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Smooth Sailing on the Wind Spirit

June 26, 1988|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH | Slater and Basch are Los Angeles free-lance writers

MONTE CARLO, Monaco — Prince Rainier, Princess Caroline and Prince Albert were present for the April christening of Windstar Sail Cruises' third and newest vessel, the Wind Spirit, which is sailing the Mediterranean this summer before repositioning to the Caribbean for the winter season.

But the traditional bottle of champagne had hardly been smashed against the hull when the company announced that its prices were being slashed by nearly 30%, lowering the per-person, per-day rates from $415 to about $300 for these computerized sailing cruise ships.

The new prices already have gone into effect on the Wind Song in Tahiti, the Wind Star in the Caribbean and the new Wind Spirit.

The company's first ship, the Wind Star, also is offering some money-saving cruises on a new Bahamas itinerary from Miami this summer, including an Aug. 6 four-night cruise for $1,050. A series of seven-night sailings in July are $1,750 per person double.

Wind Song's reduced fares are in effect through Sept. 2, with seven-night French Polynesian cruises at $1,995 per person, double occupancy.

For $2,895 per person, double occupancy, formerly the cost of the seven-day Mediterranean cruise alone, Wind Spirit passengers also will get round-trip air on Air France's nonstop service between New York and Nice, France, plus three nights' lodging in glittering Monte Carlo before setting sail for the French and Italian rivieras.

With its computer-controlled sails and "casual elegance" life style (in which any apparel from tuxedo to designer jeans is worn at dinner), the 440-foot Wind Spirit is the most striking cruise vessel in the Mediterranean this summer.

Its 148 passengers can go water skiing, sailing, snorkeling or diving from a special water sports platform on the stern while it is at anchor, or set out on shopping forays to glittering boutiques in Florence, Italy; St. Tropez, France, and Monte Carlo.

Stop at a Private Island

The ports of call on this itinerary--St. Tropez, France; Calvi, Corsica; Portofino, Elba, and Viarreggio or Livorno (Leghorn), Italy, (for Florence and Pisa)--are appealing even in poor weather, unlike parts of Tahiti and the Caribbean.

For sunbathers there's a special day on Isola di Giannutri, a small private island off the Ligurian Coast of Italy. Ports were chosen for anchorages that allow optimum water sports, but shore excursions are also available for those who prefer sightseeing to swimming.

It takes three minutes to unfurl the sails and 50 seconds to furl them on the computerized vessels. The ships travel under sail about 70% of the time in the Caribbean, 45% to 50% in Tahiti and 50% to 65% in the Mediterranean. On its sea trials the Wind Spirit reached a record 13.4 knots under sail alone.

The 74 cabins, all alike, are luxurious and well designed, with two portholes, twin or king-size beds, color TV and VCR, mini-bar and refrigerator, robes and built-in hair dryers in the chic modular bathrooms, plus good mirrors, lighting and storage space.

As an inaugural, this one was quite smooth, with no air-conditioning problems, no noisy engines, no unmade beds at 3 p.m. The European cabin stewardesses are excellent, efficient from the very first day.

Unfortunately, bar and restaurant service during the first sailing was not up to par. Normally on an inaugural, a cruise line will draw its most experienced personnel from its other ships, but hotel manager Franco Guerriero explained that Windstar had only very recently begun operating its own food and bar services after ending a contract with Poseidon, a Miami-based catering firm. Post-inaugural training and personnel changes have apparently remedied that problem.

Menus Printed Ahead

In the dining room many of the dishes were delicious, although some, while good, bore little resemblance to the name the menu called them, a problem created perhaps by having fixed menus printed in the Miami office for a ship sailing off the South of France.

A basic design modification on this ship added a bar in the lounge as well as a separate stage for the trio of musicians. The casino and library have changed places, with the gambling now adjacent to the lounge.

On the first sailing there were no designated nonsmoking areas in the lounge or restaurants; we would hope to see that remedied. And bar prices remain high (although lower than they are on shore in most of Europe this year), with passengers paying $2 for a Perrier or soda, $3 for a beer or well-known liquor and $3.50 for a glass of white wine.

Beginning Oct. 8 the Wind Spirit will operate in the Caribbean, making seven-day round-trip itineraries from St. Thomas, calling at St. John, St. Maarten, Prickley Pear Cays, St. Bart's, Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke. Next spring it will return to the Mediterranean.

The company may position one of its ships in the summer of 1989 for seven-day sailings from Venice, Italy, to the Dalmatian coast of Yugoslavia, a beautiful and still-unexploited part of the Mediterranean.

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