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For any reason, whether it be business, or a land vacation, the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean offer a surreal scenic canvas and there are activities galore. This trip was my son Todd's medical school graduation present - we were flying to St. Thomas, V.I. to meet the sailing ship S.V. Legacy.
As we descended upon the Cyril E. King International airport what strikes even returning visitors is the variety of the stunning blue watery hues that glisten and sparkle about these emerald island outcroppings. Are the crystal clear waters topaz - aquamarine - or deep azure? - yes they are, and much more.
This artistic tropic palate is brimming with a sensuously alluring invitation to come bathe and refresh in the opulent beauty, and surround yourself with pristine natural splendor and the simple serenity offered on most of these islands.
Like a series of green sea turtles, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the neighboring British Virgin Islands dot the unbelievably pure and clear surrounding waters. These island gems are just 90 miles southeast from San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The S.V. Legacy was docked at Crown Bay for our arrival, and I had spottedher towering masts before the taxi turned into the docking area. Our late arrival was expected, as a delay in flying made us the last to board. The ship was like an inviting lady from the pages of sailing history. The crew was friendly and welcoming throughout our week aboard.
I had read ads and articles on the Windjammer Barefoot sailing company nearly all of my life, and the lure to sails is one that seems ingrained in our nature - the salty air and the brimming sails seem primal to many who love the sea as I do. In 1947 Captain Mike Burk formed the Windjammer Barefoot concept - and the rest is vacationing history.
Legacy was acquired by the company in 1990. She was formerly a French research ship, and was quickly converted to a traditional tall mast ship accommodating up to 130 passengers on Caribbean venues.
Life Aboard: Long time Windjammer buffs were worried that the larger and more accommodating Legacy would forget the traditional sort of barebones approach to small group sailing that the older ships offered the traditionalists. That ambience had become an icon for those infatuated sailing souls who were Windjammer repeat clients over the years.
But, the Legacy quickly embraced even the long time sailing set. And for you would-be first time sailors on a Windjammer Barefoot cruise, the Legacy is longer, wider and more spacious than the others in the fleet, we were told onboard.
A mammoth amount of deck space makes even a full ship seem roomy. Cabins range from very compact singles, a quad is offered, some triples, and even a couple of decked-out cabins with entertainment centers. Since most people do not book the suites with television, you may expect larger cabins compared to Windjammer's other ships, but comparing the cabins to large cruise ships - they may seem smaller and more plainly utilitarian. Legacy maintains a small lounge with books and television for other guests.
There is ample storage space for the product that is offered. Let me explain: Barefoot cruising means shorts, sandals and sneakers ... so pack light if you are not familiar with Windjammer's atmosphere. Expect dinner with fellow mates in the same type casual attire, and expect meals that are both eye-appealing and tasteful, with a varied selection.
I loved the mornings with coffee in hand and above the frigate birds and gulls soared to lead the way. At night after dinner and a symphonic rose-colored sunset, the stars dazzled the night-sky for a tranquil return to natural and peaceful personal moments that life awaits - these were special moments upon the S.V. Legacy.
Goings On: Windjammer offers clients a chance to have fun, and an opportunity to focus outwardly on what is around the ship - splendid scenery and natural wonders - not bingo and ice-carvings or shipboard malls.
A couple of evenings brought on games that ranged from innocent to salty bawdy adult humor, but most nights left time for the silence of stars, personal CD players and conversation with new friends. The clients came from Alaska, Europe, Australia, and across the USA. On the whole a nice mix of guests from PhDs to plumbers who were all looking for a common interest - unwinding fun mixed with the sea, sails, and the soft sands in paradise.
After breakfast each day Captain Julian had talks and orientations on daily events, and crew members were always available and friendly. Evenings the Windjammer tradition was the music "Amazing Grace" and it greeted the sunsets - a romantic, if not spiritual tradition. If the sails were set, then you could opt to join in the hoisting and partake in sailing lessons where possible - a fun experience for all.
