Use our questions and tips to decide whether a Maine Windjammer cruise is right for your travel style, budget, and preferences. Our 4-day cruise from Rockland Maine aboard the J&E Riggin Schooner was an excellent introduction to this unique cruise experience.
We have sampled a variety of cruise styles, from small ship to large, with Viking Ocean and Viking River Cruises, UnCruise Adventures, Carnival Cruise Line, and Celebrity Cruises. The Maine Windjammer cruise experience is unique and quite a contrast to our previous trips.
Here are factors to consider to decide if a Maine Windjammer Cruise is right for you and your travel companions.
Maine Windjammer Cruise Basics
A few windjammer basics will help you understand how this type of cruising differs from other ships.
What Is a Windjammer?
A windjammer is a sailing ship with multiple masts. In their heyday, windjammers were working ships, often used to transport goods and for fishing. Today’s windjammers call back to the days before the age of steam. These beautiful ships offer the opportunity to explore the seas in tune with the winds.
Our ship, the Schooner J & E Riggin, was a hardworking oyster schooner in the 1920s. Even then she was fast, winner of the only official oyster schooner race ever held, in 1929, on the Delaware Bay. The two-masted sailing ship was re-rigged as a passenger ship, but she still retains her historic character. In fact, the Riggin was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1991.
Where Do Maine Windjammer Cruises Go?
A windjammer goes where the wind takes it. That’s a bit of an oversimplification, but this type of cruise does not have a set itinerary. The ship’s captain must plot a course that takes advantage of the shifting winds and tides.
This wandering route is one of the best things about a windjammer cruise. The focus is not on reaching the next port or the next excursion; the focus is on the journey.
Life on Board a Maine Windjammer Cruise
Here’s how we described our Windjammer experience on Instagram:
“What is it like to sail on a Maine Windjammer Cruise? It’s a little like camping at sea but with gourmet meals and an ever-changing view. The cabin is a little tight, the bathroom (head) isn’t quite like home. But the scenery is spectacular and there’s a magic to traveling with nothing but the wind to carry you forward.”
What is the Daily Schedule?
The typical windjammer day is relaxed, with fun opportunities to participate in sailing traditions. The ship sails in the day, and sets anchor for the night before dinner. Gourmet meals are served buffet-style on deck, or below in the spacious galley, if the weather is rainy or chilly. The ship occasionally docks to visit an island, or for an on-shore lobster bake, but most nights are spent in a cozy harbor away from shore.
What are the Highlights?
Incredible views of the Maine coast, dotted with lighthouses, is a highlight by day. At night, you’ll enjoy beautiful sunsets and a sky full of stars.
Raising the sails each morning is one of the fun highlights of sailing a windjammer. Everyone lines up, port or starboard, to raise the sails, while the crew calls out traditional commands and leads the effort. While nearly everyone helped raise the sails, the anchor was a more challenging job. No push button convenience here, the anchor is hoisted with strong people power.
Here’s how we described it on our takeover of MaineWindjammer’s Instagram.
View this post on Instagram
When you cruise with J & E Riggin you learn the lingo and cadence of life on a 1920s wooden sailing ship. . “Ready on the peak. Ready on the throat. Haul away! 2 – 6 – Heave!” . Join the line in pulling the sails high every morning. Throw your strength into bringing up the anchor. Help bring the sails down at night. Or just sit and watch as the sails grab the wind. Whether you choose to join in or not, you learn the rhythms and joys of traveling on a Maine Windjammer. . Life on deck is easy and stunningly beautiful, but it may be the bursts of sailing “work” that I’ll remember the longest. . Instagram takeover by @FuninFairfax . #lifeatsea #jeriggin #MaineWindjammer #boatmagic #sailing #rocklandmaine #visitmaine #mainething #maine #penobscotbay #midcoastmaine #mainemade #coastalmaine #wildmaine #mainebound #vacationland #mynewengland #thisplaceinmaine #mainecoast #mainelife #mainelobster #scenesofmaine #maineisgorgeous
Will I Be Bored? What Is There to Do?
