While the heading of this section is ‘Barbados’, we were really only on shore briefly, before joining the Silver Moon cruise team on their luxurious catamaran, where we spent the day like we were born to a life of indulgence and relaxation. If only life were like a Silver Moon cruise every day! And what a winner of a day it was!
To begin with, we were met at the appointed time by the Silver Moon transport people who took us to another dock right near the cruise terminal (for those who wonder at the importance of this simple itinerary footnote, please read previous, failed on shore excursions!). We met our crew of three – Marilyn, Elvis and Luke, who were all lovely and friendly people. Luke was this surreal mix of white boy born on Barbados with an English father – ‘Yeah, man’ Barbados accent combined with some Geordie vowels. Crazy, but delightful.
While we didn’t explore the island on land, we were certainly able to feast of some of its beauty from a distance, partaking in some glorious coastal delights. This is clearly a place on earth where the uber rich live and play and the abundance of impressive (if not always tasteful) mansions along the shore were cause for much ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ as we sipped our first cocktail of the day.
Silently gliding through the turquoise, translucent waters flanked by nonchalant, hovering sea birds, our drinks in hand, sun smooching our pale faces and cool breeze tousling our locks, you could be forgiven for thinking we were members of that elite society for which such outings were regular occurrences. But we were wise enough to say ‘yes’ to a day of indulgence, not caring about the $120 USD per person price tag – for it was worth every cent.
Silver Moon Barbados offers all inclusive 5 hour tours that begin at 9am with transportation to the catamaran, snorkelling with sea turtles, fish and 19th century ship wrecks, a fresh buffet lunch and limitless drinks (alcohol included). They have a maximum of 12 passengers per cruise, which means you get that intimacy of hanging with your friends, but also the opportunity of making new ones over lunch.
After this we clambered aboard again and sailed on to another area of the bay, snorkelling over two different ship wrecks; so much fish, so much fun. Most of the swimming and snorkelling is done in the morning, before the imbibing of the complimentary alcoholic drinks begins (another plus about this company, is their attitude to safety).
The rest of the afternoon was spent on board the catamaran cruising along more of the well-heeled part of the coast. This was done on the deck of the ‘cat’, legs stretched out in front, nodding with smiles when approached for a ‘top up.’ We put anchor at Sandy Lane Beach and swam some more, had some delicious bajan spiced dishes for lunch, before heading back to the cruise ship. It was a delightful day spent with Silver Moon Barbados, but next time, I think I would like to stay at least a few nights on Barbados and visit for real…and have another day with Silver Moon, of course!
The day began with a gentle reminder of why I prefer to organise private, independent tours when on shore, rather than cruise tours, and it’s got nothing to do with the quality of the tours, more that I don’t like waiting for a whole bunch of other people. And that was the issue on this day, the morning of our first Princess tour. We had to wait more than 20 minutes after our due departure time for latecomers. Manners, people.
We drove to Belfort Plantation House (a banana plantation) on a bus with 18 other tourists with a German tourist as our guide on France’s Martinique. He was a sweet (and patient!) young man who knew so much about the island and the country. The banana plantation was low key on the excitement radar, but we learnt a lot about how the fruit is grown and harvested. Got on a little ‘train’ (trailer tractor thing), which was rickety and slow, for a drive around the plantation, and stopped to try some bananas as well as dried mango, banana crisps and some banana wine. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an actual plantation house there, which was disappointing (and one of the reasons I booked the tour, talk about a misleading title!).
The next stop was Clement Rum Distillery, which is one of the seven remaining distilleries on Martinique (there used to be 40-something). The rum is actually made three miles away, and the original distillery is now a museum. The most interesting aspect of this spot was visiting the old Creole plantation house, loved it. Clement House was actually the location of a post-Gulf war summit meeting between France’s President Mitterand and George Bush Snr.
Overall, I found that the group tour thing had its positives and negatives, but really am not particularly a fan. Lunch was had back on board the ship with the consumption, once more, of too many carbs in the form of pizza. Feeling the need to keep moving, we decided to explore the capital of Martinique – Fort-de-France. We found some limes at the supermarket to boost our immune system (cruise ships are germ magnets), but kept saying ‘bonjour’ and then ‘gracias’ (rather than ‘merci’!) when being served. The Spanish from Mexico keeps jumping in there.
Had a little more of a wander around, focusing on the city park containing a headless statue of Empress Josephine (Napoleon’s first wife). They tried to reinstate the head a few times, but people kept removing it – she was born on Martinique, married Napoleon, and then convinced him to reinstate slavery on the island, after the British had abolished it several times – SEVEN times the British took the island from the French, and did away with slavery.
The rain sent us back on board, where more trivia was played (with tolerance for the loud talker who joined the group), and more entertainment was presented in the evening. This time it was another comedian (and guitarist), but one who was not as talented as the previous. He really should’ve just stuck with playing the guitar. His first jokes targeted the bodies of those on board, then the staff, so I left (I gave him a good 5 minutes). Fat shaming and mocking employees for the entertainment of the rich is not funny, it is crass and offensive. But after so many fantastic entertainers on board this cruise, it was almost reassuring to find a below-par element.
Antigua & Barbuda
Our second Princess tour proved much more satisfying. We were loaded onto minivans and were driven 30 odd minutes to the Stingray City attraction. This is one of only two places in the world where you can swim with stingrays and feed them. It was quite fantastic! They were so soft and squidgy and strong. I did get a graze on my leg from where a stinger tail brushed against me, but it was all fine (me and my trusty anti-bacterial gel!).
It was quite a surreal experience, and it was fascinating to see these wild, somewhat odd-looking creatures behaving like dogs eager for treats. For those concerned about the welfare of the stingrays, they are not contained by ‘fences’ or made behave in ways that are not natural to them. They are encouraged to feed from our hands, and cheekily nudge to see if you have something to offer. The guides ensure that each person who wants interaction with the rays gets it, which means a fairly continuous moving line till everyone has a turn (and a photo op). But it did remind me, once again, how fond I am of uncrowded tours. Unfortunately, there were no private tour options for this little jaunt.
Antigua is a cute little place, seemingly quite vibrant and colourful, but that could very well have been because there were four gigantic cruise ships in port…well, THREE gigantic cruise ships, and our baby ship (Celebrity Summit, Celebrity Eclipse, Emerald Princess…and us, on Ocean Princess). She really was tiny!
Back on Board Ocean Princess
Back on board for lunch (pizza by the pool with a mojito) before venturing out again in search of a formal dress for New Year’s Eve for one of our friends and some wifi for all of us. Found the wifi at a waterside bar (a tad slow), but not a dress.
Dinner had an Italian theme, but Martin (our waiter) was having a busy time of it. It seems our drinks waiter, Andjelica, had been promoted, and he had two younger servers far less experienced to deal with, and stuff was going wrong all over the place. But he dealt with it beautifully. Still eating too many carbs!! AND cheese!!!
Not put off by the disappointment of the previous night’s comedian’s offerings, we took ourselves to the entertainment show this evening. What we experienced could not have been more different to the ‘unfunny, funny guy.’ Ocean Princess chose another extraordinary talent in Aussie violinist, Ian Cooper. Why did I have to come to the Caribbean to hear this man play? His talent and his showmanship were excellent. After chatting to him afterwards, I discovered that he had played several concerts in venues in and around our beloved hometown of Sydney – clearly, I need to get out more at home!
Read our full Caribbean story here:
Part 3 (current): Silver Moon Barbados, Martinique, Antigua