Will and Kate may have made Seychelles famous after their 10-day honeymoon there, but the Caribbean island of Curaçao has been hosting royalty for years. A favorite holiday destination of the Dutch queen, it’s more than fit for one, with endless secluded beaches, warm blue waters and super-plush accommodations. But you don’t need noble blood to get the royal treatment.
With fewer than 150,000 full-time residents, Curaçao (koor-uh-SOW) is intimate to the extreme, whether you prefer to lay on its sun-soaked beaches, delve the depths of its 65-plus thrilling dive sites, or explore the diverse local culture—a blend of Dutch, Spanish, English, African and Creole—in the historic capital city of Willemstad. Between sunset dinners for two on the beach and the island rhythms of Caribbean music, it’s sure to be what the locals would call a dushi (“sweet”) escape.
BY DAY: The island’s west end, about an hour’s drive from Willemstad (if you look carefully, you may spot flamingos!), is home to Shete Boka National Park, where you can hike down to Boca Tabla Cave and watch the breakers crash against the rocks. At nearby Santa Cruz beach, dive- and snorkel-loving couples can catch a guided tour of attractions, including a black-sand beach and a sea cave known as the Blue Room. Dive junkies can also check out the Curaçao Seaquarium or, for a once-in-a-lifetime splurge, Substation Curaçao, a miniature submarine. Sure, the $650-per-person price tag is steep, but you’ll enjoy an hour-and-a-half-long private plunge to depths of 1,000 feet that only a handful of people have ever experienced.
Back on dry land, another unique experience awaits at the Curaçao Ostrich Farm. Guided open-truck tours depart every hour and culminate with the chance to feed the magnificent birds (or ride them—if you dare!). Then head downtown to shop Willemstad for fresh produce from Venezuelan merchants who peddle it from their boats at the Floating Market, or find one-of-a-kind art and souvenirs at the Renaissance Mall & Rif Fort, which is a 19th-century World Heritage site landmark. Another can’t-miss is Mikvé Israel-Emanuel and the Jewish Historical Cultural Museum. Weddings are still performed on the sand-covered floor of this synagogue, the oldest continually operating one in the West.
Want to relax and get your spa on? Look no further than the Hyatt Regency Curaçao Golf Resort, Spa and Marina. Unwind with an indulgent massage or wrap at the incredibly luxe Atabei spa (many treatments use herbs grown locally by islander Dinah Veeris) while your hubby chips away at the back nine.
BY NIGHT: When the sun sinks over the horizon, the island heats up with dance clubs, casinos (eight total) and, of course, jazz and blues music. The famous Mambo Beach Bar & Restaurant has weekly movie-on-the-beach nights, perfect for canoodling under the stars. Or grab drinks—perhaps something made with the island’s namesake blue curaçao liqueur—at the lavish Baoase Luxury Resort’s beach bar while taking in a moonlit view of the water.
WHAT TO EAT: Newlyweds’ first stop should be the charming Bistro Le Clochard in the Rif Fort. Snag a seat near the indoor garden or on the seaside terrace, and enjoy delectable French-Swiss dishes like veal goulash and cheese fondue, along with the largest wine selection on the island. For fish so fresh you can see it jumping offshore, visit Shor, the Hyatt’s newest seafood grill, where you can order conch ceviche, or any fish from grouper to mahi mahi prepared to your taste. If you want to experience authentic island food but are nervous about exotic fare like iguana (the locals believe it’s an aphrodisiac), keshi yená (“stuffed cheese”) is the way to go. Most restaurants serve this signature dish, a miniature round of Gouda filled with chicken, vegetables and spices, but the version made at the Avila Hotel’s Belle Terrace is incomparable.
WHERE TO STAY: There’s a reason the Queen has a suite at the Avila Hotel—the Dutch Colonial-style beachfront mansion is both intimate and impressive, and was originally a home of the sisters of Venezuelan liberator Simón Bolívar. Even with modern comforts like an infinity-edge pool, a spa and a state-of-the-art ocean-view gym, the hotel retains an air of quiet romance with its bougainvillea-entwined terraces and breathtaking ocean views. More removed from the center of town, the sprawling (and spanking-new) Hyatt on Santa Barbara Plantation is a world unto itself. And for the ultimate live-like-royalty experience, rent one of the exclusive villas at the lush Baoase Luxury Resort, complete with an in-house chef.
WHAT TO PACK: Other than a few sundresses and heels for dinners out, and sneakers for any exploring you plan to do, resort wear is the norm on this friendly, laid-back island. And of course, you’ll want your passport, plenty of sunscreen and as many cute bikinis as you care to bring.
BEST TIMES TO GO: You can score deals in the off-season, mid-April through December, and Carnival runs from early January through Ash Wednesday. Music fans flock to the North Sea Jazz Festival in early fall (Sting and Stevie Wonder headlined in 2011), but check the weather report, because hurricane season lasts from June through November.
NEWLYWED NEWS: The Hyatt, Avila and Baoase all offer romance packages that include bubbly and couples massages; inquire when booking.
GETTING THERE: Nonstop flights on Continental leave Wednesday through Saturday from Newark, but even American Airlines flights from PHL, which stop in Miami, generally top out at about eight hours. Many hotels offer shuttles to and from the airport, but if you’re planning any day trips on the island, it’s fun to rent a car and go exploring.