Overall, the Islands of Italy cruise on the Wind Surf can count as a true travel experience highlight. The ship, the itinerary, the food and most of all, the service are excellent. Reminder, the WindStar experience is not for those who need climbing walls, ice rinks, big shows and large casinos, although there is nothing wrong with those large cruise ships.
With that in mind, I will try to provide an overall picture of our truly excellent cruise on the Wind Surf in October, 2012 to the Italian (and one French) islands.
Pre-cruise: WindStar Cruises offers pre-cruise hotels and in some cities they are excellent choices. In Rome, we thought it was overpriced and booked our own hotel. With WindStar, however, they meet you at the airport and transfer you back and forth from the ship. Even with the additional costs of transfers added, we found a less inexpensive approach by going to a travel agent and showing her what they offered and she was able to beat the price. One advantage of the WindStar pre-cruise package is that they take very good care of you and you have to do no follow up like re-confirming or guessing what time you will leave the ship. It may well be worth the difference in plain comfort and security. Also, check out the final excursion which may take you to Rome so you can avoid that transfer.
Embarkation: Even though this is a small ship with about 300 passengers, if everyone appears at the exact hour of embarkation, you will have to wait in a line to enter the ship. So, if for example, the embarkation time is 1 PM, go at 2 PM and you will have no wait to get on board and your luggage will get to you almost immediately anyway and the buffet will still be open.
Ship: The ship is every bit as elegant as we remembered it from 4 years ago. We choose the lowest level cabin since there really is no difference in the size of the non-suite cabins and the ship has two elevators. The stateroom is lovely and though small, amazingly well organized. There is plenty of storage. I am not sure whether the Surf has been totally renovated as the public areas and corridors seemed fresh and up to date. Our stateroom did show some minor signs of needed maintenance, two small carpet stains, a balky storage drawer, some marks on the cabinets. Also we did hear engine noises at night so maybe the even number cabins in the B level might be worth investigating. They leave fruit and a single rose in your cabin. If these observations appear picayune, remember this is a line that is striving for at least luxury-lite status and so many other aspects of the cruise experience are of such a high level.
Staff: This is the strength of the Wind Surf. Every single staff member is terrific. Their ability to remember passengers names and preferences is almost uncanny. They strike the perfect balance of professionalism and familiarity. I repeat this is the asset that takes Wind Surf above so many other ships (yachts as they call them). There were far too many pleasant experiences to pick out one or two, but trust me, from the Captain and Chef down to the room stewards, this is a fabulous crew.
Food: Uniformly very good to excellent depending on your choice of meal, though I must admit every appetizer and dessert was terrific. There is a great attention to detail and as stated before the service is terrific. As an example, one of the dinner companions was only having soup while others were enjoying their entrees, so the staff supplied her with a far larger serving to compensate. The main dining room is as good as the other restaurants (which charge no extra fees) but the dinner on the deck at Candles is worth making the reservation just to eat outside in a truly beautiful setting. The fact that you can always get a table for two is just delightful. Bobby, the wine steward can even find wines not on the list.
The casual cafe for breakfast and lunch is just great!
Entertainment: The lounge band was a family that were excellent, there was another couple that were also wonderful. A featured singer also was very talented. Do not miss the crew's show, talent sometimes questionable, enthusiasm fabulous. A real hoot!
Excursions: We only took one and it was good and worth the money. Some others seemed expensive so we struck out on our own and did just fine.
Cool thing: swimming and kayaking off the back of the ship while in ports where there are tenders.
Disembarkation: Excellent, easy and there is an area to wait for your rides and the Wind Surf staff stayed with us and called the car service to get updates. A nice touch that made us feel very comfortable.
Capri -- As corny and crowded as it is, GO TO THE BLUE GROTTO! The excursion can be booked right at the dock. The whole thing is a true Italian experience with loud, off key singing in the Grotto and loads of fun watching the chaos outside the entrance. Capri can be crowded so we took the funicular ride to Anacapri, visited the museum and a church and found several charming cafes offering inexpensive lunches. Busses had lines so if you can find another couple to share a taxi, do it.
Sorrento -- lovely tourist town and a jumping off point for a drive down the Amalfi coast. We actually arranged to share a drive from a couple on a Cruise Critic role call. Positano, Amalfi and Ravello are lovely.
Lipari -- small lovely island where we went to a beach. Negotiate the taxi fare down or take the bus.
Stromboli -- an active volcano that is spectacular at night especially from the deck side extravagant bbq
Corsica -- interesting island, wroth walking about
Elba -- turned out to be our favorite! My suspicion is it is mobbed in summer but when we were there it was just terrific.
Note: we used the internet cafes at several stops for mere 2 or 3 Euro as opposed to the ships internet that we found frustrating. Enjoy lunch in the ports.