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A Summer's Birthday

Honeymoon - Barbados

all seasons in one day 29 °C
View Honeymoon on kmmk17's travel map.


Having a birthday in February has never been overly exciting, but spending my 30th in a lockdown, not being allowed to go anywhere or really see anyone was a particular low point. This year things had improved and we had ended up booking our honeymoon over my birthday, and so for the first time in my life I could wear shorts on it!

Today was our last full day on board, and a sea day as we headed back to Barbados. As usual we had breakfast, nabbed ourselves some sun loungers and joined in the quizzes. Sitting in the sun and around the pool, I was able to enjoy a summer's birthday for once!

Shorts in February

Shorts in February

After a lovely last day on deck, when we got back to the room I found a card from the captain wishing me a happy birthday. However the imminent end to the trip was lingering, and as the UK's Passenger Locator forms had not yet been abandoned, we were required to fill one, and given guidance of how to complete them as we were in the middle of nowhere. It was one of the few websites the on board Wi-Fi allowed access to - because of course, even in 2022, free Wi-Fi doesn't exist when cruising - no wonder there so few under 50s on board.

Birthday Cards

Birthday Cards

After having dinner, I decided to go for a wander around the ship for a final exploration. Even after two weeks on board there were still parts of the ship I hadn't seen. I went to the back of the ship, but coming across the Covid Isolation cabins, I made a quick dash.

Isolation Cabins

Isolation Cabins

Walking around the highest parts of the ship, there was a section that looked down on the pools covered in AstroTurf. In the night-time darkness I could see something odd and tried to focus my eyes on what looked like a dog!? Then I heard a noise, and realised to my horror, it was actually a couple trying to enjoy some private time.... I made another quick dash and headed back down towards the cabin. There'd been enough shocks for one night!

Up On Deck

Up On Deck

It had been a nice day, and certainly a lot better than last year, however in hindsight I'm not sure I really enjoyed it. There was no internet so I didn't get any birthday greetings, I had few cards as we'd needed to receive them a fortnight in advance to take them with us, I had no birthday cake, and it quite frankly just didn't feel like my birthday - it was like summer! It had felt like I'd missed it, just as we'd missed Easter 2018 when we'd visited Japan over the whole thing.

For half the ship, this was their last night on board, and so to enable this huge logistical challenge to run smoothly, we were required to leave our suitcases outside the cabin by 10pm that night.

Although the flights were not until the evening, and our pick up was not until 2pm, we had to vacate the cabin by 9am. We were allowed to leave the ship, but as additional Covid testing would be required at a charge, and as we had already seen what we wanted of Barbados on our first day, we decided to remain on board for this last day.

We had our breakfast and then went back to the room to collect our last bits. Then at ten to 9 a knock on the door from the maid - "you need to leave the room, it has been booked out from 9:30!". Well, we have until 9 I thought to myself. The door was propped open and we were being chased to leave.

Why should I care if someone has booked out the room for the day - we have it until 9, and why has an occupied room been booked out when half the ship is empty?! Yet another irritation...

We headed up to the pool to enjoy the last bit of heat. However it was an iffy day, and after three rainstorms we gave up trying to sunbathe. Unlike every other day, today we had not been given the newspaper telling us what was going on during the day, but it appeared there was nothing going on anyway. Quite ridiculous when today is the one day everyone was definitely out on deck.

One of the sunny intervals

One of the sunny intervals

At home, Storm Eunice, one of the strongest storms since 1987 was wreaking havoc, and like the St Jude Storm back in 2013, I was instead sunning myself in the Caribbean. The irony of missing hurricane force winds by being in the Caribbean instead...

However we soon got wind of just how much it would still affect us, as the flights this afternoon were all returns of those leaving the UK this morning, which had been affected. Two of the three flights were delayed, whilst the third (to Bournemouth) had been postponed until tomorrow. They would get a £25 onboard voucher, but would not receive their suitcases back despite the overnight delay - I'd rather have gone home!

