A Warm Cruise
As we approached the holiday season, there was very little activity to “restore” our house from the fire damage and the weather was starting to turn cold, so we started looking south again. We like the ambiance and friendliness of WindStar cruises, and we had done a fun two-week cruise in the Caribbean three years ago (2018) so that was our direction. We identified a 17 day (Dec. 11 – 28) cruise out of St Maarten that looked inviting, so I made reservations and got the flights set up. Of course, this being the season of COVID, a couple of days after arrangements were complete, WindStar notified us of itinerary changes that were “necessary” due to restrictions related to COVID. It amounted quite a change, including multiple visits to the same island/port.
Old Itinerary New Itinerary
Philipsburg, St Maarten (Start) Philipsburg, St Maarten (Start)
Charleston, St Kitts & Nevis St John’s, Antigua
Roseau, Dominica Falmouth Harbor, Antigua
Pigeon Island, St Lucia Pigeon Island, St Lucia
Les Saintes, Guadeloupe Castries, St Lucia
Basseterre, St Kitts & Nevis
Gustavia, St Barthelemy Gustavia, St Barthelemy
Philipsburg, St Maarten (end of week 1) Philipsburg, St Maarten (end of week 1)
Falmouth Harbour. Antigua Falmouth Harbour, Antigua
Anse Mitan, Martinique Pigeon Island, St Lucia
Bridgetown, Barbados Bridgetown, Barbados
Castries, St Lucia Castries, St Lucia
Sopers Hole, Tortola, BVI Soper’s Hole, Tortola, BVI
Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke, BVI Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke, BVI
Prickly Pear beach, Virgin Gorda, BVI Prickly Pear beach, Virgin Gorda, BVI
Gustavia, St Barthelemy Gustavia, St Barthelemy
Philipsburg, St Maarten (Finish) Philipsburg, St Maarten (Finish)
While it is obvious that the first week (7 days) suffered a major revision, it looks as though the second part (10 days) had very little change. However, it turns out that we never did get to the BVIs at all and we spent a lot more time in St Lucia and Barbados.
Mainly by coincidence, the ship we would be on, the Wind Surf, was the same ship as we had sailed around Italy just three months previously. So, besides knowing the physical layout of the ship well, we also knew quite a few of the crew and it was good to see our friends again.
The Wind Surf at the dock in Philipsburg, St Maarten
Windstar arrangements were made through James Bingley at Vacations To Go and he provided his usual excellent assistance and support. Because of the short lead time and multiple changes to the itinerary, I had several questions and requests and he handled them all quickly and completely.
Delta offers a daily flight from Atlanta to St Maarten and first-class seats were at a reasonable price, so I grabbed them in both directions. I arranged transfers from the airport to the ship at the beginning of the trip, but left our return transfer open for the time being, since I was not sure what we would want to do on that day. The flight down was slightly late (20 minutes) and comfortable with no problems. (We did have to get COVID tests prior to the trip.) You may have heard about how close the arriving aircraft come over the beach when landing at Philipsburg and may have seen videos from the ground. But, here is a video showing the arrival as seen from the aircraft.
A rainbow welcomed us to St Maarten
Our departure and return flight were a bit more complicated, so I’ll leave that to when I cover the day in detail.
In order to enter St Maarten and to get onto the ship, we had to be fully vaccinated. In a mailing prior to the trip Windstar had said that we would have to have a PCR COVID test within 4 days of the trip in order to participate in some of the off-ship excursions and activities, so we had gotten the tests. Something must have changed though, as we were never asked for proof of this test. We did have to take a rapid test upon boarding the ship and had to stay in the lounge area until the test results came back negative.
Guests were requested to wear masks when in the interior spaces unless eating or drinking and this was mostly respected. The crew would occasionally remind people to wear a mask when appropriate. Once off the ship, mask wearing varied widely, somewhat depending on the requirements of the island we were visiting. Before we were done with the cruise, COVID would play a major role.
The rest of this report will be a day-by-day log of what happened on each day. To better visualize the itinerary, here is a map of the first part of the cruise.
Itinerary: first seven days
The St Maarten airport was undergoing a major expansion of facilities, and it was not any too soon. Between the confusing temporary airport layout and the multiple steps to check our paperwork for COVID considerations, we wound around several long lines, finally clearing immigration and customs rather quickly once we got to them. We found our luggage, went outside the terminal building and quickly found the Wind Star representative. After a bit of a wait for more passengers, we got in a van for the transfer to the cruise ship dock and the Wind Surf. Another WindStar ship, the Star Breeze was also docked in St Maarten.
The Star Breeze was just across the dock from the Wind Surf.
There was more COVID paperwork checking at the cruise port, then a security check before boarding the ship about 4:00. There was more paperwork to complete, photo IDs to make and the COVID rapid test before we were turned loose and made our way to our cabin. Our luggage had not arrived yet, so we wandered the ship a bit and had a glass of wine. (We were on an “all-inclusive” plan which included most wines, many other drinks, internet, laundry, and tips). We had time to watch a pretty sunset off the stern of the ship before taking part in the required safety drill.
A pretty sunset on our first evening on the Wind Surf
We attended the nightly “port talk” with information about our destination the next day, St John’s, Antigua, then enjoyed dinner in the AmphorA restaurant, followed by enjoying the music of the ship’s band, Top Society. In the process, we said “Hello” to several of the crew in the restaurant who recognized us, and also to the band members. After some good music and a glass or two of cognac, we were ready to call it a day.
We had not arranged any excursions for this day, partly because we were not at all sure where we would be or what the options were. We watched the approach into St John’s Harbor from the deck and enjoyed breakfast in the Veranda restaurant. The Veranda is used for all breakfasts and lunch meals and there are both interior and open-air seating available.
