Caribbean Christmas 2023/24, Part Two

Day 1 – 22nd December, Gatwick to Bridgetown Barbados

My alarm woke me at 05:00. In no rush to get up, I lay there for 15 minutes before struggling out of bed. I showered and shaved before bed last night, so I only had to have a wash, dress and have a bowl of cereal before departing. After my small breakfast I poured away the remaking milk and dumped the bottle in the recycling, I didn’t want to return to off milk in the fridge. I took my cabin bag to my car and was thinking how chilly it was as I went to lock the front door, only to realise that the reason was my warm waterproof jacket was still on the hook in the hall! I was much warmer with it on.

At six in the morning the streets of Worthing were deserted and traffic all the way to Gatwick was very light. I followed the signs to the valet parking, avoiding the ‘drop off’ zone where it costs a fortune to drop an airline passenger off, and my car was checked in in minutes. I wheeled my case over to departures and found the check-in for my flight. There was one of those long snaking queues but at the entry, two TUI staff were checking people were joining the right flight. They directed me to the Premium Class check where only one person was waiting instead of 50 or so at the economy.

Despite all the paperwork and documentation I have got for the cruise, the only thing the girl on the check-in desk wants is my passport. A few taps on the computer and I have a boarding card and my suitcase is disappearing down the belt into the bowels of the airport. Next is the battle that is airport security. We were being instructed to put everything through the x-ray machine, shoes, belt keys, coins, watch. What a pain, having to go through the magnetic arch in your socks while holding up your trousers with one hand and trying to make sure no one grabs your stuff as it comes out of the x-ray machine.

Fully dressed again I head for the departure lounge, along the path that weaves its way through all the ‘duty-free’ shops. The lounge is packed with hardly a seat to be seen. I had intended to get a proper breakfast at Spoons, but the queue was huge. I just couldn’t be bothered waiting for ages so right by the side was an outlet of Boots with a fridge full of sandwiches, so I settled for a breakfast sandwich of egg, bacon and sausage and a cup of tea from a tea and coffee outlet. Not what I was expecting but the sandwich was packed with filling and was quite decent.

The departure board said the gate for my 10:10 flight would be shown at 09:10 so I settled in for a long wait and did a bit of people watching. It is always fun seeing what people travel in. A girl in a long leather coat with a man in a tee shirt and shorts had me wondering if they were going somewhere hot or cold. After a while a couple with two young boys sat beside me and after a few minutes the youngest boy, my guess was about eight, pointed at the P&O tag on my hand luggage and asked me if I was going to Tenerife like his family. I said no Barbados and then on a cruise ship.

He looked at me strangely and then pointed at the identical labels on this dad’s bag and said, “But they’re the same and we’re going to Tenerife.” It was then that his dad burst out laughing and said to him, “We have been keeping it as a Christmas surprise, but we are going to Barbados and on a cruise too.” The two boys were soon jumping for joy and the dad said that he was about to tell them, but it had worked out perfectly.

The gate number came up a couple of minutes early and I headed off to the holding lounge and grabbed another seat to wait a bit longer. The man sitting next to me kept moaning about how they were never going to get all these people on the 787-9 by 10:10. I was only pleased there wasn’t going to be a long delay, several flights were delayed by two and two and a half hours. The flight was called at 09:45 and boarded the 63 Premium Class passengers in rows one to nine first. I was in row nine seat J, a window seat in the back row of the Premium cabin. Waiting for us were noise-cancelling headphones, a blanket, a bottle of water and a little pack containing an eye mask, flight socks, face cream, toothpaste and a toothbrush. I got my flight bag in the overhead lock and wondered who I was going to get sat next to me.

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That’s my plane!
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal

It was a family who took up the rest of the row mum, dad, seven-year-old daughter, five-year-old son and the wife’s mother and father. The old couple were clearly Sikhs, his turban gave it away, but kids’ mum, who sat next to me was hardly dark and was a truly British Sikh, and the dad was white, you would never have guessed the kids were half Indian. We chatted away and the mum, Sunita, who sat next to me spoke better English than me! Across the aisle the little girl was busy with a Harry Potter book, but she kept chatting to me.

