3.16.13 -- St. Marten
Took a (very) early morning flight from JFK to St. Marten. DW and I arrived around 11:30am. Customs was painless -- one small note -- the FAs on Delta insisted that the Immigration cards for SXM were one per family -- they are really one per passenger. Only place I know where the immigration officer says, "it's no problem -- just remember for the next time." Ahhh, already know we're on vacation.
The reps for Windstar were waiting right outside Customs for us. The drive from SXM to the port took about 25 minutes. We got to the pier at about 12:20 -- about 40 minutes before boarding. Dropped our luggage off at the Windstar tent, then went to grab $5 margaritas at a pier bar. Turns out the Windstar was docked right next to the ill-fated Carnival Dream. Based on our conversations with Dream passengers at the pier, the Dream trip didn't seem too ill-fated. Yes, the toilets did back up for a bit. Carnival fixed that pretty quickly and the ship (outside of being able to move) is fully functioning. To boot, they've gotten to stay on the ship and everything is free! While I'm sure I wouldn't be pleased, all in all could be worse.
Boarded the Windsurf right at 1pm. Sign-on was a breeze -- maybe took 10 minutes. You pick up paperwork, fill out forms in the lounge, have some rum punch, turn in paperwork, and then voila -- you're being escorted to your cabin. Walking through the yacht, it's clear it just went through a facelift. The modern-nautical theme really works -- that said, it's clear the upgrades were purely cosmetic. Some of the carpet is worn, porthole sealing is decaying, etc. To be fair, you'll have to look really hard to find this stuff.
Our cabin on Deck 2 is surprisingly large -- the bathroom is definitely the best layout I've seen at sea. Shower is quite spacious.
After dropping off our stuff, we headed upstairs for lunch at the Veranda and to make dinner reservations. Based on what we read on the CC boards, we were expecting something terrible -- it wasn't bad at all! The salad bar is quite delicious. Beyond lunch, I strongly suggest making specialty dinner reservations ASAP. It was quite obvious that the line for dinner reservations got much larger as the day went on. For us -- Candles on night 2, and Stella Bistro on night 6.
After lunch our luggage had been delivered to our cabin (quite fast!), so we unpacked and then headed up to the pool deck to get some sun and read. This is when we noticed we were on a yacht and not a ship -- the staff actually recognizes you -- already. They would say things like "Hello, again," etc. I could get used to this.
Hung out by the pool until about 5, then back to cabin to shower and get ready for the muster drill. Post muster drill, went to the Compass Rose for appetizers and drinks. Dinner at AmorphA was quite good -- DW had butternut squash soup and veggie napoleon for dinner. For myself, the snapper special appetizer and seafood risotto. Our mains were definitely better than the apps -- soup was too watery, snapper was a bit bland. AmorphA itself is incredible -- really feels like a high-end NYC restaurant.
Highlight of tonight was definitely our sail-away from SXM. The minute we pulled out of the port, Captain Alan unleashed the sails. I'll admit -- I was VERY skeptical that we would ever sail under the full power of sails without the engines. I was wrong. Totally. Night 1 and we we're sailing under the power of seven sails. Another tip -- we highly recommend walking up to front of the bridge deck for sailaway. For one, you can watch the happenings of the bridge firsthand and two, the sight of the sails unraveling are incredible!
Post watching the sails unravel, we hung out on the loungers by the Veranda. Spent 45 minutes on deck and saw not a soul. Really felt like our own ship. Night 1 and I've already sipped the Windstar cool-aid. This is very easy to get used to!
3.17.13 - Antigua
Awoke early and went upstairs just in time to see the captain and his crew rolling in the last of the sails for our entry into Antigua. There is something magnificent about seeing the sun rise at sea -- it never gets old.
Had breakfast this morning at the Veranda -- DW and I treated ourselves to the buffet of lox and fresh backed breads, all of which were quite good. Unbeknownst to us, there is also a breakfast menu you can order off of -- we'll save that for tomorrow. Breakfast on deck was capped off with a cappuccino -- delicious!
After breakfast, we ventured out on the tender to the port of Falmouth. We passed many a yacht on the tender! The port itself was nothing special. The minute we got off the tender, we took a taxi to Pigeon Point -- the closest beach. While it looked nice, we knew it wasn't for us -- it's right on a road, no chairs to rent, etc. Realizing we weren't thrilled, the cab driver drove us to his favorite beach -- Valley Church Beach -- about 35 minutes from the port. It was amazing -- I have never seen such pristine water! We spent five hours at Valley Church and maybe saw 15 other people in total. You can rent beach chairs for $5 each at the beach as well as umbrellas and towels. Towels at the beach are $7, but the ship gives them to you for free -- so remember to grab them on your way out.
