Wind Star - Central America/Panama Canal: Wind Star Cruise Review by Freda Sprietsma
Overall Member Rating
Wind Star - Central America/Panama Canal
Destination: Panama Canal & Central America
Embarkation: Puntarenas (Puerto Caldera)
This trip was timed to see me through the winter doldrums and to celebrate my 72nd birthday. I traveled solo as my husband dislikes flying and this was a longer plane trip than he was willing to take. I'd had some doubts about how this kind of cruise would work for me traveling alone, as well as how my age would fit into the demographics of this ship's passengers. In all respects, it worked out beautifully. I seemed to fit into the middle of the mix age-wise, and there were a number of fellow-passengers who included me in their shipboard family, so I never felt like an orphan.
My home is Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, where we enjoy a semi-rural lifestyle. On Friday January 12 I flew from SeaTac to Dallas/Fort Worth, then on to San Jose, Costa More Rica. After a late evening arrival I was met by the shuttle driver from Hotel La Riviera B&B, a small hotel near the airport which had been recommended by Fanny at Coach Costa Rica. These contacts came from suggestions on the Cruise Critic message boards -- very helpful! The hotel was charming, and my accommodations were fine and reasonably priced, and included a full breakfast and airport shuttle service.
Here's where you'll find my Costa Rica/Wind Star photo album that will show you more about this wonderful trip than my words can ever tell: http://fredasphotos1.shutterfly.com/action/
Saturday morning, off to Puerto Caldera, Wind Star's home port, in a comfortable air conditioned van driven by a Coach Costa Rica driver/guide. We arrived at the dock about 1:00, as planned. This gave me time to explore the ship and get settled into my cabin, #135, also to meet the port security team, a handsome German Shepherd named Fago and his friendly handler, Francisco. My lifelong avocation of training and trialing with German Shepherd dogs made this a special treat on my first day on Wind Star.
Embarkation and disembarkation were a breeze. What a difference the small ship size makes! A few forms to complete, and off I went to my cabin. On the final day, I had signed up for independent departure, so all I needed to do was walk off when I chose to leave. (Note: passengers are requested to be off the ship by 8:30).
My stateroom was compact, comfortable, immaculate, and quiet. The steward, Mars, did a superb job and was very personable. I loved the portholes on the first deck, which showed the sloshing sea and allowed enjoyment of sound of the waves. My own preference would the first (lower) deck rather than Deck 2, although Deck 2 is the higher priced choice.
There were no children on our cruise, likely due to its timing (mid-January when schools are in session), and perhaps also because larger ships with programs for children are considered better choices for families.
The main dining room, where dinner was served, was lovely with elegant place settings and fine food. Open seating meant you could come with whomever you wanted, and there was no tight guideline on timing either. There seemed to be seating for everyone at once, since no one ever seemed to be kept waiting.
The Veranda, the restaurant on the pool deck, was the venue for breakfasts and lunches. There was a buffet, as well as a menu to choose from. Near the buffet was an area with an omelet station and other hot offerings for breakfast and lunch. On the pool deck continental breakfast was also served, also tea in the afternoons. Room service was always available. A favorite meal was the deck BBQ, with a roasted pig, lobster tails, and countless other treats. Seating for that feast was set up on the pool deck, followed by line dancing and other entertainment.
There was also a chocolate buffet one evening -- yum.
My favorite meal was the beach BBQ on Tortuga Island the last afternoon of our cruise. What an idyllic place!
Everyone on Wind Star was terrific -- I could not criticize anyone on the staff. The English captain was charming, and I loved the open bridge (a rarity since 9/11). Several nights just before retiring I walked up to the bridge, where a crew member would point out constellations. I have NEVER seen such brilliant night skies anywhere -- stars that you felt sure you could reach out and touch.
A staff member I'll give 11 stars out of 10 is Carlos, the Costa Rica expert on Wind Star. He gave the port talks and always had answers to any questions, could tell us where to find what we were seeking, and also solved a few logistical/communications problems for some of the passengers. He was a wonderful resource, and SUCH a nice person.
All dining staff members were great too. Really, just everyone.
A small disappointment, although insignificant in the grand scheme of things, was the infrequent availability of the sports platform, which had been one of the major appeals of this ship to me because I love to snorkel. It was not used much, and the one day it was available for snorkeling and kayaking off the back of the ship at Quepos, it was not made known to the passengers in any clear way, and many of us, including me, did not know about it until after the fact.
A GRAND part of this cruise is SAILING -- truly SAILING. On our cruise over 90% of our voyage was under sail power, which is unusually high. We were blessed with fine sailing weather. There is something so special about being on deck, in daylight or at night, with those huge sails billowing overhead, carrying the ship along so magnificently.
