Caribbean Christmas 2023/24, Part Three

26th December – Boxing Day, La Romana, Dominican Republic

I have only visited the Dominican Republic once before, when I stayed in an all-inclusive hotel in Puerto Plata many years ago and enjoyed it. Puerto Plata was the original large tourist resort on the island on the Atlantic side of the country. I understand that La Romana is a custom-built new resort on the Caribbean side of the island and in the far east, while Puerto Plata is in the west not far from Haiti, the other nation on the island of Hispaniola. La Romana is a new port of call for P&O this year and they are interested to discover what cruisers think of the call.

I woke about 06:30 just as we were coming into the new jetty at the new cruise terminal. I have booked an excursion that is called “A Countryside Drive by Safari Truck”. But on reading the description it goes through a sugar cane plantation and calls at a typical house where you can try the local rum and coffee. Then on to a chocolate factory and a cigar factory, then a white sand beach where those who want can swim. The trip departed at 08:30 meaning I had to be at the bus park the usual 15 minutes before departure time and we were warned the bus park was 10 minutes walk from the ship!

All this meant I had no time to eat breakfast in the Main Dining Room as it doesn’t open until 07:30. Much to my disgust if I want breakfast, I have to slum it and use the buffet. The food in the buffet is not bad it is just having to serve yourself and the packed, rushed nature of the place that I don’t like. Call me a snob, but I like being waited on! Anyway, I found the Rice Krispies, the milk and the coffee. A man on the next table volunteered to keep my seat while I headed off for my cooked breakfast. I picked up two fried eggs, bacon, fried bread and black pudding. It was quite good, but I still had to serve myself.

The information was right, it was a good walk to the car park, up a steep hill and then through the duty-free area and finally past a load of shops before arriving at half a dozen open-sided safari trucks. I was directed to one and we were off before the 08:30 departure time. We raced down the motorway and turned off into a vast sugar cane plantation where we weaved our way to a little stall outside a private house. While the courier dished out potent rum and coke the stall holder was giving us bits of raw sugar cane to chew and trying to get us to spend $5 on a fresh coconut cut open so you could drink the ‘milk’, with an added shot of rum, through a straw. He didn’t sell many to the two safari trucks that arrived together.

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
Sugar cane.
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal

Then we visited the private house, wandering around the garden where they grew all sorts of tropical fruit. We got to sample papaya, pineapple, orange, coconut and mango all grown in the garden, or so they would have us believe. Next came a taster of strong black local coffee that was really very good. Back on the truck and it was off to the chocolate factory. This must be the world’s smallest chocolate factory, there were more people trying to sell us stuff than making it! Again, more little samples, chocolate tea (disgusting), chocolate rum (very good) and 100% cocoa butter chocolate which was incredibly good. I lashed out and bought a bar of 55% cocoa chocolate as a present for the LGND which I thought was pretty decent. I don’t think she would appreciate the 100%, it was extremely strong.

Then over to the cigar factory. Interesting to watch them being made, but as a non-smoker I wasn’t really interested in trying or buying cigars.

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
Cigar production.
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal

Next stop was the beach, rather a nice beach but obviously another stop designed to sell food and drink from the cafe whose bit of beach we had ‘free’ chairs and loungers on. The drinks were incredibly expensive US$10 for a big bottle of local beer. Needless to say, I made use of the free bottle of water available from the safari truck. It was quite pleasant sitting on the beach in the shade of a tree. I got chatting to a couple sitting next to me and I recognised their Yorkshire accent. So, I asked whereabouts in Yorkshire they came from. I got the answer near Hull, which I know quite well as my father came from Hull and I visited my grandparents there on many occasions, so I asked where in Hull. The couple looked at each other and said we actually live just outside Goole, but we always say Hull as no one has ever heard of Goole.

I have cousins who live in a village called Hook which has been absorbed into Goole. So, I asked them if they knew the two pubs in Hook, the Blacksmiths Arms and Eppies. I have no idea what Eppies is really called but everyone knows it as Eppies. They said they lived on Hook Road, which I know well and often drank in Eppies. It’s a small world.