We returned to the Wind Surf around 3pm and grabbed sandwiches from The Lounge and ate poolside (try the French -- brie and onion compote on a fresh baguette -- very good!). We lounged poolside until sunset, when the pool closed for Candles setup. One small annoyance at the pool -- the towels at the pool were completely out for most of the afternoon and the towel return was overflowing -- it wasn't addressed until I went till the guest services desk and mentioned it to them. I found this a bit surprising, but by no means was it terrible.
Upon returning to the cabin to ready ourselves for dinner, there was a bottle of champagne and appetizers in our cabin for our anniversary -- a very nice treat! Dinner tonight was at Candles. On the recommendation of the crew, we chose to eat at Candles on a night when we were in port because there is less wind. Dinner again was very good. DW had caprese salad and lamb chops (very tender!) and I had a caesar salad and marinated sea bass. At the end of dinner the ship surprised us with a cake and sang to us -- definitely got the DW blushing.
Ended the night by listening to the duo in the compass rose. Another great day!
3.18.13 -- Antigua/At Sea
Although we were still docked in Antigua, DW and I spent most of the day on the aft of the Star Deck lounging in the sun. We had breakfast again at the Veranda -- DW had the California Benedict and myself a Breakfast Burrito -- both were just okay. Her poached eggs were overcooked and mine was just bland. I think we'll stick to the buffet in the morning.
As I was lounging, I realized -- I think we're one of the few on board who enjoy "big ship" cruising too -- many people we talk to shun it and I certainly understand why. I am loving Windstar, but this isn't a cruise -- it's an "anti-cruise" cruise. Days are passed by relaxing in the sun -- no activity list to follow, no announcements about an art auction, just you, the sea, and (maybe) a good book.
Lunch again was on the Veranda and it was very, very good. With all passengers back on board with our impending departure, it got very crowded. DW and I actually sat in Stella. I had a delicious chicken caesar salad and DW had a turkey sandwich that was out of the world.
Our sail away from Antigua from phenomenal too -- once again, under the full power of sails. After an afternoon of sun, we attended the captain's welcome gala in the lounge at 6pm (side note -- I found it ironic that on the same night as the welcome gala we received our departure questionnaire at turn down. Really Windstar? Can't you just wait one more night...). Dinner followed in AmorphA. DW and I agree -- tonight's dinner was one of the best meals we've had at sea -- not just on this cruise. DW and I both started with the beef carpaccio. For dinner, DW had duck a l'orange and I had the lobster ravioli -- both were superb. One other tip -- at some point during the trip you must try the french fries with truffle oil and parmesan as a side dish. YUM. We shared a cheese plate for dessert. A great way to top off a wonderful meal.
We visited the bridge post-dinner, then on to the casino and the compass rose. It was a very relaxing day/evening. All that said, the ship was very rocky tonight -- we overheard many people talking about their battles with sea sickness. Lucky for us, we weren't affected. If you are one to battle sea-sickness, remember to bring your remedies. According to the captain, the seas were calm tonight -- boy, were we rocking!
3.19.13 -- Torola/Jost Van Dyke
The seas calmed early this morning. Finally! Stuck with some lox and bread for breakfast, then on to the first tender to Tortola. Soper's itself is a very small port -- a few stores -- you can walk the entire port in 10 minutes. After we walked the port, we jumped in a taxi with some others from the ship and headed towards Roadtown.
For me, Tortola was a bit of let down -- I thought Roadtown would be a nice quaint town to walk around. While it's a perfectly fine and safe place to walk around, it's not very picturesque. After about an hour, we had enough and went back to the ship.
After a quick lunch, DW and I ventured out to the watersports deck -- lots of fun! We probably made a fool of ourselves on the water trampoline, but luckily no one was around to see us. On our way back in from the watersports deck, we made appointments at the spa for foot massages later in the day -- there was a special in today's program, 30 minutes for $39.
We pretty much had the ship to ourselves this afternoon. It was great! Unfortunately, the clouds rolled in and it rained a bit. Oh well, time for our massages anyway. The massages were wonderful.
