Friday 30th December
Yesterday was quite stressful as we had to take the Christmas decorations down, Donna was working, I packed and repack numerous times when I realised I had packed more than our weight allowance. Out stress level was helped by having to sort out a flat tyre on the car at 9.30pm!
We neither of us slept particularly well as we knew we had an early start to get to Gatwick. Jess was catching a train up to London and as there was a train strike on Southern Rail, we took her to Gatwick and had a nice breakfast together. The plane was a couple of hours late in arriving, and shortly before we were due to board, they had to change a tyre! This took about three quarters of an hour, by which time the fog was descending. We ended up sitting on the runway for an hour waiting for it to lift. All of the meant that we were quite late in landing at Barbados, arriving after Chris and Mark. We were taken straight from the plane to the ship, without the need to go through the terminal, and our bags were delivered to the cabin and waiting for us by the time we had enjoyed our first gin and tonic!
The cabins are absolutely first rate and we have a balcony each that can connect together. A quick shower and then the first of many fabulous meals. It is hard to believe that we are now in the Caribbean on this amazing ship. Our sense of disbelief has been increased by the fact that when we went to bed we had been up for around 25 hours!
Saturday 31st December
We knew that we were likely to be quite tired today, after the long flight and the excitement of arriving, so we had decided in advance that we would walk to the nearest beach, which is about 15 minutes away and spend the day there. To say it was beautiful would be an understatement! What a great way to start the holiday! The sea is crystal clear, a lovely turquoise colour and warm! The beach is such white sand, and with no seaweed or flotsam and jetsam.
The boat left dock around sunset and with great excitement we are on our way.
In the evening we went to the Meridian Restaurant, which was a formal dress code. There are quite a number of restaurants here, and the layout of the ship can be quite hard to grasp!
After the meal we went up to the pool area and enjoyed listening to the band playing and bringing in the New Year. I guess in the middle of the ocean it doesn’t matter how much noise you make! The area around the pool is a natural place for a dance band, and the acoustics are also good. Slightly disappointed to note that there weren’t any fireworks, which we thought there would be. However, a great night and a fantastic way to bring in 2017. Thank you Mo and Lou! I hope that somehow you are here in spirit to enjoy it with us!
Sunday 1st January
Scattered cloud, fine and dry. 27°C
It has been useful to have a sea day as our first full day on board as we get acquainted with the layout of the ship and its facilities. It is very easy to get lost! Donna and I started the day at the gym, determined to get some exercise when we have the opportunity. The gym makes David Lloyd look pretty poor in comparison and there is a wide variety of excellent equipment. Using the gym and looking out over the wide expanse of ocean is an experience that is hard to beat!
It is hard to find fault with any aspect of the cruise and it’s organisation. Everything seems to have been taken into consideration. Whereas some holidays sometimes necessitate putting up with aspects that aren’t to your liking, there is a modular feel to this cruise, which means that you don’t have to put up with being ‘part of the crowd’, even though there are a couple of thousand people on board. The amount of choice that is available both in activities, restaurants, shore excursions and amenities on board results in a week that is personal to you. If you want to spend all week drinking beer by the pool and eating burgers, then you can. Alternatively, if you want a dinner dance every night, then that is available.
Tonight the evening was ‘formal dress’, and Mark and I wore our black suits and bow ties, and did our best James Bond impressions! Tonight was also the captains party. As we suspected, he wasn’t actually there in person, which is fine – I would rather he was at the helm! However, the drinks were on the house, (or ship rather!) Having had our photos taken, we had dinner at the Peninsular Restaurant. It was all rather grand!
Monday 2nd January
Scattered cloud, fine and dry. 26°C
Curaçao has many neat little rows of houses with gabled tiled roofs reveal the island’s Dutch influence, but the bright pastels are pure Caribbean and contrast beautifully with the stark countryside. It is approximately 40 miles north of the Venezuelan coast, one of three ‘ABC’ islands of the former Netherlands Antilles (The other two being Aruba, and Bonaire). Curaçao is the biggest of the islands, both in population and size. About 150,000 people live here and the island is about between 3 to 8 miles wide and 40 miles long.
Our excursion today was Kayaking and Snorkelling. Our tour leaders were two Dutch girls, who were on an internship. They took us in a mini bus to a bay on the other side of the island. Donna and I shared a two-person kayak and being in the front, I had the job of steering, which wasn’t that easy! I don’t think Donna and I will ever go into a kayaking competition together! Nonetheless we managed not to argue and made our way past what seemed like an oil terminal and to the bay where we were going to snorkel.
