactus soup and goat stew and watch locals prepare island delicacies for hours on end in massive sized pots on flaming hot grills.

It wasn’t the first place I began sampling Creole food however, nor was it last on the list before I left this charming little island boasting a rich cultural heritage, a deep history and to-die-for views from pristine beaches.

I started my culinary tour exploring restaurants throughout Curaçao and one gem not to be missed is Shore’s American Seafood Grill where Heinrich Hortencia is head chef. The restaurant is part of the Santa Barbara Resort, a 45 or so minute drive from Willemstad.

You may be thinking that this beautifully presented dish doesn’t look classically Creole to you and you may be right, although let’s remember that Curaçao is an island where most locals speak four languages, Dutch being one of the island’s two official languages, Papiamento being the other. Its a cultural-rich island which means that its culinary appetite is diverse, with an infusion of Dutch, Venezuelan, Afro-Caribbean, Portuguese, Spanish and other Caribbean influences.

You won’t leave unhappy after this trio of starters: tuni poki and crab — it was served with a small side Caesar salad (not pictured here). Since the resort and restaurant overlooks the ocean, there was no question I was going for the fish since I’m a fan of trying whatever fish happens to be fresh and in season at the time.

The below Red Snapper was locally caught and pan fried in a plantain creme and a pesto chutney. Yum!

For meat lovers who are curious how Chef Hortencia prepared the Beef Tenderloin, it was grilled with onion chutney in a red wine reduction.

They specialized in mixed drinks….as I felt a cold coming on not long after I arrived, I went for this dangerous little concoction, a spicy and hot vodka mixer, which worked like a charm and opened all of my senses.

While we’re talking spirits, nearly everyone knows about the infamous Blue Curacao, which is so commonly found throughout the world on bar menus. According to one of our local guides, Curacao liquor, which comes in a variety of flavors and colors — yellow, green, clear, blue and red — all have the same flavor.

I later discovered an Orange Curacao but didn’t have time to taste it. If you want to go sweeter however, there’s Rum, Coffee and Chocolate flavors as well to get you in the mood for dessert — or perhaps replace dessert.

The Grill King is a blend of western and Curacao influences and offers outside terrace seating, one of the big pluses of the restaurant.  Located at Waterfortboogjes 2-3 in Willemstad, it’s an easy option for lunch or dinner if you’re staying in the capital.

We had a leisurely dinner at a table that was perched up against the wooden railing so we could see the eels swimming below us while we dined.

They’ve been around since 1987, so it’s also a popular place with locals. They offer seasonal menus and since there were a dozen of us, I was able to taste a few dishes….below their grilled salmon with a classic coleslaw and a dill sauce.

They offer a wide variety of steaks, so it’s worth giving one a try.

What’s nice about their menu is that you can mix things up, whether it’s a sample of different types of seafood or a combo of steak and seafood. Below you’ll see a variety of flavors, from deep fried clams to grilled calamari, salad, shrimp and mussels. It was one of the healthier and kinder-to-the-waistline options, though quite frankly it wasn’t what was on my mind at the time.

While Caribbean island cooking tends to be lighter than central Europe where everything seems to be accompanied by cheese and fries, they do use oils here, not just when they grill a piece of meat or fish, but in their stews. Let’s take a look at the other side of Curacao dining — the classic Old Market, otherwise known as Plasa Bieu, which I mentioned above.

The old market is a great place to go for lunch one day and I’d recommend going hungry. After lunch was over, I had time to ask questions and watch the girls prepare the food, learning what went in and what stayed out of those massive steel pots.

From stewed cucumber and steak with spinach mashed potatoes to fried red snapper with polenta and stewed goat meat, we tried it all. Goat is very popular on the island largely because there are so many of them running around. Goat stew is apparently where it’s at and our driver Larry smacked his lips on more than one occasion when he spoke of the goat stews he has had over the years.

