Find Your Chocolate Heaven On A P&O Caribbean Cruise
On a lush hillside with commanding views of Gros Piton – one of St Lucia’s iconic twin peaks – I was nowhere near the sea. In fact, I was 305 metres above sea level and discovering the source of some of the most complex chocolate flavours I had ever tasted.
I had joined chef Marco Pierre White and fellow passengers from a Caribbean island-hopping voyage with P&O among the cocoa groves of the 57-hectare Rabot Estate, for a 'tree to bar' tour. This idyllic setting is also home to a small hotel and restaurant, the Boucan, founded by British confectionery company Hotel Chocolat.
Cuckoo for cocoa
The tour began with us selecting and picking ripe cocoa pods during a walk through the estate’s plantations, and finished up with us grinding and mixing cocoa nibs in a pestle and mortar – although admittedly my effort finished up more bitter than I had intended (not enough grinding, apparently).
We took in the various stages of production, from seedling nursery, fermenting room and sun-drying station to grinding, mixing and the grand tasting finale. The intricate task of grafting plants together to blend what would become chocolate bars (I completed the day with one in my own name) in a hot house in the depths of St Lucia’s oldest cocoa plantation made me appreciate that however good life may be on board ship, nothing beats this kind of experience.
Pierre White is one of P&O Cruises’ so-called Food Heroes, a team of chefs who mastermind menus on board the line’s ships and occasionally lead tours. The newest recruits are BBC Saturday Kitchen's James Martin (who will run a cookery school on board Britannia) and patissier to the stars, Eric Lanlard.
Although a visit to the Rabot Estate is not yet offered as an organised excursion, its staff provide tours on an ad hoc basis and the extensive site is in the process of being developed to accommodate more cruise passengers. Unsurprisingly, the estate does chocolate like I’ve never tasted before and that’s why it’s used as a key ingredient at the hotel’s exquisite Club Boucan restaurant and bar, perched above a 15-metre quartz infinity pool.
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Cruise the Caribbean
I could imagine sipping sundowners followed by a dinner of curried coconut and cacao chicken while watching volcanic viewpoints fade into the dusk. Cruise ships wait for no one, however, and back on board I had to 'settle' instead for splendid ocean views from Ventura, where Pierre White oversees the fine-dining White Room on deck 17.
My Caribbean fly-cruise had sailed from Barbados. At a leisurely lunch the previous day, I’d got stuck in to local cuisine at the typically laid-back BB’s Crabback restaurant, perched on the side of the harbour at St George's, Grenada’s capital.
Caribbean-style seafood, including land crab, fresh lobster and red snapper, was the order of the day, although the goat curry came highly recommended by Pierre White and is a speciality created by English-trained chef/owner Brian Benjamin. Diners are invited to scrawl their messages of appreciation on Crabback’s brightly coloured walls.
From here it was only a short taxi drive to the stunning Grand Anse beach, where my children swam and paddled among the tiny fish darting around the white-sand shoreline, while I struggled to walk off lunch beneath the shade of the palm trees. The more active could choose from no less than 135 shore excursions organised across the nine Caribbean islands visited by Ventura, including spending a day in Barbados, where the ship turns around every fortnight, from November until the end of February.
Shore leave and leaving shore
Trips ashore ranged from a Harley-Davidson tour of Bonaire, zip-wiring in Barbados and mountain nature trails in Tortola to kayaking off Curacao, river tubing in Dominica and mountain biking in St Kitts. New excursions for this year include the opportunity for certified divers to assist with coral reef preservation in Bonaire and a half-hour helicopter flight over the rainforests and the crater of the 1,156-metre-high Mount Liamuiga volcano in St Kitts.
Reaching the ship was a doddle. Dedicated charter flights meant our checked-in bags were transported directly from airport to cabin, eliminating the wait at baggage reclaim at Bridgetown airport.
I had wondered about keeping our family amused on the four sea days but there were supervised clubs and activities for the two children, including a night nursery. Special menus are also available for youngsters.
On board, a youngish crowd, including many families (presumably due to the fact that we were sailing during February’s half-term holiday), lent the cruise a party atmosphere. The big daily event was the sailaway party, which brought everyone out on deck, cocktails or mocktails in hand.
Not one for forced jollity, I found our time at sea strangely uplifting. With the entertainments crew in charge of festivities, the ship would glide imperceptibly away from the dock towards its next island destination – and without a chocolate fountain in sight.
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This article was written by Phil Davies from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.