Vela doesn't have too many organized activities; the cruise works best for social, self-directed people who come to swim, snorkel, sunbathe and read. A large whiteboard in the salon outlines where the ship is going that day, as well as approximate arrival and departure times; bear in mind that this often isn't known until a few hours before and can change which makes it difficult to plan independent guided shore excursions on your own.
The cruise director typically gives passenger the low down on the ship's movement and the next day's schedule during the daily Happy Hour. We sometimes found his lack of detail frustrating, but that's the vibe on this cruise; if you don't like to go with the flow, it might not be the vacation for you. There's no Wi-Fi and -- with the exception of the Owner's Suite, no TV -- so come prepared to be unplugged.
A typical day will include a stop at a small beach town where passengers can go to shore to shop or swim. All transport is made by dinghy and the staff is extremely conscientious about safety and does their best to make all passengers comfortable getting on or off; that being said, if you are in a wheelchair or have extended mobility issues, this is not the cruise for you. Some landings on the beach are wet, so you'll want to bring a beach bag that offers some protection from water (a waterproof phone case would be a smart buy). The dinghy usually goes between the ship and town on the hour. On some of the larger islands, Vela offers an optional shore excursion for a fee.
There are two main areas on the ship to hang out during the day, at the fore and back, and the staff puts lounge chairs out for sun tanning and reading. Smoking is allowed in an area at the back of the ship, which is also covered. Some days a tarp is placed over the fore deck to block out the sun, but this can vary and you do have to watch your sun exposure. Bring lots of sunscreen, as well as bug spray.
Snorkel gear is distributed on the first day (you can also bring your own) and "organized" snorkel trips are often on the agenda. By organized, we mean simply that the dinghy will bring you to a place that's good for snorkeling; not that someone will act as a guide. Paddleboards are also available to use, both on the beach and around the boat, if the water is calm. Swimming around the boat is also encouraged during calm seas and a rope swing is often brought out.
Nights on Vela really depend on who is sailing. A quiet crowd means that people head to their cabins after dinner while a more rowdy group might stay up playing board games, dancing to music from an iPod (Passengers will have to volunteer their own playlists!) or drinking. Overall, Island Windjammers does not draw a party crowd, however.
In terms of where this entertainment takes place, generally the action happens outdoors, at either sitting area in the back or on the front deck. At night, the indoor lounge may be used for a quiet game of cards or -- because we had several children on our sailing -- coloring. It can get stuffy inside, however, in the Caribbean humidity and it was always more pleasant to be outdoors under the stars.
There are no pools or hot tubs on Vela, but the company's philosophy is who needs it, when you have the whole ocean at your disposal? As mentioned early, night swimming often takes place in calm water and the rope swing is amusing for all.
Vela does not have a gym or fitness equipment, although if you choose to snorkel daily and take out the paddleboards, you can keep fit. On some sailings, a crew member leads an organized hike onshore.
Vela does attract families during the summer months and we were surprised how many there were on a July sailing (the minimum age is 8). While there are no special facilities for children or teens, the kids on our cruise seemed pretty happy doing many of the same activities as the adults -- swimming, snorkeling, paddleboarding, jumping off the rope swing, reading, coloring and playing cards. This, of course, depends on the child and family; this is not a ship where you can dump your kids off and let the crew take care of them.
In terms of meals, the staff was willing to make simple children's dinners such as spaghetti or hot dogs. There are no special beds for kids; on our sailing, one set of parents put their 10-year-old in a single cabin. All in all, the laid-back, do-what-you-want vibe allows parents to spend a lot of quality time with their kids -- without the distraction of screens and social media.