On the drive back another bottle of local strong rum appeared along with a giant bottle of Coke and paper cups. By the time we got back to the ship many of the people were happily singing. About ten minutes after I got back on board, we had about 15 minutes of rain that made no difference to the temperature. Everyone was supposed to be back on-board ship at 17:30 but as I got out of the shower at 17:35 there were frantic announcements for four missing passengers. A few minutes later they were running down the slope to the jetty. They were quite lucky as most of the hawsers restraining the ship had been let go. I hate to think how they would have got on if we had sailed without them.

A most enjoyable dinner this evening. I started with chicken noodle soup and then roast collar of pork. The pork was excellent, tasty and tender. As soon as you threatened it with a knife it fell apart. Dessert was treacle tart and custard which I know from past cruises is worth ordering. The waiter happened to take my dessert order first of the eight on the table and I asked if I could also have ice cream. When he said, “Of course, Sir,” the rest of the table joined in and all eight of us had treacle tart & custard and ice cream! It was delicious.

Instead of going straight to the Crow’s Nest for my after-dinner drink I made an exception and went to watch the ship’s pantomime, ‘Jack and The Bean Stalk’ first. Well, I had a good laugh and like all good pantomimes it worked on two levels with many of the jokes going over the childrens’ (and some adults’) heads. It only lasted an hour, so I didn’t miss much drinking time.

27th December – At sea

I work a 05:30, looked at my travel alarm clock and promptly went back to sleep! I finally woke up a 06:55. I got up, washed and dressed and decided it was time for breakfast, as it is the Peninsula Club lunch today at noon and early breakfast wasn’t a bad idea. Only a light breakfast to leave room for what I hope will be a decent lunch (I hope). I was placed on a table for eight right at the back of the dining room by the windows looking out at the sea. The only problem is I am seated between two ladies who are both deaf as posts, despite both wearing hearing aids. It makes conversation very awkward. Anyway, I enjoyed my Rice Krispies followed by scrambled eggs.

As it’s a sea day, sun loungers are at a premium. They have implemented a policy on board of putting a yellow sticker on loungers that have things left on them but are not occupied for 30 minutes. If no one returns in the next 30 minutes the stuff is removed and the lounger can be used. I have seen a few unhappy campers this morning returning after an hour only to find someone else on the lounger they had bagged at 7 o’clock this morning. Personally, I would have tipped their stuff in the pool. Anyway, I found a seat in the sun and finished the John Grisham I was reading and started a Robert Galbraith.

About 11:45 I headed back to the cabin for a quick wash off of the suntan cream before heading to the Zenith Restaurant for my club lunch. Having only just been promoted to that qualifies for an invitation. I didn’t know what to expect only that, according to the invitation, I was seated on table 775. I joined a swiftly moving queue and on inspection of my invite was led to the table by a pretty, young Philippino waitress past waiters handing out glasses of fizz. Not being an expert, I have no idea if it was Champagne or prosecco, I suspected the latter.

On reaching the table I was shown to my seat, which was indicated by a place name card. This gave me hope that I was indeed in for a decent meal. Almost as soon as I was seated a wine waiter was round topping up the fizz. We each had menus waiting for us and I quickly scanned it as others arrived at the table. I guess that there were about 200 people in the room. The table waiter and commie waiter arrived to fuss over serviettes and rolls before one started taking orders and the underling poured the complementary wine, not being a red drinker (it gives me migraine), I went for the white which was a rather pleasant Sauvignon Blanc. The menu was quite nice. I started with smoked salmon as did most of the table and they were quite generous with the helping. Next came a Champagne sorbet which really did taste of Champagne. I then chose the tournedos of beef, medium rare, and it was melt-in-the-mouth delicious. I think there was only one person on the table who had anything different, but every plate was cleared.

The people on the table got on well and everyone was chatting happily, the regular top-ups of wine might have had something to do with that. Most of the table was for the chocolate mousse, but I chose the Cambridge burnt cream having encountered this on restaurant menus before and realising it was creme brûlée by another name. Only two of us picked it as our dessert, but it was fabulous and beautifully presented with all the little extras on the plate like the fresh raspberries, frangipane, whipped cream and pecan nut granola crumb. Coffee and petit fours finished the meal to perfection. I hate to think what a meal of that quality would have cost in a restaurant at home.

