This was our third cruise on the Wind Surf, after back to back cruises in the Mediterranean in November, 2004. We sailed to small ports, all the while feeling that we were privileged and pampered. Nothing beats the feeling of being on a ship under sail, and we spent quite a bit of time under sail, with the engine disengaged. It's a pleasure to sail with a few hundred other passengers, rather than a few thousand.
Why is the title for our review "the tender trap"? Because four of the six ports were ports where we anchored and then took tenders to shore. That got to be something of a drag, and limited our ability to come and go off the ship.
Description of the ship
The MSY Windstar is a "motorized sailing yacht". It is about half the length of a mega ship, but much narrower, and with far fewer decks (6, plus a partial sun deck). There are a maximum of 312 passengers and 190 crew. Most staterooms are 188 square feet, with portholes (no balconies), with everything built in. The rooms, despite their relatively small size, are so well designed that they feel roomy. Best of all, they feel nautical, as if they are staterooms on a yacht. In contrast, cruise ship rooms, even elegant ones such as our suites on the Noordam and Regent Seven Seas Navigator, feel like hotel rooms that happen to be on a ship.
There is one main public room, the lounge, and several bars. There is a fairly large (for 300 people) gym, and a sports platform that is lowered when the ship is anchored and not docked. Dress code is elegant casual: suits and fancy dresses are not seen at all on this itinerary or in the Med., and they supposedly have a rule that anyone caught wearing a tie will be banned from the dining room.
This is not really a family ship. On our three cruises, two had no kids at all, while the third had two or three. While perhaps 60 percent of the PAX were over 50, there was a pretty good mix of younger people as well. Shore excursions tended to be active: perhaps a bit too much so for the age mix. If you are not fairly mobile, this probably is not the ship for you.
Best part of the trip
The crew was friendly and helpful, the passengers were interesting, the ports were relaxing, and the ship itself was fun. It was great having a feeling of elegance, yet not having to dress up - Windstar really does have "casual elegance".
Worst part of the trip
Transfers, embarkation, disembarkation, and the tenders. The tenders were needed for almost every port - hard to enter and leave, with strong gas fumes, they meant we never made a second trip back to the ports after we boarded the ship. The visit to the emergency room (see below).
My husband underwent an emergency appendectomy Monday night before the cruise. He couldn't lift our suitcases, stand for long periods, and was certainly mobility impaired. American Airlines' wheelchair techniques at JFK were honed to perfection (true as well at the end of the trip), and we settled in our coach seats philosophically, if not comfortably. We had opted for Windstar's own hotel and their transfers - a waste of time and money, if not worse. We staggered off the plane, and tried to find our luggage. In Barbados, we had to walk down 12 steps to get to the tarmac. No wheelchairs. We were herded onto a bus, jammed in at the airline's convenience. No wheelchair. No Windstar representative. It took an hour for our luggage to come out of the luggage carousel, and the porter we found took another party out in the time it took our luggage to come out. Where was our Windstar transfer? All through the airport, people were standing holding signs. Windstar's representative was a block from the exit, and when we found her she had just sent the bus away. We waited, and waited, and waited...When we got to the Accra Beach hotel, they had NO RESERVATION for us. The Windstar representative at the desk found us a hotel room long after my comfort level plummeted to "wish I'd stayed home". Their upgraded room, meant as a generous gesture, turned out to be a menace when Joe had a bad fall coming out of the hot tub, and injured his back. We spent Saturday night in a Barbados emergency room. . Two Windstar ships were loading from the same hotel the next day. They loaded within a few minutes of each other, a BIG MISTAKE. Why did the company combine three different busloads? One busload went on a tour, one went to the Wind Star and one was supposed to go to the Wind Surf. All three groups jammed the lobby, milling around and causing confusion. We stood in three lines...an ordeal for my husband. Once we got on board, Joe went for a walk off the ship, and found our luggage in a shed on the pier. It was nearly loaded onto the wrong ship! Joe had to do a lot of negotiating to get our luggage onto the proper ship.
