Sail away Surprise

West Indies

To those past Windstar cruisers reading this, what I call the ‘Windstar Style’ will be all too familiar. For those who have not experienced a Windstar cruise, be prepared for a 180 degrees from ordinary and casual elegance.

We had decided several months in advance to get away from the ravages of what promised to be a harsh January winter, but where to go and what to do? It didn’t take long, because as luck would have it our Windstar Foremast Club magazine arrived in the mail. It lured us into submission to choose a southern Caribbean itinerary cruise on the 312 passenger Wind Surf.

A day pre and post cruise is our recommendation, as it takes the worry out of getting to your ship on time (winter flight delays can cause havoc). Bridgetown, Barbados was our port of embarkation and has a myriad of hotels to tempt you, from high-end resorts like The Crane and Sandy Lane to any number of medium to boutique-like spots on the south coast. We found ourselves at the Accra Beach Hotel and Resort, fifteen minutes from the airport and downtown, located on a beautiful white sand beach with calm turquoise waters lapping at her shores.

They came for drinks and dinner.

As it happened, we were to enjoy several turns of fate that would surround our decision. Neighbors, Bill and Carol would join us. Then we discovered dear friends from Cabo San Lucas and their friends from Maryland, would be visiting Barbados at the same time as our departure. I set about contacting the companies Public Relations Director, asking if we could introduce these friends to Windstar, by having them all join us on board for drinks and dinner pre-cruise. Since 9-11, ships are much more restrictive, but Windstar was going to be different. Eventually, after all, sorts of clearance procedures, our request was graciously granted. So on board they came, Richard, Monica, Jack, and Jane, after warm hugs at the gangway, it was up to the Compass Rose lounge and outdoor patio for a few drinks. As we gazed over the stern of the ship at a setting sun, marveled at our location and the epitome of luxury in the way of the Mayan Queen, a 302’ private yacht owned by Mexican mining billionaire, Alberto Baillères, we had to pinch ourselves. We talked about how wonderful it was to see one another again in this uncanny Caribbean reunion. A brief tour of the ship followed and we waltzed into the dining room. Windstar’s policy of dining when you want and with who you want everywhere on the ship is just one more degree of appreciated difference. Gusman, the Dining Room Manager, a fourteen-year veteran, who we knew from previous cruises, welcomed us like family. He proceeded to seat our party of eight at a beautifully laid table with blue glass plates, shining silver, and elegant glassware. As we began our seven-course meal of culinary delights, one of which was a thinly sliced breast of duck in a cherry reduction with a delicate medley of vegetables, the conversation started to drift towards our dinner guests joining us on the cruise. Mild protests ensued, what about the house they were staying in, there wasn’t enough time to turn around. Just before a delicious Crème Brulee desert was to be served, the words “life is nothing without a risk … let’s just do it”, were sung in unison.

Talk about spontaneity – wow – OK so maybe the wine, great dinner, and excellent service had a little to do with it. It was a mad scramble off the ship, back to their house to throw a few things into a bag and they were back on board in less than two hours, the last passengers to board before our departure at 12 midnight.

A quiet calm came over us, as we sipped a glass of champagne on deck, a warm breeze filled the sails and the music from Vangelis 1492 played softly in the background. It was the scene of a Windstar sail away surprise slipping quietly into the night. Awaiting us was seven fun-filled days and nights cruising and visiting our islands; Bequia, Mayreau, St Lucia, Dominica, Granada, and Tobago – the southern West Indies. Apart from these smaller ports of call, what you won’t find on a Windstar cruise is endless long lines getting on and off the ship, glitzy floor shows, or rock climbing walls. Nightly entertainment comes in the form of dance music in the main lounge or a duet performing in the Compass Rose. There is also a handsome casino for those who enjoy a little gambling. This ship offers a drop-down sports activity platform at the stern, offering complimentary kayaking, sailing, waterskiing and there is free snorkel equipment too. What you will also enjoy is the quite, almost private yacht-like feeling. Indulge in a cool libation, lemon-scented cold towels and orange sorbets served poolside as you stretch out on a secluded Balinese sunbed reading a good book or soaking up the sun. Serene vistas are everywhere you look, from deep ocean blues, turquoise bays, green velvet islands rimmed by soft white sands to balmy tropical evenings of star-filled nights at sea.

Expect the unexpected.

The beauty of a Windstar cruise is your idea of paradise will change every day as you wake to a new island, sun-drenched beaches, the excitement of a jungle excursion or quaint little towns to explore. For those who can’t get enough of just one week on board, Windstar offers their ‘Connoisseurs Collection’ an ideal way of combining back-to-back cruises. With smaller ships and a limited number of guests, attention to detail by the crew from 24 hours room service to any number of Five Star dining venues, has one amazed at how they somehow magically know your name and can anticipate your every whim – all you have to do is ask, and your every wish is their command. It all adds up to giving you more relaxed freedom and choices, Windstar calls it their ‘Degrees of Difference’®. This is primarily an adult oriented cruise line, where you will find an international flavor of guests come to mingle. The cuisine is sumptuous and beautifully prepared from breakfast of fresh tropical fruits to perfectly cooked eggs Benedict. A lightly poached salmon with hollandaise sauce for lunch, with salads galore, an international cheese selection and mouth-watering desserts, will leave you not wanting for more. Dinners at Le Marche or Candles under the stars, or inside in the main Restaurant or Degrees, defies description, other than to say, you soon realize you are dining in the lap of luxury and foodie heaven. There is a no tipping policy, as 15% is added on to your bill at the end of the cruise. They also offer several ‘special beverage packages’ which in essence, makes this cruise totally inclusive. It should be noted there are no balcony suites, but one doesn’t need one, as most of your time is spent on one of the several spacious teak decks, be it lounging by the pool and hot tubs, having a bite to eat at the Veranda restaurant, or simply just gazing out over the horizon.

The cabins are clean, crisp and very roomy with added amenities such as an iPod dock with Bose sound system (you can also get a complimentary iPod fully loaded with 500 songs from the reception desk), a CD player plus flat screen TV and granite counter tops. There is the obligatory and very nice I might add, French toiletry line, bathrobe, slippers, and Egyptian cotton sheets. Need I say more, all you need is your toothbrush, a bathing suit, some smart casual clothes and you’re done. For those who absolutely must exercise on vacation, the fitness room has a 360° view to whichever part of the world you might be visiting. As you would expect, the Windstar Spa for men and women offers wonderfully luxurious forms of pampering at sea.

Best of the Best.

The accolades both from Windstar alumni and industry reviewers such as Conde Nast Traveler, Celebrate Living, The Avid Cruiser, Porthole Cruise Magazine, and others give “Top Honors” to this one of a kind unique cruise line. All it takes is one cruise, and you too will understand exploring the world on a Windstar cruise ship is the most romantic way to go. As we said our goodbyes back in Barbados, the question these eight friends were left with is when and where would we meet again? Our next Windstar cruise, off the coast of Costa Rica, the northern Caribbean islands of St Thomas, St Martin, Saint Barts, or a European, Mediterranean cruise taking in ‘off the beaten track’ ports of call around Spain, France, Italy or the Greek isles.

You only live once, take the scenic route in life. In the words of this writer’s favorite author, Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Some we met on board made our four cruises on this line pale by comparison. One couple we got to know has done 14 Windstar cruises, proving once more, ‘Windstar Style’ is a unique and welcoming experience, no matter how many times you sail away.

Charles Woollett

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