Having cruised a number of times before (10+) and having cruised on Wind Star previously (two times), we approach this review with a non-biased and (hopefully) open mind.
We made our reservations through Cruises of Distinction which doesn't really have an interactive web site, but, rather, relies on telephone service. They are great to work with and have rates that match or beat any we could find on the internet.
We were with two other couples, one of whom was on our Wind Star cruise in Tahiti and the other who had never cruised on Wind Star previously. We all flew into St. Thomas one day ahead of the cruise and stayed at The Green Iguana. The cruise departed from Crown Bay March 11, 2006, and took us to St. John, St. Martin, St. Barths, Tortola, Jost Van Dyke, and Virgin Gorda.
Our embarkation at 3:00 pm on Saturday was typical Wind Star ... smooth, personal and enjoyable (the Captain was even there to greet us). All the cabins on the Wind Star and Wind Spirit, save the owner's cabin, are identical in layout and appointments. We were pleasantly surprised at the changes that have been made since our last Wind Star cruise ... flat screen T.V., comfortable beds, DVD/CD players, and even iPod docking stations (you can check out a pre-programmed iPod at the desk).
We immediately noticed that our itinerary had changed somewhat so that our arrival and departure times on some of the islands was shortened considerably. Many of the excursions originally offered had been eliminated with no explanation given so this meant that we would be "on our own" more than anticipated if we didn't choose to participate in the one or two excursions offered.
We arrived in St. John on Sunday which wasn't conducive to shopping as most stores are closed; however, we had opted for a bus tour and snorkeling so that didn't bother us. Our tour guide was interesting enough, but he felt he had to stop at every rock and tree to explain something or another ... to the point where the passengers revolted when he tried to cut our snorkeling short with "just one more stop". We managed to get in about an hour's worth of snorkeling at Trunk Bay which was very nice but I'm not sure I'd put it on the "world's top 10 beach list" touted by National Geographic. It's a National Park so it's well maintained and has a concession stand, nice restrooms and a great shower area (even though the water was cold).
Our St. Maarten tour was actually quite nice. The bus took us around the entire island and our guide gave us insight into the pros and cons of living on both the French side (St. Martin) and Dutch side (St. Maarten) of the island (I think I'd take the French side).
On St. Barths, my husband and I opted for the "Independent Explorer" which gave us a car and a map and sent us on our way. St. Barths has a number of steep, windy roads and many interesting beaches. We didn't spend the entire five hours driving and swimming (the water was a little rough that day), but we did enjoy seeing the island. (However, for the price, I wouldn't do it again.)
Having spent time on Tortola during a previous trip, we weren't thrilled with the prospect of driving around yet again. So, we were pleasantly surprised to find we were anchoring at the West End, just off Sopers Hole. We strolled through the charming shops (not many of them) and enjoyed a few Painkillers at Pusser's.
Had anchored off Jost Van Dyke on a previous small ship sailing but never made in on shore. Found out that I hadn't missed a thing! Foxy's was the "highlight", and that isn't saying much.
We had also previously visited (and stayed on) Virgin Gorda but we took the tour/snorkeling trip with the rest of our friends anyway ... and fell in love with Virgin Gorda all over again. The Baths were magnificent (calm waters so we were able to swim and snorkel) and the area around the Baths had been cleaned up considerably.
We have always found the food on our Wind Star cruises to be far better than any of the other cruises we've taken. The wait room staff was friendly and very attentive (and, yes, we were in Daddy's area). We did bring our own wine and were quite thankful since we found that the prices on the wine list had increased significantly since our last Wind Star cruise (Note: we paid a $10 corkage fee for each bottle).
Our cabin was fine; however, this was the first time I had booked a cabin on the "B" deck and I probably won't do it again. We encountered some pretty severe weather one night and the splashing of the waves against the hull was quite loud. (Not to mention our friends who were in the cabin next to us were a bit unnerved by the fact you could look out your porthole and actually be "under" water at times.)
Now for the few cons ... and I am writing a letter to Wind Star. - We were disappointed in the docking time changes and the elimination of most of the tours. - The drinks were a bit overpriced. $5.00 for a can of coke was "over the top". - The meager excursions were overpriced and, for the most part, boring. It would be better if they just offered buses to take you to and from popular snorkeling areas. - The much-touted "swim platform" at the back of the ship is rarely ever lowered due to "weather" conditions. In fact, on all three of our trips on these ships, it was only lowered once during each cruise. - We were never really under sail until the last day when a substitute Captain came on board while our regular Captain attended a meeting offshore. Being under sail on a Wind Star is a wonderful experience and, I'm convinced, our substitute Captain was less "leery" of turning off the engines and letting this magnificent ship "do her thing". - The disembarkation was horrid. During our Tahitian cruise, we were able to eat a leisurely breakfast and disembark at around 10:00 am. This cruise we were told to have our bags ready by 6:00 am and present ourselves to the customs officials by 6:15 am. Even though our bags were ready to go the night before, this meant getting up by 5:00 am to get ready to go. Breakfast was rushed and there was no service to speak of. We had to chase down servers to get coffee and, except for a few exceptions, there wasn't a smile or "good morning" to be had. - But, to top it off, we found out, by talking to several passengers standing around waiting for taxis, that there had been an outbreak of an intestinal virus on board that left a number of passengers ill and one cabin "quarantined". Luckily, none of our party became ill but, had we known there was a threat, you can be sure that we would have been more diligent in taking our Airborne and vitamins.
Will we take another Wind Star cruise? Probably, but there are many other ships to try and other places to see.