Relaxing Barbados Tour Followed By Frustrating Visa Process

Day 68, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023; Bridgetown, Barbados

Suddenly, the atmosphere has shifted on the MS Zaandam. We know our days on this cruise will be coming to an end, with just about a week left. I think it was the transition into the Caribbean, with five ports in a row before two last sea days.

Many of us on this cruise have sailed a lot before, and I dare say started with Caribbean cruises, as I did in the 1990s. So Tobago and Trinidad, Barbados, Dominica, the British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are not new ports. Still, I haven’t been on a Caribbean cruise in years. So the sounds of calypso music and steel drums brought back memories.

Today I toured Barbados with a group from my travel agency. I’ve been here half a dozen times and have taken a very similar island tour before, but this one was complimentary so I couldn’t pass it up.

Sugarcane field

New to me was a visit to Sunbury Plantation House. The plantation dates back to the 17th century and the production of sugarcane and rum. Over the centuries fires and hurricanes have destroyed many of the original houses, including the one at Sunbury. But the rebuilt house is full of antiques from the era, and it is the only one left open to the public.

After our tour of the house and its various collections (carriages, farm implements, optical instruments collected by a previous owner), we had lunch on a shaded patio along with rum punch.

Our journey to Sudbury took us up the west coast and then across the winding roads to the east – and wilder – coast of the island. We could see why these beaches are favorites for surfers but not swimmers. Every parish has its own Anglican church, and we stopped to tour one.

Back at the port terminal, I suddenly saw family-size bags of Maltesers for sale. After spending a semester in England, my sister introduced us to what is now a favorite candy. I quickly bought a bag, texted a photo to my sisters, and returned to the shop to buy bags for each of them. We’ll see if the bags survive until my sisters join me in Florida next week.

Yesterday’s port was Scarborough, Tobago. Local dancers and musicians energetically welcomed us on the pier.

My plan was to walk to the Botanical Garden, but before I got there a light rain began to fall and the sky showed more coming quickly. I returned to the ship after just an hour on shore, to face a challenge that I have put off for days.

Our 2024 Grand World Voyage, which starts Jan. 3., requires visas for a few countries. Getting a China visa can be a challenge, but I still have a valid one from a previous visit. The ship will take care of a Vietnam visa. But it is up to us to get visas for India, Sri Lanka and Brazil.

Sri Lanka should be easy, but we can’t apply until Dec. 28. India has instituted an e-visa, so it’s an online application. The big problem is Brazil. Its visa requirement for Americans goes into effect in early January, and they only just activated their application website a week ago. Let me just say it is not ready for prime time. Applications are being rejected routinely, and the requirement for uploading documents seem to be almost impossible to meet.

Holland America has said we cannot board the cruise if we don’t have a Brazilian visa, but late word today is that a record of application may be enough to board the ship, where Holland America will have staff to help us get approved.

Pete Laszcz, blogger at The Inside Cabin, has been a wonderful resource for many of us – holding multiple zoom calls to answer questions and offering help with editing photos and PDFs to meet the strict requirements.

Not having a scanner on board, I have struggled trying to meet those requirements, but finally succumbed to getting Pete’s help while I was out on tour today. I spent my afternoon completing my India and Brazil submissions. I’m anxiously waiting to hear whether they will be accepted.

Meanwhile, we are busy with social activities on board, many of which seem to be packed into this last week or two. The highlight of last night’s Christmas Tree lighting was trays after trays of Christmas cookies, and I must report that they were delicious. I’ll be seeking some of the recipes.