“Intimate” best describes Windstar Sailing Cruise from Barbados. In a perfect cruising world, staterooms have nooks and crannies to comfortably stow everything you bring.
Heads flush with barely a murmur. Showers run strong and hot. Beds are large and comfy. At least a thousand movie DVDs are available free for your in-room flat-screen enjoyment. Food and service are unexcelled, always with a smile. And your 300 fellow passengers are friendly, great looking, smart, and well traveled.
Children, bless their little hearts, are seldom seen and never heard.
And, while we’re dreaming, let’s eliminate stupid rules and schedules. No set dinner seating; you eat pretty much when and with whom you like. No intercom calls for “Bingo at 4:00.” In fact, no Bingo.
All the above describes our Wind Surf New Year’s cruise out of Barbados. Okay, we admit some of our fellow travelers were only good-looking.
Throw in five masts of staysails for rag heads like Frank, plus stabilizers and a unique ballast system that controls heeling for landlubbers like Carolyn, and you have the best of all worlds.
Confirming that about half the passengers aboard our cruise had previously sailed with Windstar Cruises. Talk about a vote of confidence! Never will you meet a group fiercer in its praise and affection for a cruise line.
One couple we met had taken over 30 cruises under Windstar sails. Others were onboard for “the duration” – two, three, four or more consecutive cruises. They come aboard, unpack, lay back and get spoiled; a month or so later they pack and disembark.
Now that’s a dream!
Owned by Holland America Line, Windstar has three sailing ships, Wind Star and Wind Spirit with capacities of 148 passengers, and the twice-as-large Wind Surf upon which we sailed. They ply not only the Caribbean but the Mediterranean and the Greek Isles as well, calling on 100 ports.
And they actually sail. Of course, there are big engines for when the breeze isn’t willing, but in the Grenadines where prevailing winds are easterly, we clipped along by sail on a beam reach most of the cruise.
No Waiting. No Crowds. No Ties.
Wind Surf is everything you’d expect of a large, luxury cruise ship – full workout facilities, 24/7 food, 10-crew spa, wide open teak decks, all-ocean-view staterooms, plush robes, free use of iPods. Everything that is except big-show Vegas entertainment and lots and lots of people.
You’ll find no long lines waiting for launches, no crowded purser’s area. Life’s more understated, more relaxed aboard Wind Surf.
Leave your jackets, ties, cocktail dresses, and schedules at home. Dinner wear is “casual elegant” – anything on the dressy side of jeans and shorts. And sure, there’s entertainment, including “Nice & Easy,” by far the most talented six-man band we’ve heard at sea. Entertainment here is more intimate.
In fact, if there’s one word that our fellow passengers used most to describe the cruise, it’s “intimate.”
With a capacity of only 308 guests, there’s no doubt that by the end of our cruise aboard Wind Surf we’d met most everyone. Try doing that on a Carnival cruise. But then, you wouldn’t want to on Carnival.
While other cruise lines are chosen for famous ports of call, Windstar cruises are selected for their unique ships, their crews, and yes, even their guests. The ship itself is the destination. Many never leave, preferring to stay onboard and relax, watch a movie or read from the ship’s excellent library.
Our ports of call out of Barbados – Tobago, Saint Lucia, Bequia, Dominica, Saint Vincent, and Mayreau – are far from hot tourist spots. More befitting of the cruise line, they’re laid back, casual.
Dominica, our favorite, reminded us of Jamaica or St. Martin in the ‘50s. Friendly, safe, cheap, and beautifully unsophisticated, we bought a lovely mask for our collection at the outdoor market where vendors were helpful and honest.
That’s rare in the Caribbean anymore.
Generally, we’d go ashore and, after exploring the port on foot, hire a taxi to show us around the island. This allowed us to stop for photos, go only to those attractions that really attracted us, and learn about the island from the driver.
Careful, though. On both Tobago and St. Lucia, at journey’s end, our drivers demanded more money than we’d agreed on. Don’t give in. If necessary, ask to be taken to the local police station. When we‘ve done that, thievish cabbies shut up.
Back on board, a water sports platform often is lowered from the aft Marina Deck, turning the anchorage into a private marina where passengers swim, sail, kayak, windsurf, even scuba. All but scuba are free. Frank broke his kayaking cherry on this cruise.
In all, we heard but two complaints about our cruise.
One of the two elevators was out of order the entire cruise, the second intermittently impaired, climbing the stairs of the ship’s six decks creating a bit of a hassle for some. Captain Tim Roberts blamed the elevator problems on a recent retrofit, saying that they would be back in running order by the next cruise. Meanwhile, crewmembers gladly assisted the one wheelchair-bound guest when the elevator couldn’t.