The Accra Beach hotel might have been charming if we'd arrived promptly, had a shower, and a nap. Instead, we were overtired by the time we entered our room. Joe fell on the Jacuzzi, and the resulting trip to the emergency room on Saturday night further depleted our health. Fortunately, Debbie the manager trainee and her male counterpart were compassionate and helpful. The got us into a taxi, both ways, found us a clinic with an x-ray service, and even managed to make the process seem dignified. They got us to a clinic, where Joe had an X-Ray and the M.D. on duty urged to get back on the cruise ship the next day. I'm still grateful to Debbie and the male night manager for the happy outcome. They were the difference between a lawsuit and a commendation. Still, I wouldn't pay for Windstar's own transfers and hotel again. It was poor quality for the money.
As indicated in our 2004 review of the ship, these were the smallest rooms we'd had on our ten ocean cruises (188 square feet), but we knew that the room had not been a problem in 2004. Though compact, our stateroom was very comfortable, and we had no cabin fever. There seemed to be room for all our belongings. We did miss having a bath tub; but we knew that in advance.
The steward was unobtrusive. Our room was kept clean, and when we asked for something (ice, more shampoo, etc.) it arrived promptly. The towels and bathrobes were good, and the fruit bowl was kept filled.
The food in the dining rooms was so good, and so convenient, we never felt a need to eat elsewhere. . Breakfast and lunch were served in the Veranda room; however, we quickly found that we could avoid crowds, and get waiter service for several items, if we sat in the adjacent room, Degrees (formerly known as the Bistro). The breakfast choices always included pancakes, French toast, waffles, and at least one light cuisine choice. Eggs were made to order, smoked salmon was available every day, and the fruit was fresh and abundant. There was lots of fruit, meusli, great breads and pastries, and stuff we never even tried, such as British breakfast, cold cereal, breakfast meats (hot and cold), etc.
We ate every lunch on the ship, except for the beach barbecue. Most lunches had themes (Italian, Spanish, Asian), and the choices were generally interesting. Grilled food, such as fish and burgers, was always available. The salads were especially varied and interesting. There were always lots of desserts, including low fat and the famous HAL bread pudding. The review of "sfg" of a 2002 cruise mentioned the need for a sandwich bar, and said that buffet choices were not too good. We felt that buffet choices were excellent. While there still is no area where the ship crew makes cold sandwiches, there are plenty of sandwich ingredients available, including great bread, for making your own sandwiches. I have a habit of making sandwiches from the breakfast buffet to ease the munchies, and we found this helpful when our American Airlines flight failed to serve edible food. Yes, a Windstar raisin bread and cheese sandwich smelled better after 8 hours than the airline's $5.00 sandwiches.
The barbecue on the beach at Mayreau was one of the highlights of the trip. The succulent ribs, lamb chops, and corn were culinary standouts. The steel band was a hoot, the vendors were laid back and had colorful things to sell. They had some of the best prices for shells here. We had the entire island to ourselves...and it was lovely. I went into the ocean three times, lined up for food and dessert twice, and even shooed away the crows. Unlike Pigeon Island, we COULD find our way to the appropriate area, and enjoy the time on shore.
The alternate restaurant outdid itself on Indonesian night, but we like that type of food more than most people. The alternate restaurant was otherwise OK, but the regular dining room was superb. EXCEPT for a 40-minute wait for our entrees on the last night, while people who came after us were served before us, the service was fine. We were hungry by 7:30 PM, the hour the restaurant opened, so often sat at a table for two for prompter service.
Ports, Itinerary, and Excursions
All ports except two (Dominica and Grenada) were tender ports. In Dominica, a larger cruise ship took the convenient port near the center of town, and we were docked more than a mile from town. It might as well have been a fifth tender port. Joan missed lunch to shop at her favorite "native" store, J. Nassief, and it was a stretch.
