Itinerary: Barbados, St. Lucia, Bequia, Grenada, Tobago, Mayreau, At Sea, Bonaire, Curaçao, Aruba
It has been a few years since we sailed with Windstar Cruises, so when the opportunity came up for us to spend nine days aboard one of their new motor yachts, Star Pride, we jumped at the chance. Windstar has gone through a lot of changes since our last review and we were anxious to see what has been going on with one of our favorite brands.
Windstar Cruises has long had an admirable reputation as a small sailing ship cruise line, with 4- and 5-masted sailing vessels carrying from 148 to 310 guests to some of the most remote and exotic destinations in the world. The company continues to operate three sailing yachts: Wind Star, Wind Spirit and Wind Surf. However, in 2014, Windstar launched the small motor yacht, Star Pride, followed by sister ships Star Breeze and Star Legend. Each of the new "Star" motor yachts can carry 212 guests. The addition of the three motor yachts makes Windstar one of, if not the, largest operator of small ships in the world.
Star Pride was built in 1988 and was originally christened Seabourn Pride, operating under the Seabourn flag. At just under 10,000 tons, the ship is 438 feet long with a beam of 67 feet and, as previously mentioned, can carry up to 212 guests. The ship has stabilizers to smooth out any rough seas she may encounter. Because of her small size, Star Pride can take guests to smaller ports where large cruise ships simply cannot go, one of the big advantages of small ship cruising.
The ship has been fitted with a large marina at the aft section to allow guests to enjoy a variety of water toys (complimentary) such as paddle boards, water skis, wake boards, etc.
Star Pride has five decks (passenger decks) and three elevators. The two amidship elevators and the nearby dual spiral staircase extend between Deck 3 and Deck 7. The forward elevator and stairs go from Deck 3 all the way to Deck 8. We found the forward elevator to be quite small and possibly a tight fit for a wheelchair. The aft (main) elevators are larger. Therefore, it may be difficult for someone in a wheelchair to get to Deck 8.
Most of the interior public spaces are located aft on Decks 5, 6 and 7 with the exception of The Yacht Club which is located on Deck 8 forward. The ship is small enough that it never takes more than a couple of minutes to walk from one space to another which is yet another advantage of small ship cruising.
The public rooms appear to have been recently refurbished with new carpeting, furnishings and other surfaces. Only the stage and dance floor in The Lounge are showing some signs of wear. Carpeting throughout the hallways, and even in the suites, all appear to be in very good to excellent condition. The HVAC system seems to be working well, perhaps too well. A sweater may be in order when visiting The Lounge or AmphorA Restaurant. However, based on our experience, interior cold temperature is not unique to this ship.
Windstar has an "open bridge" policy allowing guests to visit the navigational bridge while the ship is underway, or anchored. It may be closed during sail away or docking procedures.
As far as outdoor spaces, Decks 7 and 8 provide loungers for sun-lovers, and shade-lovers as well. However, on days at sea with a full ship, you should pick out your lounger early as they can get scarce. We had about 140 people on our sailing (72 below the max) and on our one day at sea, we had difficulty finding a lounger on the non-smoking Starboard side of the ship.
There are also a few loungers hidden forward on Deck 3 at the bow, along with a little-known-about hot tub.
A larger hot tub and swim-against-the-current pool are located aft on Deck 7.
On this cruise, there were several ports requiring use of the ship's tenders. It should be noted that the tender service was the best we have experienced on any cruise line. There were always two tenders running continuously between ship and shore, so you never had to wait very long to get to shore or return to the ship
The ship is equipped with WiFi Internet access which we found to be quite good. Cruise ship Internet is never as good as what you are used to on land, but Windstar's was better than average. Windstar offers a choice of Internet packages as follows:
The Email Plan $60 This plan gives you 200 MB of data to use during your cruise. This plan is recommended for people who will be checking email and doing very limited browsing. The estimated minutes range from 15 to 60.
The Surfing Plan $120 This plan gives you 500 MB of data to use for additional browsing and small file transfers (such as posting pictures to a social media site). The estimated minutes range from 90 to 360 (approximately 5 hours).
