12th December – Barbados
This changing the time by an hour every other day is driving my body clock mad! I woke up at 5:20 ages early. The lights of Barbados were twinkling as we slowly made our way down the west (Caribbean Sea) side of the island to Bridgetown we were passing the breakwater at six and the sun was coming up behind the port, it looked wonderful. We edged very slowly into our berth alongside the Bridgetown cruise terminal. It sounds good but it is actually a converted breeze block warehouse with a corrugated iron roof which has been decorated in bright, colourful Bajan scenes.
We were alongside and secure by 6:30 an hour earlier than predicted. I am on a trip at 09:15 and it takes 15 minutes to walk to where the coaches pick up, so I need an early breakfast. The MDR opens at 07:30 so I intend to be there on the dot. I met a lady (Sue No 1) from my dinner table outside the restaurant so shared a table for two. She was on a trip departing 15 minutes earlier than mine, but we had finished breakfast by 08:05 so she was in plenty of time. I even popped back to my cabin and watched the fresh food coming aboard. Six container loads on the dockside at the moment, two of which are chilled or frozen, it is hard to tell which. The forklifts bring pallets out of the containers and put them on the dock. A P&O officer then checks for damage and temperature before checking them in on a tablet computer and marking them free to be loaded. Another forklift then hoists them aboard in a well-rehearsed routine.
I headed ashore and strolled down the dockside to the building at the end that contains a load of ‘Duty Free’ shops. You are forced to walk on a wiggly path through these shops to get to the excursion bus stops. It was about nine when I got there to find a milling crowd but no transport. I found a seat and waited. Slowly coaches began to arrive, and a big Bajan man decided to organise my tour into a queue in front of a bus labelled for my trip. The queue snaked right across the forecourt! At this point a Bajan girl started organising a queue for a different trip. There was a problem, her queue was to the right of the queue I was waiting in and her coaches were to its left! Result, five minutes of madness as both queues moved forward to board their busses at the same time and the queues had to pass through each other.
Eventually I was on a coach labelled for the right tour, comfortably seated and we were off. The courier was of Italian extraction and despite living on the island for 27 years she spoke English with an Italian accent. Heaven knows what the Bajans made of her. Mind you, she was very informed about the island and the facts and figures poured out non-stop. ‘Here is the famous Kensington Oval.’ ‘This is the tallest building on the island at seven floors.’ ‘When the British landed in 1615 the island was uninhabited, having been abandoned at least 100 years before by the Caribe people from Venezuela.’ ‘It is called Bridgetown because the British found a long-abandoned bridge built by the Caribe across the river.’
It went on and on until the first stop at an old plantation house. Interesting tour of what had once been the plantation owner’s house and now contained a vast collection of antiques of the period. Intriguingly the master’s bedroom had a connecting door to the children’s nannie’s bedroom! The tour concluded with a rum punch. Then onto the botanic gardens. Not a patch on the ones in Madeira, but a vast collection of orchids which I love. There were some interesting plants. The tour of the gardens concluded with another stronger rum punch. Apparently, the island economy is still heavily reliant on the production of sugar cane, however it is not much exported to Europe any more being surpassed by sugar beet. Virtually the whole crop now goes into the production of rum at one of the island’s four distilleries.
On to the Gun Hill Lookout. One of a chain of seven lookouts the British built on this coral island on which the highest point is 345 metres above sea level. The lookouts must have been effective because the British controlled the island until it was granted independence in 1966. The view over Bridgetown was fabulous. Guess what, the tour concluded with a rum punch. Back to the ship for a quick lunch I had a burger followed by two hours sleep!
Five of us from the dinner table met in the Havana bar at 19.15 for an appetiser before dinner, it was a non-alcoholic one for me after today’s excess of rum punch, I must be getting old! Then we went down one deck to the ‘Epicurean Restaurant’ for dinner, and what a dinner, the food was absolutely wonderful and the service immaculate. Admittedly there is a £30 a head charge but it is like eating in a 5-Star restaurant. The restaurant is at the stern of the ship and as it was a beautiful balmy evening, we opted to dine on the terrace under a sailcloth awning, the twinkling lights of Barbados as a backdrop. The sea was so calm that no one noticed we had sailed until we were well on our way to St Lucia.
