Esta página no está disponible en español.
A Different Way to Cruise
Sailing offers a more laid-back way to go
By Arline & Sam Bleecker
April 4, 2004
When it comes to sailing, maybe you fancy yourself a swashbuckler like Johnny Depp or a sybarite a la the film "Swept Away" (the 1975 original, not the Madonna remake). Whichever, there's a fleet for you.
Sailing-ship vacation styles can range from yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum to pampered-like-a-princess extravaganzas with price tags to match. No matter which kind flutters your fancy, they all have two things in common: an up-close and personal experience with the elements and relatively unstructured sailings that tuck into quiet coves and remote islands. Take the wheel, hoist the sails or chat about halyards and jibs to your heart's content.
There are no shopping promenades or tuxes and, typically, no TVs, pools or spas. These are mostly casual experiences that deliver terrific camaraderie. None of the vessels is large; the maximum carried is 308 passengers. Some are historic, and all are glorious reminders of days gone by.
You'll either love to sail or you won't--there's no in-between. Bring lots of books and the right attitude. And if you're prone to seasickness, don't bother reading further.
Here, with the help of a few friends, acquaintances and expert know-it-alls, is a roundup.
Classic Cruises of Newport
This line sails the three-masted, 40-passenger Arabella, a schooner that belonged to actress Kelly McGillis. It offers five-night cruises that start at $899 per person through the Chesapeake Bay area (departing from Annapolis, Md.) and to New England (departing from Newport, R.I.) Six-night Caribbean cruises start at $1,995 per person. Most of these trips visit the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, but some also call at the islands of Vieques and Culebra off the coast of Puerto Rico.
The immaculate Arabella sports graceful lines, although it has a somewhat Spartan interior.
Cabins average 100 square feet and have air conditioning, satellite TV and telephones, but beds are bunk-style. The ship scores extra points for the hot tub on deck and pillow chocolates at turn-down.
You'll enjoy copious buffet breakfasts and lunches on board that offer lots of seafood. Dinners are taken at restaurants on shore, with the line picking up the tab. For your culinary enjoyment, there's an island clambake.
There's no entertainment to speak of, but the well-versed crew handily fills the gap with informal and informative chats about astronomy and wildlife. Kids, however, might like more to do.
Personal best: On British Virgin Islands itineraries, the Arabella sojourns a while at the amenity-filled Bitter End resort.
Information: 800-395-1343; cruisearabella.com.
Maine Windjammer Association
Fourteen former commercial schooners that once hauled everything from Christmas trees to coal now tote from 6 to 40 passengers. Half of the boats in this fleet are designated National Historic Landmarks.
The ships sail in and out of Penobscot Bay to peaceful ports and harbors among coastal Maine's web of more than 3,000 islands. For landlubbers shy of sailing, the sheltered waters considerably reduce seasickness.
Fares range from $345 for a weekend jaunt to $845 for six-day cruises.
This funky fleet--each ship is individually owned--gets high marks for offering affordable sailings relatively close to home. With no two ships alike, accommodations range from comfy and cozy to cramped. But after a bracing day on the water, who cares? So what if there is a shared shower and it's down the hall?
Two people in a double room, though, need to coordinate comings and goings in order to avoid "cabin jam."
As for the true Downeast home cooking on board, be glad there's no scale on these vessels. The galley on the American Eagle, for instance, gets rave reviews for its big wood-burning stove, which turns out sticky buns, scones and two-inch thick fruit pies.
Absent TV and radio, passengers and crew become an extended family. Good thing, too, because there's not much on these ships in the privacy department. Sailings appeal to eco-tourists and shutterbugs. And if you don't want to try your hand at sailing the ship or learning the ropes, hey, you can always take a stab at semaphores.
Information: 800-807-9463; sailmainecoast.com.
Maple Leaf Adventures
This company operates the sardine of the sailing fleet: The Maple Leaf, a former herring schooner built in 1904, carries only nine passengers. The ship, which has been restored and is beautifully maintained, is so tiny that Shaq probably couldn't stand up inside.
Pack lightly and bring your enthusiasm for a true 5- to 12-day adventure. The ship sails along the Pacific Northwest coast around Alaska and British Columbia, including remote places such as the Great Bear Rainforest and Queen Charlotte Islands. Fares range from $1,110 to $2,902.
This ship is so no-frills that you probably wouldn't notice an electrical failure; it relies very little on electricity. But there's enough voltage on these vacations to induce loyal passengers to call them "transformational."
At night the ship's main cabin is divided by curtains into four "rooms." If sharing bunk space with a total stranger (at least at the outset) puts you off, remember, you're all in the same boat. Because there is no storage space to speak of, you're also bunking with your baggage, so bring a small bag.
As for food, it's prepared by a gourmet chef who uses garden-fresh produce and seafood caught by commercial fishermen. Meals are served family-style, with wine included. Desserts definitely are worth every calorie.
Who needs onboard entertainment when you have humpback whales romping under the bowsprit and black-and-orange puffins to watch? Expert naturalists provide the narrative, nature provides the show. You even can learn to sail.
Information: 888-599-5323; www.mapleleafadventures.com.
Sea Cloud Cruises
Two of this line's four vessels are sailing ships. The elegant 65-passenger Sea Cloud was the property of cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, a gift from hubby E.F. Hutton. Its sibling, the 94-passenger Sea Cloud II, boasts 29,000 square feet of motorized sail.
