“Forgive me Father, for I have sinned, I’ve never actually confessed before…….. so, you may want to cancel your schedule for the rest of the week. Recently, however, I spent 10 days of excess, overeating, over drinking and self-indulgence on a floating pleasure palace”.
Okay, it’s probably obvious confessions aren’t my style, so hopefully sharing some lessons from my small cruise ship experience will suffice.
All Aboard with Windstar
Glimpsing the Windstar “Star Pride” for the first time in Reykjavik port, the first impression was, “hey, this isn’t so small!”. There would be around another 399 passengers sharing the facilities of the ship, while cruising the “Lands of the Midnight Sun“, so not small, but only a fraction of the numbers on the huge ocean going, floating hotels of other cruise lines.
Having only been on a river cruise before, my inexperience was soon evident; a bottle of single malt whisky, purchased in duty free was quickly confiscated. Apparently standard operating practice on a cruise; however, I pleaded my case, having purchased it to fill my flask for the exciting, but possibly chilly Windstar excursions. Fortunately, it was soon returned and together with the warm welcome aboard, happy days.
Read about my river cruising experience: River Cruising; The Pros and Cons for Beginners
First stop was Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands, followed by cruising along the Norwegian coast, visiting Molde, Gerainger fjord and Bergen, before sailing to Orkney and then on to our final port, Edinburgh. There would be several days at sea, and despite some choppy seas, these seemed to be many passengers favourite moments on the cruise.
Plain Sailing with Windstar
Despite my best efforts, I’d still arrived with many preconceptions, some correct, most wrong, but the levels of luxury and the all-day, all you can eat buffet; known colloquially as onboard dining were spot on.
A visit to some Scottish islands: Scotland Road trip; Part Deux – Highlands and Islands
Dining involves making choices, relaxed coffee, croissants for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch in the Yacht Club, or full buffet style in the main restaurant. Evening meal was also served in the restaurant, with waiter service and an excellent menu, produced by Executive Chef Bhudi Singh Thakur. Originally from India, several of his dishes originate from his home, some included as recommendations of the day.
I particularly enjoyed tucking into a chicken tikka masala one evening, Britain’s favourite dish, making me feel right at home.
There does not appear to be any limitations on the portion size or even number of dishes a guest can order.
Our Captain, Ricardo Pinzón, is a modest, even shy Panamanian, so the ‘Captain’s Table‘ wasn’t used too often. Fortunately, when it did make an appearance I was invited, it was much more relaxed than anticipated and a pleasant evening was enjoyed by all.
“Candles“, the final dining option is popular and intimate and requires a booking. I found the smaller tables appealing, it was easier to chat and the food is excellent, so I chose to eat there twice.
Oh, and there’s 24/7 in cabin dining too, for when dressing up and small talk seems just slightly too much hassle.
A cruise certainly isn’t the place to start a new diet, the amount of food available, from the hors d’œuvres delivered daily to the cabin to the constant supply of snacks and meals provided in the restaurants it’s just too tempting. Probably because of this, many made use of the on board gym facilities, yoga or Pilates classes, unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them!
Drinks are also readily available, and not only coffee, tea or soft drinks. Most passengers purchase a drinks package, which for a fixed price allows guests to keep their wine or cocktail glasses topped up throughout the cruise. You may have guessed, this was an aspect of cruising I became especially fond of, working my way through the variety of single malts aboard the ship (Alan, the bar manager is Scottish), while enjoying the entertainment.
As well, as the professional performers, the crew go to great lengths to keep guests entertained, with trivia quizzes and more creative evenings, including “Officers Lies Night“, “Film Quotes Night” and the hilarious male synchronised ‘swimming’ during the crew talent night. What this lacked in choreography, was more than compensated for by the improvised humour. It’s a crew of talented and witty entertainers, making for several enjoyable evenings.
Excursions, Part of the Experience
The amount of time spent in each destination, was limited, and to be honest has always concerned me about cruising. However, chatting to my fellow passengers, many of which had cruised several times, some on the fourth or fifth with Windstar, they treated a cruise like a taster tour. This meant if a destination they particularly like is discovered, the plan is to return one day; makes perfect sense.
I get this, but must confess, only having half a day to explore the Faroe Islands, a destination I’d been keen to visit was slightly frustrating. Learning my lesson from the other passengers, however, my appetite has merely been whetted!
Experienced cruisers choose their excursions well, some are not to be missed, such as rib tours of Gerainger fjord, boat trips along the sea cliffs of the Faroes or the Highland Park whisky distillery on Orkney (yes, I did this one!). Excursions are available in every port, some only lasting a couple of hours, while others last most of the day, with little remaining time for independent exploring.
They can also be popular and often booked up quickly, it pays to choose early. Taking my lead from some new friends, I discovered in some ports, making independent arrangements, exploring and finding personal adventures can be beneficial.
Small ship cruises seem great for making new friendships, some of which often last a lifetime, and I was fortunate enough to meet some great people. Two of these, Susan and Brad, from the United States invited me to join them when they explored the Atlantic Road from Molde. They had hired a car and took me along for the ride, literally! It was an enjoyable way to discover this beautiful stretch of Norwegian coast, stopping off at small inlets, villages and harbours, with plenty of freedom to grab pretty pictures.
It wasn’t until the Star Pride moored in Bergen, with other huge ocean-going vessels also in port that the difference in scale really became clear, our ship was dwarfed by the others. It also seemed more elegant and sleek, but then I might be a tad biased.
It’s still not possible to get to know all four hundred people aboard, but most being American are usually friendly. They are aboard to get along, there was a minority that didn’t seem eager to make friends, basically keeping to themselves. That’s fine though, it’s all about cruising on your own terms.
All At Sea
The days at sea are a chance to relax, explore the ship, mix with the other passengers and share stories and experiences from the last port. Being so far out at sea, often without being able to see any land is slightly disconcerting, but also restful. I’d only experienced this once before, when visiting St Helena on the mail ship which services the island from Cape Town.
The story of my trip to St Helena is here: RMS St Helena, A Voyage for a Modern World
Feeling the gentle roll of the ocean, the swell of oceanic waves originating far from land with only seabirds for company, while sipping a single malt is perfect for some reflection. I can watch the birds all day, nomadic wanderers that glide effortlessly on the merest breeze, riding thermals in the wake as they seem to chase the ship.
Sunrises, sunsets and storms at sea can be especially dramatic and spectacular, opening up the doors of my cabin early in the morning to see a new destination became a favourite pastime of mine.
As it’s confession time, visiting several destinations, but without the need to pack/unpack is a plus point for cruising. A small convenience, but they are beginning to mount up.
I’m glad that my cruising cherry was popped with Windstar, opening my eyes to the possibilities of small ship sailing. A new experience, which with the right attitude becomes an adventure. Being open to new experiences, seeing them as opportunities and challenges to be accepted, rather than avoided; the philosophy of adventure travel.
My adventures on the elegant Star Pride, discovering new destinations and rediscovering some old ones, relaxing at sea, and making new friends, surprised me. Some preconceptions were broken down and lasting memories made, and it is a small ship after all.
*I travelled as a guest of Windstar Cruises, however all are my own opinions were formed carefully over a single malt.