Live from Windstar Star Breeze: First Impressions

May 6, 2015 | By | 2 Comments

Windstar Star Breeze (photo: Carolyn Spencer Brown)

When Windstar Cruises officially welcomes Star Breeze, its new motor yacht to the fleet later today, it’ll represent a new chapter in history for the storied ship. Until a few weeks ago, the vessel had sailed as Seabourn Spirit.

It’s also a continuation of a new chapter for Windstar. The small ship cruise line — best known for its trio of sailing vessels — made headlines last year when it announced plans to double its fleet. It is achieving that goal with the acquisition of Seabourn’s smaller trio of ships, the nearly identical 212-passenger Pride, Spirit and Legend. After a $2.5 million renovation last year, Windstar introduced Star Pride.

But Star Pride hasn’t fully won over small ship fans (the ship’s approval rating by Cruise Critic members is about 55 percent). Windstar executives told Cruise Critic that the experience taught them more investment would be needed before introducing the other two ships. Star Breeze (the Spirit moniker is, alas, already in use by another Windstar vessel) launches today and Star Legend follows in a few weeks.

Our first impressions onboard in Nice: The line has kept its word with some major new improvements. Here are the five key things to know about Star Breeze.

Big money. Having turned on the financial spigot, Windstar has spent almost $9 million to revamp Star Breeze (and Star Legend, just now beginning its refurbishment, will get an equal spend). That’s over $6 million more than it splashed out on Star Pride (which will get more enhancements next year when it goes back into dry dock).

Read on for more

    Cruise Tip of the Week: Safe Packing

    May 6, 2015 | By | 1 Comment

    carry on bag

    Tip: The carry-on bag you bring for embarkation day is more than just a place to keep your documents. Pack everything you’d need to hold you off until dinner: A swimsuit, change of clothes, any medications, etc. If your luggage gets lost by the airline or is delayed being delivered to your cabin, at least you’ll have some essentials with you.

    Full Article: Read 9 more tips on packing for a cruise.

    Want More?: Check out our related links below for more info, tips and advice.

    Cruise Packing 101

    The Ultimate Guide to Packing for a Cruise

    A Closer Look: What’s Your Cruise Packing Strategy?

    Stay tuned for more Cruise Tips of the Week — revealed every Wednesday!

      Just Back From American Eagle: 5 Cool Things

      May 5, 2015 | By | No Comments

      American Eagle (photo: Keith Marshall

      Over a pre-christening breakfast at New Orleans’ famed Brennan’s restaurant — just hours before the launch of American Cruise Lines‘ second Mississippi River steamboat, American Eagle — company CEO Charles A. Robertson waxed enthusiastic over “all the whiz-bang gadgets and doodads” in the ship’s control center.

      They’re just one aspect of what makes the line’s vessel so impressive, in both performance and amenities. Here are five cool things we discovered about the ship, before it set sail.

      1. This isn’t your grandfather’s riverboat

      “It’s more than I can understand,” CEO Robertson said of the dials and gizmos that Captain Max Taber has at his disposal on the ship’s bridge. “But what I do know is that they make the American Eagle our safest and most environmentally conscious boat to date.”

      Three energy-efficient Z-drive propeller units that rotate 360 degrees allow fancy turns, making the boat able to avoid any floating obstructions. Advanced water purification systems, similar to those on European riverboats, both ensure passenger health and return clear water to the Mighty Mississippi.

      “It’s as advanced in its own way as any of the big new ships,” said Taber, who’s now captained four of the company’s vessels. “And it’s great to pilot.”

      Read on for more

        Member Review of the Week: Wining & Dining Across the Atlantic

        May 5, 2015 | By | No Comments

        Whirlpool on Seabourn Quest

        Cruise Ship: Seabourn Quest

        Itinerary: Transatlantic, from Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona

        Member: travelingduo

        Background: Travelingduo and her partner reserved their Penthouse Spa Suite a year in advance for their transatlantic cruise onboard Seabourn Quest. With an itinerary full of sea days, the two enjoyed a fair share of variety. From restaurant hopping and spa perk indulgences to boot camp classes and much needed “me time,” read more to see what inspired them to book another Seabourn cruise.

        Onboard Highlight: Despite a few hiccups, travelingduo especially loved her suite with complimentary access to the tranquil Serene Area, and dining — especially in The Colonnade.

        Port Highlight: Funchal was the only stop before Barcelona, and despite having been many times before, travelingduo enjoyed returning and stretching out her legs.

        Don’t Miss: The Wine Journey in Restaurant 2, which travelingduo felt was worth every penny.

        Watch Out For: Binoculars, if you’re a sightseer. The ship no longer offers them onboard, so make sure to bring your own or stop at guest services for a pair.

        More: Read travelingduo’s full review for more hits and misses.

        For their efforts, travelingduo, lbudder, Jc3165, funat55 and RO7068 receive Cruise Critic logo items.

        Each week, we choose five cruise reviews written by our members, and showcase one as the Member Review of the Week.

        Read more reviews or write your own cruise review.

          We Try It: Volunteer Guides in Japan

          May 4, 2015 | By | No Comments

          Japanese Goodwill Guide in Kyoto (photo: Gayle Keck)

          Some people might call me cheap — but I prefer to think that I’m connecting more closely with the local culture when I opt to forgo shore excursions. Well, OK, I’m also saving money.

          So when I discovered that some shore excursions on my Asia cruise aboard Oceania Nautica topped $300, I knew it was time to take matters into my own hands. I’d heard that Japan has a system of volunteer “Goodwill Guides,” and decided to check out the possibilities.

