A blend of Caribbean and British cultures, Barbados is a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, having achieved independence in 1966. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state, driving is on the left, cricket is the national sport and the custom of afternoon tea is observed. A frequent stop on southern Caribbean cruise itineraries, this island in the Lesser Antilles also serves as a home port for several ships during the winter season.
Tiny in dimensions (21 miles long, 14 miles wide), Barbados is nonetheless, big on what travelers search for: friendly residents, great beaches, gardens, fine restaurants and shops that sell British woolens and other imports.
Barbados' top attraction is arguably Harrison's Cave, an imposing cavern in the heart of the island. Visitors board trams to explore the cavern, descending to depths of approximately 120 feet below the surface.
The tram goes from one illuminated gallery to another filled with stalactites and stalagmites in tones of white and yellow, forming columns in various places. Underground rivers, waterfalls and green lakes add to the beauty of the place which is highlighted by the "Great Hall," a 100-foot-high, 150-foot-wide underground "cathedral" with thousands of stalactites and two levels--the lower level being 120 feet below the surface. Another incredible spot is The Rotunda, with twin waterfalls cascading into a lake.
Located in the parish of St. Thomas (one of 11 parishes on the island), Harrison's Cave is mentioned in historic documents that date from the 18th century, but was forgotten for centuries until two cave experts, Tony Mason of Barbados and Ole Sorensen of Denmark found it again. It has a Visitor's Center and exhibits on the geological history of Barbados, a video presentation about the cave and artifacts from the island's early inhabitants.
Most island tours offered onboard ships include Harrison's Cave. City tours feature Hero's Square near the Statue of Lord Nelson, the Houses of Parliament, Broad Street with its many shops, St. Nicholas Abbey, a classic 17th century plantation home believed to be Barbados oldest house; and Gun Hill Signal Station, operated by the Barbados National Trust and affording great views of the island and sea.
Ships also offer tours to Barbados' historic plantation houses including Sunbury Plantation, a 300-year-old great house furnished with antiques; and gardens like the Flower Forest, a scenic enclave near Harrison's Cave. Other shore activities include excursions to the Mount Gay Rum Distillery and Banks Brewery--an introduction to rum making and beer making; plus horseback riding, kayaking and beach day programs.
As Barbados is situated both in the Caribbean and the Atlantic, beaches abound with the calmest waters being on the Caribbean side like Mullins Beach, Church Point and Paynes Bay. Surfers may wish to check out Bathsheba on the east coast.
Island flavors include flying fish, the national dish, prepared fried, baked, steamed and every which way. Other specialties include cou-cou, a corn and okra dish, fish cakes, and pepperpot, a spicy stew.
Cruise lines that use Bridgetown as a seasonal homeport and/or visit Barbados as a port of call include Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Crystal, Cunard, Holland America, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, Silversea, Star Clippers, and Windstar.
IF YOU GO: For information, log on to www.visitbarbados.org