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Sweet Treat Jewel Southern Caribbean January 17, 2016


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Origin Story

 

Flashback to January 2014. Our family is in Hawaii attending the International Dairy Queen (IDQ) convention on Oahu. My in-laws own a DQ and for their 50th wedding anniversary they invited the family to tag along on their Hawaii trip! During that convention the IDQ always announces their next convention location coming up in two years. And with every convention location they offer add-on trips after the main convention is done. When they announced IDQ 2016 in San Juan Puerto Rico I immediately turned to my mother-in-law and said, "You know what the post convention trip will be for San Juan. It will be a southern Caribbean cruise on either Royal or Carnival!"

 

Well sure enough, rumors started in the Spring of 2015 that indeed there would be a cruise offered after the convention. With a little digging we found out it was on Royal and therefore I knew it would be the Jewel on the deep southern route porting in St. Thomas, St. Kitts, Aruba and Curacao. Later in the summer the information came out and the package being offered by IDQ was just too good to pass up. We got a balcony room, 2 days of wifi, transfer to the ship from the hotel and the Premium Beverage Package for a rate that was hundreds less than I could book just the room for on my own. My wife attended the convention with her parents and the DQ manager and her husband. I caught up with them in San Juan on Saturday before the sailing.

 

We also picked up some strays before we sailed. Well not exactly. One of DWs friends is a woman named Tara. I had never met Tara but I knew about her and she knew about me. Her job (at the time) was to arrange all the travel, retreats, meetings, etc for a hospital system in our area. So she is by vocation a trip planner! She is also a cruiser and plans all her family trips. So we would have a lot in common. One day in the summer of 2015 I was at the hospital for some meetings, a colleague and I were in the lobby chatting when Tara approached to talk to my friend. My friend introduced us and we both went, "Oh it's you." Our conversation quickly turned to cruising and I told her we were going on a cruise in January. She replied, "What line?" I said "Royal." Where from?" "San Juan". "What ship?" "Jewel." "OK...What date?" "January 17th" She said, "Wow that is one of the two cruises we are considering booking for my sister-in-law's 50th birthday. That settles it, we are going on Jewel with you guys!" So we had 12 people in two groups ready to head south.

 

This would be our third cruise. It took me 10 years to convince my DW to go on a cruise (See My Review Link Below). Now she wants to cruise all the time! It was our first foray on a ship other that Oasis class. We weren't sure how we'd like the much smaller Radiance class after being constantly entertained on Allure and Oasis. We were excited about all the southern ports of call though.

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Why you might be interested in this review

 

In doing research I found very few reviews for the Jewel that covered the itinerary of St. Thomas, St. Kitts, Aruba and Curacao. So I will be focusing on the ports more than on the Jewel itself. One reason being that the Jewel is headed for dry dock soon and I'm sure all the changes and updates will be covered extensively. You might also want to read just for fun and because I have at least one crazy story about our trip. But that story is for later. (see what I'm doing there, teasing you to keep reading)

 

If you are just looking for basic info on the ports and some of the mechanics of the trip then here they are.

 

The ports were docking at 8 am, cleared before 8:30 am every port. last onboard by 4:30 pm and sail away at 5 pm.

 

Menus:

Day 1 Mojo

Day 2 FORMAL Saffron

Day 3 Basil

Day 4 Portobello

Day 5 Pimiento

Day 6 FORMAL Jasmine

Day 7 Pomodoro

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Pre-Cruise San Juan

 

DW and the rest of the DQ crew headed to SJ on Wednesday before the cruise. Leaving me behind to work. (boo hiss). I just couldn't be gone that much at that time of year, it was already going to be tough coming back after just a week gone so I opted to skip the convention and fly right before the cruise.

 

They stayed at the Condado Plaza Hilton. A hotel with a small beach on a quiet inlet by the sea. This is not an inexpensive hotel and be aware that resort fees and taxes run about $90 per day extra so add that into your calculations if you plan on staying here. Overall this hotel needs some TLC. It's showing signs of being pretty run down. One of the bars in the mezzanine area had threadbare fabric to the point you could almost see through it. Rooms were ok but we had the one floor that had balconies too small to even stand on. It was a nice ocean view. Others in our IDQ group had less of an "ocean view" experience. Literally they had to stand on their deck and look between two buildings to see a slice of the ocean. The hotel contended that this was indeed an ocean view room.

 

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Our ocean view was truly an ocean view.