One of the absolute best things about a Maine Windjammer cruise is the chance to simply relax and enjoy the view. People occupy themselves with reading, knitting, journaling, coloring, watching for wildlife, napping, and just plain staring out at the beautiful Maine coast. There are lighthouses to see, seals at play, stately homes, and gorgeous rocky coasts.
The Riggin has a small library and games, and the music-loving family plays and sings traditional sea shanties. Guests are encouraged to bring their own instruments and join in. If you crave down time, this is a perfect cruise style for you.
What about the weather?
We were fortunate to enjoy clear skies throughout our 4-day trip. One afternoon was chilly and windy, but we didn’t encounter any rain. Of course, weather is changeable. That’s why clothing that can be layered, along with a waterproof jacket and pants, is considered essential gear (scroll down for more packing tips). Guests can always head to their berths or the galley for a break from the weather.
Heads and Showers
The two heads (aka bathrooms) on the Riggin take a little getting used to. Take a big step down into a small “room” to use the toilet, then close the lid, and use the hand pump to generate a flush. It’s really not a big deal, but we were rather gleeful to return to the ease of just pressing a handle and walking away.
There is also a hand-held shower in the head, but no one used it on our 4-day cruise. A couple of folks washed hair and took a quick bath in the freezing ocean water (brrr!). A warmer option is to have the kitchen fill the pitcher in your room with warm water and use it to wash in the small sink. Pack cleaning wipes for a quick wash-up in the morning and evening and you’ll be set.
Food and Drink On Board a Windjammer
Freshly prepared, delicious dishes are served at every meal on the Schooner J & E Riggin. It’s a wonder how Chef Annie can prepare such elaborate and tasty meals in her tiny galley with no electricity. That’s right, there’s no fancy cooktop, no walk-in freezer, not even a microwave. Annie prepares fresh breads and muffins, casseroles, salads, and sides in a simple wood stove. Vegetarians had plenty of dishes to choose from, and she can accommodate folks with other dietary constraints.
Should I Bring My Own Snacks?
Meals are generous and you can return for seconds and thirds if you choose, so you don’t really need to bring any food on board. If you like an afternoon snack, or you crave something specific (we had a pretzel devotee in our group), you can certainly bring it along and keep it in your room.
Should I Bring My Own Drinks?
Coffee, hot and iced tea, and water were served with meals. There is also water available from the sink in each room (the same water serves the whole boat). Bring your own liquor, beer, wine, and spirits if you choose. Some guests brought juice, soda, and bottled water but the ship’s water tasted good to us. There is a shared cooler with plenty of room for your beer or wine, and ice cubes are always available.
A Classic Lobster Bake
A Maine Windjammer Cruise would not be complete without a classic lobster bake on the beach. Captain Jon ferried us to the beach in groups where we hiked or relaxed, while the crew prepared a seaweed-covered pot of lobster, corn, and potatoes. This is an all-you-can-eat affair—one member of our group ate 4 whole lobsters plus 2 tails. Freshly made paella, and tasty s’mores completed the meal. Back on board we were treated to one of the most beautiful sunsets we’ve ever seen. It was truly a day of Maine Windjammer Cruise magic.
Windjammer Value and Pricing
How Much Does a Maine Windjammer Cruise Cost?
Windjammer prices vary by ship, time of year, length of cruise, and cruise theme. In summer 2019, the price of a 4-day Lighthouses and Lobsters Cruise on the Schooner J & E Riggin ranged from a low of $772 per person in early June, up to $922 for some July and August sailings.
Themed cruises with a focus on knitting, rug hooking, or cooking add expert instruction and special activities. The most expensive Riggin cruise is a 7-night Maine Food Cruise for $1500 per person.
What is Included in the Price?
Windjammer pricing includes everything except alcohol and any other drinks or snacks you choose to bring on board (e.g., soda or juice). All meals are included in the price, along with any extras that are part of themed cruises.
Other Maine Windjammer Cruise Considerations
Will I Get Seasick? Claustrophobic?
If you have never sailed before, or are concerned about possible sea sickness, pack some dramamine just in case. We’ve also had good luck with ginger drops and sea bands, and some people get a prescription patch from their doctors. We find the motion of sailing to be relaxing, but everyone is different. The boat is anchored in a harbor at night, so there is little motion while you sleep (a contrast to our Galapagos cruise which traveled and rocked every night).