The Unlimited Plan This plan gives you unlimited internet access. You have no worries about how much time you spend on the internet
- 7 Day Cost $250
- 8 Day Cost $280
- 9 Day Cost $315
- 10 Day Cost $350
- 11 Day Cost $385
- 14 Day Cost $490
- 15 Day Cost $525
- 2 devices
- 1 ticket issued onboard valid for two devices
We were assigned to Balcony Suite 308 located, contrary to what you might think, on Deck 6 port side. Balcony suites and Ocean View Suites are essentially identical with the exception of the narrow, step-out balcony in the Balcony Suites. Both configurations are 277 sq. ft. and are identical as far as their layout and amenities.
The "suites" are technically "suites" because they have a separate living room which can be separated with a curtain, quite nice when one wants to stay up late and watch TV while the other one sleeps. The living room has two comfortable chairs separated from a medium-sized sofa by a coffee table. The coffee table can double as a dining table when enjoying room service.
And, while you can't sit on your balcony and enjoy breakfast or soak up the sun, the step-out balcony is quite useful for photo taking purposes, or just to get some fresh air. There is a small, narrow desk/vanity at the end of the bed with a mirror and too-dim-to-put-on-makeup lighting. You can control most of the lighting in the suite from switches located near the desk, and there are woefully few electrical outlets for today's techno-junkies, a sign of the ship's age. The comfortable, leather desk chair is nice, but when someone is sitting at the desk, the other person may have to climb on the bed to get from the living room to the bathroom or closet. There's just not enough space between the end of the bed and the back of the chair. A small, round pedestal-type stool tucked under the desk might be a better solution.
To free up desk space, we quickly re-located the huge World Atlas and magazine rack to shelves in the living room where they were out of sight, and out of the way. The added space made the desk very usable for my laptop and for Rickee's makeup application duties. She, of course, would like to see brighter lighting for the mirror lights, LEDs perhaps? The portable magnifying mirror that she relocated from the bathroom to the desk, is a nice touch, but it would be even better if it were a lighted makeup mirror. The large drawers (six of them), on each side of the desk came in very handy for storage. In fact, there is quite a bit of storage throughout the suite.
The very ample walk-in closet had more than enough hanging space for our 9-day cruise. There were drawers and an electronic safe tucked away at one end of the closet, and a series of shelves as you walk in on the right. Storage was not an issue.
The queen-sized bed is flanked by small nightstands, each with a small drawer and cubby for additional storage. The linens and bedding were high quality, however, the mattress was a little firm for our liking and not very plush. The bed seemed very low to the ground! There are small, lamps attached to the wall on each side of the bed in addition to the wall-mounted adjustable reading lights. The suite was very quiet and peaceful notwithstanding the occasional "whoosh" from a flushing vacuum toilet.
The flat-screen television offers decent satellite programming with major news channels, a couple of closed-circuit movie channels and a European sports channel. A DVD player is connected to the TV with DVDs available on a complimentary basis from the library. Underneath the TV is a Bose iPod sound system. A mini-fridge is stocked with soft drinks, tonic and club soda, all of which are complimentary. Small, airline-type bottles of liquor are placed in the cabinet with the refrigerator and are available for purchase, as are beer and wine stocked in the refrigerator. Bottled water is also available from your room steward(ess) upon request. Two bottles of filtered water are refilled as needed.
The bathrooms have double sinks, a very nice touch. There is plenty of storage for your toiletries in the bathroom, too, in mirrored cabinets on each side of the vanity. The bathtub/shower combo makes taking a shower a bit clumsy because of where the shower head/wand is mounted on the wall. We would prefer a nice shower stall, but we understand that some people just love bathtubs. Top-quality L'Occitane soaps and bath products are provided and replenished as needed.
Food and Dining
The one area where we noticed the biggest improvement over past Windstar sailings was food and dining. That's not to say that the food on Windstar was bad before, but it was nothing notable, at least in our opinion. The food on this cruise, however, was notable. Let's start with Veranda, the ship's indoor/outdoor venue for buffet breakfast and lunch. We are not breakfast eaters, so we only had a morning meal there on the day of disembarkation. Nevertheless, the buffet was well stocked with every item you could possibly want. However, on the day of disembarkation, they do not offer Eggs Benedict, most likely because of the large crowd. Omelets and eggs made-to-order were available, however, and were very nice.
