Caribbean Christmas 2023/24, Part Four

Day 10 – 31st December – New Year’s Eve and it’s still Antigua

I didn’t expect to be in beautiful Antigua again today, but I can think of worse places to be. It’s another lovely day and despite the shore experience people rushing around and organising trips out, I don’t think I’ll bother going anywhere. Well, maybe a wander to the shops, but on a day like today, it’s great to be on board, nowhere is busy and you can get a seat anywhere. I checked the V.C. Bird International Airport departures when I first woke and it looks like the Maleth Aero flight to Gatwick didn’t take off in the middle of the night as scheduled, it is now showing a 07:40 departure time. I must say I feel sorry for the 350 people travelling to Gatwick who have been at the airport all night, some with young children, an awful way to end a cruise. What a sh1t airline!

Anyway, off to breakfast where I sat with some of my regulars who asked who I had dinner with and chuckled when I said the deaf mouthy woman and Gemma the Lawyer. No rush over breakfast as no one was going out. So, after Rice Krispies and a mushroom omelette with a couple of rashers of bacon we sat and chatted for a while over our coffee. Back on the sunny balcony, the Holland America Line’s Nieuw Statendam had parked on the next pier over. I have never travelled on a Holland American ship, but I understand they are one of the more upper-class US cruise lines.

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Nieuw Statendam.
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal

I checked the cruise’s Facebook page, and a woman was posting from the Maleth plane still on the tarmac at Antigua airport at 09:30 this morning. Apparently, they had been called to board at 05:55 this morning but when the plane taxied out to the runway there was a fault and it had returned to the stand. She said 60 people had demanded to get off! I did hear that it had taken off later but what a nightmare. I bet P&O can’t wait to get out of the Maleth Aero contract.

A very pleasant morning in the sun, a little cloudier than yesterday but it is another fabulous day. As I headed off to find a spot of lunch, I found a voucher for a free glass of wine from the Peninsula Club in my mailbox. They will help with the New Year’s Eve formal dinner tonight. It was a hotdog and chips washed down by a nice cold beer.

I think I might have a little rest this afternoon and read my book (well Kindle), it is a little more cloudy but very warm. We sail for a day at sea tomorrow at 17:30ish this afternoon.

I got myself tarted up for the last formal night of the cruise and headed for my table where I joined the others who I had dined with at Christmas. Another super meal (I hope you can read the menu in the photo). An amuse bouche then I chose duck terrine for my starter, then it was a kir sorbet, two huge lamb cutlets and a raspberry creme brûlée, coffee and chocolate truffles to finish a great meal. I almost forgot to mention there were three bottles of wine on the table courtesy of P&O. I had a Peninsula Club voucher for a free glass of wine so the waiter brought me a bottle of house white and suggested I drink what was on the table and take the bottle with me to my next stop. In my case the Crow’s Nest.

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New Year’s Eve menu – Part 1.
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal
WorthingGooner, Going Postal
New Year’s Eve menu – Part 2.
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal

There were parties going on all over the ship. A silent disco in the atrium, a band in the Limelight, a pop group on the open deck, but the Crow’s Nest was its usual sophisticated self, a hum of conversation and the cocktail pianist. A delightful way to see in the new year.

Day 11 – 1st January – New Year’s Day – At sea

Happy New Year to you all. Despite a late night I was still awake quite early and had breakfast in the almost empty Main Dining Room. The receptionist put me on a table on my own saying it might be a long time before enough people turned up for a sharing table. I was placed on a table for two by the window and a couple who had recently flown in from Manchester to Antigua were on the close by table for two. They thought they had a tough time arriving four hours late until I told them about the people going back to Gatwick who had not finally taken off until 10 in the morning and landed at 21:45 on New Year’s Eve. Anyway, I had my usual Rice Krispies followed by a ham omelette and a side of button mushrooms.

Gosh is it quiet on board this morning, nothing like a normal sea day. At ten o’clock you can get a sun lounger anywhere. I suspect that there are a lot of people nursing sore heads! I think I might take the opportunity to visit the shop for a gift for the LGND. Her mum tells me she has inherited some dolls from her auntie and is now more interested in them than cuddly toys. I have seen some Barbie sets so maybe that will suit her. I might have a wander when the shops open later. In the meantime, it’s a seat in the sun and a bit more reading and watching the flying fish, they are fascinating.

I decided on a burger and chips for lunch and as I was eating it there was a sudden scurry behind me as people moved from the pool surround to undercover as it had started to rain. I was ok as I was sat undercover, but the rain was coming down quite sharply. Full of food I made my way back to my cabin to sit on the balcony, again under cover, and read. It was still warm outside and very occasionally the breeze blew a tiny bit of rain on me, it was quite refreshing.