I felt the wondrous itinerary around the Virgin Islands to be one of the most lovely on earth in all of my travels, but due to the short distances between the islands there was <i>not much sails-up time ... a disappointment for me and others aboard</i> ... perhaps some ambiguous sailing time about the area could be added by planning. The tough call here is the short distances from island to island on this itinerary. But, it is a sailing adventure that is sought by clients, regardless of short distances.
Ashore Mate! The natural wonders of St. John U.S.V.I. are just four miles from St. Thomas, and it offers Trunk Bay, the only national park under water, and a nice tour of the island is reasonably priced and includes Trunk Bay snorkeling time.
Another crowd pleaser was the British Virgin Island of Gorda and her world known Bath geological area. Huge granite boulders decorate the swimming area and create swim-through cave-like areas. I suggested to Windjammer they offer and or advise swimming or beach shoes for the rocky areas encountered at times on these islands ... ouch!
My favorite island of the week was one I had not seen in 30 years, Tortola, B.V.I. Though Windjammer has outings for divers and other tours, we decided to take a taxi with other guests over to world famous and less crowded Brewer's Bay. This is likely one of the most picturesque beaches on earth. Hyper-lush hills surround a cove that includes some rather Bohemian camping areas, and excellent reefs for snorkeling.
A beach picnic one day on Peter Island was ideal and memorable. Once you are into the mode of no hour-to-hour activities like the huge cruise ships, and you begin to focus on what is around and about you - you may also become one of the many Windjammer devotees! Windjammer Barefoot cruises are now on my thumbs-up cruise/sailing recommendation list! This cruise product is not for the tuxedo and ball gown enchanted set - but the company has a true and growing following in the small ship and sailing niche market that I will fondly remember.
Before and After: Though St. Thomas is a bit more bustling than the outer islands, she deserves a good exploration from the shopping in town to wonderful and world famous Magen's Bay. I always suggest flying into a cruise port a day or two early, and perhaps spending a day afterward.
A new special memory for me are Sandy and Martha, as they want to be known, at the 1800's building that is remodeled into the Galleon House Hotel B & B. They have just 12 rooms, and are moderately priced. You need to be able to navigate 40 plus steps up from downtown, but the vistas can be wonderful and worth the effort. The convenience is perfect for dining and shopping. In fact the well recommended Herve Restaurant and Wine Bar adjoins conveniently to the Galleon House.
Sandy and Martha are down-to-earth and friendly and will see to your needs with a warm greeting and welcome. Breakfast is to suit your delight, whether hot or cold, and a refreshing pool awaits along the series of steps. The accommodations are quite adequate. There are rooms in a newer add-on and in the older building all connected by walkways and steps.
Six day sail aboard the 300 ft. Windjammer Barefoot cruises;SV Legacy.
BVI's THIS TRIP STARTED SUNDAY 03/14/04 AND ENDED SATURDAY 03/20/04
Sunday: St Thomas; Boarded at 5:00pm, had a rum swizzle at 5:01 pm! Lol After the check-in stuff was complete we had dinner and then a band came on board to play. We danced and swizzled until about midnight and then turned in. Our two crew buddies from the Xmas cruise on the Polynesia were there; Nick the dive mate and Destin the "photo mon". Please tell them Tom and Joyce said hello. Also Popeye and Country the bar guy we have sailed with before. If you get a chance find the deck hand named "Bigga" He is just the nicest guy. Have Popeye make you an ankle bracelet!
Monday: St Thomas/Water island; Up early for bloody marys and sticky buns every day. Sailed to Water Island for the day. Stayed on board and hung out. Great time to start meeting our fellow sailors. Had an evening sail to St John
Tuesday: In St John; I recommend you take the island tour. 25$ and you get to see almost all the islandas well as a snorkel stop at a popular beach that has a snorkel trail. Nature guide (Thunder hawk) gave a nice story about the islands on board ship before we headed into town for dinner. I highly recommend The Fish Trap for dinner and Duffy's Love Shack for dancing'. Half the ship was there, including some of the crew!