Lunch is typically served from 12:30pm until 2:00pm in Veranda and the buffet items change every day. We were quite impressed with the quality of the soups, salad choices, and entrees available on the buffet. And, the amazing breads made watching carb intake a real challenge!
An à la carte menu is available at lunch with daily specials prepared à la minute. Hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, veggie burgers and hot dogs are always available with lunch, and are quite good. The French fries are hot and crispy, too. It may sound nit-picky, but you would be surprised how many cruise lines, even 5-star cruise lines, cannot deliver something as simple as a decent hamburger. The burgers and hot dogs on Star Pride were delicious.
If you prefer something a bit lighter, there is a Continental breakfast served in the Yacht Club (Deck 8 forward) from 6am until 10am. Here you will find a selection of muffins and assorted pastries, fruit, yogurt, coffee drinks, delicious hot chocolate, and a variety of smoothies. Oh, I almost forgot -- they have the most delicious chocolate croissants and almond croissants, too. I visited the Yacht Club early every morning, finding it to be the quietest place on the ship to enjoy my coffee and get my blogging done.
At lunchtime until 5pm each day, the Yacht Club offers a selection of finger sandwiches, mini-wraps, cupcakes, and cookies. What a great idea!
At dinnertime, there are a couple of choices available to guests on Windstar's motor yachts. AmphorA Restaurant is the main dining room located on Deck 3. The restaurant looks as if it has undergone a complete refurbishment recently. It looks brand new and is one of the nicest public spaces on the ship. The menu at AmphorA changes every evening and offers a variety of delicious choices across multiple courses. The restaurant offers open-seating any time between the hours of 7pm and 9pm and there are tables for two available.
We were impressed with every meal we had here, although some offerings seemed a bit dated. Chicken Kiev? Seriously? It's 2017, not 1980. That said, there were contemporary dishes and everything we ordered was expertly prepared and presented. The Curry Duo I had one evening was very inventive and delicious.
One night I ordered Prime Rib and was delivered a huge slab of tender, perfectly-cooked beef that was as good as I have ever had on a cruise ship. Rickee had a Sesame Crusted Seared Tuna one evening that she still talks about. The service in AmphorA was also top notch; however, when the restaurant begins to get busy, the time between courses can increase dramatically. We were impressed when the restaurant manager noticed that Rickee was wearing black pants and exchanged her white napkin for a black one to prevent lint transfer that sometimes comes from the white napkins. I don't recall that level of attention to detail on any other ship.
The other option for dinner is Candles, otherwise known as Veranda during the day. In the evening, Veranda is transformed into a romantic restaurant with candlelit tables and a steakhouse menu.
Dining at Candles is complimentary, but guests are only guaranteed one meal per cruise. However, guests occupying an Owner's Suite do not have that restriction. We ate at Candles on the first evening of the cruise. We were seated outdoors, and while it was very romantic, it was also very, very dark. It was impossible to read the menu without using the light from my cell phone. A small flashlight on the table might be a nice touch. The food here was very good. My Veal Chop was perfectly cooked, tender and juicy.
There is one other, often overlooked, dining option: room service. Room service is complimentary and there is a quite an extensive room service menu. Guests can even order from the daily AmphorA Restaurant menu during dinnertime hours, a nice feature that you normally only find on luxury cruise lines. Room service is available 24 hours a day.
One of the highlights of the cruise was the Pool Deck BBQ held one evening on Decks 7 and 8. The outer decks of the ship are transformed into an elegant dining area for the event.
At sunset, the ship comes alive with guests lining up at the huge buffet line for everything imaginable: grilled lobster, steaks, lamb chops, pork ribs, boiled shrimp, and on and on. A gigantic Paella pan is overflowing with rice and seafood. The galley crew really put on an amazing display of food, and it was all delicious. We even enjoyed the music of a local steel-drum band that provided musical entertainment after dinner.
In every way, the food quality and dining experience on Star Pride exceeded our expectations.
Bars & Lounges
There are two main venues for enjoying cocktails. The Star Bar is located on Deck 8, just above the pool deck, and is open all day and into the evening. On any other ship, it would be called the Pool Bar, but it is actually located one deck above the pool. The Star Bar also serves as the cocktail center for anyone wishing to enjoy a drink in the Yacht Club.
