Star Breeze Live Voyage Report – Day 1

Return to Paradise: Embarking Windstar Cruises’ Star Breeze

Windstar spent millions of dollars transforming Seabourn Spirit into its Star Breeze. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Windstar spent millions of dollars transforming Seabourn Spirit into its Star Breeze. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.

Atrium Blues: nearly every square inch of Star Breeze was heavily refitted by Windstar Cruises. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Atrium Blues: Nearly every square inch of Star Breeze was heavily refitted by Windstar Cruises. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.

Getting To Star Breeze

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.

Hola! Welcome to the Marriott San Jose Costa Rica. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Hola! Welcome to the Marriott San Jose Costa Rica. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.

The kind of resort that invites you to linger, the Marriott San Jose Costa Rica is a superb place for a pre-cruise stay. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
The kind of resort that invites you to linger, the Marriott San Jose Costa Rica is a superb place for a pre-cruise stay. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.

Welcome to Costa Rica! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Welcome to Costa Rica! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Transportation to Star Breeze was done in waves, on comfortable motorcoaches staggered 30 minutes apart from each other. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Transportation to Star Breeze was done in waves, on comfortable motorcoaches staggered 30 minutes apart from each other. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.

My Oceanview Suite on Star Breeze

My Category S3 Oceanview Suite on Deck 6 measures 277 square feet. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
My Category S3 Oceanview Suite on Deck 6 measures 277 square feet. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.

The reverse angle: looking back towards the bathroom, closet and entry door in S3 Oceanview Suite 303, starboard side, forward. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
The reverse angle: looking back towards the bathroom, closet and entry door in S3 Oceanview Suite 303, starboard side, forward. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Infinitely Cozy: the sitting area in my category S3 Oceanview Suite. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Infinitely Cozy: the sitting area in my category S3 Oceanview Suite. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.

Walk-in closets are part-and-parcel on every Star Breeze cruise. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Walk-in closets are part-and-parcel on every Star Breeze cruise. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.

Star Breeze features marble baths in all of her accommodations. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Star Breeze features marble baths in all of her accommodations. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Bathrooms feature dual-vanity sinks....Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Bathrooms feature dual-vanity sinks …Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
..and French-milled L'Occitane toiletries, which grace each suite category aboard Star Breeze. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
… and French-milled L’Occitane toiletries, which grace each suite category aboard Star Breeze. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.

Overlooking the Bow: Star Breeze marks a decided contrast between her and the cargo ship awaiting shipments from a line of 18-wheelers. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Overlooking the Bow: Star Breeze marks a decided contrast between her and the cargo ship awaiting shipments from a line of 18-wheelers. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Cargo operations in full swing at Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Cargo operations in full swing at Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Star Breeze Face, as viewed from Deck 5 Forward. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Star Breeze Face, as viewed from Deck 5 Forward. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.

Star Breeze Atrium, Deck 7. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Star Breeze Atrium, Deck 7. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.

The Compass Rose Lounge, Deck 6 Aft. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
The Compass Rose Lounge, Deck 6 Aft. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Our Pilot races to the ship..Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Our Pilot races to the ship … Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
...as sailaway celebrations begin. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
… as sailaway celebrations begin. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.

The sailaway hour approaches. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
The sailaway hour approaches. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
The flag-raising ceremony begins. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
The flag-raising ceremony begins. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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.”

Sailaway with me. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders
Sailaway with me. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Star Breeze - Costa Rica & Panama

DAYPORTARRIVEDEPART
February 27, 2016Puerto Caldera, Costa RicaEmbark6:00 PM
February 28Quepos, Costa Rica7:00 AM6:00 PM
February 29Bahia Drake, Costa Rica7:00 AM5:00 PM
March 1Golfo Duce, Costa Rica8:00 AM4:00 PM
March 2Isla de Coiba, Panama7:00 AM6:00 PM
March 3Balboa, Panama5:00 PMOvernight
March 4Balboa, Panama / Transit Panama CanalOvernight 1:00 PM
Enter Canal: 5:00 PM
March 5Colon, Panama7:00 AMDisembark

Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Windstar Cruises’ Star Breeze continues tomorrow from Quepos, Costa Rica. Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.

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3 Comments

  • We read with envy your delightful boarding process of your Panama Canal cruise on the Star Breeze. Unfortunately, for many of us who were booked on the similar canal crossings on the Star Pride from late December 2015, our experience with Windstar was much less pleasant. The Star Pride ran aground off the coast of Panama a couple of days before Christmas 2015. After spending two weeks to assess the damage to the Pride, Windstar issued an email on January 7, 2016, announcing the official cancellation of all her Panama Canal cruises (and a few others) until April 2016. Sadly, our February 6 cruise on the Pride was covered by Windstar’s cancellation decision. Windstar’s email (the only one sent to affected passengers and/or their travel agents) states: “If we’re unable to make contact or accommodate your booking on an alternate voyage by January 22nd, 2016, the booking will be cancelled and refund issued.” Windstar’s email also mentioned that it would reimburse airline change fees up to $500 per affected passenger. We tried to telephone Windstar on several occasions between January 7 and 22, in our attempt to explore re-booking and refund options. Windstar’s telephone lines were overloaded and, during the only time we spoke with a Windstar representative, we were told he had no meaningful information to share. He said he would refer our matter to a supervisor who would call us back. We received no return call from any Windstar supervisor. On January 21, we emailed Windstar seeking a prompt refund of our cruise fare and (with proper documentation) the $400 we paid to change our air tickets. Windstar did not reply to our January 21 email. On February 18 (six weeks after Windstar cancelled our cruise), we finally received a check refunding the cruise fare we’d paid to Windstar. Our refund check came in a business envelope, with no accompanying note of explanation or apology whatsoever. Worse, the refund check did not include the $400 airline change fees we had paid due to our cruise cancellation. We contacted Windstar again on February 19, only to be told that they had no record of our January 21 properly-documented request for a refund of our airline change fees. We were asked to re-submit our request and, after waiting another two weeks, finally received a $400 check. Like the last check we received, this one came with no accompanying note from Windstar, Throughout this entire two-month ordeal after our cruise cancellation, we felt like Windstar deemed us an annoyance. Why? We did not nothing wrong . . . it was Windstar’s fault that the Pride ran aground, and we were the poor folks whose cruise and related holiday plans were disrupted. Windstar’s handling of this entire situation (from its slow refund process, to its utter failure to issue meaningful and timely communications, and to its utter failure to acknowledge the inconvenience it has caused to disappointed clients) is a shameful example of poor customer service.

    Reply
    • Ken, Though I am extremely sorry to hear of your unfortunate episode, I am happy that you decided to share it here with us on Avid Cruiser. Thank you.

      It seems that Windstar handled this incident poorly, when handling it properly – with the proper compensation and personal notes – would have given Windstar a plus mark instead of a minus mark in your eyes and in the eyes of other guests.

      We all know that things can – and do – go wrong when it comes to travel. It’s the way that companies respond that makes the difference.

      I’m not sure that Windstar will ever see your remark or mine, but if they do, I hope that they seek to rectify the situation in the same way that they aspire to treat their guests on board – and that is with professionalism and courtesy.

      Reply
  • Was seasickness an issue with any passengers? Also, looking forward to the last day (Colon), and how to best get back to Panama City for a flight home.

    Reply

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