Wednesday: Off to Tortola; searching for supplies to build our cargo ship, hint: take some duct tape, string, and a plastic bag for a sail. Our ship "THIS SIDE UP" won last week. Take the catamaran tour to Peter Island. Great sailing and fantastic snorkeling, you'll see lots of fish, sea turtles etc. St Patty's day, Sea Hunt, Miss Windjammer contest, and P.P.P. dress up night. PARTY!!! Guess who won? St Patty Pirate and a Purser look-alike!
Thursday: Virgin Gorda; and THE BATHS! Don't bother taking a ship tour. Go early!! A $3.00 taxi p/p- takes you there. It's a hike down to the beach so wear teva's or sneakers to get there. The trail goes off to the left at the beach, TAKE IT! You'll really like where it takes you. After you have had your fill of the Baths, I suggest you go to Mad Dogs at the top of the hill and have a Shrimp sandwich and possibly the best Pina Colada in the islands! A $3.00 taxi back to the marina and get a bottle or two of wine to take back for the wine and cheese party! Evening sail to Norman Island. Went to the Pirates for drinks and dancing late! Note: Every other week the ship goes to Jost Van Dyke instead of Norman Island.
Friday: Norman Island; Snorkel tour to the Caves and Indians, Amazing Grace resupply ship visit. Lunch at Pirates and Sea Trials. Crab races and captains dinner. Late evening sail back to St. Thomas.
Saturday: St Thomas; Back at the dock in Crown bay; Trip over,,, BOO HOO.Up early, Packed, Ate breakfast , and then headed into town for some last minute shopping. Back at the ship at noon for lunch and then, goodbyes said; we headed for the airport and home. We are already looking into when we are going bare footing again!
Two of my grandchildren, Jake (11) and Hannah (8), and I sailed on the tall ship Legacy to islands in the Bahamas for a week. My overall impressions were that my dealings with the main office before the trip were some of my worst experiences and the cruise, itself, was one of the best.
When I first called the 800 number from a magazine advertisement to inquire about the cost of a cruise for the three of us I was told that we could have a quad cabin for $850 each for two of us and that Hannah would be free. I decided to go with it and had my travel agent make the reservation. A few weeks later I learned that Hannah would be dancing in a competition with dates in conflict with the cruise dates. I was told that it would cost $45 each to change to the July dates for our trip. I had never encountered a fee for making a change several months ahead before; but the kids were looking forward to the trip so I agreed to the fee. When I asked for an itemizedstatement I found that I had been charged nearly $700 more than the quoted price. When I objected I was told this was because the quad cabin would not be suitable for us and that we had been put in a honeymoon cabin. I arranged for hotel and air reservations based upon a departure from the pier in West Palm Beach according to the information I was given. A few weeks later I learned that the ship would sail from Miami instead of West Palm Beach. Luckily my $975 plane tickets were for a flight to Fort Lauderdale; therefore, still useable. The nonrefundable hotel; however, was now useless. By this time I was wishing I had never planned this trip. I made new hotel reservations near the airport. When I read that we should let Windjammer know about any special dietary needs I called the company and requested that there be skim milk available, as I do not drink coffee, tea, or alcoholic beverages. I was assured that there would be skim milk, as I was not the only person who would like it. I do not believe my request went any further than the person who answered the phone as the appropriate person on the ship had not heard of the request and there was not even 2% milk on the ship, much less nonfat.
After my less than desirable contacts with the Windjammer offices I was not sure about what to expect when we headed off for our vacation. The flight went relatively smoothly and the hotel was nice. The taxi from Fort Lauderdale to the Port of Miami was $60 for the three of us. We sat in the terminal from noon when we arrived until about 4:00 PM when they began processing. (Warning: If you are bringing minor children who are not your own be sure to have a notarized permission form signed by both parents in addition to the usual picture Identification.) Since the maximum number of passengers is only 120 the processing went quickly and we were soon on the ship. The captain gave us a short safety talk and welcomed us aboard after which we were escorted to our cabin by a very courteous crewmember.
