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Windstar Cruises

Windstar Cruises - Cruise Line and Cruise Ship Reviews

by Ralph Grizzle. An award-winning travel writer, and recognized cruise ship expert.

Windstar has a niche all to itself, operating a fleet of small ships that offer the amenities of a premium cruise experience but with one utterly distinctive difference: The ships have sails.

It all started in 1984, prompted by a new ship design by Finnish shipbuilding firm Wartsila. The idea was called the Windcruiser, and it was like nothing else in the market: a vessel that combined standard diesel engines with several huge, computer-controlled staysails, which could propel the vessels on their own or work in concert with the engines, helping to save fuel. The fact that they add an air of romance to the cruise experience didn’t hurt, either, and that may be the word that still describes Windstar best to this day. For a romantic cruise, you can’t do much better.

Aside from sails, Windstar’s hallmarks have remained consistent throughout its quarter-century history and through four different corporate owners: It’s a line that sails in beautiful, exotic locations; it provides great service and excellent dining; and its onboard vibe is completely casual and unregimented — no dress code, no loud onboard activities, no stress.

Windstar Destinations
Whether in the Greek Isles, the Mediterranean, the Baltics, Central America, or the Caribbean, Windstar’s itineraries are port-intensive, usually with just one day spent at sea. On board, there are few organized activities to distract you from daydreams. What activities there are include things like fitness classes and a nightly cocktail hour where the ship’s hosts fill you in on the next day’s port. When the ships are able to anchor offshore, the crew may lower a water sports platform from the stern, from which guests can go waterskiing, windsurfing, or kayaking. Entertainment is generally limited to music in the lounges, though once per cruise members of the crew put on a show highlighting music and dance from their home countries. Each of the ships also has a small casino, plus both indoor and outdoor bar/lounges.

Dining aboard Windstar
Dining is one of the highlights of any Windstar cruise, with dinners served in the ship’s comfortable main restaurant, which operates on a casual, open-seating basis — just show up when you’re ready during mealtimes and the maitre d’ will seat you. The fleet’s largest ship, Wind Surf, also offers a Mediterranean bistro called Degrees and two outdoor, alfresco venues: Candles for steaks and skewers and Le Marché for seafood. Fleetwide, breakfast and lunch are served in the buffet-style Veranda Cafe, and the Yacht Club Sandwich and Espresso Bar offers specialty sandwiches, fruit, and other snacks throughout the morning and afternoon.

Due to the small size of these ships, and their focus on providing a relaxed, adult atmosphere, there are no activities or play spaces for kids. Generally speaking, you’ll find very few kids on any particular sailing, even during school holidays.

Also, it’s worth nothing that all three ships lack staterooms designed for people with wheelchairs, and only Wind Surf has a passenger elevator.

Windstar Cruises:
The Sails Aren't Just For Show

Marigot, Saint Marten, 6 a.m. — The engines are quietly rumbling as Wind Surf makes her way into the snug harbor on the French side of St. Martin. Rising from my bed, I pull back the curtains to peer out of the portholes, only a few feet above the waterline. Across the rippling water are sailboats bobbing in the harbor, and behind them, layers of verdant hills and the rosy tint of the morning sky. Morning has broken in Marigot.

I leave my stateroom to walk the teak decks up above. “Look at the starfish,” a fellow passenger exclaims, pointing below the water’s surface. The harbor is quiet, unlike the one at Phillipsburg, just five miles as the crow flies. There, on the Dutch side of the island, five mega-liners are in port, disgorging more than 10,000 passengers. Our ship holds 312. Small ships have their advantages.

On a tender to Marigot later in the morning, a woman from New York says to me, “People keep asking why we repeat on Windstar so often. I tell them we’ve tried the big ships, but we love the ambience of Windstar.” She looks out at Marigot, then turns back to me, “We don’t even care where the ship goes. We just love being on board.”

Off The Charted Course
In a business where the race is on to build bigger and bigger ships, Windstar Cruises maintains a course 180 degrees opposite. With three motor sailing yachts carrying from 148 to 312 passengers, the Seattle-based company provides an intimate experience both at sea and in port. Sailing into harbors where the big ships simply cannot get into, Windstar functions much more like a private yacht than a cruise ship.