We started with an amuse-Busche, a small cup of piping hot cream of broccoli soup, I and two others then had an Artic snow crab cocktail that was packed with delicious crab meat. Four of the five, including me chose grilled Indonesian tiger prawn for our mains. Two enormous tiger prawns each, butterflied and perfectly cooked, served with black noodles, Asian stir fry and a fiery chilli sauce, it was absolutely divine.
Next came a little palette cleanser, a tiny blackcurrant ice lolly. For dessert, everyone chose the same thing, crepes Suzette served with vanilla ice cream. Once again it was utterly fantastic. Coffee and petit fours concluded the best meal I have had in ages. I understand that tonight was Menu A, and it rotates with Menu B every five days. We have agreed to return for Menu B later in the cruise. Back up to the Havana for a night cap before retiring to bed. A thoroughly enjoyable day.
13th December – St Lucia
As I have been here several times, I had not booked a trip, instead I intended to have a stroll into town and a mosey around the shops. Consequently, I didn’t rush breakfast and took my time over my Rice Krispies and two fried eggs on delicious fried bread. Just as I was finishing my third cup of coffee the ship’s captain came on the tannoy to say that they had just learnt that it was a public holiday in St Lucia, and all the shops were shut with the exception of the duty-free on the dockside. Excursions were still running as attractions were open but public beaches were likely to be crowded with locals. It looks like a day on board looms.
I found a nice spot on the deck and settled in the sun to read my Kindle. By mid-morning I was getting warm and I ordered a nice cold beer. Then listened to a man getting annoyed with a waiter. The man wanted a coffee and the waiter explained that this bar didn’t sell coffee only alcohol and soft drinks. He told the man that if he walked 50 feet in one direction, he could get free tea or coffee from the buffet restaurant or on the other side of the pool there was a Costa coffee outlet where he could purchase a fancy coffee. The man accused the waiter of being lazy and wanted to know why he couldn’t go to Costa for him. The waiter gently explained that he would not be served at the outlet, as it was for passengers only and didn’t offer waiter service. Eventually a ship’s officer told the man that the waiter only served drinks from the bar and if he wanted a coffee, he would have to get it himself. As he walked away, he got a round of applause from nearby passengers. Some people are totally unreasonable and ignorant.
For lunch I wasn’t very hungry so a had a burger with lettuce, tomato, cucumber and onion. I was very good; I didn’t have chips. I sat there a bit longer but I was getting too warm so I retreated to the balcony where I could sit in the shade and write a bit more Jinnie and update this postcard and snooze.
Casual evening in the dining room, another chance to don one of my fancy Caribbean short-sleeved shirts. The starter was a twice-baked crab soufflé and was, frankly, the first dish I have had I was disappointed with. Yes, it tasted of crab, but it was the texture of a Victoria sponge. I finished mine but I saw loads going back half-eaten. I hope the executive chef got the message. Next, I had prime rib of ‘Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding, Roast Potatoes and Seasonal Vegetables’ which was superb. One of the men on the table ordered fillet of hake. It simply wasn’t a fillet, but a hake steak full of bones and impossible to eat. The dining room manager came over and apologised and said could he get him something else and he chose the roast beef which he enjoyed.
Halfway through our meal a platter of chips arrived on the table. They came as a complete mystery as no one on the table had ordered them. A little later a man at another table could be heard asking where his chips were! I finished with a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream that made two excellent dishes out of three.
14th December – Grenada
I pondered whether to call this entry Granada or At Sea. We edged slowly into St George’s the capital of Granada and by 07:15 were secure on the Jetty alongside a ship from the German operator AIDA. Like P&O they are part of the Carnival organisation. As my ‘Black Gold and Diamond Chocolate’ excursion was due to depart at 08:30, I arrived for breakfast at 07:30 just as the doors opened. I had just finished my bowl of Rice Krispies when the captain came on the tannoy to explain the rolling swell was making the ship move up and down considerably, by at least three metres and it was unsafe to use the gangways as the movement was so large. In addition, it was putting an unacceptable strain on the mooring line and threatening to damage the ship.
In conjunction with the port authorities and the captain of the AIDA ship, they had decided they would be safer at sea and AIDA would be sailing almost immediately and we would follow as soon as the ship had backed out, swung through 180° and we had room to back out and do similar. All excursions were consequently cancelled and would automatically be refunded. Strangely I hadn’t really felt the movement of ship, I must be getting my ‘sea legs’.