 

San Juan was very busy that week because of the San Sebastian Street Festival. Every day the busses from the hotel to the convention center had police escorts so they could get through the crazy traffic. When I arrived on Saturday we had thought about going to the festival that evening. They were expecting 300,000 people to descend on Old Town that night and getting in and out would be insane. We opted for a quiet evening at the hotel watching the KC Chiefs (our team) lose a playoff game to the ^%$#$ New England Patriots. The Caribbe Cafe at the hotel was very good but can be extremely cold. There is also a Denny's attached to the facility for cheaper fare.

 

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She was not exaggerating, that café was freezing. We opted for Denny's that night.

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Pre-Cruise San Juan

 

We opted for a quiet evening at the hotel watching the KC Chiefs (our team) lose a playoff game to the ^%$#$ New England Patriots..

 

Hey! That's no way to talk about my beloved Pats! Who lost to the €}^& Broncos in the next round :( LOL!

 

Ok friend, despite the diss of my football team (hey, you got one championship already this year, two if you count your Bearcats) I'm in, subscribing, I've seen the photos, you've sent me a few messages about the foreshadowed "crazy story", I won't give away any spoilers, but this one should be fun! :eek:

 

Thanks for reviewing, and I'm with Bob- people LOVE to know what's served when and which nights are formal so they can make their dining reservations. Thanks for doing that!

 

ALSO- you did not tell me you had included beverage package...well, well, well, you left that little detail out in your messages! :p

 

So glad you guys had a great cruise, can't wait to read all the details!

Edited by Familygoboston
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Embarkation Day - Sunday Day 1

 

IDQ had arranged transport via busses to the port. We were among the first 30 people to head to the Jewel. The IDQ group had 240 people on the cruise. Many of them were first time cruisers or first time Royal cruisers. The transfer was smooth and the port was pretty orderly.

 

We hit a snag at check in that would have an effect on all the other 240 people registered with the IDQ trip. When we got our seapass I noticed that the Premium Beverage icon was NOT on the pass. I asked about it but there was nothing they could do at the port check in. Upon boarding we immediately headed for guest services. I told them what our problem was and that 240 more people were headed here with exactly the same issue. Sure enough, the line of IDQ people was forming as I was speaking. He went and got his supervisor. Within a few minutes they were handing out stickers for the drink package to everyone, they should have also given us soda mugs at that time but didn't. We did have to go get soda mugs later and I'm not certain everyone with IDQ knew that the mugs were part of the package. All in all Royal handled it well and it was pretty quickly fixed. It just shouldn't have happened at all.

 

We explored the ship, unpacked and rested. One difference here vs, Oasis was the sheer size of Oasis just mesmerized us and we spent a great deal of time roaming the decks before we ever thought about unpacking. Jewel is just more intimate and doesn't have all the nooks and deck to go exploring on. (note, when I say Oasis just know that I'm referring to the Oasis class ships -- both of them. Those are my only previous cruises and I was interested in comparing them to the Jewel).

 

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Views of the Centrum

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St. Thomas - Monday Day 2

 

Our goal for the day was Trunk Bay on St. John. But that meant we needed to be up and off the ship as soon as she cleared. With a group, on the first day, that just doesn't happen and it didn't happen this time either. First ports are always tough. So after some delays we were off the ship but it was after 8:30 and the chance of hitting the 9am Red Hook ferry seemed remote. Our driver said, "I'll see what I can do." Well amazingly enough when we pulled into Red Hook the ferry was still there. We ran in and purchased tickets everyone got on board, everyone but my DW. She was in the bathroom, the ship was ready to cast off, the crewman was telling me they were leaving now. I am yelling into the women's restroom at my wife to get out here NOW! We jumped onto the ferry and they pulled away. Nothing like cutting it close!

 

We arrived at Cruiz Bay and grabbed a truck. Just know that pretty much all the transportation seems to be canopy covered trucks with bench seating. Some are in better shape than others but they will take you in order and won't leave until filled. And I mean filled to the jam packed point. Comfortable 3 across seating quickly turned into sardines wedged into 5 across seating.

 

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It pays to get to the beach early!

 

Since 60% of the island is National Park land the roads were well maintained and the trip was very scenic. We arrived as the 56th through 62nd people to enter the beach that day. And since it was Martin Luther King day the park fee was waived, Bonus!

 

Trunk Bay is beautiful with soft sand and gentle waves. The morning hours provided ample shaded beach areas which I quickly took advantage of by staking my claim. You can rent chairs for $8 with a $25 deposit. They are not full lounge chairs. Snorkel equipment is also available and there are snacks and a food hut as well. Again, this is a US National Park so the facilities are clean, and well maintained. Nothing fancy but certainly a cut above many other beaches that are this remote.

