Cruise Guide: New-look Windstar unveils overhaul

By Mike Coleman

Fleet-wide enhancements are nothing new in the cruise industry, it happens all the time to keep pace with passenger trends, but it’s the product overhaul at Windstar Cruises that caught my eye this week. ¨¨The line is adding a host of amenities and enhancements through 2007 to its three motor sailing yachts – the 308-guest Wind Surf and 148-guest Wind Star and Wind Spirit.

“This initiative will enhance the key areas important to our guests – cuisine, accommodations, service, destinations and activities,” said Diane Moore, Windstar’s vice president, marketing and sales. “We will be adding cutting edge amenities all the while retaining a casual elegance relevant to today’s traveler.”

Look for the high seas to become high-tech at Windstar with the addition of the new Apple iPod Nanos, Bose SoundDocks and personal laptop computers plus wireless connectivity in public areas on all three ships. The Wind Surf also features an onboard Internet center complete with desktop computers.

The line will be introducing 100 new menu items in collaboration with acclaimed celebrity chef Joachim Splichal. New menu items include spicy tomato soup and fried crab beignets, lamb rack with short-rib-mushroom-risotto stuffed onion, minted zucchini and roasted carrots; and seared snapper with oven dried tomatoes, caperberries, nicoise olives, roasted fennel and rice.

Other dining enhancements include the addition of an “Amuse Bouche” (little bite) at dinner, compliments of the chef; Riedel stemware to grace the tabletops aboard each ship; Rosenthal china; a new wine list featuring more boutique labels; a selection of exotic fine cheeses served tableside from a specially designed cheese cart, and Petit-fours, trays of delicate sweet treats, to be served with coffee at the end of dinner.

Complimentary 24-hour room service, said Moore, will also rise to a new level. Guests may elect to dine, course-by-course, in the privacy of their own stateroom.

The overhaul doesn’t stop there.

The menu in the Wind Surf’s Bistro will change. Splichal has created a steak house with entrees such as grilled marinated hanger steak, crispy half chicken rubbed with French mustard and grilled herb marinated Atlantic salmon. In addition, the Bistro will offer Italian, French and Indonesian menus on rotating nights. The Bistro will be redecorated with a new burgundy color scheme including new carpet, curtains, and re-upholstered chairs. Dishes and glassware will also be new featuring Rosenthal china and Schott Zwiesel stemware.

The line features outside staterooms, custom Sealy Posturepedic premium plush Euro-top mattresses, luxurious cotton bed linens and duvets, Egyptian-cotton towels and waffle terry spa bathrobes. Guests will be treated to Shea Butter bathroom amenities from L’Occitane.

Staterooms feature flat screen TVs and DVD/CD players. Other new elements include sheer curtains, throw pillows, luggage mats and new deck hammocks.

Active cruisers often take advantage of Windstar’s complimentary water sports activities – kayaking, sailing, wind surfing, water skiing and snorkeling – as the line features itineraries that typically sail off the beaten path in the Mediterranean, Amalfi Coast and Greek Isles to the Aegean Sea, the Caribbean and Costa Rica.

In keeping with the overhaul, look for Windstar to also adjust itineraries for later departures and more overnight port stays.

Cruise Guide: New Seabourn tea service brewing

By Mike Coleman

Something special will be brewing on the Yachts of Seabourn this fall.

The ultra-luxury line is introducing a menu of more than a dozen rare estate teas gathered from around the world, innovative blends of full-leaf teas with botanicals and fruits, and unique herbal tisanes aboard its three yacht-like ships. Dubbed Seabourn to a Tea, the indulgence features exotic teas, freshly loose-brewed to order, and served to guests during daily afternoon tea service on its three ships.

The un-brewed teas will be presented in corked glass vials in wooden tea chests, allowing guests to savor their unique aromas before an order is placed. Seabourn will provide a descriptive, printed menu detailing the characteristics and ingredients of each brew, as well as its content of caffeine, antioxidants, vitamins and other elements.

