“Where will you put the sails?” The question was directed to Joe Duckett, Windstar Cruises’ vice president of marketing and sales, by a devoted, if somewhat confused, fan who was learning about the new entries in the fleet. Indeed, the sparkling newcomers—Star Pride, Star Breeze and Star Legend—sport no sails, and it’s scarcely a surprise that the line’s veteran cruisers might be caught momentarily off base. TWindstar, after all, is famed for the seven snowy, graceful beauties that bloom across its previous trio of yachts—an eye-popping signature at sea.
But then, sailing is not all about sails. Similarly treasured by longtime loyalists is Windstar’s style, an intimate, upscale-but-low-key approach to daily life at sea; and this is a trademark the recent arrivals possess in spades. Staff and crew, while professionally on point, are also noticeably relaxed, helpful, smiling. It’s contagious. Both they and their guests are clearly enjoying themselves.
Leading the pack of additions—three all-suite power yachts purchased from luxury line Seabourn—was Star Pride, bowing in May 2014 after a moderate makeover. (Some $3 million more will be invested in Star Pride in 2016.) Next up was Star Breeze, christened May 4, 2015, in Nice, soon followed by Star Legend, which debuted in Rome on May 25—each showing off a complete, $8.5 million transformation.
Altogether, Windstar now lays claim to six vessels accommodating 300 passengers tops, making the small-ship fleet the largest in its 30-year history.
Travel consultants and travel journalists, including Recommend, who attended the inaugural of the 212-passenger Star Breeze on a 4-day Nice-to-Rome itinerary, were updated on the line’s new look by Hans Birkholz, Windstar’s president and CEO.
“We learned a great deal about our guests’ preferences with the debut of Star Pride last year,” he says. “We are taking their feedback and giving them what they want with the launch of Star Breeze and Star Legend.”
Among stem-to-stern changes in public spaces and dining venues: a Star Deck expansion of four ft. on each side (put to good use not only for deck-chair sunning by day but for choice tables overlooking entertainment on barbecue night); a new counter-current pool and whirlpool; transformation of the top deck observation lounge to Windstar’s popular Yacht Club (think espresso and light bites); Compass Rose for nightly live music; the upgraded Lounge, ideal for meetings and gatherings; and a former card room turned screening room for movies.
The aft Veranda, an inviting spot for casual buffet dining, serves up both courtyard and expanded outdoor seating—switching at night to Candles, with table service under the stars. AmphorA, the main restaurant, displays an elegant redesign with chic mirror panels, stylish wall coverings and art work.
Also in the mix are a small casino, library, boutique, computer center, fitness room and spa. Complimentary watersports are a Windstar given.
Staterooms, too, received a total overhaul. Look for new carpets, curtains, blonde furnishings, and upscale bedding in a spacious layout consisting of a sitting area curtained off from the sleeping area, with a large picture window, flat-screen TV, mini bar with complimentary soft drinks; robes and slippers; fee-based Internet; safe; a walk-in closet; and DVD/CD player. A roomy marble bathroom houses a large marble shower, double sinks, magnifying mirror, and L’Occitane toiletries. Trays of macaroons and bottles of water magically appear with turndown.
Dining is a happily relaxed, unhurried experience. Not to mention delicious. At every open-seating table I joined, the guest pleasure quotient ranged from praise for the chef’s creativity to unbridled enthusiasm, as when the menu’s wicked good beef tenderloin pesto was passed around for all to sample.
During stops at Monte Carlo, Portofino, and Portoferraio, passengers stopped among shore excursions, ranging from lunch at the celebrity-haunted Splendido Hotel to an exploration of Elba Island via bike and kayak.
Stresses Birkholz, “We’re all about small. Small is good; we don’t overwhelm the destination. For us, AIPS stands for authentic, intimate, personal, and social—and this applies to all our shore excursions.” Noting that some passengers prefer to be in a small sightseeing group with a leader while others may choose independent hiking or diving into a local cooking class, he adds, “We want to remove the glass and take away the barriers to the world we’re traveling—to see it, smell it, taste it.”
Newest star of the onshore show? It’s Private Event, a complimentary adventure introduced on all itineraries this year to give guests a singular local experience. Included are happenings such as an after-hours tour and dinner at the Celsus Library of Ephesus, and a private performance at the Odessa National Opera and Ballet Theatre. On Star Breeze’s inaugural voyage, the Private Event was a glittery evening in Monte Carlo, high-kicking off with cocktails and can-can dancers on deck, followed by French-accented dining in AmphorA. Then came a transfer to glamorous Grand Casino Square for champagne and dessert at Cafe de Paris, followed by gaming at the legendary Grand Casino.
The same aforementioned stops, plus ports in France and Spain, make up a Nov. 7, 8-day, Star Breeze cruise, with fares from $2,299.
What Travel Agents are Saying
Bill Smith, vice president of cruise sales and performance management for Virtuoso—on board for the inaugural of Star Breeze and a frequent cruiser with Windstar Cruises—cites “food, service, and social” as “pillars” of the line. “The yacht-like atmosphere of the power yachts is much like what clients experience on the sailing vessels,” Smith says, “and there’s been a smooth, comfortable transition from sailing to power.”
Windstar Cruises: (800) 258-7245; windstarcruises.com