As we had a long wait until our dinner on the plane and nothing better to do, we decided to head to the fancy restaurant for a final posh lunch. We were given a seat by the window and ordered a tikka buffet. Next thing a nearby table was occupied by another British couple who started chatting to us. They loved cruising, with her loving the ambience, whilst him liking the variety. Azura was nice, but apparently it was nothing like Cunard, with the white gloves!

Lunch Time

Lunch Time

She was lovely, but very very chatty. They asked where we were from, and when we said Luton, she told us she was originally from Hemel Hempstead - coincidently the town where I work. It all now started to make sense... she then proceeded to tell me all about Hemel in the 80s before she had left, like the Butcher's on The Ramp and asked me if I was in "the Hemel FB group". Of course I wasn't - I just work there.

After a lovely last meal on board, we headed back to the pool for a last bit of sun, and dipped our feet in the pool. We said goodbye to our Quiz friend, and then headed down to the other restaurant where everyone on our flight was waiting for the airport transfer.

Before long we were leaving the ship, getting on coaches and making our way across the island to the airport. Only this time we'd actually be heading inside the terminal building. After being wished that my birthday yesterday was nice at passport control, we were soon inside the terminal and before long sitting at the gate waiting to board. By now it was exhausting. It had been a long day, and our flight was still a few hours from leaving.

Goodbye Summer

Goodbye Summer

After a change in gate, we eventually managed to board the plane, and with many Grannies on board, for the first time ever we ended up being the first people to board the plane. After the drama of the flight tickets, we found our new seats were actually Premium Economy, and were reclining seats! When boarding was finished, surprise surprise, there were tonnes of free seats, including the entire row behind us, and several others in the vicinity. An absolute joke considering the aggro we'd been through a few days ago.

Annoyingly, the first round of service on board was for a glass of champagne, and so by the time the actual dinner came round I was too exhausted to eat. They asked if I as ok, to which Chris responded, "he's just shattered". The flight was only 8 hours and so overnight was tough going. It was now midnight Barbados time, and so 4am UK time.

I don't do well on overnight flights, struggling to sleep, and so by the time the 'breakfast' came round a few hours later, I was awake and ended up being one of the few on board who actually took it - at last my jet lag was sorted! Not long later we were landing at Gatwick, and after two weeks of acclimatised Caribbean heat it was freezing! We collected our suitcases and noticed that if we hurried, we could make the next fast train back to Luton.

We ran with the suitcases, made the next shuttle to the other terminal and arrived at the train station with a few minutes to spare before the next train. And then we waited... with there being a lot of damage from yesterday's storm there were knock on effects still, including our train being late. When it eventually did turn up it was decided that the train would in fact now stop at most of the stations it was planning to whizz through. In the end, we eventually arrived back in Luton around 45 minutes later than planned, and so by the time we got back home I only just about made it to bed for a nap before I collapsed... what a long journey...

It had been amazing to finally get on our honeymoon, and amazingly it had all gone to plan. I wasn't a cruise convert - I would go on one again, but equally I'd also go on a normal fly/hotel holiday too. It's just a shame that P&O were unable to provide a good quality holiday for us. I'm sure it was mostly because of Covid, but equally we had paid a lot of money and not received as good service as we should have. Maybe in a year or so when things are more settled they'd provide a better service.

Posted by kmmk17 16:47 Archived in Barbados Tagged airport sun caribbean birthday plane covid Comments (0)

The Scenic Spice Isle

Honeymoon - Grenada

all seasons in one day 30 °C
View Honeymoon on kmmk17's travel map.


After a very long and stressful day yesterday, this morning was another early start as our tour was leaving at 7:30am. We had arrived on our final new island, and the most southern on the trip - Grenada, and we would be going on an exciting tour for the tastebuds.

After getting up for breakfast, we headed out to yet another dark cloud, and braced ourselves for some possible showers whilst watching the MSC Sea View (the same ship we had seen back in Naples a few years earlier) park up next to us.

MSC Sea View arriving

MSC Sea View arriving

Before long our tour guide arrived, we boarded a minibus, and started heading into the town. We drove past the bus station, market and stadiums before heading up a very steep and windy road into the mountains.