The other complaint, common to many cruise ships, was poky Internet connections. This, too, didn’t bother us. After too many 14-hour computer days, we’d sworn off for the duration of the cruise.
Overall, in this imperfect world, our Wind Surf cruise was about as close to perfection as you get.
IF YOU GO…
Cruise Costs: Our 8-day New Year’s cruise out of Barbados cost $2,549 pp. For the season, Windstar offers a variety of cruises to 100 ports in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and the Greek Isles priced from $1,499 to $5,349. All prices are per person based on double occupancy. Prices do not include tips, personal expenses, or most shore excursions.
Tips, by the bye, are set at $11 a day, per guest. That includes everything and everyone, even room service. A great deal, in our opinion.
For 2007, Wind Surf’s Mediterranean and Caribbean itineraries have been arranged to facilitate back-to-back cruising without repeating all the same ports. And Wind Surf has a new 7-day itinerary from Rome to Venice (and reverse) which will also visit two ports in Croatia (a hot spot!).
Getting There: Roundtrip, non-stop to Bridgetown, Barbados, is about $500 from Miami.
What to Wear: Think casual, light, and cool. Take a light jacket for the evening on the deck.
Shopping: Don’t expect to find traditional touristy stuff on these islands. Most ports boast an outdoor market that sells fruit and vegetables, great sources for locally grown produce. Unfortunately, these products cannot be brought back aboard ship. At the local craft markets, look for handcrafted baskets, masks, and a variety of jewelry, T-shirts, and colorful clothing. Reasonably priced, and yes, US dollars are accepted everywhere.
Keeping Connected: For those who can’t let go, mobile phone service is available for use while the ship is at sea. For e-mail, Wind Surf‘s cyber café is adequate, if a bit pricey. As we mentioned, Internet speed seemed slow if you’re used to high-speed DSL. To stay up to speed, a few passengers brought their own satellite-based broadband computers. You’ll find storefront cyber cafés in the larger ports, even places to download your digital photo memory cards to CD.
Laundry: 24-hour service is provided for a nominal fee. They do an excellent job, folding and ironing stuff never before treated so well.
Documentation: US citizens need valid passports.
While You’re There, Spend a Few Days in Barbados…
Renowned for its clear blue waters and soft, pink-sand beaches, Barbados is a destination for scuba divers, windsurfers, and sun-worshippers from all over the world. The island’s tropical climate is delightful year-round with temperatures rarely dipping below 75° or rising above 90°.
We spent an additional three days on Barbados. While there are several large, high-end hotels on the island, we chose to stay at the Pirate’s Inn, one of the Intimate Hotels of Barbados. Each hotel and guest house is unique, with its own special charm.
The quiet 22-room Pirate’s Inn is just a block from the beach. Three meals are available daily (and can be included in a negotiated price), and each room has a fully-equipped kitchen. As everywhere on this island, Brits make up a large portion of the guests.
Every evening folks from all over the neighborhood gather at this watering hole for good conversation and a tall, cool one. Several guests were spending up to three months here, as they do every year, getting away from Canada’s ice and snow to enjoy all this island has to offer.
Renee Coppin, our hostess shown here, is a delight, so gracious and helpful.
Rooms range from $120 ($160 for a one-bedroom) in summer to ($210 for a one-bedroom) in season.
THINGS TO DO, PLACES TO SEE
Barbados is a fascinating island with a host of things to see and do. There is an Island Safari, “the best of Barbados, seen from a 4×4 Jeep.“ We dove on the Atlantis Submarine, left, to depths of 160 feet off the reef surrounding the island. Beautiful!
Harrison’s Cave, approximately in the center of the island is filled with an abundance of stalactites, stalagmites, streams, lakes, and waterfalls, leading speleologists consider it to be among the finest in the world.
Bus service is excellent and cheap throughout the island. We hired a taxi driver, whom we can recommend. Quammie Sampson. Call him at (246) 260-4327.
Barbados is certainly the right place. The duty-free selection alone is extensive, from cashmere sweaters, gems and the world’s finest china and crystal to electronic items, camera equipment, and liquor.
A booming clothing industry emphasizes the tropical look. While local designers produce outstanding cosmopolitan one-of-kind apparel, there is also hand-painted and silk-screened clothing and of course, many T-shirts.
Local crafts include mahogany carvings, basketry, and jewelry as well as interesting curios and souvenir items.
And rum. You’ll find some of the world’s best rums, in a huge variety of ages and processes.
Plan on spending a few days in this tropical paradise. If you’re into cricket, the world finals will be held here this spring.
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