This is the first review of the newest ship in Windstar's fleet, the 212-passenger motor yacht "Star Pride", This 6-night inaugural cruise sailed on May 5, 2014 from Barcelona, with stops in Sete, Sanary sur Mer, Monte Carlo, Portofino, and Portoferraio, ending at Civitavecchia (Rome).
Most of the passengers were Windstar alumni cruisers, as well as many travel industry & media representatives. Also in attendance were owners Philip and Nancy Anschutz, Windstar CEO Hans Birkholz, and several members of his executive team. The ship's Captain was 15-year WIndstar veteran Alan MacAry, with whom I have sailed on several other occasions.
The cruise started with a gala pier-side fiesta, with music and dancers by a colorful and energetic Catalonian Rumba band. The dancers were very skillful in enticing some of the passengers to join in. Free-flowing Champagne, wine, and tasty tapas contributed greatly to a festive atmosphere. The ceremony culminated when Father Marto Rodriquez blessed the ship, its passengers and crew, and "Godmother" Nancy Anschutz snipped the ribbon releasing the bottle of champagne, which smashed against the bow to great acclaim from all, including the shipboard crew lining the decks.
Later in the cruise, there was another gala shipboard party in Monte Carlo, with a dazzling guest violinist, and a Cabaret styled dance troupe. Again, complimentary champagne, wine, and tasty nibbles get everyone in a party mood.
The Star Pride one of three (3) new motor yachts purchased from Seabourn Cruise Lines, and the first to enter service after an intensive 18-day refurbishment. Two more sister ships, the Star Breeze and Star Legend, will join the fleet next May. The interior decor received new furnishings, upholstery, carpeting, wall and window treatments, with a definite nautical theme.
The ship has many features familiar to WIndstar regulars: intimate "private yacht" ambiance, country club casual dress policy, attentive wait staff who learn guests' names seemingly overnight, and the open bridge policy. Cabins are all suites, with a minimum 50% larger footprint, larger marble bath, and a walk-in closet. The ship also features an aft sports platform for water activities, a small casino, and spa.
The Veranda restaurant has both indoor and open-air seating (with a lovely new awning), and transforms into the Candles alternative dinner restaurant at night The AmphorA restaurant is on the lower deck, and is handsomely decorated, spacious and comfortable However, a common complaint was that there are no restrooms on the bottom deck, so diners must go up one deck to find one. I did not find this to be a real issue, but for someone with limited mobility, it could be more important.
The Show Lounge was completely redone, and features a large bandstand for combos such as Top Society (whom I have seen on several previous Wind Surf cruises. Oddly enough, there is no bar in the Show Lounge, in my opinion a major shortcoming. The Compass Rose is located adjacent to the Casino, and has a very nice bar area and large dance floor. Unfortunately, it is completely indoors --- I really missed the aft ocean view from the Compass Rose on the other ships.
Getting on board the ship was delayed by close to an hour. Once we got on board, none of the electronic room keys worked, so everyone had to wait a short time. Many small little glitches during the first few days, but Windstar managed to fix almost every issue very quickly.
All the Windstar yachts have a minimal approach to onboard activities, and the Star Pride was no exception. There are no Zumba parties, glass blowing exhibitions, or bridge tournaments such as might be found on larger vessels. Bravo!! One traditional activity that was not highlighted was the afternoon tea time in the Compass Rose. Doesn't have the same appeal indoors.... Another was the Blackjack tournament, which just wasn't featured. Maybe on future cruises.
One activity that was highlighted was the opportunity to go shopping with the chef(s) --- there were actually two on board. One was the new Corporate Executive Chef Michael Sabourin, and the other was the Star Pride Executive Chef Rohit Dimri. Tom Steghorn of Travel Weekly wrote a great column about this experience, can be viewed here: http://www.travelweekly.com/Cruise-Travel/Shopping-with-the-chefs-from-the-Star-Pride/. NOTE TO CC: HOPE THIS EXTERNAL LINK IS OK!
