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There’s something exciting about cruising to a familiar place
with an old friend and discovering things you never knew about
either of them. In my case, California’s Napa Valley wine country
was the place. A small cruise ship was the old friend with a new
name: Spirit of Yorktown. She also had a new owner, Cruise
Cruise West, best known for soft-adventure cruises in Alaska,
acquired the 138-passenger Yorktown Clipper along with the
102-passenger Nantucket Clipper from Clipper Cruise Line in January
2006. The new names, Spirit of Yorktown and Spirit of Nantucket,
now appear in brochures.
The two ships were a natural match for Cruise West. In fact, the
Spirit of Nantucket was originally built in 1984 as a sister to the
line’s Spirit of Endeavour. Meanwhile, Spirit of Yorktown has taken
over several of Spirit of Endeavour’s traditional itineraries,
offering fall cruises to California’s wine country in 2006 and
2007, and trips to Mexico’s Sea of Cortes in the 2007-2008 winter
season. Summers will be spent in Alaska.
I found the Cruise West “up-close, casual and personal” approach
to cruising firmly in place during my early November wine cruise, a
four-night roundtrip from San Francisco.
The itinerary took us across the San Francisco and San Pablo bays,
then up the Napa River, one of only a handful of navigable rivers
in California. In fact, this particular trip retraced the route
twice, giving passengers double exposure to river cruising and the
unique experience of timing the ship’s travels with the tides.
On board Spirit of Yorktown, the all-American crew of 42 provided
the personal touch. Even glitches in the galley didn’t dim their
friendly smiles and eager-to-please attitudes. Dining, including
dinner at tables nicely set with white cloths, was as casual as I
have experienced on a ship. Let your clients know that anything
goes in the dress department, from jeans to T-shirts to shorts.
Where the line excels is in exploring interesting, but
less-traveled ports through specially designed shore excursions
included in the fare. In the Napa Valley, we attended a cooking
class, as well as a fascinating wine-blending seminar at the
Culinary Institute of America. We also enjoyed a delicious lunch
with wine at the upscale Auberge du Soleil’s vineyard-view
restaurant. In the Sonoma Valley, we indulged in a wine and food
pairing at St. Francis Winery that, when available, costs a casual
visitor $20. The pairings are a new tasting-room trend.
Though Spirit of Yorktown has the largest passenger capacity in
the nine-ship fleet, it is more country inn than resort or even
hotel. For those who have traveled on large ships, the small ship
experience is a whole new world. There’s nary a pool, whirlpool,
gym, spa or casino to be found. There is just one public room, the
Observation Lounge. It triples as the bar, library and lecture
hall. On sunny days, the Sun Deck provides open-air relaxation.
The 69 cabins come in four categories, ranging in size from about
110-200 square feet. All cabins face the water with some doors
opening to an outside deck and others to an interior hallway. The
furnishings are no frills, homey and comfortable. Closet space is
more than adequate. Bathrooms are the functional, shower-only
A fresh new look is in the works for the Spirit of Yorktown. When
the ship emerges from dry dock this spring, cabins will sport new
bedding and window blinds. Future plans call for queen beds in a
few cabins, creating an option not possible with the original
built-in, all-twin bed configuration.
“We are upgrading all of our vessels so they’ll look and feel
similar,” said Jan Sheeley, the line’s marketing director.
It’s part of the line’s five-year refurbishing program. TVs may
soon join binoculars in Spirit of Yorktown cabins. Stay tuned.
The 138-passenger, 257-foot-long Spirit of Yorktown is the only
ship currently offering California wine country cruises. The three-
and four-night cruises sail roundtrip from San Francisco, Sep. 17
to Oct. 19. Prices start at $1,299 for three nights and $1,949 for
Almost everything is included in the fare, such as most shore
excursions, tips to the crew and port charges. No service charge
(typically 15 percent) is added to beverages purchased on board.
And, there is no corkage fee for wine purchased ashore and enjoyed
in the dining room.