After our massages, the ship made the 5 nautical mile journey to Jost Van Dyke. Along the way, an incredible rainbow appeared. Very cool.
Tonight was the big barbeque on board. The rain forced the ship to move the event inside to the lounge. It was still lots of fun though (and delicious!). Lobster tails, shrimp, roast pig, skirt steak, seafood jambalaya. One suggestion -- definitely try the grilled bananas for dessert. Yum.
The Wind Surf is anchored in JVD tonight. It seems like many passengers on the ship are heading to Foxy's tonight for some libations and good times. DW and I are enjoying life on the ship and just don't feel like getting ourselves on another tender. We're quite content hanging out reading our books.
3.20.13 -- Jost Van Dyke/Virgin Gorda
After a quick breakfast, we hopped the first tender to Jost Van Dyke and took a cab to White Bay/Soggy Dollar Beach. JVD is a VERY small island -- no banks, no ATMs, only five cab drivers -- truly unspoiled Caribbean. Once on the beach, I wrote to our family "I've never really been searching for Heaven, but I've found it." JVD is incredible -- the water, the sand, the view, the drinks from the bar -- everything about it was euphoric.
The beach is small, but delivers a big punch. Just grab a towel on your way off the boat, buy a drink at the bar and you're all set. As long as you buy stuff from one of the bars, you can use the chairs on the beach. In terms of drinks, you have to try a Painkiller, but we liked the Nilla Killa better. We ate lunch at the Soggy Dollar, but we heard the restaurant One Love was very good too -- it's just down the beach from Soggy Dollar. As the afternoon goes on, the beach gets more crowded as the hotels from St. Thomas bring their guests for the day, but the whole experience is just fantastic.
Once we left the soggy dollar, we took a quick cab ride back to our pier and quickly walked into Foxy's. To be honest, I didn't get the hype -- it's a bit of tourist trap. I know I'm in the minority hear, but Soggy Dollar was more my style. Back on the ship, we hung out the pool as the ship readied to sail to Virgin Gorda. I left JVD praying we'll return soon.
The sail to Virgin Gorda takes about three hours. We stood on the bridge as the ship headed into the Bitter End Yacht Club (where it docks). Sailing in, we passed the Seabourn Legend. It was quite exciting to be on the bridge as this all happened. The captain took a ton of care to make sure all went well. The passage into Bitter End is very, very narrow and filled with yachts. I imagine it's one of the captain's more nerve-wracking moments of the itinerary.
At dinner, we ended up being seated right next to the Captain's Table (lots of eavesdropping ensued) and learned lots. He said that on an average cruise 40-60% of guests are repeat cruisers -- on TAs that number jumps to 96%! Dinner itself was amazing tonight. DW had bruschetta caprese, lobster bisque, and the most succulent lamb chops ever. I had shrimp cocktail, the bisque, and an out-of-this-world stir-fried Thai shrimp. We split a piece of banana cream pie for dessert -- also very good.
Today was truly a day in heaven. I'd happily repeat it again and again and again.
3.21.13 -- Virgin Gorda
We had to get up early today because of our shore excursion to The Baths. I would guess about 45% of the ship went on the tour. Since there were a lot of shore excursions going out today, they started breakfast service early. The shore excursion meeting process was very seamless -- I guess it helps when you don't have to corral thousands of passengers at once.
The Baths were stunning. There are parts of the climb that do get a little hairy (ie -- you need to use a rope at some points), but it's not like you are hiking Mount Everest. I thought climbing Dunn's River Falls was much harder (and a lot scarier) than this. We heard some people on our ship complain that they thought The Baths were too crowded (the Carnival Breeze was docked in Tortola and had a shore excursion going too), but we didn't experience this. One tip -- our ship gets you there earlier than the big ships -- don't dilly dally at the first beach -- go through The Baths right away. This will help you avoid the crowds and you'll get to enjoy Devil's Bay Beach at the end.
The tender from the shore excursion took us right to Prickly Pear, where the beach barbeque was being held. The food was very good -- burgers, dogs, brats, salads, noodles, etc. The queue for the salads builds up for some reason -- if you don't want a salad just go straight to the bbq line. Many people didn't realize this (including us) -- we were starving having just gotten done with The Baths and spent 15 minutes waiting in line for something we didn't even want.
As we ate Captain Alan unfurled the sails on the ship so passengers could take photos. The ship looked beautiful with its sails out. After sunning a bit, we headed back on to the ship to watch our sail out. This time the captain kept the bridge closed -- I certainly understand why.
