Introduction: Guide to Barbados Cruises, with hints and tips to getting the most out of your Barbados cruise holiday!
Around 450,000 people arrive in Barbados every year on cruise ships, and with some of the most beautiful platinum-sand shorelines in the Caribbean it’s easy to understand why. The island boasts plenty of duty-free shopping in Bridgetown alongside lush rainforest jungles containing an eye-popping selection of wild flora and fauna situated further inland.
Within the Caribbean, Barbados has long held the nickname “Little Britain” for its strong connections with the UK and this fact has left its mark on the island to this day. Driving is on the left, the language is a local variant of British English and administrative regions are based around the island’s Anglican parishes. These cultural ties have had the knock-on effect of making Barbados particularly popular amongst British tourists and as many as 175,000 of them visited in 2010.
What to do when the cruise ship docks in Barbados (Read: Cram lots of activities into a couple of days or chill out and do things in your own time)
History buffs will be drawn the island’s many plantation houses and gardens as well as the well-preserved chattel houses, temporary structures originally built to accommodate slaves. Many of these establishments house museum collections and offer guided tours, enabling tourists to experience the legacy of colonialism close up.
Others will prefer to spend their holiday lapping up the scenery and the island affords such a wide variety of leisurely tropical walks and adventurous hilltop hikes that you are sure to find something to suit every level of fitness.
When a cruise ship stops in a port you are generally only there for a day or less and whilst you may be able to fit in plenty of sightseeing this way you’re still going to have to prioritise. Below are our Top 5 things to do in Barbados, all of which are located near enough to where the cruise ships dock (Bridgetown) to make them viable activities for a one-day excursion. Try a few or, if you’re up for it, see if you can squeeze in all of them!
Essential ‘must know’ facts & figures:
- Currency: Barbados Dollar, although US Dollars are widely accepted
- Language: English/Bajan Patois.
- People: People from Barbados are known as Bajans. Like much of the rest of the Caribbean they have a reputation for taking life easy. Politeness is considered important as is friendliness – if you pass them in the street be sure to greet them!
Drinks: Mount Gay Rum is the island’s favourite tipple. If you’re not a fan of straight spirits try asking for it in a Daiquiri.
- Food: You won’t find much fast food on Barbados but this is generally available in volume on cruise ships. The local delicacy is also the national symbol, the flying fish, served best at Oistins Fish Fry.
- Travel: The blue buses, run by the Barbados Transport Board (BTB), are safe and reliable but do not give change. Taxis are affordable and readily available and do not run on meters.
- Hurricane Season: Between June and November. Possibly not the best time to visit.
Top 5 Things to Do on a Barbados Cruise Excursion
1. Sun Yourself On White Sand Beaches in Holetown
If you’re looking for the classic, picture perfect Caribbean beaches you’ve seen in the brochures then Holetown, Barbados is the place to go. Just a 15 minute ride away from the cruise port in Bridgetown, Holetown has palm trees, blue seas and platinum sand stretching for miles in both directions. This area is home to a number of highly exclusive hotel resorts but the entirety of the beach is public. When you feel like you need to cool off take a walk through the famously colourful chattel village or dine in one of the many bar-restaurants lining the beachfront. There may also be opportunities to swim swith sea turtles or go snorkelling in coral reefs around this area.
A stylish blend of modern and British-style colonial era architecture surrounds one of the most popular duty-free shopping towns in the world. Head down to department stores such as Cave Shepard and Harrisons for a mix of local and international goods, from gemstones to spices. Alternatively, take a walk down Broad Street for a mix of smaller shops. For rum fans there’s also the Mount Gay Rum Tour http://www.barbados.org/mountgay.htm which lasts 45 minutes with the ticket price including free tasting sessions. The patriots amongst you may also enjoy snapping a pic with the bronze statue of Lord Nelson in Heroes Square.
3. Gaze in Awe at Harrison’s Cave
For just BDS$60.00 an electric tram ride takes visitors on an hour-long ride around the breathtaking rock formations. Again, this attraction is just a short taxi ride from the cruise port in Bridgetown.
4. Meet the Monkeys at Welchman Hall Gully
If you’ve never been the the jungle before then now’s your chance. Welchman Hall Gully is the former site of a plantation owned by the Welshman William Asygell Williams whose natural garden has now been turned into a national park. The area is renowned for its wildlife, including monkeys and many species of bird, as well as for its hiking paths suitable for all levels. It is geologically linked to Harrison’s Cave and the two are so close to one another that it’s well worth spending the time to see one after the other.
