I had always dismissed the Caribbean as the playground of the rich and famous, not somewhere to be visited by mere mortals such as I. However, when I suddenly had some annual leave in January I decided to take the plunge and see what kind of last minute deals were available and by a stroke of luck the Marella Celebration (formerly the Thomson Celebration) cruise ship was travelling the Caribbean and I booked a full board, outside cabin, direct flights and transfers all for under £700 per person.
The beauty of travelling with Thomson/Marella cruises is how seamlessly it is all synchronised. Your bags leave you at Gatwick Airport and are reunited with you at your cabin, you depart the plane in sunny Barbados and head straight for the ship, no customs or passport control required as you’re technically ‘in transit’ which means your holiday can really begin as soon as you step onto the Thomson 787 Dreamliner in the dreary UK. The more I travel, the more I enjoy a long haul flight. I enjoy the planning and preparation, picking out a good book, carefully packing my headphones and Googling the in-flight entertainment before we even head to the airport. However, that’s a post for another day. You can catch my Long Haul Flight Tips post from years ago here!
Thomson (I’m going to really struggle to keep referring to them as Marella!) cruises thrive on the size of their ships. At around 1250 passengers, the Marella Celebration sits in an ideal middle zone between the tiny ships that explore the Antarctic (although I would love to do that) and the huge ~4000 passenger floating cities that you spot scattered across seas and oceans around the world. By being that little bit smaller you avoid lengthy queues, you can almost always grab a table in your favourite spot for dinner or lunch and on days at sea you’ll be able to find a sun lounger or a sunny spot to relax in before participating in one of the many activities on board. The staff get to know you beautifully throughout your stay and one of my favourite parts of a cruise is getting to chat with all these amazing professionals who have travelled the world and hear their stories, and their suggestions about what to do in each port.
I have to admit always being hesitant about a ‘day at sea’ on a cruise, as I am always itching to explore but enjoying a day of getting to know your new home comforts of the Marella Celebration after a ten hour flight was actually hugely welcome. The sun shone down on us and we were able to enjoy some of the on board entertainment, the ample lunch buffet, the pools and hot tubs, the gym and even the library before settling down to a formal night in the dining room. It’s especially good for anyone like me, whose body goes into shock transitioning from the bitter British winter to the stunning sunshine of the Caribbean so I needed a good 24 hours to adjust and get the amount of sun cream right!
Our first stop was the stunning island of St Kitts. Even in dreary January rain it was warm and beautiful, with the lush greenery of the rainforest clambering wildly up the mountain side, whilst the beaches beckoned you below. We decided a guided tour of the island would be a great introduction to the Caribbean for complete novices such as us, and boarded a ‘safari bus‘ (essentially a bus with open sides, booked directly through TUI on board the Marella Celebration). Our driver and tour guide for the day took us through towns and villages around the coast of St Kitts, pointing out everything from local favourites to the island’s famous scenic railway. We stopped off for a brief walk through the very edge of the rainforest, taking a moment in the botanical gardens and enjoyed a batik demonstration as well. The real highlights of this trip were the views, no matter where we were in the island the views were spectacular one way or another.
*Prior warning: as we soon discovered, almost all Caribbean guided tours and excursions include a glass of rum punch or a beer. Feel free to enjoy a beverage if that’s your thing but it’s strong and in the heat it’s easy to have more than you think, so keep topped up with water was well!*
The British Virgin Islands were our next stop – and with a slight change of plan we ended up in the beautiful Tortola. We enjoyed a brief wander around the nearby shops at the port and then took a transfer taxi (group taxis are available for a little less than the ship will charge you for a beach transfer but at least you know with the ship transfer you are guaranteed to get back on board in time!) to a beach on the other side of the island. After all, you’ve got make the most of the stunning blue waters of the Caribbean alongside the incredible culture whilst you’re there, right?
We enjoyed an afternoon at the beach, sunbathing, swimming and watching a small pod of pelicans (the collective noun is pod, I looked it up!) fly and dive around. Being January the beaches were well populated but not busy, and very warm. As with the Caribbean almost all year, you had to keep one eye out for a passing shower but it’s nothing that a pack-a-mac in your day bag doesn’t solve!
Speaking of, here are my essentials for your day bag on a Caribbean cruise:
- Pack-a-Mac or similar lightweight rain coat
- Microfibre or similar lightweight towel
- Flip Flops
I’m sort of assuming here that you’ll be donning swimwear under your clothes most days so that after some exploring of the local towns on each island you can enjoy some beach time and really soak up the sea and sunshine! A large microfibre towel was one of the best things I ever invested in years ago. Not only is it great for backpacking and camping it’s also the ideal thing to carry around when you’re sightseeing combined with beach time as it doesn’t take up much room or weight!