Barbados was a definite highlight of my Southern Caribbean cruise and the perfect destination to escape the UK weather! Our cruise started and finished in Barbados, which gave us a good amount of time to sample what Bridgetown and the local area had to offer. It felt right to kick off this series of Caribbean blog posts with Barbados.
This post was created in collaboration with SN Travel, a Caribbean holiday specialist travel agency, which currently has a Virgin Atlantic Holiday Sale. I booked my Caribbean cruise with SN Travel but my thoughts and experiences expressed in this blog post are entirely my own.
Carlisle Bay, Barbados
I couldn’t visit Barbados without spending some time on one of its Caribbean beaches. The nearest beach to the cruise ship terminal in Barbados is Carlisle Bay. Carlisle Bay is a crescent shaped natural harbour with soft sand and blue water that is perfect for a beach day. If you’re happy to walk, the route is flat but we opted to pay $5 per person for a short taxi ride. Taxis are easy to pick up outside the terminal building and it’s easy to arrange for the taxi driver to collect you later in the day. Our taxi driver, Shelley, was very helpful with advice about the area.
The biggest decision you have to make when visiting Carlisle Bay is which part of you want to visit. The beach is divided into different sections that are operated by various beach bars and restaurants. It’s important to note that you don’t have to pay for a sunbed to use the beach. We saw people using their towels on the sand, particularly in the empty sections of the beach, away from the bars and restaurants.
For cruise passengers, the most popular spot seems to be The Boatyard but this was the most crowded section of the beach. If you’re happy to sit among rows of sunbeds with your fellow cruise passengers, queue to get in and bob up and down in the sea with lots of other people then The Boatyard is the place for you. $25 gets you a sunbed, drink on arrival, use of the amenities, including the inflatable obstacle course and your return journey to the cruise terminal.
We shared a taxi with a couple of ladies from our cruise ship, who were heading to Copacabana. It appeared to be nice and clean but again, a popular choice among cruise passengers that was at least four rows deep with sunbeds.
We opted to head to Pirate’s Cove on Carlisle Bay, which happened to be situated at the closest end of the beach to the cruise port. Pirate’s Cove was recommended to us by a fellow passenger earlier in the cruise, and it turned out to be a good choice. It’s important to note, the passenger found that this was the only section of the beach that could accommodate the needs of someone using a wheelchair. If you or someone in your party needs an accessible beach area, Pirate’s Cove would be an excellent choice.
Pirate’s Cove is peaceful in comparison to The Boatyard. For a start, there is only one row of sunbeds so there is no one between you and the turquoise sea. When you fancy a dip, there is room to swim without having to negotiate other people.
We paid $16 for two sunbeds and a parasol, which I thought was very reasonable given some of the other prices along the beach. They were standard sun loungers that you would find on any other stretch of Carlisle Bay.
Like the other areas of Carlisle Bay, Pirate’s Cove offers food and drink to purchase. There is a rustic bar and food court that served excellent fish cakes (my personal recommendation). You get 8 fish cake balls in one portion so one is probably enough for two people!
We spent our day laying in the sun, taking regular dips in the sea and watching the jet skis whizzing up and down. We were invited to take boat tours to see the turtles, hire jet skis and purchase trinkets but we were only swayed by the guy selling watermelon and pineapple.
Everyone was friendly and laid back so we never felt pestered. It was a nice, relaxing day at the beach.
You can check out some of the other Caribbean destinations I’ve visited here.
Oistins Friday Night Fish Fry
That evening, we headed to Oistin’s Friday Night Fish Fry in search of Caribbean cuisine and a taste of local life. We pre-arranged with Shelley, our taxi driver, to take us to Oistins from outside the cruise terminal. By pre-arranging we paid $20 per person. If you don’t pre-book a taxi, you can expect to pay around $25 per person return. We were warned the road would be busy but we didn’t expect an hour’s drive. On the return journey, it took us 20 minutes so from this you can gauge the actual distance without traffic. My advice would be to head to Oistins early to avoid the traffic queues and to get a seat at one of the many food outlets operating there. If you are staying in a hotel nearby, walking to the Fish Fry is the best option.
Oistins Friday Night Fish Fry is like nothing I’ve experienced before! When we arrived it was busy with people enjoying the food, music, drink and the atmosphere. It was a mix of locals enjoying the ‘lime’ and tourists looking to experience real Caribbean food. We wandered through the many food shacks with barbecued fish to order. It’s loud and busy but that’s all part of the experience. Bars playing music are dotted throughout so wherever you decide to eat there’s likely to be the sound of reggae and Caribbean tunes.
