By Joyce Landry
It’s is probably no surprise that what I chose to do during my holiday was …take a cruise! Curiously, I had conversations with a number of people aboard who said they were not “cruise travelers”… huh? As the days went by, it began to make sense… because we were on a “sailing yacht” – the four-masted Wind Spirit, not to be confused with a “cruise ship”. Yes Virginia, there is a difference!
As popular as mainstream cruising is, there is a strong contingent of travelers who prefer to travel more independently. These folks shy away from large ships (as well as large hotels) that are in popular, high-trafficked destinations. This demographic of traveler is more adventuresome and seeks immersion experiences of the destination – rather than being entertained.
Our sailing yacht experience began in Colon, Pa,nama and ended in Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica. We visited remote areas – going ashore by zodiac, often with wet landings (hopping off into shallow water, for the uninitiated).
It’s no surprise that this type of travel attracts active people, but it by no means discriminates by age. One woman on our trip was 95 years old! I have to clarify that she was the most fit 95-year-old I’ve ever seen and was off the ship daily in a zodiac and hiking right along with us. Talk about inspiration!
From the beginning, we experienced a very personal touch. With only 75 rooms (150 passengers), WindSpirit is casually informal. We were whisked aboard immediately in Colon, and filled out our registration documents and waivers while seated comfortably in the main lounge with a welcome drink in our hands (a nice change from standing in line!) The process was quick, and then we were off exploring the vessel.
Wind Spirit (as well as her sisters, Wind Star andWind Surf) had major refurbishments recently, and I was anxious to see the updates. This sailing yacht did not disappoint – beautifully appointed, lovely furnishings throughout and sumptuous linens in the very comfortable, well-designed cabins.
There are a few things you will not see on Wind Spirit …. including balconies or elevators. Frankly, neither one was missed. The action was outside – on deck, under the sails – enjoying the yachting lifestyle. There is so much al fresco activity that we did not miss a balcony, and the vessel was so easy to get around, that an elevator would have been overkill.
So what was my sailing yacht experience like? Here are some memorable moments:
Going through the Panama Canal at “eye-level”
I’ve been through the canal before on a large ship and saw the operation from a high level. But this was the first time I really experienced it. We watched the ship being tied-in to the electric mules from the bow of the yacht and would feel the rush of the water as the locked filled.
At eye-level, it’s even more impressive to see every rivet that was used to assemble the walls and marvel at the engineering feat that took so many lives in the process. We had an excellent guide aboard who moderated the entire lock operation – It was mesmerizing.
Very few vessels allow guests to drop by the bridge whenever they want – but that’s exactly what we were encouraged to do! I often had my morning cup of tea chatting with the captain or first mate as we were maneuvering toward our anchorage for the day. And they were very helpful in identifying constellations at night for us. This open bridge policy made us all feel like we were being treated like family.
The conviviality of the other passengers
On a ship this size, it stands to reason that you would meet people fast, but it happened naturally and casually – at the bar, in a zodiac, snorkeling. And, there was a nice bonding because of the like-mindedness of most of the passengers… professional, well-traveled, curious, leading interesting lives, but not status conscious. We had a lot of laughs and great conversations that really enhanced our trip.
Peace and quiet
At home, I meditate 3-4 days a week, but on Wind Spirit, I welcomed the sunrise every morning in meditation… in a beautiful spot that I picked out – unbothered by others, uninterrupted by music or noise – just the sound of the sea and the sails.
Likewise, we celebrated the sunset every night. We set sail every evening around sunset, and it became a ritual for me and Gene to stand at the railing, glass of wine in hand, and bid goodbye to another great day – looking ahead to another day in paradise.
Close encounters with the natural world
Monkeys, sloths, poison dart frogs, iguanas, Macaws and parrots. Not in a zoo, not in a cage – but everywhere we went. We encountered many of these creatures hiking along – just the two of us.
Most thrilling moment: coming upon a large family of Howler monkeys and watching them swing through the forest, calling after one another. And the backdrop! Waterfalls, rivers and rainforests. It’s amazing, and the only way to see this area by sea is on a small vessel.
Christmas Night, dining on deck
Once during the voyage, every guest is given an opportunity to book an evening at “Candles”, the cleverly conceived outdoor dining experience on WindSpirit. The aft deck is transformed for this; with seven or eight elegantly draped tables with candles as the only lighting. This makes the sky the main attraction – bright sparkly stars from horizon to horizon… it was magical.
It was here that I experienced the epitome of memorable moments – I saw a meteor soar across the sky and burst into a spray of light… it took my breath away.
There are a couple more things worth mentioning about the Wind Spirit experience…
Service and style with a smile
At the end of our day exploring ashore, hot, tired and satisfied, we were welcomed back to the vessel by the smiling faces of the crew who offered us chilled towels. Roughing it, maybe ashore – but aboard our sailing yacht, our every comfort was looked after.
By the second day, crew members knew our names, our favorite drinks, and began anticipating our needs. It was one of the most attentive service standards I have ever experienced on any ship.
Food, lovely food
Perfectly suited to OUR taste. Gene and I love great food – and we have high standards when it comes to freshness and flavor (we grow our own vegetables and it’s hard to beat that). The menus were creative and all of the ingredients were fresh and flavorful.
I especially liked the Veranda buffet for breakfast and lunch – gorgeous fruits and salads, breads and pastries to die for (unfortunately for us!), an omelet station, or perhaps a crepe ordered from the menu. We only have one word – yum!
The perfect choice…
Windstar’s yachts are perfect for charter. And what an amazing experience this would be for an incentive, a reunion, a wedding!