Some of the breakfast options at the Veranda
Previously, the Veranda was a mostly self-serve buffet restaurant, but in the days of COVID passengers cannot serve themselves but we tell/point the servers what we want and they serve it onto our plates. It is a bit inconvenient, but it works and no one goes hungry. After breakfast we waited a little while and got off the ship for a walk around town.
View of St John’s from the Wind Surf
In order to leave the ship and enter Antigua, we had to go through a very brief security and temperature check on the dock: this would be a standard practice for several of our ports of call. Since this was still somewhat early (9:00) on a Sunday morning and there were no other cruise ships in port, the town was very quiet, with few people on the streets.
We walked to what is probably the best-known landmark in town, an old church, the St John’s Cathedral. It is known for the twin towers at the front of the church and sits on one of the higher points in the city so the towers can be seen from a distance. (You can probably find them in the photo above.)
The twin towers of the St John’s Cathedral
We wandered around a bit more and headed back toward the ship. As we got close to the dock, we realized there was a fairly extensive shopping area next to the docks for the people on large cruise ships. Of course, on Sunday morning with no large cruise ships, everything was closed up tight.
Part of the cruise port shopping area: everything was closed.
This was mainly a day to relax, so after returning to the Wind Surf, we wandered around the ship a bit, did some reading, had lunch at the Veranda, and sort of took the day off. We did sign up for some excursions during the rest of the cruise. This evening there was a reception in the lounge to introduce the ship’s captain and officers. We already knew several of the staff from our cruise around Italy three months previously. The Wind Surf had spent one of those months in dry dock getting a mild refurbishment: I think most of the officers had rotated to off-duty and were replaced by new staff. The senior officers work on six months on duty and six months off duty schedule.
The officers of the Wind Surf at the reception.
During the reception, the captain announced that, because of forecast high winds and waves, we would not be going to Falmouth Harbor in the morning, but rather would stay at the St John’s dock. All of the excursions and activities would operate from the dock rather than Falmouth Harbor. After dinner in the AmphorA restaurant and a glass of cognac while listening to Top Society, we called it a night.
As announced at the reception, we were still docked in St John’s. While we were eating breakfast, we watched two large cruise ships enter the harbor and dock, thus St John’s would be a different place today with these ships in port. We had scheduled a “Spectacular Antigua Island Tour” and, at the appointed time, met up with the rest of our tour group to leave the ship.
Two large cruise ships in port beyond the Wind Surf
We went through the same temperature check on the way to the small tour bus which we would be traveling in. We drove through St John’s (on the northeast part of Antigua) and toward the southern coast of the island. While starting from St John’s rather than Falmouth Harbor caused a longer ride, at least we did see a lot more of the island this way. Our first stop was at a historical and cultural center which featured a multi-mode presentation of the history and culture of Antigua.
Entering the Historical and Cultural Center
At the rear of the center was a nice overlook of both English Harbor, home of Nelson’s Dockyard, and Falmouth Harbor, where we were supposed to be moored. We also made sightseeing stops at the site of an old fort called the Blockhouse Ruins and then at Shirley Heights, a popular gathering place on Sunday evenings and a great place to look out over the English Harbor area.
From Shirley Heights: English Harbor in foreground, Falmouth harbor just beyond
From there we made our way to English Harbor and Nelson’s Dockyard for a visit and tour. Susan and I have visited the dockyard several times in the past, but it is always fun to look at the beautiful yachts and sailing ships docked or moored there.
Some old-style sail boats at English Harbor
And some very new style sail boats also
After some time to look around and to cash in a rum punch coupon that came with the tour, we loaded back into the bus and headed back into St Johns and the Wind Surf. By the time we were back on board, it was time for lunch at the Veranda. With no activities planned in the afternoon, we decided to visit the ship’s gym to try to work off some of the food we’d been eating. The resistance equipment in the gym was a bit strange but we were able to get some use from it. The main problem with the gym is that it has glass walls, allowing a lot of sunshine to come in but not enough air-conditioning to counteract the heat. The result is that attempting to use any of the aerobic machines quickly resulted in getting hot and sweating more than was comfortable.
The Wind Surf left the dock and headed toward St Lucia during the afternoon so we left the gym, headed for the Compass Rose bar (at the stern of the ship), and had a glass (or two) of wine as we left Antigua behind. That evening we followed our usual pattern: a glass of wine while listening to the port talk covering activities the next day, dinner in the AmphorA restaurant, and ending the day with a glass of cognac while listening to Top Society.
Top Society in the main lounge.
By this time, we had gotten to know quite a few of the crew, either from our Italian cruise or just making new friends. Merrick, the restaurant manager and Maitre’d, always gave us a good table and several of the wine stewards checked in with us quite often. Antony, the ship’s sommelier, had discovered that we liked wine so he was making sure to take good care of us. The Top Society band remembered us from previous cruises and always greeted us when we entered the lounge when they were playing. With only about 179 passengers on this part of the cruise, nothing was very crowded and we had time to visit with the crew and other passengers.
We have visited St Lucia and Pigeon twice before on our first Windstar cruise (2017) and on a two-week version of this cruise (2018) so we knew it fairly well. This visit was to include the WindStar “signature beach BBQ”. Pigeon Island (no longer really an island since a causeway was built in the 1960s) is on the northwest corner of St Lucia. There is a large national park with an old fort on top of one hill and another, higher, hill with what was an observation post. We didn’t have any excursion scheduled, partly because we had already done the more interesting ones, so we waited until about 9:30 and then headed to the island on our own.
The staff and people on the island were setting up the facilities for the “beach party” with lots of lounges and umbrellas on the beach, some beach toys, and a tent for refreshments.
