The bus moves slowly along the winding road, carefully climbing the volcanic slopes of Sicily’s Mt. Etna. Fertile terraces laden with manicured vineyards stretch far into the horizon. Villages with white washed homes and red roofs bask in the sun, shaded by leafy chestnut, almond and hazelnut trees.
We are invited to lunch at the Gambino Winery, a sprawling mountainside estate nestled at about 2400 ft. above sea level. The scenery is reminiscent of the Godfather movie, which was filmed in the area, and as we sample our first wine, musicians play the movie’s signature tunes.
This is a private event, Taste of Sicily, a complimentary experience that Windstar Cruises offers its passengers.
We are cruising with the MV Star Pride on a nine-day sail, Classic Italy & Dalmatian Coast, from Venice to Rome with stops in Rovinj, Split and Dubrovnik in Croatia, Kotor in Montenegro, and Messina and Capri, in Italy.
Windstar Cruises, well known for its luxurious sailing ships, has expanded their fleet by adding three motor yachts, offering new experiences and destinations. The MV Star Pride, previously the Seaborn Pride, was recently refurbished and is now one of the new additions to the fleet.
The ship has 108 outside suites and carries up to 212 passengers and 140 crew.
Our oversized suite has floor-to-ceiling French doors and is decorated with soothing colors and blonde woods. It features a sitting area with a sofa and two chaises and a sleeping area with a king size bed. A spacious walk-in closet and a large bathroom with a double vanity and soaking tub complete the suite. Amenities include Egyptian cotton linens, overstuffed down pillows, flat screen TVs, Bose SoundDock speakers, robes, slippers and fine L’Occitane toiletries.
LIFE ON BOARD
Life aboard moves at an easy tempo, a quiet routine punctuated by stops in ports of call.
If you are an early riser start your day with a light breakfast or just a croissant and a frothy cappuccino at the Yacht Club, a glass enclosed lounge at the front of the ship.
On sunny days you can unwind on a plush chair on the sun deck, soak in the whirlpools or cool down in the refreshing seawater pool.
During calm seas, the back of the ship opens into a marina and you can partake in complimentary sports such as water skiing, canoeing, kayaking and sailing.
You can also indulge at the spa, work out in the fitness center, catch up with the outside world in the computer room, or pick up a book at the library.
At dusk, join your fellow guests at the Star Bar, on the upper deck, and toast fiery sunsets while listening to the lively tunes of the resident band.
The Show Lounge is the hub of several events such as the captain’s welcome party, port talks, cooking demonstrations and shows by local performers.
At night the action moves to the Compass Rose, where you can try your luck at the small casino or dance into the wee hours.
This cruise, typical of Windstar, caters to younger, active passengers, some parents with teenage kids and multi-generational families.
The atmosphere on board is friendly and yacht-like with a relaxed, casual-elegant dress code. The staff, mostly from Malaysia and Indonesia, is welcoming and accommodating, always smiling and ready to serve.
Dining is a major component of every cruising experience and the Star Pride delivers quality and many choices.
Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style in the Veranda, the indoor and outdoor restaurant. At night, the Veranda becomes a specialty restaurant, Candles, offering romantic dinning under the stars (reservations required). Dinner is served a la carte, open seating style, in AmphorA, the ship’s elegant dining room. The cuisine is international and eclectic with multiple selections of creative and beautifully presented dishes. You can always order standard staples such as grilled salmon and steaks.
All alcoholic drinks and wines on board are not part of the fare and are paid separately.
The food is prepared daily from scratch including baked breads, croissants and pastries, as well as fresh fish and seafood and other items picked up by the chefs in local markets along the way. Other ingredients are sourced from top purveyors from all over the world including certified Angus beef from the U.S., lamb chops from New Zealand, and lobster from Canada.
If you wish to dine in your suite, room service is always available, and during dinner time you can order from the dining room menu.
One of the dining highlights is barbecue night when the decks are transformed into a white tablecloth, open-air restaurant. The generous spread features salads, side dishes, paella, hot entreés, as well as charcoal grilled steaks, baby back ribs and lobster in the shell.
Here are the ports of call on our itinerary
Rovinj, Croatia is a medieval city clinging to a hillside that rises from the Adriatic Sea. The town’s narrow and winding alleys climb to the Cathedral of St. Euphemia, an impressive edifice that dominates the skyline. The cathedral houses the tomb of Rovinj‘s saint protector, Euphemia, an early-Christian girl martyred by the Romans.
In front of the Cathedral, a large plateau offers a vantage point with panoramic views of the blue waters and distant islands that surround the city.
At the sea level, a horseshoe shaped marina bustles with street cafés, restaurants and shops. The nearby outdoor market sells truffles, olive oil, and honey.
Split is the second largest city in Croatia, the heart of the Dalmatian coast. The town’s highlight is the Diocletian’s palace, a walled Roman compound inside the medieval part of Split. The remains of the once prominent fortress are now home to quaint boutiques, cafés and restaurants.
Dubrovnik is Croatia’s “Adriatic pearl,” a popular port of call, famous for its fortified wall that encircles the medieval city. Visitors can walk atop the wall and take in the sweeping views of the sea and the red-roof houses in the city below. The marble-paved narrow alleys are lined with stores, eclectic boutiques and restaurants.
Kotor, in Montenegro, is located on a picturesque, fiord-like long bay enclosed by soaring limestone cliffs. It is considered by many as Europe’s best preserved Medieval and Renaissance eras city. Its massive protective walls climb high into the mountainside rewarding those who take the arduous uphill trek with panoramic views of the bay and the enclosed town. Kotor’s winding alleys and main streets are home to old churches, boutiques, pastry shops, cafés and souvenir stalls.
Messina is the gateway port to Sicily. The day is dedicated to the cruiseline special event, lunch at the Gambino Winery. The lunch features typical Italian fare of cold cuts, cheeses and pasta, complemented by the winery’s selected vintages. We sip wines, listen to the music and take in the sprawling views of never-ending vineyards that hug the hillside terraces.
Messina is also the access point to Taormina, an enchanting town perched high above the Mediterranean Sea. The heart of the town is a quaint Main Street and narrow alleys lined with designer shops and restaurants.
Taormina is also home to a Roman theater, built during the first and third centuries AD, and hosting performances to this day.
Capri, an island off Italy’s coast, is home to the legendary Blue Grotto, the magical cave famous for its mesmerizing deep-blue waters.
Capri has three main centers, the Marina area, the town of Capri mid-mountain, and AnaCapri, a small town perched high up and accessible via a hairpin road with breathtaking views of the sea, Mt. Vesuvius, Sorrento and mainland Italy.
In AnaCapri you can visit the museum Villa San Michele, once the celebrated home of Dr. Axel Munthe who played host to last century’s celebrities and royals.
Capri and the Marina area feature eclectic stores ranging from top international designers to small independent boutiques. You can purchase the island’s top products, olive oil and sweet Limoncello, and sample the island’s signature dish, Caprese salad.
The cruise ends in the port of Civitavecchia located about an hour from Rome. If you wish to extend your vacation, start with a pre-cruise stay in Venice and a post-cruise in Rome. Bon Voyage! www.windstarcruises.com.