After a full week aboard Wind Surf, the gorgeous flagship of Windstar Cruises, it is only fair that we sum up the experience by highlighting our Top 10 aspects of this unique cruise vessel.
It may be almost 30 years old, but Wind Surf provides a timeless definition of classic cruising, a refined, gracious and totally compelling way to travel, packed with neat features and memorable moments.
The overall ambience is surprisingly inclusive – our passenger age range varied from 10 to 80, and included Americans (the majority), Europeans and Australians – and the general style is blissfully relaxed and informal, no jackets required, no pretense or fuss.
If that is the Technicolour View (the Big Picture, yes?), the small detail is just as impressive, so let us introduce you to the Ten Things we liked most about this voyage.
The Crew Show
Entertainment aboard Wind Surf is largely low-key, with the accent on live music and convivial get-togethers, but there is nothing toned-down about the weekly stage show in the Main Lounge. If you’ve ever wanted to see a Filipino waitress do her Tina Turner impression or a band made up of assorted crew members perform as Guns ’n Roses, then this is the show for you. For us? It was just pure, ingenious hilarity, with bags of pizzazz and no small element of style.
We didn’t discover this until we were well into the cruise, but the cosy indoor/outdoor lounge aft on Bridge Deck is the real social hub of the ship, not the main Lounge (for all its extra amenity). With the music of charming duo Mardi Gras and the extra addition of plenty of backing vocals from the bar staff, this was Party Central for much of the time. A great place just to sit with a drink and admire the view during the day, perfect for pre-dinner drinks and definitely the venue for some lively entertainment late into the evening.
The Yacht Club
When it comes to a delightful place to while away some time, grab a specialty coffee or tea, have a quick breakfast or snack, or just enjoy that traditional onboard ambiance, the ship’s coffee lounge has all that, and more besides. As an alternative breakfast location its array of pastries, smoothies, fruit parfaits and cold cuts was extremely valuable, while the sandwich options through the rest of the day, along with the delicious lattes and cappuccinos, made this a real highlight for us.
Most cruise lines offer this as a tempting option to the usual pay-as-you-go style of bar service, and Windstar’s is well worth considering. There are three packages: the Voyager’s Adventure includes 20 different wines, as well as beer, for $32/person per day; the Topmast Discoveries adds 13 premium wines for $42/person; and the generous Captain’s Exclusive includes spirits, cocktails AND mini-bar items for $52/person. We found the basic wines all good value and would heartily endorse any of these packages (depending on daily consumption!).
Turning to the Wind Surf’s signature elements, the special watersports platform that unfolds from the stern is a total gem. It provides a brilliant array of activities, from kayaking to water-skiing, and is also a great place just to hang out on a sun-lounger and enjoy the – highly original – view, which includes the huge inflatable bouncy thingy that they tie up at the back of the platform. Great fun.
Those who like their dining varied, accomplished and surprising will discover one of Windstar’s key facets. Main restaurant Amphora turned out a succession of utterly delectable delights, such as a Shrimp & Scallop Mascarpone Risotto, Lobster Cake, and an exquisite Tomato & Watermelon Salad, while the company’s tie-up with the James Beard Foundation pays big dividends. But not as big as the enchantment of dining al fresco, with no fewer than three different opportunities to dine with the most wonderful of views. The highlight for us was the On-Deck Barbecue while in Monte Carlo – an epic adventure of freshly-grilled meats set against the shimmering background of the millionaire’s playground. In many ways it summed up the voyage for us – sheer, indulgent brilliance.
We’ve touched on this elsewhere, but suffice it to say, Wind Surf’s classical style and nautical feel are first rate, helping to create the perfect atmosphere of sea-going satisfaction. And every cabin (sorry, stateroom) has portholes which, as everyone knows, is the proper way to see the world from your peripatetic hideaway.
If you think just being on such a good-looking ship is gratifying, just wait until the captain unfurls the sails as you head out of port. The sound of those vast swathes of canvas combines with the majestic tones of 1492: Conquest of Paradise by Vangelis over the tannoy, creating a unique aural background to the visual splendour of the occasion. Does the crew ever get tired of hearing it? We didn’t ask – but we loved it every time.
Whoever compiles Windstar’s routes around this part of the Mediterranean deserves all kinds of plaudits. Not only did we call into several out-of-the-way bolt-holes that we would never have thought of visiting otherwise, like Portoferraio on Elba and Le Lavandou (highlighting the prime feature of small-ship cruising once again), but the inclusion of such eye-catching destinations as Monte Carlo, Portofino and St Tropez ensured a rich mix of the glamorous and humble, fashionable and unpretentious. A totally captivating concoction.
This has to be the ultimate takeaway from our Wind Surf voyage – and the hallmark of sailing with Windstar. As if just travelling on the world’s largest sailing ship is not enough, the romantic nature of the vessel shines through in many different aspects, from the dining to the service, which ensured we always felt special as a couple. We never struggled to get a table for two at dinner, and the succession of well-chosen ports of call ensured there was a beguiling new adventure for the two of us every day. And we will simply never forget the ‘Dining Under The Stars’ evening aft on the pool deck, watching the sun set behind St Tropez in an iridescent kaleidoscope of golden hues. Talk about the perfect backdrop to a memorable voyage. Romance? It is the very essence of the Windstar experience.