I will try to keep this from being long-winded, but I can't promise anything as this was a great trip! If you are a planner, read on- otherwise skip the reviews and just let your vacation unfold... DH and I went with a group of 14 couples from San Diego and Oregon ranging from age 40's to 60's, many of us having cruised together before on the Gauguin. If you were on this cruise, my apologies if you were annoyed by our group's loudness, but we are a lively bunch and have a good time together.
We arrived Friday night and stayed at the Marriot near the airport in San Jose (if you do this, there is a shuttle, so no need for a taxi). The accommodations were very nice here and a good place to stay before/after your cruise, though the surroundings outside the resort were not much to look at. After a free breakfast buffet, a private shuttle for the group (our travel agent was with us) took us directly to the docks at Puerto Caldera (about an hour and 45 minute drive) to be the first to board the Windstar. Boarding was a breeze as the staff welcomed us with champagne and had us briefly fill out their paperwork and hand over our passports for the duration of the cruise. The bags arrived in our rooms almost as we did-very prompt! A note about luggage, I packed half my stuff in a carry-on and the other half in checked luggage. Though I didn't have a problem, 2 couples did not receive their luggage off of the airplane (luckily they were staying in Costa Rica pre-cruise, so were able to locate and receive their bags before boarding the ship). I was prepared for at least 3 days if my luggage had been lost...
There was a snack buffet (light lunch) at the pool (you never go hungry on this cruise!) Juice, iced tea, non-bottled water and coffee (including cappuccinos and double espressos) are no charge and you can ask for them at the pool bar or room service anytime (makes a good afternoon pick-me-up). Shortly after the safety drill (very short and sweet) was the send off where the sails were unfolded (for show) and the sail away music is played. We requested the music several times on the cruise as we were able to actually move by sail most of the week- beautiful and the music was especially exciting and moving to hear (except the time where our group chose to sing along, which was fun but might have spoiled the moment for others on the cruise).
Captain John Clark (very humorous and witty man) gave an introduction before dinner. Though we never got the chance, others in our group took advantage of the "open policy" and visited him on the control deck. They said he was a wealth of information and showed them all of the instruments and interesting conversation. Be sure to also talk to the staff and your room steward (if you ever see him) as they have interesting stories about where they are from and the 10 month shift they carry. My favorites were the dining staff- Edwin and Paca were great and became familiar faces. However, I only saw 4 female staff; Leslie, at the excursion desk, the gal who ran the gift shop, the doctor, and the administrator.Dinner is at 7:30 every night (wish it were a bit earlier). If you are used to fine cuisine, you would probably find the food very good, but not over the top. With the exception of most of the beef dishes, I found it all to be good and a wide variety of different salads and appetizers. The desserts were moderately good, but nothing extremely special. Remember to order more than 1 of any course if you can't decide, as they are happy to oblige. However, we were most impressed by the variety of salad dishes at lunch that combined unique seafood and fruit combinations. The BBQ on the pool deck on Wednesday night was awesome, with lobster and all different kinds of seafood, pork, and chicken. A very fun change from the dining room. Of course, the dining was always open seating and required slacks and dresses (no jeans, shorts or T-shirts), but not formal. Also, just a note that there is a "Tea Time" by the pool every afternoon with sandwiches and desserts if you just can't wait to eat yet again?
The ship itself is very cozy and functional; you learn your way around it very quickly. The pool deck was our favorite spot to hang out. The lounge was beautiful, but in my opinion they didn't utilize the space very wisely. Except for the first and last nights when the Captain spoke, and one evening where some local girls danced for the passengers (which we unfortunately missed) nobody was ever in there. I walked in there once and Patrick, the musician on-board was playing for an empty room. It seems to me that they should try to involve the passengers in something, like Karaoke night, to use this beautiful room since there is no on-board nightly entertainment.
The rooms were very small, but efficiently designed. With the boat rocking and the extra cozy bed, I had no trouble getting a good night's sleep every night! There is plenty of drawer and closet space to unpack for both and store the suitcases under the bed. The bathroom had more shelving than we could fill for our toiletries. I had them remove the tray of goodies for sale to open more counter space. There is a built in vanity with lights and two plugs in that area (look on floor for second one) and a pull out tabletop. However, we found the room too small to enjoy any meals in our room. The TV is a flat screen in the wall (ours had terrible resolution though), and there are two port holes to look out. There is a small fridge with drinks (for sale), but we used it to keep our refilled water cold. I found the room and the ship to be very clean and polished, even though I had heard posts that the ship is old and needs work. A member of our group had the "suite", but after seeing it I probably would pass on the extra money- It's not a whole lot bigger and is on the 1st level.
