Seven Reasons Why You’ll Love a Windstar Cruise
A different kind of cruise
By Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon
CJ Travel Editor
There are so many cruise lines that sail to the Caribbean that it’s hard to know which one to choose, let alone which ship and which itinerary to select. In fact, even in this age of DIY online travel planning, we still recommend using a cruise-savvy travel agent to help you plan your trip. Are you looking for maximum sea days or time in port? Want to see smaller islands or marquee ports? Love formal nights or want to keep it casual? Does rock-climbing, zip-lining and bumper cars float your boat? An agent who specializes in cruising is essential, especially if you’re new to cruising.
That’s where a different kind of cruise line comes in: Windstar. The 32-year-old company is a small-ship line of six yachts, with capacity ranging from 148 to 310 passengers. We set sail from St Maarten on Wind Surf, the company’s 26-year-old, 310-passenger flagship, which called at Roseau, Dominica; Barbuda; Terre De Haut, Guadeloupe; Pigeon Island, St Lucia; Basseterre, St Kitts; and Gustavia, St Barth.
Read on and find out seven reasons why you’ll enjoy sailing on Wind Surf.
1. You’re More of a Sailor Than A Cruiser
Windstar’s ships aren’t cruise liners; they’re proudly referred to as sailing yachts, complete with four towering masts and traditional teak decks. And being aboard feels more like being on a wealthy friend’s rather large private yacht than being a passenger on a small floating city. My fellow passengers loved the daily sail-away tradition, in which the motorized Dacron sails were ceremoniously unfurled to the tune of Vangelis’ theme from the 1992 Ridley Scott film 1492: Conquest of Paradise. And while our captain advised that there needs to be at least 10 to15 knots of wind for the ship to be powered entirely by the sail, even when we were underway using both sails and the motor, one still got the feeling of “sailing away” rather than cruising along. Another bonus: Windstar’s open-bridge policy, which welcomes guests to visit the bridge and quiz the captain at almost any time during the cruise – a privilege most passengers will never have on a large liner.
2. You Want To Explore Smaller, Less-Traveled Ports
When it comes to cruise ships, size is everything. While big ships have all the bells and whistles, the advantage of sailing on a small ship is that you can tuck into less-trammeled ports than the mega-liners. So if you’ve already seen St Thomas; shopped San Juan’s streets and explored Falmouth, Jamaica, an itinerary such as Wind Surf’s is perfect antidote. It’s wonderful to be able to stroll tiny ports such as Terre De Haut in Guadeloupe; Gustavia in St Barth; and Roseau, Dominica at your leisure. And because relatively few visitors are disgorged in port at one time you feel as if you aren’t changing the essential character and vibe of the town just by your presence. Life in bustling Gustavia or sleepy Barbuda seemed to proceed as normal during our port call, and it didn’t feel as if the fact that we were there had significantly altered it. We were simply witnesses to typical island life, thrilled to enjoy what felt like a more authentic and less contrived experience.
3. You Like to Eat Well – And Don’t Want to Pay Extra To Do It
A ship of Wind Surf’s size simply doesn’t have the real estate for the gazillions of restaurants and dining options you’ll find on today’s mega-liners. But that doesn’t mean you’ll go hungry. In fact, you could make an argument that the yacht offers quality over quantity, with three restaurants plus 24-hour in-cabin service. Eggs Benedict al fresco at The Veranda was a daily pleasure; and the Continental dinner menu in AmphorA, the main dining room, was as good as any we’ve sampled on other lines. But the two specialty, by-reservation-only restaurants were standouts. Stella Bistro delivered a palate-pleasing classic French menu (think escargot, onion soup) in elegant, air-conditioned surroundings. And Candles (the nighttime incarnation of The Verandah) was a more casual but equally good option, serving grilled specialties such as lobster and steak under the stars. Best of all, unlike on some of the larger lines, there’s no extra charge for either of the gourmet restaurants or for ‘round-the-clock room service. And the daily fruit plate delivered to our cabin was a thoughtful touch (and healthy snacking option) we really appreciated.
4. But You Like Fitting Into Your Clothes
Around-the-clock availability of food is the primary reason why most passengers disembark at least a pound or two heavier after a seven-day cruise. So if you want to indulge at meal times and avoid the “water weight,” you’ll have to find a way to stay active. Luckily, it wasn’t hard to do this on Wind Surf, which has what we thought was a surprisingly well-equipped ocean-view fitness studio, with treadmills, elliptical machines, stationary bikes, free weights and medicine balls. Unlike on the big ships, group exercise classes were offered at no charge. And since Wind Surf only has six decks, it was easy to keep our vow of avoiding the elevator, our Fitbit registering an average of 30 flights climbed every day (and therefore giving us permission to order mango ice cream at dinner).
5. You’re a Water Baby
We loved the floating marina at the back of the ship, which, when the ship is docked, can be opened up to allow passengers to enjoy a variety of water sports from its platform. There are paddleboards, kayaks and snorkel gear, all available at no charge. Tethered large floating mats allow three or four people soak up the sun together, and water sports staff are happy to take non-sailors out for a spin on small sailboats. One caveat: Some ports (Basseterre, St Kitts, on our sailing) don’t allow use of the platform while in their waters, so check with your crew before you get your heart set on riding that banana boat.)
6. You Hate Lines
If you’re sailing with 3,000 other people, you can be sure you’ll spend a portion of your time standing in line, whether it’s waiting for a table in a restaurant; embarking and disembarking; or just getting in the elevator. There were no such irritations on Wind Surf. On a couple of occasions we waited in line for maybe three minutes for the tender to take us to/from the yacht but we can’t think of one other time we queued. Hooray for small ships!
7. You Love the Spotlight
The great thing about being one of 300 passengers serviced by about half as many crew is the level of attention you constantly get. Crew know your name and cruising preferences pretty quickly, and are always eager to serve. An example: By Day Two my steward realized that I didn’t like nuts (which come with the fruit plate delivered daily to each cabin) and made sure my platter arrived without them. And in the mornings at Verandah, my waiter couldn’t have been more accommodating about whipping up my post-workout protein shakes (though it required a trip to a closed bar decks below), delivering them perfectly frothy and garnished with fruit every day.
THE CJ TAKEWAY: Windstar offers intimate Caribbean cruises that honor the elemental pleasures of sailing, and allow passengers a more authentic experience of off-the-beaten-path destinations.