Written by guest contributor Parm Parmar
Cruising is big business with thousands across the globe exploring the world on various liners. Whether it’s the Mediterranean, the Caribbean or the South Pacific, today’s large ships offer limitless amenities and diversions for the passengers. Some even have rock climbing walls, zip-lines and shopping galleries plus a myriad of restaurants to tantalize your taste buds.
What’s also trending right now is small ship cruising on river cruises that you see making their way on the Danube or Seine to ocean-going vessels. This category is where Windstar, small luxury cruising, comes into play. In February, I joined Windstar Star Pride, on the first ever President’s Cruise with newly appointed President John Delaney through the Panama Canal and Costa Rica.
We begin our journey from the port of Colon, a short distance from the first Panama locks. All passengers are filled with excitement as we start the boarding process. Due to departure delays, we end up approaching the first Panama Canal Lock by the early morning, 5:30 am. It’s dark outside but warm nonetheless, so I made my way outside after hearing the gentle announcement by the Captain over the intercom. It was such an incredible view to experience – being at Gaton lock and seeing the mechanical process of how the locks work. There are three canals we pass through on this trip, with the length of the Panama Canal to the Caribbean to the Pacific being approximately 40 miles. The Captain Ricardo Palin and chief officer Juan Maltez Pazmino are of Panamanian descent, but it’s the first time these two native Panamanians navigated this cruise canal together.
My experiences on board this ship made me love cruising again and here’s why:
Small Ship Cruising is So Easy
I’ve been on a number of large ocean cruise ships in the Caribbean, but I’m still a cruising neophyte. I’m not particularly fond of long line-ups for activities, disembarking and not to mention the assigned tables for dinner. Intimacy is what I crave, and I found that on the Windstar Star Pride with only 212 passengers on board each ship. I found it easy to connect with fellow guests and quite uncomplicated getting around the ship. Plus, the stewards in the restaurants knew how I liked my drinks. Did I mention they had the best Costa Rican coffee on board in the Captain’s Lounge? I grabbed some every morning before heading to breakfast. Embarking on the Windstar is painless – within 10 minutes of arriving, I’m shown to my suite. Another aspect that resonates well with passengers is that Windstar manages all your immigration entry forms. The only time you need your passport is when you leave the ship to head home.
Windstar State Rooms Are An Oasis Of Luxury
The 106 guest suites on the Windstar Star Pride are an oasis of luxury. They have queen size beds that can easily convert into two twin beds. My suite had a private walk out verandah. No matter which suite you have booked, each is outfitted with bathrobes, slippers, a walk in closet, and O’Occitane toiletries and a fully stocked minibar and complimentary soft drinks in the fridge. There is also a flatscreen TV and DVD player in case guests would like to watch a movie or two. The Library on Deck 6 is filled with an excellent selection of movies and books to suit every taste. My favourite pastime in the suite was lying on the coach with the French doors wide open and feeling the ocean breeze while gazing at the horizon.
5-Star Meals on Board
Like most travelers, food is an important part of my overall experience. Personally, being a sensory creature leaving a destination without experiencing some stellar cuisine clouds my view of a place. Windstar on that front does not disappoint. Starting each morning with my breakfast, on Deck 7 Veranda Restaurant, customary oatmeal bowl with fresh fruit followed by an egg white omelet set the stage for a day of activities. Occasionally, more often than not, I did sneak in a flaky croissant or two, but I will never own up to that.
If I had been a health nut or vegetarian, there were enough choices available to suit those needs. Lunch was served buffet style in the same location; it never disappointed. One day to the next, I enjoyed my salad starter with cheese accompaniments, and I could always add on fish or some form of protein (burgers, beef, pork, lamb tacos, curries). Dessert is where I always failed, so I won’t even go into that.
All dining on the ship is managed by the excellent culinary team of Executive Chef Rohit Dimri and Chef Chet. Now that Windstar has partnered with the James Beard Foundation for culinary focused cruises, it’s not surprising we were treated to a cooking demonstration showcasing James Beard recipes – citrus-cured Atlantic salmon topped with tomato basil compote.
Dinner in the AmphorA Deck 3, the restaurant is the “piece de resistance” on Windstar. The portions are just the right size and each evening’s wines are matched to suit the meals. You can order the heirloom beet and goat cheese salad or a fish starter; they are presented as works of art. The menu is diverse enough to suit every palate. Highly notable was the President’s dinner, which included a filet of beef with Fois Gras and petit fours to accompany desserts. Meals on Windstar are worth a culinary award or two.
Each night Gustavo, Windstar’s naturalist would host talks about tours and what guests could expect to see on their jaunts.
Tours offered are different price ranges –so depending on how much you want to spend, you can pick and choose. Everything is on offer from dolphin watching to horseback riding to zip lining through the forest. I selected a variety of tours from the Manuel Antonio National Park Nature Walk to spot wildlife (birds, sloths, howler monkeys, snakes, bats) and swim in an idyllic sea cove. The Bahia Drake: Terraba-Sierpe Wetlands & Mangrove tour had us navigating rough waves to reach the river base. We were treated to views of every kind of wildlife that lives in the wetlands from 25 variety of birds, sloths, Caimans and Capuchin monkeys. The sweetest experience was the Golfo Dulce: Chocolate Farm where we toured an organic farm and had a demonstration of how chocolate is made from cocoa nibs.
If you’re not in the mood to do an excursion, wander around the port city. Unlike larger cruise ships, Windstar’s land ports are usually smaller locations making it easy to embark via shuttle rafts. Most ports had beaches nearby if guests wanted to idle by the water or explore the port town.
Call a vacation expert at 1-800-665-4981 for more information about this cruise and others.