Not in the above case which we had at the market, but sometimes goat stew or curried goat is served with a young gouda cheese on top – this is naturally from the Dutch influence. Note that at the market, most of these local dishes are only $5-6 a plate, so it’s worth ordering several and tasting a variety to get an idea of how broad the tastes are….

Also common on the island is roasted chicken with fried rice and stewed papaya with polenta. Popular side dishes include mashed potatoes with spinach (locals refer to this as warmoes), beans and rice, which seems to be served with everything and of course polenta (funchi).

Tutu is a common dish here with locals and can be served with brown corn meal, cinnamon and nutmeg — below it is served as a side dish with polenta. Tutu itself is ground up beans with sugar and sometimes they put pigs tail or cheese in it. (usually one of the younger Gouda cheeses). Its best on the side of a stew or fish dish.

Below is a grilled Mahi Mahi with local creole sauce (onions, picalilly sauce, which is made from little silver onions dipped in mustard sauce – yum!) and served with plantains and onions on top.

And, who “woulda thunk” that Pumpkin pancakes would be a “thing” on Curacao? It is one of the specialties on the island. My first pancake taste at the market? Chocolate chips of course. :-)

One of the things I didn’t have an opportunity to try at the market, is the infamous Eguana Soup, which you can also get as a stew.  Also very traditional and a must try is Kadushi, which is a soup made from a cacti. How they first described it to me? “Well, it’s a bit like okra – very slimy, so not for everyone.” Hmmm, I thought. How could I NOT try this? Then again, I absolutely love okra and nearly lived on the stuff when I drove through Africa.

Then, there’s kashi yena, which is a traditional Curacao dish (chicken and veggie stew) and is served with Gouda on top. They also eat a lot of chicken and curry over rice, which isn’t surprising given its popularity in other Caribbean cultures as well.

Also worth noting is a great brunch find — Gouveneur de Rouville on De Rouvilleweg in Willemstad. The restaurant has incredible ambiance and views — you can sit inside or outside and they offer fresh fish specialties, as well as uniquely prepared soups, like banana soup (below) and below it, carpaccio. Delicious!

On my solo walk through town mid way through the trip, I discovered restaurants with Indonesian influence as well. One in particular where I stopped to ask questions, was serving Bami Goreng, a fried noodle dish served with chicken and Moksi Meti, which is roasted pork and chicken with green beans and rice.

Along Koningin Wilhelminiabrug, not far from old market you’ll come across the renowned Queen Emma bridge which lights up at night during the season. Nearby, I’d be remiss not to mention the Floating Market in Willemstad’s center, which runs along the river.

Vendors from Venezuela, a mere 40 or so miles away, pull up in vibrantly colored boats and sell the latest fruits and vegetables to locals, a tradition which has been happening for close to century. Below, I tried the chayota fruit which looks a bit like a small papaya in green.

It was something I had to do of course since I hadn’t tried it before – a bit tart but worth a taste, as are their fresh papayas, mangoes, watermelon and tamarind, which is a popular among locals. You can even get a tamarind shake from a local juice bar, which is set up as an outside stand near the river.

Giant sized banana leaves at the market.

I noticed that there are a lot of so called “Beach Clubs” on Curacao, all of which offer dining, usually open for both lunch and dinner. What’s great about the beach club restaurants is that you can often sit on the terrace, under a big open sky, far away from the prolific air conditioning found in nearly every inside establishment.

They typically offer a blend of Caribbean and European cuisine, ranging from soups and salads to curries and fresh grilled fish and steak. Three beach clubs and resorts worth mentioning are the Kura Hulanda Lodge & Beach Club, Papagayo Beach Club & Lounge Resort and the St. Tropez Ocean Club, all of which have exquisite food.

Kura Hulanda Lodge & Beach Club is located on the west side of the island and overlooks a secluded beach from a cliff-side position. The property is littered with caves and is incredibly relaxing, not to mention romantic, especially for an evening meal outside.  You can dine under an expansive, open-aired, thatched roof hut while enjoying tropical cross breezes and sweeping views of the sea.

