March/April 2000 Issue

Bermuda Road Rash
Motor-biking to the East End—quintessentially Bermuda

Cruise ships just keep getting bigger and bigger. The latest—Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas—is a virtual 14,745-ton city, carrying more than 3,000 passengers and 2,000 crewmembers. Not everyone thinks bigger is better, however. Those looking for a more intimate cruise experience may want to consider one of Holland America Cruise Line’s Windstar schooners.
   The Windstar fleet offers unique island-hopping vacations on beautiful sailing ships whose facades are reminiscent of Christopher Columbus ships—but with state-of-the-art computerized controls.
   In 1986, the first Windstar schooner, not surprisingly dubbed Windstar, sailed on its maiden voyage from Le Havre, France. It carried 148 passengers and 90 crewmembers. It was quickly followed by two identical sister ships, the Wind Spirit and Wind Song. The latest addition to the fleet, Wind Surf, is larger, carrying 312 passengers and 185 crewmembers.
   These ships are geared to attract the vacationer who wants to have a romantic sailing adventure, but not give up any of the accustomed amenities of a five-star hotel. Passengers can kick back, trade business attire for shorts, polished black shoes for Docksiders, and spend their afternoons napping in a hammock on a secluded beach. No jackets or ties required on these ships.
   The three smaller Windstar ships are 360 feet long at the waterline, 64 feet wide, and have a gross tonnage of 5,350. These magnificent sailboats are small enough to sail into exotic ports inaccessible to larger vessels, and big enough to possess spacious public rooms and the finest navigational systems.
   Windstar ships are officially masted schooners, but the designation belies the crafts’ unique rigging. Everything is operated by a few microchips. There are no sheets or rigging on deck. Huge booms are motor-controlled with high-tech sensor input to trim the angle of the sails. Angle of heel is kept at a maximum of six degrees by a computer-controlled hydraulic stabilizing system. Sails unfurl 204 feet in two minutes.
   The boats sail to some of the prettiest ports in the world, including the Greek Isles, Costa Rica, Panama, Belize, and islands of the Caribbean. Last winter, I headed with my husband, Frank, to Costa Rica for a seven-day Pacific-side cruise aboard the Windstar.
   Preparing for the trip was simple: You need exactly the same casual comfortable clothes and gear you wear on the islands of Southwest Florida. It’s a good idea to pack a hat, sunscreen, binoculars, cameras, and tons of film. Most important, take your most effective insect repellent. Costa Rica has so many thousands of species of insects it has actually built a museum to show them off.
   The weather is warm and humid when we arrive in Costa Rica. In fact, it feels a lot like Sanibel in August. Windstar’s representative is on hand to take us to the Inter-Continental Camino Real Hotel in San José where we will spend two nights before boarding the Windstar.

Remember the Snakes
The next day we meet our guide, Mario, who is to take us to Poás, one of Costa Rica’s five active volcanoes. Because it is hot and humid, we have dressed in shorts, but Mario takes one look at us, shakes his head, and sends us back to our room to change into long pants, hiking boots, and raincoats. He tells us we will surely freeze if we try to go to the top of the volcano in shorts, then hurries us up so we don’t miss our window of opportunity for the volcano. The cloud cover will completely obscure the volcano’s crater by 7:45 a.m. He adds, “And I hope you have boots? Remember the snakes!”
   “Snakes?” I ask. My husband informs me that according to the guidebook, Costa Rica has 100 kinds of snakes, many of them poisonous, and, unfortunately, they’re everywhere. I decide I’ll be glad to get on the boat.
   A typical good-natured Costa Rican, Mario smiles with approval at our new outfits, points at our boots, and says, “Ah, good, most snakes aren’t too bad, but I worry about the attack snakes!”
   “Attack snakes?” I say and glare at Frank, who then tells me about the fer-de-lance. “It’s venomous and aggressive.”
   Mario drives us quickly to the top of Poás where we are treated to a rare view of the smoking crater. I take a few pictures as the cloud cover rolls in and obscures the volcano altogether. Mario says you must be early and you must be lucky enough to get a good day for a view of the volcano.
   We have lunch at a local mountainside thatched-roof restaurant where we are the only tourists. It has good food and a fabulous view. A very large meal of salad, black beans, rice, delicious chicken, and cold beer costs $5.50 for two.
   Later, in the artisans’ town of Sarchi, we shop for a hand-painted ox cart. The colorful carts, once used in Costa Rican fields, are popular now as decorative items.
   The next day, Windstar has a bus pick us up at our hotel and drive us the two hours to Puerto Caldera, where we get our first look at our new home for the week. The schooner is beautiful, and, sure enough, looks a lot like something Christopher Columbus would sail.
   On board, there is a quiet low-key private yacht feeling. The normal hassle of boarding is handled in the lounge, where we sit in comfortable leather sofas and chairs, fill out our forms, eat delicious hot hors d’oeuvres, and sip champagne. We find out that 70 percent of the passengers are repeat Windstar fleet sailors.
   All the cabins are identical. They have packed everything you’ll ever need into the most efficient use of space I’ve ever seen on any ship. The cabin decor is rather James Bond-like, with lots of polished wood. The bathrooms are large (for a ship) and look ultra-futuristic, with cylinder-shaped alcoves and shower. We have a refrigerator, bar, an entertainment center with TV, VCR, and CD player, lighted makeup table, safe, and plenty of closet space.

