November 2016 - 9 Night Best Of The Abc Islands (Bridgetown To Oranjestad) Cruise on Star Pride
My husband picked this cruise called the Best of the ABC Islands as his retirement cruise; we liked the itinerary as it was to return to some of our favorite ports in the Grenadines and the ABC islands. Only two ports would be new to us - Tobago and Bonaire. We are avid snorkelers and all the ports featured snorkeling excursions except St. Lucia; we did snorkeling excursions in all but two of them: St. Lucia and Mayreau which did offer an excursion to three locations, but we elected to snorkel at the end of the beach there (there was a day-long beach BBQ event included). We sailed November 16, 2016, from Barbados, spent Thanksgiving in Curacao, and disembarked Black Friday in Aruba. A busy and eventful 9 days it was, but it was also a restful vacation!
Embarkation for us was very simple as we had arrived 2-1/2 hours after it began due to the scheduling of our flights. There were only 139 guests out of 212 full capacity, so we missed lunch and the Shore Excursions Mgr. Gonzalo was about to give his presentation shortly after checking in, followed by the safety drill.
We had done research about all aspects (including Cruise Critic reviews and YouTube videos) of the Star Pride. We found public rooms were well maintained and included two lounges, two bars, a complete spa and gym, counter-current swimming pool, two hot tubs (one near pool & one at bow on deck 5), the Yacht Club (for views, books, early morning continental breakfast or lunch sandwiches), library next to casino, and Signature Shop. Specialty coffee is complimentary at any venue. See Cabin review below for details of our stateroom. The ship also has a Sports Marina aft with non-motorized equipment for use when anchored. Snorkeling equipment is available complimentary for the entire cruise as well. Two tenders are also stored in this area.
The main dining room AmphorA restaurant was open seating from 7-9 p.m. daily for dinner only. You can ask for whatever size table you desired and change the option nightly. Verandah which was aft on pool deck was used for Breakfast (7-9:30 am) and Lunch buffet daily (usually 12:30-2). There was indoor seating, but most guests ate on deck. There were always 4-5 options for special orders or you could help yourself - I never found any type of food to be lacking, though the hot lunch buffet variety was not there. Many ate fresh fruits and salads, and there were always several desserts of the cake/pastry variety and two frozen options (ice cream and sorbet) with toppings of all kinds available. Verandah is transformed into Candles at night for an upscale (think Specialty dining) experience out on deck which all guests are complimented once during the sailing; however, reservations are required due to limited space (book at embarkation). Service was always excellent at all dining venues.
Activities - There were several events that were part of the planned activities which included a deck BBQ dinner in Grenada with local entertainment by the Angel Harps Orchestra Steel Drum Band after line dancing with Staff and Crew for a half-hour prior to sailing.
Another event was the Beach BBQ lunch on Mayreau, Grenadines (smallest inhabited Grenadine island). This was placed midway through the itinerary and made for a relaxing day after several busy port days. We, however, decided to explore the steep hillside to get views of the surrounding islands (definitely worthwhile). There was another town, Saltwhistle Bay which we had visited on a previous stop, on the other side which some of the guests explored as well.
A surprise came at our last port when after a full day in Curacao on Thanksgiving following our "Turkey dinner", we found that Willemstad had decorated for the holidays all day, and during our 9 pm sail away, the town was lit beautifully for our enjoyment. On the sea day, there were several tours and demonstrations one could attend such as towel animal folding demonstration, cooking demonstration with Chef Stany, galley tour with chocolate covered strawberries, cocktail demonstration, photography seminar, engine room tour, and an innovative Putt Putt Golf Tournament. A movie and Card, Wii, & Board games were also available. There is a small casino with a few one-arm bandits, and a blackjack table. Five of the nights in port, we sailed after 6 p.m. (between 8 and midnight) and arrived no later than 8 a.m., allowing ample time in port.
Entertainment - There were two duos, D'Harmony from South Africa and Mistura Fina from Argentina playing every night at the two venues of the Star Bar and Compass Rose. They also were featured during other events such as the Captain's party. There was also a Crew talent show at the end of the cruise, in addition to the local Steel Drum Band mentioned above.
Staff/Crew/Service - With such a small ship with few guests, it was very easy to get to know everyone. The crew learns your name within 24 hours and there is great comraderie among everyone. Some of the guest services staff, the photographer and occasionally an officer participated on shore excursions. The Captain, Alan MacAry of Scotland, was very approachable and we had several conversations with him and he posed for us (not in the formal dress whites) as well, even while on the bridge when tendering at small ports. There is a deck area in front of the bridge and guests did participate in viewing and photographing arrivals and departures from ports while simultaneously seeing what the Capt. and officers were viewing. The exception sometimes occurred when the port required docking. He also frequented the Star Bar for the entertainment in the evening with his Chief Engineer.