On port days, the daytime onboard entertainment programme is substantially reduced as so many people go ashore. At about 09:45 a girl from the entertainments team came on the Tannoy with a long list of hastily arranged events. As she read out item after item, I was reminded of Hi Di Hi and Gladys Pugh making similar announcements. This girl, however, didn’t have a Welsh accent or a xylophone! We are now plodding along at a stately 10 knots, and it is a balmy 28°C with watery sunshine and the ship is as steady as a rock. If it’s like this for the rest of the day I will be quite content.
The next stop on this cruise is Curaçao on Friday, I think I’ve been there before but I can’t recall it at all so we now have two days at sea running. Gosh, it’s getting warmer by the minute, the outside air temperature has crept up to 31°C so it’s a spot of lunch, hotdog and chips, in the shade by the main pool. There is very little breeze over the open deck as we are sailing with a tailwind. The number of lobster red bodies is very high. I suspect there is going to be a lot of sore people this evening.
At breakfast I spoke to a woman I sat with at breakfast a few days ago. She had gone down with Covid early in the cruise and had been in isolation and recovered. Now she tells me that the couple who set up the cruise Facebook page are in isolation. Interestingly these are the only three cases I have heard of so far. You will be delighted to know that very few masks are on view. In fact, it is a shock when you see one.
This evening I was 3rd on our table to arrive for dinner and sat next to Sue 1 who I often breakfast with. I had hardly sat down when she said how pleased she was that I had sat next to her because she wanted to ask a favour of me. She told me ages ago she had brought her late husband’s ashes with her and had arranged for them to be scattered at sea. Well slung over the side, in an environmentally acceptable container that will decompose. Well, it is the big day tomorrow and would I accompany her. I could hardly say no, and fortunately Derick who was sat the other side of Sue 1 asked if she would like him to come as well and she said yes please. So, tomorrow is the big day, and we will all meet at 09:45 for a 10 o’clock kick-off. I will report.
Anyway, dinner was quite pleasant only eight this evening so a little more room on our table. I choose the ever-reliable tomato soup with basil. To follow I had garlic tiger prawns and rice, they were very nice, but I think I have been spoiled for prawns by the monsters I had in the epicurean restaurant a couple of nights back. Dessert for me this evening was fresh fruit salad with cream and ice cream. I need to keep my strength up for tomorrow!
The shape of our next group visit to the Epicurean Restaurant to indulge in Menu B was plotted over after-dinner coffee. Two of the Ladies in the group, Sue 1 and Judy, have both cruised many times before and were welcomed aboard with a bottle of Champagne in their cabins and neither have drunk them. Alister has a cabin on deck C and they have huge balconies, three to four times the size of most, so the current plan is to meet on the balcony for a glass of Champagne before dinner.
15th December – At Sea
I seem to have settled into an odd early morning routine since all the messing with time zones. I wake up just after five every morning, look at the time on my phone then turn over and go back to sleep for an hour or so before waking up properly. I will then put on the TV to see what is happening in the world before getting out of bed and ready for breakfast.
A most enjoyable breakfast of Rice Krispies, followed by two fried eggs, bacon, fried bread and black pudding. Rounded off with toast and loads of coffee. I was joined by Sue 1, who reminded me to meet her a 09:45 at the ship’s reception. I duly arrived at the allotted time and Sue 1, Derick and I were led by the ships reception manager to the stern of the ship on the promenade deck where a large section had been closed off by ship’s security officers. We were led to a small table where there was the urn containing the ashes, a bowl of rose petals and a single red rose.
The Deputy Captain read a few words and the Chief Security Officer read a few more words before he cast the urn into the ship’s wake and Sue 1 added a couple of handfuls of rose petals. The Deputy Captain then presented her with the long-stemmed rose and a simple but nice service was over. Trudging back to the busy part of the ship, I asked Sue 1 if she was OK and suggested a drink might be in order. She jumped at the idea and while I had a single can of beer and Derick, who doesn’t drink alcohol, had a coffee, Sue 1 downed two brandies! The rose on the table drew several comments.
I spent the rest of the morning in the sun reading and then went down to the MDR for a spot of lunch. Today I had a simple prawn salad baguette and a cup of coffee. People around me were having bowls of soup, cottage pie and apple tart. No matter how good it was I couldn’t have eaten that knowing that there was a formal evening coming and that usually means six or seven courses. Some people are just pigs.
