Aruba, Caribbean Slave History & The World Cruise: The Rest of the Story

Aruba: One Happy Island

Note: Our voyage ended early, and the last port of call was to be Aruba, but plans kept changing. See my comments and links at the end of this blog for “the rest of the story.”

Because I have visited Aruba before, I decided to share my findings and impressions as well as research regarding enslaved people of the past. 

Fun Facts

  • The island’s slogan is One Happy Island.
  • This 18 mile long island is a home for flamingos. Most are on the Renaissance Aruba Private Island. (Guests of the resort can enjoy watching them.)
  • Aruba is a gay-friendly Caribbean destination. LGBTQIA+ folks are welcome to bring their pride with them on holiday. This is not the case on several Caribbean islands, and some have laws making it illegal to be other than cis-gender and “straight.”
  • If you request a Balashi cocktail you will get a glass of water. Aruba’s drinking water is safe, and they are very proud of it. They proclaim it to be the best in the world. They brew a beer named Balashi.

Slave Owners | the Enslaved | Invaders

Aruba’s history of slavery is different from most of the Caribbean islands. Aruba, now a territory of the Netherlands, had not yet discovered gold or silver during the period of conquering and colonizing Caribbean islands, thus Aruba’s indigenous people, the Caquetio (who had migrated from Venezuela), were deported by the Spaniards to the island of Hispaniola (now Haiti and Dominican Republic) to work the copper and gold mines.


The Dutch took control of Aruba in 1634 and enslaved indigenous people to work various agricultural plots. African slaves were not imported to Aruba until the 19th century to serve as craftsmen and field laborers. Due to the small plots, thus the need for fewer laborers, Aruba never had a large population of Africans.

Gold, silver, sugar, and cotton. That was the European attraction to the Americas and the reason for slave trade.  Because European explorers were determined to build their wealth and that of the country they represented, they stole gold and silver from Central American countries and the indigenous people of the time – Mayans, Aztecs, and others. By the 1700’s cotton and sugar from the Americas were established as lucrative commodities throughout Europe, however because these were labor intensive crops, the way to make money was to enslave the indigenous people and force them to work the fields. Due to the diseases brought by Europeans for which native people were not immune, and the difficult conditions, many indigenous cultures were eventually wiped out. This prompted the enslavement of Africans and the Middle Passage began.


Ultimately seven countries dominated the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Portugal, Britain, France, Netherlands, Spain, the United States and Denmark trafficked the most slaves between 1514 to 1866.

During this short adventure into the past, I have learned or have been reminded of many things.

  • Man’s inhumanity to man is not just history, it is still present today.
  • Greed motivates unthinkable acts.
  • Religion was one of the “excusesused to enslave people of color. (See my January 31st blog about Cost Rica)
  • Actions of centuries ago impact beliefs and biases today.
  • Indigenous people across the Americas were taken advantage of, diminished and in many cases eliminated.
  • I have been enriched by meeting proud indigenous peoples and learning how their history intersects with my African American history
  • The more I learn, the more I want to know.
  • The struggle for all of humanity continues. 



Crystal’s World Cruise: If you were the captain, what would you do?

Note: What follows is my perception from a DEI &B perspective as I relate my experience. Because so many of you asked me to share what really happened, I am doing so in this space.

 Our expedition was supposed to have been a 120-day world cruise covering 59 countries and 136 ports. Months before we boarded on January 17th, we were informed that Australia and New Zealand were not opening their ports, so our itinerary would be reorganized. My husband Charles and I were thrilled with the new itinerary because we had already been to all the ports originally scheduled in Australia and New Zealand during our last world cruise.   I was excited about the new itinerary because it included several Caribbean islands, Central America, South America, and then on to the Mediterranean and eastern Africa. With this itinerary I decided to blog about the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade as it related to the countries we would visit.

So much for well laid plans. Here’s the rest of the story. As you read this, ask yourself this question. As a leader, what would I do?