Thou Shalt Not Disturb Fellow Passengers
Later, the sail-away party is unforgettable. Captain Scott unfurls the huge white sails, and the Windstar glides out of Puerto Caldera and heads down the coast of Central America. Passengers lay back on chaise lounges and stare silently at the sunset. In the days that follow, I notice there seems to be an unwritten code that “Thou shalt not disturb thy fellow passengers.” I’ve never seen such a polite and relaxed group of people. It is a good feeling.
   On the first full day of our sail, we anchor offshore and take Zodiac inflatables to the beach on Coiba Island, off the northern coast of Panama. It’s a beautiful beach and perfect for snorkeling. I notice a small sign that looks familiar—“Do Not Take Live Seashells.” I feel right at home.
   The next morning we reach Drake Bay in the southernmost part of Costa Rica, where we have signed up for a horseback ride on the beach and through the exotic jungle. We mount horses and ride through what is said to be one of the most complex ecosystems on earth—a wildlife and bird-watcher’s dream. Everything from giant butterflies to scarlet macaws decorate the jungle. Monkeys and those darn snakes are easy to spot. We stop near a waterfall, where our guides serve fresh papaya, pineapples, and bananas. Later, we head for Cano Island, a short way off the southwest coast of Costa Rica, where hammock sleeping is the most popular activity.
   The next day takes us to Quepos, about midway up the coast, which offers the best shopping of the entire trip. Hand-carved wooden boxes in the shape of animals that have hidden compartments are the best buy. I buy several and then head for the Mangrove Wildlife boat tour. The area we tour looks remarkably like Sanibel, with the exception of the variety of wildlife. The monkeys put on a show as our guides offer them bananas and Coca-Cola, which they seem to love.
   In Playa Flamingo on day five, we prepare for the “Tarzan and Jane” part of our tour. Outfitted with a harness and heavy leather gloves, we swing through the jungle using a network of steel cables. The monkeys think this is funny and sit in groups and laugh at the spectacle. Back on the Windstar we all celebrate with champagne, and share tales of our jungle adventure. One Tarzan even had a monkey attach himself and go for a free ride on his back.
   We spend the next morning hiking through the Curu National Wildlife Refuge on the northern Pacific coast. This is another bird-watcher’s paradise, with more than 200 recorded species of birds. The reserve includes miles of coastline dotted with tiny caves and white sand beaches. Just off the coast is beautiful, isolated Tortuga Island. We decide to do some snorkeling before heading back to the Windstar.
   Back in Puerto Caldera, we reluctantly say good-bye to new friends and depart the Windstar. It has been an extraordinary experience, and we understand why there are so many repeat passengers.
   The cost of a seven-day Windstar cruise to Costa Rica ranges from $2,597 to $5,259. For more information on Windstar Cruises, call 800/258-7245 or check the Web site at

Norma R. Hagan is a travel writer who lives on Sanibel Island.