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Windstar Cruises


Company Overview:
Windstar Cruises is a niche, upscale cruise line owned by parent company Holland America. The line is a favorite of many people who know cruising well, and has a loyal following of repeat cruisers, and is one of the cruise lines that people who work in the cruise industry choose to take for their own vacations. The three ships, two sisters and a larger cousin, with their majestic sails rising up over four tall masts, make for an inspiring impression, especially for people seeing the ship from a distance. Just look at all the people on a Carnival or Royal Caribbean ship staring over the rails at you as you sail out of the harbor in full dress!

These are beautiful ships, with the grace and beauty of their sails carried throughout the nautically themed decor. With relatively few public rooms except for the main restaurant, the action is usually on deck where live music plays and lunch is often an outdoor barbecue hosted by the chef rather than an indoor buffet. Though the cabins are a little tight and dark inside, due to thorough wood paneling graced with but two standard-sized portholes, everything about the cabin has a delightful nautical feel, from the shelves with ledges to keep items from rolling off, to the the latches on the drawers to keep them from sliding open.

Windstar can more or less be credited with inventing the concept of casual cruising, opting not to have any dress code other than "no jeans or t-shirts in the dining room" as far back as their inception. This was one of the first "hooks" for the line that made it popular with people who wouldn't be caught dead on a regular cruise ship. However, the truth is the sails are pulled in for probably 90% of the time for every cruise, and the motors make the speed needed to get you to the next port in time. The itineraries are exotic and full, with a port almost every day. The ships are small enough to call at the smallest islands in the Caribbean or the Aegean. The company is known for sailing to places to which other visitors have to arrange for private transportation, and mainstream cruise ships are simply not allowed.

The two older, and beloved 150-passenger sister ships are the Wind Spirit and the Wind Star (another sister was unfortunately taken out of service after a fire in the control room). In 1998, Windstar acquired a 312-passenger motorized sail vessel from Club Med and renamed it Wind Surf. Built in the same French shipyard as the rest of its fleet, it has identical cabins and similar features. Windstar has since expanded the spa facility, and added 31 suites measuring 376 square feet. Though owned by Holland America, part of the Carnival Corp. group of cruise lines, this small company staunchly maintains a distinct identity.

All three ships in the fleet received extensive renovations in 2003, updating the fabrics to a new burgundy and navy theme with dark wood accents throughout. In cabin accoutrement now includes plusher linens and flat-screen televisions with DVD players.

The Windstar Experience:
For many, this is as good as cruising gets � no worrying about formal attire, single open seating, terrific cuisine, and personalized service. If the sight of anything with sails make you tremble, take comfort in the fact that Windstar's fleet aren't real sailboats, but small cruise ships with motorized sails used to increase speed when the wind 's right. They're ideal for honeymooners and those who love water sports, especially on the new Belize itinerary. Do note, though, that a lot of those who regard Windstar as the best thing in cruising since lifeboats believe Wind Surf to be too big for the fleet, and to offer a significantly compromised experience. And there are no verandas.

The emphasis is on water sports and on visiting tiny, relatively untouristed isles for which conventional cruise ships are too big. In some ports, there's more than enough time to rent a car and explore at leisure. Creature comforts are wonderful - large cabins with enormous storage space, all with TV/VCR and CD player (there's a free rental library for videos and discs), outstanding service, and a water sports platform. The staff and officers, who freely intermingle with passengers (who outnumber them by a ratio of only 3 to 2), are gracious and charming.

Even as we speak, Windstar is implementing a new initiative called Degrees of Difference. Upgrades to dining, accommodations, service, destinations, and activities will be introduced in stages, with completion expected in 2007. Staterooms will receive upgraded soft goods, Shea Butter bathroom amenities from L'Occitane, flat screen TVs and DVD/CD players, and Bose SoundDocks for use with iPods, which can be borrowed at no charge from reception. Wireless connectivity in public areas is promised for all three ships.

And the food will get even better. There will be no fewer than 100 new menu devised by Windstar chefs in collaboration with celebrity chef Joachim Splichal; a new steak house menu in the Bistro of Wind Surf; the addition of an "Amuse Bouche," or "little bite" at dinner, compliments of the chef; a new wine list featuring more boutique labels, plus the ability to purchase wine; a selection of cheeses served tableside; petit-fours served with coffee at the end of dinner, and new Riedel stemware and Rosenthal china. Sail Health expert Jeanne Jones, celebrated for her work for Canyon Ranch spa and the Pritikin Longevity Center, has designed special light and Vegetarian meals.

Fellow Passengers:
These aren't ships for children, although occasionally a teen will sneak aboard. What you will find are a great many affluent baby boomers and even more affluent retired folks. Windstar would prefer that no one use the word "yuppie," so we haven't.

Shore Excursions:
In the Caribbean and Central America, shore excursions are active, a bit on the expensive side, but so well executed as to make you forget having spent a few extra bucks.

Taking The Kids:
Windstar is not for children; there are no supervisors or special activities. That said, water-sport-loving teens will have major fun in the Caribbean or Central America.

Theme Cruises & Special Sailings:
Wind Surf calls at the French Riviera each year for the Cannes Film Festival and Monte Carlo Formula 1 Grand Prix, commonly calling first at Portovenere (Florence).

Loyalty Program:
Members of the Foremast Club:, comprising past passengers receive the Foremast Club newsletter three times annually; membership transfers to other Carnival lines, such as Carnival, Costa, Holland America, Cunard. and Seabourn; a flat $250 off the early booking discount fare on select sailings; and the occasional 2-for-1 past passenger-only deal.

Tipping:
Windstar company forbids any kind of solicitation of gratuities, and offers no guidelines. Staff may nonetheless accept tips for outstanding service.

 

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