By Simon & Susan Veness
When a cruise line insists it will take you on voyages that are “180 degrees from the ordinary,” you have a right to be sceptical. It is a beguiling tag-line, but it also smacks of something that just might be too good to be true.
Windstar Cruises not only manage to carry off their signature statement, they might also be slightly under-selling themselves. Because, if there is a truly distinctive and original cruise experience in the world today, it may just come under the Windstar flag.
Consider this. When Windstar Sail Cruises was founded in 1984, there was absolutely nothing like it in the wide world of cruising (it could be possible to state there’s still nothing like it, but that’s a whole different argument!).
The all-sail ships of Star Clippers were still six years in the future, while the true private yacht style of the veteran Sea Cloud had only just been restored to regular sailing in 1979, largely for the German market.
So, a company entering what was still a relatively small business in the mid-1980s was certainly taking a major leap of faith, let alone entering with a completely unique product.
The original trio of 5,300-ton ships, Wind Star, Wind Song and Wind Spirit were certainly different (hence that whole ‘180 degrees’ thing), but they quickly caught the public imagination and, aided by an even larger version of their four-masted motor sailing-yacht classification in the form of the Wind Surf in 1998, Windstar became cruising’s boutique brand, the Kimpton of the cruise world as opposed to the Hiltons, Sheratons and Hyatts.
Then, when the company bought three vessels from Seabourn in 2013 to become a six-ship fleet, more people began to sit up and take notice – especially passengers.
With the trio of 10,000-ton vessels amalgamated into the fleet as Star Pride, Star Legend and Star Breeze, the statement in cruise-going quality was unmistakable. Fans of the ultra-luxury Seabourn brand were intrigued, and the word quickly spread that Windstar was now a major player, albeit maintaining a boutique bateau ambience.
So, with that little bit of history in mind, we thought we would offer Five Reasons people genuinely love that Windstar style.
1. The Original Ships
In simple terms, the first batch of ships are just way cool, with their huge computer-controlled sails and unique sea-going profile. The three Sailing Yachts are unlike anything else at sea and they turn heads wherever they go.
At 5,300 tons, the first two are certainly true small-scale cruisers, but they feel big enough to encourage a more expansive onboard atmosphere. There is also the element of variety with the larger Wind Surf (the former Club Med I of French company Club Med), which offers a greater choice of dining and public rooms, as well as a much larger spa, fitness centre and casino.
2. The New Trio
For the real alternative to that genuinely laid-back sailing style, the All-Suites Yachts (as they are designated) offer a different profile and experience, still with an individual, boutique feel, but with more obvious cruise appeal from their regular ship profile.
Built from 1988 to 1990, they have been extensively renovated and refitted to match the onboard ambience of the original trio, but they also have an extra cachet of exclusivity from their Seabourn days. They feature spacious balcony suites as well as sumptuous Owner’s and Classic suites, plus a gorgeous lido deck which comfortably fits the languid Windstar style.
3. Watersports Heaven
You’ll probably hear it said Windstar brings out the playful side of its passengers, and that is especially true of the unique aspect of all six vessels. Each one boasts a special aft Watersports Platform affording all manner of watery fun and games. Whether you’re young or just young-at-heart, there is something here sure to appeal and add significantly to your cruise experience.
Each specially-constructed Platform offers kayaks, paddle-boards, water trampolines, sailing skiffs and even water-skis to ensure passengers can take full advantage of the harbours and coves where the ships drop anchor, often in splendid isolation. Anyone who savours the ‘Something different’ factor at sea will definitely find this is a major cruise option to consider.
4. Port Intensive Itineraries
For those who cruise as much for the ‘Where’ as the ‘How’ of the experience, Windstar ensure this is a supreme offering as they feature some of the most port-intensive schedules in the cruise catalogue, especially as they venture into areas like Canada, New England, the Adriatic and Tahiti, which are especially rewarding for their land-based opportunities.
Of course, as these are smaller vessels to start with, they can also venture into ports and harbours where the bigger ships can’t go, guaranteeing an even more personal aspect to each voyage. You will rarely find yourself in a crowd and, for us, that enhances the whole experience considerably.
5. Service & Cuisine
When it comes to the essential onboard aspects of the dining and service, you will find this a wonderfully relaxed but quality-conscious operation. When it comes to mealtimes, there is little formality (no pre-assigned tables or sittings) but plenty of culinary excellence, both in the main Amphora dining room and the alternative options, as you would expect of the Official Cruise Line of the James Beard Foundation.
And, from the Welcome Aboard champagne reception to your final departure, the staff are all genuinely invested in ensuring you have a fully refined service experience, as befits ships boasting a staff-to-guest ratio of 1:1.5. The Open Bridge policy is another feature of their welcoming style, and it’s ultimately hard to argue with Windstar’s essential statement.
One-hundred and eighty degrees from the ordinary? Yes, it’s one hundred per cent accurate.