Among the teas and blends to be served include Bleu Peacock, a moderately caffeinated, premium blend of Chinese and fancy Formosa Oolong tea, known for its intense fruity notes, chocolaty aroma and depth of color. Jasmine Downy Pearls is a classic green tea made from the silver tips of tender young buds, gently steamed after plucking and hand-rolled into elegant pearls, then blended with fresh jasmine blossoms. Green Tea Passion is a fragrant blend of delicate green teas from Japan, China and Taiwan, accented by tropical fruits, including guava, pineapple and strawberry.

Scented and fruited black teas include Mandarin Rose Petal, which combines aromatic rose petals and rich, tightly-twisted, black China tea leaves with delicate lychee fruit essence, and Earl Grey Organic, made from high-grown Ceylon and China black tea leaves combined with smoky citrus notes of Mediterranean bergamot fruit. Classic black teas such as English Breakfast Organic, a rich, malty blend of the finest black tea leaves harvested from India, Ceylon and China will be served, as well as Himalayan Peak Darjeeling Organic, carefully selected organic single estate leaves from the Darjeeling region of India.

Tisanes, herbal and fruit blends that do not contain tea leaves but provide appealing flavors and a wide variety of beneficial effects, will also be served. Among tisanes offered on Seabourn’s menu is Chamomile CitronTM, a blend of Egyptian chamomile, citrus, orange blossoms, lemongrass, rose-hips, hibiscus, and mint that brings calm and balance, aids digestion, and is an excellent source of Vitamins B and C. Peppermint and spearmint gathered from Morocco’s Middle Atlas mountains mingle together in Organic Mint Melange, which aids digestion while it refreshes. Ginger Twist helps promote calm and good health with powerful antioxidants from its blend of Australian ginger, orange and lemon slices, lemongrass, wintergreen mint, papaya, apple, ginseng and licorice. The African rooibos or red bush is blended with hibiscus and exotic African fruits in African Amber, rich in anti-oxidants that promote calm and relaxation. Verbena Mint Organic provides a perfect balance of mint with the buttery richness and soft citrus notes of verbena, an especially soothing blend that aids digestion and relaxation.

The line’s sister-ships, Seabourn Pride, Spirit and Legend, each carry 208 guests. Travel includes complimentary spirits and wines including French champagne throughout every cruise; free massage for guests on deck; gourmet cuisine created by celebrity chef Charlie Palmer; therapeutic bathing selections from Molton Brown and a complimentary shoreside experience on every cruise.

By January 2006, all three yachts will receive drydock maintenance and interior refurbishments. Planned upgrades include the installation of DVD players and flat-screen televisions in all guest suites and improvements in the popular indoor/outdoor Veranda Cafe alternative dining venues.

Through 2007, Seabourn will feature cruises of five to 18 days, or longer, on award-winning itineraries worldwide.

Smooth sailing aboard ultra-luxurious Silver Cloud

Ship Review by Michael Coleman, October, 2005

Click Here to see the newest review of the Silversea Silver Cloud.

“Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way.”
– Gene Raskin

When a female singer belted out those timeless lyrics – while standing in the middle of a crowded Paris subway, no less – she had surprisingly captured the essence of my recent Silversea cruise experience.

I had just completed seven of my own never-ending days aboard the ultra-luxurious Silver Cloud but was having the hardest time adjusting to reality after my polished European voyage had come to an end.

Even the post-cruise beauty of Paris – the cultural capital of Europe, for heaven’s sake – could not remotely compare to lazy days at sea and the cordial onboard atmosphere afforded guests on this beautiful ship.

Less than 24 hours had passed since I disembarked the spotless vessel. But instead of being wined and dined and my every whim taken care of by one of the hardest working, service-oriented crews at sea, I was now relegated to a dark, noisy and dirty subway commute.

