Exploring the Caribbean onboard P&O Cruises Britannia!

First of all, I just want to thank you all for your lovely and encouraging feedback and comments on my last blog post – I really appreciate it! When I first started my new venture as ‘The Cruising Baker’ back in January I didn’t dare dream of such a fantastic response, so to receive this as a newcomer makes me very proud and humbled – Thank you!

29251300_345745762586603_1314843296_o.jpgAt the point of starting this post I’ve currently just crossed the half way point in this cruise – the evening of Monday 19th March – with one more Caribbean port of Antigua left before we head across the pond on the start of our Transatlantic crossing. I say at the point of starting as by the time I finish this post I will probably be another 3 or 4 days down the line! I have noticed that time has definitely run away from me and left little opportunity for me to write. However, with plenty of sea days ahead (and the change of weather on the not too distant horizon!) I should have plenty of time to catch up.

So, I’d best crack on! I thought I’d concentrate on highlighting a couple of points about P&O Britannia before briefly summarising the events of each port in our Caribbean itinerary.

It’s no secret that I love Britannia – she exudes elegance and charm and for the most part, has been maintained well during her 3 years of service thus far. For her size she is extremely intimate. I realise that may sound like a contradiction in terms, but all her public spaces are big enough for their purpose, whilst being designed in a way that makes them inviting and relaxing. Although I’ve seen a few people looking a bit bemused searching for their destination onboard, in general most passengers seem to find their way around without any problems. This is certainly true in my case. The layout and decks have clearly been designed and based upon previous ships in the fleet like Azura and Aurora. Britannia certainly has all the same aspects as Azura – a theatre forward, a show lounge aft. Three main dining rooms, one of which offers club dining and is located under the show lounge, the other two Freedom dining and can be found off of the main atrium. In line with previous ships, the Horizon Court buffet is located on Lido deck aft, whilst the Crows Nest is located high up forward. The similarities go on but I think it’s good enough to say that if you are happy with navigating the majority of other ships in the fleet, then you should have no problem onboard Britannia!

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However, I always say location is key. As a general rule of thumb we try to book cabins near the Aft lifts and stairwell. This is a personal preference and I suppose the principal is to be near to a stairwell which gives you easy access to the rest of the ship. I prefer a cabin aft as it seems to have the best of both worlds. It is (slightly) cheaper than Midship, whilst being more stable than forward. It also gives perfect access to both the main deck, where the majority of entertainment stems from, along with the buffet, Sunset Bar, (or equivalent) and pool decks. Furthermore, we often opt for club dining which is usually located in the Aft restaurant. So a cabin located towards the Aft works well for us! If you are worried about finding your way around on a larger ship, or what location to choose when selecting a cabin, I hope this gives you a little food for thought as to how a little bit of forward planning when booking can make a world of difference to your onboard experience.

In keeping with the theme of size, there is no denying that there are a lot of people onboard. She has a passenger capacity far greater than any previous ship in the fleet and I know this is a worry for some. However, again this doesn’t seem to be noticeable. I’ve been onboard for over 10 days now, 2 of which have been sea days, and I haven’t felt crowded or rushed once. The ships public spaces feel no busier than on Azura, or even Aurora! I have never had to search for a seat or wait for space to become available in order to do anything. This all adds up to make a relaxed and inviting atmosphere onboard Britannia, where you can always find somewhere quiet to chill out. Don’t get me wrong, she still has her busy periods, such as when a show finishes or a dinner seating ends, but this is no different to any other ship and soon dissipates.

29243517_345752852585894_1509869816_oThis was also true when disembarking and embarking the ship at the different ports of call. So far we have spent a total of 9 days in port and I can honestly say that I haven’t had to queue once! This is especially important when returning from a hot day at the beach when all you want to do is get back and have a nice shower. I didn’t have a routine either. Each day I got on and off at various times, sometimes more than once, and I didn’t have to wait to get on at any occasion! Maybe I have been extremely lucky, but P&O Cruises must be doing something right as it was definitely a big positive…(These days I’m not very patient…especially when it’s hot)!! There was one exception to this. In Barbados most of the ship was disembarking, so if you happened to try to get off when one of the groups were leaving the ship, you may have got caught in a line. But this was the only point I saw a queue and I was lucky enough to be getting back on when I saw it, so it still didn’t catch me.