DAY BY DAY:
Sunday January 14 was our sea day (and my birthday) as we sailed the long distance from Puerto Caldera to Nicaragua. It was a beautiful day, but with a few rough hours in the afternoon; the dining room was only about half full that evening. After that, I remembered to take Bonine and wear my sea bands, which meant I felt fine the rest of the voyage. Birthday treats included a Wind Star Happy Birthday T-shirt, and a very delicious birthday cake -- accompanied by singing crew members.
Monday, San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. I took the full-day excursion and was glad I did. My knowledge of Nicaragua's geography, culture, and history was pretty sketchy, and this was an education in the competent hands of our very fine guide whose English was excellent. He is hopeful, and we join in his hopes, that Ortega's recent re-election will bring a period of peace and prosperity to his war-plagued country. (See my photos for details about this excursion.)
Tuesday, anchored at Playas del Coco, I had a relaxing day with no excursion. I strolled through the small town, enjoyed a swim on the town's beach, found an internet café where the emails I wrote refused to go anywhere (frustrating!), and enjoyed Wind Star.
On Wednesday, the excursion I'd looked forward to at Quepos was cancelled because of insufficient sign-ups. I'd wanted to take the horseback ride to a waterfall. Instead, I joined in the walk through Manuel Antonio National Park. It was beautiful and interesting, although very hot -- we were all very glad when time came to swim for a half an hour before starting our walk back. Wildlife abounds: white-faced monkeys, Jesus Christ lizards, sloths, iguanas and an assortment of birds were all part of the day's experience.
Thursday was a glorious day at Marenco/Drake's Bay. As we sailed further south, the landscape changed into more and more lush rainforest, and Marenco was the epitome of that kind of beauty. There are no roads to this destination. I'd brought information gathered from another Wind Star reviewer, and walked north along the hiking trail that runs along the west coast of Costa Rica. As promised, we came to Rio Claro, and there were blue canoes (more like flat-bottomed rowboats in my experience) where, for $5, a fine young man paddled me up the river to see wildlife, including white-faced monkeys and a boat-billed heron. It was very peaceful and very tropical. Then he tied our boat at the side of the river and we climbed up a very rough path, in places hanging onto knots in a rope, in others walking on rough boards to get across gullies, to arrive at a waterfall pool where I swam to the base of the waterfall and sat under its blessedly cool shoulder massage. Soooooooooo nice! This is not a risk-free adventure, but my young guide was strong and sure-footed and gave me his hand whenever needed for balance and stability. It was lovely! I'd brought only a small amount of cash with me, and wished I'd had more for a larger tip to my young guide, so later that afternoon I walked back to the river to leave another $5 for him. If you decide to try this yourself, I'd suggest taking $5 for the owner of the canoes and another $5 for your paddler/guide. It was a very special experience.
Friday, our last full day on Wind Star. In the morning, another wet landing from zodiacs at Curu Reserve. This is a good walk to take on your own -- you likely will hear & see more by yourself than with a group. There are explanatory signs along the way. I loved this walk.
Then, a short reposition of Wind Star to Tortuga Island for our afternoon beach BBQ, swimming, snorkeling, and watersports playtime. Setting this up is quite a logistical feat for the ship's crew, and they do it very well. Picnic tables awaited us alongside serving tables laden with delicious food. The fine meal was followed by kayaking, swimming, and snorkeling. The near-shore snorkeling wasn't too good due to poor visibility, so the captain took a zodiac of 6-8 people at a time to an off-shore rock for better snorkeling, which was much appreciated.
Then, the highlight of the afternoon, the day, the trip -- indeed of a lifetime! A nest of turtle eggs hatched at about 3:00 and the tiny new hatchlings crawled up out of the sand and scrabbled to the sea as fast as their little legs could carry them. They clambered around and past our feet and we needed to be watchful not to step on them. What a thrill that was! (Check the photos!)
Friday evening included the usual last-night experiences of nostalgia, bag-packing, last-minute photos of new-made friends, more bag packing, one more dessert, one more moment looking at that glorious tropical night sky. . .
Saturday, after a smooth disembarkation, I was met by my Coach Costa Rica driver who chose a scenic route back to San Jose with a stop at a high elevation for a final westward-looking photo of the Pacific Coast, and another stop at a souvenir/coffee shop where I bought some fine Costa Rica coffee to bring home. Then my driver/guide took me beyond San Jose to La Paz Waterfall Gardens, a wonderful place to visit on my final afternoon in Costa Rica. Not only spectacular waterfalls, but also butterflies, hummingbirds, frogs, orchids, and other wonders of nature in a lush rainforest setting.
Then back to Hotel La Riviera for my final overnight, and on Sunday morning, to the airport for flights to DFW and SeaTac, then home -- the end of one of my best vacations ever. Less
Cabin review: 135
StarBreeze Panama Canal
Island Princess Panama Canal
Overall, A Good Trip