Berths are very compact and some bed configurations can be a little claustrophobic. Our berth near the bow had an L-shaped configuration. The lower bunk was pretty comfortable, but the top bunk had little vertical clearance so you couldn’t sit up in bed. There is just enough space to stow your gear and maneuver in and out of bed. We took turns getting ready in the morning because it was too tight for two. That said, most people do not spend time in their berths except to sleep.
Is a Maine Windjammer Cruise Good for Kids? Multi-generation Families?
Minimum age on the Riggin is 12 years old except on Kids and Family trips where the minimum is 6. Older kids with an interest in sailing might enjoy a windjammer, but the majority of guests are over 50. Multi-gen families and large groups could consider chartering the whole boat for a private family sail. It does require reasonably good mobility to navigate the ladder-like steps to the berths and a big step down to the head.
Is There Wifi on Board? Can I Recharge My Gear?
There is no wifi and no power outlets with a couple of exceptions. While there is no wifi, we had cell service for much of our trip along the Maine coast. Lack of wifi is an advantage if you want a tech free vacation and break from our constantly connected lives.
The ship is docked your first night so power is available for recharging on deck. We had one other opportunity to re-charge on board during the trip, but generally relied on chargers we had brought along. Consider packing a solar recharger, or bring a few fully charged portable chargers along to keep your technology running.
What to Pack For a Maine Windjammer Cruise
Follow the packing advice your ship provides. Dress is very casual and practical, so leave the fancy stuff home. You’ll need clothes for different temperatures that you can wear in layers. Be sure to include a wind and water-proof jacket and a good hat to protect you from the sun. We were told to pack waterproof pants but we left them out and were glad it didn’t rain on our cruise. These few extras can add to your comfort and convenience:
- a small, zip-up bag with a strap. I hung one by my bunk at night to hold my phone, small flashlight, chapstick, etc. Even if your bunk has a ledge instead of a hanging spot, it’s helpful to have a place to corral small items like this.
- ear plugs and eye mask. The ship can get noisy once the early risers are up. If you’re a light sleeper, ear plugs are a must. The sun rises very early during summer on the Maine coast. If you’re sensitive to light, bring a comfy sleep mask you can slip on in the morning. Better yet, create your own Travel Essentials Kit to use in planes, hotels, cruises, road trips, and anywhere you travel.
- our friends brought this potable stadium seat and it is super comfortable. If you choose a different seat, make sure there are no exposed metal parts that can damage the wood.
- as mentioned above, pack a solar charger and back-up portable chargers to keep your gear working.
After Your Cruise
All fabulous things must end, and your windjammer will eventually return you back to shore. Pack up your gear, tip your wonderful crew (10 – 15% recommended), and disembark one last time. You deserve a long shower and the comfiest of beds. Fortunately, the 250 Main Hotel is just around the corner in downtown Rockland. Check out our video of a 250 Main Hotel room and shower waiting for you at the hotel. Once you’ve freshened up, grab a complimentary Happy Hour glass of wine and head to the rooftop deck. Here you can stare out to sea and reflect on your Windjammer trip.
Plan your Maine coastal road trip with our guide: Ultimate US Coastal Scenic Drives Resource Guide
So is a Maine Windjammer cruise right for you? If a relaxed voyage on a small sailing ship with great crew, gourmet food, and stunning views appeals to you, then the answer is yes. Learn more about the Schooner J&E Riggin and follow them on social media: Web, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.
Do you have a question that we didn’t answer here, or a tip to share? Please share your questions, feedback, and tips in the comments below.
The Schooner J & E Riggin hosted our Maine Windjammer cruise so we could share our experience with the McCool Travel network. 250 Main Hotel hosted our one-night stay after the cruise. All opinions, text, and photos are our own, and we did not receive any direct compensation for these experiences.
Article by Julie McCool, whose Northern Virginia travel site FuninFairfaxVA.com helps locals and visitors find fun places to explore, dine, drink, and play in the Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland area.
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