Our cabin on upper deck was very small, but nicely appointed with a full double bed and another narrow bunk that folded down from the wall and hung from ropes to the ceiling. There was a padded bench to sit on when the bunk was folded up to the wall, but no seating when the bunk was down. The double bed had a wood frame that was very attractive, but made sitting on the edge of the bed most uncomfortable since the mattress sat lower than the top of the frame. The bed was comfortably firm. I had no trouble getting into it, but by the end of the week I had many bruises on the back of my thighs from getting out of it. There was a small, but adequate closet and both sides of the bed had a shelf for small items as well as nice reading lights. The bunk had no shelf or reading light; it didn't even have sheets the first night. There were several conveniently placed hooks on the walls. The bathroom was the largest that I have ever had on a cruise, in fact it was as large as mine at home. It had neither medicine cabinet nor storage for personal items except a small shelf above the sink and a towel shelf. There were no towel bars that the kids could reach, but there was one up high on the edge of the towel shelf. There was a handy clothesline for drying bathing suits. (Tip: Be sure to bring at least one beach towel as you are asked not to take the ship's towels from the cabin.) It had efficient air conditioning at floor level and a large window over the bed. I did not see the inside of any of the cabins on lower decks, but from conversations I heard I came to the conclusion that this was one of the nicest cabins on the ship. Several repeat passengers had tried unsuccessfully to get one of the honeymoon cabins. There were no telephones, TVs, or clocks in the cabins. Cabins were cleaned once a day during the morning.
Unlike most cruise ships, almost all activity is on the outdoor decks. The only interior public areas are the dining saloon and the junior jammers lounge. Deck A is the bottom deck consisting only of cabins. Deck B is the quarterdeck where the activities office and Sea Chest (ship's store) are located. The saloon and junior jammers lounge are also on this deck as is the whiteboard where the schedule for the day is posted. Deck C, the upper deck, is the heart of the ship. The bar and the canvas covered deck area are located here. There is seating and small tables. Entertainment, buffets, and general hanging out with a good book and a cool drink happen in the shaded area on the upper deck. At night it is lighted. On both ends of the ship are higher decks that are open to the sun and fitted with deck cushions and lounge chairs. On nice nights many passengers bring their pillows and blankets up to sleep out in the open on these highest decks. All decks are connected by several staircases so that traffic flows easily from one to another. There are no elevators.
There were plenty of opportunities to eat. The food was generally tasty, but no one would confuse it with a gourmet restaurant. Early in the morning sticky buns, coffee, and bloody Marys were available. At 7:30 a full sit down breakfast is available in the saloon. After 8:30 breakfast is serve yourself, buffet style. Omelets and scrambled eggs were among the best of any cruise ship buffet I have encountered. Lunch was always a nice buffet on the upper deck or a picnic on the beach. On beach days, if you did not want to go ashore, there was also a buffet on the ship. About 5:00 PM snacks and rum swizzles were served on upper deck. The snacks were quite substantial. They were the equivalent of another light meal. Both lunch and swizzle time were characterized by an abundance of beautifully presented fresh fruits, meats, cheeses, and other tempting treats. Dinner was either a buffet, beach BBQ, or full sit down four course dining experience served in two open seatings. All were well prepared. I missed my usual nonfat milk, but the water tasted ok. On the days with full sit down dinners, parents could elect to have their children served separately with the junior jammer counselors from a children's menu. Jake and Hannah always elected to eat with the kids and enjoyed their dinners with the group. All meals in the saloon were open seating in booths for ten. In case anyone was still hungry there was another offering of snacks such as popcorn and cookies or fruit and cheese late in the evening. Coffee, tea, and hot chocolate were always available in the saloon. The novelty of being able to have a cup of hot chocolate every evening before bed appealed to Jake and Hannah.