 

I crashed. I suppose now is as good a time as any to mention that my health was not up to par on this trip. When I left Kansas City I had a slight stuffy nose, not unusual. By the time I landed in San Juan I was full blown mess. My ears were ringing and I had terrible sinus issues. These symptoms lasted the entire trip and included scratchy itchy throat, watering eyes, coughing, severe nasal congestion and ear issues. I have allergies and when I get a sinus infection it sends me reeling. I could take some meds in the morning and get through most of the day, nights however were a different story. So as bad as I wanted to snorkel at Truck Bay, I wound up sleeping.

 

We decided to head back to Cruz Bay as the beach was starting to fill up with later arriving guests. We also wanted to get back to Charlotte in time to do a bit of looking around and grab a bite to eat. We had to wait for the taxi truck to get full, but not as full as the trip out was. We shopped a bit in town while we waited on the ferry. It's a nice area and there are plenty of shops and restaurants to keep you occupied for a while. We weren't looking for anything other than some souvenirs. Unlike our trip on the Oasis in June of 2015, no one was looking to buy anything in particular, like maybe an expensive watch.

 

We arrived back in Charlotte armed with information from a fellow rider on our taxi. She used to live in St. John and she gave us a tip on a restaurant that is more local and just slightly off the main tourist path. We headed to Cuzzin's Caribbean Restaurant and Bar.

 

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I had shrimp Creole with conch, fried plantains and the "local stuffing". The local stuffing is yams ,raisins and other goodness. It was all very tasty. My wife had the fried shrimp with stuffing, peas and rice. The shrimp were large and nicely prepared. They also offer a local hot sauce on the table. Buyer beware! One of our group gave it a try and turned eight shades of red after just a small taste. Hot indeed!

 

On our way back we had one more mission. We go to the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri every summer. If you are unfamiliar it's a very large privately owned lake that was built in the late 20s and early 30s the lake has 1,150 miles of shoreline and the main channel is 92 miles long. One of our favorites restaurants there is Coconuts and the owner spends his summers in the Ozarks and his winters running a restaurant in St. Thomas. So we went to find his place. When we found it we also found out that he was back in Missouri overseeing some construction work at his second lake restaurant. Poor guy, it was -10 degrees in Missouri. We were hoping to say hi, but we took a picture instead to prove to him we visited.

 

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How easy is it to do Trunk Bay without the ship tour? I see that question posted a lot. My answer is pretty easy really. The cabs and ferry are easy to get to and cheap. You just have to watch your time. It's worth the effort for sure. Trunk Bay is stunning.

 

Traveler tip: Since St. Thomas and St. John are US territories your cell service works here...mostly. You have to be careful on St. John because sometimes the phone latches onto another carrier. We posted photos from the beach all morning and we got LTE speed!

 

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We didn't hang at Senior Frogs other than to take this picture. Not the most attractive Senior Frogs location, and no one was there.

 

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St. Kitts - Tuesday Day 3

 

Basseterre is an easy port to navigate and it has a very nice tourist district. This was the big excursion that involved all 12 of us. We decided to do a sailing to Nevis and in researching I found that we could charter at 42 powered catamaran for the 12 of us for a rate that was not much more expensive than sailing with 40 other people! We chartered our trip with Blue Water Safaris. They met us at the secured area of the port and we walked a few hundred yards over to the local port where their ships were located. For the 12 of us it worked out to $110 each for a 5 hour trip that included snorkeling, lunch, drinks the whole time and a beach stop in Nevis on the Moko Jumbie. You just can't beat that for a private chartered sail.

 

We headed out and soon had caught up to the sailboats, hey we had 500 horses on board. The ride was smooth, the 2 crew were attentive and fun and the coastline afforded many beautiful views of St. Kitts. It took less than 30 minutes to reach our snorkel destination. we arrived and they broke out the gear and let us snorkel for an hour. There was plenty of area to swim and lots of fish along the shoreline. We also had a shipwreck to explore.

 

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DW doesn't snorkel so she wound up doing Zumba on the boat! Note, most of the time Zumba instructors do not dance with drinks in their hand. Dancing on the deck of a boat in the Caribbean is an exception to this rule.

 

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Dancin' the day away

 

After we got done snorkeling it was lunch time. The crew had pasta, and chicken curry. Now at first it didn't look all that great but we all went back for more of the curry! It was kind of like potato salad and it was very tasty. We also had homemade banana bread. All of it was good. And food tends to taste better when you are floating around a beautiful island in the Caribbean.