Some of the lounges on the beach and the Wind Surf in Rodney Bay
To enter the island, you had to have your temperature taken and wear a bracelet indicating that you had been tested, vaccinated, and temperature checked. We wandered around a little and then decided to climb up to the old fort before the sun got any hotter. The first part of the climb is not bad along a good trail and, sometimes, paved walkway. As you get close to the actual fort, the trail gets a bit rougher and the last few steps are a rather sketchy series of wood steps onto the level of the fort.
The last few steps to the fort are rather sketchy.
The view from the fort is definitely impressive: you can see the entire Rodney Bay area and also around the inlet and well out to the Caribbean Sea.
View of the Wind Surf from Fort Rodney
There is a higher point to the island referred to as “Signal Hill” where, on a clear day, you can see the southern part of Martinique, which is exactly why the British thought so highly of this location and St Lucia in general. We went part way up the path toward Signal Hill, but decided that it was a bit too “primitive” for us.
Looking back toward the fort from the approach to Signal Hill
We descended to the beach area and walked as far as we could down the beach. This was complicated a bit by the fact that there is a Sandals resort along the beach there. While all of the beaches of St Lucia are public, the Sandal’s security people obviously would have preferred that we not cross their property.
In this view from the fort, you can see Sandals taking the main part of the beach.
We were not able to walk much further as there was a small inlet that stopped our progress. We backtracked to the BBQ beach area and waited a little while until it was time for lunch. There were all kinds of food, except, well, real BBQ. There was fish, burgers, “Jerk chicken” and rice (but not spiced like true jerk chicken), salads, veggies, desserts and about anything you could want, except BBQ ribs. Somehow, we managed to find something to eat and relaxed under the large tents while we listened to the steel drum band that was playing.
Part of the serving line for the beach BBQ 0430
We let our lunch settle a little and decided we needed to work a little of it off so we took a couple of kayaks to paddle around a little. There was not really much to see and the Wind Surf staff did not want us to go very far, so we just paddled around a little while, keeping close to the beach.
Susan in a kayak at Pigeon Island with Signal Hill in the background
This guy was just watching the activities; perhaps he was waiting for some leftovers.
By mid-afternoon we’d had enough and headed back to the peace and calm of the Wind Surf and a glass of wine at the Compass Rose bar. We relaxed until time to get ready for the evening activities.
Merrick was making sure that the AmphorA dining room was ready.
After dinner Top Society and the other entertainers on board put on a special show: “Songs That We Wish We Had Written”. It was a collection of top popular songs over quite a few years and they did a very good job presenting it.
Megan, the entertainment director belts out a song.
Natalie, usually found in the Compass Rose, adds some electronic Bongos to her vocals.
Jake (of Top Society) made a very good Roy Orbison
Top Society is very good at sounding like the original recordings.
About this time, I got into the practice of taking a lot of photos and videos of Top Society. I got lots of close-ups of individuals and pictures of the group. Because pf the low lighting and long exposure times involved, only a small percentage of the photos I took were worth keeping. When I showed a few of the close-ups to the band, they seemed to appreciate that I was doing this, so I kept it up for the rest of the cruise.
During the early morning hours, the Wind Surf made the short trip from Rodney Bay/Pigeon Island to St Lucia’s largest city and port of Castries. Here, we were scheduled to take the “Heritage Highlights” excursion. At Castries we had the relative luxury of being docked again, rather than the more usual case of having to take a tender from the ship to a dock. We joined the tour group and loaded into a small bus and headed to the interior of the island. Along the way, we made a couple of stops for sightseeing and looking at some of the local handiwork.
Wind Surf at the dock in Castries’ harbor
One stop was at a studio/workshop where they carved and finished decorative shapes from various pieces of wood. Some of them were in the shape of familiar things while others were purely abstract or natural shapes.
Some of the “abstract art” pieces of carvings.
There were also several cats running around and some very colorful flowers.
Some of the flowers
Our next stop and primary destination was a cultural center and working farm. Actually, “farm” might be the wrong description, more like a large garden with some fruit trees. The family running it provided a demonstration of making a kind of bread from a local cassava plant root: we tasted it later and it was pretty good.
This woman demonstrated preparing the cassava “flour” and making the bread.
The garden really surprised me. I did not expect to see things like celery and leaf lettuce growing in this hot climate, but it looked very healthy. This family farm grows quite a few kinds of vegetables that are sold and consumed on the island, especially at the nicer restaurants.
Part of the vegetable garden: celery in foreground, lettuce in the shade.
In addition to some familiar trees, like lemons and bananas, they also have numerous kinds of trees that are unusual to me, like nutmeg, calabash, Loquat, and breadfruit.
Some Loquats, sometimes called Japanese Plums
The family demonstrated some of the traditional dances, and we got a taste of the bread and some of the drinks that they made. Oh, we also discovered something completely new: Banana ketchup. Yes, ketchup made from bananas rather than from tomatoes, and it tasted like ketchup more than like bananas. After this amazing discovery we headed back to the ship, arriving just in time for lunch. The Wind Surf left the dock about 2:00 PM in order to get to our next destination on schedule.
We had to rest up a little after lunch as this afternoon at 2:00 we were scheduled to participate in the first of several Wine Tastings conducted by the Sommelier, Antony. He is a little unusual for a sommelier as he is from India and we don’t normally think of India as a wine loving country. From Antony’s description, he became interested in wine at an early age and has studied in several wine producing regions, including an extended time in Bordeaux. Whatever his background, Antony did a good job presenting and conducting this and other tastings.
Antony presenting the first of several wine tastings.
At this tasting he did an especially good job of demonstrating how much impact different foods have on the taste of accompanying wine. In case I don’t cover them all, during the cruise Antony organized and presented two more wine tastings, two wine dinners, a rum tasting and a port tasting, all in addition to his normal sommelier duties at dinner.
