Wind Surf Cruise Review by KarlS: Gaelic Explorer Itinerary
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Gaelic Explorer Itinerary
"Gaelic Explorer" Itinerary - Dublin to Edinburgh - July 12-20, 2014
We'd cruised on Wind Surf three times, but always on warm weather itineraries in the Caribbean or Bahamas, and it'd been ten years since our last sailing. We were curious how she had held up after going through three owners since the last time we were aboard. We were not disappointed.
We chose to purchase Windstar's 2-night pre-cruise Dublin hotel package. We took a cab (27 Euros) from the airport to the O'Callaghan Davenport Hotel, which was centrally located within walking distance of Trinity College, shops and eateries on Grafton Street, Book of Kells, Temple Bar, museums, parks, and a hop-on-hop-off bus stop. Although rated four-stars, the Davenport was a bit frayed around the edges. Our 5th floor room was nice, although the air conditioning was so weak we had to open the window. That turned out to be problematic at bedtime because of the very popular outdoor pub just below the window. The hotel More staff was friendly, and the included morning breakfast buffet was tasty.
Windstar's coach transfer to the ship together with all of the other Windstar passengers staying at the Davenport was disorganized, with a lot of standing around with luggage waiting for the coaches. The Windstar on-site rep seemed to be doing the best she could. It was an easy coach ride to the ship at Dún Laoghaire. There was a several blocks hike with carryons from the cruise terminal checked-baggage drop-off to the ship. No problems the day we were there because it was a beautiful day, but it could've been problematic if it had been raining or the ferry was there.
Wind Surf looked terrific, not showing her age at all. We were a bit distracted walking aboard in Dún Laoghaire because Captain Harris happened to be one of the staff greeting passengers at the bottom of the boarding ramp, and he actually carried one of our carryons inside. The major total ship refit not too long ago was quite evident on first impression. The decks, passageways, stairways, lounge, bars, dining areas, and our suite midship on deck three all looked brand-new. Smiling staff was everywhere. Check-in was easily accomplished in the lounge.
Food, (always a subjective topic because everyone has individual expectations), was very good in our opinion. Better than we remember from our prior cruises, and certainly much higher quality and taste (and service) than what we usually experience on Royal Caribbean. Always fresh and tasty buffet options on the Star Deck Veranda for breakfast and lunch, plus you could order from a brief menu if you chose. When the Veranda was crowded, the adjacent Bistro was open as overflow. The reservations-required supper in the Stella Bistro was very good, although we thought the food quality and service was just as good in the Amphora main dining room. We didn't get a chance to eat at the alternative reservations-required served-outdoors Candles at supper, but because of the weather on this cruise, all Candles meals were moved into the Veranda. The Deck BBQ was also moved indoors, and the main lounge was converted into a dining room. The Yacht Club midships on Main deck had tasty sandwiches, snacks, and coffees from 7:00 AM until 5:00 PM. We were somewhat disappointed the Purell hand sanitizer dispensers installed around the ship and on the gang plank were almost always empty, and there was never any mention anywhere asking passengers to use them to help prevent the spread of norovirus.
The weather. We always overpack. This time, though, what we brought home un-worn were all of our short-sleeve, warm-weather clothes. There’s a reason why the photos we all see of Ireland and Scotland show amazing greenery. It rains. Whether the weather was sunny and bright, or chilly and rainy, the temps never got much above the low 60s F. We had some very beautiful, clear blue skies days, some days when there was rain interspersed with brief periods of beautiful blue skies, and a few days when it rained most of the day. When it rained, it was mostly that horizontal rain, making umbrellas powerless. Just pack thinking when you’re out and about off the ship you’ll layer, bring a light water-resistant windbreaker, and bring an umbrella that pops back into shape when the winds turn it inside-out. Evening wear aboard was “casually elegant”. Some men wore sport coats in the Bistro and the dining room, but most wore nice slacks with collared shirts. The women looked great, as usual, but they weren’t overly dressy or wearing anything formal.
The main lounge band, “Cool Breeze”, was good and the singer excellent, and the duo in the Compass Rose bar, “Rain Duo” was good, too. Don’t miss the crew talent show in the main lounge.
The ports of call. We have always liked Wind Surf’s niche, being able to drop anchor in the small ports and marinas where the mega ships can’t go. For all of our stops, except our last day in Invergordon, Scotland, (where we shared our day tied up near the 3100-passenger Ruby Princess and two oil platforms), we were the largest vessel to be seen. We tendered in/out each day except at Invergordon.
The trade-off being able to visit smaller ports of call is not being able to do a whole lot of online research for planning exploration on our own or pre-arrange private excursions. Although several cruisecritic.com contributors on our cruise had made their own plans, we opted to purchase Windstar’s (excessively-priced) excursions. Even with the poor Euro and British Pound Sterling exchange rates with the US dollar, the ship’s excursion prices seemed way out of line based upon the individual entry fees we saw posted at the places we visited. We did enjoy all of our daily excursions with the exception of the day at Invergordon, where our group found itself at Urquhart Castle with six or more coaches from the Ruby Princess plus many land-based tourist groups. All of our local guides were very good, and easy to understand.
The excursions we chose were:
Isle of Man – “Vintage Steam Train & Magnificent Castle Rushen” (excellent! - sunny)
Portrush – “The Giant’s Causeway and Old Bushmills Distillery” (stormy, but beautiful)
Tobermory – “Mull’s Duart Castle with Tea” (excellent! - sunny)
Portree – “Dunvegan Castle & The Cullins” (stormy, crowded, but sunny late)
Kirkwall – “Ancient Treasures” (rainy/cold/blowing, some sun late)
Invergordon – “Loch Ness & Historic Urquhart Castle” (sunny, crowded, interesting,
although didn’t stop at Loch Ness visitor’s center as described)
At the end of the cruise in Leith/Edinburgh, disembarkation was easy. Our bags were waiting for us in the terminal, and there were cabs lined up outside once we'd claimed our luggage. The easy (Sunday morning) ride to the airport in a very clean local cab with a nice driver was only 26 British Pounds Sterling (compared to Windstar's $95/person airport transfer fee).
In summary, we had a terrific fourth cruise aboard Wind Surf, and we agreed we’ll sail on her again in the not too distant future. Less
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