Think barbecue dinners, fresh grilled fish and steaks. They are notorious for weddings, anniversaries, and honeymoon getaways especially as it’s a little more remote than some of the properties in central Willemstad.

The Papagayo Beach Club & Lounge Resort is a stone’s throw from the well known Jan Thiel Beach, set in the upscale neighborhood that shares its name. My first thought as I walked around the corner to the open aired patio where we were slated to dine for lunch that day was….“hmmm, this is most definitely where the beautiful people in Curacao hang.”

While you’re dining, you face an inviting infinity pool and sandy beach with quick and easy ocean access within steps of the restaurant. The menu was also incredibly diverse and because we were 12, the dishes seemed like they’d never stop coming between appetizers and main courses. From burgers (first shot below), to soups and salads, the offerings were as healthy as you wanted or not….think deep fried fish.

I couldn’t resist a salad, especially on a hot sunny day — perfect with a margarita, a class of Sauvignon Blanc or an iced tea.

French influenced, they had Coquille St. Jacques on the menu, but served as a starter – notice how large the portion is, especially considering it is made with baked scallops, a compote of Cevenne onions, bresaolaham sugar and poultry gravy.

Another not so light, but delicious option is the goat cheese salad – they certainly don’t skimp on portions. It was served with honey and walnuts.

My favorite? The Gazpacho soup, which you don’t often see on menus. The chef served it with a variety of vegetables, crabmeat, apple and a garnisch (scallions on top). Yum!!

A variety of breads with spreads comes with the table.

This was a favorite despite the fact that it wasn’t classically local like the incredibly authentic experience we had at the market; it was however, incredibly relaxing, chic and offered a wide selection of dishes. What’s great about the island is that you can get both within minutes of each other.

Other dishes worth mentioning include their Grilled Seabass Filet with tempura prawns and crab broth, salmon filet fried on its skin with mackerel risotto, fennel, foyot sauce and spring onions with chorizo oil, baked duck breast with carrots, onion compote and roasted spinach, the Truffle risotto with Grana Padano cheese (in this case, a French influence), and a classic Bouillabaisse a la Marseille, a traditional fish soup with rouille.

For the diet conscious, they had an entire page dedicated to salads and many appetizers which were on the lighter side, such as the Caribbean Lobster Cocktail, Beef Carpaccio with garlic infused oil, tuna tataki with a sweet and sour oriental salad and red onion and the delicious Peruvian ceviche, which they marinate in ginger and lime.

Want chic on top of healthy dining? They have it. The inside bar is nothing short of trendy, hip and beautiful. My only regret was not meeting the designer who created the “just so perfect” ambiance.

Part II of the “Where Beautiful People Hang” dining, drinking and relaxing, brings us to the St. Tropez Ocean Club on Pietermaai 152 in Willemstad, where we had dinner on the last night.

We had a pre-fixe menu because of the size of our group so can’t speak to the diversity of their menu, except to note that in addition to classic steak and fish dishes, they offer tapas as well, which is a nice option when you want to sample several dishes over drinks. Most of us opted for the steak, which was served with sauteed potatoes, garlic and arugula salad.

St. Tropez is another trendy and all things “hip” place in downtown Punda, where you’ll find more Europeans than locals — the jazzy female singer was Dutch but the resort’s influence also has a little French and Italian thrown in.  They seemed to put arugula on top of nearly every dish, a godsend for me who craves more greens than most restaurants traditionally serve regardless of where I am in the world.

They offer fresh fish and chicken dishes and also have lobster on the menu, all under the culinary magic of Chef Stefanus Onrust.  It’s not just its name, but the oh so trendy bar even has that south of France feel to it.

The bar is well stocked with anything you could want, from whiskey, vodka, international and local liqueurs and of course wine. They want you to feel like a Jet Setter here and its bar scene, perfect lighting and its fabulous outside pool which has stunning views day or night is the biggest draw.

