Private yachts flock to the smaller British Virgin Islands and St. Barth’s. There’s a reason for this: they are home to some of the most beautiful beaches and water in the Caribbean. Floating in crystalline water and watching the clouds pass overhead is deeply relaxing.
I’ve just returned from St. Martin and a week-long cruise on Windstar’s Wind Surf on their Yachtsman’s Caribbean itinerary. It was perfect.
We spent seven days in small harbors the big ships cannot get to — how nice to be so spoiled!
On the larger islands of Antigua and Tortola, the ship dropped anchor in Falmouth and Soper’s Hole — far from the madding crowd at the cruise terminals.
At Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda, and St. Barth’s there were only yachts and sailboats.
I loved this itinerary – very destination focused! We had one day at sea, then every day afterwards, it was a short hop to the next island.
On Jost Van Dyke and Virgin Gorda we moored the night before the main day on those islands — making it possible to go ashore for supper. When I’ve been on sailing trips, this is just what we’ve done — it allows people stay onboard or go ashore to experience the evening. After all, it’s vacation! It should be about the freedom to make personal choices instead of being regimented.
I had a wonderful trip, and came away very impressed with Windstar as a company. The ship is beautiful, and the crew is outstanding. Windstar is in a sweet spot in the cruise industry — small ship cruising, up-market from the big lines, but significantly less expensive than the ultra-luxury lines.
Windstar carted home the awards this last year! After my cruise onboard Wind Surf, it’s easy to understand why.
- USA Today Best Boutique Cruise Line 2016
- Conde Nast 2017 Gold List
- Conde Nast Reader’s Choice Awards 2016 Best Small Cruise Ship (#4)
- Cruise Report’s Best Small Cruise Ship Line 2016
I had such a great time on Wind Surf, and I’m excited about Windstar. I think the quality of the itineraries, the food, the ships, and the service, at their price point is outstanding.
It was lovely to return to the yacht each day, clean up and head out to the Compass Rose Bar on the stern of Wind Surf to have a cocktail and watch the sun go down. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Wind Surf’s Yachtsman’s Caribbean Itinerary and Excursions
I chose this itinerary because I’ve always wanted to visit Jost Van Dyke and the coral atoll of Anegada — and while Wind Surf did not moor there, I could visit it on an excursion.
Whenever I go on a cruise, I mix excursion and non-excursion days.
I did things on my own in English Harbour Antigua, White Bay Jost Van Dyke, lunch in St. Barth’s, then I took three Windstar excursions in Tortola, Virgin Gorda, and back in St. Martin.
This was my fourth visit to Antigua, and my two snorkeling excursions on previous cruises were underwhelming. I’ve always found Lord Nelson interesting, and since Wind Surf anchored at Falmouth, the Nelson Dockyards were a short, ten minute walk away.
The British began using English Harbour in the 17th century because it offered protection to British warships from hurricanes.
The dockyard was developed in the 18th century to spare the navy the expense of sailing to the American colonies for refitting ships.
The buildings date from 1725 – 1745, and the dockyard most significant period of activity and importance was 1775 to 1810. With the end of the Napoleonic wars, it diminished in importance. English Harbour was too narrow to accommodate steamships, and in 1889, the navy left and the yard was closed.
In 1784, Captain Horatio Nelson was stationed at English Harbour for several years. He was very unpopular with the Antiguans for enforcing the Navigation Act that prevented trade between British islands and America. The feeling was mutual, and regularly expressed in his letters back to Britain, “English Harbour I hate the sight of.”
The Nelson Dockyard has been beautifully restored, and I had a great time exploring it.
Soper’s Hole, Tortola: Snorkeling at Norman Island
Initially, I was concerned with the size of the Windstar group for this trip – over twenty people. It ended up being fine, because they put us on a boat that could have carried twice that number — so it was spacious for the group and not overcrowded. Yes, I would have preferred a smaller boat with fewer people.
The snorkeling at Norman Island was outstanding. I saw more different species of fish at our two snorkeling spots than I’ve ever seen together at one time in the Caribbean. A long time ago, I had a 110 gallon marine aquarium, so I’m able to identify many kinds of fish — and I was in fish heaven that morning. A big deal at Norman Island is to swim into one of the caves, but I had no interest. I just hung with the fishes. I loved watching the tiny fairy basslets and the blennies. And I swam along with an entire school of blue tangs. I would have stayed with the fish all day . . .
It may be time for me to learn to dive.
Fish I saw that morning: sergeant majors, a variety of parrot fish, blue tangs, royal grammas, blennies, jewel damsel fish, small angel fish, blue stripe, yellow stripe jack fish, pipe cleaner fish, fan coral, yellow tail snapper, surgeon fish, cleaning goby, four eye butterfly fish, French grunts, a variety of wrasses, squirrel fish, feather duster worms, black spiny sea urchins. *** Please! Be mindful that you use reef-safe sunscreen especially when you snorkel, dive, or go anywhere near the the ocean. We need to quit using products with oxybenzone, a major culprit in bleaching coral.
