Today marks the start of my third outing with Windstar Cruises, but my first journey aboard its newly acquired “power yacht” Star Breeze. You might know Star Breeze better by her former name: Seabourn Spirit. Windstar recently acquired Seabourn’s original trio of ships, Seabourn Pride, Seabourn Spirit and Seabourn Legend in a coup that saw the popular sailing line double its passenger capacity virtually overnight.
But that’s not to say that Windstar left these ships alone. Instead, the line injected a ton of cash into refitting them – to the tune of nearly US$9 million apiece – into the image the company has been cultivating for itself since its 2011 acquisition by Xanterra Parks and Resorts. After voyages aboard Wind Spirit to the Baltics in 2011 and Wind Star to the Mediterranean, I’m happy to say that while Star Breeze may lack sails, she appears to offer everything that Windstar guests have come to love and appreciate about the line. I’ll be looking at – and reporting on – all aspects of the Star Breeze this week.
My journey began yesterday with a full set of flights down to San Jose, Costa Rica. After a restful overnight stay at the San Jose Marriott Costa Rica, I joined my fellow guests in setting out for Star Breeze today in the port of Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica.
Two things impressed me about my pre-cruise stay: One, the Marriott representatives were on the ball, handing me an envelope with details about my transfer time from the hotel to the ship, along with information about the dreaded Zika Virus that has been making the news as of late. More often than not, the promised “transfer information” simply fails to materialize at the pre-cruise hotel, so Windstar and Marriott got off to a good start.
Windstar Win No. 2: Organization. Rather than trying to get 200 guests from the Marriott to the ship (a two-hour drive away) en-masse, Windstar arranged for guests to be taken on three separate coaches staggered approximately 30 minutes apart. This ensured the crowds were manageable, and gave guests the personal space they’d expect on a product like this. Our guide, Jose, who accompanied our coach from the hotel to the ship, was a fountain of knowledge – and one of the better guides I’ve encountered.
Check-in at Puerto Caldera was a bit involved. It’s a busy commercial port that also doubles as a cruise port. Upon arrival, luggage has to be offloaded into the terminal and swept by the local police force and their sniffer dogs. Once that’s done, guests are taken in two separate waves off the coach to claim their luggage in the terminal, which is then searched by hand. Following that, you’re led over to the dock gate, where your passports are checked against the ship’s manifest before being granted permission to walk the 500 or so feet to the Star Breeze.
Final check-in details couldn’t be easier. You walk up the gangway and embark the ship. You’re handed a cool towel and a cold drink, and you are directed to the main showlounge on Deck 5 aft to complete the final check-in formalities. Keycards in hand, you’re welcomed to your suite – which, confusingly, is numbered with absolutely no correlation to the deck you’re on.
Example: My Category S3 Oceanview Suite, 303, is located on Deck 6. On most other cruise ships, your suite number also indicates your deck number – but not so here. Is it a Windstar thing? Nope – I’ve come prepared. Old issues of Cruise Travel Magazine show the same deck arrangement for Star Breeze, as Seabourn Spirit, when she entered service.
On the plus side, when you find your suite, prepare to be impressed. My Oceanview Suite is 277 square feet, but it feels substantially larger thanks to a layout that includes a full seating area near the window complete with a plush couch on one side and two chairs and an end table on the other. In the center: an oversized coffee table. With three separate lighting options, this is the ultimate seaside reading nook.
Windstar made significant changes to suites following the transfer of Star Breeze from Seabourn last year. New fabrics, furniture and soft furnishings have been added. Windstar replaced the headboards, and added new direct and indirect light sources in the form of bedside lamps and reading lights. Carpets have been redone. Furniture is new. Drapes have been swapped out. In essence, you’d never know your suite is coming up on the anniversary of its third decade in service.
On the bathroom front, expect a spacious, marble-clad bathroom complete with a tub-shower combo and a dual vanity sink. Shelves are available on either side of the vanity, with additional storage behind a mirrored glass panel located on the inside of the room opposite the sink and door. Toiletries are Windstar-standard: French-milled L’Occitane products grace the bathroom in every suite category.
At 440 feet in length, Star Breeze holds just 212 guests total; not so far off from the smaller, motor ship yachts Wind Star and Wind Spirit, each of which carry up to 148 guests. If you’ve sailed with Windstar before, you’ll know the act of setting sail is no ordinary departure: on Windstar, it’s a true event, accompanied by the raising of the sails to the thudding Vangelis score from the film 1492: Conquest of Paradise.
There’s just one problem: Star Breeze has no sails.
Windstar thought of that, and solved the problem with a spectacular flag-raising ceremony this evening as we departed Puerto Caldera. With the score to Conquest of Paradise playing over the ship’s new sound system, guests gathered in the fluorescent glow of the lights at the outdoor Star Bar on Deck 8 forward watched in awe as two crew members appeared beside the forward mast.
The crew, perfectly timed to the beat, raised the Windstar company flag up the forward radar mast at the exact moment the music swelled. Guests clapped and cheered. The flags flapped, pulled taut by the 30-mile per hour winds that lashed the port this afternoon. One guest grabbed the electric candle from a table and waved it back-and-forth, lighter-style.
Is it as good as the sail raising ceremonies aboard Windstar’s sailing yachts? Not quite. Is it still moving? Yes indeed.
It’s also worth noting, even at this early stage, how great Windstar’s crews are. Although I’ve been aboard Star Breeze for just seven hours as I type this late at night in the Compass Rose Lounge aft on Deck 6, the crew has already made an enormous impression on me. They’re providing luxury service at a fraction of the cost: attentive and caring, they’re also unobtrusive and professional to a fault.
As with every other Windstar voyage I’ve taken, I brought my mother with me on this voyage. She’s a huge Windstar lover, having fallen for the line back in 2011 aboard Wind Spirit in the Baltics.
I asked her how she liked the voyage so far, even with the lack of sails. “The sails don’t matter,” she said. “It’s like coming home.”
|February 27, 2016||Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica||Embark||6:00 PM|
|February 28||Quepos, Costa Rica||7:00 AM||6:00 PM|
|February 29||Bahia Drake, Costa Rica||7:00 AM||5:00 PM|
|March 1||Golfo Duce, Costa Rica||8:00 AM||4:00 PM|
|March 2||Isla de Coiba, Panama||7:00 AM||6:00 PM|
|March 3||Balboa, Panama||5:00 PM||Overnight|
|March 4||Balboa, Panama / Transit Panama Canal||Overnight||1:00 PM |
Enter Canal: 5:00 PM
|March 5||Colon, Panama||7:00 AM||Disembark|