The other bar/lounge is in Compass Rose on Deck 6 aft. This space appears to have been recently refurbished as everything here looks brand new. Compass Rose is closed during the day and opens sometime around 8pm for after-dinner drinks, music and dancing.
The Lounge on Deck 5 aft is used for evening talks, events, and as a gathering point for shore excursions. There is no bar here, but waiters can be found taking drink orders during some events in the evening, so you can enjoy a cocktail here if there is a scheduled event.
As is the custom on small ships, there are no evening "shows" as you might expect on a larger cruise ship. One duo, D' Harmony, performed nightly at the Star Bar on Deck 8. To their credit, they played at a reasonable volume so that you could enjoy their music, but still have a conversation.
The other performing duo, Mistura Fina, was not as considerate with the low volume. They performed in the Compass Rose and in The Lounge prior to some of the scheduled events such as the Crew Show. And speaking of the Crew Show, it was one of the most energetic we have seen in a long time. You definitely do not want to miss the Crew Show.
Small ship cruising is more about the destination than it is about the ship itself. Therefore, when the ship is docked or anchored in port, there is not much going on around the ship during the day. Windstar expects guests to seek their adventures on shore, either on their own, or through their shore excursions. We booked a Clear-Bottom Kayak excursion in Grenada and found it to be a good value, and a lot of fun.
Those who are into SCUBA and snorkeling will love the wide selection of Windstar excursions that cater to these activities, especially when sailing in the Caribbean. Windstar even provides complimentary snorkeling gear for guests. When the ship is anchored, and the waters around the ship are calm, guests have full access to the ship's marina and all of the water toys, which include kayaks, paddle boards, water skis, wake boards, and a big floating mat that is tethered to the back of the ship.
Of course, the most popular activity any day in the Caribbean is just hanging out on Deck 7 or Deck 8 and soaking up some sun. The comfortable loungers have umbrellas for those (like me) who prefer the shade. Fresh towels are available at the Star Bar and drinks are also just a few steps away. On our one day at sea, we enjoyed a cooking demonstration presented by Executive Chef Stany, and a towel-folding demonstration where we actually got to make the cute and creative animals that our room stewards make for us each evening and place on the bed.
There is a library on Deck 6 and a very small casino next to the library. Since we had such a port-intensive itinerary, the casino was not open much, which was probably a good thing for us! There is also a small shop on board selling Windstar logo items, clothing and sundries. It was closed much of the time due to Customs regulations about not being able to open while the ship is in port
One of the most popular activities on a Windstar Caribbean Cruise is the signature Beach Party and BBQ. Our day at the beach was in Mayreau and was one of the best beach BBQs we have ever experienced. The beach was beautiful and the facilities, great.
Guests have access to the Windstar water toys to use from the beach and there are more than enough loungers for everyone. A steel band plays Caribbean music in the background and there is plenty of shade available for those who prefer to stay out of the sun.
Of course, there is a full service bar available and the galley crew put on a huge Beach BBQ with Jerk chicken, chicken skewers, shrimp mac & cheese, burgers, hot dogs and too many other items to list. Everyone had a great time and it was a highlight of the cruise.
Staff and Crew
Nothing new here. Windstar continues its tradition of hiring and training an excellent staff and crew. Crew members are predominately Indonesian and Phillipino and are always smiling and willing to serve.
So, who exactly are you most likely to be sailing with on Windstar? This ship appeals to an active demographic, those who like to explore destinations rather than sit in a casino or ship's theater. You won't see many (if any) children, perhaps because there really are no programs for kids on these small ships. Average age is somewhere between 40 and 60, with a few on either side of that equation. On our voyage, 60 out of the 140 people had sailed with Windstar at least on one occasion before.
If you are into small ship cruising, then Windstar should be on your short list of choices. If you have never considered a small ship, perhaps you should. You won't have to worry about fighting large lines to get on or off the ship, or standing in line to be seated for dinner. The Star Pride (and her sisters, Star Legend and Star Breeze) represents the ultimate small ship experience. She was originally designed as a luxury, 5-star cruise ship, so the accommodations are huge by cruise ship standards and everyone gets a suite! The ship has multiple dining options, and plenty of space so you never feel crowded. Combine this with an excellent staff and competitive pricing, and you have quite a combination. Our advice: book a Windstar cruise and see for yourself. You might just become addicted to the experience!