Britannia Christmas Cruise – Grand Cayman & Ocho Rios

Britannia Grand Cayman

After a sea day aboard Britannia it was time for our next two ports, Grand Cayman then Ocho Rios in Jamaica.

We’d visited Grand Cayman previously in April 2014 when sailing on MSC Divina and achieved nothing more than a stroll around town and a couple of bars. I was planning to be a little more ambitious this time and after a little research decided on a visit to Seven Mile beach, a short taxi ride from the tender port of George Town.

When we arrived around 8am there were already 3 other ships, with another following closely behind so it was going to be a busy day in town! As we’re suite passengers we get priority tender tickets which is a nice perk although the whole operation seemed well handled for all passengers and I didn’t hear anyone complaining about lengthy waits. A short 5 minute tender later we were ashore but we declined the waiting taxis and mini buses offering trips to Seven Mile beach at $4 a head to see if we could walk it.

Grand Cayman

In hindsight it wasn’t the wisest decision as after walking for twenty minutes along dusty roads we found access to the beach but it wasn’t to the main stretch everyone else had headed to and we had to navigate our way around rocks and through time share blocks to reach the main beach. Ten minutes later we were finally enjoying a well deserved cold beer in a beach bar agreeing we’d get a taxi back. Seven Mile is mainly beach resorts where you pay a cover charge of around $5 – $10 to get in then $10 for sun beds and $15 for an umbrella or even $100 for a cabana! We found a small stretch of public beach and enjoyed a few hours swimming and sunbathing before sharing a mini bus back to the ship. Grand Cayman is a pleasant enough destination however I think it feels very touristy and lacks the charm and character of other Caribbean Islands.

Our next destination was Ocho Rios on Christmas Eve. We love Jamaica as we got married there 12 years ago and have visited on several cruises since. Previously we’ve sailed into Falmouth, a new purpose built cruise terminal which is quite a distance from the main attractions so excursion choices are more limited unless you’re prepared for a lengthy drive. Ocho Rios is far better located and there lots of nearby trip options including Dunns River Falls, rafting on the Martha Brae river and a booze cruise on the Cool Runnings Catamaran which looked like a lot of fun!

Nine Miles 2

We’re big music fans so wanted to visit Nine Miles, the birth and resting place of reggae legend Bob Marley. P&O do run a trip here but it was completely sold out months ahead of the cruise so we needed to do it independently. I did a little trip advisor research and discovered a highly recommended local excursion provider called Peat Taylor. I checked out his website, emailed him and by the next day we were all booked on a private tour at $75 adults and $70 for our 8 year old Finn. Peat emailed clear instructions of where to meet and responded swiftly to an email sent the day prior to check all was okay so having paid in advance I was reassured he’d be there when we disembarked. Ocho Rios port is extremely well organised with tourist board staff directing trip goers to their coaches and we were soon introduced to Peat and in a mini bus with some other passengers. Once out of the port gates we were introduced to his son ‘Repeat’ :) and got into an air conditioned MPV to head up into the mountains. It was a spectacular hour long drive with incredible views of lush green valleys, farms and roadside villages. Many of the Jamaicans we passed may have had little in comparison to our Western lifestyles but we saw so many big smiles it made me question our materialistic, workaholic ways. Repeat was a very good driver navigating the twisting, pot hole filled roads and avoiding numerous sheer drops as only a local could. I definitely wouldn’t recommend hiring a car and attempting the trip yourself!

Crazy Nine Miles

On arrival at the village of Nine Miles we grabbed a couple of red stripes and met our tour guide called Crazy who was hugely entertaining sharing anecdotes about Bob’s life and singing his songs as we made our way through the property. You get to visit Bob’s childhood bedroom, his mother’s tomb and a stone he sat on to meditate or ‘medicate’ before finally arriving at Bob’s mausoleum. It was a magical experience and a very entertaining few hours as well as an opportunity to see the spectacular Jamaican countryside. Repeat drove us back to the ship pointing out fruit trees and plants on the way. It was a nice way to do it and we beat the open sided tour buses there and back. I don’t think I’d have enjoyed a bus ride up those narrow mountain roads anyway!

Nine Miles 1

On a final note, Jamaican’s are football mad so the small Manchester United crest badges we dished out as tips were greeted like gold dust and were far more welcome than a few US dollars. Also don’t buy alcohol for your cabin in the shopping mall in the town, it’s far cheaper in the port duty free shop on the way back in.

Britannia Christmas Cruise – Aruba

Britannia Sunset

Our third day on Britannia was a sea day which is always a perfect opportunity to relax, explore the ship and get our bearings.

We started the day with a breakfast of steak and strawberry smoothies in the Epicurean before heading to the Ivory Suite for a Facebook group get together where everyone brought a small gift which will be delivered to kids in Jamaica and Dominica later in the cruise. It’s a lovely idea and an important reminder of how lucky we all are.

