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Windsong: Sailing The Costa Rica Coast
Summer in Costa Rica is hot. Very hot! And as our coach descends the
steep mountainside that leads down to Puerto Caldera, the heat is almost
palpable. But as we round a corner we forget all about the heat. There,
lying in the Bay is one of the most stunning-looking ships in the world, a
sleek, white four-master of perfect, elegant proportions that takes modern
hi-tech cruise-sailing to its ultimate form. This is our first sight of
our home-to-be for a week.
We had been looking for a special cruise-holiday that combined luxury,
romance, story-book adventure with an ecological and wildlife aspect to it,
so a cruise along the coast of Costa Rica on this superb vessel promised to
be the ultimate experience. It was, and it took us to the kind of natural
wildlife habitat that many people only read about.
Costa Rica is like no other nation in Latin America. It is a relatively
undeveloped, and completely fascinating country, and perhaps a little
explanation is in order at this point. Before gaining independence from
Spain, it had been a sleepy back-water of the Spanish Empire in Central
America, its lack of gold and other resources making it relatively
unimportant to the Spaniards. Consequently even the Spanish Inquisition
passed over this sparsely-populated country with a minimum of upheaval.
After gaining independence, Costa Rica had become the original Banana
Republic, its main crops being bananas and coffee, both still major exports
for this country.
Today it has an enviable record of democracy, a situation created after the
Army (like many of its counterparts in Latin America during the '40s to
'60s) tried to take over the government in 1948. The coup failed and the
government realized that the greatest danger was from within, rather than
from neighboring invaders. So the nation's leaders did something that
those of no other country before or since have dared to do. They passed a
decree dismissing all the armed forces, and decided to spend the money
saved, on health, education, and the restoration of the ecology.
The results have been remarkable. Costa Rica now has one of the highest
literacy rates in the world, completely unmatched by any other
less-developed country. It's health services are also quite exemplary, and
one can drink the tap-water throughout the nation without taking one's life
into one's hands. A major program to restore much of the forest and
wildlife of the country is also in place, and it is probably easier to see
the fabulous flora and fauna of Central America here than in any of the
The population is still relatively small and much of the employment is
based on agriculture and tourism. But with the outstanding educational and
university system that the Costa Ricans have put in place, the country is
making substantial strides forward economically. Intel, the world's
leading computer chip company, has just completed building its largest
international plant in the capital of San Jose. By 1999, this one
computer-chip plant will have an output worth more than the total coffee
and banana crops put together.
We had heard great things about Costa Rica, and when we saw that the Wind Song was cruising along its coast, we decided to combine a one-week cruise on this spectacular vessel with a week exploring this country.
Here is one of the most stunning-looking ships in the world -- a sleek,
white four-master of perfect, elegant proportions that takes modern hi-tech
cruise-sailing to its ultimate form. This superb vessel, and its
look-alike sister ships Wind Spirit and Wind Star, offer cruises that will
take you in style, to fascinating small ports in the Caribbean, the
Mediterranean, the coast of Central America, and other interesting
We had opted for Costa Rica because it was such an interesting and unusual country, and one we had not previously visited. And we would not to be disappointed!
On most days of our cruise, the Wind Song tied up at one of the small ports along the Costa Rican, and in one case Panamanian coast. As the ship berthed in the mornings we had the opportunity to disembark and take
advantage of fascinating shore excursions. Late afternoon the ship would
head out to sea, to arrive at our next port after breakfast the following
morning. Then it would be time to go swimming, explore the coastline by
boat, or head into the canopy of the rainforest jungle on a different kind
Every port we visited provided new experiences and adventures. Without a doubt, the most unforgettable of these was the tree top canopy tour
adventure in the Rincon de la Vieja National Park, a very different way
indeed to explore the jungle!
As we came ashore from the ship that morning, a bus was waiting for those
of us who had chosen this excursion from the several options available. It
was a very warm day along the coast when we started the ride into the
inland and up into the tropical rainforest to undertake this unique
adventure. Before going we were warned that no one who was physically
unwell, or who was afraid or uncomfortable when it came to heights should
take this tour.
Climbing to a platform 80 feet above the floor of the tropical rainforest
and wearing the sort of harness used by climbers who scale vertical rock
faces, we used pulleys attached to our harness to clip onto fine woven wire
cables that zig-zagged through the rain forest canopy high above the jungle
floor. It was a fabulous experience.