  • January 17th- We embarked the Crystal Serenity in Miami and were greeted with champagne and full VIP treatment that Crystal is known for. We sailed at 5:00pm sharp. Old friends reconnected and new friends were made. Everyone was thrilled to be aboard.
  • January 19th- Before we heard anything officially, my travel agent called mid-day and asked me if I was sitting down. She had just received notice that the Crystal Serenity Grand Voyage (the world cruise) was cancelled, and our experience would end in Aruba, which was the end of the first segment of the voyage. Later we received a short letter from the captain confirming the information. Most of us assumed it was COVID related.
  • January 20th- We learn that Panama and Columbia are now off the itinerary.
  • January 21st- After two stops in Mexico, while at sea we were informed our two stops in Jamaica were denied. So we would be at sea until we arrived in Aruba. By now all guests and crew were aware of the challenges endured by the Crystal Symphony. (See links to the news articles below.) It was unpaid fuel bills in Miami, not COVID causing the ports to deny docking privilege for them, and we did not think the same issue was impacting our ship, the Serenity. Wrong! It was the same issue and more.
  • No detailed information from the Captain. He made his regular noon announcement telling us the speed of the ship, depth of the ocean, and the weather forecast. When there were cancellations of ports of call, he briefly mentioned them at the end of his noon announcement.

  • All officers wear white uniforms. All except the hotel manager were constantly absent from the public. Even the Cruise Director, who normally interacts with guest constantly was often missing. 
  • Several days at sea- Guests were speculating what would happen to Crystal Cruiselines. Many have cruised with this company every year for 10+ years, so its end would mean an end to seeing the crew members who also were long time employees from around the world, as well as the many friends who were fellow cruisers.

  • The Crew- Even though for several days the crew had no more information than guests, they all kept a happy face, attended to their duties and continued to make each guest feel special. Crew members had to rely on the company to make arrangements for them to return to their homes, and did not know when or if they would be paid. (Later information indicated they were paid through the end of January.) Most had three or six month contracts with Crystal and many had longer assignments. There were approximately 550 crew members aboard. At this point, they thought they would be working, even if with no guests, until the ship docked in Los Angeles in March. 

  • January 29th- At 4:45am, literally three hours before we were to dock in Aruba, a letter was slipped under our door informing us that Aruba had closed their port to us and we were headed to Bimini. We would arrive on January 31st.
  • Other than the daily noon weather reports, no words from the Captain of any significance. No white coats to be found, unless they were seated together at dinner.
  • All of the air and luggage shipping arrangements that had been made to fly home from Aruba had to be changed. Luckily, because we were awake when the letter arrived (We were watching the Australian Tennis Open.), Charles was able to access the internet before everyone else would be doing the same later in the day to rearrange travel. 
  • January 31st- Debarking was very orderly. All guests were taking the ferry from Bimini to Ft. Lauderdale at the same time. We completed Bahama immigration on board. We boarded the ferry in groups based on the luggage color code assigned. 
  • Chaos in Fort Lauderdale- Thankfully the 90 minute ferry trip was on calm waters. All were ready to disembark when we were told to be patient. It would take an hour to unload the luggage. Picture this- 300 guests who each had four months of luggage. We expected the luggage to be organized by colors, so we could quickly locate our bags. We had to claim our bags and clear customs before giving the bags to shipping agents for return home. So much for expectations. The luggage was scattered everywhere with no organization, and many tags ripped off. No Crystal officials anywhere. (Perhaps they knew they would be let go in days, even if they had not received official word yet, so why show up) By the way, it was midnight by now. 
  • Next Step- We finally located our luggage, cleared Customs and now the next challenge was to determine which bus to board. Crystal informed us that they had arranged a one-night stay at a hotel closest to the airport we would use. We were flying out of Miami, so we guessed which bus was the correct one for us, since there was no one with a manifest to direct us. We checked in, and by the time we were settled, we had a 90 minute nap before it was time to get dressed and head to the airport. 
  • Whew, home just in time to miss the big snow storms that crippled the southeast. 
I see all things through a DEI&B lense. It occurred to me that this experience relates to the Inclusion and Belonging dimension of DEI&B. Inclusive leaders would recognize the fear that the crew was feeling, 
and the general anxiety of the guests. As uncomfortable has it would have been for them, the white coats could have been more present. Most guests would accept that the officers did not have information, or at least information they could share with the public. Just being heard would have been of benefit. 

Through all the speculation about what would happen to Crystal, the consensus was that the value of the brand was the guests and the amazing crew. Inclusive leaders would recognize the importance of protecting that brand. The crew did all they could to serve the guests at the highest Crystal standards. 

What would you do, as a leader, if you were working for an organization that filed bankruptcy papers two days before the ship sailed? 



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