Travel Agents Sound Off, Reveal Top Insights About Sailing Ship Cruises

Windstar Cruises is among the sailing ships that offer clients an intimate small-ship voyage under canvas and to off-the-beaten-path ports across the globe.

Sailing “under canvas” may conjur up thoughts of seagoing explorers like Christopher Columbus or such movies as “Pirates of the Caribbean” or “Master and Commander.” But increasingly, modern cruisers are heading out on upscale sailing ships that deliver intimate, fun, and decidedly different cruise experiences. 

Here are top 10 reasons your clients might opt for a sailing adventure on the high seas:

Front-Line Insight 

It’s Spontaneous: Scan your data base for “been-there-done-that” cruisers who are seeking something different and new. Look for people who love touches of spontaneity. Yes, sailing ships have posted itineraries, but those vary based on sea and wind conditions.

Small ships also offer flexibility. For example, if the captain sees an opportunity for the ship to stay another two hours at a secluded cove so guests can watch the sunset from the beach, the ship may stay at anchor after its planned departure time.

Or, if a robust breeze arises, the captain may opt to sail to a nearby isle not on the schedule, and allow guests to snorkel and swim there. In other word, it’s memorable "not knowing where the wind and seas will take guests that day,” says Suzanne Sneddon, senior sales and air specialist for

Plus, Sneddon finds good clients for such a cruise are those who “want to kick off their shoes and let the sun shine in their face and wind blow through their hair.” She's also "noticed that the type of clients who go on these cruises wish to get away and disconnect completely from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and business.”

It's Casual, But Often Upscale: One of Avoya Travel's top Windstar producers is AnnaSue Spohn, owner, Itchin 2 Go Travel, LLC, Excelsior Springs, MO. "From my experience, the best clients for this product are the ones that have taken mass market cruises and are ready for a relaxing, country club casual atmosphere without the onboard activities [of big ship cruises]." 

It’s Not Big Shows, It's Not Millions of Activities: As Spohn notes, sailing ships don't have the zillions of onboard activities of big ships. While sailing ships typically offer onboard lecturers, a plethora of watersports, wine tasting and some other scheduled activities, “these elegant sailing yachts are not filled with activities that will keep you hopping," says Ott.

Instead Ott notes they focus on giving guests personalized service and an intimate travel experience: “Guests looking to relax can visit the spa or read a book from a quiet place on the ship while active individuals can use the watersports platform that is open daily (if water conditions allow) to take out kayaks and flotation devices from the back of the yacht."

Who are the best clients? “They’re not looking for big shows and formal evenings, but rather quiet spaces, comfortable staterooms, good food and great service,” says Peggy Rosenthal, franchise owner and vacation specialist, Dream Vacations, Bella Vista, AK. 
It’s About Like-Minded People: Owners of a Canton, GA, Cruise Planners franchise, Chuck and Laura Flagg recently sailed on a Windstar Cruises itinerary in the Caribbean
The duo, shown onboard while the ship was in Virgin Gorda (in photo at right), found that fellow passengers didn't just want to explore the ports but -- just as importantly -- to get to know their fellow passengers. 
Agents tell Travel Agent that passengers on sailing ship cruises often consider other passengers "as family" by the end of the cruise. They often make plans to meet up again on a future voyage. 

Nanci Ott, an agent with Tinker Travel LLC and one of Avoya Travel's top five producers for Windstar, says her clients desiring a sailing vacation are ages 25 to 75, so a broad range. What links them is the "mindset."

When the Flaggs sailed, “we thought we would be the youngest on our February 2017 sailing on Windstar’s Wind Surf but we met younger passengers including a few honeymooners.”

It's Hands On (On Some Vessels): When a fully rigged ship is getting ready to sail under canvas, some lines encourage clients to pull ropes or undertake other activities under crew direction to hoist the sails.

Other vessels have motorized sail deployment systems. But, it's fun to just sit back and relax with a pina colada while watching the sails unfurl. “The engineering on the sails of these ships is amazing and it’s a magical moment to watch their mighty mass be touched by the wind and carry you to your next adventure,” says Ott. 

It’s Off-the-Beaten-Path: Think ports that are off-the-grid. “Being able to visit ports the large ships cannot possibly visit is a true delight,” says Flagg. 

Plus the size of these ships – and the fact that most have motorized power to help in docking – means they can often dock in the heart of a city or at a closer pier where smaller ships are accepted. The big ships may have to dock at a pier farther out in some destinations like Bangkok.

Another hook for clients considering a sailing ship adventure is Spohn's perspective that her clients "enjoy night cruising and longer stays at port, including some overnight stays that are available in destinations such as Tahiti."

It’s Adventuresome: Ott's client who book sailing ships “have a sense of adventure and want to expand their experiences." 

Put another way, “forget about putting on high heels, makeup or hairspray – it’s a chance to just let loose and live in the moment” Sneddon emphasizes, adding that it’s also about appreciation of the simple things in life such as a sunrise, sunset, night-time star gazing or a special fish or fruit that clients have never tasted before. 

Photo by Nancy Ott, Tinker Travel LLC, Arroyo Grande, CA

It's Intimate: Many of the sailing ship companies, because of the intimacy of the products, provide personalized attention to guests.

“Most of the time, by the second or third day, the staff will know your cocktail or how you like your coffee in the morning,” emphasizes Ott, shown in the photo above with husband Joe Sabatini on Windstar's Wind Surf, sailing into St. Petersburg, Russia

Rosenthal says one of her clients returning from a sailing ship adventure stressed the private mega-yacht feel of the voyage, while another talked about the “amazing customer focus” and “authentic and genuine service.” 

It’s a Focus on Food: “You will often find the chef out at the port shopping for local fresh vegetables,” says Ott. Many sailing lines have upped their game on the onboard culinary experience as well.

Windstar, for example, has a partnership with the James Beard Foundation, and Star Clippers offers culinary themed voyages, to name a few examples.  

It’s About Easy-Access Watersports: Flagg’s family and his clients have enjoyed the fold-out marina that many sailing ships have. It’s a convenience to guests, who don't have to walk off the ship, down a pier, board a motorcoach, provide vouchers to someone at the watersports marina.... and take time to do all that.

Guests on a sailing ship just walk aft and start to play. 

It’s Not Big Ship, It’s Not River Cruise: While those cruises certainly appeal to large numbers of people, who typically do come back highly satisfied, sailing ships fill a different niche. Ott says: “It’s a “nice adventure that fits somewhere between deluxe ocean cruising and river cruising.” 

From Flagg's perspective, "for those who do not need mega ships and Broadway-style entertainment, the sailing vessels are a true treat." Spohn says "the unique product really helps with the dale of the cruise." 

To look at what’s new in sailing ship vacations, check out Travel Agent’s print story from the August 7 edition, which focuses on such lines and ships as Star Clippers, Variety Cruises, Windstar Cruises,Ponant’s Le Ponant, Sea Cloud and others. We’ll post it on later this week. 

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