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Quirky Cruise
October 8, 2015

Small Ship Cruise Line Review: Island Windjammers

Snapshot: Remember Windjammer Barefoot Cruises? Enormously popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s for its ultra-casual, rum-fueled Caribbean sailing adventures, the line fell apart in 2008, leaving thousands of loyal passengers sad and landlocked. Enter Island Windjammers. Launched in 2009 by and for Windjammer Barefoot regulars when they got together to buy the 101-foot brigantine schooner DIAMANT, the line is a cleaned-up, more mature version of its barefoot predecessor, operating truly intimate sailing adventures that tootle around the quieter corners of the Caribbean, far from the megaship mega-crowds.  Sure, there’s still plenty of rum punch and Red Stripes consumed, but the volume of the party has been turned way down. (Island Windjammers is not to be confused with Sail Windjammer, a one-ship line that operates the 72-pax Mandalay, formerly of the Windjammer Barefoot Cruises fleet.)

Diamant in all her glory. * Photo: Island Windjammers

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers: DIAMANT (built 1978, 12 passengers), SAGITTA (b. 1960, 24 p) and VELA (b. 1988, 30 p)

Passengers Profile: Young-at-heart American couples, singles and groups of friends 45+ who crave a carefree Caribbean getaway with zero pretension. Summers and holiday weeks see occasional families with children; though the minimum age is 8 and it’s probably better for kids to be at least 10 or 12+.

Passenger Decks: 2 VELA & DIAMANT; 3 SAGITTA — no elevators.

Price: $  Moderate

Included Features: Meals, wine, beer, rum punch and soft drinks are included in the fares; shore excursions are extra, as are optional tips. You’re also invited to bring along your own booze and the ships provide the mixers (there is no cash bar on board).

The fleet calls on great little places like Tobago Cays. * Photo: Island Windjammers

The fleet calls on great little places like Tobago Cays. * Photo: Island Windjammers

Itineraries:

  • 6- and 12-night Leeward Island cruises round-trip from St Martin or St. Lucia, calling on some combination of Anguilla, Antigua, Dominica (Portsmouth & Roseau), Guadeloupe, Iles des Saintes, Martinique, Montserrat, Nevis, St. Barths, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, St. Lucia and Tintamarre
  • 6-, 9- and 12-night Windward Island cruises round-trip from Grenada or St. Lucia, calling on some combination of Bequia, Canouan, Carriacou (Tyrell Bay & Hillsborough), Grenada, Mayreau, Mustique, Petit St. Vincent, Sandy Island, St. Lucia, St Vincent, Tobago Cays, Union Island and Young Island
  • 6- and 12-night British Virgin Islands (BVIs) & Leeward Island cruises round-trip from St. Martin or Tortola, visiting some combination of Anguilla, Jost Van Dyke, Nevis, Norman Island, Salt Island, St. Barths, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, Tortola or Virgin Gorda
  • 6-night French West Indies cruises round-trip out of St. Lucia, visiting some combo of Dominica (Portsmouth & Roseau), Guadeloupe, Iles des Saintes, Martinique and St. Lucia

Why Go? To let your hair down, work on your tan and hang out with like-minded others who operate on island time.

When to Go? All year around, though remember hurricane season in the Caribbean is officially June through November.

Cabins: Small as you’d expect on sailing ships, but charming, wood-paneled and the perfect cozy nests to catch up your beauty rest; otherwise, life is lived up on deck or on shore. All cabins have 110v outlets, blow dryers, shampoo/soap, portholes (except for one cabin on VELA and two on SAGITTA), and private bathrooms with separate shower stall (exceptions: the two Cadet Cabins on VELA each has an all-in-one bathroom and SAGITTA’s and VELA’s two Solo Cabins share one bathroom).

A cozy and very nautical Diamant cabin. * Photo: Island Windjammers

A cozy and very nautical Diamant cabin. * Photo: Island Windjammers

SAGITTA has 11 double cabins with a double bed below and bunk above, and two single cabins without portholes. One of the doubles is the Owner’s Suite, with a king-sized bed, small fridge, flat screen TV with DVD player, and granite and tile master bath (none of the other cabins have TVs). All have portholes.