We snorkelled around a sunken boat, which had been deliberately scuttled about 40 years ago, and had become home to a huge amount of coral and beautiful tropical fish. It was really beautiful. Having bought a ‘go-pro’ from Ash, I have had great fun in filming under water.
Returning to the ship, we showered and then walked over the pontoon bridge that crosses the busy port and watched the sun go down in spectacular style. The bridge swings open about thirty times a day, and we had great fun watching the comings and goings of various ships and boats. It has been a really memorable day and we are gradually relaxing into the holiday and getting use to the routine. That night we ate at the Meridian Restaurant.
Tuesday 3rd January
Cloudy with showers. 20°C
Aruba is located about 50 miles west of Curaçao. The island is about 6 miles wide and 20 miles long, situated approximately 15 miles off the coast of Venezuela and has a population of around 80,000.
Unfortunately I woke up with a sore throat and a hacking cough. At first I thought it was theSnorkelling from yesterday, but as the day went on and I started sneezing, it became clearer that it was a reoccurrence of the chest infection that I had been suffering from last month.
Aruba is very flat, and very expensive. We soon found ourselves a taxi and went to the far end of the island with the intention ofSnorkelling. The taxi driver gave a new meaning to the phrase ‘driving hands free’, and was quite happy steering with his knee, whilst on his mobile phone, and also answering the radio. That might have been ok, if the car was an automatic, but he ran out of hands when trying to change gear. We ran into some ‘liquid sunshine’ which is what the locals euphemistically call rain. This and the wind meant that the sea was quite churned up soSnorkelling was really not an option. However, I enjoyed playing with the gopro in the water.
By the time we got back to the boat, I was feeling really unwell. My breathing was bad and I was coughing up stuff, so I knew that I would have to get to see a doctor and probably get some antibiotics again. That evening I had a meal in the cabin from the excellent room service, whilst the others went to the Glass House restaurant.
Wednesday 4th January
Scattered cloud, fine and dry. 20°C
I made an appointment with the medical centre on the ship, and as expected was diagnosed with a chest infection and prescribed antibiotics and steroids for the asthma. It has been useful having a sea day today, as I could spend the time in the cabin getting better. In the evening we had booked to go to the Sindhu restaurant. It was a black tie evening. At first I wasn’t sure if I was well enough to go, but felt I could always come back to the cabin if I didn’t feel well. As it turned out it was a nice evening.
Thursday 5th January
St. George, Grenada
Partly cloudy but dry. 30°C
Grenada comprises of a main island, also called Grenada, and two smaller islands, Carriacou, and Petit Martinique. Grenada is the largest of the three islands, with a width of twelve miles and a length of twenty-one miles and a population of about 93,000.
Dubbed the “Spice Isle,” the hilly main island is home to numerous nutmeg plantations. It’s also the site of the capital, St. George, whose colourful homes, Georgian buildings and early-18th-century Fort George overlook narrow Carenage Harbour.
We docked next to the other P&O ship, the ‘Azura’, a smaller version of the Britannia. It was very impressive to see them both side by side. We spent the morning walking around Grenada and the others visited the fort on the top of the hill, but I was still struggling with asthma, and was finding breathing difficult. In the afternoon, we took a water taxi to the Grand Anse beach, which is a large strip of beautiful sandy beach in the next bay around from the port. Mark rented a ‘Hobi’ Catamaran and was able to sail, which pleased us all. I would have liked to have joined him, but wasn’t up to it. However, by the evening the steroids and antibiotics were having an effect and I was feeling much better.
The sunsets have been fantastic in the last couple of days and I have had great fun in taking time lapse videos of them. Tonight was especially good fun, as just after sunset the Azura left port. The two ships competing in blowing their horns and cheering each other! Everyone was given union jack flags to wave and it was unexpectedly emotional.
This evening we ate at The Beaches.
Friday 6th January
Kingston, St Vincent
Scattered cloud, and dry. 28°C
The islands of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines include the main island of Saint Vincent and the northern two-thirds of the Grenadines, which are a chain of smaller islands stretching south from Saint Vincent to Grenada. There are 32 islands that make up St Vincent and the Grenadines but only nine are inhabited.