5. Take High Tea at the Fairmont Royal Pavilion
This luxury hotel is unapologetically British in style and culture and serves a daily high tea between 3:30 and 5pm which is popular with tourists. Many cruise ships will have a departure which rules this out but if this is not the case then it’s worth making the time. The staff are highly customer oriented and you can expect nothing less than the height of luxury when you dine here. It’s an excellent experience for anyone who would like to know what Barbados was like during its heyday.
Where do Barbados cruises generally depart from?
There are currently no transatlantic cruises departing from the UK and calling at Barbados but this only adds to the adventure, giving you the chance to visit an additional destination that you might not have otherwise considered. The most common starting point for a cruise to Barbados is definitely Florida but there are a number of other options listed below for those who would like to see more of the Americas.
The most common ports for cruises to Barbados are without a doubt Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In Miami you’ll have the opportunity to visit sun-kissed beaches at the same time as enjoying all of the hustle and bustle of one of America’s biggest cities. Plus, the nightlife in Miami is known around the world for its eclectic mix of exclusive clubs and Latino music bars. Ft. Lauderdale meanwhile is known as the Venice of America and his home to over 4,000 restaurants and 120 nightclubs, having built up a reputation over the years for being the place American college students go to let their hair down.
2. New York
If you’re looking for a holiday that takes in hot and cold contrasts then starting your cruise in the Big Apple is the way forward. Go shopping on Madison Avenue, visit the Statue of Liberty or chomp on a hotdog with mustard and ketchup before hopping on board and heading for the Caribbean. The trip down the American coast takes a few days, which on a luxury cruise liner will be a pleasure, before arriving at your destination.
3. Buenos Aires, Argentina
An option frequently overlooked by British tourists, if you’ve ever wondered what South America is like a great way to find out is to start your trip in one of its largest cities. With plenty of old-style European architecture the city has a completely different atmosphere than either New York or Miami whilst at the same time being completely different than anything you’ll ever find in Europe. Visit porteño style cafés or take a wander down the multi-coloured streets of La Boca.
4. For time-savers – Intra-Caribbean
Those looking to save time and money will, of course, not depart from any of the above but will instead opt to fly straight to the Caribbean and take a roundtrip cruise from there. There are a number of cruises departing from Bridgetown Cruise Terminal in Barbados or from a number of the other islands which call at Barbados at some point along the way. This option is particularly popular amongst British tourists.
What kind of cruise ship can I expect?
As one of the most popular cruise destinations in the Caribbean there are a number of luxury cruise liners which dock at Bridgetown as well as cruises on smaller (but by no means small) vessels such as clippers. Below is a list of the different cruise ships which visit Barbados along with some of the shops, restaurants and activities you can expect to find on board.
Carnival Cruise (Carnival Valor, Carnival Victory, Carnival Splendor)
When you book a Barbados cruise with Carnival you can expect to travel on one of the above Conquest- or Concordia-class cruise ships. For a bit of a fun, each of the ships comes with its own theme, with Valor being based around “Heroes and Heroics” for instance. All of the ships have 24 hour room service as well as 24 hour casual dining in multiple different restaurants, representing cuisines from around the world. There are plenty of things to do on board for kids and adults with children’s entertainers, live emcees, a cinema, internet café, library, casino, live music and much, much more. They definitely give you the luxury experience.
Princess Cruises (Caribbean Princess, Emerald Princess)
Just as luxurious as the ships above, the Caribbean Princess features a giant poolside cinema running films outdoors at all hours. Spa treatments are available including massage and facials inside while street performers entertain the travellers in the onboard Piazza. Meanwhile the Emerald Princess comes with over 900 rooms that have balconies allowing you to watch the sun set over the open seas. Both ships also come with fitness centres as well as numerous cafés and wine bars – there are activities to suit every preference on board these cruise liners.
Star Clippers (Royal Clipper)
Star Clippers operate two 7-night Caribbean cruising tours which stop at Barbados: a tour which takes in the Windward Islands and one of the Grenadines. This operator has none of the pzazz of the previous two cruise operators and its ships are much smaller. At the same time, they are amongst the world’s largest sailing ships and they pride themselves on providing a subtler experience, more akin to yachting than taking a big American cruise. The Royal Clipper has five masts and boasts a three-deck dining room as well as passenger accessible crows-nests for you to climb up and admire the view.