This was a quiet evening with the main unusual event being the “crew talent show” where the crew members demonstrate their talents, or lack thereof. There were a couple of really talented people in the crew.
Today we have a slightly unusual schedule since we are not due to arrive to Gustavia until 2:00, so we have most of the day “at sea”. The Wind Surf had scheduled typical “at sea” activities like a cooking demonstration by the head chef, a line dancing class (in preparation for the night’s activities), and several fitness seminars. Susan and I took part of the morning for some fitness work in the gym before it got too hot in there.
I’ll take this space to mention something unusual about the entire cruise: the wind. For the entire cruise we had easterly winds of 18 – 22 mph, every day, all day. This wind created relatively large waves for this part of the ocean and the ship would roll enough to cause you to walk along the deck like a drunken sailor. Although we have sailed the Caribbean and this area several times before, including in this season, we had never seen this much consistent wind. A few people were having problems with motion sickness, but they had either brought along medications or the ship’s doctor supplied some.
One thing that the wind did do was to enable the actual use of the sails for a change. While the sails on the Wind Star ships look nice, they are really for “show”, not for “go”. On this trip they actually did some good a couple of times: on this leg of the trip we were going mostly down wind (on a broad reach) the best point of sail for most ships. At one point the captain announced that he had shut off the propulsion motors and we were doing six knots ( 7mph) on wind power alone. This is almost unheard of for these ships: the best I had seen previously was two knots. We may have saved a few gallons of diesel fuel.
We arrived in Gustavia right on time, abut 2:00 PM and we were far from the first to make our appearance there. There was a large cruise ship and several large yachts and smaller sailboats anchored between us and the harbor, as you can see in this video.
Our view from the Bridge Deck as we approached Gustavia
We didn’t have any excursion scheduled for this afternoon, but we had been to Gustavia several times before and we knew our way around a bit, so we took the tender into town and explored a bit. St Barths is known for the expensive shops and restaurants and a walk down the main street, along the harbor waterfront, emphasizes the point.
Nothing but expensive shops and more expensive restaurants
We knew that we could get a good view of the harbor and general area by climbing up to what used to be the small Fort Karl. The steps up to the top are a bit strange and there is not much left of the fort, but it does provide a nice view of the general area. There is also a small beach more or less below Fort Karl, Shell beach, so we walked there after leaving the fort.
A view of Shell beach from Fort Karl
Besides the view of the town and harbor, we could also see the Wind Surf and many other ships and boats anchored just offshore.
A nice view of the ships and boats visiting St Barths
After getting a view from the high-ground, we wandered back to the waterfront area where there were many very large yachts moored at the dock.
Just a few of the yachts in Gustavia Harbor
We looked around a bit more and picked up souvenir shirts at one of the few less expensive shops and then headed back to the Wind Surf. We had to get ready for the festivities that evening. This was the night of the “Wind Star Signature Deck BBQ”. In other words, the night for everyone to eat entirely too much food and have too much fun. The evening starts with the food, beginning with lots of salads, shrimp, breads, and… well, everything.
Just for starters….
Then things get more serious with grilled chicken and fish, paella, BBQ ribs, and there is always a “suckling pig”.
The pig, with your choice of sauces.
After everyone has eaten their fill, the serving tables are cleared and the line dancing starts. (Remember that line dancing class earlier in the day? ) They had some of the usual “classics” like Macarena, but dropped YMCA in favor of some new style music. While it was OK, it just didn’t seem the same.
Both the crew members and passengers join in the dancing.
About the time the dancing was over, Antony started his Rum Tasting class in a small lounge at the stern. It was good, but after all that food and wine for the BBQ, I don’t think I could fully appreciate the rum. After way too much eating and drinking, we found our way to our cabin to recover.
Today we made our way back into Gustavia for an “Intimate Island Tour” excursion. This was really a taxi van for 6 people with the driver being the tour guide. It had the ingredients for being rather mediocre, but the driver made it really fun and interesting.
A quick stop for a photo of the Gustavia harbor
Our driver was one of the few that had been born on the island and apparently had known many of the celebrities who visited or lived there. He recalled several stories of being with Jimmy Buffett and had some photos of the two of them together to back it up. He gave us a reasonable mix of history and cultural background, while also showing us some of the beautiful sights around the island.
One of the beautiful spots that bring people to St. Barths
One of the best known (and most expensive) resorts on the island is the Eden Roc, which juts out into the St Jean Bay. The hotel is said to be very luxurious and wonderful to stay at, but I think it is popular because it is at a great location to watch the airplanes landing at the very demanding St. Barths airport.
The Eden Roc in the middle and the (in)famous airport on the right
The tour only took a little over an hour. Susan and I decided that we had been mostly sitting for an hour, so we needed some exercise. There is another old fort overlooking Gustavia and it has a small lighthouse at the top. The last time we were in St. Barths, there was some reconstruction work in progress and the walkway to the fort was closed, so we decided to give it another try. There are several old cannons to protect the entry to the bay.
I almost had the Wind Surf in my sights!
From the area of the fort, you have a good view of the airplanes coming in to land at the airport, but you cannot see the airport itself. The only indication of an airport in the area are the two windsocks, one on either side of the approach path: the wind can get tricky in addition to a very short runway.
Note the two orange and white windsocks.
I wanted to get a video from this hill of one of the planes landing at the airport, but it seemed the air traffic had stopped. We were about to leave when a Pilatus PC-12 showed up to be the star of this video. The hilltop did provide a nice view of Gustavia and the ships just offshore.
Can you spot the tender coming in from the Wind Surf?
