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"JEWELS OF THE CARIBBEAN"

by

Philip Barrington

 

Ten islands in fourteen days.  This time we wanted peace and quiet, but at the same time an experience 180 degrees from ordinary.  We booked for a week aboard the "Windsurf" - Windstar Cruises' newest ship.  As it turned out our greatest compliment to this ship and her crew was that we'd booked for one week only but stayed for two!  The best way to travel these days is by personal recommendation, especially when cruising.  Windstar's claim to fame of 'a unique and extraordinary experience in an atmosphere of casual elegance' is appreciated the moment you first step on board.

This winter, for most, has been cold an dreary ... what better way to escape than to fly to Barbados and unwind with two days pre-cruise at the charming and unpretentious Peach & Quiet, formerly called the Arawak Inn, which was built by an eccentric millionaire.  A delightful English couple now run the hotel and provide what is promised, in this quaint hotel of only 22 rooms, on a secluded rocky outcrop and just twenty minutes from the hurly-burly of St. Lawrence Gap.  There is much to do in Barbados, which is steeped with its British heritage.  For a free brochure call toll free 1-888-BARBADOS or http://barbados.org.

Unlike most cruises, on boarding you are greeted by the ship's Captain and/or Hotel Manager and offered a fruity, frosty rum punch in the comfort of the main lounge; then quietly ushered to your outside cabin or suite, where a delightful surprise awaits in its spaciousness and crisp decor.  Every detail has been thought of, from cupboards galore to revolving TV monitor, CD player, fluffy white towels and bath robes to the most comfortable queen size bed, which can be converted into twins.  This is not like any ordinary cruise ship - she is much like a private yacht with her teak decks, majestic five masts and sails that unfurl - thanks to computers and aided by the industry's most sophisticated stabilization fins and water-ballast systems.  Under power and sail, cobalt blue waters drift quietly by the horizon, broken only by emerald green islands and a tangerine setting sun.  A first day at sea is spent getting accustomed to this five-star floating hotel and all her amenities, from the two dining rooms, verandah deck, pool bar and sumptuous spa.

Our first port of call is the island of Nevis.  An around-island drive finds us up in the lush tropical gardens exploring various plantation houses and glimpses of the island's inhabitants - green velvet monkeys.  The Nesbit Plantation & Beach Resort and the Four Seasons Hotel are ideal spots to spend the afternoon drinking up the sun and a cool libation.

As you return to the ship there is a feeling of familiarity as members of the crew miraculously address you by name and ask how your day has been and if they can do anything for you.  Service aboard the Windsurf is always with a warm smile that makes you feel pampered and truly a special guest.  Tranquility is sipping cocktails at the Compass Rose on the aft deck as we set sail before dinner.  The Restaurant Manager greets us and has our already favourite table for two waiting.  Seating for dinner is with whomever and whenever you like; your only decision is which of the seven courses to indulge in, if not all ... well, one is on holiday!

The next morning, we are situated in the harbour at St. Barts surrounded by yachts and pleasure cruisers that defy description, except to say one can only guess at their price tags.  This French island might just as easily be a transport of the Cote d'Azure, but with our favourite hotel, the Carl Gustav quietly nestled in the hillside overlooking the harbour, it beckons us for lunch with views of extreme blues, greens, white sails and terracotta tiled roofs of private sanctuaries.  As previously visited, we returned to Shell Beach for the afternoon.  Alternatively, you can rent a Mini-Moke and tour the island with all its charm and exclusive resorts, such as Le Toiny and Guahahani.

The island of St. Marten is another favourite with its Dutch and French sides, Marigot and Le Marina Royal for great clothes shopping and for really good duty free prices on everything from jewelry, perfume and electronics.  This day holds in store true excitement over in Philipsburg for we are racing on two 12-meter yachts - America's Stars & Stripes vs. Canada's True North.  Just one of many fun and adventurous shore excursions throughout the various island stops.

It's off to Isle de Saints, a sleepy little group of islands with fun games off the back of the ship's water platform.  Snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing and kayaking in crystal clear waters.  Our final destination is the island of Bequia in the Grenadines.  Quaint little beachside cafes and hotels are a leisurely stroll from the small town centre.  Speedy water taxies with names like "Joy Love" and "Wet Wheels" whisk you to remote Lower Bay for sunning and swimming and lunch at De Reef Bar where yachties from around the world gather.

Caribbean night aboard ship offers up a sampling of ocean delights - crab cakes, giant prawns, Mahi Mahi and succulent lobster, and a dessert display that even the most dedicated dieter could not resist!  For those having to leave the ship the next day, they are filled with a feeling of melancholy but also of vivid memories that have filled their senses for the past seven days.  However, for those of us lucky enough to be continuing on Windsurf's southbound itinerary, we can only wonder what sights await us.

If you've spent two weeks in the luxury of any hotel with an emphasis on anticipating your every need, you'll know exactly what we experienced.  Always a guest, but with an overriding feeling of becoming one in a family way.  With a capacity of only 312 passengers - service, style and comfort come together at every turn.  As we set sail towards the Captain's favourite islet - Mayreau in the Tobago Cays, we could hardly wait to wake amid coral reefs teaming with fish in turquoise waters, laced with pristine white sand and surf. 

One shipboard privilege that is extended to all is being able to visit the bridge day or night.  The officers manning the ship are welcoming, courteous and informative in all manner of the ship's performance.  For the curious at heart, this is a wonderfully fulfilling part of your sailing adventure; you actually feel a part of the planning of your cruise.

Breakfast and lunch are served by menu or buffet and in both, the presentation, selection and quality are supreme.  For dinner, again the choice is yours - The Bistro or the Main Restaurant.  In either case one constantly wonders how so many dishes can be prepared to order with such seemingly little effort, with such stupendous results.  Tobago, Bequia, Martinique and St. Lucia are in front of us.  We had more to see and do, but one more find worthy of note.  Upon our return to Barbados, we spent out last day at Glitter Bay.  With a walk down the beach we came across a diamond in the rough "The Lone Star" - a restaurant and very exclusive 6-room hotel for the discriminating few, run by General Manager, Rory Rogers, and a menu designed by Executive Chef, Andy Wiffin, offering a gastronomic heaven where he prepared our lunch of such exquisite delight that our taste buds will forever sing in his praises.  A must if only to dine there; a pleasure to be sure, if staying there.  If you are in London, England make the reservations at their sister establishment The Wharf, a sophisticated yet casual dining experience.

All these islands in the sun hold unique memories and history from discoveries past that make them what they are - a flavour for each which makes the Caribbean dance in harmony and yet with such diversity.  Our ship strung these jewels of the Caribbean together, clasped by the Windsurf alone, a precious gem wherever she may sail.

Visit them at http://www.windstarcruises.com or your local travel agent.  The Caribbean Vacation Planner is yours free by calling 1-800-263-4745.
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