 

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Nevis in the clouds

 

We pulled anchor and headed for Nevis. Our destination was Pinneys Beach near the Four Seasons Resort. It's a nice stretch of beach and all of the Blue Water tours go there. They provided drinks on the beach and helped with arranging chair rentals etc. Our power cat backed up to the beach and we stepped into very shallow water at the beaches edge. The sailing cats had a stairway off the front end. You will get a little wet but you don't get more than your feet and ankles in the water.

 

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The sailboats have this ladder for beach access

 

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Several restaurants are on the beach if you need more food or drinks.

 

We were soon lined up with chairs and beverages. Of course the locals started coming around selling all kinds of junk jewelry and trinkets. Several of our ladies decided to get an aloe massage. Some of the group wandered down towards the Four Seasons, it was peaceful and tranquil but there is security present and you aren't getting into the hotel area unless you can prove you are a guest.

 

One place to visit is Sunshine's home of the "Killer Bee" drink. No one knows what's in the drink but it certainly has a unique taste. Pictures of famous people adorn the walls of this little beach bar. It's fun to say you've been there.

 

All to soon it was time to leave our little beach paradise and head back to St. Kitts. On the way back the crew let my father-in-law drive which gave us all a big laugh. It's a bit different that driving his pontoon boat at the lake! We were back in plenty of time to allow for some shopping and looking around in Basseterre.

 

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He is behind the wheel! Hang on!

 

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I want to do Zumba on the boat! I'm afraid it's all our fault DW doesn't like snorkeling...we never should have pushed her into the water during a giant squall whilst in St Thomas! ;)

 

I do think some of my favorite excursions in the Caribbean are these small "cat" charters, it is truly like having your own yacht and crew!

 

Loving all the details of your excursions!

Edited by Familygoboston
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Nightlife

 

We didn't quite know what to expect from the nightlife on Jewel. We knew it wouldn't be a party all night boat like the Oasis trips had been. I had read reports that past 11 pm the Jewel was totally dead. In St. Kitts we were docked with Jewel's sister ship Serenade which was on a 10 day cruise. We heard that the passenger makeup on Serenade was skewing much older than our cruise. One Serenade passenger commented, "I've never been on a cruise with so many scooters and oxygen tanks!"

 

This was not the case on our cruise. There seemed to be quite a number of younger people on this sailing (20 somethings) and I couldn't figure out why. They were at the Karaoke venue, the line dancing on deck, all the music stuff, and they ruled the Quest (which was totally off the hook). So where did they come from? Well as it happens there was a college class onboard. It was actually 3 different classes centered around marketing and tourism industry things. It certainly brought quite a bit of life to our sailing.

 

They held the Quest in the Safari Club which is pretty small and you can't really see what's happening very well. Compared to the ice rink on Oasis this was a real bummer of a venue. No big video shots of the antics and it just proved very difficult to really get to the action. The event itself was crazy and our Cruise Director said it was the best Quest he had hosted in his year aboard the Jewel.

 

The Centrum area hosted a number of events and seemed to be well attended. The musicians on board were generally excellent and provided a wide variety of live music. The singers from the production shows also sang at various other events including such diverse offerings as light 70s rock and cabaret music. Since there aren't as many separate music venues as on Oasis you tended to hear more variety on the Jewel by just passing through.

 

There seemed to be lots of line dancing going on all the time. I guess that is really popular. I didn't dance but DW did.

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Sea Day - Wednesday Day 3

 

I don't have much to say here. By this point I was seriously lacking any good sound sleep. My sinus infection was kicking my butt and I was totally drained of energy. I did go to the Meet & Mingle where we all chatted for a while. A number of people were on multiple week cruises. This was a good back to back choice since the Jewel was alternating itineraries you could hit 9 islands on a 14 day B2B, pretty sweet if you have the time and money.

 

This is where I would really miss the Oasis class. I couldn't deal with too many sea days on the Jewel . I need action, sitting by the pool isn't my thing at all. It was fine for one or two days of a port intensive trip but I couldn't do a repositioning cruise on this size ship, I'd go nuts. However, on this day I did a lot of sleeping and trying to recover some energy for the next 2 port days.

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Photo Break!

 

Here are some pictures that really don't fit in with any of my narrative.

 

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My DW loves, loves, loves having a balcony room. She did her Zumba workout on the deck one morning. I have tried to convince her that an interior room would work just fine...but she's having none of that.

 

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Mini golf is serious business. I won by 2 strokes. Not that I'm bragging.

 

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The two planners, Tara and I, discussing my spreadsheet schedule.

