New Year’s Eve in Barbados

Woke up this morning really early; in fact we’d been awake since about 4.00am due to the 4-hour time difference.  So at 5.45am I was up and onto the balcony, looking from our vantage point on Deck 11 over the awakening port of Bridgetown.  Directly ahead we could see the floodlights of the famous West Indies cricket ground, Kensington Oval.

After showering and getting ready, we went up to the Waterside buffet on the Lido deck for our breakfast.  Quite a few people were there already even though it was still only 7.00am; obviously quite a few others were still on UK time!  We had our breakfast and went out on deck to see which other ships were in port.  Next to us we could see another vessel sporting the P & O insignia; it turned out to be none other than the Arcadia, on which we have already done two cruises and are booked to go on her again next year.  For a 83,000 ton ship she looked small next to the monstrous bulk of the 115,000 Ventura.

We walked around the ship, exploring her some more, before deciding to disembark and go into Oistins for a few hours.  In 2003 we had had a fantastic holiday in Barbados, staying at the all-inclusive Sea Breeze Beach Hotel at Oistins, a small town about 30 minutes by bus from Bridgetown.  We loved it there and, in fact, had been back once since – in 2007 when we were in Barbados on the Arcadia.  So we packed our swimming things, our suntan lotion and our towels and headed out to find a taxi.

Just outside the port gates were innumerable mini-buses and taxi drivers touting for business.  We asked one of them how much it would cost to go to Oistins and he quoted us US$30.00, which we thought was quite steep but the going price.  Other passengers got into the mini-bus and were quoted a price according to where they wanted dropping off.

Off we went, with other people getting off until there was just us and another couple left.  The driver told the other couple that their fare would be US$25.00 as they were getting out before us.  That was indeed true – they were dropped off at the hotel across the road from the Sea Breeze.  Five US bucks more for us to go across the road!

The Sea Breeze looked very much as it had in 2007 and in 2003 and it was lovely to be back.  We walked unobtrusively through the hotel lobby, past the swimming pool and onto the private beach, trying to look as though we were staying at the hotel and meant to be there.   We got changed into our cossies and went onto the beach and grabbed a sun-lounger each.  The sand was soft and white and the sea blue, with a constant roar from the lively surf you always seem to get in Oistins.  We decided to get ourselves a rum punch each, and Trevor went off to get them at the nearby bar.

Just then, some snot-nosed kid came up to me and asked if I was an Ocean Club member and I told him “no”.  He then asked if I was staying in the hotel and I had to say no to that too.  So he told me we couldn’t use the sun-loungers and it was a private beach!   This may well have been true, but I didn’t appreciate some snotty kid, who looked about 12, telling me that!  At that point, Trevor came back, minus the drinks, to say that the hotel no longer accepted cash as it was all inclusive (it used to be optional to be all-inclusive or not).  So no rum punch for us there then.

Feeling a bit deflated, we changed out of our cossies and into our clothes and decided to leave the hotel and go a bit further along the coast.  On way out, Trevor asked the receptionist if there was a bus back to Bridgetown and how much it was.  “Two dollars” she replied.  That was Barbados dollars as well – so it was only one US dollar each.  And the mini-bus driver had charged us fifteen bucks each!  Bloody rip-off, or what?!?!

We walked along the road towards Oistins until we came to a lovely stretch of beach that was almost deserted.  We went to a nearby general store and got a freezing cold bottle of Banks beer each (yum!) before sitting on the beach and drinking it, while enjoying the hot sunshine and listening to the roar of the surf.  We enjoyed it so much we had another one!  🙂

After our beers we walked to the bus stop and got the next bus back to Bridgetown, where we found the same little ramshackle bar we’d visited in February and enjoyed another cold beer, while nearly being deafened by loud soca music coming out of a nearby ghetto-blaster.

Walking back to the ship we decided to call at Kensington Oval on the way, but it was only open Monday to Friday for stadium tours.

Back on board the Ventura, we went along to the Waterside buffet and got some lunch, before going back to our cabin for an afternoon nap.  We were still a little jet-lagged and we knew we’d have a late night tonight, as they were throwing a deck party to see in 2012 under the stars.

At 5.00pm the ship’s officers held life-boat drill as the ship was due to sail shortly.  We had to go to the Arena theatre with our life jackets; all the usual rigmarole.

Later on we got ourselves ready for dinner.  We had been allocated table #76 in the Bay Tree Restaurant.  We always ask for a table for six or eight as we like the social interaction with our fellow passengers and we have enjoyed some great company in the past.  Tonight’s dress code was smart casual, so I put on my purple floral dress with matching wrap, and purple jewelled Unze sandals.

The tables in the dining room had been set up with party hats, blow-outs and party streamers.  No party poppers though; they contain explosives which could be dangerous at sea.  There was also a special New Year’s Eve menu which offered haggis, tatties and neeps as one of the starters.

We met our table mates, a couple called Peter and Kate and an elderly single gent called Don.  So there were five of us on the table then.  All Peter could go on about was how he had to miss the sailaway because it coincided with first sitting at 6.30pm.