The Winding Roads

The Winding Roads

Grenada was exceptionally lush, with green vegetation everywhere. Although only around 5km from the sea, we were now at around 600m above sea level and we stopped at the Grand Etang National Park, where there were views of the lake in the crater of the volcano that formed the island.

Grand Etang Lake

Grand Etang Lake

There was also a little museum that gave a bit of history to the national park, and detailed the effects that Hurricane Ivan had had on the ecosystem back in 2004.

Visitor Centre

Visitor Centre

We then began to head down the other side of the mountain, where the sun finally began to shine. We headed past the river tubing sites before eventually arriving at the Belmont Estate in the north of the island.

This former plantation is famous for it's chocolate, which they both grow and produce. We saw all the stages of chocolate from growing on the trees, to harvesting and production.

Cocoa Pods

Cocoa Pods

We were shown what the cocoa pods look like, we tasted the pulps, and then saw how they roast the beans to produce the cocoa powder, before being offered some hot chocolate from their own site.

Cocoa Roasting

Cocoa Roasting

Then we headed into the factory and saw how they turned the powder from the beans into chocolate, before finally getting to taste the different types on offer which they also sold.

Mixing the Chocolate

Mixing the Chocolate

After this interesting stop, we headed along the east coast of the island, stopping off en route for a rum punch.

Our tour guide and driver used to work as a chef on Grenada, and had the nickname 'Soup'. Everywhere we went everyone seemed to know him, and shouted out "Hi Soup!"

After a refreshment, we headed south to a rum distillery, where they showed us how they turned sugar cane into alcohol. Sadly these days, they don't actually grow any sugar cane on Grenada anymore, and instead this is all now imported from abroad. We had a tour of the rickety old factory, which was a little unnerving and must have broken several European safety standards!

The Distillery

The Distillery

We then headed into the shop where we had the opportunity to taste the rum they produce, at various different strengths, and infused with many different flavours. 35%, 70%, pure, passion fruit and chocolate cream amongst others.

Rum Tasting

Rum Tasting

It was a really interesting experience, and after a lot of scenery and beaches, it was really nice to get a different feel to the Caribbean here on the Spice Island.

We had a brief chat with the owner of the factory, who told us she used to live in Enfield(!), but had left and moved to Grenada as her husband owned his own rum factory! We then headed back to the minibus, where we drove back through parts of the capital, which was incredibly hilly!

Grenada had been one of the strictest Covid islands, with only excursions being allowed for cruise tourists. However a few days earlier, they had relaxed their rules and so we were able to have a quick wander around unaccompanied. We headed out of the port building and went for a short stroll around the portside streets.

The Sendall Tunnel

The Sendall Tunnel

By now it was only mid afternoon, but with the early start we had already been out for around 6 hours! We had had a very good tour encompassing the island, and after buying some souvenirs in the terminal building shops we headed back to the ship. It then began to hammer down and so we made a run for it back to the ship. A rushed end to what were going to be our last steps on dry land before the end of the trip.

Tonight was also the last of the four black tie events. We once again went for a fancy meal, this time finally managing to get ourselves an Amuse-Bouche!

Tonight's Menu

Tonight's Menu

Posted by kmmk17 14:44 Archived in Grenada Tagged sea chocolate lake scenery caribbean meal rum Comments (0)

Stunning St. Lucia

Honeymoon - St. Lucia

all seasons in one day 29 °C
View Honeymoon on kmmk17's travel map.

After a relaxed day in Antigua, today was going to be much busier. We had arrived in St. Lucia, and were going on a full day tour. After having breakfast we headed down to the dock.

St. Lucia was another of the Covid concerned islands, with temperature checks and wristbands to wear. We queued up for our tour, and looked at the ominous clouds above us. Next thing we were led to the side of a building just in time to take cover from the downpour about to hit us. It only lasted around 5 minutes, but being tropical it soaked anything caught in it.

We then boarded our bus and as we took a quick drive through the city's streets, got an introduction to the island from our guide. We then headed out of the city and up the mountain side, for views over the harbour.

Overlooking the harbour

Overlooking the harbour

The route south passed many hills and valleys, as well as passing by other aspects that make up the heritage and life on the island - seeing banana crops, fuel storage and alcohol distilleries.