But there were many other serendipitous shore excursions --- launch trips
through the mangrove swamps of Isla Damas to see monkeys, crocodiles and snakes in their natural habitat, the San Francisco estuary by kayak to get right in amongst the coastal wildlife --- to name just two. Alternatively,
there were launch trips, jungle walks and nature hikes. On Cano Island
humming birds, giant frogs-and the rare Olive Ridley turtles live in a
protected environment and we were enthralled with the variety and color of
the hummingbirds we saw.
The days fell into a pattern. Once the Wind Song had anchored, passengers split into several groups. The diving and water-sports enthusiasts set off in an inflatable Zodiac (an unsinkable rubber motorboat with powerful outboard) to go diving and water-skiing. Two-man sailboats were available for a tranquil day on the waters of the secluded bays where we anchored. Passengers who liked to explore on their own could go ashore by tender to explore the stunningly beautiful landscape around this spectacular and ecologically fascinating area.
But while the shore excursions were just great, it was the Wind Song itself
that made the cruise so particularly enjoyable. Usually the shore
excursions returned late in the afternoon, and by the time we showered and
changed, dusk would be falling as we made our way to the lounge. The ship's small orchestra would be playing dance music of the 60's and the cocktail hour passed very quickly and pleasantly.
Served in the dining-room, dinner is an elegant, silver-service affair with
one leisurely sitting starting at 7.30pm. In line with sailing-ship
tradition, dress is stylish, but not formal. There are no table
assignments. You may prefer to sit with new-found friends, changing tables
and dinner-partners as you wish. Alternatively, there is one large oval
table seating about twenty, where singles and couples can meet fellow
passengers easily and informally.
There is a wide choice of beautifully prepared dishes combining New
American Cuisine with that of France and Europe. An excellent wine list is
also available. Most evenings it was 10pm before we returned to the lounge for another hour of music, drinks and dancing. Then to the cabin for a good night's sleep. By the time we awoke next morning, Wind Song would be approaching our next destination.
The Windstar Cruise Line ships are arguably the most splendid, gracious and photogenic sailing-cruise-ships afloat today. With a length of 440 feet, 4 masts each 204 feet above sea level, and a sail area of 22,000 square feet, they are also large enough for ultimate comfort. 150 passengers in 75
outside suites are totally pampered by a crew of 85 from 15 countries.
These vessels are so technologically advanced that they have featured in
the Science Yearbook of the World Encyclopedia and on the world-renowned TV series "Beyond 2000".
Today's discerning clientele often prefer an elegant, relatively small ship
with only one class of accommodation and service --- the very best. Surveys have also shown that many people were attracted to the romance of sailing, yet were not always enamored with the idea of 'roughing it' on a normal yacht.
One answer was to create a luxurious, space-age style of sailing vessel
that could explore ports inaccessible to larger ships, and yet be
sufficiently advanced technologically and big enough to be as comfortable,
stable and well-equipped as the best of the seagoing giants.
An American/Scandinavian group, later to form Windstar Cruises, realized
that this market demanded something better -- an unregimented style, luxury and degree of personal service which, because of the logistics involved, simply could not be provided by larger ships.
The Wartsila shipyard in Finland was the one organization in the world
which could design such an advanced vessel. When this task was completed the blue-prints were sold to a French shipyard at Le Havre, which then built three identically sized, Wartsila-powered vessels --- the 'Wind Star', 'Wind Song' and 'Wind Spirit' --- for this group.
The Wind Song's Captain, with a personality that makes him a favorite with
the passengers, loves the Wind Song concept. "It's the luxury and romance
of the sails that draws people to the ship" he says. "We do have three
small auxiliary engines of about 1800 H.P., but at least 50% of the time we
run on sail.
"We have a very shallow draught and no keel, and this allows us access to
harbors and moorings unavailable to ships of conventional design.
Passengers wonder why, even in bigger swells, we have so little roll. This
is because we have stabilizers with a remarkable computer operating a
combined system of high pressure pumps and stabilizer tanks.
Technology on this ship is remarkable. Our computers read the conditions
--- wind source, current wave size and direction, and several other inputs,
then calculate the roll of the ship and what is required to minimize this.
They then program the very-high-pressure pumps to speed ballast water into the appropriate tanks at the opposing rhythm to the waves. This negates the ship's roll so well that we rarely heel more than three degrees."
