Choosing the right cruise line is essential for an enjoyable vacation. Getting it wrong is the often the key reason people do not enjoy their cruising experience. In this Windstar Cruises Tips For Travellers article I look at 10 things to consider if you are thinking about doing a Windstar Cruise.
Windstar is not owned or controlled by one of the mega-cruising corporations. Many travellers I talk to are surprised when I explain that three large corporations run most of the cruise lines they are familiar with. These are:
- Carnival, the largest of all, that owns lines including Carnival, Cunard, Holland America, Seabourn, Princess, P&O Cruises, Fathom, Costa and AIDA.
- Royal Caribbean runs six lines including Celebrity Cruises, Azamara, Pullmantur, Croisieres De France and Tui Cruises.
- Norwegian Cruise Line also own Regent Seven Seas and Oceania.
Windstar are owned by Xanterra Parks & Resorts (http://www.xanterra.com) and this is their only cruise operation. So if you are looking for a line that is more independent, and less influenced and directed by a big cruise corporation operation and way of doing things, then consider them.
#2 Small Ships
While the cruise industry trend is towards ever-larger ships, Windstar are firmly rooted in the small ship arena. Their largest ship carries 310 guests and smallest just 148.
There are, at time of writing, six ships in the fleet. Three are sail-rigged ships (Wind Surf – Wind Spirit – Wind Star) and three ex-Seabourn ships (Star Pride – Star Breeze Star Legend) that are entirely engine powered.
None of the ships are new or especially modern, but they are well maintained and reflect a more nostalgic cruising design and layout. They were built when cabins were more generous in size and are firmly nautical in style – and not part of the more recent trend towards resort-style structures. They are more distinctive looking than contemporary cruise ships, which tend to follow more standard templates.
The ships appeal to me enormously. I increasingly find modern large ships frustrating with their similarities of layout, number of people, lines for everything from embarking to excursions – and the limitations on where they can visit (as they have to dock in large ports, often working container ports). The longest line I had on Windstar was one evening at the on-deck barbecue where there were perhaps five people in front of me. I loved being able to slip into smaller towns, either docking in the heart of them or by tendering in while docked just off the coast.
The ships have character, due to their age and traditional maritime design. They are definitely less of a destination in their own right, as they do not have resort facilities. But there is good space, despite their size.
If you are looking for a modern ship and all that comes with that, then Windstar ships may not be for you. However if, like me, you like ships that have character and feel like more traditional ocean-going ships then they will – especially if you travel on one of the sail ships as these are unique for a mainstream cruise line.
#3 Some Choice and Facilities
Although the ships, due to their size, do not have a huge range of public rooms and entertainment venues there are some options.
These include things like these on the Star Breeze that I cruised on:
- Dining: Buffet breakfast and lunch served in the Verandah and evening meals in the AmphorA Restaurant or Candles, which is what the Verandah became in the evening. There was also room service.
- Entertainment and activities: a small Casino, library, screening room to watch movies while two duo musical groups played in the evenings in the bars.
- Lounges and Bars: Compass Rose, Outdoor Star Bar and the Yacht Club.
- Fitness: Fitness centre, Spa (with hairdresser) and small Counter-current pool.
- Watersports Platform, which opens at the rear of the ship when moored and provides kayaking, swimming and RIB boat trips.
- Open Bridge policy. You can visit the Bridge when you want. The only time this is limited is when entering or leaving ports when local Pilots are on board.
Watch my tour of Windstar Star Breeze, which covers the layout and choices on the ship to see if the range of choice meets your needs:
#4 All ocean view suites
All cabins on Windstar ships have ocean views. There are no inside cabins. The ships have four types of suites: Owner’s (the largest), Classic, Balcony and Ocean View.
Being on the luxury spectrum they include many amenities including high quality bed linen, waffle weave robes, DVD player, fresh flowers and fruit, L’Occitane toiletries and granite countertop and full-size bathtub with shower in the bathrooms. I loved having a bath and not just a shower!
If you are looking for a value option that many cruise lines offer through inside cabins then Windstar cannot satisfy your need. Solo travellers have to pay single occupancy levy for all cabin grades, and so this may make it less attractive than other lines that have single cabins.
#5 Itineraries more varied than large ships
As mentioned previously, Windstar ships can venture and dock where larger cruise ships cannot. Even when calling on similar places, they are usually able to dock in the heart of the town allowing guests to step off the ship into the action, rather than catching a shuttle bus or public transport in from the commercial port.
The itineraries usually have more varied and unusual places, as they are not limited to ports able to cope with big ships and passenger numbers. Even when docking and tendering the fewer numbers makes it more flexible and no (or very short) wait times.
So if you are looking for more eclectic and unusual ports of call than bigger ships can take you to, then Windstar is definitely worth considering.