The crew did their best with the tenders, but they remained a source of seasickness and fumes. I believe Joe's lack of mobility made us more sensitive to this drawback, but we found it a negative. The ports varied: in Pigeon Island, thanks to the useless port talks, we never found the correct beach and regretted getting off the ship; in Mayreau we could see the tenders going back and forth with food and drink and almost smell the succulent barbecue. In most of the other ports, we shared private tours with Rochelle and Elliot ("Smokey"), whom we met through the CC boards.
The sports platform was open on all four tender days, with sailing, kayaking, swimming and snorkeling (off a boat launched from the platform, not the platform itself), and other activities. We didn't try it, but it looked like fun.
In Bequia, we engaged Noel, the driver of a safari taxi. The three hour tour, for four people, was under $30 per person, maybe close to $20. The ship's tour, which includes one thing (moon holes) that we didn't see, is in the $85 range.
In Grenada, I took a river tubing tour from the ship, and it was a hoot - flying past huge rocks in a tube, getting wet and muddy, and laughing our heads off . The driver in the River Tubing graciously drove us to world-famous Annandale Falls before taking us back to the ship. loved it. Joe, Rochelle, and Elliot took a tour with a & e Tours. A rather standard tour, but quite nice. Later, Joe and I walked through the market, and bought spices.
Tobago taught us something about ship's tours. The ship has a snorkeling and glass bottom boat tour, for $59 per person. They use all three glass bottom boat providers at a place called Speyside. We booked a $20 glass bottom boat ride, plus $10 per person for transportation, from Top Ranking glass bottom boats, and were surprised, when we arrived, to learn that our tour would be delayed by 30 minutes. Why? So the tour for the Wind Surf, on the same boat, could be completed. Our tour was actually better, because we had 10 people (8 from the Wind Surf), while there were about 25 people from the Wind Surf on the boat before we got on. Also, we had a choice of snorkeling or a nature walk on Little Tobago, while they had no choice--just snorkeling. Our tour cost half the amount of the "official" tour, on the same boat. What the heck is Windstar's profit margin?
In Dominica we used Fredos taxi again, as we did last year. We went up to Carib Indian territory, and saw parts of the island that we didn't go to last year, such as the emerald pool. Mr. Nice Fruits is a touristy place, but it's still fun sampling many of the local fruits. All in all, a great tour.
In Barbados we relied on the wonderful Glory Tours, as described below under disembarkation.
There wasn't much of it, and we didn't miss it. There was a small casino, and there were usually bands in the two lounges. They were not well populated most of the time: people were simply too tired after exciting days on shore. Most people rented DVDs, and watched them in their rooms. Had we been night owls instead of early birds, we could easily have made our own entertainment. Nonetheless, if you want big, glitzy shows, this may not be the ship for you. The only "show" was the weekly crew show, which was quite interesting.
Level of service
Generally excellent, except for the port talks. The crew made us feel pampered and special. The trip helped Joe recover from his surgery and trauma. Once we got on board the ship, Windstar couldn't do enough for us.
A standard $11.00/day is added to your room bill. I didn't think it was enough, considering how hard the crew worked. Iced Tea and water were free at the bar, no tip. They cheerfully brought us many glasses of iced tea, just as if it was the best champagne, which carried a 15% tip.
Always a downer. Windsurf had a tie-in with some flights, so some people left before 5 a.m. We left at 8:30 and were met by Sarah Taylor, the owner of Glory Tours, who took us on a personalized tour for much less than the ship charge. When we found we still had time to kill before our late afternoon flight, she even added an extra hour to the tour (we went to the northern tip of the island) for no charge. Fantastic, and (including the cost of a fish lunch at a local restaurant) we saved about $30 per person compared with the ship's tour.
As was the case in 2004, a fantastic trip, despite some glitches! Once again, Bravo, Wind Surf!