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
My Peninsula Club lunch companions.
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal

I headed back to my cabin to pick up my Kindle for another read in the sun but all the wine I had consumed at lunch overcame me and I fell asleep on my bed! I was awoken by a knock on the cabin door. I opened it to find a maintenance man who announced he had come to fix my shower. I said I didn’t know there was anything wrong with it and he replied that the cabin steward had reported that the caulking in the shower floor needed attention. Well, if it had been my shower at home, I wouldn’t have considered there to be anything wrong but some of it was discoloured. He proceeded to rake out all the discoloured lines and re-caulked them. He did a really good job, and the shower floor now looks like brand new.

As dinner approached, I realised I wasn’t very hungry, but I headed off to eat anyway. I was on another table for eight this evening with all new faces. A couple who were on my lunch table stopped to say hello on their way out of the room. They said they had just eaten a very light meal as they were still full from lunch, and I replied I felt exactly the same. They said they were off to the Crow’s Nest for a nightcap and I said that was where I would be going after my meal. Their parting comment was that they would save me a seat at their table.

Not being terribly hungry I only had tomato soup, a breaded fillet of plaice and ice cream and I could only just manage that, good as it was. I joined my new acquaintances in the Crow’s Nest for a vodka and Seven Up Zero or three before bed. And so ended a lovely day at sea. Roll on my next cruise and my next club lunch.

Day 7 – 28th December – Phillipsburg, St Maarten.

Phillipsburg has changed greatly since I first came to St Maarten. It has grown considerably, and it is now not uncommon to see five large ships in port on the same day. Only three in today, us and two smaller ships Viking Star (930 passengers) and Aida Mer (1,096 passengers). We dwarfed them (5,200 passengers). I have an afternoon trip booked so I have an easy morning planned.

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
That’s what I call a sunrise!
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal

I decided I fancied an omelette for breakfast, so I had my usual Rice Krispies, followed by a mushroom omelette, square toast, coffee and a glass of iced water for my pills. I always get asked the same question, “No juice this morning sir.” One thing about ordering an omelette is that it is not on the general breakfast menu, so it is always cooked fresh and arrives very hot. The man sat next to me said, “Gosh that looks good, I wish I had ordered one.”

So many people are off the ship this morning that a seat on deck was simple to find and I progressed with my latest Robert Galbraith until I decided I better look for something to eat before my 12:30 excursion. As it’s not long since breakfast it was only a hot dog with fried onions, no chips today. As I have said before, they ask you to be on the dockside 15 minutes before the excursion is due to leave so I was there about 12:12 and there was a long line of people already waiting.

The queue moved off at about 25 past the hour and we made our way to the coach park where I boarded coach number five (the last one), for our trip. We hung around until nearly 12:40 before we left and then drove through town where we got the usual highlights pointed out to us, the police station, the cemetery, and the foundations of the new hospital next door to the fire and ambulance station. There is a general election soon and everywhere is plastered with election posters. Apparently, there are 12 parties, and each put forward a candidate for president and a party list of 20 candidates. So, every poster has an array of 20 faces numbered 1 to 20.

The first stop was a 10-minute photo stop, of course everyone but a black family was back on time, they were five minutes over, perhaps they can’t tell the time. We pootled on our way past the airport and the famous Maho beach. I only saw a private jet land, and then on to the French side of the island. We stopped at Marigot, on the French side where there is a big market for tourists. Just about every stall sold identical tropical shirts, hats and dresses at identical prices. I bought a bottle of cold water and watched the world go by until it was time to get back on the coach, I’ll give you one guess who was last back five minutes late!

On the way back we took a different route, slowing to see various things like iguanas sitting on a wall in the sun, and Mick Jaggers house. For once the coach was back on time. Not a bad trip but I didn’t really want to spend 45 minutes at a tourist market.

After sitting on a bus for a few hours a shower was most enjoyable, and I also managed a pre-dinner nap. I joined a table for eight this evening some of whom I had dined with before. Strangely I still wasn’t particularly hungry after yesterday’s lunchtime special dinner. So, I stuck with simple fare this evening, tomato soup, which is becoming a regular starter, breaded haddock, chips and what was delicately called crushed peas, but were identical to mushy peas. Several people chose the same and everyone loved the haddock and chips, but less so the peas. Among the desserts this evening was ‘warm Monmouth plum pudding’. When I have had Monmouth pudding previously it has been made with raspberries, but I decided to give it a try and it was delicious and the added portion of vanilla ice cream made it even better.