Banana Plantations

Banana Plantations

We then arrived at Soufriere, the main area for our tour today, and which is dominated by the majestic Pitons - two twin peaks that are icons of the island, and stylised on the flag.

The Pitons

The Pitons

Our first major sight here was the Diamond Botanical Garden, a former plantation converted into a park with many beautiful ornamental plants.

Plants

Plants

There was also a walk down a gorge towards a waterfall, which being geothermal and mineral rich had stained the rock beneath.

The Waterfall

The Waterfall

After this, we headed back to the coach and travelled around the other side of town to the world's only drive in volcano.

The Volcano

The Volcano

Of course the sulphur escaping into the air meant it absolutely stank around here, but it did mean we got to see the bubbling mud pools and steam vents. Sadly we didn't get to stay here for long enough to bathe in the mud baths.

Mud Baths

Mud Baths

By now it was lunch time and we headed down the road to Morne Coubaril Estate for a Caribbean lunch where we got chatting to some of our other travelling companions.

Morne Coubaril

Morne Coubaril

It was now time to head back towards the capital, but rather than drive back the way we came, this would be via a boat trip. We boarded a catamaran at the small port at Soufriere as once more a huge black cloud came our way. Again this didn't last long, and was over by the time we set sail.

Uh Oh...

Uh Oh...

There were beautiful views of the Pitons once more, as we enjoyed Rum Punch.

The Pitons

The Pitons

We sailed to the secluded Anse Conchon Beach, where like in St. Vincent the boat's ladder was lowered and those who wanted to could get out and go for a swim or walk on the beach.

Anse Conchon Beach

Anse Conchon Beach

We decided to stay aboard as we'd done plenty of swimming until now, and after being surrounded by locals selling knickknacks, we headed north back towards Castries. En route, there was one last sight, the beautiful Marigot Bay, where lots of expensive small boats are docked.

Marigot Bay

Marigot Bay

For the last bit of the sail, the music was ramped up and there as a real carnival atmosphere with tipsy passengers and crew enjoying the music and dancing.

Party Boat

Party Boat

After arriving back at port, we went for a quick wander around the capital, seeing the cathedral and main square.

The Cathedral

The Cathedral

We then headed back towards the ferry terminal where the scale of the ship's size dominating over the town was clear.

Hiding Ship

Hiding Ship

We were now coming towards the end of the cruise - with just one new island still to see, and only three more days. Once we got back to the cabin we found our flight tickets had been delivered. Then the mood turned. We had been allocated seats in separate rows - despite the fact the flight out had been 1/3 empty, and the flights contained the same people.

Chris went own to reception to ask why we had been separated, and if we could be moved. But when he came back, told me that a very rude lady on reception had stated that they probably couldn't do anything, if we had wanted to sit together we should have paid £35 each to select our seats (even though when I had looked at this option before we had left home this was not actually possible), and if they were able to find seats together we would have to pay £70 for it. We would need to go back down at 8pm to see if they had been able to do it.

I was livid. We weren't asking for a particular seat on the plane, just two seats together for a couple on their honeymoon who had paid a fortune for this cruise, and on a plane with tonnes of spare seats.

Being slightly tipsy from the Rum Punch meant I marched down to reception at full speed, where I spoke to someone else who fobbed me off saying that only the Flight Coordinator could get involved and there was nothing they could do. What a way to kill the mood of what had until just now been a really good day....

After emailing P&O to complain about this problem and the appalling customer service, we headed for dinner and tried to enjoy the rest of the evening as best we could.

When 8pm came round we headed back down to reception to find a new set of people who knew nothing about our flight tickets. Speaking to a young guy called Calvin, we told him what had happened, and I ranted about the appalling customer service, this being yet another irritation on our holiday and the fact that not one person had yet had the decency to even say "I'm sorry, let me see what I can do". To which he said "I'm sorry". Whether it was genuine I don't know, but at least he had said it...

He told us he'd see what he could do and would give us a call later to let us know. In the meantime I had received an email back from P&O to say that as we were already on board, only the Flight Coordinator could do anything. Unsurprisingly, not even a 'sorry' in sight...

