Desert Shadows Goes to Sea
Desert Shadows Inn is a resort in Palm Springs. We have had a number of wonderful vacations there over the years. So, when they sent out invitations for their first cruise, we had to go. The fact that the first cruise would be on the Windstar was a real plus. The Windstar is a wonderful ship. The cruise would have a customized itinerary maximizing our experiences on Spain’s Costa de Sol. We sailed from Barcelona to Lisbon, June 3rd to June 10th.
A Brief Trip Summary:
May 31st – Chicago to London
June 1st – London to Barcelona
June 2nd – Barcelona
June 3rd – Set Sail
June 4th – Mahon, Menorca, Spain
June 5th – Formentera and Ibiza, Islas Baleares
June 6th – Ibiza, Spain
June 7th – At Sea
June 8th – Marbella, Spain
June 9th – At Sea
June 10th – Lisbon
June 11th – London
June 12th – London to Chicago.
It was the most wonderful trip. There were 100 guests (the ship can have as many as 138 guests) and 90 crew on the Windstar. The weather was wonderful. The guests were instant friends. We can’t wait for the next desert Shadows trip on a Windstar. And Richard Hatch did not show – Busy in New York – not a loss.
We took our usual American Airline flight to London. We prefer the flight that leaves about 8:45 in the evening and gets to London about 10:30 the next morning. We had dinner at O’Hare. We had used frequent flyer miles to fly business class. Once we boarded, we had a libation, put in the earplugs and eye masks: and had a good six hours of sleep on the way to London.
We had a three-hour layover in London, before flying on British Airways to Barcelona. The British Airway lounge had showers and Internet connections. So we had no trouble passing the time. Domestic business class on British Airways is hardly a big deal. The seats are three across.
In Barcelona we stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel, Princesa Sofia. It was a nice hotel, however the concierge is useless, and the location is far away from the heart of the city. We spent our time exploring the wonderful architecture of the city. We particularly enjoyed the street fair atmosphere of the La Rambla. Barcelona is a must visit city. We could have spent another day or two to explore it.
We began to run into our fellow travelers in the hotel bar and lobby, a truly friendly group of naturists. We are an outgoing group. All different backgrounds, however all with strong egos and a positive view of life.
We really enjoyed walking down to the harbor and seeing the Windstar for the first time. We didn’t know what to expect. It wasn’t a little sailing boat nor was she a large cruise ship. My impression was a small cruise ship with sails. We had anticipated a much smaller ship, because it only had 74 cabins. When we saw the ship, we began to realize what an incredible time we were in for.
We took a bus tour of the city. Barcelona has some of the more interesting architecture we have ever seen, particularly the works by Gaudi. It is worth the effort to see it. They are building a church designed by Gaudi for over 100 years and still have another 50 years to go. Truly amazing sights!
We had a late night dinner at a tapas bar. Great food! A whole different pace of serving, they are very much into all night relaxed dining. The meal was very inexpensive, under $50.00. The only down point was that Barcelona is in Catalonia, and the Catalonians have an attitude similar to the French Canadians. Menus were in Spanish and Catalonian, and attitudes toward English speakers sometimes were not positive.
Everyone staying at the hotel gathered for the bus on Sunday at 1:30. Everyone was in a great mood. We were like kids on an outing. The bus ride was a short ride to the boat. Waited about 15 minutes for the ship to be ready for boarding at 2:00pm drinking Cava (Spanish Champaign) talking to our soon to be shipmates. When we boarded the crew made us feel right at home.
Checking in was a breeze. We filled in all the obligatory forms. The credit card authorization would come back to haunt us on departure (drinks are at retail prices). Our cabin had been selected at time of reservation. We had cabin 221. It was at the middle of the ship on the starboard (right) side. We were able to watch the shore from our cabin. We have cruised a number of times, and this was a great cabin. Our luggage soon followed. Unlike larger ships that seem to take forever to load up and a half-day to disembark, the Windstar handles it seamlessly, much like checking into a good hotel. We unpacked and took our camera up on deck to see what was happening.
Everyone else had the same idea. We had a great view of the harbor. It was a great opportunity to take pictures of the boat and fellow passengers. As one shipmate put it, we needed pictures that we could show people back at home.
