I have travelled to over 45 countries but a rookie cruiser, with two to my record. My first was the Northern Lights aboard the Hurtigruten with mom in 2013. My second was to the southern Caribbean islands with my husband last November. We sailed on the refurbished Britannia ship with P&O Cruises from Barbados to St. Maarten over fourteen nights covering nine dream like islands. The trip was a joint celebration of our honeymoon and first wedding anniversary. Whilst we thoroughly enjoyed the experience, there were many things we learnt on the go and picked up from seasoned cruisers. It only felt fitting to dedicate a post to beginner cruisers sailing with P&O to the Caribbean. Here are ten tips which will stretch your smiles. Going down the list is going to sound like a sergeant’s drill but bear with me, it is worth it.
Cruising is a very relaxing way to see many places. It is a floating hotel with quality entertainment, stellar views, a retreat in nature, duty free shopping and all-round comfort. The time is ‘just enough’ to taste the place with an average of eight hours in each island. With sailing days sandwiched between island visits, there is ample time to lounge and explore the ship’s facilities.
Budget wise, it is friendlier on the pocket as it includes meals, entertainment and as of 2019, all gratuities. The add-ons are speciality restaurants, drinks, excursions, spa treatments and shopping. Whilst P&O appeals more to the golden ages, we noticed families with young and teenage children, as well as couples.
Tip 1: Selecting the Cruise Ship – Britannia, Azura, Aurora, Arcadia or Ventura
If you love your ships and fancied being in one, read up. We were clueless and our motivation in order of priority were budget, departure airport and itinerary. Other helpful filters you can look at are:
- length of the cruise? We settled on the fourteen-day because price wise it was almost equivalent to the seven-day cruise. And, did I say, I love vacationing and my middle name if I had one would be travel.
- facilities? Not that a jogging track would inspire me, let alone on a holiday, but this is a big deal for some. If you are travelling with children, rides and slides might be something you are after. Facilities on each ship differ so, browse the P&O website and hit ‘review’ in the search function at Cruise Critic and hear from past cruisers.
- choice of cabins? If size matters, read up. We learnt from other cruisers that Azura cabins were larger than the Britannia. The balcony cabin is a lovely option to enjoy your own private deck and dining with a view.
Tip 2: When to Cruise
Bursting with sunshine most of the year, the Caribbean takes a beating during the hurricane season between July to September. With Christmas, New Year, the Carnival and Easter holidays lined in a row, the peak season is between December to April. Timing is crucial. We sailed from the 8th to 22nd of November and benefitted from a smashing £200 saving. Save for Barbados, which rained heavily, we enjoyed the perfect Caribbean weather for the rest of our trip.
Tip 3: Bookings & Dining
Prices online and those offered by travel agents are different. If looking at cabins with views and balconies, go with the agent as they can guarantee you cabins with unobstructed views.
Another great deal is the early saver discounts. Take advantage if you can lock dates in advance. This option does not guarantee dining times. If you are someone who likes eating at fixed times, please skip to Tip 4. Changes can be requested on board with the manager of the allocated restaurant, but no promises. The most flexible dining option is ‘any time dining’ and as the name suggests, entitles you to dine at any time between the hours of 6pm to 9pm at designated restaurants. The select timings do not apply to the buffet.
If you like a particular table you are seated, remember the number and check with the manager when you check in to the restaurant. Pack some nice dresses (smart casual and formal) and guys, at least one suit and a few shirts. Dinner is a serious subject and trust me, you will understand when you get on board. I have no guilt at all for spending extra lines sharing this wisdom with you.
Tip 4: Currency
A credit or a travel money card is registered at the time of check in. You will then be given a cruise card which serves as currency on board, cabin key card and identification when stepping in and out of the ship. Take US Dollars for use in the islands. Cards are not accepted by taxis, at the beach and by smaller vendors. Most of the islands we visited were former British colonies but the pound is nowhere in sight. The closest we got to was the Caribbean pound cake, which is a must try.
Tip 5: Packing
Vacuum bags are our answer to squeeze it all in. Creases are a sign of a great holiday and we are prepping you for a fantastic one. With 23kg for check in and 5kg for hand carry, every inch helps. Highly recommend packing some light clothing and essential gadgets into the hand carry as bags take up to four hours to arrive at your cabin. If travelling economy premium, the allowance is 28kg for check in and 7kg for hand carry. Mid-range brands are sufficient for vacuum bags. They cost between £10 to £12 for a bag of six and come with a light weight hand vacuum. Check out Amazon for deals.