The Windstar Cruises story began in 1984, prompted by a new ship design by Finnish shipbuilding firm Wartsila. The idea was called the Windcruiser, and it was like nothing else in the market: a vessel that combined standard diesel engines with several huge, computer-controlled staysails, which could propel the vessels on their own or work in concert with the engines, helping to save fuel. The fact that they add an air of romance to the cruise experience didn’t hurt, either, and that may be the word that still describes Windstar best to this day. For a romantic cruise, you can’t go wrong with a Windstar cruise.
After flirting with bankruptcy in 2011, Windstar was purchased by Xanterra Resorts, which immediately injected a lifeline of much-needed improvements to the line. Ships were dramatically upgraded, itineraries were retooled, and runs that had once been abandoned – like picturesque Tahiti – were brought back to life. Under the direction of CEO Hans Birkholz, Windstar has undergone a remarkable transformation that has arguably left this niche cruise line at the best point in the history of the company.
Historically, Windstar Cruises operated a fleet of three ships: Wind Star, Wind Spirit and Wind Surf. All three feature gorgeous white sails that are used as frequently as possible, though the ship’s diesel propulsion is regularly used to maintain itineraries. Each of these vessels was given a dramatic makeover between 2012 and 2013, emerging with redesigned public rooms, refreshed staterooms, and a new onboard color palette, artwork, and upgraded culinary offerings.
In 2013, Windstar announced it would be purchasing three luxury cruise ships from Seabourn Cruises: Seabourn Legend, Seabourn Pride and Seabourn Spirit. Renamed Star Breeze, Star Legend and Star Pride, they were delivered to Windstar Cruises between 2014 and 2015, and each underwent a substantial refurbishment intended to bring them in-line with the line’s existing fleet.
Windstar Cruises is one of a handful of cruise lines operating a fleet of small ships that offer the amenities of a premium cruise experience but with one utterly distinctive difference: These ships have sails.
Aside from sails, Windstar’s hallmarks have remained consistent throughout its quarter-century history and through four different corporate owners: It’s a line that sails in beautiful, exotic locations; it provides great service and excellent dining; and its onboard vibe is completely casual and unregimented — no dress code, no loud onboard activities, no stress.
Wind Star and Wind Spirit are the line’s two smallest vessels, with passenger capacities of just 148 guests apiece. Wind Surf, built in 1990, is larger and can carry 330 guests.
Star Breeze, Star Legend and Star Pride are Windstar’s latest acquisitions. Each underwent a multi-million-dollar refit before entering service for Windstar between 2014 and 2015.
At the time of the acquisition, Windstar Cruises CEO Hans Birkholz remarked that the refit was necessary to better brand their newest vessels. “Star Breeze and Star Legend will receive a full stem-to-stern transformation, more than doubling the investment that was spent on Star Pride’s original enhancements [in 2014],” he said. “We learned a lot about our guests’ preferences with the debut of Star Pride last year. We are taking their feedback and giving them what they want with the launch of these two all-suite yachts.”
The refit performed to Star Breeze and Star Legend was extensive. On each vessel, the uppermost deck, Star Deck, was widened by four feet on either side to allow more space for deck loungers and viewing opportunities. In one swift stroke, Windstar corrected a design flaw that had resulted in cramped upper deck space for the ship’s entire career with Seabourn.
Windstar also axed features that weren’t befitting of their grand ambitions for the ship, replacing two outdated hot tubs with a modern swim-against-the-current pool and nixing the under-utilised pool beneath the twin funnels in favor of an attractive outdoor seating and dining area.
Carpeting was replaced throughout the ship, as was signage and much of the soft furnishings. New wall treatments were added, and new artwork hung. Except for the ship’s physical design and general arrangement, few traces of her Seabourn past can be seen today – and that’s a good thing.
Whether in the Greek Isles, the Mediterranean, the Baltics, Central America, or the Caribbean, Windstar’s itineraries are port-intensive, usually with just one day spent at sea. On board, there are few organized activities to distract you from daydreams. What activities there are include things like fitness classes and a nightly cocktail hour where the ship’s hosts fill you in on the next day’s port. When the ships are able to anchor offshore, the crew may lower a water sports platform from the stern, from which guests can go waterskiing, windsurfing, or kayaking. Entertainment is generally limited to music in the lounges, though once per cruise members of the crew put on a show highlighting music and dance from their home countries. Each of the ships also has a small casino, plus both indoor and outdoor bar/lounges.
Dining is one of the highlights of any Windstar cruise, with dinners served in the ship’s comfortable main restaurant, which operates on a casual, open-seating basis — just show up when you’re ready during mealtimes and the maitre d’ will seat you. The fleet’s largest ship, Wind Surf, also offers a Mediterranean bistro called Degrees and two outdoor, alfresco venues: Candles for steaks and skewers and Le Marché for seafood. Fleetwide, breakfast and lunch are served in the buffet-style Veranda Cafe, and the Yacht Club offers specialty sandwiches, fruit, and other snacks throughout the morning and afternoon.
Due to the small size of these ships, and their focus on providing a relaxed, adult atmosphere, there are no dedicated activities or play spaces for kids. Generally speaking, you’ll find very few children on any particular sailing, even during school holidays.
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