At dinner I was placed on a sharing table with all new people. I was sat next to a little old Chinese lady called Daisy. She was of indeterminate age, I’m no good at guessing Chinese people’s ages, but she was retired and had a wicked sense of humour. She started her meal with sushi and told the waiter she only wanted two pieces. Instead, she got four and wanted to know if it was the chef or waiter who couldn’t count! I started with tomato soup. It was a repeat of a menu we had last week, and the mains included sea bass which Daisy had, I had gammon steak, fried egg, pineapple, chips and peas just as I had when we previously had this menu, I then had creme caramel with extra ice cream, and enjoyed my meal. Daisy mock complained because there was no chocolate ice cream on the menu!

Day 12 – 2nd January – St Kitts

The previous evening the ship’s captain had come on the public address system to say the ship’s agent had been on the radio to warn that four ships would be in port and if we wanted the better of the pier, we should get to Basseterre early. The captain said consequently we would be in port a 6 o’clock, before anyone else. As promised we were first followed by AIDA Luna, Marella Discovery and finally Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas. I reckon there will be at least 15,000 passengers in port today, let alone crew. It’s still a public holiday in St Kitts and the ordinary shops aren’t open only the bars and tourist tat.

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Symphony of the Seas is enormous.
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal

I was on a 9 o’clock excursion called “The Best of St Kitts”. So I was down for breakfast shortly after the Main Dining Room opened and was placed on a table with some of my regulars. Once again, I had Rice Krispies, which I followed with a ham omelette with a side of mushrooms. I even remembered to bring my tablets and took them with a glass of ice water. A woman on the tablet said, “Now why didn’t I think of that, taking tablets with hot coffee isn’t nice.”

It was utter bedlam on the quayside with masses of people coming off the four ships. P&O had known what they were doing getting into port first, they had grabbed the only queuing spot that was in the shade! Again, it was a small coach, under 30 onboard and I was on the second one to depart, well before the 09.00 time slot. As usual we got the town tour first, the police station, the prison, the town hall, the park where slaves were bought and sold and the monument to independence. Then it was off to the first stop, an old sugar plantation where they now produced Batik (wax-dyed cloth). Some of the patterns were nice and the cloth was used to produce some lovely clothes, particularly shirts and dresses but gosh were they expensive.

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Can you see the Batik drying?
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal

The second stop was at Fort George at the top of Brimstone Hill. Much more to my taste. The fort started construction in 1640 and wasn’t completed until 1740. It had seen off several attacks and sieges and is still in the process of being refurbished. If you can tackle the climb up to the citadel (and at 73 I was puffing when I got to the top) the views to nearby Sint Eustatius and Saba are magnificent. I made it to the gun deck where the 24 cannons had a view of all the surrounding area. I really needed the cold water I bought in the gift shop before returning to the ship for lunch.

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The Gun Deck at Fort George.
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal

It was a fight to get onto the dockside with literally thousands of Septic Tanks coming off the Symphony of the Seas all of whom seemed to suddenly stop to take photos of each other and their ship. I was delighted to get back into the cool of the air-conditioned ship and have a little sit down before lunch, which today was a hot dog with a pile of fried onions and chips.

I found a nice quiet spot in the shade to read this afternoon. With the behemoth that is Symphony of the Seas 30 feet from my balcony on the other side of the pier, I didn’t fancy having thousands of Septics staring at me. So, I spent a pleasant, but warm, afternoon on the open side of the ship with views of the town and hills beyond. The ship’s app reported it was 30° in the shade this afternoon and I can quite believe it.

Dinner this evening was on a sharing table with two couples I had met previously, one new couple and a single black lady from South London. She worked for the National Organ Transplant Service and had a Master’s Degree, and was extremely well travelled. Very interesting person to chat to over dinner. Today there was French onion soup on the menu again, so I went for it, then it was delicious beer-marinated chicken and finally sticky toffee pudding with custard and of course extra ice cream. I left the table stuffed and had my usual nightcap in the Crow’s Nest.

Day 13 – 3rd January – Martinique

A new island for me, I have been to Guadalupe, another of the French Islands, and found the islanders to be more French than the French refusing to speak English to the tourists who were mainly from the US. Of course, like many of the French islands, it is treated as a Department of France and uses the Euro. I am off on a coast-to-coast tour but I have a while before it departs so plenty of time for breakfast first.