During the busy summer season the Legacy has a children's program called the Junior Jammers. The kids are divided into two groups, 6-12 and teenagers. On our sailing none of the teens opted to participate so that all three counselors worked with about 16 children. The counselors were young adults who got along beautifully with the children. Jake and Hannah enjoyed participating in all of the planned activities. Jake is a good swimmer and did not like being required to wear a life jacket whenever the group went onto the beach or out in a boat. This is the first cruise I have taken with the kids where the children's program is in full operation every day, including port days. They took the children onto the beach, to a zoo, to an aquarium, and to a water park with water slides. There was no charge for the program, but cash was required for the admission fees and a lunch ashore one day. I had not come prepared to pay out so much cash as most ships allow all excursions to be charged to the room account. If you plan to have your child participate in all activities you will need at least $60 in cash per child. Luckily tips can be put on the room account and my cab driver back to Fort Lauderdale was willing to stop at an ATM machine or I would have been in bad shape since I spent all of my cash for the kids programs. In addition to the shore excursions the kids enjoyed helping to pull the ropes to put the sails up and down as needed, steering the ship, several crafts, games, movies, pizza party, and a scavenger hunt. They also made several friends among the other junior jammers. I liked the fact that the children were included in evening activities instead of being relegated to some other status except for the one evening when the game was not appropriate for children. On that occasion the counselors had an activity planned for the children. Children were allowed to participate in the battle of the sexes trivia game, crab races, and in the limbo contest. Jake and Hannah both agreed that this was their favorite cruise that we have taken to date.
There was very little professional entertainment. No casino, floorshows, swimming pools, gym or similar activities. We spent three full days at deserted islands with beautiful beaches. There was no charge for use of kayaks or floats. They were available on a first come first use basis. Snorkeling or diving equipment was available for rent for the week. We had brought our own. Three days we docked in towns where there were optional tours available. Our family opted to do the Snorkel Safari in Bimini. It was $32 for each of us. We had a great time snorkeling from the dive boat at a reef then ate lunch at CJ's Deli ashore where I really liked the deep fried conch. The kids said the hamburgers and milkshakes were good. There were several other tours available, but I stayed aboard and relaxed while the youth counselors took the kids ashore so I don't know if they were a good value. Every evening the "activities mate", Beth, had some type of entertainment planned for the after dinner time. One evening a local man came aboard and put on a limbo show and contest. On other evenings there were sand crab races, games, dancing, Kareoke, and a costume contest. We stayed late in Nassau so several went ashore to have dinner and/or gamble at the casinos there. On one day when the water was calm, with little current, the captain allowed a swim from the ship. Adults and children jumped in from the quarterdeck at one end; swam with the current to the other end of the ship,and climbed up the ladder to do it again. Children had to wear a life vest and there were several crew people posted in the water as life guards. I noticed that the captain was standing next to the life ring. I think it was Jake and Hannah's favorite activity of the week.
STAFF AND CREW
A very big difference between this ship and any other type of cruise is that there was none of the usual strict separation of crew from passengers. There were no separate back stairs for crew use. They ate in the same dining room and freely mixed with the passengers for a relaxed casual feel to the experience. Nearly everyone, including the captain, goes barefoot when aboard the ship. There was also a very blurry line between the duties of the various crew members. On the final day the pursur, children's counselors, and many others were hauling luggage down to the quarter deck to be taken ashore. A cabin steward in the morning might become your dinner server in the evening. One of the servers doubled as a hair braider in her free time, and one of the officers made jewelry for sale. I very much liked the atmosphere that this created.
Although the cruise is advertised as sailing on a tall ship; it is really mostly a motor ship. The fumes from the fuel are very strong on the top decks. The sound and the vibration from the engines was constant in order to run the lights and air conditioning. When we anchored at the deserted islands we were tendered ashore in launches and had to wade ashore. I had a lot of trouble getting back into the launch at the end of the shore time because the round steps hurt my feet too much. Therefore, I only went ashore once. In Nassau we were berthed next to the Disney Wonder. It made our ship seem very small.
Debarkation was very easy. All things considered, I enjoyed the cruise and would do it again. I would insist on written confirmation of everything I was told by anyone in their Miami office as they do not seem to value their word; they seem willing to tell you anything without regard to accuracy.