A lovely afternoon on the balcony where it was in half sun, half shade until the sun went down about 17:30. This gave me three hours to prepare for dinner and even I don’t need that long, even on a formal night, so I had a little snooze, before showering and donning my best bib and tucker.
Nine on the table for dinner tonight, we seem to have permanently lost one to his new shipboard romance and he is now dining with her in a different main dining room (there are three MDRs, plus a buffet for those who don’t mind slumming it, and four restaurants where you can pay a supplement. The Epicurean, which is upmarket, the Beach House where they serve steak on a hot slate and hanging fish skewers, Sindhu which is Indian and The Tamarind Club which is a supper club severing a set three-course meal with entertainment). Tonight I started with an amuse-Bouche, apple juice with a touch of brandy. Then a crab capice for starter. Next came the soup, delicious chicken and sweetcorn chowder. I choose lobster tail mornay next. Apple tarte tatin for dessert. To finish, coffee and chocolate Turkish delight.
16th December – Curaçao
The first of the ABC islands this morning, except we are doing them in reverse order CBA, it’s Bonaire next, then Aruba. It is a few years since I was last here and the area immediately around where the cruise ships dock has been and is being developed. The beautiful park has gone and it has been replaced by hotels and apartments.
I am on an 08:30 trip so it’s an early breakfast for WG. As my favourite waiter service, MDR doesn’t open until 07:30, it would be cutting things a little fine as I’m supposed to be at the bus by 08:20 and it’s a bit of a walk down the pier to it. If I want breakfast, I must slum it and go to the buffet. I got there a minute or two after seven and it was manic, a real bun fight. Still, I managed to sort out two fried eggs, bacon and fried bread. I couldn’t find any Rice Krispies, there was loads of muesli and All Bran but as far as I’m concerned you can stick them. Lots of toast but it was all cold and a mug of coffee from a machine. The egg yolks were hard and the fried bread half as thick as the restaurant. And to think people choose to eat there! I shall only return if I am forced to by another early trip.
I got down to the gangway to leave the ship the heavens opened, and it absolutely poured down. The crew stopped everyone from walking down the aluminium gangway as they said it was slippery but not to worry as the coaches would be held back. But a little autistic boy was most upset, thought he was going to miss his trip on a catamaran to a beach and started yelling and fell to the floor bashing it with his fists. Fortunately, it was only a short sharp shower, and we were soon moving again. The lad was still yelling, much to his 4-year-old brother’s disgust, as the family headed for their bus. Thankfully I was on a different excursion.
The bus was quite full, but we were soon off heading for a nice ride around town and then to a pier a few miles away to board what was described as a semi-sub. It was actually a boat where you went down into the hull where there were large windows. We then headed out over a coral reef and viewed thousands of colourful fish. Angel fish, parrot fish, yellow snapper to name a few. Then a barracuda went by and everything scattered only to return when the ship’s captain fed them bread crumbs. I even saw a sea snake.
Back ashore we headed to the distillery where they make Curaçao. This was a very quick stop, but I was amazed to learn that all Curaçao is bottled by hand! Then for a quick tasting, none of the blue stuff for us. We each had thimble fulls of three different flavours, triple sec, tamarind and chocolate. It was a unanimous agreement; chocolate was the winner. Back to the ship in time for lunch, a hotdog and chips today.
I nice easy afternoon on my balcony reading, updating this postcard, and writing Jinnie. It has been a very pleasant 27° with no more rain. We sail for Bonaire at six this evening and there is supposed to be a sail away party on the lido deck, I don’t think I’ll bother it’s all very loud music!
Only seven down for dinner this evening, Jeff now seems to be permanently missing and two of the others, Judy and Alister, have gone to the epicurean. Mind you that’s not a bad thing as it gives us more elbow room! This evening there were a few things on the menu I didn’t fancy but I still managed to select three dishes I enjoyed, mushroom soup with a hint of garlic for starter. For a change, instead of being warm it was boiling hot. I then had a medium rare sirloin steak that was just perfectly cooked and extremely tender. I finished off with a bowl of mixed ice cream, vanilla and raspberry ripple. The coffee was served with what was supposed to be petite fours but what arrived was a plate of Liquorice Allsorts. It was better than the Turkish Delight of the evening before, which I detest.
