A Different View with Celebrity Cruises • At Home With

There’s no doubt that holidays for us have changed since having the boys but not necessarily because we have two small people in tow, it’s more about the memories that take me back to a moment in time have changed. What I’ve really noticed as I get older is that the sounds and tastes of a place, experiences that blasted my senses, evoke a feeling of sentimentality far greater than the picture frame or little trinket I bought in a gift shop and lovingly carried back in my hand luggage. I still can’t resist a browse around the touristy stalls and a keepsake from a market is almost a subconscious ritual but they don’t give me that chest bashing sensation that transports you back to a holiday haze.

When Rich and I were first working and living together after University we had some incredible holidays courtesy of parents who thankfully worked for an airline, a business bolt hole that became a beloved holiday home and standby, last-minute-dashes-to-the-gate, flights. We used to pinch ourselves as we lay on Miami beach in Barbados, setting up our beach chairs and towels among the swaying palm trees, shading the Mr Delicious food truck, which has been in residence for decades. As I type this I can vividly remember the heat of the sand under our feet as we’d walk up to the line of locals, interspersed with happy holiday makers and the energy and wide smiles of the guys in the van asking us “What you want?” in their heaviest and most enthusiastic Bajan dialect. It’s like every day was a party on the beach, and they served the best fishcakes on the island. A packet that was so piping hot you had to blow at your fingers like a toddler while you tucked in. Real, wholesome, hearty Bajan food. 

I’ve tried to recreate them but nothing compares. And even just the memory of the smell of them makes me nostalgic for those early years in our relationship. We’d often drive into Bridgetown at some point during the holiday to head to a little restaurant on the boardwalk at the harbour and see all the huge cruise liners bringing thousands of guests into the terminal for a brief stay on the island. I always wondered how they could possibly see the real Barbados, appreciate it’s quirks and truly see the charm of local life, when you might only have time for a wander around the port.

You need to be whisked away, be immersed in the hustle and bustle of the fish market, see with your own eyes the towers of plantation fruits at the farmer’s market, touch them, smell them, talk to real local people and be part of everyday life to realise the magic. So when I was invited to London to celebrate the launch of the Celebrity Cruises At Home With dining experience I couldn’t wait to hear how they were starting to offer guests exactly that. 

They are doing things differently. Offering an authentic experience for guests who want to understand the culture of a place without a formal tour and spend time with a local, to listen to them, shop with them, cook with them, eat, drink and enjoy their company in their home. We were treated to a preview of their brand new video which was shot in St Lucia and features only staff and actual Celebrity guests on board. It was everything I wasn’t expecting it to be, not least because you only see a hint of a ship itself. 

When the team started talking us through the new At Home with Nicole Arthurton experience I wanted to pack my bags, hop on a plane to Miami to board a ship immediately! It almost sounds too good to be true. A maximum of 12 guests are taken from the St John’s Pier to renowned local chef Nicole’s stunning hillside home for a tour of her garden, a cookery lesson and then dine on a 3 course meal prepared by Nicole on her veranda overlooking Runway Beach. When I imagine cruise excursions I’ve never thought about something so intimate, where you have a chance to chat and learn more about a place with someone in their home. Have that quality time with someone so passionate about their profession in such a unique setting. 

Nicole uses her garden as her main source of ingredients and I can only dream of how beautifully established it must be and what an unforgettable experience it would be to sip a homemade rum punch while taking in all the textures and smells in her herb garden. The whole concept of the At Home With excursions is about offering guests a different view, for me it’s about challenging traditional perceptions and giving guests more than just an organised tour - it’s a total experience. And that is the ethos of Celebrity Cruises. 

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To celebrate the launch I had the absolute pleasure of spending an evening with the Celebrity team, journalists and photographers and meeting Vanessa Bolosier, an incredibly talented chef who is well respected and admired for her love of Creole cuisine. She is everything and more that you could want in a knowledgable and effervescent host, her infectious deep laugh filling the venue. The penthouse apartment was magnificent and after lots of hellos and new introductions I headed onto the terrace, that appeared to span the London skyline, to toast a fun evening ahead. The stunning open kitchen allowed us to veer from the colourful and very well stocked pop up Tiki bar, potent Ti Punch in hand, to the counter where Vanessa and her team were preparing what can only be described as a feast! 

Course after course that made you feel as though you were sampling some of her most beloved childhood flavours from the enthusiasm and vibrancy with which she guided us through the menu. There was fuss without pretence, real portions for real people, everything from tiny delicate edible flowers sprinkled over real door wedge slices of coconut and curd cake to twists on traditional famous dishes. Her menu took us through the Caribbean and as each bowl or plate was beautifully presented to the table nestled among the flickering candles and full glasses, you tasted the fusion of spices and influence from Grenada, St Lucia, Antigua and Guyana. 

A hearty Souse soup that had more punch in one tea spoon than I have ever tasted, an avocado cream that made you want to lick your plate and a wildly smooth breadfruit coo coo and seafood pepperpot (a twist on a Bajan national dish) as the highlight and culmination of the main courses. It made you want to book a table at The Beachcomber Bar in Bayswater where you will find Vanessa’s Creole Kitchen collaboration and we all were completely wrapped up in her zest not just for cooking but for life. She encouraged us all with gusto to try Banana wine, which has a somewhat interesting smell as it hits your lips and we laughed as our cheeks became flushed with the combination of Martinique Agricole rum, the prettiest passionfruit and absinthe speciality cocktail and an impressive selection of wine. I loved that people were moving around the table exchanging anecdotes and contact details with the sound of chinking glasses ringing in the air and it felt like an evening with new friends.

As the taxi drove away I felt full of inspiration for adding a little Creole in our routine meals and completely and utterly full to the brim. How I managed to snack on the salted coconut brittle is beyond me! But it was too good not to try. 

The evening was a hint of the At Home With experience, so if you are lucky enough to be booking a Celebrity Cruise this year or next it would be a must do on my list. And if you are heading to Barbados Celebrity also offer a Chef’s Market Discoveries tour. Exactly what I wished for all those years ago.

Thank you to Vanessa, her wonderful team and Celebrity Cruises for a truly gastronomically gorgeous evening!