Vela Cruise Review by Barnacle Tim
- Sail Date: August 2018
- Destination: Southern Caribbean
So as a 70 year old, reasonably fit traveler, off I went, and I can report that this trip, in all ways, exceeded my long help tropical sail dream.
Some opinions on few important general items:
-This is not a cruise ship, and will likely not appeal to those who love the big cruise ship experience. The crowds and lines and glitz and glimmer of large ships have never appealed to me, so this was really my cup of tea (or glass of rum).
-This is a sailing vessel. There is considerable rocking and rolling during transit. The weather and seas were fairly tame as open-water sailing goes. Four of the 16 guests developed mild seasickness early in the voyage. None had to miss any meals or activities. Do bring sea sickness meds that you have tried out before the trip if you think you might be prone, and plan on exercising some caution as you walk about the ship during transit, especially for the first day or two. The captain always anchors the ship in protected harbors or leeward locations, so most of the time things are pretty calm and stable.
-As an older somewhat overweight guy with 2 knee replacements, I had no difficulties with any of the activities. You do need a degree of flexibility and fitness to navigate the fairly steep stairway down to your cabin, to get on and off the dingy (excellent assistance from the crew with this maneuver), and to enjoy the hikes and snorkeling.
-I loved the activities on this trip, but other reviewers seem to have expected more of a cruise ship experience. Expect time on gorgeous beaches, time swimming and snorkeling in amazingly clear and warm water, lounging on deck, and visiting small towns at your various island anchorages. The only "optional tour" on our passage was an island tour of Bequia, where we rode in the covered back bed of a small truck and visited small local attractions (model ship builder, turtle sanctuary, whaling museum. Our driver and guide was one of the last members of an extant whaling family, and his whaling history talk was fascinating). At $30, this was a great experience and a great value. The other notable activity was the optional after dinner dingy rides ashore to visit local bars. These trips were as much about the local culture as about drinking, and quite a rich experience. Just don't expect casinos, floor shows, spas, and tour busses.
As others have noted, you will likely become good friends with your fellow passengers, and the crowd that chooses this kind of vacation tends to be a pretty unique and interesting group. That being said, we had a couple of passengers who preferred to spend more alone time, and there was plenty of space and support for that experience also.
Some reviewers have mentioned the small cabins. Having sailed before on a smaller boat, I found my solo cabin to be quite adequate and comfortable. It was actually charming and cozy. The bathroom with combined sink/toilet/shower was very functional. Pack everything in a soft-sided carry-on and you will be fine.
As others have mentioned, the food is remarkable for such a small ship. Portion sizes are just right, and you are always offered seconds. In addition to the three meals, excellent appetizers and rum punch were served every afternoon during "cocktail hour." The vinophiles on our trip described the house wine as fairly decent, and there were opportunities to buy premium wines along the route of sail. I'm a beer snob, and found the local lager (Piton), stocked on the ship, to be excellent. On one occasion, the crew prepared and delivered an excellent "Cheeseburgers in Paradise" feast to the beach where we were spending the day. When anchored, dinner on deck was a real treat.
One of the keys to this cruise being so outstanding is the crew. We had 16 passengers and 10 crew. Each crew member was always busy tending to their duties, which often centered around the comfort and enjoyment of the passengers. They were personable, fun, yet professional. Our activities director was great, and gave us full briefings of the day's activities. She also accompanied us on most of our onshore adventures.
I have never done a mega-cruise, and have only heard of the hassles on embarkation and disembarkation days. Getting on and off Vela was quick, simple, and well organized.
Oh, and did I mention that this truly is a barefoot cruise? Except for the one island tour, I did not wear shoes from the time I boarded Vela until the time I got ready to leave for the airport.