The meal was very nice; I had the haggis to start followed by venison.  I was very good and didn’t have a dessert 🙂  We enjoyed a nice bottle of rosé wine.

Afterwards we were off to the theatre for the evening’s entertainment; a comedian called Mike Doyle.  He was really, really funny and we laughed a lot.  After the show we went up to Deck 15 for the New Year deck party.

The pool deck was crowded and a live band was playing very loud music.  We managed to get a seat on the edge of the pool, which was drained with the net over it.  Probably didn’t want anyone getting drunk and jumping in!  🙂  They were serving Lanson’s champagne at six quid a glass (not too bad!) so I enjoyed several, while Trevor stuck to his Boddington’s.  A lot of people were up dancing, but we didn’t really fancy it, mainly because we risked losing our seats as new people kept arriving on the deck all the time, so it was getting more and more crowded.  Not surprising really with 3,078 passengers; that’s the most passengers of any ship we’ve been on.

We were tired as the jet lag was starting to kick in again, so we waited until midnight to see in 2012, do the Auld Lang Syne bit (which I hate!) and set off a load of streamers.  Then, at 00:15 hours, we decided to call it a night and go to bed.  It was amazing how the decks cleared now that midnight had been and gone; a lot of people must have been feeling the same! 🙂

We settled down for the night after leaving the balcony door wide open.  I was quickly lulled to sleep by the gorgeous ‘sssshhhh’ sounds of the sea as the Ventura glided through the azure Caribbean sea.

Venture on Ventura

Well, folks, here we go again – it’s Holiday Time!  Yes, we are off on another cruise, this time in the sunny Caribbean on board P & O’s M/V Ventura.

Left the house at 5.00am for the three-hour drive down to Birmingham International Airport.  It was the first time we’d flown from there.  The drive down was straightforward as there wasn’t any traffic at that time of day; also quite a lot of people were still on leave for the Christmas/New Year holidays.  So we arrived at the long-term car park in good time and took the shuttle bus to the airport.

After checking in, which didn’t take too long, we looked around the duty free shops.  Birmingham Airport is a lot bigger than we thought it would be.  We browsed around quite a few shops before heading for the executive lounge as we usually do.  We had a couple of hours before our 11.30am flight.

As usual, we partook of quite a few free drinkies and enjoyed some snacks.  It seemed no time at all before our Thomson flight was announced, and off we went to board the Boeing 767 aircraft for the 8-hour flight to Bridgetown, Barbados.

The flight passed fairly uneventfully.  I enjoyed a couple more drinks and my in-flight meal of beef casserole.  I also read my magazines and did some of the puzzles in The Puzzler magazine.  Soon the captain had switched on the seat belt sign for our final approach into Grantley Adams Airport.

We disembarked the aircraft into the Caribbean sunshine.  A welcome cool breeze blew across the tarmac as we made our way to the bus that would take us to the cruise terminal and M/V Ventura.  It was with a sense of déjà vu that we travelled to the port as we had been here only 10 months before, when we boarded the M/S Braemar for the start of our cruise down to the Amazon.

After about 40 minutes we arrived at the cruise terminal, where we could see the Ventura rising up like a behemoth, towering above all the other ships.  At 115,000 tons she is one of P & O’s largest ships (the other being Azura, the identical twin to Ventura). She carries 3,078 passengers and has 18 decks.  If the truth be told, Ventura looks quite ugly.  She does not have the streamlined, sleek appearance of the ships of yesteryear, but instead looks like a floating apartment block with a point at the front.  She looks big and ungainly and squared-off.

We alighted from the bus and took our place in the zig-zagging queue to go through security and be issued with our boarding passes.  Just before boarding the vessel the ship’s photographers accosted us to try to get us to pose in front of a fake backdrop for our ’embarkation’ photo.  We politely declined; it always makes me laugh the way they always try to take our photos no matter what; I mean who is really going to be looking that photogenic after being up since 4.00am and having an 8-hour flight?  No thanks!  🙂

Eventually we were on board Ventura and we took the lift up to Deck 11 where we had been allocated cabin B238, a spacious balcony cabin on the port side for’ard.  It would be a while yet before our luggage was delivered so we decided just to relax, as we were experiencing the usual mild disorientation/tiredness that follows a long-haul flight.

Trevor crashed out on the bed, but I decided to go for something to eat and maybe a drink. 🙂  I went up to the Waterside, a self-service buffet on the Lido deck (deck 15) and had some cold meats, cheese and salad.  Then I went down to the Ramblas bar and had a couple of glasses of Prosecco, the second of which I brought back to the cabin and drank before the tiredness caught up and I too crashed out on the bed.  🙂

Around 8.00pm a gentle knock on the cabin door announced the arrival of our suitcases.  We emptied everything out and hung up all our clothes before going back to bed for the night.  The Ventura was to stay in port overnight, allowing us to start our Caribbean adventure tomorrow, in the beautiful island of Barbados.