Talk about dichotomies.

As more subway passengers crammed themselves into every available nook and cranny enroute to Charles de Gaulle Airport and my return flight home, my angst only heightened.

I wanted desperately to return to my ship.

How I yearned for space, unhurried moments, civilized banter and a glass of complimentary champagne, conveniently served by smiling crew members who knew me by name.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, it happened. I heard a voice and those familiar lyrics rising above the din of my steamy, morning rush-hour commute. And, while this nameless songstress would not have been a contender on “American Idol,” her booming voice and those magical lyrics slowly rid me of my despair.

“Those were the days, my friend. We thought they’d never end . . .”

In just a matter of seconds, happy memories of my voyage flooded my brain. The singer had unwittingly transported me back to cherished, onboard comfort zones where I either lounged quietly by the pool with new friends and a good book or settled in to my cozy dinner table, where compelling cuisine was so tastefully presented each evening.

I could visualize the teak decks below my feet. I could feel the gentle wind upon my face on Deck 8 while observing nothing but a sea of blue water and sky that stretched for miles. I again saw the inspiring English, French, Spanish and Portugese ports – Southhampton, St. Malo, La Coruna, Oporto, Lisbon, Portimao and Malaga – drift slowly past my private balcony.

As additional shipboard moments flashed before my eyes while my personal subway singer gleefully championed on, all was right in Mudville again. I had indeed returned to my ship.

High Expectations

One doesn’t book passage on one of the world’s best small ship luxury cruise lines without certain expectations.

Silversea after all, has garnered prestigious awards and a host of accolades from savvy cruise travelers since its launch in 1994.

So, prior to embarkation, I wondered if the line and its sleek-white ship – the 296-guest Silver Cloud – could live up to such lofty standards. Would the refined, all-inclusive voyage as promised in the glossy, pre-cruise brochures, be attainable? Could the unhurried days of past luxury ocean travel, where personal service was the rule as opposed to the exception, be duplicated five years into a new millennium?

I shouldn’t have worried.

White Glove Service

From the moment you board this ageless ship, white-gloved crew members immediately make you feel at home. And while a complimentary glass of Pommery champagne never hurts, followed by a chilled bottle of the same awaiting you in your suite, the warm welcome sets the tone for what will become a timeless and elegant cruise vacation experience.

The crew’s desire to accommodate your every whim will play out sincerely and unobtrusively throughout the rest of your voyage. Complimentary drinks are replenished quickly, an

d quietly, at poolside. Your favorite beverages are stocked daily in your in-suite refrigerator or cocktail cabinet. Your lunch/dinner table, resplendent with Schott crystal and Christofle silverware, is ready when you want to dine with whomever you choose to dine.

Such service is a staple aboard Silver Cloud and the once noble calling of a by-gone era is brought cheerfully to life by veteran cruise director Ray Soliare, international hostess Yolanda Concas, maitre d’ Jorge Caeiro, waiter Sergio Constantino and stewardess Ruby Delarosa, among a host of others.

Look for the shipboard entertainers and instructors, none of whom are Silversea employees, to be equally welcoming and gracious. Granted, guests on my European Discovery voyage to English, French, Spanish and Portugese ports were captive, but bridge instructors Betty

Tatum and Mary Anne Laier, champion ballroom dancers Justin Moulton and Colleen Daniell, tenor Scott Ramsay and actor Spencer Rowe went out of their way to make the voyage memorable.

Classic Cuisine

While so many variables contribute to the success or failure of any sailing, count on Silver Cloud to deliver where a luxury cruise arguably matters most: in the dining room.

Superb cuisine is offered in three main venues: Terrace Cafe (breakfast, lunch and dinner), The Restaurant (lunch and dinner) and Saletta (dinner, by reservation), where executive chefs Christian Pauer and Richard Weichbold and fine dining Chef Cyril Marchand treat guests to Silversea’s “La Collection du Monde” (30 signature dishes).