VELA’s cabins include: two tiny Cadet Cabins with raised small double beds (for one or two people) each with a private all-in-one bathroom (no separate shower stall); two Solo Cabins, one with a porthole and one without, share one bathroom with a separate shower stall (each cabin can accommodate one or two people); two Standard Cabins are a bit larger with a double lower bed and a single bunk above; six Deluxe Cabins have a larger double bed with single bunk above; the pair of Compass Cabins that are at the aft of the ship has a queen size bed (and no upper bunk); the one and only Topsail Cabin has a queen bed and larger bathroom; and finally the relatively spacious Owner’s Suite has a king size bed, mini-fridges, and a large bathroom — both cabin and bathroom have portholes.

After her overhaul in fall 2016, DIAMANT will sport four cabins with double beds below and single bunk above and with full bathrooms with separate showers; and a fifth cabin will be a suite with a queen bed, sitting area and a full bathroom. Until then, the ship has six cabins: two with a double lower bed and mini fridge; two with double lower bed and one upper single bunk; and two cabins with a double lower bed and a single lower bed; all with private bathrooms.

Each day is more gorgeous than the last. * Photo: Island Windjammers

Each day is more gorgeous than the last. * Photo: Island Windjammers

Public Rooms: The whole point of an Island Windjammer cruise is to be outside on deck soaking up the sun and fresh Caribbean air, and enjoying the sailing ship experience and the quirkiness of the vessels — each has a very interesting background.

The three-deck, three-masted SAGITTA was built for the Swedish Navy in 1960, and in later years was completely updated for cruising. Today she has a dining area, bar, lounge and mini library inside on the Main Deck; and above on the outside Upper Deck, another dining area, deck chairs, and an open bridge.

VELA was built in 1988 in Puget Sound, Washington, and deployed in the Marshall Islands as a floating medical clinic called Tole Mour, or “Gift of Life and Health.” Later she was used as an education vessel for students studying sailing, oceanography and marine biology. In late 2014, Island Windjammers purchased the ship and rechristened her VELA, and a year later did major renovations, replacing the dormitory-style cabins with en suite single and double cabins; there’s also a new pilot house, large enclosed bar and dining saloon on the top deck.

DIAMANT was built in 1978 in Taiwan and then later spent two decades sailing in the Galapagos Islands before Island Windjammers purchased her in 2009 and she’s been the fleet favorite ever since. She’s getting a facelift in fall 2016 that will reduce her passenger capacity to 10 passengers in five cabins and create an overall spiffier look (“sophisticated not stuffy” the line’s website points out). Of the two passenger decks, the top deck has both covered and open-air dining tables, plus a bar and deck chairs. The cabins are on the lower deck.

Hanging out on Deck aboard Sagitta. * Photo: Island Windjammers

Hanging out on Deck aboard Sagitta. * Photo: Island Windjammers

Dining: Meals are served at one very social open seating at a few tables, with local dishes to the tune of chicken roti, conch soup, pumpkin soup, callaloo and fresh fish as well as continental standards the likes of cheeseburgers and salads.

Activities & Entertainment: The day starts with the captain’s story time when he explains what’s happening for the day; the ships spend part of every day in port somewhere. The pace is easy going and free — while away the day swimming off the side of the ship (when conditions permit), take the ships’ kayaks for a spin nearby, try paddle boarding, or sip rum punch with new friends in an inflatable “floating island.” There are a handful of shore excursions offered on most itineraries, but many passengers are content to find a good beach or wander around on their own. Sometimes lunch is served on a quiet beach somewhere, otherwise meals on are on board. Happy hour is a big thing and drinks on deck are a favored pastime for many; you’re free to bring aboard your favorite spirits or mixers, though why bother when beer, wine, rum punches and soft drinks are on the house. Evenings, the crew may start a bonfire on a nearby beach or organize a pub-crawl. Theme cruises from time to time focus on rum (with a rum expert on board to educate and do tastings), solo cruisers (no kids or couples allowed!), pirates (with costume contests, pirate trivia and visits to spots where Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed) and local food tasting.

Along the Same Lines: Star Clippers is in the ballpark, though its passengers are more international.

Note: These ships are not suitable for people with mobility problems, as staircases are steep, doorways narrow and door sills high.

Contact: Georgia-based Island Windjammers; 1-877-772-4549, www.islandwindjammers.com

— HMS

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Caribbean Islands, Cruise Regions, Sailing Ship & Line Reviews, Ship & Line reviews, Uncategorized, West Indies


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