The Renaissance Hotel Dining Room is on the other side of the spectrum, largely because it’s centrally located, the focus is more on inside dining than out, although they do have a casual patio and it caters to families. I noticed many families throughout the property, which seems spot on given its amenities on-site, not to mention a Starbucks and infinity pool on the top floor which extends into the ocean.

Given its western influences, the hotel and restaurant seems like a perfect option for those who want comfort and familiarity while being in a beautiful Curacao island setting. Swimming and tanning are on the premises adjacent to an outside bar with an inside gym a stone’s throw away. Its menu is also very kid-friendly.

We went there for brunch, which was an all you could eat buffet. While more classically European in its offerings – everything from sushi rolls, turkey and ham for the season, salads and potatoes, they did have Silt on offer, which is apparently very common over the holidays in Curacao. Think pork — salted with vinegar and other juices. (see below). Locals will also make salted pigs ears for social and family gatherings around the holidays, particularly Christmas.

Surprise surprise – this little taste of fruit on a spoon was infused with liqueur.

The Dutch influence means that there is more cheese than you’d expect on a Caribbean island and it’s not just in the main hotels.

Classic desserts for the holiday season don’t go unnoticed. I had skipped desserts all week so decided to indulge on one of their little cakes before heading to the airport.

Bottom line, there are a boat load of surprises for the foodie in Curacao and it’s well worth a trip just to graze your way through the island. I’d love to go back and explore more of its island cuisine, particularly along the remote coastal areas.

 All photo credits: Renee Blodgett except for Governors and the outside shot of the Grill King, which were taken from their sites and the pool shot at St. Tropez Beach Club is from EliteDaily.com.

Curaçao’s “On-the-Ocean” Color of People Spa

December 11, 2014 by  

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As we ramp up our Spas Section leading up to 2015, I’ve been on the hunt for unusual spas, sustainable spas, life transforming spas or frankly any spa that does things just a little different. Of course, the Caribbean is a region of the world that would come to mind when you think of luxury spas although frankly, I haven’t explored much of the Caribbean, which is one reason I ended up in Curaçao recently, in an attempt to learn more about what the islands have to offer.

By the second day, I could hardly breathe – my chest was constricted and my energy level was at an all time low for such a leisurely trip. I’ve never been one to take a back seat and relax when I’m sick — type A personalities have a hard time with this concept. That said, with my entire system zapped of energy, I held back while my colleagues went snorkeling in the north of the island.

Frustrated that I had to miss beautifully colored fish, the caves and crystal blue waters, I tried to distract myself with a relaxing walk along the beach where Curaçao’s Hilton lays sprawled from east to west. On the property, I noted a spa and wellness center, although the spa didn’t appear to be part of the Hilton yet was on its grounds.

There, I met Sandra Tjonpoengie (try saying that backwards after a margarita :), the cousin of the owner, Ghislaine Kranenburg, who started her spa in 2002. The most interesting thing about the spa is its concept, its history and its name. Called The Color of People, it takes the opposite approach of the all pure white spas you see in so many luxury hotels.

They call it the Color of People to celebrate the diversity of all cultures and the spa replicates this in a fun way with each room painted a different color. Bursting with all things vibrant, the spa still manages to pull off a soothing and relaxing atmosphere.

There are four elegantly decorated treatment rooms with ocean views, as well as a sauna, steam room and relaxation area. Facials, body treatments, various kind of massages and micro dermabrasion are some of the offerings although they also have set packages as well.

I’m always astounded how bare treatment rooms are, even in high end spas. Sure, you might find a candle or two but often the walls are bare, the rooms are colder than you’d like them to be, and the music often sounds more like dental room music than meditative or spiritual healing music. While on my stomach, my view was of the lovely shrine-like platter below….a old but beautiful tea pot, flower petals and candles. Nice touch!

