With direct UK flights, world-class beaches and fantastic culture and cuisines, the island makes an ideal pre-and-post cruise destination, writes Anthony Pearce
Home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, a Unesco World Heritage–listed capital, and the sprawling, colourful Crop Over carnival, Barbados is one of the Caribbean’s most fascinating and enduringly popular destinations.
It’s also a key port of call on Caribbean cruises: the likes of P&O Cruises, Fred Olsen, Seabourn, Carnival Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, Windstar, Star Clipper and Sea Cloud Cruises all begin itineraries in Barbados. The cruises tend to range from seven to 14 nights and take in the likes of the British Virgin Islands, Antigua, St Kitts and St Lucia.
The former colony, where Engish is the official language, is unsurprisingly popular among Brits and is connected to the UK by regular, direct British Airways and Virgin Atlantic flights. Cruises that sail from Florida spend a day at sea on the way to the Caribbean, whereas starting from Barbados allows guests more time to explore the region.
With its wealth of hotels, world-famous beaches (which are all public), and fantastic culture and cuisines, it makes a lot of sense as a pre-and-post destination.
The cruise terminal is located in its capital, Bridgetown, found in the south-west of the country. The harbour is just 13 miles from the Grantley Adams International Airport, and transfers cost around £20. P&O Cruises, for example, charters flights to the country, meaning customers are taken directly from the airport to the port, without having to wait around at passport control.
The port itself has cafés, bars and shops, and is a 20-minute walk to the centre of town – or there’s a mini-bus shuttle, which costs £1.50. A walk will take in the impressive Cheapside Market, where vendors sell clothing, crafts, fruit, vegetables, spices and more. It’s busiest and most enjoyable on Saturday mornings.
The choice for those staying longer in Barbados is usually between the West and South Coasts. The West Coast, also known as the Gold Coast, is made up of the parishes of St Peter, St Michael and St James, and famed for its pristine and quiet beaches. Guests can choose between the likes of Brandons, Batts Rock, Fitts Village, Paynes Bay, Sandy Lane and Folkestone Park in St James or Mullins Bay and Heywoods in St Peter.
The upmarket St James is home to hotels such as the extravagant Sandy Lane, and welcomes celebrities such as Simon Cowell, Mariah Carey and Bajan singer Rihanna, who grew up on the modest Westbury New Road (since renamed Rihanna Drive).
The South Coast is known for its nightlife and watersports, and is generally more afforadble than some parts of the upscale west coast. The North and East Coasts offer some of the island’s most majestic views, but are generally better suited for walking than for swimming, given the ferocity of Atlantic waves.
Carlisle Bay, just south of Bridgetown, is a good bet for cruise guests, and can be reached by taxi or local buses. But given Barbados is only 21 miles long and 14 miles wide, it doesn’t take long to get to and from one end of the island to another.
Many will spend their days sunning themselves, but the historical sights in and around Bridgetown – such as the 19th-century Parliament Buildings and the city’s synagogue – are worth exploring. Ten minutes outside the city is the impressive George Washington House, where the US president once resided. It’s found in the Garrison area, once a British miltary base (barbadosgarrison.net).
The Mount Gay Rum bottling plant is also near the port and offers one-hour tours with tastings. Farther afield is the 17th-century St Nicholas Abbey, a plantation house, museum and rum distillery and three genuine Jacobean mansions in the West.