Pigeon Island, St. Lucia (anchored) - We had visited this island several times, but this time, we anchored at Pigeon Island where local water sports is in full view including parasailing and snubing (half snorkeling/half diving); on the way to the Rainforest Hike and River Pool excursion, we passed through Castries, the capital. Our only disappointment with the entire cruise was this excursion as we had taken another rain forest excursion 15 years ago and could compare them. This one was rated moderate to difficult, but the accompanying photos did not indicate the steepness of the hills, both up and down, nor the occasional steps being steep and with rotten wood. This was the end of the rainy season, and there had been quite a bit of rainfall, adding muddy conditions to the mix. We literally spent 90%+ of our time looking at our feet and determining where to step and therefore did not enjoy the tour. The guide was exceptional in helping everyone, but no-one could enjoy looking around at much, as there was little level ground (even when stopping to look). Our excursions manager did secure a partial refund for us.
Bequia (anchored) - Although we had visited less than two years ago along with Grenada and other Grenadine islands, we only had 4 hours then and really only walked through the town in 2015. We elected to snorkel and made two stops (our ship's photographer and a guest relations staff member was along as well). The tour also involved boating around the island a bit. We spent the afternoon exploring more of the town and some stayed ashore until late as sailing was at midnight.
St. George's, Grenada (docked) - We opted for the Shadowfax Sail & Snorkel as we had done this on our last visit, but due to the wind then, were not able to snorkel where the excursion is scheduled to - at the Underwater Sculpture Garden. The tour is with a large 60 ft., well-maintained catamaran and stops at Hog Island (think Robinson Crusoe) past Point Salines along the Atlantic side of Grenada for our lobster full lunch prepared by locals which was as good as the first time we did this excursion.
Charlotteville, Tobago (anchored) - Small quaint town. Our excursion Angel Reef/Glass Bottom Boat and snorkel, took us over the mountains to the northeastern town of Speyside to a private resort to board the boat. Angel Reef is very shallow, but I felt we moved too fast to be able to see what was passing below us. The snorkel was across the bay and was excellent.
Saline Bay, Mayreau (anchored) - Island Event. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, we explored the hillside town of 300 and snorkeled at the end of the beach later. There were two optional tours, one with three snorkeling stops.
Kralendijk, Bonaire (docked) - Our intention of snorkeling here (as it is ranked in the top ten of the Caribbean for diving and snorkeling) meant that we did two excursions, one private and one through the ship). We booked a morning, private tour online through Blue Bay Sailing. The owners are a couple transplanted from the Netherlands and they have a beautiful sailing boat with a lovely platform at aft to facilitate snorkeling. We sailed across the bay to "Little" Klein Bonaire - well-known in those parts for excellent snorkeling and diving. I then did a little shopping in town after lunch and we then took the mid-afternoon ship excursion Samur Sail, Beach, & Snorkel on a Siamese Sailing Junk. It also went to a different location around Klein Bonaire, where after anchoring, all guests transferred to a zodiac (which took two trips) to the beach. Then snorkelers walked the beach to Ebo's Reef, where we drifted with the current back to the zodiac at the beach. The scenery was quite different from the morning's snorkel but could see the wall for diving.
Willemsted, Curacao (docked in the industrial port area) - I took a UNESCO World City Heritage Walk as in the previous visits, I hadn't had the opportunity, conducted by a transplanted Dutch lady from the Netherlands -- included was walking across the Queen Emma pontoon bridge, the governmental buildings area, Punda, the Maritime Museum, and the floating market where Venezuelans sell their fruits and vegetables and fishermen sell today's catch. As noted above, we were treated to a most lovely holiday lights display as we sailed for Aruba. Later, I finally had the opportunity to visit the gymnasium as it is opened 24 hours.
Disembarkation - Quick and easy - We had completed customs forms several days prior which enabled Windstar to complete customs for all guests, so we merely retrieved our luggage and went on our way. Many passengers had made arrangements to spend at least one night in Oranjestad, so there was a line of taxis available to transport everyone to their location. We stayed one night at the Divi Village Golf and Beach Resort, but also visited the Renaissance Resort's private Renaissance Island which has flamingos, iguanas and other wildlife at several different beaches, and snorkeling which I enjoyed. In the evening, I walked to the Divi beach to watch Star Pride sail on her next cruise, the same as ours in reverse.