Dinner tonight was at Stella. The DW really liked it, I thought it was good, but certainly not the best meal I've had onboard. DW had duck pate, mushroom soup, and the steak frites. Her pate was extremely dry. I had the goat cheese souffle and the poached salmon with asparagus. My souffle was very good. Overall, I'm glad we only went once. While the service was impeccable, I preferred Candles.
Tonight was the crew talent show. It was great to see the crew in a whole different environment. Tomorrow is St. Barth's and we are very excited!
3.22.13 -- St. Barth
This morning breakfast was to the scenic view of our sail in to St. Barth. A lot of ships appear to be in port this morning -- Holland America, Star Clipper, and Paul Gauguin. We ordered off the menu again -- DW had poached eggs with salmon hash and I had southwest steak and eggs. We quite enjoyed both -- much better than our first attempt at the menu.
Once again, we were the first tender off the ship. Town was crowded, but nonetheless we enjoyed our walk around the ship. Following our walk around the downtown, we took a cab to Nikki Beach in St. Jean where we had reserved an umbrella and a beach bed. Nikki Beach was tons of fun -- certainly something we wouldn't do on most our vacations. It's definitely a place to see and be seen. Our lunch at Nikki Beach was good -- steak tartar and a pesto chicken wrap. Their mojitos were very good -- they claim to have the best in the world, but I wouldn't go that far.
We returned to the ship and packed up. We booked transfers through the ship and our disembarkation time is 8:30am. Post packing, we headed upstairs, grabbed a drink and listened to a few tunes from the guest singer. It was another solid night in the dining room -- DW had caprese salad and porcini mushrooms with fettuccini. I had escargot and the grilled snapper with a mango salsa. I would say my dinner was better on the whole, but both were very good. For dessert, we split the chocolate banana tarte and highly recommend it.
It's hard to believe that our seven nights has come to a close. Luckily, our trip has felt much longer than seven nights. Both the DW and I agree that Windstar has exceeded our expectation in every way imaginable. We look forward to returning in the very near future.
Some Final Thoughts
The Ship: Quite honestly, it's hard to believe the ship is over 30 years old. They have kept very good care of it. Although we we've never been on it before, DW and I both agree the refurbishment did the ship well -- it's really stunning. As the days went on, it really did feel like more of yacht than a ship. As we got familiar with the layout it felt smaller and smaller -- something we both really enjoyed. We loved the amount of deck space the ship has -- never once do you have to fight for a lounger. To sum up, it's simplistic yet elegant.
The Crew: Amazing. Every single crewmember works incredibly hard (as they do on all ships). However, something was different on Windstar -- the crew seems to genuinely enjoy their job and it's shows in their service. By the end of the cruise, most of the crew we interacted with on the ship knew our names. They always remembered my wife's drink order -- iced tea with sweet and low -- and would have one ready for her promptly. The officers of the ship are the friendliest bunch of ships' officers we've met. They do not carry a pompous air like most of the big ships.
One small note -- we were surprised we never met our cabin steward -- not once. I wouldn't be able to recognize him if I walked right into him. He took excellent care of our cabin, so perhaps this is intentional. However, it would have been nice to meet him at least once.
All that said, the crew is really what made the trip special. Special thanks to the bartender Ed, Ziggy the dining room steward, and Harry the dining room steward. These three gentlemen went out of their way to make our trip special.
The Food: I won't go into great detail here as I feel the trip report pretty much sums it up. The cuisine ranged from good to excellent and I would say averaged out at very good. Needless to say, you won't be disappointed with the cuisine. Go with an empty stomach and enjoy. We enjoyed that the focus of this cruise was not food -- we did not walk out of any one meal overly stuffed. It's clear great attention is put on quality not quantity. If you are looking for the twenty-four hour lido buffet, pick another cruise.
Tips for Future Cruisers:
- Always grab towels when you disembark
- Tenders are usually ready to go thirty minutes before the published time
- Eat at candles on a night when the ship is docked -- it can get very windy otherwise
- Make reservations for dining right when you embark
- There is only one American outlet in the Windsurf cabins, if you need more bring an extender.
- Be careful using powerful blow dryers -- they will blow the fuse in your cabin.
- If the lights don't turn on in your cabin, try pressing the "general" button near your cabin door -- this controls the overall power
- Make a point to visit the bridge at least once when entering/exiting a port -- it's a very neat experience