 

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DQ Friends Stacy and Wayne

 

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The In-laws, Barbara and Jerry.

 

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Amy and I. We all clean up pretty well.

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I love Amy's Formal dress. If she remembers where she got it, I would love to get one.

 

Well she had a good laugh at this question. "That dress is sooo old!" I think she may have got it for our first cruise on Allure in 2013. She went on a bit of a clothes buying binge in prep for that cruise. We have a big outlet mall at the Lake of the Ozarks and she and her mom took full advantage of "we need to buy things for the cruise next year"

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You guys all look great! Honest to Pete, how do Barb and Jerry keep getting younger! I swear they are reverse aging! :D

 

I concur about the sea days on Jewel. One or two in a run of ports is a chance to relax, but DH and I had a two week Panama Canal trip scheduled on Jewel for last Oct with tons of sea days, and ultimately, I had to cancel it and book the Azmara Panama Canal (coming up) which is much more port intensive (with overnights and extended port stays) because DH was not going to be happy just sitting in a lounge for 3 days at sea! :eek: We did similar southern itineraries (Nov '13 on Jewel and April '15 on Adventure) and we had a far better time on Adventure than on Jewel, even though the ship, crew and food was lovely!

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Aruba - Thursday Day 4

 

We sent most of the group to Palm Beach for the day. Palm has all the amenities you expect from a resort beach area. Recently there was a court ruling that protects the usage of the public beach. According to our local source some of the hotels were running off people who would dare use the beach and put down a chair or umbrella in front of the area where the hotel had constructed their beach huts. So fear not, at least for now the beaches are usable in the area of the hotels. You just can't use the huts that are reserved for guests.

 

DW and I opted for a bit more adventure in Aruba. Well, to be specific I became obsessed with getting to a particular destination in Aruba. Little did I know that getting there from a Royal Caribbean ship is almost impossible, almost. The destination I sought was the Natural Pool and the more I looked at going there the harder it became to find a way to get there. REM's old song from the 80s kept running though my head, "Can't get there from here."

 

This is the problem for RCCL cruisers. The Natural Pool is only accessible by off road vehicles: Jeeps, ATVs, etc. All the Jeep tours that go to this site are contracted exclusively by Carnival. If a Carnival ship is in port all the Jeep tours for the pool are gone. RCCL offers Jeep tours but none of them go to the pool. In fact, no tour of any kind offered by RCCL goes to the Natural Pool. You literally cannot get to the pool from RCCL ships unless you go off the grid completely. So that's what we did. And really that's what I always do, I have yet to take a ship sponsored excursion.

 

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Rancho Notorious

 

After much searching I finally found Rancho Notorious. They have a very informative website with many activities to choose from including ATV tours, horseback riding tours and mountain biking tours. We booked with them after a few emails and were given the details of our meeting place etc.

 

We walked about 3 blocks from the cruise port along a main roadway to a gas station where we met Geert, the owner of the ranch. He took us along the beach route showing us the beach areas and hotel areas that the rest of the group would be going to that day while we were out riding. Geert is Belgian, came to Aruba on holiday and fell in love. He and his wife run the ranch.

 

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Rustic and real at Rancho Notorious

 

We arrived to a rustic ranch setting. Hoses were headed out on tour, chickens were being chased by a dog, a rooster was crowing. It is a really cool setting and you can tell they take care of the place. I was also impressed by the condition of the ATVs we were going to ride. They are Kymco MXU 500s and they were in excellent condition. Hardly a scratch on them. You can tell that Geert maintains these machines well and that they are not abused. Many times rentals of jet skis, ATVs etc. are just beat to death and in less than stellar condition. Not so with these units. You'd be proud to own these ATVs.

 

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The ATVs await us!

 

That brings me to a tip for those looking at this tour. If you are interested in going out and cutting up, doing donuts, ramping off sand dunes or just generally going fast; this tour is not for you. We did none of that and I suspect that if I had started doing such things Geert would have put an end to such riding pretty quickly. Another reason that the equipment is in such good condition I would suspect.

 

After signing waivers, paying fees, gearing up and having a complete tutorial on the machines operations we were ready to roll. Operating the ATVs is very easy. They are fully automatic so all you really have to do is use the thumb trigger throttle and the 2 handbrakes (much like a bicycle). You will pick it up almost immediately.

 

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Scenes like these were everywhere on our ride

 

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In part 2 of the Aruba review I will talk about hiking down to the Natural Pool. This is part of that hike. Which was one reason I was very happy we were on ATVs!

 

More Aruba to come including many more pictures of this amazing excursion.

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