It was cold and raining at home, but the heat when we landed in Barbados was like being in an oven. And that is precisely why we were in the Caribbean in January and heading for the P&O cruise ship Azura.
We were first-time cruisers in the Caribbean, and with P&O, and our embarkation proved surprising. The cabin with balcony was spacious, the steward most helpful, so off we went exploring. We found a very British ship with a largely British clientele, unlike many others where the majority were American, Canadian, and Australian. Also new was the mixed nature and ages of the guests, with families with young children and some multi-generational groups adding to the atmosphere.
At dinner we had opted for open dining, joining any table at any time in the restaurant, and so met some entertaining types from all corners of the UK, including various business people, plumbers, retired policemen, retired diplomats, teachers and travel agents. They were all intent on enjoying their cruise in many different ways and exploring the islands.
Starting our own explorations, we found Barbados the most obviously bling with its opulent hotels up the coast and jewellery shops in Bridgetown, both of which we successfully resisted, for we were here for the sailing, and sailing into a Caribbean sunset is just glorious. And comfortable, for the view from the promenade deck and the cooler temperatures and sea breezes in the early evening meant that this was our main form of exercise, and also meant that we didn’t visit the on-board health club and gym too frequently.
Our tours included a most entertaining one with our guide/driver, one Midnight Blue, to English Harbour in Antigua. Blue, who had grown up in the same street as Viv Richards and played schoolboy cricket with him, proudly pointed out the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in passing. Then, as we continued through the countryside and the fields of sugar cane surrounding the towns and villages, the conversation turned to slavery, as we heard “and this was the first free village when the slaves were granted their freedom”.
Then the beauty that was English Harbour. A perfect setting of lush surrounding hills and the harbour filled with expensive yachts, unlike the days when Admirals Nelson, Hood, Rodney, and Jervis made the dockyard their headquarters.
Another delightful trip was on Guadeloupe, billed as the Death In Paradise tour, and taking us to the fictional Honore, on the fictional Saint Marie, to – spoiler alert – discover a pretty village setting where the fictional police station is actually the church hall, with the priest’s office serving as the incident room.
The different islands were beautiful in their different ways, the docks and harbour sides often less so, as we called in at Antigua, St Kitts, the Dominican Republic, Guadaloupe, St Lucia, Martinique, Grenada and Saint Vincent, before returning to Barbados for our flight home.
Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic was a purpose-built cruise complex created by the Carnival Corporation, offering a shopping mall and bars and restaurants, and a very scrubbed up and newly minted version of the Caribbean. But all the islands gave opportunities to shop for local products – endless rum, plus duty free gold, diamonds and watches – and whilst all the islands were stunning, St Lucia took the crown for the lushness and the deep green of its hillsides, dropping steeply into the aquamarine sea. The beaches we visited were all fine sand, and the sea bath-water warm. And all, as we walked the decks on departing a port and spotted hidden coves and beaches, elicited the “oh, missed that one. Should have visited there”. But that is the nature of a Caribbean cruise, and possibly why most of our fellow passengers were repeat visitors, who knew exactly where they wanted to return.
Meantime, the business of the shipboard life also had us fully engaged. We joined classes, sporting activities (my husband), had treatments in the spa (me), saw shows, films on the outdoor screens, were entertained in The Playhouse and the Manhattan bar by Gareth Oliver and Manuel Martinez respectively, and we ate. Oh, how we ate.
P&O is proud of its many dining options, from the buffet restaurant, the poolside grill, the main Peninsula restaurant, to the speciality restaurants such as the Beach House for Tex-Mex, the Epicurean, a Michelin standard restaurant, Sindhu for great Indian cuisine, and the Glass House, for small plates and a wine list by Olly Smith. These speciality restaurants were subject to an additional cover charge, and the only quibble I have is that the cruise was Friday to Friday, whilst the menus changed from menu A to menu B, Wednesday to Tuesday, and although we repeatedly checked, we were offered menu A twice – very much a Caribbean cruise in January, first world problem.
No problem at all was escaping the British winter, and the memory of those glorious gold sunsets dipping into the sea kept us warm for many months too.
P&O cruises have a similar 14 nights cruise Barbados to Barbados visiting nine islands, flights and transfers included, from £1,299 per person in an outside cabin. Also included is an onboard credit of up to £270 per person. For further information and booking, pocruises.com.