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Arriving in Martinique.
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal

An interesting breakfast, I was sat next to a man originally from Bulgaria, but he had lived and worked in the U.K. for 17 years and had no desire to go back to Bulgaria. He worked for Wilmott Dixon who are a big construction and fit-out contractor specialising in schools. A similar business to my last 13 years of employment so we had plenty to talk about. He had been on a contract that had run over Christmas and he and his wife had only joined the cruise in Antigua. It was their first cruise, and they were loving it. He particularly liked the breakfasts and was trying things for the first time, eating eggs benedict and kippers this morning, washed down with peppermint tea. An odd combination! I, of course, had Rice Krispie followed by two poached eggs on fried bread and black pudding.

I joined the excursion 15 minutes early as instructed and stood in the sun for nearly twenty minutes before we were marched off to the coach. Even then we had to wait for two fat ladies to arrive. The trip is called ‘Scenic Coast to Coast’ but there was nothing very scenic about the motorway we drove down! The first stop was a 10-minute photo call for pictures of Diamant Rock, an island off the 3 km long white sand Diamant Beach. We then had two more 10-minute photo stops, one to look at a convict’s hut and the second a monument to a shipwreck of a slave boat. Then to the beach, surprisingly not Diamant Beach but a small one called Les Anses d’Arlet, a pretty little bay but as it’s miles from anywhere the few restaurants and cafes knew how to charge, €10 for a bottle of beer!

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Diamant Rock.
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal

I found a seat on a bench in the shade and consumed a €2 bottle of cold water. I was joined by someone else from the bus and we had a pleasant chat until was time to get back to the coach and back to the ship. Getting back at three o’clock it was too late for lunch. So I am going to be ready for my dinner this evening. Not the best excursion, but Martinique is like a city in the South of France but with fewer white faces. It is modern and quite large and full of shops you would see in any French town.

Dinner this evening with several people I had dined with before. The couple who are just completing two back-to-back cruises, the mouthy woman from Birmingham, a man who tells everyone who will listen he is 92, a woman who told him she was 95, but really doesn’t look it, and a young couple from Barnsley. The chat was quite convivial, and I rather enjoyed my dinner. I started with leek soup which I don’t think I have ever had before but was extremely tasty. Then I had Goan vegetable curry and rice which I really liked. Finally, it was fresh fruit salad and cream and an extra helping of ice cream. Of course, it was off to the Crow’s Nest for a nightcap, Vodka and Seven Up Zero tonight, I have to make a small acknowledgement of my type 2 diabetes!

Day 14 – 4th January – Grenada

I woke just after six this morning to the loud noise of the pilot boat’s engine as it strained to catch us up in the early dawn light. I understand we are due to be first alongside the pier, but the captain has announced there will be a second, smaller cruise ship, on the other side a little later and it may mean not letting people ashore until it is secure. Now we are docked it looks like our companion ship today is going to be one of the Star Clippers. That is far better than being tied up alongside 7,500 sceptics as in St Kitts. An island with a population of under 50,000 struggles when four ships arrive at the same time bringing 20,000 visitors.

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
Arriving at Grenada.
© WorthingGooner 2024, Going Postal

This is the bonus port to compensate for not visiting Tortola, we are in George Town, Grenada instead of a final day at sea. As the stop has been rather thrown together there isn’t the normal huge excursion programme. Instead, only a limited number of excursions were available, and they were quickly snapped up, before I even knew they were on sale. Consequently, it is going to be a quiet day for me, I may wander ashore, but it is packing day, with suitcases outside the cabin door by midnight. They are then transported off the ship in Barbados and onto the plane. If everything goes well the case is next seen on the luggage carousel at Gatwick.

Breakfast is on a shared table of eight with one vacant chair. Two of the three couples I have dined with on previous occasions, so we were all so busy chatting that the waiter dropped a heavy hit it was time for us to go by starting clearing the table around us! I had my usual Rice Krispies and then asked for two fried eggs (they are very small), bacon and fried bread. I really didn’t expect to have six rashers of back bacon on the plate, even for me that was a bit much.

I wandered back to my cabin to pick up a hat before going ashore for a stroll, only to find a letter in my letter rack from P&O, to give to my insurance company as proof we had missed a port. I think I will keep it as a souvenir as I never had any intention of making a ‘missed port call’ claim on my travel insurance. I enjoyed the extra day in Antigua and today’s bonus port instead of a day at sea is nice. I doubt the insurance would pay very much anyway, once the excess had been deducted. Perhaps I should check it out to see if it is worth the time and effort of making a claim. I’m sure some people will claim just because they can.