After taking in the view from the top of the hill for a while, we went back into town and took the tender back to the Wind Surf. This evening was the “Farewell Reception” with most of the crew showing up in the lounge to say good-by… except we were not saying good-by: we would be on the Wind Surf another 10 days (we thought).
The crew lines up for the “Farewell”.
This evening we had reservations for the “Stella Grill” which has a French/Continental style to it. The food comes out of the same kitchen as for the AmphorA, but the service and the selections on the menu is a slight step above the other restaurant, two decks below us. It was quite good.
We were at one of the tables in the Stella Grill.
After dinner, another hour or so listening to Top Society and a couple of glasses of cognac: we have this routine figured out!
Back where the cruise had started, some of the passengers got off, some new passengers got on, and some of us stayed on. We found out later that we had a total of 160 guests on this part of the cruise. During the cruise, we met several people who had started their cruise in Lisbon, Portugal. They got on the Wind Surf in Lisbon, after its one month in dry dock, and had come across the Atlantic on the “repositioning” cruise then continued on the “back-to-back” cruises in the Caribbean.
We had not arranged any excursion in St Maarten, mainly because we had already done the activities we might be interested in on a prior cruise. Instead, we waited until most of the departing passengers had disembarked and then we walked through the cruise port and into Philipsburg, about a 15-minute walk.
Entering Philipsburg: Dutch style architecture and bright colors
There were multiple alleys and mini-malls with plenty of shops to attract the tourists and cruise ship people. There were no big cruise ships in port this day, so the shops were rather slow to open: they did not seem to expect much business.
A mini-mall, complete with shell of a 1932 Ford
We walked through one of the mini-malls and discovered a very nice walkway along the beach. Although warm, it was more pleasant walking along the beach than along the streets where all the shops were located.
Walking along Great Bay Beach
We walked out on a dock (you can barely see it on the photo above) and as we got to the end of the dock, we spotted a turtle a short distance out in the water. It must have seen us also as it quickly dove out of sight and we didn’t see it again. We could look across the bay and see the Wind Surf at the dock and there were also several other “real” sailing ships in the neighborhood.
Ignore us, check all the masted sailing ships in the background.
We walked around a while, exploring some of the streets in town and stopped to enjoy a cold soft drink while overlooking the beach and bay. As we were sitting at a picnic table, two small dogs, one black and one white, came over to us and started hanging around. I suspect they were looking for food handouts, but we had nothing for them. They had collars and looked cared for, so we didn’t feel bad about not feeding them. Refreshed from the cold drinks, we wandered around a little longer and then walked back to the ship.
After lunch we mostly relaxed and read some. The embarkation process for new passengers had taken over much of the main deck so we found some deck lounges and made sure they did not blow away in the wind. That evening we followed our normal pattern of a glass of wine in the lounge before dinner, dinner in the AmphorA, followed by some cognac while listening to Top Society.
It was a pretty sunset off the stern as we left Philipsburg.
Now, to get an idea of just where we would be going on this 10 day part of our cruise, here is the planned itinerary:
This is where we were supposed to be going.
Yes, we are back in Antigua. We did not make it to Falmouth Harbor the first week, and I’m a bit surprised that we actually anchored there this week. The wind was blowing even harder than it had been and multiple rain showers swept through the bay and over the ship. We had not signed up for any excursion and were glad that we had not, but we did have fun watching the tenders picking up people and bouncing through the rain and waves into the harbor. The two RIBbies (Rigid Inflatable Boats, or “Zodiacs”) were put into service because some of the tenders could not safely be lowered into the water. Anyone going ashore on the RIBbies almost surely got wet from the rain. Hopefully they were the people going swimming anyway,
There was a small boat running around with what looked like a couple of racing markers and it finally placed the markers and, shortly afterwards, about 10 sailboats came out in an apparent race. You can see the boat, and one of the Wind Surf tenders, heading toward the Wind Surf in this video. Also notice the wind, waves, and rain: not the best day for a pleasant sail. The Wind Surf was almost in the middle of the course so some of the boats cut it pretty close in front and in back of our ship.
On the other hand, there were a couple of beautiful rainbows created by the combination of rain and sun. Some of them presented the illusion that they were almost within arm’s reach of the Wind Surf.
Look closely and you can see the double rainbow.
We had a ways to go to the next port: the anchor was raised and we sailed away shortly after noon, so there were more “at sea” activities. There was a fitness seminar, an acupuncture seminar, a trivia game and, most important for us, a wine tasting. Again, Antony did a nice presentation and there were some very nice wines.
The wines we tasted this time
That evening there was another Welcome Reception and a port talk about out next destination, Pigeon Island (yes again, and not for the last time). Then dinner in the AmphorA restaurant and some cognac while listening to Top Society.
The chef was building a Christmas Ginger Bread House just outside AmphorA.
By now I was making a hobby of taking lots of photos and some videos of the band. They seemed to appreciate the extra attention, especially when I showed them some of the photos so far. I promised them that I would give them a USB flash drive of all the photos and videos before we left the ship. Of course, in the difficult conditions in the lounge, only about a quarter of the photos I took were actually any good. Thank goodness for digital photography rather than having to use a lot of film.
Apparently, St Lucia was one of the more “relaxed” islands regarding COVID restrictions, and the Wind Surf was taking advantage of it. This visit, we had signed up for an “excursion”, although one that we had done before, a couple of years previously. We would be sailing a racing type sailboat, although not in an actual race, in Rodney Bay. We had the afternoon offering of the excursion so we had the morning to wander around some. We explored some of the beaches and ruins of Pigeon Island: there was more here than we thought.
Beach on the north side of the causeway to Pigeon Island
Some of the ruins were rather substantial.
The excursion was intended as an introduction to sailing a relatively large (32 feet), high performance sailboat. Susan and I have done quite a bit of sailing in the past and, as I mentioned, had actually sailed this boat so we felt right at home.
