Bigger isn't necessarily better!
May 16, 2018 at 3:42 PM
BIGGER ISN’T NECESSARILY BETTER
Cruising – apparently it’s on the up, as more and more of us choose to take to the oceans for our holiday adventures. With some cruise ships accommodating thousands of passengers, it can feel like sailing on a floating city. So, you’ll be happy to know that smaller scale cruise operators are cruising in style, to almost every corner of the planet. If you want to go where (almost) everybody knows your name and you know theirs, then small vessel cruising could be for you. If you long to stand on deck and gaze out at the open ocean, without the thumping beat of the all-night disco shattering your peace, read on. As cruisecritic.com states, ‘a burgeoning industry niche now revolves around small vessels -- a wide-ranging group that includes yachts, rugged expedition ships, riverboats and classic sailing schooners -- where passenger counts top out at closer to 300, rather than 3,000 plus.’
Courtesy of the top notch experts at Quay Travel and Quay Cruise, we chose a seven-night cruise around the romantic islands of French Polynesia, with Windstar – an upscale line sailing to some 150 ports throughout Europe, the Caribbean, Central America and the South Pacific.
This was our second ‘small-scale’ cruise - a few years ago we experienced South-West Alaska, on board Un-Cruise’s Safari Endeavour, with approximately 70 other passengers.
Our 148 passenger ship, Wind Spirit, a beautiful motorized yacht with four imposing masts and six sails was a step up again in passenger numbers. In the brochures, Wind Spirit looks the epitome of the romantic tall ship. In reality, the ship doesn’t disappoint, looking very grand, waiting portside in Papeete to welcome its excited clientele. After a smooth embarkation, (that’s cruise ship speak for boarding) it was straight into drinks and mingling with fellow cruisers in the ship’s lounge. It doesn’t take long to familiarize yourself with the simple layout of the ship; where the cabins are in relation to the three eating locations, and the bar. Cabins are over two levels and are all the same size. Handy to know when booking, as prices do vary. We were on the lower level of cabins (Deck 1) which proved advantageous when sea swells rolled us around a little. As my husband pointed out, being closer to the waterline meant less ship movement. And (if you can stand it) the ocean makes a delightful sloshing noise right outside your two portholes. The cabins are really spacious and hold an ingenious amount of hidden storage that may inspire many ‘Tiny Home’ aficionados. Bathrooms are small but well stocked with great dual-head showers and L’Occitaine toiletries.
Wind Star boasts a staff to passenger ratio of 1 to 5, so there is someone available to attend to your every need. Our dedicated cabin steward was efficient yet unobtrusive. Bar and wait staff knew everyone’s names by day two and they went out of their way to meet all requests with unfailing cheer. However, those hoping for any Polynesian flavour on board, will be left wanting. Despite the cruise locale, the staff are from all corners of the globe; the cruise director was Ukranian, the health and wellness centre staff were Polish, Bulgarian, Romanian. The waiters, room attendants and bar staff were mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia, and the Windstar fleet’s youngest captain was British. Although the cruise director led an extensive programme of local attractions and excursions, in general, it was only outside the ship that one felt a true sense of Polynesia.
One of the big drawcards of this cruise is the activity and water sport schedule. In this Pacific paradise, life is meant to be lived outdoors and many guests (ourselves included) took advantage of the many on-shore activities which could be booked through the ship. Note that all paid activities, alcohol and extraneous charges on board are in US dollars – so costs do mount up. Some passengers had planned ahead with pre-booked activities with local operators in each port, so don’t feel you have to only do what Windstar has suggested and planned. You just have to be back on board by the evening’s sail or the ship may leave without you. Complimentary water sports out the back of the ship include snorkeling, wind-sailing, paddle-boarding and even water-skiing.
On board, guests can utilize a small pool, spa, gym, library and there is a beauty therapist, yoga/pilates classes and a resident doctor, who also dispenses sea sickness meds, should you need them.
‘Casual elegance’ is the designated dress code, and that idea permeates the onboard vibe. Passengers leave ties and formalwear at home in favour of smart casualwear, day and night. Dining options are pretty limited, but of excellent quality. We enjoyed a lot of local produce daily, in both of the on-board restaurants – AmphorA and Candles, the outdoor restaurant on the aft deck. Fresh fish, crab, lobster and a great selection of wines, cocktails and beer meant no-one was hungry or thirsty.
The port itinerary on this seven-night ‘Dreams of Tahiti’ cruise included Papeete, Moorea, Raiatea, Tahaa, Bora Bora and Huahine. The joy of a smaller ship is that it can access ports those big liners just can’t get close to. Windstar cruises also incorporate small island or ‘motu’ excursions. We all experienced a wonderful day with buffet lunch on a private motu and a few days later, the highlight dinner of the cruise, on another motu, leased exclusively by Windstar. Here we were entertained with Tahitian dancers and a fire ceremony. Two of our fellow passengers chose this night to get hitched and another couple renewed their wedding vows, making it a night to remember. Being transported back to our ship, which sat at anchor with its sails and masts lit up, was a magical finale.
Onboard, the crowd-free experience is intimate and social. In my limited experience, ‘small ship cruise people’ have a desire to meet and chat with you, which is a bonus if you like to make new friends while travelling. Plus, it’s a great way to broaden your own horizons. So while you may be ‘giving up’ some of the bells and whistles, discos, activities, cabarets, multiple restaurants and kids’ programmes of the larger ships, you’ll be gaining so much more.
As cruisecritic.com points out, enjoying such a personalized setting while exploring the globe usually comes at a premium price, given that there are fewer passengers onboard to help collectively offset the costs. If this ‘Taste of Tahiti’ has whet your appetite for cruising, Quay Cruise will help you pick and plan the perfect holiday on the perfect ship. Try ‘small’ at least once in your life and you may become a convert. And make sure you take full advantage of Quay Cruise’s knowledge to book your accommodation too. We book-ended our cruise at the spectacular Intercontinental Tahiti Resort and Spa in Papeete, the perfect launch-point for our Tahiti experience.