Caribbean Cruise Part 2: Setting off, and the dreaded charter flight

To Read part one: click here

So we are on our way as I wrote this posting. At the moment I am sitting on the Monarch Airways charter flight from London Gatwick to Barbados to join the P&O ship “Arcadia” which is sitting in the harbor of that glorious island waiting for us. I adore Barbados, and to hear just how much listen to my podcast about the island and read my blog and see my photos.

I will tell you more about Monarch Airlines in a short while, but first an update on the journey so far.

We all stayed at the Gatwick Hilton last night as check in for the flight was 07:15am. Gatwick is 50 miles from the house and involves traveling around the hideously busy M25 motorway that runs around London and so it is much less stressful to stay at the airport the night before. It not we would have had to ensure we leave plenty of time and would have set off from home by 6am, or earlier.

The day is going to be long enough as it is as the flight is 8,5 hours and with the 4 hour time difference with the UK we will be at Barbados by about 3.30 their time (7.30pm UK). Then we are on late sitting for dinner at 8.30 pm/ half past midnight UK time)… you get the picture!

The Hilton Gatwick is fine. In fact it seemed better than last time we stayed, which ironically was also when we were flying to Barbados for holiday last year but flying then on BA. I think it is because all the hotels and bars are starting to introduce non-smoking and people are also getting ready for the ban on smoking in public places that comes into effect in England & Wales in the summer.

So unlike last time we were here, the lobby area (a large atrium space) did not smell of smoke and felt less like a smoke packed pub! We were staying in rooms in the newer wing of the hotel, which is so much nicer than the old part.

As we only got to the room at about 8.30pm (as we had been working and not taking the day off as vacation), we ordered room service, which was surprisingly good. The open down side of the Hilton is that their double beds are very small – and so I think next time we stay here we will actually book a twin room to get a better nights sleep.

Here is a video of a room at the Hilton Hotel. It is on the new part of the hotel and is an executive room. This is actually the room we stayed in last time, but the room we were in this time was exactly the same. In it I am being very pompous and stuck up after a horrible stay here last time in a very nasty room!

We were in the check-in queue for our charter flight at 7.08 am. It is flight chartered by P&O and I was dreading it. I am very spoilt from all the trips I do for work and with our great travel policy I am used to flying long haul with flat beds, lots of space, video on demand and lots and lots of space. Monarch would, of course, nit be anything like this. We had paid extra (£150/ US$300 each) for what they grandly call their “Premium” cabin, which looking online gives you 2” extra leg room and so is about the same a regular scheduled airlines like Virgin or BA economy at best. With my legs (I am 6’2”) the extra charge was going to be well worth it as even in regular economy I struggle to sit with my legs in front of me and so even closer together seats would have been a nightmare 8.5 hours.

Check-in was so slow and it took 20 minutes for us to get to the front of the queue. Quite a feat when there were only 3 couples in front of us. Even our check-in took ages. We had been worried our cases versus other people seems especially heavily packed full and were going to weigh a ton. The Premium cabin meant you could take 30kg but only 5kg as hand luggage. We realized that if you put a laptop and a book in a carry-on case then that is at least 5kg and so had stuffed our big jackets (even though it was not that cold) pockets with our cameras, iPods and other bits and pieces. Unlike other cruises we had been on where we have gone from port-to-port with no flying and so had unlimited luggage, we found it hard to keep in the limit. We had even been weighing the cases on our scales at home, which is very inaccurate! However, we were fine weight wise.

Gatwick South Terminal tends to have a lot of the holiday charter flights leaving from it, though Virgin also uses this terminal. But it shunts a lot of passengers through and is not a good experience overall despite looking good and having a huge array of shops. There are just so many people it is packed everywhere and you have to queue for everything – even the toilets. The queue at WH Smith (Newsagents) was so long we figured it would take 30 minutes alone to buy magazines.

Here is a short video I did of the South Terminal and the mass of people.

Video of London Gatwick South Terminal:

We got on the plane, an Airbus, and the cabin was much as we expected. We were lucky enough to have been put in Row 2 in 2 seats by the window, which actually was the 1st row and so we had no seats in front of us. The layout of the plane was 2 seats – aisle – 4 seats – aisle – 2 seats.

Having no seats in front of us helped me as gave me more room for my legs and also meant no one could put their seat back cramping our space. In fact I could put my feet up on the wall in front of us, slouch in the seat and so stretch out my legs. The problem is that you cannot really sleep as just as you nod off your neck almost snaps as it flops forwards. (I needed one of those neck things you see some people taking on board to stop this!).

Food was very predictable airline fare (chicken or beef). The crew was all very friendly and good spirited, though all the men are incredibly camp and really stereotypical gay cabin crew.

Being a charter plane, they really cram so many seats and seem to have very few toilets. There is one for the whole of the “Premium” cabin – so one for about 42 people so lots of queues for that too…

Read next segment (Part 3: Grenada): click here

Gary Bembridge

I grew up in Zimbabwe, but I have been based in London since 1987. My travel life spans more than three decades and that includes more than 95 cruises. In 2005, I launched Tips for Travellers to make it easy and fun for people to discover, plan and enjoy incredible cruise vacations. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have the largest cruise vlogger channel currently on YouTube, with more than 3 million video views per month.

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