Sandra who gave me the treatment used eucalyptus because she knew I had a cold and wanted to give me a more healing treatment, rather than a deep tissue massage, which has the possibility of stirring up toxins when you’re sick. It was just what the doctor ordered. I left feeling less congested, more relaxed and finally…..able to breathe. Right choice!!

Below, one of the nail treatment tables are set up in the main relaxation area. I love the funky fun chair!!

They “get” the details throughout their salon. Nice rose surprise in the middle of the hallway that leads up to the treatment rooms.

Afterwards, you can relax over a cuppa of tea.

I love their concept of using lots of color throughout and their reasons why….it was a lot warmer than coming out to an all white environment after my treatment. The world isn’t in white, so why should salons be all white? Two thumbs up!!

Details:

Color of People Spa

Hilton Curacao

JF Kennedy Boulevard
Piscadera, Curacao
Tel: +599 9 4622760

 

JetBlue’s Inaugural Flight to Curaçao

December 9, 2014 by  

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Ever taken an inaugural flight? Back in the late nineties, I accidentally took one while I was traveling through Southeast Asia, however never had I taken one leaving the states.

JetBlue has been adding more flights to the Caribbean, a natural go-to destination for them from New York City’s JFK.  They can boast being home to Terminal 5, a more organized and easier-to-manage terminal, which is a godsend for frequent travelers who have to regularly deal with the less than stellar experience at Terminal 4, where I fly in and out of frequently between the Big Apple and the west coast.

Recently, I took JetBlue’s Inaugural flight to Curaçao, an island I knew relatively little about until a month ago. It was a bitter cold day when I headed to the airport, so it couldn’t have been a more welcome treat to arrive at the gate and find a band playing Caribbean music, a buffet table of pastries, muffins and fresh fruit, tea and coffee, and a crew of inviting smiles.

Everyone seemed to show up for the ribbon cutting of this inaugural flight – from the head of the Curaçao Tourism Board and airport staff to Curaçao tour operators and hotel managers and some of JetBlue’s execs including Anders, their very hip PR guy.

And, who doesn’t love cupcakes? I rarely eat them despite the fact I love baking and decorating them. In this case, I thought, bring it on and so….I did indulge.

There were healthy options as well of course.

It was the band that really put me in the mood for Curaçao, despite the ungodly time of day. The new inaugural direct flight from JFK to Curaçao is at 8 am and we all know what time that means getting up for an international flight. After a little caffeine and some toe tapping however, I was ready to meet Curaçao’s glorious sun.

JetBlue employees always seem to have a good time. Cheerier than most airlines, they seem to take pride in “fun.” As part of the inaugural flight, they played Bingo and had multiple (and I mean multiple) drawings for prizes.

They ranged from spa treatments and hotel giveaways to Jet Blue points, jeep drives and parasailing. I won a parasailing experience for two however wasn’t able to use it in the end due to lack of time, not because it’s not something I would do. After all, if you’re an avid adventure traveler, how could you resist the experience of soaring high in the sky looking at the ever so beautiful island of Curaçao below? On the list for next time.

Another perk was the JetBlue logo-ed towel they left on everyone’s seat. Nice touch!

Truth be told, I rarely fly Jet Blue, so it was a nice re-introduction to the airline that loves to have fun. While they do have more leg room premium seats on flights, the only way to get a bump up in service is to fly JetBlue Mint, an experience I’ve yet to have. On their new A321 aircrafts, they boast fully flat seats and first class amenities, but without the four digit fares you often find from other airlines.

When we landed at the airport, we were greeted with more smiles and JetBlue had a press conference in a massive tent next to the main terminal. Fun, fun, fun! What a great way to fly. I think I need to do inaugural flights more often.

Note: I was hosted by the Curacao Tourism Board and JetBlue is one of their partners, but I was not asked to write this post nor expected to. All opinions expressed are my own and quite frankly, I wrote about it because it was a fun experience and if you haven’t flown an inugural flight before, I think it’s an experience for your must try list, regardless of the airline and where it happens to be flying…

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