My journey on Windstar’s Star Legend continued with our arrival in Keelung, Taiwan. After many hours of incredibly high winds and rough seas, it was a relief for everyone from the guests to the crew. While the heavy rains continued, there was a definite peacefulness that came over the ship and everyone on her.
But, in reality, what really captured me is the “Can Do!” smiling attitude of the staff and crew. The pretty much all Filipinio crew, even though they had to be exhausted and many seasick from our being pummeled by the storms on the South China Sea, has only shown smiles, positive attitudes and an obvious desire to do the best they could do to address any concern or issues of the guests. The result: Guest Contentment.
Now, that said, while there are what I would consider luxury clientele aboard the Star Legend, the vast majority are, at best, premium brand focused and others are most definitely unconcerned about brand or style, but rather pricing. Regardless of manner, everyone co-exists without issue.
We were originally scheduled to spend a day in Keelung, Taiwan and a day in Ishigaki, Japan. And that was changed to basically two days in Keelung (due to the rough seas and the probable closing of the port in Ishigaki), but it was later changed to an overnight in Keelung and the need to pass by a Japanese island as traveling from China directly from Taiwan is prohibited. (The United States isn’t the only country with protective maritime laws!)
|Miao Kou Night Market – Keelung, Taiwan|
So my tour nature tours were eliminated, which was disappointing. However, I found a Miao Kou Night Market quite near the port! So, with the rain coming down and not an English sign in sight I headed out from the Star Legend in search of the market…and food. Why food (besides it tastes good)? Because it is the best way to meet people and, alas, I met some truly warm and friendly folks.
As I wandered in and out of the market, across streets, up and down stairs, etc., the diversity of offerings was quite remarkable. I don’t ever think I have seen so many oversized bras next to fried chicken and live eels in my travels!
Eventually I came across two women making soup. One had a habit of sticking her tongue out just a bit while hovering over the steaming pot and the other had a wide smile, so I had to stop. They were shocked that I wanted to try their offerings, but quickly pulled out a low plastic stool and motioned me to sit down.
While one woman was preparing my soup the other offered me a sausage of sorts with a spicy chili sauce. I have no idea what was in it, but suffice it to say it tasted like a cross between a pork sausage and haggis, but in a good way.
And then the soup was served. A fairly clear broth with dumplings that were filled with pork, but had the consistency of gnocchi. A good start!
Winning best smile of the day was this woman who was contently making dumplings on the edge of the sidewalk. I wish I knew where they were being cooked!
|You don’t need to speak the language to, well, speak the language!|
Then, wandering about I came across what seemed like an out of place modern escalator. Wandering between the sundry stores, seamstresses and food stalls a bowl of deliciousness caught my eye. Lunch!
The woman approached rather sternly and asked me in Chinese which I wanted pointing to a laminated sheet with various boxes and two photographs of unidentifiable dishes. Both of us frustrated, she pulled out her phone and translated the Chinese into “package”, to which I shook my head “no”. She then translated another word into “SHRIMP”. I shook my head “yes” and off she went and I sat down.
I watched the cook place about twenty ingredients into this wok, that bowl and then a serving bowl over the next ten minutes. A beautiful and tasty PORK soup with thick, sumptuous, noodles with the same consistency as the dumplings I had earlier was served.
The woman then asked, “Spicy?” to which I said yes. She brought over a small bowl with a very strong chili mixture. Yum!
Then, just as I was about to attack the noodles…
…she brought over a fork. OUCH! I handed it back to her and motioned for her to watch. Then her smile broke out! Yay!!
As the sweat from this hot and spicy soup formed on my brow, she brought over a glass of sour plum drink with ice. How sweet.
My empty bowl sitting on the counter lay testament to the wonderful meal, but the woman’s smile and eventual kindness is what I will remember more.
With a full stomach I figured I would head back to the ship and then venture out again in the morning to pick up some of those noodles and spices, not yet knowing that our extended time in Keelung would be cut short. (Anyone need the equivalent of US$30 in Taiwanese money?)
Along those lines, I have noticed that while the culinary options on the Star Legend are diverse, there is no question that the quality of the ingredients are more of a “serviceable” rather than the ultra-high you will find on Seabourn or Crystal. But the executive chef and his galley crew do a very good job with what they have to work with; creating consistently tasty and well-presented offerings from Duck Confit to Butter Chicken to Grilled Sea Bass and Fish & Chips.
|The Star Legend culinary offerings do lean towards the local cuisine|
and are tasty and attractively presented
The Veranda also has served up perfectly poached eggs!
We left Keelung, Taiwan about 6:30 AM and as we sailed out I was (we all were) waiting for a return of heavy seas and wind. Fortunately we were met with only light rain, slow rolling seas and just a light breeze. Ahhh.
|Smooth seas, relaxing sounds.|
Missing: A little sun.
I took my coffee out to the Star Bar to enjoy the sailaway and ran into Graeme Cockburn, Windstar’s Corporate Executive Chef. We had a really nice and long chat about not only Windstar and its approach to cuisine and crew, but Graeme’s long relationship with Seabourn and our mutual friends/chefs there. It was good catching up. (One interesting note: He will not hire any former Seabourn chef unless they have been at least a year away from that brand. Classy!)
After a really good steam bath (yes the Star Legend has an excellent steam bath and sauna) I found myself an unintentional assistant to Clare Taylor, Windstar’s Corporate Beverage Manager, concocting three different cocktails and, of course, sampling them. I also was able to sample two whiskeys, one Chinese and one Japanese, that are going to be part of the next sailing, which is a James Beard Culinary Cruise.
One area I think Windstar needs to up its game is in its spirits. There is an acceptable selection of blended and single malt whiskeys, but gin, vodka, rum and tequila selections are fairly minimal. So if you want rum, for example, your choice is Bacardi or Barcardi Gold. No reposado or anjeo quality either. Gin is basically a choice of three. The cost to buff up this area of the cruise experience is minimal; especially since liquor is not included. By the way, there are two liquor packages: Beer & Wine package for $49 a day or All-Inclusive Package at $59 a day…plus gratuities. At those prices, some additional selections should be available. Oh, and if you purchase a package you get 30% off of the cost of bottles of wine. Nice! (By the way, Windstar does offer a Laundry Package at $8 per day per person. That is a bargain!)
UPDATE: Windstar also offers, at $89 per day per person, a package that makes a Windstar cruise inclusive of the top tier beverage package, unlimited internet, laundry, gratuities and all service charges (no 18% added on top of that). Making it more attractive, you can purchase this package before you board the ship…so no “nickel and diming” or showing your keycard (not that I have ever seen that happen). If this is of interest, just have it included when requesting a quote for a Windstar cruise.
Now for two days at sea. Ahhhh.
If you have any questions or wish to discuss booking your own Windstar Cruise, give me a call, drop me an email or send me a Facebook message!
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