Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Postcard from the Caribbean

As a vacation, my husband and I spent a week on board the Wind Surf, a Windstar cruise, in the southern Caribbean.

My report: There's a lot to like aboard, especially the warm crew. Crew members hail from Indonesia and the Philipines, and they are, simply, superb.

The facilities, too, get high marks. Cabins were spacious aboard the sailing ship, and even though we were just above the water line, we found it quite comfortable. Amenities included a DVD player (movies available in the lounge), an iPod docking station (iPods available if you didn't bring your own), and a desk large enough to work at if you're incapable of turning off your brain (that would be me.)

The Windstar ships are intended to be low-key; activities beyond shore excursions are fairly minimal. We took a morning stretch class each day and particularly enjoyed the crew show and buffet late in the cruise. The ambiance is decidely casual; the highlight of most days was tea and cocktails at 4 p.m.

Disappointing: The food and the value. While we found shore excursions fairly priced, we were disappointed to find we were charged for items included on other high-end lines, such as lemonade at lunch ($2.95) and yoga classes ($10). Though some individual dishes were yummy, the food wasn't up to the standard we expected for a cruise that retails for $3,500-plus per week. The line has just been sold, and new owners promise an increased "value proposition.''

Some destination notes from our trip:

Bequia: This small island that is part of the Grenadines is a charming, lazy hideaway, and we'd go back. In winter, islanders still hunt whales -- one of the few nations still permitted to do so -- as part of their traditional culture.

Tobago: Authentic and charming. We moored at the east end of the island, in Man o' War bay, near a cozy fishing village, and went snorkling across the island from Speyside, near the friendly Blue Waters Inn. The reef -- reached by boat near an island that's for sale for a reported $1.5 million -- offers terrific formations.

Dominca: Ziplines … canopy tours where you zip along through the
upper reaches of the jungle along a super-strength steel cable … have become almost commonplace as cruise shore excursions. But the Wacky Rollers challenge in Dominica is a canopy tour on steriods.

On this tour, ziplining is the reward for tackling two dozen Survivor-type challenges, from skiddling along a high wire you're hooked in for safety, and you've got other lines to hold onto) to walking along a moving windchime … a series of vertical logs on strings, hoisted 20 feet above the ground. It definitely works up a sweat … but when I started whining, the very nice canopy guide told me he'd had an 82-year-old woman complete the course. Serves me right.

Several cruise lines offer the Wacky Rollers as an excursion, or you can go on your own.

Grenada: "The Spice Island,'' nailed by Hurricane Ivan in September 2004, is making a comeback. Though historic churches in the capital of St. George's are still without rooves, there's a new spice market, and the town seems generally fresh. Sure sign that the island is making a comeback: Shipping magnate Peter de Savory, who created Skibo Castle(where Madonna wed), The Abaco Club and the Carnegie Club, is investing $555 million in luxury resorts, retail, marina, an eco-resort and more.

And, don't miss river tubing, organized by Adventure Grenada. Wet but fun!

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