We left the harbor at 4:00. The weather could not have been more perfect – sunny with a light breeze. The Med was beautiful. It had a light chop, and despite the stabilizers the ship had a slight roll. Some of the passengers were wearing wristbands for motion sickness. A few wore patches behind their ears. By in large, the ship was an easy ride. Only the first and last nights had any noticeable motion.
Once we cleared the harbor the captain announced we now were officially Clothing Optional. (The rules of the boat were simple. In port we were to be textile. In the main restaurant “bottoms” were to be covered. Otherwise, no clothing was needed.) The passengers were fairly slow to respond. Most seemed unsure that you really did not need to be clothed. One lady flung off her pareo, then another. Steve led the way to the hot tub. We quickly joined him. And within thirty minutes, everyone was settling into a new and more comfortable routine.
We went to dinner in the main dining room. There was open seating. We normally would ask for a table for four, and suggest to the captain that we would like company. This allowed us to get to know some wonderful people. The food was great. It was elegantly presented. They had some great wine, which we enjoyed each night. I would rate the restaurant as a three star level. The food was prepared with a nice flare and the choices were wide enough to satisfy everyone. I didn’t hear one complaint about the food or service. In fact quite the opposite.
The staff was experienced. This is a Holland-American line ship, and apparently a choice assignment for the crew. It certainly is a different experience for the crew – 100 passengers versus 2,300. And certainly this cruise was a different experience!
There was entertainment each night in the lounge. There was a two-person group, Cathy and Si that provided music and song. The lounge also had an adjacent gambling area. Most nights were spent dancing, socializing and just having fun. There was an amazing range of clothing. Everything from resort wear, sport coats and cocktail dresses, to nothing. Less than thirty percent of the shipmates were nude in the lounge at night. However, there also was a lack of Frederick’s of Hollywood type lingerie. There were some interesting fashions worn that you would not see on a textile cruise. It was a fun and classy group to be with.
Breakfast was served each morning between 7:30 to 9:30. There were specials each morning, for example eggs benedict with fresh crab. You also could have a wide array of fruit and cereals and, of course they would make eggs and omelets to your specification. Continental breakfast was available 6:00 to 11:00am. There was a separate restaurant for breakfast. It was up on the upper deck with panoramic views and outside tables, if you wanted to eat out.
We docked at 8:00am at Mahon, Menorca, Spain. Menorca was a key harbor for the British during WW II. The harbor was huge, and guarded at the entrance with a fort that had been used by the many occupiers of the island over the centuries. We had the option of touring Menorca or going to a nude beach, Sao Bou. We decided to go to the beach. The tour was all taken care of. We just had to show up and we were taken care of – bus, lunch, etc. Of course, our credit card was charged with the cost. The side trips were relatively inexpensive. The most expensive one was $71.00 for both of us.
The beach was wonderful. Nudity was accepted at the beach and we were very much at home. There were lounge chairs and umbrellas on the beach for about $13.00. So we sat back and enjoyed one of our favorite activities, doing nothing on a beach more strenuous than reading a good book, of which we had brought a plentiful supply (just asked the porters who had to carry that piece of luggage).
We were back on the boat for cocktails and music before dinner. The ship also had afternoon tea on the rear deck.
Dinner began with the Captains reception. I couldn’t believe everyone was dressed up. What’s that about? Such a pretence of freedom and enlighten thought and we still respond with the textile mores for a “Captain’s Reception”.
OK, I did wear a black tie! So much for my rant!
Dinner, drink and dancing, again. We need not go into our nightly debauchery.
We sailed that night for Formentera and Ibiza.
We anchored off the beach at Formentera. They used the zodiacs to ferry us back and forth to the beach. It was a fabulous beach! We again rented chairs and an umbrella. It was an incredible sight looking out over the Med seeing the ship riding at anchor. The beach was full off locals, tourists and us from the boat. I have to admit we were like an invasion. Sun block was an absolute necessity. The sun is strong and by the appearance of some of the visitors capable of turning you lobster red.