The 1st day is at sea. There was not much to do except explore the ship, tiny gift shop and very tiny beauty salon. The massage person was not able to make the cruise due to flight delays, so body massages were not offered, but other hair and nail services were.(I think foot and shoulder massages were available as well). We mostly hung out on the pool deck, which was our main hang-out on the cruise. There is an upper deck by the pool that is the opportune spot for sunrise and sunset pictures as well as a Captains wheel for posed pictures. They also offered a certification program at the pool for new divers which one of our gals took advantage of. Take a lot of very good sunscreen, as the rays are strong and not a lot of shade available. Also be sure to finalize excursions and check out snorkel equipment on this day. A nice surprise was a cute beach tote gift from Windstar that appeared in our room in the afternoon- this was very handy all week!The captain has a welcome party that evening before dinner with appetizers and free champagne- be sure to go to meet him and learn about what there is to do on Monday from the hostess. Our group had a private St. Patty's day cocktail party in the veranda that was prearranged, then we arrived at dinner with our green feathers, boutonniere and bowties just to add a little fun!
Nicaragua is not a pretty place to look at, but we are always interested in learning about other cultures. We chose to rent a cab (you have to haggle with them for a good price and it helps if you speak Spanish) and went to Granada to look around. Half of our group chose the beach day excursion, however it was extremely windy and many said it was not enjoyable because they spent most of the day in the covered area due to the sand blowing around so harshly. The packed lunches that were supplied also were said to be disappointing, so bring some fruit from your room just in case if you do this excursion. It took almost 2 hours to get to Granada, but our drivers took us to view the Lake Nicaragua (looks more like an ocean) and we saw locals doing their laundry at the shore. The drivers were very friendly and tried to give us as much information as our moderate Spanish would allow. We got a terrific glance of Nicaraguan life as we drove through the towns. Granada was not very impressive, as the country has much poverty, but we had drinks in a quaint little bar and visited the old church in the square. Our driver then took us to a Marketplace in the town of Masaya, which was full of goods made by locals and was the only larger scale shopping that we really encountered on the whole cruise. (The only other souvenir shopping I saw was a few vendors outside of the Manuel Antonio Park and a gift shop at Tortuga on the last day). We then ventured the very bumpy road back to the docks- our driver was overjoyed at the extra tip! We caught up with others from our group who had rented a fishing boat and went deep sea fishing (with some success) and had drinks at a restaurant that overlooked the ocean before re-boarding the ship.
At Playa Del Coco we did the Zip line excursion. It was a dry forest, but some did spot monkeys (there were no shortage of monkeys on this trip). The Zip line was very safe and even suitable for some of the older folks- some even zipping upside down and the "superman" pose. Afterwards, don't miss the cages just to the right of where you return the equipment- they had some monkeys that you can get in and hold, a butterfly garden, and a hut where exotic frogs were hatched and in a garden where you can photograph them up close. We returned in time for lunch and hoped to do water sports off of the platform, but the weather did not permit this for the entire cruise. So we spent more time at the pool and my husband utilized the small gym on board. We cheered on some walkers as they participated in The Cure fitness walk for cancer. Friends went on the Boat tour and saw crocodiles and other wildlife, which they enjoyed.At Quepos, we decided to do the Manuel Antonio National Park on our own as well as kayak though the mangroves (neither with the ship’s excursions) upon advice from a coworker of a couple we were with. We took a cab to the kayak guides (Mi Amigo something or other) and booked it for the afternoon and arranged for them to pick us up at the National Park. We then took our cab to the Manuel Antonio Park and entered as regular patrons ($6 fee, I think). It was nice to tour at our own pace (actually passed our Windstar group), but there were so many tour guides giving tours we seemed to be alerted to all of the exciting stuff. We got fantastic pictures here- lots of wildlife and of course, monkeys! We took a steep trail (however, the rest of the park was very easy walking) down to a deserted beach and took a dip. Water shoes with tread are recommended for this trip- we used them for the zip line as tennis shoes and for the nature walks and wet landings- very useful, but a