In addition to its standard staterooms, Wind Surf features two new suites, measuring around 500 square feet each. The Bridge Suites (on Bridge Deck) feature a living room, bedroom, walk-closet and a marble bathroom with a whirlpool tub, separate shower and two porcelain sinks embedded in a marble countertop. These top-of-the-line suites also feature two 42-inch flat-panel TVs (the TVs mirror one other with one in the living room and the other in the bedroom).

Wind Surf also has 31 additional suites, measuring just under 400 square feet, as well as two decks of standard staterooms, measuring 188 square feet (some with third berths). Bedding features Sealy Posturepedic Premium Plush Euro-Top mattresses, luxurious cotton bed linens and duvets. Bathrooms are appointed with Egyptian-cotton towels and waffle terry spa bathrobe. Bathroom amenities: L’Occitane, maker of fine natural body products manufactured with ingredients from Provence.

Staterooms feature flat screen TVs and DVD/CD players as well as Bose SoundDocks for use with iPod Nanos, which come fully loaded with a selection of music and may be checked out for the entire week at no charge. Wireless internet is available throughout the ship (WiFi-enabled laptops are available for rent, except in the Bridge Suites, which come with the use of a laptop.)

The Yacht Club
The social hub of the ship, The Yacht Club is an espresso bar/library/lounge all wrapped up in one attractive room, The Yacht Club features comfortable seating, as well as iPod listening stations. Books, DVDs and CDs are displayed and available for check out, and a large flat panel television was added for watching news, movies or sporting events. Also WiFi-enabled, The Yacht Club features eight computers for email and browsing the Internet for those who do not carry their laptops on vacation.

The LoungeWind Surf features three dining venues: The Restaurant, Degrees and The Veranda. Degrees serves a steak house menu four nights a week and offers rotating menus from Northern Italy, France and Indonesia other nights. There is no charge to dine at Degrees, but reservations are required.

The Veranda, serving breakfast and lunch, features an expanded covered outdoor seating with awnings. During my Caribbean cruise, The Veranda was put to good use for breakfast and lunch. The awnings are breathable, so that they don’t flap in the gentle winds, and they make the sunlight tolerable. The Veranda also features air-conditioned indoor seating as well.

Situated aft, moving up from Deck 2, is the Pool Bar, serving light snacks; and the Compass Rose, serving Continental Breakfast, afternoon tea, and evening appetizers (also available in the main lounge). Room service, which is complimentary and features excellent choices, is offered 24 hours.

Windstar SailingLate night departures also allow people to go into town for dining. Indeed, on the evening we were to depart Marigot (a destination renowned for its cuisine), several people either went ashore for dinner or for after-dinner drinks, returning just in time for the after-midnight departure.

The Sailing Lifestyle
The “ambience” that the passenger from New York appreciated so much (and keeps her and her husband returning to Windstar) is reflected in the relaxed and unregimented lifestyle aboard Wind Surf. While gentlemen might not feel out of place wearing a jacket on the most formal evening of the cruise, the Captain’s Welcome, jackets certainly aren’t required. I saw no more than six men wearing jackets in the main lounge during the Captain’s Welcome. I never saw anyone wearing a tie. Women were dressed equally as casual. Setting the relaxed mood, even the officers wear shorts during the day.

Officers, in fact, dress as if they were on a sailing yacht, which is what Wind Surf is. Captain Tim Roberts confides that he becomes slightly offended when asked repeatedly whether the sails really do work. That’s because he is a sailor at heart, and he doesn’t want anyone thinking that the sails are just for show. “The sails actually have more power than the engines,” he says. “We can do about 9 knots in a good wind.” And when the wind is just right, Captain Roberts cuts the motor power altogether. For curious sailors and wannabes, Wind Surf has an open-bridge policy.