While waiting for the mob to board, the cabin crew came round with glasses of Prosciutto or orange juice. Sunita told me that this was their first cruise and Pyrika and Oliver were desperate to know if Father Christmas would find them on the ship. So, I told Pyrika how he landed on the funnel of Christmas Eve.

The captain came on the public address and apologised for the late take-off but explained it was the busiest day of the year at Gatwick and he had a push-back slot of 10:35 and a take-off slot of 10:45 and it was spot on 10:45 when we raced down the runway and headed out over Southampton and Bournemouth. For the first time ever for me, the cabin crew came round with a drinks trolley the instant the seat belts sign went off and handed out menus for us to select our lunch. Shortly afterwards they were back with a tablet to record our choices. I went for ‘chicken flavoured with ginger and lemongrass on a bed jasmine rice’ and it was delicious.

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The aircraft menu.
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal

I really don’t know how many times they came round with drinks; I lost count. In Premium Class, unlike Economy, all drinks were free, with the exception of Champagne. About three-quarters of the way through the flight Sunita went off to the toilet and Pyrika decided to swap seats as she wanted to hear all about the ship and Christmas on board. She was already very excited and when I told her there was a children’s channel on the cabin TV, she wanted to know what was on it. The only thing I could remember was they had ever episode of every series of ‘Shaun the Sheep’. She declared that she just loved ‘Shaun the Sheep’.

Tea was the usual fare of finger sandwiches and a fruit scone with strawberry jam and clotted cream. Nice but ordinary. We landed about 35 minutes late having failed to catch up any of our late departure due to strong headwinds. But just as I had told Pyrika, the coaches were waiting for us at the bottom of the aircraft steps to take us to the ship. As we approached the harbour the superstructure of the Arvia loomed over the buildings and when I pointed it out to her Pyrika shrieked that it was huge, much bigger than she expected.

My cabin is a standard double with a balcony, so I have plenty of space. I hung about a bit wishing for my suitcase to be delivered but my mouth was like the bottom of a birdcage, so I had to go for pre-dinner liquid refreshment. After which it was time for dinner. I was placed on a shearing table for eight. One couple looked familiar. After chatting we worked it out that we had been on the same cruise last Christmas so we must have met then. Anyway, I had a very pleasant meal tomato soup, roast lamb in a minted crust, and sticky toffee pudding.

My suitcase didn’t turn up until a few minutes past ten and by the time I had unpacked, I was totally knackered. I reckon I had been on the go for over 25 hours. So, I collapsed into bed.

Day 2 – 23rd December, Bridgetown Barbados

Something woke me just after five in the morning, I don’t really know what it was that disturbed me but a glance out of the window showed a clipper coming into dock all lit with lights on all the masts and cables. In the early morning darkness, it looked fantastic. Then I realised there is no internet PIN code in my cabin to allow me to log on. I can use the ship’s app to access things on board like booking restaurants and shows but not the general internet despite having paid for it. I will have breakfast and then head for reception to find out what I need to do.

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
A Star Clipper all lit up.
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal

Because so many people are leaving the ship today, they have both main restaurants open for breakfast. Normally it’s only the Meridian but today the Zenith is also open. Walking to the Meridian I spy a huge queue at the reception desk and decide breakfast first, internet later. I asked for a sharing table, and I am told there isn’t one open, but they will open one if I don’t mind waiting for others to turn up, which ‘as it’s quiet could mean twenty minutes’ or if I want a table by myself, I could have it immediately. So, I had a table for two on my own. Fortunately, there was a single lady on the next table and we struck up a conversation. She had just finished her cruise and was flying to London on BA that evening. She had enjoyed her cruise, all apart from a huge party of Indians from the Midlands who had been on board and moaned the food was awful and they couldn’t eat it. Which was a bit of a lie as the food on board actually tends to be very good, it was just that they wanted curry for every meal and when it was served it was too mild for them and cooked in oil not ghee.

