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Windward Islands with Ponders Travel & Star Clippers
On arrival at Gatwick Terminal 2 I was lucky enough to have been upgraded to Club Class – what an amazing start to the trip – not even the 2-hour delay on the tarmac could dampen our spirits. In Club Class you are given champagne when you board, a pillow and blanket for your seat that turns into a flat bed, an elemis ‘freshen up’ kit, 3 course meal (with 2 choices for each course), afternoon tea (with warm scones!!) and unlimited drinks all the way to Barbados if you are so inclined. An amazing experience which left me feeling refreshed and very full up once we had landed. On arrival in Barbados the immigration was quite quick and before we knew it, we were onboard our minibus and on the way to the All-Inclusive Turtle Beach, our home for 2 nights and part of the Elegant Resort Hotel group that we know and love in Barbados. We had an amazing welcome there and were led down to the beach to a private table just for our group set out for dinner, with a steel band playing in the background. Turtle Beach is a great choice for families on the south side of the island. It’s very close to Bridgetown and Oistins making it a great base for exploration and evenings out, it’s right on the beach, and the staff were so lovely and friendly. I was particularly impressed with their fantastic beach bar and amazing food!
After a quick breakfast at the buffet, we were picked up from the hotel and taken to the port for our catamaran cruise. Having not been on a catamaran cruise before I wasn’t sure what to expect but as I settled onto the deck with a refreshing glass of fruit punch I knew I would enjoy it!! Unlimited rum punch, wine, soft drinks and a perfect buffet awaited us. The staff were amazing and during the sailing of the catamaran gave lots of information about the island which was very interesting (sprinkled with Caribbean humour!!) Occasionally the catamaran moored up and there was the chance to don flippers and snorkels for those that wanted it and swim in the crystal-clear waters. This is a very popular excursion so my advice would be to book it in advance if you want to do it!!
That evening we were treated to a meal at Champers Restaurant and Wine Bar, possibly one of the best restaurants on the island boasting a ‘water’s edge experience’ and to our surprise we were able to sit outside and soak up the wonderful atmosphere on the terrace. I had the most delicious, freshest prawn curry here that I have ever tasted.
After another quick breakfast we were to take a tour of the Elegant Resort Hotels so we could see for ourselves where we would recommend that our customers stay in Barbados! We saw Mango Bay, Colony Club, Crystal Cove, The House and Tamarind (hotel details on request.) As a quick surmise I would say that The House was by far my favourite – a small, intimate hotel that lives up to its name, it was just like coming home!! They really outdid themselves on our visit as well because as we visited one of the rooms there was champagne, strawberries dipped in chocolate and Parma ham with melon served to us by a staff member – a lovely surprise (although I was a little concerned about getting chocolate on the pristine sheets!!) Crystal Cove was another favourite, very elegant and understated. We ended our tour at the Tamarind where we had a lovely lunch and I got to sample one of the famous ‘Mango-Coladas’ – Yummy!!
Now for what we had been anticipating since we got here – our time to board the Royal Clipper. We jumped aboard our coach and made our way to the cruise terminal. Again immigration seemed quite quick and easy and before we knew it we were standing ready to board the Royal Clipper. I actually felt quite emotional when I saw her – she is just so beautiful and regal in port, she certainly isn’t your ordinary cruise ship! – I felt very proud to be boarding. On embarkation we were offered a fruit punch and there were snacks laid out for those that wanted before we made our way to check in. Everyone is very welcoming and if you have trouble finding your cabin there are always people on hand to help you. I was on Clippers Deck in a Category 4 Outside Stateroom which consisted of double bed and private bathroom with marble shower. As well as this there was also air conditioning, TV and DVD, hairdryer and telephone so all the amenities you would be used to on the bigger liners. There was plenty of wardrobe space and room under the bed to store your suitcase. They also provide a lovely hardback book about Star Clippers which is an amazing keepsake to take home. Another nice touch was the beach towel in your room every day for your convenience. In the bathroom there were plenty of towels and storage space for your toiletries / cosmetics. I took the time before dinner to explore the ship and find my way around. That nights ‘sail away’ was before dinner and it was a sight that moved me to tears – the time and effort taken into carefully unfurling the sails and the beautiful twinkling fairy lights really are a sight to behold!!
The next morning, we all met for breakfast in the lovely dining room. Afterwards we were asked to the Tropical Bar (the main social hub of the ship) where we had another compulsory life boat drill, and our Captain, Captain Mariusz presented his officers and crew to us. After this as we weren’t due into St Lucia until about midday we decided to all sit on deck and soak up some sun. There we sat spotting hotels we recognised and dipping our feet into the refreshing plunge pool until we decided to go for lunch (Italian Buffet) then take one of the tenders to the beach. The tenders are very well explained in the Tropical Bar so it is quite clear what times the tenders leave, where the tenders are going (beach or marina) and – most importantly – when the last tender comes back. The beach was just lovely – soft sand and clear blue waters. If you wish to do water sports the Sports Team are on the beach and will cater to your needs whether you are experienced or not. We chose to sunbathe, relax and occasionally dip our toes into the ocean. After spending most of the day on the beach we took the tender back in time to grab a drink and watch the sail away to Dominica before we got ready for dinner. While breakfast and lunch were informal buffet affairs, dinner tended to be a bit more formal. This was a set menu with about 4 choices of main course but if you didn’t fancy that every night, they had steak and chips or a pasta of the day so you weren’t stuck for choice and you could have as many or as few courses as you liked. There was also lovely bread on the table once you sat down plus white, red and rose wine and of course water. After dinner this evening there was a music quiz in the Tropical Bar which was lots of fun.
