The Caribbean had a tough time of it in 2017, pummelled first by Hurricane Irma and then Maria, two category 5 storms that brought unprecedented devastation to islands such as Barbuda, Saint Martin and Dominica. Our cruise on board Windstar's 310-guest sail-assisted yacht, Wind Surf, had originally been scheduled as a Philipsburg round-trip, but was repositioned to Barbados following the terrible damage to Saint Martin's infrastructure. We were still keen to visit - most of the islands were either unaffected or have made a swift recovery, and the region heavily depends on tourism, so one of the best ways to lend your support is by visiting those islands that are able to welcome visitors.
Wind Surf is a beautiful ship, with a yachty style that is perfectly suited to this part of the world. We spent most of our time outdoors, from breakfast on the shaded terrace of the Veranda restaurant, to evenings spent enjoying a cocktail and music from the ship's acoustic duo at the Compass Rose bar. There is also a small pool at the rear of the ship, perfect for cooling off after a day exploring ashore, flanked by two hot tubs. Most days we were at anchor and the watersports platform was open, allowing guests to swim off the back of the ship or try activities including kayaking and paddle boarding.
I was pleasantly surprised by our accommodation, an exceptionally comfortable stateroom with a nautical feel that made very efficient use of the space. Unlike some ships I've sailed on, I never felt like I was having to squeeze past awkwardly positioned furniture or step over suitcases. We were also impressed by our cabin steward's increasingly elaborate towel animals as the week progressed, peaking with a fluffy white monkey swinging from a coat hanger!
Service was excellent throughout, with one of the friendliest crews I've encountered, and the dining was of a much higher standard than you might expect at this price point. The menu at the AmphorA restaurant changes daily, and it has a more intimate feel than the main dining room on other ships. Our favourite restaurant was the Stella bistro, which focuses on French cuisine. Dining at the two speciality restaurants comes at no extra cost (though you do need to make a reservation), and the food was amazing - I particularly recommend the lobster bisque. We also liked the fact that the dress code on Windstar is relaxed, with no formal nights and no jacket and tie required, a particularly welcome feature in the sweltering Caribbean.
Our itinerary took us to smaller ports that the big ships don't visit, including the fascinating island of Montserrat, two thirds of which remain off-limits due to the volcanic eruption that buried the capital, Plymouth, in 1997. My personal highlight was Terre-de-Haut, part of the Iles des Saintes archipelago off Guadeloupe. This tiny island is how I imagine the Caribbean must have been 30 years ago, and we walked from one side to the other along sleepy streets where chickens and goats roamed free, and viridescent wild iguanas scuttled across the road.
On our final day we were anchored off Pigeon Island in Saint Lucia, where the crew set up a barbecue on the beach complete with sun loungers, watersports equipment and a steel pan band. Windstar include one of these 'Island Experiences' on many of their warm water itineraries, and it was the perfect way to round off our amazing week island hopping around the Caribbean.
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