She wasn’t the only person who complained to me about the huge group of perhaps 300 Indians on board. Talking to someone who had flown on the same flight from Birmingham as about 100, he said the moans started on the plane out that the food wasn’t suitable. You would think that if such a huge party were to be travelling on a fly cruise they would have at least discussed the suitability of English food with P&O before booking. Anyway, I haven’t had to put up with them as they had chosen to travel in the two weeks before Christmas which is notorious for being hard to fill on cruise ships and hence cheap. Breakfast was up to its usual high standard, and you will not be surprised to learn that I had Rice Krispies and then two fried eggs (they are very small), bacon, fried bread and black pudding. I finished up with ‘square’ toast and several cups of coffee.

On the way back the queue at reception was, if anything, even longer. So, I started a John Grisham on my Kindle. ‘The Judges List’ is so far quite promising. Mid-morning I had another attempt at the reception queue and it was much shorter so I joined it and had about a ten-minute wait. The girl I got on the desk at first thought I was saying I couldn’t get the P&O app on my phone, but with a bit of persistence and me showing her the ‘My Holiday’ app up and running perfectly she checked her computer to find that what I was saying was perfectly correct. I had prepaid for internet access (and got 25% off) and they hadn’t issued me with a PIN number.

The receptionist quickly got the computer to issue a four-digit number which was actually the last four digits of the number on my cruise card and much to her surprise I quickly filled in the other items needed like a username and a password and I was on the net. She looked at her computer and said, “Wow I can see you’ve done this before as the system says you have logged on.” Why is it always a struggle to get prepaid internet access working on P&O ships? I think I have had similar problems on the last three ships I have sailed on.

Incidentally, since I was last on this ship back in June, they have switched the whole P&O fleet to using Elon Musk’s Starlink internet system and it is like chalk and cheese. The old system was, to say the least, clunky, regularly dropping its connection and very slow. Now it is much faster and so far, has dropped the signal once. It’s not cheap, but it is far better value for money. I am now catching up on this epistle.

For lunch I made my way to another old favourite, the outlet by ‘Crystal’ swimming pool which is for some unknown reason called ‘360’ for a hot dog. There were a couple sitting under the lights, keeping hot, but being an awkward sod, I ask for one with fried onions, so it had to be freshly made. The man put a pile of onions on the hot dog and a mountain of fresh chips. It was pretty good. Sometimes it pays to be awkward. One small complaint, the wandering bar waiter pounced on me as soon as I found a seat and took my order for a Pepsi Max, it only arrived as I was eating the last few chips. That’s too slow.

The sun was on my balcony this afternoon, so I set up camp there to continue writing, interrupted by a couple of snoozes and a couple of ventures onto GP. I’m happy with the internet speed, it’s nearly as fast as being at home. After a few hours in the sun, I was in need of a shower before dinner. One thing I remember from my June cruise on this ship, the water can be very hot, and I learnt not to just step under the jets without testing it first.

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
The view from the Balcony – two Oceania ships.
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal

I was placed on the same table as yesterday evening and was joined by two of the same people. Tonight, I had duck pate for a starter, then a gammon steak served with pineapple, a fried egg, chips and peas. I could have been in the local Harvester. I must admit it was extremely tasty. Dessert was yummy apple strudel with custard and I asked for and got a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream. Final coffee before retiring to another favourite, the Crow’s Nest for an after-dinner drink.

I was playing postman tonight and delivering the LGND’s daddy’s cards. I got a girl on the door of the theatre to take the card for the girl lead singer in shows, and later I sought out three members of the ‘Limelighters’ band to hand over their cards. I will message the LGND’s daddy tomorrow to say job done. It was 02:30 GMT when I handed out their Christmas cards. I don’t think he would appreciate being woken at that time by his phone registering a message!

We sailed for St Lucia at about 10:45 pm (one of the planes from the U.K. was late arriving) backing out of Bridgetown Harbour and swinging round and heading out to sea.