Expecting not to actually hear anything, and adjusting to the reality of probably having to spend the overnight flight back home separated we got into bed to head off to sleep. Then suddenly, the phone rang. It was Calvin, telling us he'd sorted out tickets and to come down to reception.

We got dressed and headed straight down, where he told us he'd sorted it and put us in seats together. He gave us the new tickets and we didn't need to pay. At least there was one nice person on board - but the question is, if this was so simple, why had it been such aggro to sort, why had we had to kick up such a fuss, and why had this not been done initially!?

By now it had been a very long day, and with another early tour tomorrow morning, we headed to bed.

Posted by kmmk17 17:25 Archived in Saint Lucia Tagged mountains rain boat beach volcano cathedral waterfall caribbean geology botanicalgarden Comments (1)

A Mooch in Antigua

Honeymoon - Antigua

sunny 28 °C
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As the Caribbean can be quite samey, we had made a conscious effort to explore different things in each place. However with a run of busy days and with none of the possible excursions really tickling our fancy, we decided to have a more chilled day today.

After having got up in our own time and had breakfast ("Two Apple juices?" said the waiter who by now knows what I want each day), we made our way down to the port to have an exploration.

P&O were quite good at having hand sanitizer stations everywhere, however their ID card printers are such poor quality that the hand sanitizer wipes away all the ink and leaves them unreadable. Instead of investing in good quality machines, or giving everyone plastic lanyards to keep their cards in (they charge £5 for these in the shop), the solution is to get the passengers to request a new card.

Having already had to ask for a new ID card just a few days into the cruise (as the one I was given initially was already half wiped off before I even picked it up), by now, day 10 on board, my card was getting pretty bad again. Still possible to read, but not ideal.

Getting down to the disembarkation area the lady looks at my card and says "you need a new card". Yes, I know - because your printers are awful, I think to myself. Then she just carries on looking at me. "What... now?" I ask. "Yes, now" she snaps back at me. Despite the fact the card is still readable, I now need to traipse all the way back up 3 decks to the reception and then wait around whilst yet another new card is printed. Thank God we didn't have an excursion booked or we would have missed it.

It was not impossible to speak to customers nicely, but clearly they've just employed anyone they can find even if they are rude to the passengers. Eventually after now having my third card in the space of a week I could traipse all the way back down and finally get off the ship.

Whilst most of the ports had not required any kind of Covid checks, Antigua was a bit tighter, and required us to do temperature checks on the jetty before we made it into the cruise terminal. Nevertheless, we had so far managed to dodge Covid and even the hot temperatures still gave us a normal reading, so we were allowed into St. John's.

Cruise Terminal

Cruise Terminal

The terminal was full of the usual shops and cafés, and we had a little look around before then heading out into St. John's proper and to the eponymously named cathedral that overlooks the town.

St. John's Cathedral

St. John's Cathedral

From the outside it looked a bit of a state - but inside it was completely unexpected - being completely panelled in wood.

Inside the Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral

Although it was undergoing some renovation, it was still lovely to see. We then headed south through the back streets of the town to the VC Bird Monument - dedicated to the first Antiguan President, but bizarrely painted like no monument should be.

VC Bird Monument

VC Bird Monument

Ironically, Antigua sells itself as the island of 365 beaches, and yet not one of them is a walkable distance from the port, and so after just under an hour or so, we were already back at the port. We had another wander around the terminal before re-boarding the ship.

We spent the afternoon once again lazing around the pool, before enjoying a sail away through Deepwater Harbour and past Fort James.

Fort James

Fort James

At tonight's dinner we once again picked up lots of the small plates of different foods and had our fill, before having a chilled evening watching some of the on demand entertainment.

Dinner

Dinner

Although when we had travelled northwards there had been a sea day between the Windwards and the Leeward Islands, on the return journey southwards we would have continuous port days. We therefore travelled on a relatively direct route, and this meant before bedtime we were passing very close to the island of Montserrat.