The main island of Saint Vincent measures 16 miles long and 9 ½ miles wide. It is a volcanic island of steep mountain ridges, valleys and waterfalls. It has a rugged cliff-lined eastern coast and a succession of black beaches in the west. By and large the beaches here are not as sandy as the other islands, although some sand has been imported!
The excursion was the second of our Kayak and Snorkelling trips and was a different experience from the first. We kayaked past a beautiful bay that was used in the filming of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, and then into a cave that was home to thousands of bats! The snorkelling was off a beach, and whilst it was beautiful we reflected later that it would have been nice to have had the opportunity to snorkel off a boat, where the water wouldn’t have been quite so churned up by the waves. Nonetheless, it was a good experience. Donna and I still haven’t got the hang of kayaking in a straight line, and I am sure that we went twice as far as everyone else!
That night we watched from the top deck as the ship slipped quietly out of St Vincent.
Donna and Chris had a cooking class later in the evening. They had assumed that they would be doing to the cooking, but it turned out to be a demonstration, they had a good time however. Mark and I went to the Glass House and had a nice meal together.
Saturday 7th January
Castries, St Lucia
Scattered cloud, with dry sunny spells. 28°C
St Lucia is very different to the other islands we have visited. At 27 miles by 14 miles, it is a lot bigger, and there is a lot more affluence here but alongside it, some poverty. What strikes you immediately is the lush valleys of coconut and banana plantations, the golden sandy beaches and the majestic mounts of the two ‘Pitons’ rising to 2,600 feet.
Our excursion today was the ‘Sea Trek’, which is in between snorkelling and diving. I had chosen this, as I would like to have done some scuba diving, and this was probably as near as I was going to get. You wear large helmets, which have air pumped into them from a static line on the surface. The air in the helmets ensures that you don’t get water on your face and you can breathe normally whilst the weight of the helmets allows you to sink down so that you can walk on the sea floor.
Unfortunately, the sea was again quite churned up, so we didn’t see as much as I was hoping which was a great shame, although there was a beautiful shawl of fish that we saw above us.
On the bus trip back to the ship, I joined in a conversation on ‘whatsap’ with the children. It is slightly bizarre that Luke is in Detroit in minus ten degrees and its snowing, Jess is back from Barcelona and trying to get a plane from Manchester to Germany, whilst Ash and Alana are in Thailand. We messaged for an hour which was great fun.
Sunday 8th January
Scattered cloud, with a few passing showers. 31°C
It was nice to wake up this morning and not rush. Looking out of the veranda and seeing the vast expanse of the ocean drifting by is a magical experience. We took the chance to go to the gym again and enjoyed the opportunity to use the equipment, and not be under any time constraint. It is also a good day to be able to spend some time in reflection. A sign of a good holiday is when you lose track of what day it is and what the date is. It has been well over ten years since I was able to take a two-week holiday, as it has been difficult to take that amount of time in one go from my work. This is a pity and something that I think I need to change in the future.
I keep thinking of Mo and Lou who have made this possible and I am very moved by their generosity, hoping that in turn I will be as generous as they were. When Mo was alive she often would use a phrase ‘it’s pay back time, kiddo!’, but seldom for Donna and I was it really ‘pay back time’. Well Mo, thank you. You have made it pay back time now!
However, in the relaxing environment here I am not completely free of worries. I find myself preoccupied with my health and my overall fitness, which is changing. My knee is hurting, and the asthma is out of control. I find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that I am 58. My mind can’t take it in, but my body certainly can testify to the fact that I am ageing. I do realise also that I need to be content with what I have and not worry about what I haven’t got, or what the future holds. Who would ever have thought we would be on a Caribbean cruise!
Later we enjoyed afternoon tea at The Epicurian restaurant with a menu by Master Pâtissier Eric Lanlard. The advertising ‘blurb’ was right… Eric Lanlard’s unique twist on this classic British institution elevates the humble afternoon tea into something utterly decadent! I chose Nutty Chocolate flavour assam tea. Delicious!
Monday 9th January
Partly cloudy but dry. 27°C
Dominica is very mountainous with natural hot springs and tropical rainforests. It is 29 miles by 18 miles and has a population of 72,000.
I have been very much looking forward to our excursion today, which was Whale and Dolphin watching. Dominica, like so many of the islands, is very mountainous and picturesque.