Since Wind Surf moored at Soper’s Hole, we were closer to Norman Island than the excursions coming from the big ships docked at the cruise terminal in Road Town. Our early morning snorkeling trip got us to Norman Island before it was busy.
Just as the noodle people arrived, we headed back to Soper’s Hole to hit Pusser’s for conch fritters and a Pain Killer.
Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke
Ahh, what a fine day it was. Two new friends from the Wind Surf came with me, and we headed to the beach at White Bay on Jost Van Dyke.
White Bay Beach is where the famous Soggy Dollar bar is — and the taxi dropped us off there without even asking. The three of us took a look around and decided to ditch Soggy Dollar.
WAY too crowded. Not what we were looking for . . . After a nice wander down the beach away from everyone, we found One Love. No one there.
Now this is what I’m talking about . . .
I spent the day lounging and swimming and lounging and swimming and drinking Carib beer and swimming and dozing. The lobster quesadillas were perfect finger food. And One Love makes a fine, I mean a super fine Pain Killer.
As the day wore on, we were joined by a catamaran, a sailboat, and at least one motor yacht; the occupants would jump off and swim over for some lunch at One Love. It was pretty perfect.
I didn’t want to leave.
I think in my mind I may still be sitting on a lounge chair up under one of the sea grape trees . . .
Virgin Gorda: Escape to Anegada Excursion
I heart Anegada.
This excursion was marked as strenuous, and it lived up to its description. For the Escape to Anegada excursion, two pontoon speedboats picked up the fourteen passengers directly from Wind Surf, and we were off!!
Traveling at speeds ranging from 19 knots to 30 knots, we flew over the water on our thirty minute trip out to the low-slung island of Anegada. I LOVED it! It was an exhilarating, kick-ass ride!
One of the passengers was unhappy with the excursion because she hadn’t read the description, so I’ll say it again here: it’s a rough, fast ride. You sit astride the seats — it it feels like riding a fast horse. And yes, you are going to get wet. Probably soaked at one point or another. If this doesn’t sound like fun, pick another experience! Don’t complain to the cruise director that this wasn’t your cup of tea.
Transportation met us at the dock at Anegada and transferred us to the Anegada Beach Club.
Anegada: pristine beach. No people. NO PEOPLE!! Amazing water and the sound of distant breakers hitting the reef. Patches of sea grass and Queen Conchs munching their way along the bottom. Little palapa-like sun shades with loungers.
My only complaint– we had only one hour on the beach. This needs to be longer — it should be a two hour beach break. I could have skipped the trip out to see the flamingos and the pile of dead conchs. When you get to a spot this perfect, why in the world rush to leave it?
But — I’ll be back. I was intrigued with the posh tent accommodations at the Anegada Beach Club, and staying here is now on my bucket list. Thank you, Windstar, for getting me out to this beautiful, remote place!
Our high-speed ride took us directly to the Beach Barbecue that Windstar had set up in Virgin Gorda. After a good lunch and another swim, it was time to head back to Wind Surf.
Gustavia, Saint Barthélemy
St. Barth’s lived up to its reputation of being lovely and pricey: the yacht-styles of the rich and famous. Being a little over-sunned, and frankly still tired from Anegada and the swimming at Virgin Gorda the day before, I was looking for something low key. I wandered the town and had a lovely lunch with one of my ship mates.
St. Martin and the America’s Cup Racing Yachts
When we disembarked back in St. Martin, I took one final excursion — the America’s Cup Regatta. Very exciting! I would love to do this again — and will, when I’m in St. Martin the next time. This is another active, strenuous excursion, and was so much fun!
This is a regatta with three twelve meter yachts that all competed in the America’s Cup races in the 1980’s.
Our group of fourteen people crewed the Canada II in a race against the Stars and Stripes and True North. I started out in a primary grinder position which I managed for the first two legs of the race before pooping out — the young guys grinding with me were too fast, so I move forward for the final leg.
The Wind Surf Yacht
Wind Surf was built in 1990 at the French shipyard Societe Nouvelle des Ateliers et Chantiers du Havre, and most recently refurbished in 2012. She originally sailed for Club Med Cruises (as Club Med I), and was then purchased by Windstar in 1997.
When Wind Surf was refurbished, they created thirty suites on Deck 3 by combining two regular staterooms. Because of this, all the suites have two bathrooms, in addition to a bedroom area and sitting area. There are no verandahs on Wind Surf, and all cabins have porthole windows, in keeping with the style of the yacht.