Day 3 – 24th December, Christmas Eve, Castries, St Lucia

We slipped into Castries at about six this morning just as it was beginning to get light. I am booked on a half-day trip to see a “Botanic Gardens and Waterfall.” My excursion departs at 09:00 hours but we have to assemble on the dockside 15 minutes earlier. So, I need to get down early for breakfast. The main dining room opens at 07:30 so I was there shortly after and put on a table for eight. I thought you might like to see the MDR breakfast menu, so pictures are attached.

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Something for everyone.
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal
WorthingGooner, Going Postal
Something for everyone.
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal

The rules are simple at breakfast, you can order anything on the Menu. I was talking to someone on my table this morning, who told me his doctor had told him he was underweight, so to eat heartily. He started with fresh fruit salad, then had two poached eggs on avacardo toast, before tucking into American pancakes and maple syrup. He then had three rounds of buttered toast and marmalade and coffee. It made my Rice Krispies and scrambled egg on toast look meagre!

After breakfast I made my way off the ship and joined the queue for my trip. There were numerous trips and about a dozen different queues. At nine o’clock prompt, we headed off to the coach park where there must have been 50, 25-seater coaches loading. We set off heading for a viewpoint where we could get a view out over the ship and the port. However, we never got there as the road was blocked by an accident and we had to turn around and go a different way, up a very steep and very twisty road.

We eventually arrived at the Botanical Gardens and were led on a stroll through them, not a patch on my favourite gardens in Madeira. At the top of a steep path was a waterfall which was not very exciting, and I thought that was that. But no, the bus then set off to another waterfall, much higher and people could swim in the pool it poured into. Quite a few on the bus had come prepared and got in, apparently the water was very cold. We then set off back to the ship, we were due back at two and it was one thirty when we left the waterfall for over an hour’s trip back to the ship.

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The ‘proper’ waterfall.
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal

The courier then announced we were stopping for a refreshment break, something not scheduled. We pulled up at a big restaurant where we were given either a small glass of orange juice or mixed berry juice. I had just finished the juice when the courier came around to say the snacks were up. They were the tiniest bits of fried chicken you have ever seen, jerk sauce, crisps and a teaspoonful of potato salad. Some people at the front of the queue took three or four bits of chicken meaning it had all gone by the time those at the back got to it!

It was 2:30 when we left the restaurant, and we arrived back on board, just before four all hungry and thirsty. As I had dinner booked for six, I decided it was better not to eat but I needed a drink so I had a large Pepsi Max (no ice) and it went down a treat!

Dinner this evening was most enjoyable. I was on a table for eight with all people I had never eaten with before. French onion soup for my starter, I skipped the cheese crouton as I remembered it from my last cruise, like a slice of French bread cheese on toast! Then I choose a whole lemon sole served on the bone. It was absolutely delicious. For dessert I had a Christmas ice cream sundae, chocolate brownie, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, fresh strawberries and raspberries, with toasted almonds sprinkled over it all. No one else on the table went for it and all wished they had!

I had my usual after-dinner drink in the Crow’s Nest where I was joined by a couple I had just dined with. They were first-time cruisers and at dinner had been asking where people got a quiet drink in the evening, as there seemed to be loud pop music everywhere. I had told them that the Crow’s Nest was for the more discerning sailor, comfortable seating and a cocktail pianist. They loved it, saying it was just what they were looking for, you could talk in comfort with lovely sea views. I guess I will be seeing them there on other evenings.

Day 4 – 25th December, Christmas Day at sea

I woke just after 6am to an amazing sunrise. As the restaurant doesn’t open for breakfast until 07:30 I was in no hurry to get up, so I sent Christmas messages to friends and did a bit of shit posting on GP where it was already gone 10am and quite busy. I went down to breakfast (I am on Deck 10 and the main dining room is on Deck 6) arriving just after 07:30 to a short quickly moving queue. As I was led to a sharing table for six, I was handed a glass of Buck’s Fizz. I was first to be seated on a table right at the back of the restaurant where there are big windows overlooking the ship’s wake. It couldn’t have been better if I had chosen it. I was quickly joined by two more couples, one pair were first-time cruisers and the second pair had cruised once before on MSC but not at Christmas. Both pairs were saying how magical it was.