The boat at the dock, waiting for us.
There were five of us on this cruise: another couple, Susan and I, and a “student officer” from the Wind Surf out to get some sailing experience. I was a bit surprised to learn that this young man was in training to be a ship’s officer, but had never actually sailed a sailboat before.
The rest of the crew while I was at the helm
We had a nice time sailing in the bay and a little ways out into the Caribbean Sea; I think the officer-to-be got some useful experience. Susan and I probably didn’t learn much, but it was an enjoyable afternoon on the water.
That evening the crew put on another “On-deck BBQ” with all the food and trimmings as a week previously. As usual, we probably ate too much, but it was difficult to not sample a little of everything.
Top Society provided music during the BBQ dinner.
During the night, the Wind Surf sailed from St Lucia to Bridgetown, Barbados. A large German cruise ship, the Mein Schiff 2 was already docked. We will see this ship again.
I think you can figure out where this photo was taken.
We had been to Barbados and spent a few days there prior to taking our first Wind Star cruise about 6 years ago, so we knew the area a little. We had signed up for a snorkel excursion, the “Five Star Snorkel Excursion”. There were some storm clouds in the area, so we assumed that we might get wet even before we put on our snorkel gear. At the appointed time, our excursion group gathered together, got on a small bus, and headed toward a different dock area where there were several large excursion type catamarans. We boarded one of them, took seats and were soon off and moving. As we motored out of the inlet from the docks, we passed the area where the large cruise ships were docked, including the Wind Surf.
The wind Surf docked between two large cruise ships
The first snorkel stop was to be where a couple of small ships had sunk in years past. As we approached the site, the little rain storm got there the same time. The rain was coming down, but you could see blue sky in the distance.
As expected, the rain did not last long, so we geared up: Susan was the first person in the water and I was right behind her.
A view of our excursion catamaran from water level
We quickly found the sunken ship and there was a lot of fish and other sea life all around it. There were also quite a few SCUBA divers exploring the wreckage.
This ship had sunk about 100 years ago.
There were lots of fish around and they were not afraid of the people. I suspect that they may sometimes be fed to help keep them around.
Many kinds of fish surround the ship.
The other ship had only been down about 50 years so it was more recognizable as a ship. There did not seem to be as many fish around this one though.
The deck of the second ship
After everyone had a good look, we reboarded our boat and moved to the next site, all of about 200 yards away. Here we would be looking for turtles and perhaps a stingray. As we pulled up to the mooring ball, we could see a lot of snorkelers milling around a short distance away and figured they had probably spotted a turtle. We donned our snorkel gear and swam over to the crowd. Sure enough, there was a turtle slowly making its way across the bottom of the bay. It would stop and eat a little grass, swim a little way, stop and eat some grass, and repeat.
The turtle did not seem bothered or concerned by the spectators above.
We watched the turtle for a couple of minutes and then a shadow appeared off to one side: a Leopard Ray. It was beautiful and moved very gracefully, as is evident in this video.
The Leopard Ray stayed and “flew” around for quite a while.
We observed the ray just swimming/flying around the area for at least five minutes before it finally disappeared into the distance. As we swam back to the boat, I spotted another turtle that was in a deeper area, so I could not get a good photo of it. At least I can say that I spotted a turtle that others had not noticed.
Everyone got back on board and we headed up the coastline a ways to the Sandy Lane resort, known as one of the best, and most expensive, on the island. (Tiger Woods got married here and took over the entire resort to do so.) Because of COVID restrictions, we could not actually go up on the beach, but we anchored about 50 yards offshore and a few people did go swimming.
Sandy Lane Resort, as seen from our boat.
The crew set up food and drink and invited us to enjoy lunch. The food was a step above typical picnic food and the rum punch had quite a punch. Thankfully, I knew better than to enjoy too much punch. After hanging around the Sandy Lane for a while, we pulled the anchor and headed back toward Bridgetown. On the way I think the crew engaged in a bit of an informal race with several other excursion boats. With a favorable wind of about 15 knots, our big catamaran had a definite advantage and pulled ahead. Back at the dock, there was some confusion about our bus and there was talk about walking back to the Wind Surf, but the bus finally arrived and we got back to the ship by mid-afternoon, just in time for a nice glass of white wine in the Compass Rose.
This evening there were two somewhat “special” events. First we participated in a wine dinner on deck, with sommelier Antony leading it. It was well done and we tasted some relatively expensive wines (Cayman Winery and Decoy Winery, for example). It turned out that this dinner did cause us a problem later.
Antony pouring wine at the wine dinner. This couple was not the one that caused the later problem.
After dinner, Top Society was doing a special tribute to the Beatles. I was always amazed at the ability of Top Society to sound like the original recording artist of about any song, and they did it again with the Beatles. Good Beatles music, a glass of cognac… what more could you ask for?
Now the fun begins…… We were back in Castries, where we had visited on the first part of the cruise but, before we had left our cabin, there was a general PA announcement telling everyone to stay in their cabins. A passenger had tested positive for COVID the night before, after reporting to the ship’s doctor with a high fever, so everyone had to be tested before anyone would be allowed off the ship.
A view of Castries and a large cruise ship, from the Wind Surf
The reception desk would call each cabin when it was their turn to test: we would go directly to the main lounge where the testing would take place and then return to our cabin to await the results. Our call to get tested came about 8:30 and the testing was quick. The call that said our test was negative came a little after 9:00. After the negative test, we were allowed to move about the ship normally, but we could not go ashore, yet. We had a late breakfast and relaxed the rest of the morning. The gym (as well as the spa) was closed because of the COVID case. We had scheduled a catamaran cruise to view the famous St Lucia Pitons, with an optional snorkel, but since no one was sure when (or if) we would be allowed off the ship, all excursions were canceled. I’m sure the excursion people were wishing they had signed up with one of the other cruise ships in the port.