But Wind Song is a lot more than hi-tech. Pampering the passengers is also
the name of the game here. The charming stewardess who showed us to our cabin was available at the press of a button to attend our every whim ---from round-the-clock room service sandwiches or coffee on request to
setting our TV for Videotext news or cassette movies
The 185 square foot suites, all with portholes, are ultra-luxurious with
huge comfortable queen-size beds. Our science-fiction designed bathroom
with a surprisingly large shower, was equipped with a hairdryer, huge
fluffy towels, an extensive range of toiletries and a super-efficient (if
somewhat noisy) marine toilet which accentuated that 'yacht' feeling.
Wardrobe space was especially generous. Apart from the regular amenities, we found an individual safe in each cabin, a mini-bar, multi-channel radio, video recorder, color TV, and telephones with world-wide direct dialing via satellite.
When not ashore we enjoyed the many facilities Wind Song offers. We swam in the small but adequate pool, had a flutter at the casino, looked at
reference books in the library, gyrated at the disco, and relaxed in the
sauna and spa knowing that an excellent hair-stylist was available. The
boutique was an opportunity to buy our souvenir T-shirts. Fortunately we
did not need to consult the ship's doctor !
Wind Song aims to provide the best of everything and that includes
cuisine. There is a 24-hour room service in the unlikely event that
passengers feel peckish between meals. Those in charge of the dining rooms make sure that guests are pleased with the service and that meals are presented in an atmosphere of informal elegance.
It was Napoleon who said that an army marches on its stomach, and the same surely applies to cruise ships. Surveys have shown that cuisine comes just behind attractive destinations and even ahead of cabin comfort in
passengers' evaluation of a cruise.
The Wind Song's Executive Chef, German-born and trained Frank Ulbricht, worked in some of Switzerland and Germany's top hotels and was Chef on the Holland-America Line ships for many years before joining this vessel.
He has visited some of Europe's top Chefs as observer, so that he could
then adapt the best of their light cuisine to shipboard requirements. His
principle is that food must contain the freshest ingredients, be perfectly
prepared, and although presented in elegant style, be plentiful.
Your day on the Wind Song could start with an early 'Coffee and Danish' on the deck, or a 'Continental' in the cabin. At 7.30am breakfast is served
in the Verandah Restaurant or on the deck dining area with a sumptuous
buffet supplemented by an a-la-carte menu.
Lunch is an informal affair, served 'al-fresco' on the top deck if the
weather permits. We enjoyed an incredible variety of salads and hot dishes
like stuffed chicken breasts or shrimp kebabs or the All American
hamburger. There was a different pasta dish each day and to top it off, a
selection of all-too-tempting deserts.
Wind Song has many surprises. Her sleek, white hull and four masts are
reminiscent of the picture-postcard luxury sailing ships of years gone by.
And then you notice the detail. Things like the sports-platform stern, the
21st Century design of the Y-shaped funnels and the orange-topped tenders--- motorized life-boats that are also used for ferrying passengers ashore from moorings where the Wind Song cannot come alongside to dock.
Windstar cruises are not for everyone. In the tradition of sailing ships
there is no elevator. If you are in poor health or physically restricted,
you may not be able to manage the two or three flights of stairs
comfortably. Daily activities are programmed for those who will also enjoy
the landfall excursions, and perhaps snorkeling and the other water sports
Passengers go home starry-eyed. "All my life I've wanted to visit Costa
Rica and do it in style", said a high-powered Florida lawyer the day our
Costa Rican cruise finished. "Sure, we have our own yacht back home, but I just don't have the time to sail it to Central America. The minute we heard
about the Wind Song, we knew we just had to take this cruise. It's been
everything we'd hoped for --- and more!"
I do not have a yacht at home, but I know exactly how he feels. And the
high proportion of repeat guests on Windstar cruise ships obviously concur.
Windstar Cruises operate in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Costa Rica, India and South-East Asia. For more details about Windstar cruises, check website: www.windstarcruises.com or contact
300 Elliott Avenue West
Seattle, WA 98119
PH: ++ 1 206 298 3057 FAX: ++ 1 206 286 3229
We recommend that those interested in the Costa Rica cruises also consider the outstanding Windstar cruise and land combinations offered by
Abercrombie & Kent, International, Inc., (Illinois),
1520 Kensington Road,
Oakbrook, Illinois, 60523-2141. U.S.A.
PH: ++ 1 630 954 2944
FAX: ++ 1 630 954 3324
Walter & Cherie Glaser are an international travel-writing team based down under in Melbourne, Australia.