In an exclusive partnership with Relais & Chateaux – Relais Gourmands association, the ship’s master chefs prepare a host of fresh epicurean delights daily. Excellent, multi-course meals are the norm and guests have ample choices at each seating, although caviar, lobster and filet mignon prove the most tempting.

Award-winning, complimentary wines from around the world flow freely and a Silver Cloud cruise is not the time to pass on dessert, where Mississippi mud pie and other sinful delights are prepared exclusively for you. Assorted sweets, cheeses, fine Port and cognacs conclude the fine dining experience.

Gourmet meals can also be served, course-by-course, in your suite, although most Silver Cloud guests prefer to be seen enjoying the company of others in the main dining room (The Restaurant), dressed in formal, informal or casual attire, depending on the evening’s dress code. A formal night on this ship is an event, in and of itself, not to be missed.

With such palate-pleasing cuisine offered daily, including tastefully prepared gems at the pool-side grille, reviewing menus printed in the ship’s newsletter becomes a favorite pastime for most onboard. Add Silversea’s open seating policy to the mix, where guests enjoy their meals at a time each prefers, and it’s easy to see why this line not only enjoys high guest satisfaction, but a healthy roster of repeat cruisers who come calling time and time again.

Whether guests disembark the ship while in port or not, most can be found heading to the Panorama Lounge for afternoon tea – promptly served at 4 p.m. – and the sounds of a live pianist. Sun-worshipers, meanwhile, can be found pool-side, catching rays with a drink not far from reach or waving goodbye with fellow shipmates to shore side on-lookers as Silver Cloud leaves port and sails to her next destination.

Before dinner, expect couples to re-live their port day activities over drinks in The Bar, where live music sets the mood. Later, guests can enjoy an evening performance or production show in the surprisingly spacious Venetian Lounge.

Night owls don’t despair. Dancing, a nightcap under the stars or lively casino action, complete with slot machines and gaming tables, is only a deck or two away.

The all-inclusive, no tipping policy, is a Silversea Cruises hallmark.

On-board Ambience

Elegance surrounds you on each of Silver Cloud’s six decks but your well-appointed ocean-view suite, ranging in size from 240 to 1,314 square feet (most with a private veranda), becomes a welcome retreat to recharge your batteries after a busy day in port.

Amenities include a walk-in wardrobe closet, Italian marble bathroom with full-sized bath and shower, Acqua di Parma soaps, lotions and shampoos, convertible twin-to-queen beds, direct-dial telephone, individual climate control, personal safe, remote-controlled entertainment center and fresh fruit, replenished daily. Twice daily suite service with turndown nightly, fine bed linens, down pillows, plush robes and slippers, a sitting area with writing desk (complete with personalized stationery), dressing table with hair dryer and that all-important stocked refrigerator, are nice suite complements.

The onboard atmosphere between guests is cordial and refined. I was struck not only how well the 16,800-ton vessel slipped into cozy St. Malo, La Coruna, Oporto, Lisbon, Portimao and Malaga ports, but how incredibly quiet life on-board became, due in no small part to the fact that children and teens were not present. Your aged 50 and over shipmates, mostly American, are well traveled and clearly enjoy the finer things in life. Loud music was not played on the pool deck. Waiting in line, to embark and disembark the ship, did not exist.

About the only thing breaking the peaceful silence was the 8 a.m. “good morning” greeting over the loud speaker from cruise director Soliare. His cheerful British accent and daily advisories were welcomed, but it was his recognition of American guests and a nation of mourners thousands of miles away – one of my sailing days fell on 9/11 – that spoke volumes of the man and the Italian heritage cruise line he worked for. Of the hundreds of nice touches provided by Silversea during the voyage, Soliare’s simple, meaningful gesture stood out the most and clearly reflected the essence of my Silver Cloud cruise experience.

Those were the days, my friend, I truly thought they’d never end.