One of my favourite things to do in the morning was read the newsletter that had been left the night before (along with chocolates on your pillow) to find out all manner of information. Here you would find your arrival time in port, cocktail of the day, daily activities, excursions, evening entertainment and information about the port you were arriving into (currency, etc). I found this really set me up for the day. Today was Dominica and after breakfast there was a port talk from the lovely cruise director Cathleen which told you all you needed to know about our destination. Today we interrupted our sun worshipping by going on the Indian River Boat cruise. For this excursion we were transported from the town of Portsmouth up the Scenic Indian River. Experienced boatman in hand-oared river boats take you up the river at a slow-moving leisurely pace so that the different wild life and plant life could be enjoyed. We also took in scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean! We moored up at the famous ‘Bush Bar’ where we sampled some local rum before climbing back into the boat for the leisurely trip back. Every day there were afternoon snacks served in the Tropical Bar which ranged from fruit, cakes, tacos and everything else in between! These could be eaten while listening to music played on the piano by the resident musician, Gabor.
Tuesday saw us docking in Antigua at 10:00 which was nice because we could be up on deck as we entered the scenic Falmouth Harbour. Again, we received a port talk on Antigua before we could take the tender to the beach for water sports and BBQ. Here, as something different, they had taken the Captain Nemo Spa that is usually on the ship, and set it up on the beach so that people could enjoy wonderful massages listening to the sound of the waves – a lovely, relaxing experience. Here we spent the afternoon on the beach enjoying the famous beach BBQ!! This evening was Caribbean Night so we were invited to wear the most colourful outfit we had and dance away to the Steel Band after dinner who were absolutely amazing!!
Today we arrived in St Kitts and did the Safari Island Drive excursion which took us all around St Kitts. What a beautiful island! Our tour guide was amazing – when he greeted us with his beard dyed exactly the same shades as his outfit, I knew he would be fun!! My favourite part about it was the botanical gardens we visited – who knew such lush greenery and amazing flowers could be on a Caribbean Island such as this? Here we also got to see the amazing Batik Making – a process which amazed me. A complicated process which uses wax and dye to make the most amazing prints, clothes and smaller items – it is absolutely beautiful.
That afternoon they had a photo tender where the tender goes out and you can take photos of the ship from a distance – a lovely opportunity.
That evening was ‘Pirate Night’ most of us were unprepared for this but a few bandanas came out and also some eyeliner to draw tattoos so we were happy. Even happier when after dinner and after taking part in the ‘Pirate Games’ on deck we won!!
Today was by far my favourite day, we tendered at an island called Terre De Haut Les Saintes which is a small French island and it was by far my favourite destination. It was just such a beautiful island – very quaint and French, small shops selling local goods (which had to be paid for in euros), colourful houses with shutters and local people on scooters putt putting casually about. I just loved the unhurried feel to the island and the prettiness of the buildings. That afternoon was lunch on deck (another of my favourites) so you could enjoy lunch in the Tropical Bar and I always think food tastes better outside!! The layout was amazing and they had gone all out to make it look fabulous!!
The sail away today was 4:30 so we watched that before getting changed for dinner. This evening was the Guest and Crew Talent Show!! The Talent we saw was excellent ranging from singing and playing instruments to guitar playing to singing and acting. It was a lovely feeling to bring crew and guests together for the evening.
Today bought us to Martinique. Most of us spent the day up on deck soaking up the last bit of sunshine we would be getting before flying back to England tomorrow!! It was a nice day to reflect on all the amazing islands we had visited and all the lovely things we had experienced. I took the opportunity to look around the ship once more while it was quite quiet and remind myself of all the lovely facilities it had – I also chatted to some people on deck about their time on board – for some it was their first time, for some their 9th or 10th time, some were even staying on and doing a week more round the other islands! I would happily have joined them. The last dinner was amazing but tinged with sadness as we realised after an intense 9 days we had to get back to normal life in the next few days. We were also sad to see the back of Wilmot our lovely waiter who had put up with us through almost all the breakfast, lunch and dinners with a smile and a friendly word no matter how annoying we must have been!!
We retired back to our cabins with the mindfulness that we needed to have our cases outside our cabin by 4am the next morning as would be taken off the ship for us. I felt quite sad when I got back to my cabin and saw the last newsletter with the ‘Disembarkation Program’ on.
After an early breakfast we checked out and sadly departed the ship. On disembarking I looked back at Royal Clipper and couldn’t believe I had spent a week sailing! Time had gone so fast; I wish I could turn some of it back. Once we had collected our suitcase it was off to the Hilton where we had some day rooms to pop our luggage before we departed on an Island Jeep Tour of Barbados. Our driver was brilliant and we definitely did some off roading – I couldn’t see much for the wind whipping my hair round my face but it was fun and he had some good stories to tell us. Thus, the end of our trip was nigh and we went to the airport before flying home at the end of the most incredible Caribbean adventure.