Graceful Wind Surf sports laid-back ambience

Travel Weekly executive editor Donna Tunney sailed on Windstar Cruises' seven-night southern Caribbean itinerary on Wind Surf.

ABOARD WIND SURF -- How lucky can you get? I sailed aboard Wind Surf nearly three years ago, on a French and Italian Riviera cruise, just after Windstar bought the vessel from Club Med. Now I had been invited back to see the ship's upgrade, which was completed at the close of 2000.

The biggest change is the addition of a business center with Internet access and e-mail capability.

Other refurbishments include some upholstery refits, a new gangway and subtle design changes to the Windstar Lounge, the Restaurant and the Casino.

The Wind Surf is an elegant ship with a casual atmosphere and a friendly and sophisticated staff. And they're funny to boot.

Capt. Richard Bridge gave a lively welcome address in the lounge the first night we sailed.

"People always ask me, 'Why did you decide to become a ship's captain ... what brought you to a career at sea?' And I tell them it came to me a long time ago, when I was a school boy and my teacher said rather crossly to me: 'Richard, what kind of a job are you going to get looking out the window all day?' "

Windstar's Wind Surf.We sailed roundtrip from Barbados, visiting Tobago,

Bequia, Martinique, St. Lucia and Mayreau, and had one day at sea.

Shore excursions featured everything from motorcoach tours of the islands to scuba diving and snorkeling, plus rain-forest hikes and all-terrain vehicle drives. Prices ranged from about $30 to over $100.

One memorable excursion for several dozen of us was the Tobago rain-forest hike.

After donning rubber boots provided by the ground operator, our group set off into the rain forest and trampled through some very serious mud. Up and down ravines we went in a long single line, as our guide pointed out birds, trees, medicinal plants and insects.

We slipped and slid our way through the forest, got caught in a torrential downpour and came out of the forest pretty well caked with mud.

Everyone seemed to have a great time despite being thrown into a panic once when our guide turned round to the group, gasped, pointed and yelled "spider wasp!" That was enough to send several of us into a tizzy thinking the creature was climbing up our shirts.

Turned out it had just flown by us.

I found the tranquil setting on board the ship much more relaxing, especially the spa.

The Wind Spa's waiting area sets the tone for a de-stressing treatment. It's dimly lighted, the air is scented with comforting aromas and it's quiet.

A range of treatments is offered, such as facials, body wraps and massages. It also has a coed sauna and a hair salon. A 55-minute massage cost $78.

But, back to business.

A steel drum band entertained passengers during a lively barbecue on the island of Mayreau. Thanks to a couple of minor emergencies that cropped up at Travel Weekly, I had occasion to use the Internet and e-mail service several times.

There were 10 computer workstations in the business center. After getting my e-mail access code from the ship's reception desk (all guests intending to use e-mail must do this), I logged on.

There are two ways to send and receive. If passengers use CruiseMail, it's 75 cents a minute for Internet access and $3.50 to send an e-mail. (You are automatically using the Internet with CruiseMail.)

If passengers want to log onto their own existing e-mail, it costs more -- $7.50 for up to 5,000 characters on outgoing e-mails and $5 for each incoming e-mail. I used CruiseMail several times, sending to and receiving replies from two people at Travel Weekly, and my total bill at the end of the week was just over $19. I was not charged for incoming e-mails that came to my CruiseMail account. Charges are posted to each passenger's shipboard account.

The business center also has a meeting room that accommodates up to 30.

The ship's new gangway is a substantial improvement.

Wind Surf lost four cabins in this part of the upgrade, when architects replaced them with an entry for the gangway on Deck 2. Now the gangway is much less steep compared with the previous Deck 4 gangway.

Cabins are roomy, and each comes with a television and VCR plus a CD player. Guests can select movies and CDs from the library and sign them out.There are 31 suites.

Dining venues on board include the Restaurant, which is open seating for all meals; the Bistro, where reservations are necessary for dinner, and the Veranda, where breakfast and lunch is available buffet-style or from a menu.

The food at dinner was uniformly good. A vegetarian selection and Sail Light entree was offered each evening.

A varied wine list sported reasonable prices. Room service is available 24 hours a day.

I kept hearing passengers rave about the casual dress policy -- no jackets and ties for men at any meal. The only rule is that no jeans or T-shirts are allowed in the Restaurant.

There is no traditional cabaret-style cruise show aboard Wind Surf, but there was a band that played in the main lounge each evening.

Despite the proficiency of the performers, their selections relentlessly relied on melancholy tunes and ballads. The band called itself Rain.

A singing duo who sometimes played in the Compass Rose Bar was more upbeat and enjoyable.

Our cruise's final port call, at the privately owned island of Mayreau, in the Grenadine chain, was the big hit of the week.

The ship orchestrated a fantastic beach barbecue. It was hard to believe that this was the same group of 300 who climbed the gangway -- haggard and worn out after flying to Barbados from all over the U.S. -- seven days earlier.

Now they were running and playing on the beach like kids, splashing through the incredible turquoise water and eating and drinking to their collective hearts' content and without a care in the world.

But that is what it's all about, is it not?

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