Dispatch, Wind Surf: The yacht experience

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Donna Tunney - Windstar

 Cruise editor Donna Tunney is on Windstar Cruises’ Wind Surf for a Caribbean cruise. Her first dispatch follows.

Anchored in Great Harbour, just off Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands, the pretty Wind Surf sat quietly under a full moon.

As dawn approached I was alone on deck, since most passengers were sleeping off the effects of a late night out.

This is not a party boat, to be sure, but the ship overnighted in this location, providing a perfect opportunity for passengers to tender ashore for a bit of local nightlife. Around here, that means Foxy’s bar, where Wind Surf guests drank beer and rum punch, and danced the night away in the rustic beachfront shack.

My assignments in the last year brought me to the gangways of ships that accommodated 3,000, 4,000 and 5,000-plus people. I loved those ships and began to consider myself a big-ship cruiser.

But when I stepped aboard the Wind Surf, which carries a mere 312 passengers, the memories of two earlier cruises on this ship — many years ago — came flooding back, and the realization hit: This is the ship that nurtured my love of cruising in the first place.

You’re close to the water aboard the Wind Surf.

You can feel the ship rise and fall with the gentle swells of the sea.

You can smell the salty air.

You know you’re on a boat.

As usual, I had set out on the first day of this sailing, which left St. Maarten Jan. 7, to meet other passengers. I try to chat with first-time and repeat cruisers.

A couple from Nashville chose the Wind Surf for their first cruise at the recommendation of a friend. A couple from Louisville, Ky., has been on all three Windstar ships, and this was their third sailing on the Wind Surf.

These couples said they were delighted with the cruise so far. And then I found the mother lode.

Wind Star cabin

Sarah, a single professional gal from Seattle, told me she’s cruised on the Wind Surf every year for the past 10 years, always solo.

“They take really good care of me. I wouldn’t book anything else,” she said. (She’s also loyal to her longtime travel agent.)

Onboard operations are designed to make passengers feel that the Wind Surf is their own private yacht. They convinced me of that 15 years ago, and they’re convincing me again this week.

This seven-day cruise will visit several ports in the British Virgin Islands, and call at Guadeloupe in the French West Indies.

The ship is a five-masted, motor-sailing yacht. The sail technology is controlled from the bridge, and while the wind does help to propel the vessel, the sails mostly provide the exciting and romantic impression of yachting.

The yacht mentality is what it’s all about on Windstar.

Guests aboard this cruise are enjoying a top-to-bottom renovation of the Wind Surf’s cabins and hallways. Another drydock next fall will refit the public areas. But more about that in another dispatch.

Windstar came under new ownership last June, when Xanterra Parks & Resorts acquired it from Ambassadors International. Ambassadors had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April, and many in the industry wondered what would become of the small-ship line that established a big following over the years.

It seems to me that the management change has not in any way diluted or altered the line’s high standards of service and amenities.

The Wind Surf is known for its low-key, casual atmosphere, best described, I think, as understated elegance. The food has been excellent, with an indoor/outdoor buffet and a la carte options for breakfast and lunch, and four venue choices for dinner.

During the day, outdoor decks are quiet and not crowded. It’s virtually all couples, mostly in their 40s, 50s and 60s. There are no children onboard.

As the Wind Surf makes its way from island to island this week, I expect that these passengers, who seem to be hardworking professional people in need of R&R, will get exactly what they came for: peace and quiet on a small ship that really does feel like a private yacht.

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