Port of Barbados
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But those of all nationalities will feel at ease there. The Bajuns are open, friendly people, proud to share their home with visitors. There's little crime and a general sense of safety and well-being.
The easternmost of the Caribbean islands, Barbados is technically in the Atlantic Ocean. An excursion to Bathsheba on the rugged eastern shore leaves no doubt about the vast forces of the Atlantic, unchecked for nearly 3,000 miles between there and the coast of Cape Verde, Africa. Some say the freshest air on the planet blows there. The surf looks gentle, but don't be fooled -- the undertow is something to be wary of, even for the best swimmers.
Despite heavy development along the western and southern coasts, the rest of the island is full of sweeping natural vistas, from rippling fields of sugar cane in the interior to the Atlantic surf pounding against the cliffs at the island's northernmost tip. The island rewards independent exploration; rent a car or hire a driver to see its unspoiled side.
Though today the sugarcane fields speak more to the island's past than its present (tourism, not agriculture, now drives the Barbadian economy), visitors can still experience the island's heritage at a number of plantation houses and rum distilleries. If you'd rather skip the history lesson, there are plenty of places to just get away from it all, from Bridgetown's duty-free department stores to the soft, white beaches of the south coast.
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Where You're Docked
Ships dock at the Bridgetown Cruise Terminal, about a mile west of downtown Bridgetown.
The cruise terminal has the usual duty-free shopping options, complete with jewelry, clothing, souvenirs and crafts. There's also a tourist information desk and a telecommunications center with phone, Internet and postal services.
About two blocks down the road are the bright pink shops of Pelican Village (Princess Alice Highway), housing artisan boutiques, a working cigar factory and a few restaurants. It's closed on Sundays.
The Bridgetown Public Fish Market is just across the street. No, you'll not be buying fish to bring back to the ship, but it's an energetic place to watch while local chefs and heads of household haggle and bargain over the freshest catch.
The route from the cruise terminal into downtown traverses through a lovely park with a stone seawall, a great place to just relax and get some fresh air off the boat without getting into the commotion of downtown.
Good to Know
Manchineel trees, found on many Barbados beaches, are beautiful and leafy green, appearing to be a great place to escape from the sun or the occasional rain shower. Don't do it. The leaves and fruit are both toxic and can create a serious rash on your skin. Most of the trees in public areas are marked with warning signs or red X's painted on the trunks.
Also, note that, in Barbados, honking car horns do not convey a negative message as they do in many parts of the world. The Bajuns tap their horns dozens of times a day in greeting to other drivers, whether or not they are acquainted. It's just the friendly way of life there.
On Foot: The capital city of Bridgetown is a one-mile stroll from the cruise port, and its downtown area is pedestrian-friendly.
By Taxi: Cabs line up outside the port terminal. You can arrange informal driving tours of the island with a cab driver, giving you a local's insight without having to do your own driving. Negotiate the rate before you start, and be sure you know which currency is being quoted.
By Rental Car: Stoutes Car Rental (246-416-4456) offers free drop-off and pick-up from the cruise terminal. Remember that Bajans, like the Brits, drive on the left. If you choose to rent a vehicle, consider the fun Kia Mini Moke found all over the island. Note that these have no doors and a small trunk, but they're a lot of fun for a day.
By Bus: The bus terminal is about two blocks from the cruise terminal, just behind the Pelican Village. From there you can hop a bus to Holetown, Bathsheba, St. Lawrence Gap and elsewhere on the island all for the same price. Note that you must have exact change or purchase tokens in advance at the terminal. Barbados has two bus systems -- the blue government-owned and -operated buses and the bright yellow "reggae" buses, which are known for playing loud music and not always paying attention to maximum capacity signs. The good news is that both systems are known to run on time.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency is the Barbadian dollar. Check the most current exchange rates at www.xe.com or www.oanda.com. American bills (but not coins) are commonly accepted, though you may get change in local currency. ATM's are plentiful in Bridgetown, the capital city, and in other smaller towns throughout the island.
English is the official language of Barbados, and everyone speaks it. The locals have their own dialect, but you'll have no trouble understanding conversations.
Food and Drink
Bajuns love their buffets, especially for lunch. You'll often find a selection of rice dishes, macaroni pie and vegetables, usually a little over-cooked or mushy for many tastes. A good Bajun buffet will always include a couple of kinds of chicken and seafood, too. A flying fish sandwich is a must while visiting the island, and most lunch spots will offer one on the menu. One thing you won't find often is a hamburger or red meat. The Bajuns just don't like it much.
The Waterfront Cafe is Bridgetown's best-known restaurant. On the waterfront at the Careenage, it serves everything from flying fish to mushroom pasta. Live entertainment, usually jazz, fills the stage on Friday and Saturday nights. (246-427-0093; open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m.)
The Tides Restaurant offers elegant waterfront dining along Barbados' Platinum Coast. Try the steamed flying fish Creole or the marinated sashimi salmon salad, or surprise yourself with the catch of the day. The sticky pudding for dessert is a reflection of the region's British heritage. Vegetarian and children's menus are available in the high season. (Balmore House, Holetown; 246-432-8356; open daily noon to 2 p.m. and 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., November to May; open for dinner only and closed Sundays from June to October.)
The simple motto at the historic Hotel Atlantis Restaurant is ABC -- All Bajan Cuisine -- and it works. Sample local favorites like pumpkin fritters, steamed fish Creole and breadfruit casserole as you watch the Atlantic surf pounding onto the beach below. Sumptuous lunch buffets are offered on Wednesdays and Sundays. (Bathsheba; 246-433-9445; open daily 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., 12 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Closed for dinner Sundays)
At The Fish Pot, located inside the Little Good Harbour Hotel, the open dining room and fresh Caribbean breeze make any meal taste better. The baby clams come with Creole sauce, and the ravioli has a bit of Jim Beam whiskey in the butter sauce. Feeling decadent? Treat yourself to the grilled lobster. It's worth the journey north of Speightstown. You might even want to dress up a little for this dinner out. (Shermans, St. Peter Parish; 246-439-3000; open daily)
Wiggle your toes in the sand at picnic tables on the beach in front of Zaccio's Restaurant and Beach Bar, or enjoy the breeze from an indoor table. Because it's probably the most popular pizza place on the island, reservations are necessary for Friday and Saturday nights. We love the macaroni pie, salads and paninis. Even the barbecued ribs are pretty good there. (Holetown, St. James Parish; 246-432-0134; open daily noon to 10 p.m., sometimes later in high season)
Islanders are quite proud of their local, family-owned pottery business, Earthworks. Although the studio itself, located mid-island, requires a taxi or shore excursion to visit, it is worth your time. In addition to watching the potters at work and finding a functional clay treasure of your own, you can browse the work of artists in other mediums at the adjacent studio. (Edgehill Heights, St. Thomas Parish; closed Sundays)
If you don't make it to the Earthworks Studio, look for a selection at several gift shops around the island, including any of the Best of Barbados boutiques and the Cave Shepherd department store in Bridgetown.
Another great little gift for those back home is a bag of Barbados brown sugar. It's harvested and processed right on the island. A cute canvas bag tied in red ribbon holds about 1.5 cups and costs just a few dollars. These, too, are found in several gift shops, including the Best of Barbados.
Try anything with Mount Gay Rum. That's the local label, the oldest existing rum distillery in the world, and Bajuns are quite proud of it. A basic Rum Punch or Rum Runner is served at every restaurant and bar on the island. The local beer is Banks. Tours of the brewery and Mount Gay distillery are fun times.