Since 1986, Windstar Cruises has enjoyed the distinction of a fleet with billowing sails that could, along with engines, power its ships. This week, the company took a major step when it introduced its first-ever “power” yacht: the 206-passenger Star Pride.
Until last month, the vessel had sailed as Seabourn Pride; Windstar gave it a two and a half week refurbishment. Two nearly identical siblings, Seabourn’s Spirit and Legend, will join the fleet next May as Windstar’s Star Breeze and Star Legend, respectively.
What kind of change does this mean for fans of Windstar, which has earned a strong reputation in the industry for its upmarket, cozy, and relaxed style of cruising? Not much, according to company president Hans Birkholz. “We are known for our sails,” he said at a press conference onboard Star Pride this week. “But what we’re really known for is our private, yacht-like cruises, the small ship ambience. And you can get there on our sailing yachts and on our power yachts.”
Indeed, these ships, which fit in between the slightly larger Wind Surf and the smaller Wind Star and Wind Spirit, have a lot of the line’s hallmark features. They’re small enough they can dock right in town rather than out in commercial port areas where big ships are often relegated. There’s a sports platform off the back that can be used for kayaking, sailing, water skiing and swimming. The open bridge policy remains in place – passengers can wander up and talk to the captain. Cuisine is strongly influenced by the itinerary, and the once-a-cruise Deck Barbecue continues to be a Windstar tradition.
After spending a few nights onboard Star Pride, here’s what we see as the pros and cons with the newest addition to Windstar’s fleet.
Accommodations. The biggest “wow factor” on this power yacht has to be its cabins. While rooms on the sailing ships – Wind Surf, Wind Spirit, and Wind Star – are beautifully designed, they reflect some of the limitations of a sailing vessel such as few balconies, porthole style windows, and cramped bathrooms) On Star Pride, all cabins are suites, with expansive living areas (some open out to a French balcony, others have a large picture window). Each has a walk-in closet and a beautiful marble bathroom, with bathtub/shower combo and double sinks.
Decor. We love the consistency of Windstar’s design strategy, which extends through all vessels in the fleet. This is a line that doesn’t want you to forget you’re at sea, so there’s a reverence for nautical touches and colors, all imbued with contemporary flair, throughout.
Service. Windstar’s always been known for its personal touch – and you feel that here. Many of the officers, staff and crew onboard Star Pride are Windstar veterans, and quite a few were welcoming repeat passengers back with enthusiasm (and by name).
The Compass Rose. Windstar’s trademark cocktail lounge is beautifully designed but lacks one advantage of the sailing ships: There’s no real deck space so sipping wine under the stars isn’t really possible here (the Star Bar, on a top deck, does allow for alfresco cocktails).
The Yacht Club. This new public space for Windstar reminds us a little bit of Seabourn’s combination coffee bar/all day casual eatery/library, and it’s lovely. Oddly, though, it closes at 5 p.m. This would be a terrific spot for a quiet evening cocktail or chat. We also noticed that all of the tables are cocktail-height, which isn’t ideal if you want to play cards or work on your laptop (or even snack on the delicious granola parfait, at breakfast, or wrap sandwiches, during the rest of the day). Bar service is available when the Yacht Club is open.
Age. The ship, though new to the Windstar fleet, actually debuted in the late 1980s and every once in awhile you come across an area (particularly in the atrium with its brass railings) that does feel a little bit dated. Ceilings are low, too.
The Veranda. The ship’s buffet venue seems to be a bit small even for a ship with just 206 passengers. There’s a lovely alfresco terrace, shaded by a newly-added awning, but if the weather’s poor and everyone wants to eat inside, it is cramped. The back-up plan for those inclement days is to open up AmphorA, the ship’s main restaurant, but most passengers weren’t aware there was that option.
Internet. The service onboard is not only painfully unreliable (and painfully slow when it does work) but also it’s hideously expensive. Windstar, on all ships, offers packages based on how many megabytes you plan to use. Not a soul onboard – from the purser’s desk staffers who sell the $50 and $100 packages to its own information technology specialist — could provide clarity on what you’re getting for the money. Based on my experience (and I remember this problem from a cruise on Wind Surf last year), don’t bother. Use your devices in port.