This morning I ordered Rice Krispies followed by scrambled egg and smoked salmon, and of course square toast. The lady opposite me wanted to know what square toast was, as it is not on the menu. She said that she would be ordering it tomorrow! Then she asked if there was anything else you could order “off menu” and I told her at breakfast you could ask for fried bread with the fried breakfast, I often do, and omelettes (cheese, ham tomato or mushroom). She fancied the idea of a mushroom omelette. As I left the restaurant the queue was enormous. I was glad I ate early.

Back to the cabin, I suspect it is going to be a bun fight for a sun lounger, a seat on my balcony will be perfect today. So back to the cabin where a Christmas present from P&O awaited me. A Christmas card and a presentation box containing a book about P&O at Christmas, a special bar of high cocoa fat dark chocolate and a Christmas tree ornament (a shiny star). As usual my cabin had been cleaned so I moved onto the balcony to write this. I had hardly sat down when the cabin steward appeared with a half-bottle of complementary Champagne to put in my fridge. I think is going to be a good day.

A pleasant morning reading in the sun, before I decided I was peckish and headed for the Crystal Pool area where you can get snacks from the Taste 360 outlet. Today it was a burger and chips day, and it was pretty good. I shared a table with some first-time cruisers who were delighted with the trip so far and said how apprehensive they had been but were so glad they had come. The only trouble was a group were playing on the stage by the pool and the volume was turned up to eleven. I was pleased to finish my food and head back to my nice peaceful balcony.

It’s a formal night tonight so it’s my dress suit and Christmas bow tie. After the massive fuss of Christmas dinner on this ship’s maiden voyage last year it is two sittings, and we have all been allocated tables. I am on a table for eight but only six people turned up, which meant that the three bottles of house wine, a present from P&O, came to half a bottle each! I started dinner with an amuse bouche which I think was cucumber and tomato juice. Next was tiger prawn cocktail with a spicy salad of peppers, tomatoes, onion, and sweet corn. Then it was a gin and tonic sorbet palette cleanser.

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Christmas Menu – Part 1.
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal

I decided not to have the turkey this year, instead I chose halibut on a bed of crushed new potatoes, it was served with more tiger prawns in a brown buttery sauce and roasted shallots. Absolutely delicious. For dessert I wanted something light and went for a trio of chocolate desserts. It was a small white chocolate layer cake, a small chocolate choux pastry bun filled with cream, and mini chocolate cheesecake, it was very very tasty. Next up it was coffee with chocolate truffles, cheese and biscuits, warm mince pies with brandy butter, stollen, dates, and clementines. I managed the coffee and chocolate truffles but gave up on the rest, I was bursting.

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Christmas Menu – Part 2.
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal

I decided I needed a drink to wash it down so the man I had been sitting next to decided we should head for the Crow’s Nest, we walked past Anderson’s Bar that was packed solid. Female acrobats were performing in the ship’s atrium, there was even a long queue for Costa Coffee. Past a packed Amber Bar and on the forward lift that takes us up to the Crow’s Nest and the crowds had thinned out. We got in the lift and a little lady got in with us. I said, “Good evening and merry Christmas,” and asked her if she had enjoyed her Christmas dinner. She nearly bit my head off, saying it was the worst meal she had ever had. She didn’t eat meat or fish and the vegetarian option had been disgusting! Fortunately, we got off then as it was all I could do to not say how much everyone at our table had enjoyed the meal.

The Crow’s Nest was busier than normal, but it wasn’t the madhouse the bars we had passed was. We found a table and nice comfortable armchairs and collapsed into them. Seconds later the waiter arrived to take our orders. A vodka and Seven Up with loads of ice went down a treat. So, I had another!

Part 3 – Boxing Day in the Dominican Republic

© WorthingGooner 2024