One of the attractions of Swan Hellenic is that practically everything other than alcohol is included in the price you pay when you book. Hence, three months before we were due to sail, a booklet entitled “Your Cruise Book” arrived through the post. This booklet contained (amongst other things):
- online embarkation instructions;
- historical and geographical information about the cruise area;
- details of the 33 shore excursions included in the cost of the trip and the 2 excursions available at additional cost;
- the current list and details of the guest speakers.
None of the excursions could be described as extremely active or challenging and it was obvious that they had taken into account the restricted mobility that some of their client group might have by ensuring that there was at least one “sit in a coach and watch the scenery pass by in front of you” offering at each port.
Most of the excursions seemed to be offered by one or other of the cruise ships calling at each port. The way we selected those we wanted to go on included researching the “must-see places” at each port and finding reviews of each excursion on the web. This also requires taking into account the very variable quality and bias of some of reviews.
Depending upon how long the ship was due to be in a port and also the duration of the excursion, you could choose one or two from the three or four on offer. We choose eleven in total and also left ourselves time at a couple of ports to do our own thing onshore. It appears that Swan Hellenic usually provide a free shuttle bus from the ship to town for those who want to do their own thing.
We were told that it was sometimes possible to change booked excursions when you arrived on the Minerva but there was no guarantee. Tickets for the excursions were awaiting for us in our cabin when we arrived.
Given that the tour staff produce some 4000 tour tickets per cruise, it is a credit to them that only a few errors are made. We checked ours when we got to the cabin and they were all there, a few people we met found that some were missing or were for different tours to those they had booked. Throughout the cruise, the Tour Desk staff were seeking to accommodate additional people on to tours or to swap tours. They were also very pleased if you handed back a ticket for a tour you had decided not to go on because they could then give it to someone on the waiting list. For all but one of the tours, we found that the difficulty description given in the guide book was either accurate or described it a bit harder than it really was.
We know no more about Barbados than we have found in some guide books and on the web. Google Maps tells us:
Barbados, in the eastern Caribbean, is an independent island nation within the British Commonwealth. Bridgetown, the capital, is a cruise-ship stop with shopping, colonial buildings and one of the Western Hemisphere’s oldest synagogues. British settlers arrived in Barbados in 1628 and there was little there except for a wooden bridge across the water which eventually gave the town its name. British settlers found Bridgetown to be economically viable due to merchants trading in sugar. Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison area has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site with its well-preserved examples of British colonial architecture built between the 17th and 19th centuries.
Barbadian traditions range from afternoon tea and cricket (the national sport) to pursuits such as scuba diving at Dottins Reef and golfing on designer oceanside courses.
- Currency: Barbadian dollar
- Capital: Bridgetown
- Population: 284,644 (2013)
This sign was at the entrance to a large cavernous warehouse containing numerous tourist
shops through which all passengers had to pass in order to get out of the port.
Also there was this sign, the national sport is of course Cricket
and they have managed to it into a warning sign on the quayside.
The tour we are taking is Barbados Coast to Coast
This description was reasonably kept to during the four hours we were travelling around the island.
Although there were five buses like this doing the tour, they went off indifferent directions and so it never was the care of travelling in convoy and all arriving at the same place at the same time.
Never having been to this area of the world before, we have only assumptions rather than knowledge.
Starting with buildings, standing out like a sore thumb in the middle of town is this 1960s disaster which I show just to prove that throughout the world, architects and town planners are capable of the wrong decision !
There were many houses which were more of the style we had expected to see. This is a Chattel House which is a Barbadian
word for a small moveable house which the owner could take with them if they had to move from one plantation / job to another.
Many houses came with a small plot of land
which in the past were used more intensively for food cultivation
than today. Our first impressions of the island were that it is very green and that most of the land in the areas we saw had been turned over to agriculture.
in the past at the expense of the forests which originally had covered the island.
Our first impressions of Coconut trees
were that they could grow very tall. Locals were very concerned that we might get hit on the head by a falling coconut if we stood underneath a tree - we were constantly warned whenever they saw us getting too close.
St Johns Church in Barbados is one of the "must sees” to which all tourists are taken.
The church was built on the site of the first wooden church of 1645. The first stone church was built in 1660 at a cost to the Diocese of 100,000 lbs of sugar.
Three churches have been destroyed by Hurricanes (1675, 1789, 1831) and this one was built in 1836. Its design is typical of early churches in hot countries,
a design which encourages air to flow through the large doors at the entrance of the church and the windows on the side.
The design also provides for separation between Europeans and others
with a gallery on three sides
accessed by a lovely staircase on each side
of the Organ.
The pulpit was said to be hand carved out of six different local woods
and the detail on it is exquisite
as this detail shows.
The stained glass behind the Altar was said to be from the original church.
The Graveyard was very interesting in that there was a very good view of parts of the island
and also of one of the Signal Towers which are
dotted around the island and were one of the main reasons as to why the British managed to repulse any other country seeking to land troops on the island. This was because any attempt to land could be signalled across the island and reinforcement troops could be sent.
The Graveyard itself was full of various Family Graves
such as this one with this inscription
above the doorway
this on the side
and spaces for a few more on another wall.
Another Grave is known as the “Bury Me Upright” grave
because the occupant wanted to be buried standing
so that he could see this view from his grave.
Of particular significance, was the grave of
Fernando Paleolocus who was a descendent of the brother of the Emperor Constantine XI. His history (follow the link) is somewhat typical of the early settlers who “escaped” t one of the Colonies.
Barbados has the Atlantic Ocean on its east coast and the Caribbean Sea on its west coast. A crude summary would say that the Atlantic is rough and cold and the Caribbean is gentle and warm.
Bathsheba Beach is on the east coast and is the location for Surfing Championships. Our first distant view of the beach showed why it was famous for surfing.
There were few other visitors near Mushroom Rock when we were there
but I did come across this lady whom I have met before on my travels.
From the west coast of the island (Atlantic side) we proceeded across to the east coast (Caribbean Side) and back to the ship where the sea is very much calmer.
To us, the Minerva looks a very business like vessel when compared to many
other cruise ships and certainly looks very smart.
Our cabin is the third window from the left and is roughly midships above the stabiliser.
As we board, we are given a cold flannel to freshen up with - very welcome when it is hot and sticky on the traveller trail.
Prior to its first departure with a new set of passengers, it is compulsory that the
ship evacuation procedures have be practised. This involved us all assembling at our designated Muster Point when the Fog Horn sounded the alarm, putting on our life jackets and being told how to jump overboard !!
Having passed this test, the mooring ropes were cast off,
a gap started to appear between the Minerva and
we slowly turned 90 degrees
and then headed out to sea.
Tonight the various Lecturers on board introduced themselves and the first lecture was delivered. I am now very much the wiser on Plinyian Volcanic Activity and understand how it has changed the nature of this region.
As is always the case, travelling has made us more curious about the things we do not know. Slavery was abolished in Barbados in 1834 and we found an account of the importance of Slavery to the economy of Barbados here and a lot more information about the island here.