It took Christopher Columbus over 70 days to cross the Atlantic from the Caribbean back to Spain. Our journey to Lisbon, in Portugal, aboard the Wind Surf, more than 500 years later, sadly, took only 14 days.
Columbus had to lie to his crew about the progress made on his historic voyages, exaggerating the pace before the men revolted at the prospect of too many more days at sea. Aboard the Wind Surf, pride of the Windstar fleet, we would have been quite content to suffer any delays.
But then the 308-passenger masted-sail-yacht Wind Surf is, after all, a little more luxurious than the Santa Maria... or the Nina... or the Pinta.
There are no starving seamen required here to clamber up the masts to set the sails. Aboard the Wind Surf everything is operated at the push of a button. With the help of microchips and modern navigational devices, sails unfurl in a matter of seconds and passengers can watch it all happen at any time of day with Windstar’s unique “open-bridge” operation.
It is a welcoming, drop-by-anytime policy which allowed us and our fellow guests to share the experience with the amiable Captain Mark Boylin and his officers and to learn something of the operations.
In fact, it is this facet of a cruise with Windstar that sets it apart from the other cruise lines covering similar itineraries across the Atlantic. There’s nothing more like feeling a part of the adventure than to rise at dawn and wander up to the bridge with a mug of steaming coffee to check on progress. If you can’t sail yourself across the Atlantic, this is the next best thing!
Part of the adventure, too, is knowing that you’re following in the wake of some of the world’s greatest explorers.
The route we were taking, from Fort Lauderdale to Lisbon is in fact very close to Christopher Columbus’s return journey to Spain in 1493 when he had to stop in Lisbon for repairs before finally making it to Palos de la Frontera.
That journey was a rough one, most of the crew were sick and four of the six Indians he brought with him died.
Our cruise was a much gentler experience, with balmy days of sunbathing for most of the journey, and the rougher days at sea, to be expected on an Atlantic cruise and all part of the experience, were well taken care of by the Wind Surf’s stabilisers.
There’s not a day of fine dining that you would want to miss. Under the watchful eye of Chef Nader, the innovative menus created by celebrity chefs Joachim Splichal and Jeanne Jones are well deserving of the first place Diamond Award for Food Services recognising the line’s exemplary five-star cuisine and dining service.
Christopher Columbus’s crew didn’t have it so good.
The menu for the seamen aboard the Santa Maria, Nina and Pinta in 1492 offered a limited supply of vinegar, wine, molasses, cheese, honey, raisins, rice, garlic, almonds, sea biscuits, olive oil stored in earthenware jugs, fish when they could catch it, salted meats rapidly deteriorating in leaking casks, and dry provisions such as chickpeas, lentils and beans that were not kept dry for very long.
The choices aboard the Wind Surf were a good deal more exciting and varied.
Breakfast, served in The Veranda where every table has a view, offers an expansive buffet and a menu of traditional favourites like Eggs Benedict. The Veranda also showcases the daily luncheon buffet featuring a different theme each day from traditional British comfort food like the Windstar’s famous Bread and Butter Pudding, to hot and spicy Malaysian fare.
And if that’s not enough to keep you weighted down in your deck chair for the rest of the day, the afternoon teas are bound to finish the job especially the highly anticipated Dutch High Tea with enough delicious European favourites to make sure that everyone postponed dinner a couple of hours that evening.
If you are ever ill, it’s not because you’re sea sick, it’s because you’ve just eaten too much. On the one rough day we had on our journey, when I complained of feeling a little queasy, the lady at our table smiled faintly and commented that my ill health probably had less to to do with the sea than it had to do with the three portions of cheesecake I had just managed to devour.
Dinner is served in the Restaurant and in the classy, Italian-styled Bistro, offering a host of favourites from grilled lobster deliciously dripping with butter to “lighter” choices like our discovery of Jeanne Jones’s French Garden Stew at only 185 calories and only ten fat grams.
In keeping with the idea that this is your yacht rather than being reminded constantly that you are a guest at a fancy resort, no reservations are needed and there is no formal dress code. As long as I could tear myself away from the bridge and another lesson in the use of the sextant, we were welcomed at all hours.
And the wines served at dinner were as good as the coffee on the bridge. In fact, Windstar Cruises are noted for their fine selection of wines. Things were not so great in the late 1400s when Christopher Columbus and his crew had only red wine from Jerez, high in alcohol and preserved in wooden barrels or water, and that in short supply.
Nor was the ambience of the accommodation aboard the Santa Maria with a hold filled with rats and bilge water much to talk about. That ship had only one cabin. The Wind Surf has 154 luxuriously appointed staterooms.
Our suite, one of 31 with two bathrooms and separate dining/sitting area, had every luxury you could think of, from fluffy white bathrobes to a CD player, TV, personal safe, refrigerator, and mini bar.
We had a crew of 163 pampering us, comfortable lounges and bars, an extensive library, an Internet Center, a Meeting Room, Fitness Center and above all, a Spa with an almost decadent selection of treatments that hark back to ancient times long before anyone even knew about the Atlantic Ocean, never mind thinking of crossing it.
With a staff of ten massage therapists, technicians and instructors, the Windspa offers everything from traditional massage to comprehensive and synergistic therapy.
The list of luxuries and differences between this journey and the one recorded by Christopher Columbus is, of course, never-ending as one would expect it to be. But it is the similarities that make the experience so exciting.
Gliding into Lisbon with the sails unfurled above us, knowing we had just crossed the Atlantic ocean from one continent to another, from one world to another, we never forgot that we were on a real sailing ship. We never forgot we were part of the adventure.
And that’s the real attraction of a cruise with Windstar Cruises.
For more information about Windstar Cruises visit the Windstar website at www.windstarcruises.com