We spent a long morning there, returning to the ship for a late lunch. After lunch we had the choice of returning to the beach or relaxing on the rear deck. The rear deck had room for almost all of us to sit out. Plus there were deck chairs above the pool bar and on the fore deck. We opted for the rear deck. The rear deck had the hot tub, pool (6x10’), and the bar. We really enjoy having the quite time to read, write in my journal and visit. The afternoon went by quickly, and we soon were forced to partake in cocktail hour and prepare for dinner.
We dock at Ibiza for the night. Ibiza is a playground for the rich and young. It is noted for its many discos that don’t get going until 1:00am and for its live sex shows. The island was full of young, rich hard bodies there for the parties. The normal cruise itinerary usually calls for a day visit only. We were scheduled to be here over night and most of the following day.
There was a great BBQ on the rear deck. We grabbed a couple of lobsters as appetizers and joined our friends for a late dinner in town. We had a great meal. Ordering food was an interesting experience of pointing, some Spanish and a lot of trust. The local seafood is incredible. They sauté using the best olive oil we have ever had. Our friend ordered a martini; regrettably the owner miss read the recipe and reversed the amounts of gin and vermouth. We had a table out on the sidewalk of the main street and were treated to a never-ending opportunity for people watching. The owner gave us a bottle of Cava, I guess because we were having so much fun. The dinner for four was about $135. The dollar goes a long way in Spain.
We wondered around the city till about 1:30 having bought toe rings and my better half getting a henna tattoo. Not being one to watch sex shows we returned to the boat for a nightcap and ….
We woke fairly early given over long evening. Breakfast was moved back a half-hour to accommodate the late night.
We went to the beach excursion to Es Cavallet beach. A nice beach. Again, we rented lounges and an umbrella. It was a little windy, but we made the best of it. Some locals were trying kite surfing. An interesting idea that I don’t think really works all that well. We got back to the city mid afternoon. And spent the rest of the day exploring the city and looking for the perfect gift ideas. We found a little shop and the end of a narrow winding street and bought a silver cat. The price was determined by the weight. Again we were amazed by the value of the dollar.
Despite the clothing rules, everyone got into the Ibiza spirit and pretended we were at sea. The deck was high enough above the streets that we didn’t surprise anyone. That night the cocktail party was hosted by Desert Shadows, the first of two. Steve and Linda were just the best hosts. They were everywhere taking care on the guests. I don’t think I saw them not making sure every thing was taken care of and that everyone was having a good time. They must have been exhausted by the end of the trip.
And yes more dining, dancing, etc.
We were at sea all day. What a great way to spend a day. The sky and water were incredible shades of blue. Everyone was in a great mood. Friendships had been made. In many ways it was like being at Desert Shadows, relaxed, classy and first class. (I know it was because I saw our bar bill for the day!) You can really get into a relaxed rhythm. It’s island time. The day goes by so fast, and all you did was eat, drink and relax.
We found that there was a nice mix of guests. Quite a few were regulars at DSI, however there were also a group for Britain, some that had found out about the cruise from the TNS and AANR publications, and one couple that stumbled on it on the Web.
The crew demonstrated melon carving – missed it. Marzipan molding – missed it. Cheese fondue –missed it. Galley tour – missed it. Like I said, “island time”. Sushi bar and cocktails – made it! And on to the evening.
We anchored off of Marbella in the morning. Marbella was a small fishing town, that was until the British discovered it as a vacation destination. There was construction of condos everywhere. We decided to spend our day exploring the town. Some of our shipmates went off for the nude beach. We heard later that it was more of a bus trip than a restful day. Marbella was a delightful place to explore. The older section had the normal mix of winding streets, small interesting shops and great food. We had a great lunch over looking the port, watching our ship riding at anchor. Again the quality of the fresh fish and the creative use of olive oil in the preparation pleasantly surprised us. We purchased a hand made platter by a local artist at a little shop we found. We took the launch back to the ship and enjoyed the sun on the back deck.
I should mention the ship also had a water sports platform that they could lower at the stern. There was water skiing, kayaking, and sailboats.
