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A Maine windjammer cruise personifies the cliché’, “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” Setting sail from mid-coast in Camden, the state of Maine’s beauty unfolds. Charming wood-shingled homes dot the shoreline. Iconic lighthouses scattered throughout the island-rich landscape provide a glimpse into the state’s extensive maritime history. The wind and the captain decide your destination. Just unplug, sit back and relax. This is windjamming!
What is a Maine Windjammer Cruise?
Once working sailing ships, windjammers transported lumber and granite from ports along the eastern seaboard. When the fleet became obsolete with the arrival of new modes of transportation, Frank Swift, an artist from rural Maine, spearheaded the preservation of these old wooden schooners giving these beauties a new purpose as recreational sailing ships.
Today, the Maine Windjammer Association encompasses a fleet of nine of these historic schooners: American Eagle, Heritage, J. & E. Riggin, Ladona, Lewis R. French, Mary Day, Stephen Taber, Victory Chimes and the windjammer I cruised on, Angelique. Five of the fleet’s ships carry the designation of National Historic Landmarks. Built in 1980, the Windjammer Angelique’s steel and wood construction combines the authenticity of the classic 19th-century windjammers with today’s safety standards. She’s sturdy, strong and safe. Owners Captain Dennis and his wife, Candace, make certain their guests receive a memorable sailing adventure. While there’s a basic itinerary established for each 3- to 6-day trip on the schedule, the wind ultimately dictates the direction of travel making flexibility key.
The Maine Windjammer Association maintains a website with details about each schooner. The website also details schedules for each vessel and offers a link for booking your ideal cruise.
Read More: Lighthouses and Lobster: Best Things to Do in Portland Maine
Maine Windjammer Cruise Highlights
Unlike ocean cruise ships filled with waterpark-themed attractions, casinos and thousands of people, a sailing cruise on a Maine Windjammer delivers the ultimate in relaxation. For one thing, the number of passengers on board is significantly less. The Angelique – the windjammer vessel for my recent cruise – caps the passenger total at 29 with a crew of seven. This type of intimate sailing adventure ensures ample opportunities to make lifelong memories. And when you join a grandparent/grandkid cruise as I did, those memories are priceless, making Windjammer one of the best cruises for kids.
A standout highlight for me includes one of those priceless memories. One evening we paddled the rowboat from the Angelique to Wreck Island for a lobster bake. My grandson Marshall and I took advantage of the time before dinner to hike through the forest to the opposite side of the small island. We emerged atop rocks where tide pools showcased the wealth of sealife harbored in the chilly water. With the tide coming in, I knew we had to quickly navigate the slippery rocks — something I don’t do easily. With a little assistance from my cavalier (when necessary) grandson, I made it safely over the rocks and back to the beach. He’ll no doubt tease me about my clumsiness for the rest of my life, but that’s part of the fun of spending time together, right?
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Like many other sailboats, the cabins on a windjammer don’t provide a lot of space. Basic accommodations include a bunkbed with a ladder, a small sink and a mirror. There’s no privacy, so sharing with my 12-year-old grandson meant taking turns to dress or stepping into the even smaller bathroom to change. He started out on the top bunk but given that he’s surpassed me in height now, I ended up on the top after a couple of nights. While climbing a bunk bed ladder in the middle of the night isn’t a ton of fun, it’s a small price to pay for our experience on our sailing adventure.
On the Angelique, our cabin was one of four in a section of the boat. Those four cabins shared one bathroom — the head. The logistics took a bit of training. We pushed a button to add water to the toilet bowl before doing those toilet things we all have to do. Then we flushed using a foot pump. The head also had a hand-held shower which was good for a rinse, but we decided on day one to treat this more like a camping experience and give up on the ultimate bathing experience!
Not all windjammers have a head for every four rooms. Some sailboats require all the passengers to share just two or three heads. We had it good!
Pro Tip: Pack light and use a duffel-style bag instead of a hard-sided suitcase. Storage is extremely limited.
Food Aboard the Angelique
While dinner buffets aren’t as extensive as those on the big cruises, they’re every bit as delicious. Each morning began with a variety of choices like bacon and egg casseroles or omelets, French toast, freshly-baked muffins, fruit and an assortment of cereals. Lunch typically included soups, salad, bread and make-your-own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Come dinner time, we sampled delicious main courses over the four days including expertly seasoned chicken and smoked short ribs paired with a choice of vegetables, potatoes and bread. For those with dietary concerns, gluten-free options were provided at each meal and special requests can be accommodated.
One evening we were treated to a lobster bake on Wreck Island in Penobscot Bay. Cooked in a large pot covered with seaweed, this delicious treat included corn-on-the-cob, potatoes and wine – for the grown-ups, of course. Leftover lobster made future appearances in lobster nachos and as a lobster and egg breakfast casserole before the cruise concluded.
Pro Tip: Save room for dessert. The baked goods whipped up in the vessel’s tiny kitchen blew my mind!