          Google quickly turned up the Japan National Tourism Organization’s list of Goodwill Guide groups, located in cities all over the country, including Tokyo and Kyoto. Groups range from students to retirees, and most feature tours in English. Some offer general sightseeing, while others specialize. In Furano, for example, there’s even a group of “ski hosts.”

          I was interested working with a guide in Kyoto, and discovered six different organizations listed. Two of the volunteer groups specialized in educating visitors about local handicrafts — and Kyoto is famous for its traditional crafts. Since I’d seen some of the city’s main attractions on a previous trip, it seemed like a great opportunity to learn more about the lovely laquerware, pottery, kimono-making and other artistry practiced there.

          Read on for more

            Where in the World is Cruise Critic? Celebrity Suites and Windstar

            May 4, 2015 | By | No Comments

            Star Breeze (photo: Windstar Cruises)

            Ship: Windstar Cruises’ Star Breeze

            Where: France’s Nice and Italy’s Portofino

            Who: Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief

            Why There? Star Breeze (formerly known as Seabourn Spirit) will officially join Windstar’s fleet and be christened by godmother (and travel journalist) Wendy Perrin in Nice, before setting off on a four-night mini-cruise that calls at Portofino and ends at Rome’s port of Civitavecchia.

            We Can’t Wait: For fans of small-ship cruising, what’s exciting is that Windstar is doubling its fleet, all within the space of a year. The cruise line acquired the trio of darling 212-passenger motor yachts that were previously operated by Seabourn (the first, Star Pride, was unveiled last year and the third of the three, Star Legend, debuts in late May). Even more exciting will be seeing the changes Windstar has made to upgrade and update Star Breeze. While Star Pride underwent an ambitious refurbishment, Windstar’s making even more changes with Star Breeze — to the tune of $8.5 million.  We’re looking forward to seeing what the money buys!

            Follow along with Carolyn on Cruise Critic Live, where she’ll be sending updates throughout the cruise.

            Celebrity Eclipse (photo: Celebrity Cruises)

            Ship: Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Eclipse

            Where: A two-day roundtrip sailing from Southampton to Le Havre, France

            Who: Adam Coulter, U.K. editor

            Why There? We’ll be trying out the new Suite Class on Solstice-class Celebrity ships.

            We Can’t Wait: To see what all the fuss is about! Celebrity has installed a host of new features onboard its Solstice Class ships, including the new Luminae restaurant. We can’t wait to dine there, try out the new Suite Class experience, and speak to passengers to get their thoughts on the changes.

            Where is Cruise Critic

            Cruise Critic staffers set sail every week, traveling the globe to bring you the latest cruise ship trends, port sneak peeks and onboard observations.

            (Got questions about any of the ships we’re boarding or ports we are visiting? Ask us in the comments!)

              We Try It: Sailing on a Shakedown

              May 1, 2015 | By | 5 Comments

              main pool

              Your favorite cruise line has announced the dates for the maiden voyage of a new ship. Excited to be one of the first onboard, you race to book it. New ship, new hardware: What could go wrong?

              Plenty. Here at Cruise Critic, we’re experts when it comes to "shakedown" cruises. The term is generally used to describe a ship that’s either making its debut or returning from a major refurbishment.

              "Shakedown" refers to the challenges faced, mostly by crewmembers but also by shipbuilders and cruise staff, when it comes to adapting to new systems, layouts, technology, procedures, facilities (such as restaurants, nightclubs and shops), and even navigation.

              In the past few years alone, I’ve been a passenger on "shakedowns" on Oceania Regatta and Windstar’s Wind Surf, both after major refurbishments, as well as debuts for Viking Star and Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas.

              In the old days, shakedowns took place before ships took on paying passengers. But that hasn’t been the case in the 18 years I’ve been writing about cruise travel. That’s because tight schedules for new-builds, particularly those that are first-in-class vessels with lots of new features, often mean that shakedowns aren’t even factored into the calendar.

              Instead, we have "maiden voyages," taking place very soon after vessels are delivered by their shipyards. And so that first passenger sailing (and maybe the second and third) essentially act as defacto shakedowns.

              So be forewarned: In return for all the wonderful privileges of being among the first passengers onboard, you also should be prepared for glitches.

              Here are some of the pros and cons of being on a shakedown cruise (and if all this sounds too stressful, wait until the ship has sailed for a few weeks to give it time to settle down).

              Pro: There’s something magical about being one of the first passengers to cross the gangway. The ship is scuff-free, the library is stocked with new releases, and you get the chance to show all your friends back home something new and different.

              Read on for more

                Hot on the Forums: Ship Pin Mania

                May 1, 2015 | By | No Comments

                Carnival Ship Pins

                What’s the point of ship pins? Whether it’s a souvenir bought in the gift shop or received as a perk for your VIP status, the pins are certainly cute. But what do you do when you’re back on dry land?

                Many Cruise Critic members love ship pins and they’ve come up with plenty of imaginative alternatives to shoving them in a drawer. So if you’re looking for inspiration, read on.

                Avid pin collector DaisyGirl55 started a thread on the forums to see if other members had bright ideas on what to do with them.

                Read on for more.

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                  The Lido Deck is written by Cruise Critic's editorial staff, reporting from ships and ports around the world. The daily blog covers cruise news, reviews, advice, and hot topics from the Cruise Critic message boards. Please note: When commenting, Cruise Critic's community guidelines apply.

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