Everyone was getting psyched up about sailing past Gibraltar. It was scheduled at about 9:00pm. Everyone got out their cameras; the ship had stung up lights and turned the normal outside lights into colored lights. This time pictures were quite freely being taken. Everyone was very courteous and asked permission of those in the photographs. Clothing had become quite relaxed. It now seemed normal to see everyone in various states of dress or undress. It was normal not to notice or should I say we had forgotten whether we were or weren’t “appropriately” dressed.
Gibraltar is huge. The Prudential symbol we are used to seeing is the Western tip. The rock extends for what seems for one-half mile towards the Med. We took some great photos. The atmosphere is similar to when a ship passes the equator; a real party was developing. There were cargo ships everywhere. Unlike the previous days, when we would occasionally sight another ship, the straits were quite busy. The ship sailed a horseshoe course off of Gibraltar to give us all time to see it and to wait for nightfall when it was lit up. We did not see the lights come on, so we continued out into the Atlantic.
The rear deck was set up for music and dancing. The group was definitely in a party mood. We had a great time!
We were at sea all day. We began with another great breakfast. Luckily, I was on the Adkins diet and felt obligated to have all the eggs and sausage I wanted. The fresh fruit was terrific and not on my diet. We particularly enjoyed the papayas and fresh figs.
We anticipated that the Atlantic would be a little rougher than the Med. Actually, it had a little more motion but nothing that would cause any problems. We spent the day enjoying the sun. By afternoon the weather had changed and become cloudy and cooler.
Desert Shadows hosted another cocktail party on our final night at sea. For dinner we had a great table. Our group had swollen to eight and we had a fun dinner. The food was great, wine memorable and conversation priceless. We headed off to the lounge for final instructions for the morning. We were surprised with a fun evening of awards for the craziest categories. We had a great time with our new friends.
We had our luggage outside our cabin by 6:45. We went to the dining room for breakfast. As we were going to spend a night in Lisbon, we were to disembark at 7:45. It all went very smoothly, and soon we were on our way to our hotel, Le Meridian. As we passed through the city we saw the disco getting out and the revelers heading home. Lisbon’s buildings are beautiful; the old ones are covered with ceramic tiles. The ride to the hotel was uneventful. The hotel check in was very smooth. The hotel was expecting us and our rooms were ready when we arrived. Our room had a great view of Lisbon.
Lisbon was not as architecturally interesting as Barcelona. We hired a driver and car for the day, as we had only one day in Lisbon. It was great choice. The driver was very knowledgeable and had the day all planned for us.
After visiting the palaces and museums, we headed to the seacoast and had lunch at a local restaurant. We were the only ones who spoke English. The restaurant was called the Indy. There seems to be a fascination with things American. The lunch was the fish special. There was way too much to eat, the platter was covered with fish, mussels, scrimp, etc. As was the custom it was cooked in fresh olive oil. We had a bottle of local wine. We sat there overlooking the sea having a great meal with the locals. The price was so low as to be embarrassing. The Portuguese are a warm and friendly people. We then headed back to the city, having toured to the point of being exhausted. The hotel was in a great location and we ate there that night. We met some of our fellow travelers and shared the wonderful day in Lisbon.
The next day we had breakfast in the hotel. We have to admit we are not into a local breakfast. We longed for some decent eggs and sausage, etc. We headed out to the airport for our flight to London. The Lisbon airport is easy to navigate. We flew British Air back to Heathrow. Well, the British Empire is sinking!! British Air landed at the wrong gate, luggage was late and a cab got lost in London. London cab never gets lost, however this one did.
We stayed at the St. James Club. They remembered us and couldn’t give us our regular room. So, to make up for the missed room, we received a bottle of Pommery champagne. We went out and had dinner with our close friends. A great evening in London can not be beat. The St. James Club is a wonderful experience. It truly is a private club that treats you like family.
The next morning we were back to Heathrow and on our way to Chicago. We flew business class on American. The videos and Koss headphones made the trip painless.
A vacation of a lifetime! Our costs were approximately $1,000 per day. So maybe we don’t do this every year. However we would do it again in a heart beat. What a wonderful great group of people, a great ship and a great location!!
Desert Shadows Inn did not disappoint us and we will sail again with them. Hopefully on a Windstar.
Bob and Betsy
Note from Administrator--Bob and Betsy have asked that this report not be duplicated anywhere without their consent.