I really like the upscale, clean look of the interior design choices that were made for Wind Surf when she was updated.
|Wind Surf Specs:|
|CAPACITY: 310 Guests
STATEROOMS: 122 deluxe ocean view staterooms
SUITES: 31 deluxe ocean view suites
BRIDGE DECK SUITES: 2 deluxe ocean view bridge suites
DECKS: 6 decks
CREW: 201 international staff
SHIP’S REGISTRY: Bahamas
|LENGTH: 535 feet (162 meters) at waterline; 617 feet (187meters) including bowsprit
DRAFT: 16.5 feet (5 meters)
TONNAGE: 14,745 gross registered tons (grt)
BEAM: 66 feet (20 meters)
SAILS: 7 triangular, self-furling, computer-operated sails with 26,881 square feet (or 2,600 square meters) of Dacron surface area
MASTS: 5 at 221 feet (67.5 meters)
ENGINES: 4 diesel electric generating sets, 2 electrical propulsion motor
SPEED: 10 to 12 knots with engines only; up to 15 knots wind and engine assisted
Care to go for a swim? In addition to the pool and hot tubs on the stern, when the Wind Surf is moored, the Watersport Platform lowers down and you can take a dip in the ocean, go paddle boarding, or try your hand at wind surfing off the back of the yacht.
But are you sailing?
On this cruise, there was not much of a sailing sensation on Wind Surf. Part of it was the itinerary. We made short hops, island to island, so the ship wasn’t going far on most days. This is one reason I chose this cruise.
Also, I didn’t expect to feel like I was sailing; when you look at the size of Wind Surf versus the square feet of sail — in my opinion, this just isn’t what this ship is about — on Wind Surf it’s about the overall cruise experience versus sailing.
This is a positive thing for someone who likes to see the sails, but perhaps doesn’t have the sea legs or stomach to handle a windjammer or clipper ship.
If you are wanting more of a sailing experience, I’d try Windstar’s two smaller yachts — Wind Star or Wind Spirit. These two ships have a gross tonnage of 5,300 – 5,700, and 21,500 square feet of sail — smaller, lighter and more likely to give you a feeling of flying before the wind.
My Wind Surf cabin was lovely. I had stateroom #205 which was 188 square feet (18 square meters). The design was very clean and modern; storage was ample and well thought out. There were two long closets, one of which held the safe,plenty of drawers and cubbies, a fully stocked minibar, and a narrow drawer with hard liquor selection.
The bathroom was as roomy as standard ship bathrooms get, and well appointed: granite counter top, plenty of storage, and nothing looked worn or dirty. I was particularly pleased with Windstar’s L’Occitane en Provence amenity line — I loved the soap and lotion.
I’ve included the Wind Surf deck plan (click above image to enlarge) which has the sizes and configurations of all the cabin types.
My cabin had a DVD player and stereo that could several connection options so that you could play music from an iPod or phone. There were outlets for both 110 volt and 220 volt plugs. Room service was available continuously. I only used it once for coffee early in the morning, but the waiter was right there – johnny-on-the-spot.
My steward was considerate and quick to smile; he gave exemplary service. My ice bucket and glass bottles of filtered water were always full, the minibar restocked. Oh, and of course a zoo of towel animals appeared over the course of the week.
Thank you, Fauzi!
My fellow passengers on this cruise were almost all either American or Canadian. I did see one couple from France.
Windstar really shines in the service arena. I found all of their crew attentive, happy, and quick to help. Many knew my name within the first twenty-four hours. With 201 crew to a passenger capacity of 310, the ratio is nearly 2 crew for every 3 passengers. This is so important. It allows Windstar to provide a high standard of service without wearing out their staff.
Wind Surf has everything you might need onboard. The Wind Spa offers full spa services, as well as hair and nail salon services.
The cruise director gave the most thorough port talks I’ve ever heard — with PowerPoints: an overview of the local history, followed by points of interest, favorite cuisine and drinks, and possible things to do. It wasn’t a shopping advertisement for stores the cruise line is paid to promote! How refreshing!
The two bands provided our onboard entertainment were both talented, and for those wanting some dancing and nightlife after dinner, the main lounge is the place to be.
Breakfast is served in the open-air Veranda restaurant on the upper deck, weather permitting. Passenger have a choice of the buffet, an omelette/egg station, or ordering from the menu.
The regular dining room onboard Wind Surf is AmphorA, and then there are two specialty restaurants: Candles and Stella Bistro. At AmphorA, the chef’s menu changes each evening, although there are standard favorites (like steak) that are always available.
In the evening, the Veranda restaurant transforms into Candles, with a steakhouse themed menu. Having dinner under the stars on this beautiful yacht was very special. Stella Bistro, Wind Surf’s French restaurant is also located on the top deck, just behind Veranda area. There is no additional charge for dining in the specialty restaurants, always a nice thing.
Each week, Windstar is famous for putting on their Deck Barbecue. It’s all chefs, cooks, and waitstaff on deck to pull this off, and it was impressive!
What did I think about the food on Wind Surf? It was very, very good. And — very exciting — Windstar and the James Beard Foundation have announced a partnership! Windstar is now the official cruise line of the James Beard Foundation; I expect really fine things to come in the culinary area on this cruise line.
It was hard to leave Wind Surf! As with all great vacations, the time went by too quickly, and I found myself back in St. Martin for a couple of nights at the end of the cruise.
This was such a wonderful week! I am looking forward to traveling with Windstar again — I think sailing with them to Alaska on Star Legend would be outstanding, or perhaps to Tahiti and the Society Islands on Wind Spirit . . .