Windsurf has changed. This was our 7th Windstar cruise overall and 4th on the Windsurf. In 2012, the ship was given a face-lift; not the overall refurbishment the line's Facebook page implied. Windstar is almost there. Almost, but not quite at the true luxury level.
Degree Restaurant was replaced by Stella Bistro (yet the guest comment card still lists Degrees). Stella was very good and the design is modern. The French-influenced food and service were quite good. The same holds for Candles, held over in the re-design. The dining venue is outside on deck under the moon and stars. Cannot be beat!
The main restaurant is now called AmphorA (yes, two capital A's). This is perhaps the most prominent example of the ship's renovation. It even smells new. New carpeting, table and chairs and a daily changing menu. The food was quite good, and the service, as it is throughout the ship, was excellent. I'm not really a wine expert, but I do think the wine list contained some interesting and reasonably priced options. Rommel, the bar manager, has been with Windstar since 1998 and knows his wine. But unless you and your traveling partner are really big drinkers, the beverage package seems like a huge waste of money.
Breakfast and lunch are served in an indoor/outdoor setting called the Veranda. There's always a buffet in addition to a menu of eggs cooked to order, pancakes, burgers, dogs and fries. The staff, who seem to work 24/7, are terrific. A couple of servers, Ziggy and One, even
remembered us from a cruise we were on a year and a half ago.
Upon check-in on the pier in St. Maarten, there was only one official processing people. Most of us had just gotten off long flights and were standing in the warm sun. In the past, check-in was quicker with more personnel helping out.
However, the process moved along quickly and were on board within 20 minutes. Once on the ship, getting your picture taken and getting your room key is a smooth and quick affair. Luggage was delivered about 90 minutes later, during which time we had lunch.
The cabins on the ship had undergone some updates. New bedding and curtains, but the same somewhat tired carpeting. The ship is pushing 20 (or more) and the carpeting shows it's age. Bathrooms on Windsurf are spacious and uniquely designed in a roundish pattern. The shower
has round walls, as does the space for the toilet. Surprisingly, even someone 6'2" fits easily. Towels and toiletries are quite good and the cabin is serviced well by the hard-working stewards.
The ports-of-call on this itinerary sounded good when we booked. Antigua, Tortola, Virgin Gorda, St Barth. But the excursions left much to be desired. Although she seemed to work hard, the excursion director, TJ, didn't seem too well informed about the trips. And the few slides she showed the evening before were not very informative. There are Information sheets available for each port, but a helpful touch would be a map on the reverse side showing where the shop docks in relation to restaurants, bansk, beaches, etc.
People complained about long bus rides, not so nice beaches, and not enough time t enjoy the scuba diving and snorkeling, etc. By an informal poll the trip to The Baths on Virgin Gorda was the best excursion. Wiggling through narrow openings between boulders was, for some, a bit strenuous, but worth it when we got to Devil's Bay.
As usual, Windstar's picnic on the beach was great, as was the final night's bar-b-que on deck. A great assortment of options, even for vegetarians.
Anyone who has ever sailed with Windstar knows the entertainment options. A competent house band, which has been playing for guests for quite some time, and a duo in the upstairs Compass Rose. That's it. For those of us who return to Windstar, this is fine and we don't want or expect more. If you want Las Vegas style pomp, this isn't the place for you.
I said earlier that Windstar had changed. One negative is that things seemed much less organized. Events were listed in the daily program without times (wine-tasting, cooking class) or the wrong time. An early morning stretching class listed as starting at 8:00, actually began at 7:30, surprising the guests who arrived at 8:00.
There are so few scheduled events on these small ships, you'd think keeping track of them would be easy. Even the ever-pleasant women at Reception were unsure of when things started and where they would take place.
Back to the cabin...many guests' room locks didn't work. Batteries and to be replaced. The once modern and useful Bose sound docks also were prone to problems. All matters were addressed quickly, but there seemed to be a lot of such issues. Two other observations. The cabins could use another electric outlet. People today travel with a ton of electronics and all need to be charged. So a nice addition would be one or two more plugs.
Also, who designed a toilet with the flushing device behind the seat? Talk about sanitary! One has to do one's business, close the lid and reach behind the toiled and pull up on a knob to flush.
One great thing about Windstar is that there is no waiting for anything. On a recent cruise on a large ship (2,000) passengers, there was a 20 minute wait to get into the main dining room. Never happens on Windstar. You can eat whenever and with whomever you please and you
are seated with a minute of coming to the door.
The same holds for getting on and off the ship. Never a wait of more than a minute or two.
The open bridge policy still is in effect and you can wander in and ask questions almost anytime. The captain made himself quite visible throughout the trip even though he wasn't feeling well.
I would like those see Windstar do more to recognize return passengers. Because this cruise line caters to a very specific niche, I would think much of their business comes from word of mouth. Airlines and hotels reward frequent travelers (as does Seabourn) with perks. Maybe an upgraded room. Maybe shipboard credit. Maybe a free spa service or bottle of wine. Not on Wndstar.
Regarding Windsurf spa, the women who seemed in charge was surly, rude and impatient. A very unusual trait for a cruise employee. When people had questions, or wanted to change or cancel an appointment, she look quite annoyed. One therapist even administered even administered a massage after admitting she had a cold. With so many precautions taken on cruise ships about disease prevention, how could this woman knowingly give a passenger a massage when she knew she had a cold?
Overall, Windstar is a great choice for a cruise vacation. When the sails go up, when they play Vengelis' 1492 during sail away, nothing beats it. But the line still has a way to go to be considered a luxury-level fleet