Travel review: P&O Cruises, Caribbean
Standfirst: First-time cruiser Caroline Jones takes the trip of a lifetime to the Caribbean on P&O’s luxury hotel on the water - Britannia.
It’s now June and the sun has been kind to us of late. But before we can blink it will be a different story and we’ll be wrapped up in our winter coats longing to be outside with a large gin and tonic in our hands, having fun with friends and catching some rays . . .
Earlier this year the dreaded but inevitable January blues had well and truly kicked in. I was tired, fed up, stressed at work and above all, cold!
While the temperatures plummeted into minus figures with what seemed to be no end in sight, I remained upbeat. Slightly smug even. While everyone around me was battling the blues with no hope of a single ray of sunshine for months ahead, I was about to head off on the trip of a lifetime. One of my lifelong dreams was about to come true and I couldn’t wait.
I had always dreamt of visiting the Caribbean – I dreamt of sipping cocktails on a sunbed surrounded by clean, white sand, then swimming in crystal clear warm blue sea, eating fresh coconuts on the beach, all while feeling a whole world away from the stress and strains of everyday life.
And my trip certainly didn’t disappoint.
As I boarded the TUI flight from Gatwick I was experiencing a range of emotions. Mainly I was excited, but as a first-time cruiser I was also nervous, scared and not sure what to expect.
Putting my nerves and fears aside I vowed to enjoy every minute of my trip, including the seven-hour flight to St Lucia.
The chartered flight out set the tone for our holiday – it was fantastic. Good food, attentive staff and plenty to keep us entertained on our personal screens. Although my companion and I were unable to sit together, it was still an enjoyable flight.
With the sun beating down on our pale skin as we got off the plane on the beautiful island of St Lucia, we both spared a thought for our friends and families in below freezing temperatures. It was only brief, but it’s the thought that counts!
A short bus ride away our palace for the next week awaited us – Britannia, P&O’s flagship hotel on water.
Our balcony cabin was a real home from home with everything we could have possibly wanted or needed right there at our fingertips. With our cases having been delivered directly to our cabin, we quickly unpacked and settled into our new surroundings. I realised I had been silly to feel so nervous.
There really is so much to enjoy on board Britannia that it’s difficult to know where to begin. No matter what your age, interests, hobbies, food and drink tastes, your idea of relaxation or family circumstances there really is something for everyone to enjoy. As a first-time cruiser, I really need to make the point that anyone who is scared of what to expect needn’t be scared or nervous. You really can’t go wrong.
I have to admit that most of our time on board was spent at the aptly-named Serenity pool sipping several cocktails of the day – despite our best but admittedly highly unlikely intentions to go to the many exercise classes on offer on Britannia. When we ventured away from the sunbeds which we became so familiar with that I am surprised we didn’t give them names, we made the most of the on-board shopping and entertainment.
Being a huge lover of food but not so keen on the actual cooking of it, I was apprehensive about the on-board Cookery Club class we had signed up to. However, chef John McManus and his team put me at ease straight away and after a demonstration from John we were sent away to our individual stations to crack on with our cooking.
After an afternoon spent with John and co at the Island Roots class, learning the cooking techniques and mastering the spice mix behind some of the islands’ most exciting dishes and without any major disasters (that I was aware of), I am now the proud cook of jerk chicken and rice followed by caramelised rum and coconut bananas.
This was probably the first (and to date, last) time I have ever enjoyed eating anything cooked by my own fair hands. A generous helping of main and dessert later and I wished I’d got to those exercise classes after all!
Stepping off Britannia, our whistle-stop tour of the islands took us to some beautiful places I had only ever dreamed of visiting.
With a wide range of excursions to enjoy at each island stop – these can be arranged ahead of your trip or with staff on board – there is something to suit everyone.
Having enjoyed leisurely strolls around the glorious St Lucia and Grenada, followed by a day at sea, we were ready to fully explore our next stop – St Kitts.
A trip aboard the St Kitts Railway was on the agenda for the day. But this was no ordinary train trip – my regular train trip from Wrexham to Shrewsbury has seemed rather boring ever since.
As we trundled along the track with the sun beating down on us, the strong rum cocktails were passed down the carriage as we were entertained by the on-board choir.
The cocktails flowed as we enjoyed the beautiful scenery from the open-sided double decker train and listened to our guide’s talk on the history of the island. A truly memorable afternoon.
Without doubt my favourite stop was Antigua. It was love at first sight as I walked away from Britannia into my new favourite place in the world. The island is said to boast 365 beaches. However, I set foot on a poor total of three!
Our organised Segway tour of the island ensured we covered as much ground as possible. With the sun kissing our skin, our headsets on listening to the informative talk from our tour guide, we happily sped along taking in as much of Antigua’s beauty as possible.
White sand. Tick. Clear blue sea. Tick. Cocktails on the beach. Tick. Eating fresh coconuts on the sand. Tick. The dream had come true and I couldn’t have been happier.
A truly beautiful place and one I aim to return to very soon. I was bitterly disappointed when we had to leave.
We explored Martinique on foot, visiting a bar, cafe and market, chatting to locals and shopping for local crafts and produce. The heavens opened with a brief but welcome rain shower as we sipped on our beers, safely sheltered under a large umbrella.
Barbados was the last stop on our week-long break – an overnight stop.
Exploring on foot we found a lovely quiet spot with sunbeds, where we remained for the rest of the day. Despite the dramatic (for Julie) and amusing (for me) moment when a centipede crawled into Julie’s beach bag, the day, the people, the surroundings made for the perfect day.
Well, back on board the lovely Britannia. Anyone who knows me knows how much I like food and red wine. And gin. And cocktails. And…. Well you get the picture.
With more than 3,000 people on board, the chefs really have their work cut out – but they didn’t fail to impress. Not once. From the buffet restaurant to the allocated Freedom Dining restaurant to the cover charge restaurants, every bit of food was top notch.
We wanted to try every experience while on board so we sampled the food in each restaurant. I’ll start with Sindhu. Well, what can I say. Michelin-star chef Atul Kocchhar’s Sindhu restaurant was a delightful experience – and by far my favourite meal of the week.
The elegant Epicurean restaurant saw me tuck into a wild mushroom and champagne veloute, followed by a 28-day dry aged beef sirloin and a baked rice pudding arancini with a melting maple syrup centre and almond crumb. Heaven.
The Limelight Club dinner on our final evening on board was a delight – made even more special by another delightful meal as well as entertainment from the lovely Dean Andrews of Ashes to Ashes fame.
Delightful singing from the silky smooth voice of Mr Andrews and a question and and answer session followed by a couple of G&Ts in the Crow’s Nest bar made for a perfect final night on board.
A week of making dreams come true, making memories, making new friends, eating so much delightful food that I’m amazed I could fit in my seat on the flight home. I would recommend a trip on Britannia to any first-time or experienced cruiser. Go for it. Trust me, she won’t disappoint
Caribbean, 14 nights, £1,859pp
P&O Cruises is offering a 14 night cruise on Britannia (B901D) from £1,859 per person for a inside cabin. Departing Jan 12, 2019 the price includes flights from selected UK airports, kids’ clubs, full board meals and entertainment on board.
Departing from and returning to St Lucia, ports of call are St Maarten, St. Kitts, Antigua, Barbados, Curacao, Bonaire, Grenada and St. Vincent.
To book, visit www.pocruises.com, call 03453 555 111 or visit your local travel agent.