These stylish boutique ships, which mostly sail charters, follow the sun, circling the globe and making port stops in the Med and Caribbean. Fares range from $4,960 for seven nights in the Caribbean to $16,515 for 14 days in the Aegean Sea.
These are the Ritz-Carltons of sail ships; both snapped up five stars from Conde Nast Traveler last year. If you're lucky enough to afford them, why not go for the gold in one of Sea Cloud's two owner's suites? The suites on both ships have up to 422 square feet of space, Carrara marble fireplaces, gold-plated swan's neck bathroom faucets and Louis Philippe chairs.
Mealtimes hearken to the days when juice was specially squeezed, oysters were Rockefeller and cocktails poured foaming out of a silver shaker. Alcohol and wine are included.
Lecturers affiliated with the likes of the Smithsonian Institution or Metropolitan Museum of Art are often on board, though not every sailing delivers the Ph.D. of enrichment programs--that depends on the tour operator that chartered the vessel (best bet: Book with Abercrombie & Kent). The highly sophisticated brand of entertainment focuses mainly on the destinations, along with history, art and other cultural inclinations.
Information: 888-732-2568; seacloud.com.
Star Clippers Cruises
Under sail, this line's trio of vessels--the twin, four-masted, 172-passenger Star Clipper and Star Flyer, plus the five-masted 227-passenger Royal Clipper, the world's biggest, fastest sailing ship--have to rank as three of the world's most photogenic megayachts. They visit smaller, exotic ports from Thailand to the Tyrrhenian Sea, and sea-farers who've done the ships' trans-Atlantic sailings say they're divine. Fares range from $1,345 for seven-night Caribbean cruises to a 35-night Phuket-to-Athens journey in an owner's suite for $10,775.
True mariners love this fleet of early sailing-ship replicas. Purists might prefer the line's smaller vessels. You'll find compact and comfy cabins fleetwide, but the bathrooms in suites on Royal are glitzy enough for Ivana. And you'll swoon for the below-the-waterline spa, with its glass-porthole undersea view. What a way to get a massage.
These ships get high points for lavish buffets and sit-down dinners. There's lots of sushi and fresh fish. As for entertainment, it's mostly amateur; it'd be better if the line didn't try. Both have well-stocked libraries with fireplaces, and there's the opportunity to climb to the crow's nest.
Information: 800-442-0551; starclippers.com.
Windjammer Barefoot Cruises
This fleet, sometimes called the Kmart of the Caribbean, is made up of vessels once owned by Aristotle Onassis and other luminaries. The four ships carry from 64 to 128 passengers each and deliver some bells and whistles (like wide stairways on the Legacy), but amenities are minimal. Then again, so is the price. Three-day sailings in quad cabins start as low as $345, and range up to $1,550 for six days in the "honeymoon suite." The Caribbean is this fleet's corner of the world, with the ships calling at more than 60 ports in the Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, West Indies, Belize and the Bay Islands.
The line is so casual you can pack for a week's cruise in a manila envelope--just T-shirts, shorts and a bathing suit or two . . . and, OK, a toga for partying. There really aren't any royal suites here; cabins--some smaller than a walk-in closet--have bunk beds and tiny bathrooms.
In the food department: lunches on deck are terrific, so long as you don't mind eating off of plastic plates (the china is reserved for dinner). Two entree choices are a nice touch at family-style meals.
The cruises are aimed at the party-hearty crowd, (you even get Bloody Marys at breakfast), but children and seniors are welcome aboard. Fun includes everything short of walking the plank. The line frequently offers cruises for singles, nudists and gay travelers.
Note: the Legacy is the only ship in the fleet with Coast Guard seal of approval, meaning it can cruise from the U.S. ports of Miami and St. Thomas.
Information: 800-327-2601; www.windjammer.com.
This three-vessel fleet includes the 308-passenger Wind Surf with four 20-story-high masts and the twin 148-passenger Wind Star and Wind Spirit. All sail at night and linger at destinations by day. Windstar offers an atlas-sized roster of ports of call--144 of them in nearly 50 nations throughout Europe, the Caribbean and French Polynesia. You can slip into places ranging from Bora Bora and Dubrovnik to Bequia and St. Barts. Fares range from $1,406 for a seven-day Caribbean cruise to $4,906 for a 13-day Baltic adventure.
These are not-so-fancy cruises for the champagne-and-caviar crowd. Translation: down-to-earth sailing for people who can well afford a fancier luxury experience. Sailings fall somewhere between barefooted and upscale.
But the ships boast service so attentive that you'll be spoiled rotten.
Though this fleet has been recently renovated, expect relatively simple digs (think Marriott, not Four Seasons) with top-notch service and incredible cuisine. All cabins have TV and CD players; the owner's suites kick that up a notch with flat-screen TVs. High-tech bathrooms have something of a Lost In Space feeling, but the ships definitely get an A-plus for their swimming pools.
The line offers some of the finest food at sea, overseen by renowned L.A. chef/restaurateur Joachim Splichal, who received Bon Appetit magazine's coveted Restaurateur of the Year award last year. Dining can be compared with the best luxury hotels shoreside (but skip the lime pancakes).
On most itineraries, especially in Europe and the Med, the destination is the entertainment. (though these may be the only ships afloat with X-rated videos in their libraries). And the ships have casinos, a rarity on sailing vessels. Coming soon: first-run movies screened in the lounge.
If there's a downside, it's the ships' computerized sails--gorgeous, but mostly for show. and the reason some folks dub these vessels sail-ship wannabes.
Information: 800-258-7245; windstarcruises.com