After nearly 1,000 performances of Robin Hood at the Regent Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent, I was becoming weary of pulling on my green tights each night.
I come from Stoke, so I’m biased in favour of its attractions, but I realise abundant winter sunshine isn’t one of them. After a long panto season, I was ready for a rest.
So I booked a two-week island-hopping cruise in the Caribbean with P&O, flying out to Barbados to join the ship Azura.
Island hopping: Jonathan Wilkes next to the P&O’s docked Azura
I was sceptical about spending two weeks at sea. I knew I needed downtime to recuperate, but also craved adrenaline.
I’ve played sport all my life and I’m used to regular bursts of it. How would I get that on the ocean? Easy. Once I realised how many high-octane on-shore activities were available, I knew the voyage would offer the ideal combination of relaxation and thrills.
This was a cruise where abandoning ship to explore the islands, including St Lucia, St Kitts and St Maarten, was just as important as life on board. And the shore excursion team would be on hand to help me find those thrills.
Jagged beauty: St. Lucia’s Pitons are one of the Caribbean’s most unique sights
That’s exactly what Castries, the capital of St Lucia and our first stop, offered. I was moved by the jagged beauty of its mountains, the Pitons. No wonder the English and French fought over this tiny territory for centuries.
Here was a chance to hike through the rainforest just outside the city. Under the canopy, I looked up to see emerald and turquoise Jacquot parrots – truly a Planet Earth moment. Then I heard a rustle in the bushes and saw several agoutis, which are small, furry creatures related to the guinea pig.
To burn off some restless energy, I tried zipping through the canopy on a wire and lost no time in morphing into Tarzan as we swung through branches, our feet brushing the treetops.
Grenada, our next destination, was more relaxing – time for nine holes of golf. The island has only one course, but the Grenada Golf & Country Club didn’t disappoint – with views of the Caribbean on one side and the Atlantic on the other, it’s a special place.
Goat curry is a local speciality in St. George, the Grenadian capital
Exercise, for me, is a licence to be greedy. In the Grenadian capital of St George’s, I ate huge helpings of goat curry made with coconut milk. In Port Elizabeth, in Bequia, the second-largest island in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, it was the tuna. We spent a lazy afternoon on the beach, watching the fishermen at work. One clambered out of his boat with a 4ft specimen, which he filleted with the dexterity of a master chef.
Minutes later, we were presented with a freshly spiced, seared tuna sandwich. Wow – from boat to bouche in less than half an hour.
Jonathan tees off at the Grenada Golf Club
Most of the islands are so close together that the ship sails overnight, each morning bringing a new destination. The exception was Barbados, where it docked for two days.
I’m a football fan and have always found the pace of cricket less than thrilling. But to be in the Kensington Oval, Bridgetown’s famous stadium, in the sunshine, watching the fast bowling, was gripping. That day, I joined the Barmy Army – even if England did lose the Test match.
I didn’t want to miss the turtles before we left the island. The west coast is one of the best places to see hawksbills and leatherbacks, and Leroy, the boatman, knew exactly where to find them. When he knocked three times on the bottom of the boat, we were bemused. He explained that the turtles, recognising his signal, have fallen into a routine.
But falling into a routine was something we didn’t do. As we jetted home, I reflected that no two days of our Caribbean adventure had been the same. Spear-fishing, snorkelling, sailing, speedboats – routine, for a time, was banished.
On P&O Cruises’s Azura, a 14-night Caribbean sailing departing November 30, 2019, costs from £1,514pp, including return flights to Barbados. Ports of call include St Lucia, St Kitts, Antigua, St Maarten, Barbados, St Vincent and Grenada (pocruises.com).