It was an itinerary that dreams are made of. My recent cruise with Windstar on their “Pearls of the Indian Ocean,” was a 16-day exotic odyssey starting in Dubai and ending in Singapore. In between, we crossed the Gulf of Oman to the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean, Bay of Bombay, Andaman Sea and the Strait of Malacca with Indian ports-of-call in Mumbai, Mangalore, and Cochin. Continuing from India, other country stops included Galle (Sri Lanka), Phuket/Patong Bay (Thailand), and Malacca, Malaysia, with the cruise terminating in Singapore.
One would be hard-pressed to find such an extraordinary itinerary contained all in one cruise. The small size of Windstar’s ships and sailing yachts is the key, as it permits stops at places where large cruise ships simply cannot venture.
Windstar is a boutique small ship cruise line known for its sense of adventure and fun. With a motto that proclaims “180-degrees from ordinary,” you know you are in for something special, something unique.
My ship was the Star Legend, an elegant cruiser that accommodates 212 guests, on an all-suite power yacht. Formerly with Seabourn, the Seabourn Legend was acquired by Windstar and given an overhaul. Newly upgraded, it launched in May 2015 after $18 million-dollar refurbishment. Just after my cruise terminated in Singapore in December 2017, the Star Legend went back into drydock. It will be back in the fleet by early February 2018.
The full-power cruise ship was constructed by Schichau-Seebeckwerft in Bremerhaven, Germany, with identical sister ships named Star pride and Star Breeze. All are designed by Petter Yran and Bjorn Storbraaten and herald spacious luxury on the seas.
The Star Legend has a total of 106 staterooms with 8 categories. While the largest are the Owner’s Suites at 575 sq. feet, the Balcony and Ocean View Suites are the smallest at 277 square feet. In between are the Classic Suites from 400-530 square feet. All are spacious by ocean cruising standards.
Upon entering my cabin, the “wow” factor was present in both design and details. My Ocean View Suite room was nothing short of elegant, refined and roomy. I appreciated the convenience of my room which was located right by the elevators, but I was also pleasantly surprised at how quiet my room was during the voyage. My room #137 measured in at 277 sq. feet, quite ample by most ship standards.
Within my cabin was a luxurious queen bed with Egyptian cotton linens, flat screen TV, Wi-Fi, and a granite countertop bathroom decked out with L’Occitane bath products – my favorite. A walk-in closet proved to be quite nice in keeping the room looking clean and organized. Neatly hanging within the closet are waffle-weave robes and slippers for casual lounging.
The details? Fresh fruit and flowers, a mini-bar stocked every day, turn-down service each night with chocolate mints left as a treat.
The Public Spaces
The ship may be small, but it offers a watersports platform, lounge, outdoor pool and three Jacuzzis, Windspa and Fitness center, gift shop, library and lounge.
One of my personal favorites was the Yacht Club on the top deck. I would go there for early morning coffee and pastries, as well as to get a birds-eye view of our sailings. Sometimes to catch the sunrise. Other public spaces include a casino and night club-like bar featuring live music in the Compass Rose. For all those night owls.
A real bonus for those seeking educational enrichment during the cruise – especially for upcoming ports-of-call – are the expert-based lectures given on each of their ships. My itinerary featured world religion specialist Ross Arnold, a popular teacher and lecturer in world and comparative religions. He studied theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia and holds a Master’s Degree in Divinity from Fullerton Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. His well-attended informative talks gave us background and understanding of the regions we were sailing in, all from an unbiased perspective that probed religious, cultural, and significant historical events that helped shape the nations.
I was pleasantly surprised at the various dining options available for such a small ship. From the nightly fine-dining in AmphorA, a 5-course gourmet dinner menu with open-seating, to the open-air Star Grill on the top deck, where grilling is obviously featured, the different venues presented variety to fit the mood. Luckily, I had time to sample all of them.
My favorite evening meal was a seafood shish kebob served at Candles (during the day it is known as the Veranda). The special steak and seafood menu is dependably delicious but requires advance reservations. Even so, there were some days, I couldn’t get in. The Veranda was where sit-down breakfast and lunch are served buffet-style, complemented with featured cook-to-order stations such as omelets at breakfast and pasta or stir-fry at lunch. And there’s always room service for those days you just feel like enjoying your suite.
