By David Yeskel
Small ship, boutique line Windstar Cruises has always been synonymous with its three sailing ships, gorgeous vessels that give passengers goosebumps when the massive, computer-controlled sails unfurl to the tune of Vangelis’ stirring “Conquest of Paradise”. But a game-changer for Windstar was actually the line’s 2015 acquisition of Seabourn’s original trio of 212-passenger ships, now dubbed the “All-Suite Power Yachts.”
The triplets, nearly identical in their layout and design, were extensively refurbished by Windstar before entering service as power yachts Star Pride, Star Legend and Star Breeze in 2014 and 2015. And while the refurbishments touched virtually every public space and suite, the physical layout and the hardware on the ships themselves — as well as the onboard experience — skew more toward luxury than the line’s mid-priced fares would suggest.
The yachts’ all-suite accommodations, beginning with a generous 277 square feet of space, feature numerous luxe touches and amenities. Large, marble bathrooms with twin vanities, flattering lighting and a roomy tub/shower combo evoke a luxury vibe, while guests enjoy walk-in closets, a large sitting area and a vestibule entryway — which keeps the suite quiet. Beautiful woods and other nautical treatments highlight the decor, and all accommodations categories feature either an oversize picture window or French balcony.
Service aboard my recent Costa Rica and Panama sailing was incredibly personal and friendly, as you might expect with a nearly 1:1 crew to passenger ratio — similar to that found on higher-priced luxury lines. Management, staff and crew learned guests’ names by the 2nd day aboard, which contributed to a relaxed air of conviviality while imparting a casually elegant ambience.
Due to Windstar’s fairly recent affiliation with the prestigious James Beard Foundation (JBF), AmphorA’s main dining room fare has been further elevated with the addition of award-winning JBF dishes, which vary each evening of the cruise. I particularly enjoyed the Grilled Fillet of Branzino with olives, basil and tomato caponata. Guests also appreciated having the complimentary option of elegant dining at the alternative al fresco Candles restaurant.
As the industry moves towards luxury expedition cruising — a combination many thought to be mutually exclusive just a few years ago — Windstar’s power yachts and itineraries are perfectly positioned to take advantage of that trend. While in the Caribbean and Central America, the line swaps out the ship’s tenders for zodiacs, which enable “wet” landings on beautiful, remote beaches and off-the-beaten-path destinations otherwise inaccessible for larger ships. Little-known and seldom-visited Costa Rican ports, like Puerto Jimenez and Bahia Herradura, provide not only a fascinating window into local culture, but also an uncrowded and genuine experience that is often highlighted by spontaneous wildlife sightings. And we weren’t exactly roughing it on the wet beach landings, as guests were met ashore by crew who provided drinks, snacks and beach towels for drying our feet.
On most port days, since the ship is anchored right offshore in calm, clear tropical waters, the ship’s Marina Watersports Platform was lowered from the stern and we were treated to an impressive array of water toys, including a trampoline, slide, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. Snorkel equipment was also available for use, and fun-loving guests even opted to be pulled behind a speedboat on a rope-attached inflatable. All of these activities, by the way, are provided at no extra charge.
The luxurious accommodations, large public spaces, intimate service, gourmet cuisine and expedition-style excursions all validate what I consider to be Windstar’s Adventure by Day, Indulgence by Night ethos, and it’s a combination that works very well indeed. Visit www.WindstarCruises.com
Follow David Yeskel, aka The Cruise Guru, on Twitter at @CruiseGuru_