few words of caution- they do not dry in your room. After a few days they were unbearably stinky, so I was able to persuade some carpet powder from a room steward to sprinkle in them overnight. After that we made sure to get them dry on the sun deck before storing in our room. Also pack multiple swimsuits for the same reason or use the laundry service! At 1pm 6 of us left the park to meet our guide for the mangroves. They took us for a lunch they prepared at their headquarters while awaiting the arrival of the bus. They then drove us to the Mangroves, crossing a very old and narrow 100 year old bridge that I’m surprised didn’t collapse! We kayaked through beautiful swamp-like waters, so serene and peaceful with our 24 year old guide Michael giving some history and pointing things out. At one point, we stopped to fix our kayak in knee deep water where a table was set up with fruit and a family of howler monkeys were surrounding us and coming down to take food from our hands. Bug spray is a must on this tour! We finished by nightfall, had a beer at a local hang out (very rural area) and headed back to the dock. Our friends went on the ATV tour and described it as riding through villages and rainforest and seeing a lot of the local life and nature. It was bumpy and muddy by days end, but sounded like a great excursion as well. I heard raves about the laundry service returning the muddy clothes CLEANER than they were before the trip! The BBQ was that night on the pool and was very casual dress. There was lobster and seafood , music, dancing, and even a show by the dining staff. Very lively evening!
The next day was Bahia Paraiso. If you plan to visit the Corcovado National Park, you MUST do this through the ship excursion, booked before that morning (no other way to get there and admitted only with a group tour). We had planned to go on our own again, and were disappointed to discover we could not on that morning. Instead, we took the tender to the beach in the cove we were anchored near and walked around a bit. The current was very bad this day, so they made us all return to the ship by noon (other excursions were cancelled). Our friends that went to the Nat’l Park loved the scenery and wildlife, however it turned out to be strenuous hiking with a few overheated people and some injuries due to falls and sharp plants. Be sure to discuss this with the excursion desk before booking this tour. Later this day, three chefs did a presentation of food art, where they created flowers from colored dough, turtles and alligators from bread dough, and carved watermelon sculptures.
The final day we arrived at Curu in the morning. Be sure to get up early, as the boat leaves by noon. Curu can be walked without a paid tour and is, in fact, short. Mostly it is enjoyable to take on the inside views of the trail in a tropical forest. There are some animals, but we did not find the canoes to waterfalls like I read in a prior trip review (we really searched). In Tortuga, we tendered from the boat to the beach in a cove. There were watersports offered and this was the only place we found it possible to snorkel (the host and hostess, Leslie and Carlos, will tell you where the best snorkeling is in the cove). Lunch was BBQ with ribs or burgers, but you had to buy soft drinks (could be charged to your room if you had your card). What surprised me was that you had to pay to rent a chair or lounger ($5-$10)- it seems to me that Windstar could provide these for the price we pay for the cruise and just pay the local vendors a flat fee for that day. Luckily someone from our group had brought their wallet and rented a bunch for us to share. The beach was relaxing and fairly calm because it was in a cove. We saw some fish, but nothing extremely breathtaking- however I did see a spotted stingray that was beautiful. I was happy that one of our friends behind me saw it as well, since I had trouble convincing my DH I had really seen one. This beach afternoon was a very nice white-sand beach; a really great way to end the trip.
Highlights- warm beautiful weather, seeing up-close animals in the wild, cruising with new friends, friendly staff, and a golden tan to bring home. Lowlights- having to disembark so early, having to pay for non-alcoholic beverages and beach chairs, the long wait to get home.
If I could sum up a few tips for future cruisers: essentials are sunscreen, couple pairs of sandals, watershoes with tread, a few bathing suits, and pack light. What I brought could stuff a carryon suitcase and I didn’t touch half of it. Casual shorts and tshirt/tanks for daytime and casual-nice eveningwear that can be mix/matched would suffice. American dollars were accepted everywhere, but few opportunities for ATMs. There is an ATM at the airport that dispensed choice of American or Costa Rican currency and only charged $2. The exchange was approx. $2/1000 Costa Rican colones.
I hope this review is helpful- happy cruising on the Windstar!