Tired of those same old border runs to Nicaragua? The time-consuming process of clearing Immigration and Customs? The tiresome drive or bus ride? A luxurious alternative for expats looking to renew their tourist visas may be a cruise. Every week this time of year, the Wind Star luxury sailing yacht cruises from the Central Pacific port of Caldera to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, down the coast to the Osa Peninsula and back to Caldera. Cruisers can get their passports stamped and enjoy seven nights aboard this four-masted beauty of a ship. One of three motor-sailing yachts operated by Windstar Cruises, the Wind Star offers a wonderful alternative to land trips and a way to see Costa Rica’s Pacific coastline from a new perspective. While the ship anchors in San Juan del Sur, cruisers can explore the town or take a day tour to the colonial city of Granada. Costa Rican stops in Playas del Coco, Drake Bay, Quepos, the Curú Wildlife Refuge and Tortuga Island offer activities such as canopy tours, nature hikes and water sports. Accommodating 150 passengers and 98 crew members, the Wind Star sails every week through the end of March. On the Guanacaste coast, in northwestern Costa Rica, those on shore can see it pass on Sundays going north, and again on Tuesdays as it heads south. With its 22,000 square feet of sail, it is lovely to behold. Windstar Cruises promises its guests “pampering without pretense,” and this is evident from the moment they set foot on board. The ship has a private yacht-like atmosphere. A small, circular lobby greets guests with a reception desk, and a restaurant and lounge, a library and a casino radiate from this point. Behind the lounge is a hidden nook with a few tables where you can enjoy a good book or a quiet card game, or sip a piña colada while watching the ocean beneath you. You should never feel claustrophobic aboard this ship, as all public areas have plenty of windows. The Wind Star has 10,000 square feet of wide-open teak decks – unusual for a small ship. Climb the steps to the pool area, complete with a bar, and the open-air restaurant where breakfast and lunch are served. Go to the aft end of the ship to reach the sports platform, which holds assorted water toys and equipment for water-skiing, scuba diving, windsurfing and snorkeling. The 74 staterooms on two decks are larger than you might expect, and have beautiful wood finishes, a spacious vanity area and ample closet space. Every room on the Wind Star is an outside room with two portholes. A flat-screen TV, DVD player and iPod with docking stereo system offer entertainment options for when you wish to spend some private time in your room. And if you don’t feel like dressing for a meal, 24-hour room service is available. The Wind Star features an open-bridge operation; this means guests are free to visit the bridge and chat with Capt. Alan Mac-Ary and crew, who will happily explain the expanse of control panels, navigation instruments and maps they use to stay on course. MacAry, from Scotland, has been navigating for Windstar Cruises for 11 years. “About 25 percent of the time we are under sail only … and the rest we travel with sails up and motor helping,” he explains. “The entire cruise is 670 nautical miles, and we usually never go farther out to sea than 12 miles. The closest we come to shore is one mile.” Windstar has garnered many awards for its cuisine, and meals on board are events in themselves. The day I visited the ship, I enjoyed an incredible Mexican lunch buffet with all the makings for tacos, chicken fajitas and burritos, along with guacamole and fresh salsa. The fantastic array of salads included Caesar salad with a bowl of anchovies for the taking, seafood salad and pasta salad, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables. And the chilled, minted melon soup was exquisite. If the buffet is not to your liking, you can order a Reuben, burger or other item from the menu. A full gourmet dinner each night features Windstar’s signature cuisine, with entrées ranging from duck or lamb to surf and turf and, of course, lots of fresh seafood dishes. Vegetarian meals are also offered. Windstar Cruises has received top industry awards, including No. 1 in the “best small ships” category by both Condé Nast Traveller and Travel + Leisure. The open seating program and understated dress code make meals less formal than on large cruise ships, and the intimate nature of the ships lends itself to making new friends and feeling part of a community. Former Windstar Employees Land in Tamarindo If you’re at Playa Langosta while the Wind Star cruises by, you might see residents Mike and Wendy Clifford sending the ship salutations. Now the owners of Surf Club Sports Bar, the Cliffords worked for Windstar Cruises, first as scuba instructors, then as cruise directors, from 1996 to 2006, before settling down in Langosta to open their popular bar. They first landed on Costa Rica’s shore in September 2000. At that time, Windstar was hosting an eco-tour to Panama that made port in Caldera. The Cliffords heard good things about Tamarindo, so they came back on vacation that same year and stayed for a month. They were impressed by the climate, the waves and the beaches. “We came for the waves and fell in love with the culture,” Mike says. “We wanted to purchase a condo in the newly developing Langosta area. We completed all the financing by calling the U.S. on the pay phone in the (Tamarindo) Circle,” Wendy recalls. “We also purchased a liquor license and rented it to other businesses until we were ready to put our dream into action.” For the next six years, the two continued to work for Windstar as cruise directors and spent their off months living in their Langosta condo. “We wanted to start a business so we could live here full-time,” Mike says. “We were looking for a niche that wasn’t filled. We used to live on St. Thomas, where there are some great sports bars, and thought the Tamarindo area needed one.” The Cliffords broke ground in June 2005 and opened Surf Club Sports Bar on Sept. 16, 2006. Since then, the bar has become a popular gathering place in Langosta. People come to watch sporting events and to play Ping-Pong, foosball, pool and darts. Mondays and Thursdays see lively Texas Hold’em tournaments. In December, Wendy boarded the Wind Star, along with her sister and parents, for her first cruise as a passenger. “A lot of the crew were people I had worked with,” she says. “It was a little surreal, watching the new cruise director giving the port talks I used to give. A little nostalgic, too.” –Sue Lindstrom Set Sail The Wind Star departs Puerto Caldera every Saturday through the end of March. The itinerary is as follows: Sat. Puerto Caldera Depart 6 p.m. Sat.-Sun. At sea Mon. San Juan del Sur, 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Nicaragua Tues. Playas del Coco 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Wed. Quepos 8 a.m.-midnight Thurs. Drake Bay 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Fri. Curú Reserve 7 a.m.-noon Fri. Tortuga Island 1-11 p.m. Sat. Puerto Caldera Arrive 6 a.m. Cost per person (double occupancy): $2,149 to $2,349 (extra fees from $35 to $325). Additional discounts or specials may apply. Passports must be valid for six months. For more information or to book, visit www.windstarcruises.com, e-mail [email protected] or call 1-800-258-7245 (U.S. and Canada).