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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Beautiful Cruise, Beautiful Ship

This is the second of two postings regarding the Wind Surf, upon which we sailed around the Italian boot just a few weeks ago. In future columns I will detail some of the ports of call and other destinations from that trip.

MSY Wind Surf

It's another quiet morning aboard the Wind Surf. The sun is just rising, illuminating the shoreline of the Italian peninsula off to our starboard side. Time for a few more thoughts regarding the ship. We're having a wonderful time sailing down the Adriatic sea, and at this point have spent time in the ports of Venice, Rovinj, Korcula and Dubrovnik.

There are a surprising number of vessels in the area, indicating the heavy traffic through this section of the Mediterranean. The Wind Surf is coasting slowly, almost lazily along as the few passengers wont to get up at this early hour congregate in the Compass Rose deck to drink our coffee and perhaps have a bite of fruit or two. We're each respectful of the morning's silence and speak in low tones when we speak at all. 

Yesterday we left the last of the Croatian ports, Dubrovnik, on our journey around the Italian Boot. Today is the sole wholly sea day of this particular itinerary. Despite the relatively small size of the Surf the ride has been amazingly smooth and comfortable. One of the other passengers is telling a staff member he's been sleeping like a baby. 

The Lounge
As I've noted previously, the staff aboard a Windstar vessel is excellent. Learning passenger names so that a feeling of informal friendliness is just one of many traits I've noticed. They feel free to joke around and share stories with passengers who are open to it, but maintain a sense of respectful diffidence towards those who are more reserved. There is a feeling one gets from the crew that they all genuinely are happy to be here and are willing to help no matter what the request. This is the signature advantage of a smaller cruising vessel. ( I still cannot bring myself to call the Surf a yacht...perhaps it fits with her much smaller sister ships, the Wind Star and the Wind Spirit, but the Surf is too large to comfortably wear the moniker. As I noted in a previous column, mine is the minority opinion.)

The Sandwich and Snack shop
The other restaurants onboard all feature excellent cuisine and flavorful food. I found that my favorite was unquestionably Candles. Kind of a makeshift setup -- during the day the deck is a general seating area, converting into the quite romantic Candles just before nightfall. Our table was to the ship's starboard side, so that we were able to watch the sun go down while silhouetted against the Surf's nighttime running lights. In our case, the hazy Adriatic nightfall made for a truly memorable dinner. The food, wine selection, service and environment were certifiably first class, worthy of a Michelin star were we land bound.

The ship itself is open and airy. At no time did we feel crowded, even at the customarily chaotic muster. On larger ships this exercise can be downright oppressive, while on the Surf it's more a cause for community as the ship's crew runs through the rules and regulations. During the rest of the voyage you could freely walk through entire sections of the ship encountering a few other passengers, but spending virtually no time wading through crowds as

 you went from one chaotic deck to another as you might do on a Carnival, Holland America or MSC vessel. A cause for the cruise line's concern would have to be the casino which, despite the presence of a number of game tables, was virtually empty the entire trip.

Our stateroom, which to our surprise was upgraded by our friends prior to departure, is comparatively huge by shipboard standards. Two bathrooms, each of them larger than you would find on the larger ships, as well as ample room to move around and enjoy the cabin. At one point we peaked in on the standard cabins and found that they, too are large and comfortable with a nice nautical theme to them. As I noted in a previous column, too many ships are trying to resemble Vegas casinos rather than the sailing vessels which are their true heritage. Thankfully Windstar gets that fact and -- hopefully -- doesn't lose sight of this as they take each of their vessels in for a reported refit over the next year.

One of our big concerns before boarding was the quality of entertainment we would find. The size of the ship, and the limited number of passengers, had us wondering if there would be a compromise when it came to the talent. I should note that I am not necessarily a fan of the large, Vegas-style production shows which have overrun most cruise ships. If I want a Vegas vacation, I go to Vegas. I understand this is a minority opinion, but in the spirit of fair comment it's something you must consider when reading my review of this cruise. The Wind Surf does not feature any such shows. Instead we have two groups, one a full band which plays jazz, pop and some softer rock style music, and a duo who play a less energetic and yet still entertaining set -- designed more for dinner hour than for cocktails.

RAIN, the duo, are quite talented, and from what I have seen have accumulated quite a reputation and following among the Surf's return passengers. Unfortunately we never got enough time just to sit and listen to them, but I've noted that Rain gets applause from a number of cruise sites and board postings, so I'm going to give them a nod of approval and move along to the slightly less noted but certainly noteworthy other group, TOP SOCIETY, who are --in my opinion -- certifiably excellent. The vocals and playing are terrific, and they have quite a solid range of material, ensuring that everyone in the audience will hear something they like. Top marks for Top Society.

I will admit to being pleasantly surprised by the ship, her crew, and the overall experience of sailing on a Windstar vessel. Without trying to be an advertisement for them -- and being one nonetheless -- I will state categorically that it is money well spent. Fascinating itinerary -- at least so far -- great people, food and overall experience. Gotta admit it's been a pleasure getting to know them. Halfway through the journey and already I'm regretting the day we disembark.

Maybe a pirate-like mutiny is in order? I may talk to the other passengers and see if there's much support...I'm sure the crew would go along.

Meanwhile, today promises to be a quiet and lazy one. And I can't see a better place to do it than right here on the afterdeck of the Surf. Tomorrow we're in Sicily, but for now I'm going to sit back and admire the view. And save the mutiny for another day. It's just too much work.
Always good advice

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