Now I’m on the subject of port days, it seems like a great place to mention the the ports themselves! I’ll start with a brief description, courtesy of P&O Cruises, and add a couple of points of my own. Before I begin, I should mention that on this occasion we did everything by ourselves. There is the debate of whether to explore on your own or take organised excursions and there definitely are pros and cons to both, but that’s a topic for another post. If there is anywhere in the world where you can explore on your own, it’s the Caribbean! Nearly every port has minibuses, taxis, boats, tour guides and drivers to take you or organise nearly anything you want to do! A word of caution though, when you explore on your own, it is your responsibility to make sure you are back for that all important All Aboard time!!

So here it goes, my 9 port days consisted of:

St Lucia – Embarkation and 1 stop

Lush Valleys of coconut and banana plantations, golden sandy beaches and the majestic mounts of the Pitons, St Lucia is a delight to explore. Take a coastal cruise to the Caribbeans only ‘drive in’ volcano, the charming bay of Marigot or take one of the more adventurous options to discover the island’s inner beauty.

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As I highlighted on my previous blog, St Lucia was our flight destination and the island where we would meet up with Britannia. Although tiering, we had a good tour of the island on route from the airport to the dock side and we certainly saw more than some excursions! There was little time for exploring on this occasion. However, we were lucky enough to call here again during the cruise, but we didn’t venture far from the port itself. There is a lovely complex on the dockside with bars and places to relax, perfect for a mid Caribbean itinerary break.

Grenada – 1 stop

29250619_345745892586590_1069855632_oThe aroma of nutmeg, cinnamon and mace hangs in the warm breeze that blows over the hillsides, tropical rainforests and beaches on this ‘island of spice’. Grenada is a popular holiday spot with plenty of beaches, coves, volcanic mountains and shops to explore.

This was our first time in Grenada and we called here the day after we arrived, so we were a little torn between exploring the island and recovering from the flight the previous day. We did eventually get off the ship, a little later than planned, and took a taxi tour of the island with a very knowledgeable driver who made it even more interesting. We had the opportunity to see how nutmeg, cinnamon and cocoa was grown and created, before sampling the locally brewed spiced Rum (wow!). We stopped at Annandale Falls rock pool where we absorbed the beauty of the waterfalls and surrounding rainforest, whilst watching a very brave man jumping from the top in cause for the local community! The tour ended with stunning panoramic views of the island which I have already shared over on my Facebook page. It was a fantastic way to see the island and one I would definitely recommend. A place I hope to come back to in the future!

St Kitts – 2 stops

St Kitts has volcanic peaks with lush green forests and endless sugar cane fields. The charming capital of Basseterre features many historical buildings, which have been lovingly restored. It is also home to one of the most impressive fortresses in the Caribbean, the Brimstone Hill Fortress.

We were lucky enough to come to St Kitts 2 years ago and had a great tour of the island and rainforests (there was lots of rum involved!). For anyone looking to try something different, or explore the rainforest, I highly recommend doing this…it’s good fun! On these occasions our destination was the beach. I’d tried to do a bit of research before we left of this cruise, but there are quite literally hundreds and hundreds of beaches throughout the Caribbean and so it can be quite difficult to choose where to go! On our first stop at St Kitts we went to Cockleshell Bay as I had heard it was one of the best beaches on the island. Unfortunately we were quite disappointed. Yes sun beds and amenities were cheaper, but the sand wasn’t the golden glade I had hoped for, the sea wasn’t particularly clear, with lots of seaweed, and the sand and seabed was full of rocks and shells, so no good for bare feet! Maybe I should have listened to the name…but next door was Turtle Beach, and I didn’t see any Turtles!

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Given the disappointment of the first beach, it was my mission to find a nice beach when we stopped in St Kitts the following week. This time we took a taxi over to Friars Bay and hooked up in Carambola Beach Club. This was much better and I think must be one of the best beaches on the island. We had stopped here briefly 2 years ago on our rainforest tour but never took the name! If a beach is where you’re heading during your time at St Kitts, you won’t go far wrong here. However, unfortunately the beaches of St Kitts don’t seem to compare to those of Barbados and Antigua!

Antigua – 2 stops

Antigua famously boasts a beach for every day of the year, with water sparkling in every shade of blue. The beaches are not all that this versatile island has to offer though. With everything from historical sites to rainforests and water sports, there is something wonderful for everyone in Antigua.