17th December – Bonaire
At what now appears to be normal for this cruise, I was awake at six twenty. It is another 08:30 start for an excursion and, as you have to be at the pickup point by 08:20, it looks like another trip to the buffet or no breakfast. Someone told me they did devilled kidneys but I didn’t see any yesterday. I must have a better search this morning as I rather like them for breakfast. Well, no devilled kidneys but I could have had liver. Not really my thing for breakfast.
One of the waiters from my evening table was working in the buffet this morning and saw me carrying my tray with eggs, bacon and fried bread, toast and butter, knife, fork and napkin. He pointed out a recently vacated table by a window and instantly cleared it for me. He then asked if I wanted him to fetch coffee for me, but as I was only about ten feet from the machine I politely declined. Well, the eggs were better than yesterday’s solid ones, but I really don’t like eating in the buffet. I’m not on a trip tomorrow so I will be back to the Bay Tree MDR and waiter service.
I strolled down for my tour ‘Best of Bonaire’ and it left bang on time. Bonaire is a flat banana-shaped coral island that really doesn’t have a lot going for it. Unless that is you like snorkelling or diving which is said to be spectacular. The bus, which was rather old, plodded down a narrow road with bushes and trees either side. Occasionally there was a break in the bushes, and you could see the sea or a field of sheep. We passed a lake which we were told was the flamingo reserve. There were a few pink dots on the horizon which we were told were flamingos, it really could have been a line of washing. We were told the island had a population of wild donkeys and goats but none were to be found.
Finally, we stopped at a ‘cultural centre’ where we were divided into three groups, each to participate in three activities in turn. My group was led to a ‘museum’, a hall with a load of posters on the wall and a few tatty exhibits. There were some rusty branding irons (whether for slaves or livestock wasn’t clear), a wheelbarrow, an old treadle sewing machine and a couple of scarecrows. We then moved around and some women tried to get us to dance some weird native dance.
Finally it was the music workshop and we were shown the native musical instruments. A conch shell, two dissimilar lengths of hollow bamboo you banged on the ground, a goat skin drum, a thing like a tin can you hit with a screwdriver, a couple of bits of hardwood to bang together, a piece of 2×2 which had what looked like a load of lids from tin cans nailed to it in pairs so that they rattled, and a triangle. I didn’t know the triangle was a native Arawak Indian musical instrument! We were all given instruments and told to join in. I was handed a triangle (where is Hoggs when you need him?). The instructor then played a tape and we all joined in making an awful racket.
It was soon time to get back on the bus to a high point imaginatively called Long Hill as it was long and a hill for ‘wonderful views’ of the island. Fortunately I found a blue tail lizard to take a photo of, the highlight of the trip. If that was the ‘Best of Bonaire’ I hate to think what the ‘worst’ would have been like.
We were soon back at the ship, well in time for lunch. I decided to go the restaurant to eat. I was on a sharing table for six one of whom was Sue 1. She asked about my morning trip so I told them just how crap it had been. A tasty prawn baguette, chips and a tiny bowl of salad. Later I was feeling happier and asked for vanilla ice cream for dessert. The waiter put a bowl of ice cream down in front of me and said, “Sorry sir we are out of vanilla ice cream, I have brought you strawberry instead.” “Well, you can take it away then,” said I, “I detest strawberry ice cream.”
I went back to my cabin to get my Kindle and there was an f…ing great fly buzzing around that refused to f… off when I opened the balcony door. Ten minutes later I got rid of it and collapsed exhausted on my bed. It is obviously not my day.
I sat around reading until it was time to get ready for dinner. A shave, a lovely hot shower and a change into some clean clothes and I was ready to go. After having to let two full lifts go by, I managed to get the third and was still second to arrive on the table. After perusing the menu I settled on pea and ham soup as a starter. For the main course I struggled to choose between roast loin of pork (with crackling) or fillet of Dover sole in a seafood sauce. In the end I had the fish, two goodly sized fillets in a sauce with prawns and octopus, gnocchi and new potatoes. It was lovely. I then had lemon posset for dessert and asked for ice cream with it. It was really lemony. Coffee and marshmallows to finish. Most enjoyable.
In Part 5 – Aruba and islands North
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