Apparently, there were significant discussions with the local officials about whether any Wind Surf passengers would be allowed off the ship but nothing was announced before noon, so time for lunch on the ship. A little while after lunch an announcement was made that anyone who had tested negative could leave the ship. We quickly decided to get off the ship and take a walk into town. It was only about a 15-minute walk around the harbor into the city of Castries.
Walking along the harbor seawall toward Castries
There was a market area in Castries that was obviously targeted at cruise ship visitors and tourists. We were not interested in shopping so avoided the market and just continued walking into town, but there was not very much to see. After walking around 10 or 15 minutes we had seen enough and headed back toward the ship.
Monument by local artist to celebrate 50 years of St Lucia independence.
Everyone was supposed to be back on board by 4:30 and shortly after that the captain announced a change to our itinerary. Instead of proceeding on toward the British Virgin Islands, we would turn around and head back to Barbados. Apparently, during the day an additional nine people had tested positive for COVID and St Lucia would not allow them to be taken off the ship there, but Barbados would allow them to disembark. As you might expect, there was a lot of discussion among the passengers as to who and how many people had actually tested positive but, other than that, it was a normal night at dinner with Top Society performing in the lounge.
Back to Barbados, only with a catch. As on the previous day, an early announcement was made that each cabin would be called when it was their turn to go to the lounge and get the rapid Antigen test. But when we got the call, the instructions were: “Stay in your cabin, you may have been exposed to COVID. The ship’s doctor will come to your cabin and administer a PCR test.” Since it was now about 8:00 and we had no idea how long this was going to take, we ordered breakfast via room service and it arrived surprisingly quickly. The doctor came about 9:00 and administered the test. He said that one of the couples at our table at the wine dinner had tested positive for COVID, so we may have been exposed. Now, the wine dinner was held on an open deck in about 20 knots of wind so there was almost no way anyone could have received a significant amount of virus, but I understand the need to be sure. About 10:30 the doctor called and said that our test results were negative and we could proceed with normal activities.
There were no planned/available excursions and by this time of day it was really too late to schedule anything significant on our own, so we decided to take a walk. We left the ship and took a shuttle bus to the port’s visitor center and from there we walked toward the beach. There was a nice walkway that led toward the center of town. One of the landmarks here was a bridge (over an inlet) that was supposed to be the bridge for which the town had been named (Bridgetown).
The road beyond the arch is the “Bridgetown Bridge”.
We kept going and got to the beach around Carlisle Bay, where we had snorkeled and seen turtles and a ray a couple of days previously.
The beach around Carlisle Bay
As we returned to the ship, the people who tested positive and their traveling companions were being taken off the ship and put in taxi type vans. No ambulances were in sight and everyone appeared to be able to walk under their own power, so I don’t think any of them were seriously sick, but we did not see everyone. We never got an actual accurate count of how many left the ship but we assumed at least the 10 “positive” people and their close traveling companions. At this point the captain said that none of the crew had tested positive.
We relaxed around the ship the rest of the day, reading and trying to figure out where we would be going next. Late in the afternoon, the captain announced that we would be going back to Rodney Bay and Pigeon Island, St Lucia. Shortly after that announcement, the ship’s officer in charge of getting people to sign up for another cruise walked by us and said “Isn’t it wonderful that we are going to beautiful Pigeon Island?”. I think she was a bit surprised when Susan and I said in unison “NO! This will make the third time at Pigeon Island for many people on this cruise and we have been there two other times on other Windstar cruises. We are not excited about another visit to Pigeon Island.” For a number of reasons, I felt that we should have headed to the BVIs at that point but, obviously, I did not have much say in the matter.
That night, the atmosphere seemed much quieter and subdued. Despite Christmas being only 36 hours away, no one seemed very joyous. When Top Society came out to entertain, Lee-Ann, their woman singer was not there. Since we had gotten to know them a little, we tried to gently inquire about her but the only response we got was that she was “resting”.
In an attempt to lighten the mood a bit, the captain announced that this would be a “Beach BBQ day” on Pigeon Island. Of course, many of us had already done exactly that a little over a week previously. As in Castries and Bridgetown, there was no opportunity for the crew to organize any excursions or other special activities, so the beach BBQ on Pigeon was the only event for the day. On top of that, it rained much of the day: not a heavy rain, but a relatively persistent light rain that would come and go.
You can see the threatening clouds over Rodney Bay.
We had already explored most of Pigeon Island on previous visits: climbed to Fort Rodney, walked the beach, checked out the ruins, and wandered the north coastline of the island. But we had not climbed Signal Hill, the highest point on the island and a very rough trail/climb, so we decided to give it a look. (For some reason I didn’t have a camera with me, so you’ll have to just read along.) We had only walked part way up the main trail when a light rain started: climbing a rough steep trail to Signal Hill in the rain did not sound like a good idea, so we went back to the beach and claimed a couple of lounges under an umbrella.
After about a half hour, the rain had ended and we were getting bored with laying there, so we decided to try Sentinel Hill again. When we got up to where we could take a good look at the trail (more like a path) we almost turned around. It is rough and steep and potentially dangerous, but we headed up. At several points I questioned the wisdom of our decision, but we did make it to the top of the hill and had an excellent view of the surrounding area. On a clear day we would be able to see Martinique, but today was anything but clear and we could not see more than about 5 miles. Anyone who has done any climbing of steep slopes will know that going down can be trickier than going up, and that was the case here. About the time we got all the way back down to the beach the BBQ lunch was ready so we filled our plates and enjoyed it.
