I've only been on a cruise once in my adult life. It was exactly what you'd think: an enormous, hulking vessel with an overwhelming number of options for just about everything, and an equally overwhelming number of people, well, everywhere. It was a memorable experience to be sure, but I remember thinking quite clearly, "Once was enough for me!" Until I saw the S/V Mandalay, that is.
The Mandalay doesn't look like the typical cruise ship. White spruce, larch, pine, and teak comprise most of the ship and her three enormous masts hoist bright white sails that billow in the warm, tropical breezes. And no, that's not a misprint. The Mandalay is a proper sailing ship. To look at her is to have visions of high-seas adventure, instead of wondering how long the lines will be, especially since the Mandalay can only hold 58 passengers (as opposed to the thousands you'll find on today's traditional cruise liners).
To learn more about it and what cruising on it is like, I talked to Cindy Greenway, a partner at Sail Windjammer, the company that sails the Mandalay. "The S/V Mandalay is an original tall ship and has such an extensive history," says Cindy. Built in 1923, the Mandalay was a merchant marine cadet training ship in World War II before a stint as a research vessel for Columbia University. Eventually, it found its way to the Windjammer family in 2012. "We purchased the S/V Mandalay after she was being re-fitted to sail the Galapagos Islands," recalls Cindy. Ever since then, the ship has been sailing the Caribbean to give travelers a more intimate portrait of the islands therein.
Based out of Grenada in the Grenadines, cruises "take you to islands that have population 300 or are a protected Marine Park with no one living there." Those just aren't places where you can expect a 225,000 ton vessel to be able to fit. Because even if you absolutely love big cruise ships, they're often just too big to reach some of the ports the Mandalay sails to. But that's hardly the only perk.
"You aren't just a number when you are sailing with us," says Cindy, "The crew gets to know you by name and you really feel like you're part of a new family by the time your trip is over." And judging by the number of reviews singing Captain Sly's praises, this is almost undoubtedly the case.
Being on the Mandalay doesn't seem to be about the destinations so much as the journey, as a cheerful reminder above each itinerary points out: "Ports visited are subject to change… We go where the Captain and the winds take us!"
"When the sails go up to the sounds of 'Amazing Grace', the crew call for volunteers to help them raise the sails," notes Cindy. It's not expected or required of passengers to lend a hand, but the call is hard to resist. In between lazy hammock naps and sipping drinks at the bar, guests can learn nautical knot tying or even stargazing. Wrapped up in life at sea, you can really leave your stresses and frustration back home, which is really what Sail Windjammer is all about.
If you're lucky, maybe the Captain will even cut the engine, allowing wind to fill the sails and take you to your next port the old-fashioned way. As Cindy says, "It's a surreal and unforgettable experience to see this amazing tall ship powered by the wind."
"EVERYTHING if you are not a formal foo-foo ship person. You get to experience the REAL Caribbean instead of the cruise ship compound at each island. Sailing on such a piece of history is amazing knowing that E.F. Hutton commissioned her as a gift for his wife, Marjorie Post in 1923. I have been many times and this was a TERRIFIC DEAL." – Ralph J.
"Beyond the amazing beaches, views, sailing, the absolutely incredible crew made it a joy to be on board. Can't say enough good things about this trip." – John R.
"Great experience, beautiful ship and islands and a great crew." – Andres T.