The Truth about Sailing on a Windjammer Cruise
I enjoy cruising on small luxury ships. They are intimate, have unique itineraries and often go where bigger boats cannot dock. While windjammer cruises are somewhat similar to these types of trips, I knew that this kind of voyage would be different. What I didn’t realize was just how extraordinary it would be.
This summer my husband and I embarked on a wine tasting Windjammer Cruise. We set sail for four nights on the recently renovated Schooner Ladona. She sails out of her home port in Rockland, Maine from May through October. With no formal itinerary in place, each day the Captain charts a course, based on the winds and the tide, around the Penobscot Bay. Guests can take in the beautiful scenery as they sail along the rugged coast of Maine. Days are spent relaxing on the deck, and evenings allow for sipping wine and gourmet meals.
The Schooner Ladona
Launched in 1922, the Schooner Ladona was originally built as a private yacht for the Loring Family. During WWII she served the US Navy as a submarine patroller. On deck, and in the galley, you can see the colorful battle ribbons symbolizing her military history. She went on to be used as a fishing dragger and a sailing training vessel for many years before being elegantly restored. While being repaired careful attention was paid to even the most minute details. Not only will you notice the handcrafted hardware all over, but the ship’s wheel was made at the Lunenburg Foundry from the original mold in the early 1920s.
This authentically rebuilt 82-foot yacht holds 16 passengers and 5 crew members. There is ample room to relax on deck. Our favorite spot was the cushioned bench up on the bow. During the day it is a great place to read a book or take a nap or for stargazing at night. Below deck all of the cabins are outfitted with premium linens, a small sink, and a 110v outlet. Guests share three heads, two of which have beautifully tiled showers. Having a nice hot shower is a true luxury on a windjammer cruise.
From the moment Captain J.R. and his crew welcome you on board, you will feel like you are part of the family. It is as if they have invited you into their home. Despite working long hours each day, they will see to your every need with a smile on their face.
Unbeknownst to us we really were sailing with family. Our voyage included Retired Captains Ken and Ellen Barnes. In 2003 they turned over the helm of Ladona’s sister ship, the Schooner Stephen Taber, to their son Noah. Each evening when we rafted up with the Taber for the wine tastings, we spent time with Captain Noah, his wife Jane and their son Oscar.
On the final evening, we felt like we were traveling with the Von Trapp Family of the seas. The passengers were entertained with music from three generations of sailors. Many of the crew play instruments as well as sing. One night Captain Ken even got out his bagpipe.
The day starts with rolling breakfast between 7:00-9:00am. Sip your morning cup of coffee al fresco on deck, or head down to the galley where there is ample room for all of the guests to gather around a full sized table. Chef Anna routinely baked homemade biscuits, served made-to-order omelets and put out fresh fruit and granola.
For lunch, passengers and crew would congregate around the dining table up on deck for a family style meal. Each day we enjoyed freshly prepared salads, warm bread, sandwiches and hearty soups. Anna never skimped on dessert, there was always something tasty on the table. I was truly amazed at quality and quantity of food that she was able to produce daily from her tiny kitchen.
It is not possible to go to Maine and not eat lobster. Likewise, you cannot be on a windjammer cruise in Maine and not have a traditional lobster bake. On this night the crew goes all out. While we were tasting wine and exploring Wreck Island, they were busy preparing a feast. We dined on lobster, corn, steak and chicken. For dessert, using a pizzelle maker over the open fire, Captain Noah made the best s’mores I have ever had.
The Schooner Ladona offers several specialty voyages throughout the season. Each evening after we dropped anchor, we were treated to a wine tasting with Michael Green — Gourmet Magazine’s wine consultant for over 20 years. He lead us through eight wines each night, expertly pairing them with the delicious food prepared by the chef.
In addition to being knowledgeable, Michael is incredibly charismatic and talented. Whether he is explaining the six S’s of wine tasting (see, swirl, smell, swish, sip and spit) or talking about the various regions, vintages, and types of grapes, he has a way of explaining things that will have you feeling like a well-educated sommelier. Even if becoming a wine steward is not in your near future, he will teach you how to confidently order wine in a restaurant or buy a few bottles to add to your own collection.
What to Pack
I can’t stress this enough —do not over pack. No matter which cabin you are assigned to, space is limited and storage is minimal. Although the cabins are lovely and comfortable, they are designed for sleeping and not much else. You will likely spend most of your time above deck.
We were in cabin number three. This cabin has two small shelves, two under-bed cubbies, and a few hooks. We did not unpack, we just kept our soft-sided duffle bags at the end of our bed. You will be provided with a packing list before your departure date, however, these are a few extra items we suggest bringing:
- Fan – All of the cabins have small portholes that allow in fresh air. Depending on the time of year you sail, you may want a bit more circulation.
- Stadium Chairs – These collapsible, cushioned chairs are great for the deck as well as on land.
- BYOB Beverages – There is a beverage locker on deck stocked with drinks, but feel free to bring your own to share.
- Extra Towels – They provide a towel and washcloth, but because it can be damp at sea, nothing ever really dries out. You’ll appreciate having some extras.
- Ear Plugs – If you are a light sleeper these are a must. It is fairly close quarters down below.
The Price Tag
Three-day cruises begin around $998/person. Windjammer cruises are all-inclusive. In addition to your accommodations, all meals and the wine are included. The only exception is dinner on the first night that you board. Keep in mind that gratuity is not included but is greatly appreciated. The crew works hard to make sure you enjoy every aspect of your trip. It is customary to tip them 5-10% of your total cost. Pro Tip: Book before March 1 to save 5% of the regular rate.
There is windjamming and then there is luxury windjamming. Vintage cruising on a tall ship is truly a unique experience. The Maine Windjammer Association fleet of ships each have their own distinct personalities. If glamping on a boat is more your style, then I’d highly recommend you choose to sail on the Schooner Ladona.
Disclosure: Complimentary accommodations, meals, and activities were provided by the Schooner Ladona and the Maine Windjamming Association. No other compensation was received for this review. This post reflects the honest opinion of my experience without outside influence.