Oh, I was wrong about the Star Clipper, it has anchored off and is tendering. The Oceana Vista is alongside us. It is a luxury cruise ship with a 1,200-passenger capacity and I must say it looks very nice. Oceana is a subsidiary of NCL, who also own the deluxe brand Regent Seven Seas. Maybe one day, when I win the lottery, I will be able to afford a luxury cruise. Until then it going to have to be P&O.

I have visited Grenada a few times and as I wasn’t on a tour, I headed off for a stroll around. I don’t know why but many of the bars and tourist shops weren’t open. I landed up in the fairly busy market square where it least I was able to find a few places open and bought a bottle of the local Carib beer. It is brewed on many of the islands and isn’t bad when you need refreshment. Following my walk ashore, where it was exceedingly hot and humid, I made it back to the ship for a cool down before lunch. As usual I sauntered up to the Taste 360 on Deck Sixteen and had a hot dog and chips. I always ask for fried onions on my hot dog which they always have in abundance but for some reason don’t put on the hot dogs or burgers unless you ask. Just another of the little things you learn when you have sailed on P&O a few times.

Back to the cabin for a job I hate, packing. Mind you it is easier to do when going home, you can just throw dirty clothes in the case and ignore the careful folding on the way out. Anyway, I got things done a lot more quickly than I expected, just leaving out my clothes for the evening and those for travelling. I have a pullover to go in my hand luggage and a warm jacket for the UK where I see the forecast for Saturday morning when I land is 3°.

I settled back to read a bit more of my book until it was time for dinner. Once again I was placed on a table with two of the couples I regularly have been eating dinner with. We were joined by Mrs Mouthy who fortunately sat at the far end of the table. Tonight was one of those occasions when I had difficulty picking what I was going to eat as going to eat I fancied so many of the items on the menu. In the end I had beef consommé which had a load of shredded beef in it. Then I chose tiger prawns in a garlic and tomato sauce with a pasta I cannot remember the name of (little bits in a rice grain shape – orzo?), finally it was coffee and hazelnut cake with whipped cream and of course extra ice cream. I really enjoyed my last dinner on board.

Then it was up to the Crow’s Nest for a last vodka and Seven Up Zero before heading back to the cabin to slip the last few bits into my suitcase before putting it out for collection. We have all been issued with coloured luggage tags which indicate the flight you are on. Mine is bright yellow indicating the 5 pm TUI flight to Gatwick. With any luck, I shall see it next on the luggage carousel at Gatwick.

Day 15/16 – 6th and 7th January – Barbados and home

We were already docked alongside the Barbados Cruise Terminal (the converted banana warehouse) when I woke shortly after six. I must attend a Barbados immigration inspection at 07:50 which is when I am normally at breakfast so it’s going to be a slightly later breakfast today. Again, we have to attend in flight order and yellow is first as it should be the first of seven overnight widebody flights to the U.K. to depart. There are three flights to Gatwick (two x TUI and one x Maleth), two flights to Manchester (TUI and Maleth), one to Birmingham (TUI) and one to East Midlands (Maleth).

The immigration process took seconds, first a P&O girl scanned my cruise card, this is to ensure everyone attends, then you visit one of 25 Bajan immigration officers who take a scan of the details page of your passport, the computer reads the scan and matches it to the details on the digital form you completed before departure from England, a green light comes on and you are given a slip of paper to say you have been to see immigration and can go ashore.

Then it was straight down to breakfast for Rice Krispies, a mushroom omelette, coffee and toast. The people on my flight are supposed to meet in the theatre at 12:30 for transfer to the Grantley Adams International Airport so it looks like no lunch again today. I suppose I will have to buy something at the airport, perhaps I should look for Auntie JoJo’s Chicken Shack!

Back to the cabin to pick up my hand luggage and do one last check to ensure I have left nothing in any of the wardrobes, cupboards, drawers or the safe. I had seen the cabin steward on the way to immigration and told him that he could start sorting out my cabin for the next passenger and he had already changed the bed, cleaned the bathroom and emptied the bins, so he only had to Hoover and one of his 30 cabins was done. When I tipped him, he told me he only had three more months to go on his contract. These guys work bloody hard looking after 30 cabins is a lot and for those on a first contract, it is nine months of seven days a week. Although the money is poor by our standards it is good by Indian standards and as they are fed, watered, and uniformed by P&O they can send most of their wages to their family. Consequently, any tips are extremely welcome.