We relaxed on the beach for a couple of hours and decided it was time to head back toward the Wind Surf before the crowd started going that way. We took the tender, got back on board, and enjoyed a quiet glass of wine. It was another relatively quiet evening with only one significant “event”: the crew came to the lounge to sing Christmas carols. They first gathered just outside the lounge and got some pictures for themselves.
Part of the singing crew. Can you guess what they are doing with their hands?
Booklets with words to the songs had been handed out prior to the crew’s appearance so many people joined in with the singing. You can get some idea of the scene, and the sound, from this video. After the Christmas Carols, Top Society, less Lee-Ann again, provided their usual evening entertainment.
Today was to be a normal. quiet, at-sea day, except (drum roll!) this is Christmas! There were a few at-sea day type activities, like a trivia contest, a Christmas Movie, and a wine tasting.
During the cruise I had taken many photos and videos of Top Society while they were performing. I collected the better photos and videos and put them all on a USB Flash Drive. During lunch today, Top Society was proving music on the deck next to the Veranda Restaurant so I handed the flash drive to one of the band members. It turned out to be a good thing I did that as we did not see them again during the cruise. We relaxed most of the day and at 2:00 went to AmphorA for the wine tasting. Antony had again put together a number of good wines to taste along with some cheese.
An interesting group of wines for tasting
While the tasting was going on, we came alongside, well, probably a half mile away, another Wind Star ship, the motor yacht Star Breeze. I’m sure the meeting was pre-arranged, but it was interesting to sail/motor together for a while.
The Star Breeze with St Kitts in the distance
The menu for dinner was a little special in recognition of Christmas. About the time we were finishing dinner, the captain made an announcement that some additional people, apparently including some crew members, had tested positive for COVID. In the interest of the health of everyone on board, we were turning to head directly back to St Maarten: the rest of the cruise was effectively cancelled.
Those who could were asked to leave the ship as soon as possible in St Maarten. Anyone who could not change their travel arrangements could stay on the Wind Surf, with some restrictions, as it stayed docked in St Maarten. There would be no evening entertainment and guests were encouraged to return to their cabins. When we got to our cabin, I tried to reschedule our return flights, but the internet service was so bad (it had been terrible all the cruise) that I could not accomplish anything. We went to bed not knowing just what we would be doing the next couple of days.
As soon as we woke up in the morning, I got on my laptop and started trying to get on an earlier flight. After several attempts, I was able to get us on today’s Delta Flight out of St Maarten to Atlanta. First class was full, so we would not have that, but we would get a credit for the difference. The flight was to leave about 4:00 PM so we went to the excursion desk and arranged a transfer that left the ship at 1:00.
We packed our luggage, making sure we had everything after being on board for 15 days and then relaxed until time for lunch. We enjoyed a last lunch in the Veranda restaurant, saying good-by to many friends, both other passengers and crew.
The transfer went fine and all was well until we got inside the terminal and found lots of confusion and long lines that were barely moving. Apparently, they were having “computer problems” and nothing was moving. After about 30 minutes there was a little, very slow, movement and after another 30 minutes, we got to the ticket agent. The first thing the agent said to us was “You know that your flight is delayed, don’t you?”. Of course we didn’t; we had been in that line for the past hour. He told us that our aircraft had not yet left Atlanta for the 3+ hour flight down to St Maarten. (It turned out that the flight was leaving Atlanta just about that time.) We really did not have much choice, so we got our boarding passes and got ready to spend about 4 hours in uncomfortable airport seats. Other than some confusion about what gate our flight would leave from, the wait was as expected: boring and uncomfortable. We were better off than passengers on an American Airlines flight that was cancelled: they were faced with the task of finding hotel rooms in a resort area that was completely booked in the busiest week of the year.
We did get on the flight and arrived in Atlanta about three hours late, getting to our apartment just a little before midnight.
The cruise was enjoyable and we stayed warm during the normal cold of winter. We had an abundance of good food, made new friends and saw old ones. The early termination of the cruise was, of course, a disappointment, but the rather drastic changes to the itinerary, both before and during the cruise, was a larger problem to me. Whereas we had hoped to visit several islands and places we had not been before, we ended up returning to the same places we had visited previously; some multiple times. While some of these may have been necessary because of COVID restrictions, the decision to return to Pigeon Island, rather than proceed directly to the BVIs and be at Tortola on Christmas, rather than at sea, mystifies me.
Another issue, which I have never gotten a reasonable explanation for, is the terrible internet connection/speeds. We had been on this very same ship going around Italy in September and the internet service was surprisingly good, but something apparently happened since that time. I talked to the IT Engineer on the Wind Surf and his explanation was that there were more people on this cruise, but I pointed out that, no, there were actually fewer. Then he said that the satellites covering the Caribbean were slower than the ones covering southern Europe. I doubt that, but even if true, we were using such a small piece of a satellite’s bandwidth, the satellite’s total speed would not make a significant difference. The Wind Surf was in dry dock for a month for normal maintenance since our cruise around Italy and, intentionally or not, Wind Star did something to drastically reduce internet performance. There were several people on the cruise who needed to use the internet to conduct important business functions. I talked to one passenger who said that he would never go on another Wind Star cruise if this was the typical internet performance. Wind Star needs to fix the problem and apologize to the people who were seriously inconvenienced. They should not be selling “all inclusive” packages that include internet services if they cannot provide a respectable level of performance.
Despite the problems, we will almost certainly take another Wind Star cruise in the future. We may have exhausted Wind Star’s Caribbean destinations, but there are some European and Mediterranean cruises that do look interesting.
If you enjoyed reading this trip report, please let me know, I’d love to hear from you. If you noticed any errors or have suggestions on how to make future reports better, I’d really love to hear from you.