Last year didn’t start off kindly for Windstar Cruises. In late December of 2015, Star Pride ran aground off Coiba, Panama, putting an abrupt end to her Christmas cruise through Costa Rica and the Panama Canal. The damage was severe enough that her entire season in Central America was scrapped, along with her transatlantic crossing.
While Star Pride was undergoing repairs, company CEO Hans Birkholz abruptly resigned in April. Despite the fact that Windstar had been scooping up Reader’s Choice awards left, right and center, it was the most uncertain time for the line since its former parent company Ambassadors International filed for bankruptcy protection back in 2011.
And then, some good news. Wc Delaney had previously been Seabourn’s senior vice president of global marketing and sales, and had spent 13 years at Carnival Corporation, with an additional six years at The Walt Disney Company.
Then, the good news kept coming. By fall, Windstar had created seven new management roles to streamline the company’s operations, from fleet development to human resources. Delaney also brought Christopher Prelog over to Windstar from Seabourn. The latter served as Seabourn’s Vice President of Hotel and Hotel Operations. Prelog stepped into a position as Windstar’s Vice President of Fleet Operations in January of this year, and will oversee hotel operations for the entire fleet.
At the same time, Windstar announced one of its best European seasons to-date, with more than 120 distinct departures that include two new itineraries in Croatia and more voyages to Iceland and Scandinavia.
Windstar’s new Quintessential Croatia itinerary spans eight days in length aboard the elegant sailing ship, Wind Star. Cruising roundtrip from Venice, guests will see fairy tale castles and enchanting medieval villages in style while sailing on azure waters. The timeless magic of Venice, surreal rainbow colors of Plitvice Lakes National Park, and Dubrovnik’s incomparable city walls and Old Town are just a few of the highlights on the new voyage. Visits to the remarkable ports of Opatija, Korcula, and Zadar in Croatia, as well as Piran in Slovenia, round out the list of ports of call.
The line is also offering two 12-day voyages between Venice and Athens this year aboard Wind Star. These new Marvels of the Croatian Coast & Greece itineraries visit a whopping 11 UNESCO World Heritage Sites; a record for Windstar and a tough act to follow for any cruise line. Ports of call include Athens, Nafplio, Monemvasia, Gythion, Katakolon, Corfu, Kotor, Dubrovnik, Zadar, Rovinj, and Venice.
In addition to a plethora of Mediterranean itineraries, it’s welcome news to see Windstar adding departures to its highly-popular voyages that explore the far reaches of Scandinavia and Iceland. The latter is particularly popular, and tends to book out well in advance. This year, Windstar is offering seven departure dates between July and August aboard both Star Legend and her sister, Star Pride. The weeklong voyage, departing roundtrip Reykjavik, completely circumnavigates Iceland, with calls on five different ports and an overnight stay in Seydisfjordur.
Windstar guests now have more choice than ever when it comes to taking a Windstar cruise. The line now has a fleet of six ships, comprised of three sailings ships and three “motor-yachts” that can sail faster and reach places that were previously out of reach for the sailing ships, which have slower overall sailing speeds and different range requirements.
Of the three sailing ships, the 148-guest sisters Wind Star and Wind Spirit are the smallest. They were given a massive makeover back in 2013 and today look more hip, chic and cozy than ever before. Their larger sailing mate, Wind Surf, boasts a slightly different design and carries twice as many guests, but still displays plenty of sailing grandeur.
When the sailing ships get under way, the Vangelis-composed theme to 1492: Conquest of Paradise is pumped over the ship’s loudspeaker as the vessel’s billowing white sails are raised high into the sky. It is an emotional moment that continues to bring a tear to the eyes of many guests.
Aboard the motor-yachts, a flag-raising ceremony at the forward mast (above the always-popular Pool Bar) provides an equally-impressive sight upon each departure.
Windstar inherited these three ships – Star Breeze, Star Legend and Star Pride – from Seabourn, putting them through a massive series of renovations that have left this intimate trio looking better than ever. Lounges were re-done; suites were outfitted with new lighting and furnishings; and even the ship’s upper Pool Decks were widened to accommodate full-length loungers for those who like to catch the heat of the day.
There are those that feel that Windstar snapped up some of Seabourn’s best and most attractive ships. Now that Windstar has also attracted some of Seabourn’s key talent in the form of well-respected John Delaney, the future for the boutique cruise line has never looked brighter.
Ralph Grizzle will be reporting from Windstar’s 2017 President’s Cruise on Windstar’s Costa Rica & Panama Canal 7-day cruise February 25 through March 4.