I found a seat in the Glass House, a sort of wine bar and restaurant in the ship’s atrium and settled down to read my Kindle in the cool. It was far too hot to sit outside in travelling clothes, even in the shade. The forecast today is for it to be 30° in the shade. I have very nearly finished my book and would like to finish it before I get home. I still have cabin credit so mid-morning I had a nice cold beer. It looks like I will be leaving about £30 credit on my account which is basically now lost. Not that I am bothered, my cabin credit was all from a bonus when I booked the holiday and from holding of Carnival shares. It has paid for all my drinks on board and a lot of presents for people even a Barbie camping set for the LGND and a giant Toblerone for me!

I made my way to the theatre just before 12:30 and had barely sat down when we were led off in batches to disembark the ship and walk down the dockside to where there was a queue of coaches and taxi buses waiting to transfer us to the airport. I was allocated to a 14-seater taxi bus and off we trundled. P&O have a waiting area for transport right on the edge of the airport. The idea is to regulate the flow of people going through airport security by smoothing out the arrivals at the airport and we waited about 10 minutes before being called forward.

Once off the taxi bus there were loads of P&O people to point us in the right direction and I very quickly had the boarding card, that had been delivered to my cabin with the yellow luggage label, and my passport checked, and I was in the security check queue. I thought Gatwick security was strict, but Barbados is just crazy. At Gatwick they ask you to take all electronics like phone, iPad and Kindle out of your hand luggage and put them through the X-ray machine in a separate tray, together with coins, keys and watch which makes sense. At Barbados you have to put your keys, coins, watch, belt, phone and Kindle through the X-ray machine in your hand luggage, but you have to put your iPad and shoes through individually. I suppose there is some logic, but I don’t know what it is.

Once into the airport proper, like all other airports you land up in duty free where 200 Benson and Hedges cost US$30, before having to walk through the food court to get into the departure lounge. A quick check of the departure board showed the estimated time of departure for my 17:00 flight was 17:20, not too bad. Anyway, I found where the departure gate (15) was and made my way there and took a seat in a nice cool nearly empty area. Of course, this was the waiting area for all the P&O flights to the U.K. and it slowly filled up as more and more passengers arrived and by five o’clock there were people crammed in everywhere sitting on the floor and standing around.

At about 10 past five it was announced that there would be a 40-minute delay in boarding my flight to Gatwick as there had been a problem “grooming” the aircraft. I always had thought it was children or horses that were groomed not planes. Anyway, there then followed announcements that five more of the flights back to the U.K. were going to be up to an hour late leaving, all due to grooming problems, the one exception was the Maleth flight to Manchester, that was three hours late due to it being late leaving the U.K.

To cut a long story we eventually boarded about 40 mins late, but one passenger was missing. Eventually it was discovered she had opted to stay in Barbados for a few days and was flying home Virgin and it was a cock up with the paperwork and we took off at 18:15 and were scheduled to land at 06:00 at Gatwick. I must say that once in the air the flight was good, the drinks kept coming around, the dinner choice was a hot chicken curry and rice (which was pretty good), sausage and mash or pasta, with a beetroot salad starter and vanilla cheesecake dessert, quite good for a charter flight. Then for breakfast it was fresh fruit segments (grapes, orange and mango) then sausage, bacon, plain omelette, mushrooms and baked beans which I rather enjoyed.

We landed at 06:02 and seemed to taxi for ever but it was about 06:20 when I got off the plane. They then followed a route march to passport control involving six travelators, two escalators and loads of walking. It was all e-gates for U.K. (and most Commonwealth) passport holders, and it seemed to work quite well. We were processed quickly and on to baggage reclaim where I was surprised to see bags already on the carousel. Mine came up quite quickly and it was a walk through the completely unattended green customs channel and out into the arrivals hall and follow the signs to the valet parking office. Again, very quick and efficient. I got my keys back, together with a map indicating where my car was parked and a printed QR code to open the barriers. I was home just after eight but as I had only snatched a few hours’ sleep on the flight home I collapsed on my bed to try to catch up a bit.

I woke in time for a bit of lunch and not feeling so tired I started to unpack and found the LGND’s presents, a camping Barbie complete with hat, sunglasses, backpack, hiking boots, sleeping bag and pet dog, together with the special chocolate I got on the factory visit. The LGND was absolutely delighted with the Barbie and was busy playing with it while I had a cup of tea with her mummy and daddy.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this diary and my next cruise is booked for the end of June when, with any luck, I will be flying to Malta and cruising to Greece some Greek islands, and then to Dubrovnik, Split and Taranto – nearly all new places for me.

© WorthingGooner 2024