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Mais Oui! Chef Time on Wind Surf

Whenever our travels take us to Europe, we continue to have this argument…er, debate…er, discussion.

Is the food better in Italy or in France?

At various times, either one of us can be on either side of the…discussion. Now, Windstar Cruises is tempting us to do some research. As part of its $18-million fleet renovation, now just hours from completion, Windstar is introducing Stella Bistro.

This is not a woman of substantial girth, in case you were wondering, it's a "contemporary dining room with a French twist." Did we say that we loved French twists? This one is available only to passengers on the Wind Surf, which is the cruise line's flagship.

Here is the tasty description from Windstar:

"Contemporary dishes with a French flair, as exemplified by entrees such as Coquille St. Jacques Provençale, a seared, skewered scallops dish served on pappardelle and tossed with artichoke hearts, spinach and capers in a light, white wine sauce; or the Roasted Magret of duck, a duck breast and duck confit on cherry sauce paired with Parisienne potatoes and French beans...seasonings and flavors include escargots bourguignon; cream of wild mushroom soup; and goat cheese soufflé. Dessert is a decadent affair with dishes such as apple aumoniere, a combination of apples, marzipan and honey baked into a filo pastry and served in vanilla custard; or chocolate Napoleon, the famous French pastry that consists of layers of soft, creamy chocolate and praline."

They had us at "Coquille."


Carnival Splendor
17 nights
February 3, 2013
Long Beach, Cabo San Lucas, Huatulco, Puerto Quetzal, Manta, Lima, Arica, Santiago
Inside:  $949
Cost per day: $55
www.carnival.com

High-end Cruising, High-end Success

When the principal shareholder has a reported net worth of $6 billion, it probably shouldn't come as a surprise when one of his offspring — like Windstar Cruises — shows an anticipated increase in sales of 60 per cent increase during the first year of his ownership.

In such frugal economic times, somebody's doing something right and Philip Anschutz, arguably the world's least-known billionaire, has such a history.

Last week, this three-ship high-end ($$$$) cruise line reported sales for 2013 are 60 per cent ahead of 2012. This comes just before completion of the company's $18 million renovation of its ships. If Windstar was in need an upgrade, that wasn't lost on the passengers who are filling the small ships at a time when the cruise industry shows signs of struggling.

This is a cruise line that's 28 years old. As recently as two years ago, it was owned by a company in bankruptcy, that after Windstar was sold by Carnival four years earlier for an estimated $100 million. Xanterra Parks and Resorts (Philip Anschutz) picked it up for as a relative bargain: $39 million.

The message in all of this is: If you're interested in sailing on one of these large "yachts" that make their way into small ports, don't wait for a deal.

Now that they're looking much better, the Wind Star, Wind Surf and Wind Spirit are hot.


Holland America Volendam
14 nights
January 7, 2013
Singapore, Ko Samui, Bangkok, Sihanoukville, Ho Chi Minh City, Nha Trang, Da Nang, Hanoi, Hong Kong
Inside: $870
Cost per day: $62
www.hollandamerica.com

Breeze Coming Across Ocean

 

Etchings from our cruise notebook…

* * *

Somewhere in the warm waters of the Mediterranean today is the Carnival Breeze, embarking on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Launched in June, the Breeze will arrive in Miami two weeks from today to begin its life in the Mediterranean.

Carnival's newest Fun Ship is the most eco-friendly vessel of the 25 in the company's fleet. It cost almost three-quarters of a billion dollars, is 15 stories high and carries 3,690 passengers. It belongs to the Dream Class, following in the wakes of the Magic and the Dream, and it will stay in Miami in perpetuity…or until it's needed somewhere else, whichever comes first.

* * *

When the Wind Surf comes out of drydock next month — it goes in on Monday — Windstar Cruises will have completed an $18-million renovation of its entire fleet.

That's a fleet of three, all of them like private yachts. The Wind Surf is the flagship and the biggest ship of the three, with room for 310 passengers. In five days at a shipyard in Portugal, it will undergo a bow-to-stern renovation — amazing what can be done in five days, isn't it? — before sailing across the Atlantic, sans passengers, in time for its first Caribbean cruise on December 1 from St. Maarten.

* * *

Mea culpa…we have taken wine onto cruise ships…we have paid corkage in restaurants…we have avoided corkage because "the authorities" didn't find the wine in our luggage…in short, we have done it all to be able to have a late-night sip of "our wine" in a cabin.