From Dubai to Singapore, this exotic journey took us to six different countries and eight different ports-of-call. Here are some of the highlights (and hiccups) I experienced with my chosen tours:
Dubai, UAE – This was a pre-cruise extension tour that included one night at the Hyatt Regency Dubai as well as transfer service from the airport to the hotel and then to the ship. Unfortunately, my transfer service left without me for the cruise ship, even though I was waiting in the lobby. As a result, I had to take a taxi to the cruise ship. Never received an explanation on what happened, though I asked several times. $298.50
Mumbai, India – According to beverage manager Anurag Muley on the Star Legend, the top five things to do while in Mumbai include taking a selfie at the Gateway of India, drinking a beer/wine/tea at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, shopping at the Colaba Street Market for Punjabi shoes, photographing how Mumbai washes clothes at Dhobi Ghat, and admiring the architecture at the Victoria Railway Station. I pretty much did all those on the “Mumbai Highlights” tour with the added bonus of spending time at the Prince of Wales Museum, one of my favorites. $59
Mangalore, India – The “Highlights of Mangalore” included a visit to a cashew nut processing plant followed by a visit to the Gokarnath Temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Built by the untouchable Billora community, the temple and surrounding marketplace are a hub of activity. The tour ended with a visit to the Belmont House, where we toured the family home and were treated to local delicacies. $79
Cochin, India – “Backwater Beat” was one of my most memorable experiences, with a private boat taking us for a cruise through Kerala’s backwaters. We made several stops to explore the local lifestyle and had an exquisite buffet lunch of local cuisine at the luxuriously manicured Lake Palace Resort. Our final stop was at Fort Cochin to see the famous Chinese fishing nets. $109
Galle, Sri Lanka – I thoroughly enjoyed “A Rural Village Experience” where we had a boat ride through the luxuriant countryside, spotting eagles, water monitors, and purple-faced monkeys along the way. After a visit to a coconut fiber-making factory, we took a long tuk tuk ride through the countryside for a cooking demonstration and then lunch of Sri Lankan cuisine. Highly recommended. $149
Phuket/Patong Bay, Thailand – This gets my nod for being the most scenic tour. “Phang Nga Ba Exploration” tour is a scenic boat cruise of the bay, including haystacks and sea caves that transport you to a different world. Our stop at James Bond Island was a treat as was the Thai buffet lunch onboard. $149
Malacca, Malaysia – My chosen tour was “Malacca & Countryside” where I visited a small rubber tree plantation followed by a palm oil plantation. Next was a visit to the village of legendary Malay warrior Hang Tuah and a photo stop outside the Stadthuys. The tour ended with to Porta de Santiago – a Portuguese-built fortress and St. Paul’s church, where missionary St. Francis Xavier was interred in 1553. $49
Singapore – My biggest regret was not staying an extra day or two to explore all the gardens and greenery in Singapore. A cultural haven of different ethnicities and an architectural gem of modernity, the city-state has multiple dimensions by which to experience. My favorite was the National Orchid Garden, the world’s largest collection of orchids with over 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids. This was a half-day “Singapore City Experience” with transfer to the airport. $65
At press time, it is not known if and when Windstar will be offering “Pearls of the Indian Ocean” again. Though rumors abounded that it might be offered in 2018, so far, that has not happened.
What is known is that beginning in 2018, Star Legend will be based in Vancouver, where distinctive itineraries are offered to Alaska and the Inside Passage. Along the way for the ocean crossing, itineraries will visit Southeast Asia and the Philippines, including China, Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea.
What you can count on with Windstar is that it offers a variety of itineraries that appeal to adventurers, culture vultures, and sun-worshippers. Not surprising, they have quite a dedicated following of passengers who regularly book to meetup and revisit with friends from previous cruises. Plus, the crew is one of the friendliest I have encountered, with many who became friends. The camaraderie feels like one of a big happy family.