Montserrat

Montserrat

As we didn't have a balcony, I went out on deck to take a look - being able to see a silhouette of the volcanic island as we passed. After taking in the views, I then went for a quick wander around parts of the ship I'd not yet seen, before finally heading back to the cabin for the night.

Pool by Night

Pool by Night

Posted by kmmk17 17:18 Archived in Antigua and Barbuda Tagged food city island cathedral caribbean Comments (0)

Beautiful BVI

Honeymoon - British Virgin Islands

all seasons in one day 27 °C
View Honeymoon on kmmk17's travel map.


We were now headed back towards the Eastern Caribbean, and the next place we'd be stopping was the British Virgin Islands - the eastern half of the Virgin Islands archipelago.

British Virgin Islands

British Virgin Islands

We had another excursion lined up for today, and so after grabbing breakfast we headed out to the ferry terminal. After hanging around for only 10 minutes or so, we then headed boarded a catamaran that would sail across the Sir Francis Drake Channel to the island of Virgin Gorda.

Like yesterday, the weather was a real mix - sometimes beautifully sunny, and at other times pouring down with rain. We decided to sit inside as the only space on the boat left was upstairs (and we'd felt sick enough on some of the boat trips already this last week!), and thank God we did! The sea was pretty rough and about halfway to the island it started hammering down.

We had got caught in a huge rainstorm, and the next thing the doors opened, in walking all those who had been sat outside, absolutely drenched - a huge wave had just covered the boat, with all those sat outside getting caught beneath it!

Watching the poor souls all shaken up had taken my mind off the sea sickness for a while, and thankfully the skies were now brightening up as we made it to Spanish Town. We then boarded some minibuses that took us to Devil's Bay on the south coast of the island, passing many beautiful murals en route.

Murals

Murals

The sun was shining as we made our way down through the vegetation to a beautiful white sandy beach and had a bit of a swim.

Heading to the beach

Heading to the beach

Devil's Bay

Devil's Bay

After this it was time to visit the most exciting and unique attraction on the island - The Baths. These are huge boulders of granite eroded by the sea which have piled up to create beautiful caverns on the beach.

We were the first ones in the group to wander through, and therefore got to enjoy the sights without a huge crowd in front of us. It started to rain as we entered, but that was fine as the caverns provided us with shelter!

Inside The Baths

Inside The Baths

It was a little bit dangerous, and for certain if this was western Europe, we'd have needed helmets (if we'd be allowed in at all). But hey, this is the Caribbean, so we just watched our heads and wandered across the slippy rocks!

Before long we made it to the other side and another beautiful beach, which The Baths imposed on. It was really beautiful here and the sun came out once more

The beach at The Baths

The beach at The Baths

However by the time we were about to leave, there was once again another rainstorm, we we hid under the covers of the café on the beach.

It didn't last long and once it ended we rinsed out all the sand from our shoes, before heading back up the hill to the minibuses. We then took an open-top minibus back to the port, where our guides had an honest conversation with us about the difficulty growing up in places like the British Virgin Islands, where there are little good opportunities for ambitious youth.

Getting back on the catamaran, as we were the last bus back there were now no spaces left in the indoor area of the boat, and so we sat outside. Thankfully it was much calmer on the way back and we were able to enjoy our rum punch.

After getting back to Road Town, we went for a little wander around the town. We began by heading off to the ferry terminal, where we managed to secure a passport stamp. "Happy Birthday for later this week" said the lady who'd seen my date of birth as she found a blank page to stamp.

We then headed back out towards the supermarket, hoping that the ominous black clouds heading this way wouldn't arrive too soon!

Road Town

Road Town

Having bought some drinks, we then made our way back to the ship, and chilled for a few hours before grabbing dinner. That night there was a silent disco being held on the decks, so we went along for a laugh.

Silent Disco

Silent Disco

There were two radio channels to choose from, and it was quite funny hearing tonnes of people (badly) singing along to two completely different songs, whilst others are sat there reading a book or sipping a cocktail!

After staying here a little while, we then headed back to the cabin to call it a night before tomorrow's next exploration.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 14:05 Archived in British Virgin Islands Tagged sea beach caribbean geology Comments (0)

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