Taking a Look at Value on Windstar's New Small-Ship Cruises

by  Lisa Cheng | Jul 1, 2015
Courtesy of Windstar

Many think that small-ship cruising is the equivalent to private yachting: exclusive, pampering, and out-of-reach. After the recent launch of two of Windstar’s power yachts, the Star Breeze and Star Legend, setting sail in Europe and the Caribbean, we can testify that these assumptions aren't all true. A posh experience, yes -- Star Breeze and Star Legend’s passenger count indeed makes you feel like a privileged few, and the upgrades lend the ships a refined polish. But, perhaps surprisingly, you won’t be turning out empty pockets after paying for it. Here's what to expect on Windstar’s newest ships.

First things first: small-ship cruising is a completely different experience from a megaship . You're not swept along with the crowds everywhere you go, onboard or offshore, and there aren't extra expensive nearly everywhere you turn. You're often traveling with just more than 200 guests, if that, and enjoy much more personalized service.

Windstar does have a pricing policy that's more similar to traditional ocean cruises, in that you will have to pay for drinks, shore excursions, and expenses such as the casino use, internet, and spa treatment. But it also adopts some practices from generally more inclusive river cruises, like access to specialty restaurants, to avoid excessive nickel-and-diming. So although you’ll need to budget for additional amenities, add-on spending shouldn't spin out of control.

Your dollar goes further here, too, with a complimentary private event per sailing: an elaborate activity designed to showcase the culture of the destinations on the itineraries. When anchored in Monaco, for example, you might be treated to a specially themed dinner and cabaret show onboard, followed by then champagne and dessert at the Café de Paris on shore, on a terrace with views of the Grand Casino. For perspective, it's rare for ocean-going vessels to offer gratis shore excursions (with the exception of the higher-priced Viking Ocean and Regent of the Seven Seas), though it's customary for river cruises to do so.

All things considered, if you're looking for relaxation and sophistication, small-ship cruising is a reasonable way to do just that. Windstar's base price starts from $1,799 for a seven-day sailing -- not much more than many river cruises of the same length. Again, it's not a perfect comparison, since the two methods of cruising have their differences. But the point is that small-ship sailing costs aren't as exorbitantly out of the typical world of cruising as you might think. And you do enjoy some value adds, not to mention enough peace and energy for the real reason for cruising: exploring the ports.

If you're shopping around for a small-ship experience, there's also no better time to give Windstar a whirl. Star Breeze and Star Legend are former Seabourn vessels that have just glossed over with an $8.5 million renovation from stem to stern. The enhancements range from an expanded sun deck and spruced-up cabins to the addition of the Yacht Club on the top-level observation deck -- a quiet space for coffee, sandwiches, and pastries. Other major upgrades: the old card room was transformed into a screening room; the main pool was replaced by a lap pool and whirlpool; and the former Compass Rose, which plays live music every evening, was refreshed with contemporary redesign and new furniture and flooring.

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