Chic, trendy and sophisticated as her passengers, the two identical ships of Windstar Cruises (Wind Spirit and Wind Star) are 148-passenger cruise ships with lovely white sails on deck. The sails are computerized and not really necessary for navigation or power (although when conditions are perfect, the engines are cut and the ships are completely wind driven)... but who cares when the effect is exquisite? If the thought of anything with sails makes you queasy, try these ships first in the relatively tranquil waters of the Caribbean before casting off in the South Pacific or Mediterranean.
Wind Spirit combines the highest levels of food and service with a single open seating and casual attire. If you're seeking a romantic escape, these ships are our pick for the most sublime vessels around. If your fantasy is making a spectacular entry into some of the best ports of the Caribbean or Eastern Mediterranean -- Topsiders and Banana Republic are de rigeur -- while sipping a glass of bubbly on deck, this may be your cruise experience. Many of Wind Spirit's passengers wouldn't be caught dead on a conventional cruise ship, opting for bonding with other well-traveled couples and the excellent water sports offered.
The food served in The Restaurant was outstanding (despite occasionally missing the mark here and there); elegantly prepared -- but far from fussy. The chef offers a "recommended" menu, which pairs wines with each course. There's also a "Sail Light" selection on every menu, both calories and fat gram info are provided.
At night, passengers also have a second dining option. The approximately 30-seat Candles is the poolside grill dressed up for dinner with a menu of steaks and skewers with a choice of sauces. There's no fee to dine here, but reservations are recommended.
Even those travelers not fond of buffets will find a lot to like during breakfast and lunch at the Verandah Cafe. For breakfast there's plenty of fresh fruits, along with granola and pastries. Daily, there's an omelet station. You can also order off a menu, which changes every day. There's a light fare menu here too. For early risers, a Continental repast, with pastries, fruit, juices, coffee and tea, is served out on the aft deck from 6 a.m.
Just in case you're still hungry -- and we regret to say we often worked up a new appetite in mid-afternoon -- Wind Spirit serves afternoon tea on the pool deck every day from 4 - 5 p.m.
Major kudos for the ship's 24-hour room service. There's a daytime menu (noon - 9 p.m.) featuring burgers and steak sandwiches and "light and healthy entrees." At meal times you can also order from the Veranda or Restaurant menus. The 24-hour menu, available anytime, has consomme, fruit plate, tortilla chips, club sandwich, cheese tray and smoked salmon bagels along with assorted desserts. Nice touch: you can order a basket of freshly-popped Orville Redenbacher popcorn to go with your in-room flicks.
There's a spacious atrium with fresh flowers and a cushy circular seating area. The main attraction of the lobby is the reception desk - a one-size-fits-all place to go for advice on shore excursions.
The library is tiny; there are a couple of tables for playing cards. There's a broad collection of both videotapes and CDs for borrowing at no charge, and a pretty skimpy book selection. There's also a computer for email but the tariffs are so high ($7.50 per outgoing message, $5 for EACH incoming message) that even ship's staff members go ashore to patronize cybercafes.
The Lounge, a generously sized room with bar, dance floor and a casino tucked into a glass-fronted side room, is the hub for pre- and post-dinner socializing. The Restaurant, where dinner-only is served (and other meals when weather is inclement), is elegant with teakwood walls and subtle lighting. It's large enough that there's no need for first or second-style seatings and the staff is happy to reconfigure tables - such as last minute drop-ins requesting a table for 8. Bigger parties are advised to arrange with the maitre d' in advance.
On deck four, the Veranda, the breakfast and dinner eatery, is a charming three-sided glass room with views from every table, round tables with wicker chairs and linen table cloths, and a handful of banquettes. There are also tables with umbrellas set up outside the restaurant for alfresco dining. There's a tiny plunge pool and a whirlpool (both salt water), a bar and scattered wooden tables along with numerous lounge chairs whose cushions are, delightfully, covered in cotton.
There's an infirmary and a beauty parlor, which offers massages as well as haircuts, styling, manicures and pedicures. There's no traditional spa.
While cozy at 188 square ft. (and none have verandahs), cabins, refurbished recently, feature up-to-date amenities. Queen beds convert to twins with plush Euro-top mattresses. Mini bars are restocked daily. Fresh flowers and fruit are provided to all and flat screen televisions come with DVD capabilities (flicks are available to borrow at no charge). Bose SoundDock speakers for iPods are provided (you can borrow an iPod Nano -- no charge -- that's fully loaded with music). All outside cabins have two portholes.
There's a desk and a safe but no extra seating area.
Bathrooms, while compact, offer shower-only (though the shower is nicely curved) and teak floors. Storage is excellent and countertops are made of granite. L'Occitane soaps, shampoos and lotions are generously provided. Egyptian cotton towels and robes are on offer.
One owner's suite, 220 square ft., is available.
Windstar now automatically adds a hotel service charge of $11 per passenger to each guest's shipboard account on a daily basis. If service exceeds or fails to meet expectations, you may adjust this amount at the end of the cruise. In addition, a 15 percent service charge is automatically added to bar charges and dining room wine purchases. These charges are paid entirely to Windstar crewmembers -- both crewmembers who serve you directly, such as wait staff and cabin stewards, and others you may never meet, such as galley and laundry staff -- and represent an important part of their compensation. It isn't necessary to tip beyond the $11 per diem, of course, but almost everyone does.
|Fitness and Recreation|
There's a tiny fitness facility where there are free weights, a treadmill and stretching machines. There's also a sauna. One of our favorite things about the ship, however, was the Wind Spirit's "sports platform." Open only in selected ports (where the ship tendered, rather than docked), the watersports staff bring out all manner of toys, from water skis to kayaks. Snorkeling equipment is available to all passengers, free of charge.
Windstar specifically "does not encourage" children to sail on these adult voyages, and no provision is made to entertain or care for youngsters.
Sophisticated, urbane, well traveled. Many still actively employed, especially on shorter Caribbean itineraries, which attract a younger, more active crowd. Average age about 50, with half the passengers couples in the 35 - 55 age range.
During the day, shorts and T-shirts were appropriate. At night, men wore khakis and polo shirts (a few wore suits), women wore strappy dresses or fashionable pants ensembles.
The highlight of each pre-dinner gathering in the lounge (and just about everybody comes) is the hostess' quite-comprehensive port talks, offering lively historic renderings of each island along with insightful tips on attractions, off-beat shops and cafes.
Otherwise, entertainment is not the ship's strongest point. One of the pluses of a small-ship experience like Windstar is the lack of planned activities - no bingo, no art auctions, no incessant ship-wide announcements. Socializing is a big attraction; our ship was friendly and there's was always someone asking you to join them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks, etc. The conversation was consistently lively.
The postage-stamp casino, consisting of two blackjack tables and a few much-underused slot machines, drew a regular group of aficionados. The ship also spent several evenings in port, which allowed passengers to explore nightlife in port.
On each cruise the captain hosts a reception and while champagne is the standard drink, bartenders were happy to take individual requests - a nice touch not typically found on bigger ships.
|Expert reviews are provided by CruiseCritic.com, an award-winning cruise community. This objective information can help you choose just the right ship for your next cruise vacation.|