I have been looking forward to the Windstar Cruises "Treasures of Southern France" cruise for about half a year. The minute I saw the photo of the lavender fields on the brochure page of this cruise I knew I just had to go. And so we booked the cruise departing Nice on July 13. My husband and I arrived to Nice a day early and spent the first night at a hotel which was great. We then took a cab to the point of embarkation. Windstar tends to select smaller, commercial ports so we were lucky that our taxi driver knew where to drop us.
The moment I got on board, Gonzalo, the Destination Manager, welcomed us. I told him I was so excited to be seeing those lavender fields that they had in the brochure. I then asked which tour I could take to see those fields and he told me "they are everywhere! Take any tour." He then tried to sell me on the $1,499 private car and driver which I thought was a ridiculous price and so I signed up for an excursion to Aix en Provence on Tuesday and later the French Impressionists tour that Thursday.
When Tuesday morning came around, we were up, dressed, and had breakfast well before 8 a.m. as our departure was at 8:15 for this tour. Gonzalo saw me in the hallway, pulled me aside, and then told me that he checked in with an associate, and the lavender fields are not in bloom now and that I will not see any. He then told me that I could get my money back if I wanted for the tour. Incredibly disappointed, I took the tour anyway as we were already up and ready. It was a really bad tour. The guide had a hard time with English and just "ummed" the entire time. When we got to Aix en Provence, we were dropped off by a flea market and once the guide starting talking about the exterior of some such building, my husband and I just took off on our own. We didn't really like this area at all. It was VERY commercial and touristy and not at all what I had imagined the medieval little towns of Provence to be. Even the waiters in the cafes were surly. The town was so overcrowded, we couldn't wait to get back on the bus.
We had heard that the ship was renovated and were surprised when we got on board and our cabin steward took us to our stateroom and proceeded to tell us that they were probably renovating the cabins later this year or early next year. Sure, they had put in some new carpeting (which was already quite dirty) and had new linens, but the room still looked worn. The furniture was the same and our bathroom had rust around the door frame. The cabin steward kept the room very clean and we thought the laundry package was a great deal. But they had this rough, woolen blanket on the bed which I thought was very out of place and not at all luxury.
Breakfast on the ship became somewhat of a joke. Every day you had a choice of a different Eggs Benedict. They had a waffle or pancake for good measure and always the same display of meats (many of which were discolored) and fruits. Lunches were also quite horrific. The menu showed hot dogs and hamburgers, perhaps a burrito, they had a greasy Gyro one day. And here we are in the South of France? What about the fresh veggies and fish we saw in the markets each day? We ended up dining ashore for lunch most days.
Dinners, while tasty, were the same dinners Windstar serves no matter where in the world you happen to cruise. Here we are in the South of France and there wasn't even a French wine on the wine list! Hungarian Goulash, Turkey and Stuffing? Really? They had one appetizer and one entree that said "local specialty" as a choice each evening and while the food was tasty and the service was excellent, once again, you weren't dining on the specialties you could find ashore. These towns had fabulous markets and when you saw the quality of the foods there, it was disappointing to see what you got on board.
Also, Windstar tendered for the first few days into Cannes and Sanary Sur Mer, but then we docked in a horrible area of Marseilles that didn't seem safe (our ship was behind barbed wire with uniformed guards) and other commercial ports so while you were trying to enjoy a relaxing breakfast on deck, all that you heard were jackhammers and construction vehicles. Tendering would have been so much better.
The ship also only sailed each evening starting at 10 p.m. and you were usually docked by 7 or 8 a.m. so you hardly got any opportunity to experiencing cruising which is why we were there wasn't it? The rest of the time we were docked at these ugly commercial noisy ports.
Windstar always positions itself as a luxury cruise line and that its journeys are 180 degrees from ordinary, but after having completed by third cruise with them and my husband's fourth cruise, they have gone downhill. The type of passenger has gone downhill, and what they try to get away with is incredible. They are not a luxury cruise line anymore. Luxury isn't having hot dogs and hamburgers on the menu. Or no European wines (everything was from the Napa Valley).
If you want something really unique and luxurious and you are a foodie, go to a Seabourn or more upscale line. They just don't really care about delivering what they promise. And when you complain, they offer to give you a limited discount on your next cruise! Like why would you cruise with them again?!
Most disappointing was that they position this as a cruise to the South of France where you will see the lavender fields they show on the website and in the brochure. Yet the destination manager on board is clueless about the destination (he's from Mexico) and can't even direct you properly to see what they supposedly sell about the destination.
This was a very disappointing experience and not at all luxury if you are a true five-star hotel traveler who enjoys luxury and good food and wine.