#6 Casual and Informal
Windstar has an attentive but casual and informal approach on board. It is more akin to staying and travelling with caring family or friends than a highly pampered environment. Service level is good and the quality of the cabins and public spaces is high, but the approach is more relaxed and less stuffy and differential than other luxury cruise lines. The crew calls you by your first name and chat. Due to numbers of crew-to-passengers they get to know you and have time to interact. For example on Star Breeze that I cruised on, the maximum number of guests was 212 and crew was 150.
I see this as a different take on “luxury”. There is more focus on creating an informal and more casual environment, with scope to personalise the experience. As a result I found fellow passengers to be well-travelled couples, friends and solo travellers who were not looking for “in-your-face” attentiveness and didn’t want the hassle of dressing up. They travel a lot and so the ceremony and fuss that is expected when doing a big annual or infrequent “special occasion” trip did not appeal to them.
The Voyage Director and Captain made much of “cruising with the Windstar family on your own yacht” and making you feel like you were settling in with that family. In my view Windstar is not “luxurious” in some of the traditional senses of the word, and it felt different to other premium lines. The food quality and facilities are as high but the experience was different due to its less stuffy and informal nature.
So if you are a frequent traveller or want to cruise in comfort without lots of fuss, formality and ceremony then Windstar is likely to suit you.
#7 Elegantly Casual Dress Code, and no Themed Parties
Following on from the more casual and informal approach, the dress code on board is fairly relaxed. There are no formal nights or themed parties. You do not need to pack tuxedos, suits, cocktail dressed or ball gowns.
The only requirement is that “elegant casual” clothing is worn to the restaurants in the evening. This means no shorts, jeans, vests or trainers.
If you like to get dressed up and enjoy formal nights then Windstar will not satisfy that need, as passengers follow and embrace the more relaxed dress code. However, if you want to avoid buying, packing and wearing formal wear and are more comfortable in slacks and polo shirts and smart summer dresses then it will.
#8 Small group sizes on excursions
This was something I really appreciated. The excursions ran with small numbers, with a minimum of 15 usually needed before a trip was operated. The busses had lots of room and the guides were able to spend time chatting, explaining and answering questions.
There were choices of tours, but you need to be ready that your preferred one is cancelled if the minimum numbers are not achieved.
Excursions are not included in the fare. However, every cruise has a complimentary on-land excursion event per cruise to immerse guests in local life and culture called the “Destination Discovery Event”. On my cruise it was a trip to a local Greek family farm.
Many of the tours appeared to be similar to those offered by other lines, but with smaller numbers and so they had a more attentive and relaxed feeling. I felt the prices were slightly higher though as they run with smaller numbers and so if you are comfortable with that trade-off then Windstar should be suitable for you.
#9 Good food
I found the food on board excellent, among the best I have experienced. There was an enormous amount of choice, especially at the evening meal with multiple starters, soups, main courses and desserts. There was also a local daily chef special that was sourced in the port that day. This amount of choice more than made up for the lack of multiple dining venues in my view.
There is Open Seated dining in AmphorA and it can hold all guests at same time. There are no pre-assigned seats and you can usually sit in whatever configuration you want. I even had a table for one on some nights.
Windstar will be right for you if you like lots of choice in a menu, rather than different dining venues that large cruise ships have.
#10 Most of the usual fare exclusions
Windstar is not an “all inclusive” line. Many of the items that other cruise lines charge for are also additional costs on Windstar, and need to be taken into account when budgeting.
Included in the fare:
- All meals, including the on-board deck BBQ.
- Non-alcoholic beverages, including tea and coffee drinks.
- Watersports Platform.
- Champagne Welcome and Farewell Reception.
- All on-board entertainment.
- Nightly port talks and destination briefings.
- Destination Immersion Event
- Alcoholic drinks and Beverage packages.
- Gratuities (which are auto-added to your bill).
If you are looking for an all-inclusive fare then Windstar will not satisfy you. However, few ocean cruise lines have these inclusions but when comparing fares between your options make sure you are clear what is (and is not) covered by the base fare.
Hopefully these 10 things to consider have helped you decide if Windstar is a line that suits you and the way you like to travel. I enjoyed the size, approach and the quality of the accommodation and food. It was a pleasant and less frantic experience than travelling on large cruise ships. It also was a different take on luxury cruising that I appreciated enormously.
Find out more about Windstar Cruises on my page with more articles, audio podcasts, photographs and videos at tipsfortravellers.com/windstar
Note: I travelled on a 9-night cruise from Venice to Athens on Windstar Star Breeze as a guest of Windstar and Mundy Cruising (a leading cruise booking agency). Find out more about the line and booking with Mundy Cruising at http://bit.ly/MundyWindstar
If you enjoyed this post, please follow Tips For Travellers on:
- YouTube Channel: Helping you to make the most of your precious vacation time and money.
- Monthly Newsletter : get a free eBook of different travel tips every month.