Adventures in Very Beautiful Visby, Sweden

The stunning, UNESCO World Heritage site of Visby, Sweden, on the island of Gotland. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

This morning was a relaxing one aboard Windstar CruisesWind Spirit.  The seas are calm and despite the overcast sky, it’s still quite warm up on deck.  Many passengers are relaxing out on the aft pool deck, including yours truly.  In fact, it’s the most people I’ve seen in a single place since embarking yesterday afternoon, and even then I still had no issues finding a comfortable place to watch the sea go by.

But as I ate breakfast this morning and watched the ocean, I realized something was missing, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Approaching Visby aboard the Wind Spirit on the morning of Sunday, July 31, 2011. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Then I realized what it was: there was no propulsion wake behind us. We were operating on sail power alone.  It’s definitely a strange sight for someone used to seeing powerful, frothy wakes astern. It’s also remarkably quiet, with no vibration and obviously no engine noise.  Diesel generators operate the ship’s electrical systems, but these are located below decks and remain virtually invisible to passengers.

But the power of the wind is evident as well. This afternoon we arrived in Visby right on schedule.  In fact, due to favorable wind conditions we were able to dock shortly after 11am – two hours ahead of schedule – but as it’s a Sunday and Visby is quite small, the local authorities weren’t available until our listed time of 1pm.  Still, it’s nice to know that the power of the wind alone got us into port ahead of schedule.

Visby, lost in the early morning fog. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Located on the Swedish island of Gotland, the city of Visby is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its incredible medieval remnants. A 3.4 kilometer stone wall known as The Ring Wall still encircles the city, despite having been constructed in the 12th century.

One of the most famous, and visible, churches in Visby. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

We took part in the “Medieval Visby” shore excursion.  Jan, our guide, was incredibly knowledgeable about Visby and the entire island of Gotland, which stretches just barely over 50 kilometers at its widest point.  But the real star of the day was the medieval town of Visby itself, which at one point boasted over a dozen enormous, gothic churches. Halfway through the tour, the clouds parted and the sun blazed brightly.  If you are from Las Vegas, you’ll probably find it cold.  This Vancouverite finds it to be just right.

Lit candles inside the old Lutheran church, which dates back hundreds of years. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Visby is well-suited to exploration on foot, and can be easily accessed from the main harbour.  Being a smaller ship, Wind Spirit was able to secure prime docking location right at the foot of the town.  You could literally walk from the ship to the start of the historic Hanseatic town centre in under five minutes; something that I doubt would be possible on a larger cruise ship.

Footloose in Visby. I couldn't walk five feet without stumbling upon some fascinating phtographic opportunity. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

After our tour, I decided to stroll around the town on my own before the “all-back” time of 6:45pm.  You can’t walk five feet without discovering something completely amazing and picture worthy.  There’s beautiful parks, abandoned and overgrown churches, timber-built houses, and even trendy cafes.  Little shops litter the street corners, and restaurants are filled with people settling down for a late lunch and an afternoon pint.

Visby is littered with flowers of seemingly every kind and type; there's even a great Botanical Garden here. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

I loved Visby.  For me, it ranks up there with places like Akureyri (Iceland), Bequia (Grenadines), and Taormina (Sicily, Italy).  It’s small, it’s quaint, and it’s not overrun with thousands of tourists.  Anyone who’s been to places like Ketchikan, Alaska in the height of summer can’t fail to appreciate that.

Speaking of Alaska, I’ve heard from two passengers now saying how they wished Windstar visited the northernmost state.  I’m not sure how well sails would work in places like Glacier Bay, but I have to be honest: the idea does sound appealing.

That hot tub looks inviting regardless of the weather. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Here in the Baltics, the ship and destinations seem to go hand-in-hand.  Even though the weather has been stellar so far, I get the sense that even in the cold, rain and fog, the Wind Spirit would be right at home.  Next year, the larger Wind Surf will operate a series of Baltic runs, which returned this year after an increase in demand from the line’s customers.

The Wind Spirit docked alongside in Visby, Sweden. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

The other thing I hear a lot is passengers starting conversations with, “When we were on the Wind…”  Replace “…” with any Windstar ship.  There are people onboard who have sailed with the entire fleet: Wind Star, Wind Spirit and the larger Wind Surf, and they talk about the line like a long-lost loved one.  It’s a phrase I’ve become accustomed to hearing on ultra-luxury lines, and one that is completely understandable here given the intimate nature of their ships.

Sailing out of Visby promptly at 7pm. The sails went up minutes later, and we were underway again. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Here’s the deal: I’ve always thought of myself as a “big ship” kind of guy, where bigger equalled better.  But not anymore.  Sure, I love big mainstream cruise ships and the variety of entertainment and culinary diversions they offer.  But it’s tough to beat a smaller ship in terms of raw relaxation.  Smaller ships carry less passengers, typically offer more space per-passenger, and have a higher degree of service.

Wind Spirit takes this to another level by taking the mechanics out of sailing.  Sure, we used our engines to port into Visby today, but the ability to shut it off and use sail power alone has resulted in an experience that is surprisingly relaxing.  Its old world meets new world here aboard the Wind Spirit, and it’s just how Windstar’s guests like it.

Gone but surely not forgotten: sailaway from Visby. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

I should also mention that my luggage made it to the ship yesterday, through the extraordinary efforts of Lufthansa, the port agent, and the guest services team on the Wind Spirit.  I was shocked, and slightly relieved I wouldn’t be forced to buy a tee-shirt in every town we visit!

So with my luggage back and the sails up as evening falls here on the Wind Spirit, I’m settling into a comfortable routine, returning to the aft lounge to take in the last of the setting sun and a tasty after-dinner drink.  There’s a good deal of passengers here tonight, in contrast to last night when I had the entire room – literally – to myself.  If you need constant stimulation, you might find that a bore.  But if like me you’re looking for a way to unwind, it’s truly relaxing.

Full sails as night falls after departure from Visby. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Tomorrow, we are treated to a day at sea as we sail south to the seaside town of Warnemunde, Germany.  I had envisioned a day where passengers are left to their own devices, but that isn’t the case: they can take part in several events and activities, from the ever-popular mini-golf competition to a tour of the ship’s galley.

But the one I’m giddily looking forward to is an opportunity to visit the ship’s bowsprit in the late afternoon.  In laymans terms, the bowsprit is the “long pointy thing” that sailing ships have extending over their actual bow.  In announcing it, our passenger services director explained it’s a great chance for couples to do “the Titanic thing”, but I want to turn my camera the other way and photograph the sails and forecastle deck from this amazing vantage point.

The sunset is reflected in the windows of the Officer's quarters aboard the sleek Wind Spirit. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

It’s another nice little unexpected surprise on this cruise that truly is, to quote Windstar’s marketing, “180 degrees from Ordinary.”

Join us tomorrow as we experience a day at sea on our way to Warnemunde, and a photo-tour of some of the Wind Spirit’s public areas!




2 Responses to Wind Spirit Live Voyage Report – Day 3

  1. Kari says:

    Back in the day when WindStar was part of Holland America / Carnival, they did go to Alaska. My mom & dad sailed with them and told a story of the captain using wind power to speed past a larger cruise ship in the Inside Passage! I’m sure they did use the engines to maneuver in the various bays and harbors, though.

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