RESIDENTS of Playas del Coco, a beach town in thenorthwestern province of Guanacaste, received an unexpectedboon this February in the form of the Windstar luxurycruise ship, now making weekly visits to deliver hundreds oftourists to the doorstep of eager local establishments.However, some of the town’s business owners arewatching from the sidelines as many passengers rushthrough en route to planned tours that leave little or no timefor shopping and eating in town.“As soon as they dock, they get on a bus and they go,”Leslie Zelinsky Eckland, head of the Playas del CocoTourism and Commerce Chamber, told The Tico Timesrecently.Eckland added she believes greater benefits are still tocome further down the road.“What we’re trying to do as a community is to see it asa long-term (benefit),” she said. “If they enjoy their time inCoco… they’ll tell other people about it.”THE ship, of Seattle-based Windstar Cruises, ownedby Holland America, docks at Playas del Coco everyTuesday morning en route from San Juan del Sur,Nicaragua, to the central Pacific coastal town of Quepos.The seven-day cruise brought the ship to Coco for the firsttime on Feb. 1 and will continue through the end of March,when the ship will sail through the Panama Canal to theCaribbean. The ship’s last visit to Coco will be March 22.The Windstar arrives at Playas del Coco each Tuesdayat approximately 6 a.m. Passengers disembark at around 8a.m. and re-board between 2:30 and 4 p.m.BEFORE the ship’s visits began, officials and localleaders hailed the Windstar’s Playas del Coco stop as awatershed moment for Guanacaste’s tourism industry.Tourism Minister Rodrigo Castro said the new itinerary hasenormous importance for Playas del Coco, the canton ofCarrillo and the province of Guanacaste in general.Community leader Maritza Barrera said the ship’sarrival “is the news of the century,” and its weekly visits“will be very useful and beneficial for all” (TT, Jan. 28).But once the visits began, community members weredisappointed to find that up to 90% of the visitors participatein group tours organized by Swiss Travel.JEFFREY Sibaja of Swiss Travel’s office in Liberia,Guanacaste’s capital, told The Tico Times the cruise passengerswho book tours with the agency spend virtually notime in Playas del Coco.Swiss Travel picks up the passengers at the ship andtakes them directly by bus to various destinations. Onegroup goes rafting on the Corobicí River, while the othertakes a canopy tour at Canopy de Artola, 30 minutes southof Coco.Both groups then have a private lunch and return directlyto the ship for the afternoon departure, Sibaja said.ACCORDING to Eckland, 60% of passengers on theship’s first journey participated in the Swiss Travel tours,and 90% on the second voyage.“But we’ve been told that 100% of those who didn’tbook (tours in advance) got off. They walked around, cameback with packages, and ate in local sodas,” she said. “Thisis why groups in the community are working to educatelocal businesses to be patient.”She said the ship’s visits have brought into focus thenecessity for improved tourist services in the town,although many efforts were well under way before thenews of the Windstar’s arrival. The Chamber of Tourismand Commerce is working on town beautification andcleanup projects, as well as a proposal to construct amuseum of Coco’s history and a permanent tourist informationbooth.Chamber members have been running a temporaryinformation booth in the corner of the town’s park onTuesdays for the ship’s passengers, she said. Maps, realtyinformation and lists of hotels and other businesses areavailable there. A variety of local bands and other performershave been greeting the visitors each week.She has also been working to provide the Windstaroffice with information about area tours, so that passengerswho do not wish to book in advance with Swiss Travel areaware of other alternatives.“We’re really rallying around and trying to figure outwhat to do,” she said.THE Windstar made its maiden voyage in 1988 and isregistered in the Bahamas, according to the Web sitewww.cruisedirect.com. Its 21,000 square feet of sailsunfurl at the touch of a button.The ship is 400 feet long, weighs 5,350 tons, and has 74all-outside, identical 185-square-foot cabins for a maximumcapacity of 167 passengers and 88 crewmembers.She also features two bars, live entertainment andmedical services, as well as a gym, casino, disco, library,pool, restaurant, sauna, whirlpool and Jacuzzi, accordingto the site.The Windstar used to stop at Playa Flamingo, southof Playas del Coco, but the closing of the FlamingoMarina last year caused Holland America to change theship’s route.The Environmental Tribunal, part of the Environmentand Energy Ministry (MINAE), ordered the closure inOctober 2003 because of complaints that the marina washarming the environment. However, tribunal measureslater said incomplete permits were the reason for closingthe marina (see article on page S-15).Playas del Coco’s relatively calm waters made it anappealing alternative for the Windstar, since, without theuse of the dock at Flamingo, the passengers have to betransported to shore in inflatable zodiacs.For more information on the Windstar, visitwww.windstarcruises.com.