A Real Connection to the Sea

Nov 10, 2023 Avatar Hilton Smith Hilton Smith

Cruising is growing in two directions these days. Megaships hold 7,000 or more and smaller luxury vessels carry around 900 or less. My recent European adventure was sailing aboard a real sailing ship, the Windstar Windsurf, at just 342 passengers. In eight days, we never lost our connection with the sea. This ship never lets you do that. The open decks and the nautical themed interiors and very comfortable with enhancements coming next year. This was my second cruise aboard this vessel. It is not for everyone, but for me I felt like I was back home. It is the largest sailing ship in the world, but it also has engines to provide all the comforts, It does not have any balconies, but it does have both regular cabins and bigger suites.

I was pleased with the service and dining which was available in three different restaurants. All were open seating with reservations recommended for two of them for dinner. Somewhat unique to just a few lines, there was an open bridge policy for most of the cruise. This was quite attractive and made the crew much more accessible. Room service was also available. Fares on this line can be “all inclusive”. This is just $89.00 per person per day for most all beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, on board Wi Fi and prepaid gratuities. This is highly recommended. The on board entertainment was fine but, other than the opera singer, was not that impressive.

Our original sailing route was from Rome to Sorrento, Sicily, Kotor and three ports in Croatia with Venice at the very end of the cruise. This was October when weather is more unpredictable. Unfortunately, strong winds prevented us from entering any of the Croatian ports. There was a fear that if we made it into any of them, that we would not be able to get out. In the end the Croatian captain decided we would arrive in Venice 2 days early. It was sad to miss Croatia. The upside was that we were on one of the few ships left allowed to sail into the famous Venice Lagoon. During the day and with the expanse of the city including St. Mark’s Square right at our feet, it was a spectacular and memorable sight. On the regular itinerary, this would have been at night at the end of the cruise.

In Rome prior to the cruise we stayed at the newly reopened InterContinental Rome Ambasciatori Palace. It has been reimagined right on the Via Veneto. So well done and comfortable, I loved the timeless design. One of the big treats is the new all weather roof top bar which is set up to run year around with sunsets daily. We used it a couple of times.

Being in Rome just a short time, we arranged for private tours of both The Vatican and The Colosseum and Ancient Rome. Yes, this was an extra expense beyond the standard group tour but it was so well worth it. We had our own guide and our own pacing. For The Vatican, it gave us access to “behind the scenes” areas the group tours can’t enter. Plus we had exclusive use of a scholar/Vatican Guide that knew far more than most regular guides. I have been on a group tour before; this was the next level in personalization, knowledge and access. The next day, our private guide was even more valuable. It was the Sunday of both a vintage car rally and the Rome Marathon. Many streets were blocked or cut off. We were able to see all we needed to see and more, even the hard to access Arena Floor of the Colosseum. Our guide assessed the situation and we did the tour in different order to get around the blockades but ended up seeing everything. We heard from others around the area that were frustrated in missing parts of what they expected to see.

At the other end in Venice, we had arranged for the original time for a quick 2 hour tour of St. Mark’s Square on our last day. Of course we arrived two days early. We used that additional time to explore areas we would miss on the tour. We saw a lot of this famous city and enjoy the food, culture and uniqueness of the shops and art. We walked and used the People Move(1.5 Euros)r to get from the cruise port to the Piazzale Roma. From there we could walk right into the city, ready to explore. We treated ourselves to exciting returns to the ship each day on a water taxi from the center of Venice through the Lagoon and back to the ship. It was about 100 Euros each, but worth it in the vintage wooden boats on the Grand Canal then speeding though the Lagoon. Yes it was more than transportation with sightseeing and style.

Our private tour the last day was with an attractive Venetian native who gave us a tour and even her not so touristy neighborhood to see ever more of the real Venice. It was beautiful.

We finished off the program with private VIP meet and Greet at Rome Fiumicino Airport and Venice Marco Polo Airport as well as private transfers to connect everything. We never had to worry about a thing.

With Europe more popular than ever, private touring adds a value of more customization, speed and a more layered look at anything you will see.

This was truly a special experience and one that I so enjoyed in both old places and new discoveries. Let TravelStore be your guide to your next travel adventure.