The sleek sailing yachts of Windstar readily capture the imagination of adventurous travelers with seafaring souls – billowing white sails crown the line’s intimate ships, vessels small enough to allow access to some of the world's most delightful hidden harbors and off-the-path ports. The small-ship cruise company (Wind Surf, the largest of the trio in Windstar's fleet has just a 312-passenger capacity) touts subtle luxuries without the pretense: Seamless service and ample amenities meet a laid-back atmosphere and refreshingly casual dress code onboard (no need to concern yourself with froufrou formal wear here). Fewer passengers translate to a streamlined cruise experience devoid of lines or huddled masses, particularly refreshing when transferring to and from ports of call, while Windstar ships manage to still allot generous onboard diversions, with a spa, casino, and signature water sports platform amongst the highlights.
It’s the atmospheric masts and sails soaring some 200 feet above head, however, that provide for the most unforgettable thrill – an opportunity to actually sail the high seas. Though engine power is responsible for moving the vessel the majority of the time, the silhouette of the scenic sails in each port's harbor serves as a makeshift landmark that’s a dream to come back “home” to, port after port.
Plus, expect the Windstar fleet to take on a shiny new sheen in the coming year, as part of the line’s recently announced $18 million refurbishment plan – with fresh furnishings, upholstery, artwork, carpeting, and window treatments amongst the due enhancements.
I’m blogging to you live from onboard the line’s seven-deck Wind Surf, the flagship of the fleet, billed as the largest sailing vessel in the world, as we set sail from Istanbul to Athens on one of the cruise line's more popular itineraries. Read on for the inside scoop on what to expect onboard – and check back early next week for a full report on the ins and outs of cruising the Greek Isles during the fall shoulder season, along with a round-up of some Windstar deals to get you there in style.
Wind Surf features 123 ocean-view staterooms (31 of which are more spacious suites, including a handful of recently debuted dedicated spa suites), configured with a queen or two twin beds (some offer a third birth), along with a desk/vanity area. Note that there are no balcony cabins on the ships – a potential deal-breaker for some cruisers with a strong taste for fresh ocean air. Flatscreen TVs, DVD/CD players, WiFi access (for a fee, and spotty based on our experience), a safe, stocked minibar, and Bose iPod speakers round out the technological trimmings (note cabins are outfitted with electrical plugs for both U.S. and European voltage standards). Put the techie-friendly goodies to good use by borrowing from the robust selection in the ship’s DVD library, or by nabbing one of the preloaded iPods on hand for checkout, primed for in-room tunes. Bathrooms come outfitted with L’Occitane toiletries, granite countertops, and dual showerheads, while the comfy pillow-topped mattresses are topped off with luxury linens and fluffy duvets and pillows.
Dining & Drinking
Windstar’s open seating policy allows guests to dine when and with whom they like in the two main restaurants: The Restaurant features seating for 250 and an eclectic pan-American/European menu, while the Mediterranean-cuisine inspired Degrees provides a slightly more upscale and intimate alternative dining venue just upstairs. Two reservations-only establishments, outfitted for just 30 guests apiece, are alfresco, under-the-stars affairs, including romantic Candles, a poolside grill set up deck-side with flickering candlelight, and Le Marché, a seafood-specialized eatery on the Star Deck. The top-deck Veranda, with both indoor and outdoor seating areas, serves breakfast and lunch with buffet and menu order options, while Compass Rose offers a light continental breakfast and afternoon cookies and tea. For port days, or just for a change for lunch, the gourmet sandwich bar in the Yacht Club lounge is on the ready to accommodate guest requests to take a picnic onshore. (Room service is additionally available around-the-clock.)
Alcoholic beverages are priced separately, and apart from water, iced tea, coffee (the complimentary espresso and cappuccinos are a welcomed perk), and juices and smoothies (breakfast only), all other beverages carry a supplementary fee. The Lounge and Compass Rose Bar are the two main watering holes and entertainment hot spots in the evenings, while the Pool Bar, Terrace Bar, and Yacht Club provide secondary social hubs for imbibing (though more frequented during the day).
Entertainment & Activities
Windstar’s focus is on its port-intensive itineraries, and daily activity offerings are fairly limited – don’t expect mega-ship Vegas-style events and jam-packed scheduling. You'll find instead the requisite, albeit light, evening entertainment (live music and dancing, peppered by a crew show and local cultural showcase or two), as well as early evening lectures on the following day's' port of call. A small casino offers blackjack, roulette, and slot machines, while the Yacht Club is the go-to spot for library loans (with both books and DVDs on offer), gaming, computer access, and comfortable nooks for reading; Wii games are also on hand during most days in the adjacent vestibule. The ship’s open bridge policy allows guests a chance to pop in to check out the vessel's operation firsthand and chat with the captain and crew; they’ll happily answer all of your questions about navigation or the computer-operated signature sails (which are estimated to be utilized sans engine accompaniment for about 10 percent of each sailing).
A spacious, well-equipped fitness center offering pleasant top-deck and ocean views, duo of small saltwater pools, and two Jacuzzi tubs are popular hubs; pay-per-class fitness classes (yoga, boot camp, etc.) are offered daily. The WindSpa features a salon, adjacent saunas, and full-service massage, body, and facial treatments; look for tempting specials on port days. Windstar’s most wow-factor offering, however, is undoubtedly its water sports platform, which unfolds right off the aft of the ship when weather and ports permit, offering guests complimentary access to kayaking, water-skiing, windsurfing, paddle boating, snorkeling, a floating trampoline, and more; scuba diving can also be arranged for an additional fee, in appropriate ports.
Fellow Passengers & Staff
Wind Surf accommodates just 312 guests (based on double occupancy), largely composed of well-traveled and active couples in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, with a heavy American and European clientele. Note that we noticed only one child on our sailing and that the cruise line doesn’t position itself as a family-friendly line (in fact, children under two aren’t allowed to cruise, period). The 1.5-to-1 passenger-to-crew ratio translates to prompt service and abundant attendants, with the total staff numbering 191; the captain and senior officials are primarily European and American while service personnel are Filipino and Indonesian.
Wind Surf’s intimate size allows access to smaller ports as well as the bigger blockbuster destinations on its Mediterranean/Northern Europe summer and Caribbean winter cruise circuits (with a handful of repositioning sailings in between), ranging from 6 to 14 days in length.
Call 1-800-258-7245 or visit www.windstarcruises.com.