The weather at sea was glorious so we went up to top deck where after reading much about sun bed hoggers my faith in human nature was quickly restored by a fellow passenger who’d spotted us searching for beds and kindly offered us two right beside the pool! A few beers and swims later it was time to escape the midday sun so we changed and went to The Peninsular Restaurant for the al a carte lunch and enjoyed yet another amazing curry.

Britannia Top Deck

Although we are on freedom dining where we can pretty much eat when it suits us, on Christmas Day & New Years Eve everyone is allocated set dining times, an early sitting at 6.15 or a later one at 8.45. P&O had emailed ahead to ask our preference and travelling with a small child early dining always works best for us but unfortunately we’d been allocated the late sitting. I spoke to the restaurant manager who wasn’t able to make any promises however after a quick chat with Andrew our wonderful butler the matter was swiftly resolved in our favour. Given that our son is so excited about the big day and will have us up at stupid o’clock I’m just hoping we’ll all stay awake long enough to enjoy our turkey!

After lunch Finn decided it was time to try Britannia’s kids club which is called The Reef and is situated on deck 17 mid ship. He’s in Surfers which is for 5-8 year olds and there’s also Splashers for 2-5’s, Scubas for 9-12 year olds and H2O for the teens who get their own pool at the aft of the ship during school holiday cruises and seem to be having a lot of fun on board! The Surfers room is huge with about ten PS4 games consoles, a soft play area, a movie zone, books and toys. The staff genuinely seem to love their jobs and Finn happily skipped in without so much as a backwards glance. I collected him a couple of hours later from the Live Lounge where they were having a welcome aboard party. Finn and 30 other Surfers were dancing away to a DJ and he was delighted he’d already won two turtle teddies in the games they’d been playing. At this rate we may need another case!

Kids Club Snowman

It was the first of four black tie gala dinners tonight but we decided to skip the main dining room and eat instead in the Glass House, Olly Smiths wine and tapas bar which is priced al a carte at £5 for 3 small plates and £7.50 for a steak with those legendary triple cooked chips and a sauce of your choice. While we waited for a table we had a glass of wine at the bar and got chatting to some of our fellow passengers. Britannia really is the friendliest ship I’ve ever been on, possibly because it’s all British passengers but without fail everyone we’ve spoken to has been absolutely lovely.

We were seated at a table in the annexe of the bar, possibly not the best in the house but as Finn was absolutely exhausted he was grateful for the sofa area and promptly fell asleep before our starters even arrived. Andy and I enjoyed three small plates of prawns, chicken tenders and a chorizo and bean cassoulet followed by steak, chips and pepper sauce washed down with a highly recommended Marques De Riscal Rioja. It’s one of the options on the Commodore’s wine package we bought earlier in the cruise that gives us a dozen beautiful bottles for £230 saving around 10 to 15% on the standard wine list prices. Regular readers will know I like a glass of red so we think this is good value for any wine lovers and we are on holiday after all!

We’d hoped to watch a Beatles tribute act in the Live Lounge but as Finn was fast asleep we carried him back to bed after the meal and all had an early night.

Day 4 was Aruba, a port we’d not visited before and I’d pre-booked a P&O excursion to De Palm Island, an all inclusive beach resort a 5 minute ferry ride from the main land. We were hoping to give Finn his first taste of snorkelling however during breakfast Aruba disappeared into thick dark clouds and the heavens opened with a tropical rainstorm! As often happens in the Caribbean, it quickly blew over and it was blue skies again by the time we boarded the coaches for the 15 minute journey to the ferry port but the sea remained choppy for the short boat ride and was probably not best suited to a first time snorkel.

Aruba wasn’t as pretty as I’d expected as we passed through rows and rows of shops selling gem stones and along roads bordered with acres of scrubland but thankfully De Palm Island’s beaches were facing in the other direction! As a point of interest, the offshore oil rig looking things you may see from the ship and the island are actually desalination plants that pump fresh water back to Aruba.

Turtle Aruba

De Palm has a water park, a zip line, air jumper trampolines, banana boat, snorkelling, beaches and all you can eat and drink included in the ticket price. You can also upgrade to do snuba diving or a sea trek. We paid £51 each for us adults and £34 for Finn which I thought was pretty good value. The food wasn’t the finest quality we’ve eaten and the drinks were a little weak but we had a great time paddling in the turquoise water, petting turtles and drinking wine that was almost as rough as the sea!

Back on the ship we were a little later than usual for dinner so there was a small queue but we said we were happy to share a table and were soon seated with another couple and had an enjoyable dinner sharing hints and tips on ports of call. Finn chose to dine off the adults menu joining Daddy on a starter of duck and a main of lamb with dauphinoise potatoes whereas I had a delicious piri piri chicken. After dinner I took Finn to kids club for movie time and Andy & I had a quick nightcap in the Live Lounge.