Within half an hour we had found a school of dolphins, who took great delight in swimming and diving around the front of the boat. It was a beautiful and magical sight watching them. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any whales, which was a great disappointment. The team on the boat took a couple of soundings using a sonic microphone, but heard nothing. In truth I think I was a little disappointed. Apparently whales can remain underwater for up to three quarters of an hour, before needing to surface, so of course seeing a whale in its natural environment, is a matter of chance. Whilst the tour can’t guarantee that whales will be spotted, I did feel that we motored for a long way, took a couple of soundings and then ran out of time and needed to return to the ship. It would have been nice to have had another hour to try a different location. I guess this is the inherent problem with being on an organised excursion, which has an allocation of time, against the advantages of privately hiring a boat and guides.
However, back on board there was another ‘sail away’ party on the pool terrace, which was fun to join in with. I wouldn’t say these sort of activities would be our first choice of entertainment, but we greatly enjoyed it nonetheless.
Tuesday 10th January
St John’s, Antigua
Partly cloudy but dry. 26°C
Antigua is 14 miles long and 11 miles wide, and has a population of 80,000
We discovered that Jan and John Davey were going to be in Antigua today, quite coincidentally. So Donna and Chris had arranged to meet they with them. Unfortunately, they had some difficultly in communication, so it didn’t happen. However, they had a tour around Nelson’s dockyard and a lobster lunch.
Meanwhile Mark and I were going on a zip wire excursion.
Antigua is exactly what I would expect a Caribbean island to look like. Green, mountainous rainforest and on the coast some great sandy beaches whilst in between there are little villages, some only shacks, but all of them brightly painted. The occasional burnt out car dotted the route.
My driver taking me to the zip wire excursion was a charming Rastafarian who told us something of the history of the island, but most of all told us about his family and his travels. On the way back, one of the members of the tour, who announced that she had drunk too much rum punch, asked him lots of personal questions about where he was on the social ladder, but he was very gracious and didn’t take offence.
It was pretty humid in the rainforest where the zip wire was situated. The instruction was pretty rudimentary, but after one or two attempts Mark and I soon got the hang of how to stop oneself from spinning around and how to slow yourself down as you ended the wire.
It was very exhilarating and I would love to do it again. This has probably been one of the most successful and enjoyable excursions.
We were then taken to Turner’s Beach for a swim, which was beautiful. Mark and I were offered some grass on the beach, although at the time we couldn’t make out what was being suggested. It turned out Donna and Chris came to the beach about half an hour after we left by which time it was raining, which was unfortunate.
Wednesday 11th January
Philipsburg , St Maarten
Sunny spells with some scattered cloud and passing rain showers. 26°C
Rather charmingly, the island comprises 2 separate countries, divided between its northern French side, also called Saint Martin, and its southern Dutch side, Sint Maarten. The division dates back to 1648 with both sides peacefully coexisting. The island measures 9.5 x 6.5 miles and has a population of 33,609
There have been several other cruise ships docking this morning, and it has been fascinating watching them dock. Philipsburg has a charming little pedestrian shopping area, so we spent the morning looking around the town and buying some presents to take home with us. The local beach, which is a short walk from the dock, was predictably very crowded. With so many ships docking, there is little doubt that all the beaches in this island would be very busy. Since Mark had booked an excursion sailing an America’s Cup Yacht, we had originally decided that we might stay at the local beach even though it was very busy. In the end, we opted to go back on the ship as the swimming pool was likely to be much quieter.
Thursday 12th January
Donna did several hours on her PHD this morning and we both took the opportunity to go to the gym. Running on the treadmill whilst the boat is gently swaying is an interesting experience! I am still not in the best of health, my asthma is completely out of control, although I am pleased to report that my knee is feeling better today. I am still coughing up muck however, so I am clearly not yet over the chest infection.
None of us want the holiday to finish, and are all working on ways to be able to do this again in a few years’ time! Since we have to vacate our rooms by 8.30am in the morning, we needed to pack before we went to bed.
Friday 13th January
A very efficient customs and immigration system on board ship, meant that we didn’t need to check in at the airport, and our bags were collected from outside our rooms and taken straight to the plane.
We had a few hours before we needed to leave, so like last week, we again we walked down to the beach for a last swim.
According to the ship’s log, we have travelled a total distance of 2,244 nautical miles. (2,582 miles).