As usual it was coffee to finish off with. A couple on the table were asking if anyone knew of a quiet bar for an after-dinner drink as everywhere seemed to have loud music. A man sitting next to me told them to try the Crow’s Nest where there were comfortable seats, a cocktail pianist and a more genteel atmosphere. I wasn’t going to suggest it as I prefer to not have a vast crowd there. I like it as it is!

Day 8 – 29th December – At sea.

It’s only 170 km from St Maarten to Antigua which this ship could have easily done overnight. Instead, we are chugging along at three knots on a mill pond-like Caribbean Sea. There are a few clouds about this morning, and we have even had a few drops of very light rain, but not enough to drive people from their sunbeds. I woke at six, it seems to be a regular thing, and lay there for a bit before grabbing my iPad to say good morning on GP where of course it was mid-morning.

I joined a sharing table for breakfast with three couples I have breakfasted with before including the man who admired my omelette yesterday. He greeted me, by saying, “I’m glad you joined us, it’s reminded me of how nice your omelette looked yesterday. The waiter arrived to take the breakfast orders and started with the man to my left and then went around the table away from me so I was last to order. This morning it was Rice Krispies (of course), a ham omelette with a side of tiny button mushrooms and square toast. I even remembered a glass of water to take my pills with.

When the food arrived the man at the far end of the table had ordered my breakfast of yesterday, a mushroom omelette and bacon. Another man said he didn’t realise you could order an omelette. I hope they don’t get too popular, or they might stop doing them as specials. Another enjoyable meal, I think the food on board has improved since I was on this ship in June, and it was pretty good then. Now it’s off to read, catch up with this log and shit post until lunch. I fancy a prawn salad, I wonder if they have them in the buffet today, I might just have a look-see.

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
All of this is made by the ship’s chefs.
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal

So, after a lovely morning reading and shit posting I wandered up to the buffet for lunch and was a little disappointed to see all the making of a nice salad but no prawns. I asked one of the guys behind the counter, who was restocking things, and he said they weren’t on today’s menu, then he asked if I liked prawn cocktail and tipped two onto my plate! With a little more cucumber, tomato and peppers added I had a super salad.

As I turned to find a table a little voice said, “Hello, we’ve been looking for you for a week”. It was the little girl from the plane with her mummy. She told me she and her brother are having a super time, the food is ‘lush’, and she is eight tomorrow. I asked if she was doing anything special and she very excitedly told me, “We are on a trip and I’m going swimming with sting rays. It’s going to be the best birthday ever.” She doesn’t yet know that her mummy has organised a birthday cake to be delivered to their cabin!

Anyway, I found a table and ordered a beer, and had virtually finished my salad when it arrived. An Indian waiter who was clearing tables asked me if I was going to get a dessert and said he would keep the table for me so I shot off and quickly found a slice of lemon drizzle cake with whipped cream. I thoroughly enjoyed my lunch, only light but delicious. I couldn’t help noticing two Indian couples sat next to me were tucking into European food and one of the men had a bowl of tagliatelle and his wife was eating sausages and chips. So difficult from the tales of the Indians who had been going home when I boarded. Now it’s back to the sunny balcony and my Kindle.

Dinner tonight on a table for eight, two couples I have dined with before and four singles, including me. I was sat next to a rather attractive tall, slim blonde. My first guess was that she was in her late 20s to early 30s but as the meal progressed, I realised she was older. In the end it emerged she was 45 but you would never have known it. She was a commercial property lawyer based in London and was travelling on her own. Back to the important thing, the food. Tonight, it was herb soup, sirloin steak (medium rare) and mixed ice cream. The blonde, Gemma, was looking for a bar where she could enjoy a peaceful after-dinner drink and we recommend the Crow’s Nest.

Day 9 – 30th December – Antigua.

I have been to Antigua several times before and rather like the island. It is a laid-back place which is supposed to have 365 beaches. I have booked to go on a morning excursion that leaves at 08:45 so I have plenty of time to eat breakfast in the Main Dining Room. This time it’s only a table for six with a couple who were on my table last night joining at the same time as me. A few minutes later we were joined by an educated Indian English couple who are flying home to Gatwick overnight and finally by a deaf old woman from Birmingham who is a pain in the arse, and sometimes quite abrupt with waiters.