I stood not in the bridge but in front of it during one night of my sailing. There, with no lights to obscure the vision of the ship’s officers, I needed only to look up along and beyond the trim lines of the Dacron sailcloth to witness the wonder of the universe. Stars sparkled like sequins against a pitch dark backdrop. A buddy and I named as many constellations as we could, before saying good night.

The easy lifestyle on Wind Surf had forced me and 311 other passengers to slow down beneath the stars and sails on a beautiful blue sea. Wind Surf offers the perfect cruise for those willing to allow the wind to steer them.

Windstar Cruises Ship Reviews

Wind Surf Standard Staterooms

by Ralph Grizzle. An award-winning travel writer, and recognized cruise ship expert.

With a capacity for only 312 guests, Wind Surf’s embarkation procedure was a breeze. Thirty minutes after boarding, I was in stateroom 117B. More on that in just a moment.

I was traveling with a group of journalists, and we stopped off to take a look at the two new Bridge Deck Suites before the suites’ occupants arrived on board. First off, the suites are huge. With a living and dining area, separate bedroom with walk-in closet and a marble bathroom with whirlpool tub, separate shower and two sinks, these luxurious suites measure approximately 500-square foot each.

Wind Surf CruisingOur host was surprised when I told him that I had played Ping Pong in one of the suites two years ago. Of course, back then the areas were an internet center and a conference room (which had a Ping Pong table when not being used for conferences). The suites certainly make better use of the space. There’s no Ping Pong table, but the suites do feature two 42-inch LG Electronics flat-screen TVS, a Bose Sound system with remote control, a WiFi-enabled laptop and more. Suite guests get extras heaped upon them: unpacking service, dinner with the Captain, laundry and pressing, evening appetizers, high tea service, complimentary bottled water, chilled champagne upon arrival and additional L’Occitane bath amenities.

Leaving the suite, I expected my standard stateroom could be a letdown. What a surprise. No, my room did not measure 500 square feet, but it was spacious and well-appointed. High quality white-on-white linens adorned the queen-sized bed (my stateroom also featured a retractable bunk bed). Lots of storage space in the many drawers, two large closets and two safes.

Before unpacking, I slipped my iPod into the Bose Sound System and launched a Barry White playlist. ‘Love’s Theme’ was the first song on the list. What a pity to be here in such a romantic setting alone. Apple iPod Nanos pre-loaded with music are available for complimentary check-out.

I then plugged in my laptop (this is a working trip after all) and found wireless internet. How convenient to be able to check e-mail from my stateroom (laptops are available for a rental fee; internet stations are also available in The Yacht Club).

I noted quite a few changes since my cruise on Wind Surf two years ago. The stateroom desk had been resurfaced with granite; full length mirrors were added, and in addition to the Bose SoundDock was a flat-panel TV and DVD player.

The bathrooms also had been remodeled with new fixtures, new cabinets, granite countertops, porcelain sinks and a magnifying mirror. There was plenty of storage space. Well, as mentioned, the stateroom was occupied only by me — and Barry White. Even so, I think two-to-a-stateroom would find sufficient room to relax and enjoy.

by Ralph Grizzle. An award-winning travel writer, and recognized cruise ship expert.

Who Needs Balconies?

Wind Surf has no staterooms with balconies, and while I do love balconied staterooms, the Wind Surf itself functions as one “giant” balcony. With beautiful teak planking, Wind Surf’s exterior decks offered lots of room for sitting to admire the scenery or bask in the sun – and never felt crowded during my seven-day Caribbean cruise.

by Ralph Grizzle. An award-winning travel writer, and recognized cruise ship expert.

The Yacht Club

The new Yacht Club on Wind Surf is a lot like Holland America’s Explorations Cafe, with computers, internet and specialty coffees. The Yacht Club replaces the library and provides comfortable seating for relaxing and socializing. An espresso bar offers gourmet coffee drinks, and eight computers with Internet access are available; personal laptops may also connect to wireless Internet. A large flatscreen television anchors a seating area for group gatherings to watch special events such as the Oscars or the Super Bowl. A library of books, CDs and DVDs are available for checkout. Leather sofas and comfortable furniture round out the Yacht Club, which also features listening stations with iPod docks and headphones.