How Much Does a Windjammer Cruise Cost?
Windjammer cruise prices vary by ship, dates, length of cruise and theme. Most of these gorgeous tall ships schedule 3, 4, 5 and 6-day sailing cruises from May through early October. Each sailing vessel in the windjammer fleet schedules a variety of themes for its sailing cruises which includes different activities included in the price. For example, guests can book a yoga and wellness cruise on the Angelique. Prices range anywhere from $850 for a 3-day experience to $1395 for a 6-day themed cruise.
Prices for sailing cruises include accommodations, gourmet food, excursions and special experiences like the lobster bake. Coffee, tea and lemonade are also included. If you prefer sodas or alcoholic beverages, you’re welcome to bring those aboard for storage in a large community cooler. Although optional, tips for the crew are a nice expression of thanks. The recommended rate is 10 to 15 percent.
Pro Tip: For a special multi-generational sailing adventure with your extended family, consider booking a private charter.
Things to Do Aboard the Angelique
For the grandparents/grandkids cruise, a local teacher entertained the kids with simple experiences like wildlife or lighthouse spotting scavenger hunts. Board games emerged as a fun way to while away an evening after dinner below deck in the galley. A piano tempted the musically inclined (and some of the not-so-musically inclined kids) to attempt a song or two.
A fun and friendly competition took place when Captain Dennis announced the annual grandparent/grandkid rowboat regatta. Pitting the kids against the adults, each team received a few minutes of training before rowing around a predesignated course with Captain Dennis keeping track of the time. I’m happy to report the adults won for the first time in Angelique’s regatta history!
While safely anchored in the harbor another afternoon, my grandson, Marshall along with other daredevils cooled off by jumping into the bay from Angelique’s bowsprit. I chose to act as a photographer keeping my feet firmly planted on the sailboat. On our final night, rain kept us onboard the sailboat so we enjoyed movie night and popcorn on deck.
When the sailing is easy, Captain Dennis even let us have a go at steering the Angelique. Guests on a windjammer cruise can participate as much or as little as desired. When it’s time to raise or lower the sails, grab the ropes and help if you want. If you’d rather watch, that’s fine too. Spend your days reading, searching the coast of Maine for lighthouses, or just chatting with new friends and your grandchild — you never know what you’ll learn.
Special Events Aboard a Maine Windjammer Cruise
Each sailboat in the windjammer fleet schedules special events. On the Angelique, guests can book a sailing cruise that includes a couple of days to bike around along the coast of Maine. Some sailing cruises venture to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor.
In addition to Angelique’s grandparent/grandkid’s cruise, a few of the other windjammers also offer family-themed cruises. J. & E. Riggin hosts a Kids & Family Cruise every July for ages 6 and up. The Heritage and the Mary Day host Father’s Day Cruises for ages 10 and up.
If you love seeing all the tall ships come together, check out the Windjammer Days festival in the Boothbay region. The event offers a full week of uniquely fun family-friendly events including pirate apprentice training and cod fish races.
Final Thoughts on Taking a Windjammer Cruise with Kids
For those who prefer a cruise getaway with all the comforts of home, a windjammer cruise probably isn’t the best option. But if you’re seeking a true sailing adventure and are open to new experiences, it’s a priceless experience to share with friends, family and especially your kids or grandkids.
The relaxed come-what-may vibe of a New England windjammer cruise provides a welcome respite to our over-scheduled lives. Simply unplugging and taking in the scenery, and looking for porpoises, eagles and hidden coves added richness to our sailing adventure. If you’re looking for unique family sailing vacations, this might be just what you need!
Most of the Maine windjammer cruises depart from Camden which is located roughly 80 miles north of Portland. If you’re flying into either Boston or Portland, you’ll likely need a car to get to the harbor in Camden. Living in New York City, I chose to drive with my grandson. At just under 400 miles, it’s a bit of a haul, but Marshall loves road trips as much as I do so it gave us more time to catch up.
For the trip, I test-drove the 2022 Buick Encore GX. This sporty 5-passenger SUV comes equipped with Buick Driver Confidence safety features and driver assistance technologies which provided me with the peace of mind to navigate the busy highways between New York and New England. Among those features were forward collision alert and automatic emergency braking – two of my favorites. As for other conveniences, the Buick Encore GX had all the fun stuff including Apple Car Play, 4G LTE Wi-Fi and even voice-activated Amazon Alexa™ integration.
Although there were only two of us on this trip, the Buick Encore GX interior offers premium leather-appointed seating for five and a panoramic moonroof to let the sun shine in! We packed light for our adventure, but if we needed it, cargo space was plentiful boasting 50.2 cubic ft. with the rear seats folded, including 2.7 inches of additional cargo height with a conveniently reconfigurable cargo area floor.
The interior also featured an air ionizer providing higher air quality inside the vehicle by eliminating odors and pollutants – always a welcome feature. With gas prices being high this year, I was pleased with the mileage which averaged 29 city / 32 highway.