Eileen Ogintz is no stranger to travel. As a national correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, she traveled all over the country chasing down stories. In addition to writing stories for national newspapers and magazines, she also writes an award-winning column, Taking the Kids, which has become a must-read for many travel enthusiasts and family-minded individuals alike. Eileen’s warm, engaging style, laugh-out-loud anecdotes and adventurous spirit are infectious, while her travel knowledge is indisputable. Follow her along as she retells her experiences aboard the Wind Surf, sailing the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea, from Venice to Rome:
Lavender honey..truffle oil.. squash blossoms.
Chef Ronald Waasdorp, the executive chef of the Wind Surf, samples and buys at the Sunday market in Rovinj, Croatia while two dozen of us watch, like kids on a field trip, snapping photos.
He’s invited his passengers along, leading us on a short walk from where the tender has dropped us.
This is the first port and this little shore excursion—complimentary by the way—underscores how Windstar is different from other cruises. It is not only informal but personal. Chef Waasdorp, who oversees a staff of 35 devoted to our comfort, is happy to take an hour to show us the local market and produce this area of Croatia is known for (lavender and truffles, it seems).
He plans to use what he buys for our meals, he tells us, “A good market. Everything is very fresh.” There are long strings of bright yellow, green and red peppers, purple grapes the size of my thumb, fresh figs and all varieties of berries. We taste local cheese (very tangy) and smell the truffle oil.
We’re all having fun. The chef’s enthusiasm is contagious. I think the local vendors don’t know what to make of us – this largely American middle-aged group following this man dressed as a chef.
After he leaves us with his purchases to return to the ship, we wander the small port with its uneven cobblestoned streets. We peek into open doors where women in their tiny kitchens smile at us. We sit at a café in the harbor, boats bobbing in front of us, and order an iced coffee (which takes some doing to make the waiter understand we just want coffee with ice, not ice cream as is customary here) and watch the locals go about their day on their bicycles, pushing strollers, toting bags from the market we had just visited.
There isn’t another ship in sight. This isn’t a big port where big ships would go. We head back to Wind Surf and relax in the sunshine. We eat the best lunch I’ve had in months—everything from Salmon Wellington to eggplant salad to charred sweet onion and peaches to chocolate mousse for dessert.
A couple from Boston joins us outside and we have a lively discussion. That’s the other thing about the intimacy of a small ship. It is easy to get acquainted with your fellow passengers, many of whom have sailed Windstar before – as many as eight times, one woman tells me.
I wouldn’t think Windstar would attract many families with kids but we chat with a couple of middle school youngsters traveling with their grandparents from California. “It’s really not for kids but we’re having fun,” they asserted, watching their cousin dive into his desserts before their burgers arrived.
Guests alike enjoy the breezy informality (no ties, no fancy clothes), the relaxed comfort, the pampering from staff who can’t do enough for us and the sheer beauty of the ship—sails billowing in the wind, though Captain Maurits Groothuis reminds us at his evening reception, “this isn’t a ship, it is a yacht..one of the largest motor sailing yachts in the world!”
By the end of the week, he suggests smiling, the Wind Surf should feel like our own personal yacht. If only that were true!
On to Korcula.
Read more from Eileen Ogintz on Taking the Kids, and tell us about your favorite experience in Croatia in the comments below!