See Part I
Spend a week on Wind Star, and everyone begins to feel like family. Passengers and crew — we all got to know one another. The easiest place to connect was in the lounge where we gathered for information sessions and then hung around to listen to Roy John Johnstono, Jr. – known to one and all simply as Buddy — on the piano. While, understandably, the Georgia native was partial to “Georgia on My Mind,” Buddy could play any song you asked him to – most of the time. And in the rare case that the request was for an unfamiliar tune, all you had to do was hum a few bars (like the Noel Coward ballad “I’ll See You Again”) and Buddy would get it and in a few minutes have a full, lush arrangement that was then added to a repertoire with as many choices as the breakfast buffet.
It was in the lounge that Travis LeMarche, the young destination manager from Edmonton, Canada who became smitten with wanderlust after a high school trip to some of the same ports the Wind Star would stop at during this voyage, prepared us for the following day’s shore excursion. In his casual, easygoing manner, Travis would project visuals on a huge flat TV screen while describing the history and highlights of each stopover, the various touring and activity options available, and the best places to shop and eat.
At night, the ship would stream through the darkness, often aided by sails unfurled, arriving by morning at a new port. Each of the five ports was bathed in the particularly beautiful Aegean light and shared a past where the Greek and Roman worlds of antiquity and the Byzantine and Ottoman civilizations that followed were still visible and felt.
One could simply get off the ship when it was docked at port, or board the regularly run tender when it was at anchor further out for a swift ride to shore. Hours could be whiled away in aimless or self-directed exploration, taking in the universally spectacular scenery, frequenting the shops, lazing on the beach, or watching the crowds pass by from a table in a sidewalk café. On the other hand, one could choose from a range of activities that included tank diving and other sports activities, cruising through little coves on wooden sailing boats, luxuriating on the private beach of a five-star hotel, hiking to the summit of the Santorini volcano, or touring one of the many ruins, restorations and archeological treasures in the heart of the ancient world accompanied by an expert guide.
As long-time would-be classicists, we consistently favored this last category. And so we signed up for a tour of Ephesus, the city on the road from Kusadasi, famed for its magnificent ruins, excavations and restorations including the single remaining pillar of the Temple of Artemis and the restored Roman Library of Celsis. The remains of the Mausoleum of Mausolus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the underwater archeological museum were two of the highlights of our private tour of Bodrum aided by the input of a taxi driver who showed us an ancient amphitheater sitting off a main road, virtually unnoticed and unannounced.
On the island of Rhodes, we were deeply moved by a visit to the oldest synagogue in the world. And on the Cycladic island Delos (reached by boat from Mykonos), we traipsed across what had been sacred space to the ancient Greeks, the reputed birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, and the site of sanctuaries and shops where people came to worship the gods and buy them gifts. Exploring the ruins, excavations and restorations of this UNESCO World Cultural Heritage island where, according to our scholarly guide Kriton Piperas, Socrates and Plato would undoubtedly have strolled, we got a sense of the overall history and place of Delos from around the seventh century B.C., through the period of Roman domination when it became a seaport, and on to the eighth century A.D. when war left the island ruined, and completely abandoned until the 17th century when some Greek archeologists came upon its buried treasures.
|SCENES FROM BARBEQUE NIGHT|
Once again, it was a quick turnaround from past to present when we caught the last tender out of Mykonos, boarding the Wind Star in time to get ready for the big event: Barbeque Night.
Multiple grills had been set up on the upper level of the aft deck where chefs were preparing a feast of barbequed meats, grilled vegetables and succulent lobster tails. People gravitated to deck-side tables to sit with friends they had met over the past few days. At our table, Tom and Margaret Bullock were telling us how they came to be onboard. “My boss had been on eleven Wind Star cruises,” Tom said. “I had worked for him for fifteen years, stuck with him through thick and thin. Now he came over to me, handed me a brochure and said ‘I want to send you on a Wind Star cruise. Pick one out.’”
Tom and Margaret were from the wine country near San Luis Obispo, California. Vic and Janet, professors at Yale, were from New Haven; Sandy and Don and their son James came from Austin, Texas. They were but a few of the interesting people in the multi-generational crowd from across the United States we spent time with and got to know.
Lingering over coffee as the sun set and night was beginning to fall, we were surprised when suddenly there was music in the air. It was Buddy at the grand piano which had been moved out of the lounge onto the deck. Soon dancers, all wearing identical yellow shirts, emerged in time to the beat. In a minute, we recognized them. They were the cooks, the stewards, the servers — a chorus line of the wonderful people who had made this week possible, demonstrating that beyond the talents we had observed all week, they could sing and dance like members of a Broadway cast.
Soon, after an energetic and spirited rendition of “YMCA,” they were joined by others from the Wind Star family, the deck and navigation officers, the engineers, Jason Parker – the hotel manager from Vancouver who grew up planning to be an orthodontist like his grandfather until he realized what he really wanted to do was cook and went on to become a chef at Wind Star, moving up before long to being into in charge of everything on board.
The group was into a complicated line dance now. We spotted Travis and his wife, the stunning guest service manager Krysti LeMarche (the couple had met and fallen in love seven years ago on a cruise out of Rome), the attractive WindSpa trio who make passengers feel good and look good as well, Dr. Jake, from the Philippines, who treated a nasty cut one of us had, and Windstar’s new product manager Melissa Witsoe out of Seattle, who came aboard to experience the excursions and come up with new ideas (organizing a dinner on the site of the library in Ephesus is one of them – that’s an event something we’d love to experience).
How difficult it was after such an evening, after such a week to disembark at the port in Piraeus the next morning. But there was no time to linger or look back as our departure flight from Athens was scheduled to leave at 10:30. It was 7:30 already; we had yet to be driven to the airport, go through customs and security and be ready to board in less than two hours.
Once again the Wind Star was on top of everything. Breakfast was served at 6:30 that morning. Our luggage had been collected the night before. And no sooner was the ship cleared at the dock, when we were brought to a limo, driven through the streets of Athens, and escorted by the driver to the point of check-in at the airport.
It was, without exaggeration, royal treatment. We easily made our flight. But really, when we thought about it, there was no need to worry. Travis had reassured us everything would work, and as we saw again and again, Travis is as good as his word.
And so ended a perfect week. For long, we had avoided so much as the idea of taking a cruise. Now we cannot wait to go on another – of the Wind Star variety that is, small, intimate, informal, with serious attention to detail and an environment where everything worked.
That last night, the dancing continued seemingly into the wee hours with passengers joining in, ending – at last – when the score of “1492,” the music played when the Wind Star first set sail a week ago came over the speakers followed by the cast singing a poignant refrain that ended:
“We are sailing,
We are sailing home again ‘cross the sea
We are sailing stormy waters to be near you, to be free.”
But now, back home in New Hampshire, it is part of a poem by John Masefield that speaks most clearly to us:
“I must down to the seas again
To the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship
And a star to steer her by . . .”
Contact Windstar: www.windstarcruises.com
Photographs by Harvey Frommer