29391041_345724145922098_1107255528_oAntigua was the stop I was most excited about. I don’t know whether it’s because I’ve watched too many pirate films or what, but it certainly didn’t disappoint! The first time we docked here we were joined by 4 other ships in port! That’s 5 ships in total – busy – a little too busy for my liking! We had originally planned a beach day but decided it might be best to leave it. Instead we sampled the culture, met some lovely locals and sat in a bar slightly off the beaten track and enjoyed the local culture. Although not what we originally intended, it turned into an unexpectedly perfect day. Here we met Nancy, the best taxi driver in the Caribbean! We arranged to meet her the following week for a mini island tour and a beach break. I was just hoping that the next time we docked it would be a little less busy! And it seems my prayers were answered. When we docked the following week we were the only ship in port! True to her word, Nancy was there waiting for us and we had become very popular during our week away with lots of people greeting us along the way. Nancy was well known and respected on the island and we couldn’t have met a nicer person. She took us on a lovely tour which included the rainforest and some of the local sights, before ending on Rum Bus Beach….wow! This was our last port in the Caribbean and it was certainly a highlight to end on! The beach was simply paradise and for most of it, we were the only people on there! It’s name comes from two London buses which are parked on the beach front, one of which is a bar/restaurant and the other accommodation for a small family, with bathroom and air-conditioning! The facilities, food, atmosphere and more was perfect. I couldn’t have wished for a better way to end our stint in the Caribbean. I must give a shout out to Nancy here for giving us the best day in the Caribbean! Keep an eye out for her down past Redcliffe Quay!

Martinique – 1 stop

29404480_345722085922304_788856552_oMartinique combines an exotic mix of France and Africa with a wonderful laidback Caribbean feel. There is certainly lots to do with historic towns, such as Saint Pierre, charming fishing villages, numerous beaches and of course, wonderful tropical marine life.

We didn’t do too much here and treated it as one of our lazy port days. On the quay side there were markets and stalls which sold a real variety of items, some of which were very unusual and not your run of the mill things. It’s the perfect port to take a wonder around, enjoy the sun and making your way around the sea front towards a small beach perched on the end of the stretch. There is undoubtably a strong European feel to the port and for a moment you do feel like you have been beamed to the Mediterranean, which creates a very distinct feel compared to other Caribbean ports.

Barbados – Overnight

29405025_345720605922452_1562246451_oThe home of P&O Cruises in the Caribbean. Beautiful beaches warm turquoise sea and sun-drenched days, Barbados offers all the features of a tropical island. The people here are especially warm and inviting and there is still an inescapable colonial ‘feel’ that adds to the island’s unique atmosphere and style.

Marking the middle of our Caribbean stint, Barbados is an island which has it all. Straight off the docks there is a shopping centre full of essentials and duty free shops which makes way for a hub of activity including bars, tour guides and a taxi rank where you can organise pretty much anything you wish to do. We had our eyes set on a beach which we visited last time we were here – Copacobana Beach Club, located on the perfect shores of Carlisle Bay.

29242866_345722205922292_1498041487_oProbably one of the most popular stretches of Beach on the island, there is good reason for it. Perfect golden sands, crystal clear water perfect for snorkelling and water sports, plus enough bars to shake a stick at, it made the perfect backdrop to a lazy day on the Beach. Carlisle Bay is made up of several bars, The Boat Yard being a popular choice as well. All share similar facilities and give access to a perfect beach experience. We prefer Copacobana as they tend to be a little more quieter and are not pushy or forceful on the selling technique, giving you the space you need to chill and relax.
I tried my first experience of snorkeling here which was amazing and the crystal clear waters meant there was lots to see! After a full day at the beach, our second day was spent in the closer proximity of the port, where we made use of more than one of the bars and the ample free wifi available across the port! Suffice to say, there is a lot of opportunities to try new and exciting things in Barbados and it’s clear to see why P&O Cruises choose this is their main homeport in the Caribbean.

I know I’ve only scratched the surface of the islands which I have visited, but I hope it has given you a little insight into the what’s available and maybe some food for thought on what you might like to do if you ever find yourself in the Caribbean! If there is something specific you’d like to know about, or have any questions at all, please let me know in the comments or over on Facebook and I’ll do my best to answer. And of course, if you would like me to find anything out for you about Britannia, or life onboard with P&O Cruises in general, let me know either in the comments below or over on Facebook!

 

Stay tuned for my next blog from onboard Britannia! Coming soon will be a dining extravaganza including The Beach House, The Market Café and more! Plus a topic close to my heart, my thoughts on the entertainment, accessibility at sea plus lots more! Take a visit to my Facebook page and give it a ‘Like’ so you don’t miss anything!

Keep smiling and happy sailing! 🙂

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