We found a place called Chillin & Grillin where a group was just paying the bill so we hovered and took their place on the communal long table. It was around 7.30pm and we were lucky to find seats. There was a bar playing music nearby and the barbecue was in full view so we could watch the chefs cooking. You don’t have loads of room so things are rather ‘cosy’. We were just relieved that we’d actually found a place and the promise of some authentic cuisine.
Firstly, we ordered some local beers and took a look at the menu. We didn’t mind waiting for our food because there was so much to see from our table. A constant stream of locals and tourists passed us by and there were people dancing in front of the nearby bar.
We chose the shrimp and chicken dishes with a variety of sides (starches) and salads. The shrimp were huge and clearly freshly caught. The rice and peas were full of flavour and the macaroni salad was good also. I was initially not sure what to expect but I my expectations were completely exeeded. A word of warning, the dishes are big portions. Go hungry to Oistins Fish Fry so you don’t miss out on enjoying the food.
After eating you can browse the crafts stalls, enjoy the music and have a drink. If you’re in Barbados on a Friday night I would highly recommend this experience. Some of the food shack open on other days of the week but the biggest night is Friday.
Tips for Flights to Barbados
Barbados has an international airport and is well served with flights from London Gatwick and Manchester. Three airlines offer flights from Gatwick (Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and Thompson) and Virgin Atlantic fly from Manchester. Having flown with all three, I must say that I think Virgin Atlantic has the edge on the others. The service is fantastic and the in-flight entertainment, including live TV, is enough to keep you occupied for the 8 hours, 30 minutes flight.
Thompson has been my least favourite owing to the toilets smelling as we walked on to the flight (things are only going to get smellier!). The same entertainment was offered on both outbound and returning flights (when you’ve watched the ones you want on the way, what do you watch on the way back?). This is a first world problem but could be useful if you’re debating which airline to choose.
I collect Virgin Atlantic flying miles using a credit card and have amounted almost 70,000 miles that can be used to pay for or save money on flights to a number of countries including Barbados, Antigua and St Lucia. I plan to write about this in more detail in the future.
If you decide to pre-book your seats, my advice would be to select seats on the left-hand side. This gives you a view of Bridgetown and the cruise port as you approach Barbados. We could see our cruise ship from the air!
The Grantly Adams International Airport in Barbados is approximately 40 minutes from the cruise port in Bridgetown. For anyone visiting Barbados for a land-based holiday, transfer times vary:
- St Lawrence Gap (16 minutes)
- Crane Beach (13 minutes)
- Hastings (12 minutes)
- Holetown (43 minutes)
- Maxwell (8 minutes)
- Oistins (14 minutes)
- Paynes Bay (44 minutes)
- Rockley (11 minutes)
- Speightstown (54 minutes)
If you choose to take a local bus it’s most cost-effective (as little as $1) but a taxi is the quickest way to get to your hotel.
Foreign Currency in Barbados
We decided to take a combination of US Dollars and Barbados Dollars for our trip. To be honest, either is fine as everywhere we went accepted both. As tourists, the people in the shops, restaurants and taxis assumed that we would be paying in US Dollars. Just be aware, in most places the prices were displayed in Barbados Dollars.
The Barbados Dollars are very colourful notes and the coins have flying fish on them. Barbados is know as the land of the flying fish.
Barbados is a Caribbean destination I would certainly like to return to, whether that’s on a future cruise or a land-based holiday. My experience was a positive one and I feel the full day we spent in Barbados was a good mix of time spent relaxing and exploring the local area.
Carlisle Bay is a gorgeous white sandy beach, easily accessible to cruise passengers. It has options for those who want to party or simply soak up the sunshine.
Oistins Friday Night Fish Fry was one of the highlights of my entire trip. I would urge anyone who visits Barbados, to spend an evening soaking up the atmosphere and tasting the Caribbean food. I am always on the hunt to experience local culture and Oistins really ticked this box. The people I met in Barbados were friendly and welcoming; they wanted us to enjoy our visit and couldn’t be more helpful.
If you’re interested in checking out holidays to Barbados, I would recommend contacting SN Travel. SN Travel was recognised by the British Travel Awards 2019 and personally, were very helpful throughout the entire booking.