A Malaysian family's unforgettable voyage on the Caribbean

The writer and his wife loved their short excursion on the island of Barbados. — Photos: PAK YEW PUN

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Ever since my son and my daughter started working abroad a few years back, my wife and I toyed with the idea of having a big family holiday overseas together every two years. However, Covid-19 happened and threw a spanner into our plans, at least for about three years.

When travel restrictions were lifted, our son, who lives in England, decided to book for all of us a cruise from Southampton to the Caribbean in January this year. My wife and I flew from Penang to London, whereas my daughter flew from Perth, Australia to join my son and his fiancée.

The cruise ship Arvia, run by P&O Cruise, is a spanking new ship that was just completed in December 2022. We were actually on its maiden voyage to the Caribbean islands. The ship has a capacity of 5,200 guests and 1,800 crew members.

We embarked at the port of Southampton in the south coast of England (where the Titanic set sail in 1912). The first port stop was on Day 5 at Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain, the largest of the Canary Islands.

There, we hiked around the volcanic landscape of the Mount Teide National Park before rewarding ourselves with tapas and barraquito, a local multi-layered coffee liqueur drink.

The second port stop was on Day 12 at Philipsburg, Saint Maarten, a country that is half Dutch and half French. Philipsburg lies in the south, which is the Dutch part of the island (the French side is in the north, and the capital is Marigot).

Here, we took the opportunity to hike for three hours along the scenic Guana Bay coastal trail and experienced the tranquil surroundings and breathtaking views. My son also raced with other guests aboard the Stars & Stripes 87, an iconic yacht that won the America’s Cup sailing competition in 1987.

Our third port stop was on Day 13 at Castries on the friendly Saint Lucia, our favourite island on the holiday. The landscape is dominated by the majestic twin volcano peaks, the Pitons.

We went on a catamaran tour of the island, during which my son and daughter swam in the azure waters of the sensational Marigot Bay. This place was once known as the location of many Hollywood movies in the past.

We also visited Soufriere, the only drive-in volcano in the world where we saw the bubbling mud pits and hot springs amid the heavy stench of sulphur. Other places of interest we checked out were the Diamond Botanical Gardens, Morne Coubaril Estate House and Anse La Raye fishing village.

The fourth port stop was on Day 14 at Saint Georges, the capital of Grenada. Grenada is also known as “Spice Island” and grows more spices per sq km than anywhere else in the world. Nutmeg is the signature spice grown here.

The writer’s family chilling at the Grand Anse Beach in Grenada.The writer’s family chilling at the Grand Anse Beach in Grenada.

Saint Georges is flanked by two forts with colonial French-style buildings along the front. We took a taxi to the congested Grand Anse beach for a short swim and thereafter, had late lunch at the highly-rated BB’s Restaurant which specialises in Caribbean cuisine such as crab back, lobster calypso and jerk chicken.

Our fifth and last port stop was on Day 15 at Bridgetown, the capital of the vibrant island of Barbados. This place has colonial architecture and glorious palm tree-lined beaches, and we spent two days there.

Barbados is an independent British Commonwealth nation which gained full independence from the British in 1966.

On the first day, we explored the length and breath of Barbados by coach. At night, we went to the highly popular Friday night fish market at Oisins to sample the local fare. On the second day, we took a submarine ride to experience the amazing undersea world.

We also visited the birth home of popular singing sensation and entrepreneur, Rihanna, although we could not actually go into the house.

As the Arvia will not sail back to Southampton until April, we flew back to London after our tour package ended, with cherished memories forever etched in us. It is easily the best holiday we’ve had so far, thanks to the friendly and knowledgeable crew members. The local Carribbean people were carefree and helpful, too.

Although we had a lot of fun during our land excursions, we actually enjoyed the sailing portion of the holiday more. There were so many activities on board that we never felt bored. I bought four books to read on the ship but ended up reading none!

The writer’s daughter was the only one in the family who was bold enough to do the “skywalk” onboard the Arvia.The writer’s daughter was the only one in the family who was bold enough to do the “skywalk” onboard the Arvia.

Among the activities we engaged in on board were talks on wine, travel, fashion and Banksy street art, painting sessions, whirlpool dips, mini golf games, escape room tryouts, live bands, dance workshops, spa and shopping. My daughter was the only brave one among us who dared to sign up for the heart-stopping “skywalk”.

Last but not least, we were also spoilt by the huge dining choices with 16 classy restaurants to decide from each day. There were also a few “Celebration Nights” when everyone had to dress in formal black-tie attire and evening wear.

Yes, now that our children are adults, my wife and I are enjoying our retirement and can afford the luxury of time. We shall definitely be going on more cruises to exotic places.

The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.

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