He takes my hand and leads me to the stairway.
'Come with me, I want to show you something' whispers Rhondelle, from the Caribbean island of Grenada.
I’m on the The Rhum Runner, a traditional wooden boat and a popular excursion choice with Fred Olsen’s Caribbean cruise passengers. We moor at idyllic Morne Rouge, a sheltered, small pretty beach to swim and sunbathe in crystalline waters.
Rum punch flows throughout the trip and a steel band entertains. It's great fun. I’m on the top deck watching the sun shine through white candy floss clouds in a cornflower sky when crew member, Rhondelle, comes up, takes my hand and leads me to the stairway....down to the lower deck to watch lithe, young limbo dancers show off their skills. Then we’re encouraged to have a try. More rum punch required. The rope is raised for us, of course, but I can almost walk under it.
Fragrant, low rise Grenada, the fertile home to many nutmeg plantations, is named ‘the spice island’. At the end of the excursion, as I disembark via the small gangway, again, Rhondelle, 25, takes my hand, this time to press a piece of paper into my palm. His mobile phone number is written on it.
I’m delighted to be aboard Braemar as one of around 750 passengers on this 14-night Caribbean cruise. ‘Oh I’m going to Barbados’ I sing to myself. A necklace-shaped route will follow a string of islands and nine ports of call. At some of these, we are a toy boat in a bath moored alongside towering multi-deck monster ships. But Braemar, the smallest of Fred’s fleet, can dock at some harbours which their counterparts cannot access. Passengers don’t need a map to find their way around the ship, either.
Cricket legend, Sir Garfield Sobers, hails from Barbados as does pop princess Rihanna. I board a coach on this popular island located just east of the Caribbean Sea in the western Atlantic Ocean.
In the parish of St Joseph, the enchanting Hunte’s Gardens used to form part of a sugar plantation. It took owner, Anthony Hunte, two years to create the two-acre, colour-splashed, tropical oasis, enhanced with statues, stone steps, pathways, water features and objets d’art. Built into a collapsed cave/gulley on different levels, palm trees and bread fruit trees were planted here by Captain Bligh, formerly of the Bounty, during his second voyage to the Caribbean on HMS Providence in the 1790s.
The old colonial, paint box-coloured buildings line the town centre waterfront in Willemstadt, the cosmopolitan capital of the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao, famed for its blue liqueur. At the Kura Ulanda museum, I trace the Curacaoans’ African roots and discover the dark history of slavery in the region.
With the sun on my face and soft wind in my hair, I stroll along the promenade at Kralendijk, Bonaire in the Dutch Antilles, where little jetties reaching out to the glittering sea support a collection of typical, thatched roofed restaurants and bars.
When we dock at St Kitts, disembarking passengers/eager shoppers almost run through the cruise terminal to snap up jewellery, watches, chocolate, clothes, gifts and souvenirs.
Along with other Caribbean islands, Dominica is still recovering, bravely, following hurricane devastation two years ago. Roseau, the capital, is a compact town comprising a ramshackle assortment of West Indian colonial buildings with intricate fretwork balconies, supported on stilts. Pavement barbeques scent the air and jostle for space alongside fruit, flower and handicraft stalls at the edge of the town.
Apparently, wild donkeys and horses roam the narrow streets of Grand Turk, the largest island in the Turk Islands. But for me, just a short walk from the cruise ship dock, the beach beckons. Lazing on a sunbed under a parasol, the clear aquamarine sea lapping close to my toes, it’s a comforting security to see the Braemar moored ahead. This is what I love about cruising. Waking up almost every day to a new port, a different experience or adventure and then coming back to my on board ‘home’.
Days at sea enable passengers to relax, read, take part in the activity programme, sunbathe and swim on deck or to have a spa treatment. Fred Olsen’s food is fantastic, so every mealtime is a pleasure. Formal or informal dining options accommodate all preferences. Special buffets, afternoon teas, a Captain’s Cocktail Evening and sail away dance parties bring everyone together. Ever-smiling crew members are helpful, friendly and obliging.
It’s not surprising that the laid back charm of the Caribbean islands is, or should be, on every holiday bucket list. Idyllic beaches, rainbow-hued buildings, friendly people, steel bands, reggae and calypso music, fascinating history and culture plus a wonderful climate make this a favourite cruise destination. Activities include water sports, diving, snorkelling, sailing, rainforest hikes and walks to waterfalls, extinct volcanoes and hot springs. Take an umbrella though, for occasional short showers, known to locals as ‘liquid sunshine’.
There are 365 beaches in Antigua – one for every day of the year. On a ‘Castaway Beach Escape’ as I walk along white sand, soft and fine as caster sugar, I almost have to pinch myself. It feels like I’m on my very own desert island.
While sailing from Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, the skipper tells dark tales of the high seas, of pirates, looting and treasure.
He steers on, lightening the mood and indicating the direction of Richard Branson's private paradise, Necker Island, where some folk choose happily to be marooned at a cost of around £32,000 a night.
Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines 14-night Eastern Caribbean cruise sails from Bridgetown, Barbados,
February 13, 2020.
From £2,299 per person, including flights.
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Marion on a Castaway Beach Escape
Afternoon Tea on Braemar