The couple who were on last night’s dinner table were interested in talking about the blonde lawyer and wondering why a girl as pretty as her hadn’t been snapped up. The deaf woman suggested that perhaps men were intimidated by her. I must say she did have an opinion on everything the table discussed, but maybe she was right. It was my normal bowl of Rice Krispies and a ham omelette with a side of mushrooms. I know it was the same as yesterday, but I had thoroughly enjoyed it then, so I didn’t mind having the same again.

After breakfast, I headed straight down to the dockside and joined the queue for the excursion coach. This time the excursion staff stepped into the queue right in front of me and led the first group of 30 off to a bus. This meant that I was first on the second bus, and I got the much-prized front seat! We drove off through the streets of St John’s, the capital, as usual we had the “places of interest” pointed out to us. The police station, the fire station and the hospital are nearly always pointed out.

We were heading to Nelson’s Dockyard for the first stop, but the driver wasn’t very happy as he had a heavy cold and we got stuck behind a water truck and the road was too narrow to overtake. Every time the truck went over a sleeping policeman the water slopped out of the tank on the back. Then we went up a steep hill and the water gushed out of an overflow pipe. Finally, we got to a long straight, wide bit of road and we and a dozen cars got past.

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
Nelson’s Dockyard.
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal

I have been to Nelson’s Dockyard before, many years ago and had memories of various workshops like the rope makers and the sailmakers. Many places have been turned into restaurants and bars, the rope makers has disappeared completely and the sail makers now makes sails for yachts, I suppose there is not much call for sails for man-of-war ships these days. Next stop was at the block house which used to protect Indian Creek and Mamora Bay. The old cannons on the hilltop had a range of two miles, not bad in the 1780s. Mamora Bay is currently home to Antigua’s premier resort the St James Club.

The final stop was the ‘Shirley Heights Lookout’ with magnificent views over Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour.

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour from Shirley Heights.
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal

A pleasant way to spend a morning looking at history on a warm sunny day with hardly a cloud in the sky. Back on the ship in time for lunch, so I wandered up to the Pool Deck (16) to Taste 360 for a hot dog and chips and a view overlooking the Marella Discovery that was now moored on the next pier. As I tucked into my food an announcement was made over the public address regarding the 700 passengers flying home to Gatwick and Manchester this afternoon. The Maleth Aero flights out from the U.K. had both taken off late, the Gatwick one by over an hour and the one from Manchester was three hours late. People were being kept on the ship and could retain their cabins until 4pm.

After lunch I found a chair in the sun and continued with my Robert Galbraith “The Ink Black Heart”. It’s OK but so far, I don’t think it’s as good as the previous Comoran Strike books. Anyway, I must have dozed off because I was woken by another announcement saying the buses for the Manchester flight would leave the ship at 17:30 and for the Gatwick flight at 18:30. Back to a bit more reading and the ship’s captain came on to make another announcement. The Manchester flight would still be leaving the ship at 17:30, but due to an ‘incident’ the Gatwick flight would not now be taking off until 04:00 tomorrow morning. Consequently, the coaches to the airport would leave the ship around midnight.

This would leave too little time to get to Tortola for tomorrow’s visit so the stop was cancelled, and we would be staying in St. John’s and sailing at 17:00 tomorrow. It had already been planned that New Year’s Day was to be a sea day. I am just thankful that I have nearly another week before I fly back to Gatwick from Barbados and it’s with TUI. All the problems seem to be with Maleth, I suspect P&O will be delighted to dump them when the contract runs out in March. I had an excursion booked for Tortola; P&O say it will be a full refund. It looks like a wander around St John’s with 5,000 other people off the ship tomorrow!

I was extremely hot and sweaty when I got back to the cabin and after a short lie down, I had a shave and a shower to ready myself for dinner. I found myself sitting next to Gemma the lawyer, with the mouthy deaf woman opposite me. Talk about beauty and the beast! Anyway, dinner was enjoyable, chicken and mushroom soup, breaded fried fillet of plaice and marmalade frangipane tart with vanilla custard and extra ice cream. Now it’s off to the Crow’s Nest with Gemma and Mouthy.

In Caribbean Christmas Part 4 – it’s still Antigua.

© WorthingGooner 2024