I was lucky enough to spend some quality time with Chef Michael, and since the day before I had taken a gourmet walking tour of the local food markets in Sete, France, I had some inside knowledge to share. Chef Michael was just terrific! He actually listened to what I had to say, and based a few of his purchases on my input (or so I would like to think).
Biggest event of the week was the Deck Barbecue, featuring the dance review by the wait staff. Most dancing I saw all week!
Always a sore point, especially at sea. Windstar charges $50 for 100MB of bandwidth, as opposed to a fixed number of minutes. This is a wise pricing model, in my view. Otherwise, everyone would be clogging up the works sending selfies home to their friends. Connectivity was painfully slow, but not a lot different than on other cruise ships I have been on.
As always, the personalized service was terrific. Waiters and bartenders made an effort to address passengers by name, and were genuinely enthusiastic about posing for pictures.
The star of the show was Lilla, the vivacious and glamorous restaurant manager. What a treat! She seemed to be everywhere all the time, always smiling, laughing, and "working the room" like a seasoned performer. First time I have seen a female restaurant manager on WIndstar, or any female wait staff. In contrast, there was another restaurant manager on board (not sure of titles) who seemed to roam around looking at things, but who never interacted with the guests at all.
PORT & SHORE EXCURSIONS:
We took an excursion from Monte Carlo to the ancient village of Eze, and then to the Rothschild Estate. VERY photogenic, and thoroughly enjoyable. We also took a boat excursion from Portofino to the tiny fishing village of San Fruttuoso, and then on the the larger village of Comigli. My wife later took an excursion to the island of Elba, which she found to be very interesting. All the excursions were well organized. What was missing was the normal daily presentation of excursions, which I would have expected to be done by Travis, the Excursions Manager. I was told that this was a temporary omission, and the briefings would be provided on future cruises.
OUR CABIN #136:
Great location almost amidships, directly adjacent to the Atrium, so just one deck and a few steps from Guest Services, and the disembarkation ramp. Our cabin was on the lowest of the three passenger decks, and the least expensive. We had a nice large window (albeit a bit scratched), but no balcony. The cabin was spacious, and seemed even larger because of the very low bed. However, the low bed also made it impossible to use for luggage storage, even a carry-on. A nice feature is a curtain that can be drawn between the bed and the sitting area --- very convenient if I wanted to read after my wife went to bed.
Food on board was 99% outstanding. I had venison one night that was the best I have ever had in my life. All the food was great, with very few misses. I had duck one night that was slightly dry, but it was still very tasty.
Biggest complaint I heard was that the indoor seating at the Veranda restaurant was a little limited, with 6-7 tables of 6, 3 tables of 4, so total seating was around 50. If the weather is a little cool, windy, or rainy, seating could be a problem. No problem to go downstairs to the AmphorA restaurant, but most passengers like the ocean view.
The primary band is a 4-piece (guitar, bass, drums, piano) Filipino combo called Top Society, whom I have seen perform on several different Wind Surf cruises. They have a new female lead singer this year who is quite good, and who also plays violin (!). Some of the passengers just loved them, but I did not. While they are versatile, and capable of some good performances, I found them to be mediocre.at best. Their playlist is quite stodgy --- how many times can you hear "Fly Me To The Moon" and "Beyond The Sea" on one cruise?
A much better choice was the duo appearing in the Compass Rose, "One Night Stand", comprised of Craig & Collette from the UK. Collette has a beautiful voice, and does most of the lead vocals, while Craig plays the piano and does background vocals and duets, They use a lot of computerized instrumental background arrangements, and are very versatile. I heard them do a dance medley that included "Disco Heat" (originally performed by Sylvester) that had everyone in the room dancing. Despite this success, they are not really oriented towards dance music. A smaller venue, such as the Compass Rose rooms on other Windstar ships, would suit them better, I think.
Very straightforward. We arranged a private car with another couple for travel to Rome from Civitavecchia. About half the price.