After our fantastic success getting last minute, deeply discounted cruise tickets to Antarctica last year, we found ourselves in the Caribbean this spring with some extra time and an empty travel schedule. We decided to see if we could get last minute tickets to visit a few Caribbean islands.
As we were already in South America, one of the closest island destinations was Barbados. Looking on VacationsToGo, we saw several upcoming cruises departing from there. Some were sold out, but we wondered if we could find a last-minute cancellation ticket in the next few days. We happily found a direct flight, and within two hours we were landing on the island, surrounded by the azure waters of the Caribbean Sea.
Barbados, as we quickly came to realize, is a huge hub for cruise ships, as well as flights from Europe and the US. At the airport, we saw a half-dozen Tui airplanes, as well as British Airways, American Airlines, JetBlue, and other smaller inter-island hoppers. With new camera kiosks at the arrivals terminal, we were processed into Barbados in just a few minutes. Once out of the airport, we could take a taxi into Bridgetown for $70 Bajan ($35USD), or walk across the street and catch a local minibus for $3.50 Bajan.
We stayed near Bridgetown in a cute AirBnB cottage for the first couple of days so we could assess the port situation and talk to people about their cruising experience. Could you just walk up to the port and pay money and get on a boat? Maybe in days past you could, or in other ports you still can, but not here. Without a ticketed itinerary, they would not let us through the security check. We chatted up some local taxi drivers, and got some good intel (more than one cruise ship a day, but the season was winding down- it generally runs from November to April in this part of the Caribbean). We went to get some lunch, and while we were enjoying our ice-cold Deputy beers at The Bird Bar near Carlisle Beach, we met some Brits and they told us about their Marella cruise, organized by Tui.
That evening, we utilized the Cruise Time Table website to drill down on any boats that would be sailing in and out of the Barbados port. The great thing about this site is that you can look at cruises that are mid-sail, not just ones that depart from your chosen port. In many cases, you can embark or disembark on a cruise that is already in progress- but be sure to phone up the company and ask them directly before you purchase your tickets. As long as their port has customs and immigrations processing, the ship’s agent at that port of call can generally help you out (you may find yourself boarding with some of the entertainment crew, as they frequently swap out mid-sail).
Using this website, we found some options for the next few days. One MSC cruise that visited seven islands was showing up as “sold out”, but when we phoned them, they told us to check back each day to see if there was a cancellation (they do not do a “hold” list). The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection sailing had a nice itinerary… but cost $1000 a day. Another boat was a two week cruise that began and ended in Barbados, but it was a German cruise company, and aside from the safety announcements, German would be the main language spoken on boats. The best option for us was a Marella cruise, which is operated by the British company Tui. Their 2,000 passenger boat visited six islands, began and ended in Barbados, had an all-inclusive alcohol package, and had availability for a sailing in two days. We could take the boat for one week, or add a second week with a different itinerary. We phoned them up, and half an hour later we were booked. For less than £650 each (just under $750), we had transportation for a week, all our meals, two pools, and our own cabin steward!
The key to booking a last minute cruise, flight, rental car, or activity is really being flexible. In reality, we could have started and ended our cruise at any port. We just had to pick an island and start searching. Obviously, Miami is a great port to try your luck. But don’t rule out Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, or Barbados! If you’re already overseas, make sure to download Skype, and put a few bucks in your account, so you can make phone calls (or talk to your cell company about their overseas plans). Don’t be afraid to just call up the cruise lines- we spoke to a few and there were no wait times or queues. They had very friendly agents (like airlines used to have). And one final tip: if you think you have a great cruise lined up but need to secure a flight to get there ASAP, remember that most major airlines will allow you to cancel a flight in the first 24 hours (in the US it is a law). So book a quick flight, book your cruise, and get going!