Cruise lines are starting to make it easier.

Royal Caribbean now allows two bottles per stateroom during embarkation. The rules and regs say the bottles can't have been tampered with (opened), can't be larger than 750 mils (no magnums) and are subject to $25 corkage if consumed in a public place.

Most competitors do variations of the same thing. Frankly, paying corkage to have a nice bottle of our own wine with dinner is entirely acceptable…and having an allowance makes passengers feel less like criminals.

* * *

Among the perks for being in the military is the latest one from Carnival.

This month, military personnel (active or retired) can book up to three cabins for 3-to-5-day cruises on Carnival ships for $189 per person, 6-and-7-night cruises for $354 and 9-to-12-day cruises for $629.

Good deals, and they should be when that's what you do for a living.


Windstar Wind Surf
7 nights
December 8, 2012
St. Maarten (return): Martinique, St. Lucia, Roseau, St. Kitts
Oceanview: $1,299
Cost per day: $185
www.windstarcruises.com

Big Rescue for a Smallish Ship

This is just a nice story, in a world that sometimes doesn't have enough of them…

A sailboat off the coast of Croatia was in trouble. Its sails were ripped, its engines weren't working and high winds had created swells large enough that the boat was in danger of capsizing.

On board were seven passengers. They fired two red distress flares. Vessels in the area tried to respond, most of them vessels small enough that their attempts to help were in desperation. The first vessel to respond was the Wind Surf, the world's and Windstar Cruises' largest sailing ship but still about one-sixth the size of most ocean-going cruise ships that carry 10 times as many people.

The Wind Surf carries 312. It has six decks and gross tonnage of 14,745 (the average-sized Celebrity Millennium's gross tonnage, as an example, is 91,000). The Wind Surf is 535 feet long at the waterline and is powered by seven sails and six electric engines. So while it's the biggest sailing ship in the world, it's still small in rough seas.

In response to the disabled boat, Wind Surf captain Alan MacAry changed direction and launched a rescue boat carrying two officers and two sailors. But the rescue boat couldn't get alongside the small craft in nine-foot seas. The Wind Surf was able to provide enough protection by blocking the wind that the crew on the sailboat were able to repair the sails enough to gain some measure of control.

By the time the Croatian Coast Guard arrived, the sailboat was headed for land and the Wind Surf was headed back to its next port.

Nobody drowned, so the rescue story didn't get much attention. If Captain MacAry hadn't reacted the way he did, it probably would have become a bigger story…and seven sailboat passengers wouldn't have been as grateful as they are.


Celebrity Equinox
14 nights
November 26, 2012
Rome, Florence, Toulon, Barcelona, Cartagena, Funchal, Fort Lauderdale
Inside:  $599
Cost per day: $42
www.celebritycruises.com
 

Vroom, Vroom…Cruising to Monaco

 

Every once in a while we come across a cruise that prompts this response:

"Now THAT would be cool."

As anybody who has been in our garage knows, we have an affinity for sports cars. Not for under the hood and overhead cams…just for the style. In car racing, nothing is more stylish than Formula One.

Enter Windstar Cruises. Enter the French Riviera. Enter Formula One.

Next May (just so there's lots of time to plan this one), Windstar is taking guests on a Yachting the Riviera voyage that includes the Grand Prix of Monaco. It was won this year by Mark Webber of Australia but you already knew that, didn't you?

The cruise part of the experience is on the Wind Surf, the largest of Windstar's three "yachts" with 312 passengers. The ship departs from Nice, a city that in our opinion lives up to its name, and sails straight to Monte Carlo — it's not that far — in time for Saturday's Grand Prix preliminaries.

The package is kind of like a shore excursion. It includes preferred seating for the preliminaries and the race (Sunday), dinner at the Cafe de Paris in the heart of Monaco, a gala at Monte Carlo's famous Grand Casino, Sunday brunch at the track and a special pre-Monaco Grand Prix dinner on the ship in Cannes.

The race tickets are in Section K, which means something to race aficionados because it overlooks Tabac Corner, a challenging section of the race — see the view from the photo.

It's not for the faint of heart or the faint of wallet – this "shore excursion" costs $2,299 per person, if you book by October.

But that is cool.

When it's over, participants can de-brief by visiting Portofino, Italy, and the Cinque Terre.


Celebrity Summit
7 nights
December 22, 2012
San Juan (return): St. Croix, St. Kitts, Roseau, Grenada, St. Thomas
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $114
www.celebritycruises.com

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