What's Old is New and What's New is Old
Windstar Cruise: Star Pride June 20-27, 2014 Istanbul to Istanbul
After seven cruises on Windstar's Sailing Vessels, I was curious as to how the unique Windstar culture would be incorporated into the re-born Seaborne Pride. I am happy to say that everything we've liked about Windstar is alive and well on the Pride.
That isn't to say there aren't a few drawbacks. But overall, the addition of this new ship, and two others to come in 2015, is a success.
One of the things that separates Windstar from all the large, more mass-market ships is the speed of check in. No matter where you travel from, you are tired and worn out by the time you get to the ship. With Windstar, check in took all of ten minutes. Give them your passport, pose for a picture, pick up you room key and your done! In the lobby, or reception area, your cabin steward awaits to escort you to your room. After a quick overview of the room layout and first name introductions, he takes his leave. Less than 10 minutes later, our luggage was delivered. The one time we went on a large ship cruise, it took 2 hours for the luggage to arrive.
A quick walk around the Star Pride showed what is new and what is old. The Yacht Club, a large seating area with almost round the clock coffee, tea, latte, etc., smells new. New wood floor, new comfortable chairs and sofas, a few books and magazine abound.
AmphorA, the main restaurant also seems refurbished. Everything was clean and new, with good-sized tables (where a party of four can actually feel comfortable), and great service. More on that later.
The fitness center is small, but does offer exercise bikes, weight machines and free weights and treadmills. But a warning here: If you are 6 feet tall or more, you will hit your head on the ceiling while on the treadmill. Towels and orange-flavored ice water are available. Right outside the fitness center is the WindSpa. Typical services at typical cruise prices are offered.
There are a number of places to sit and read, or get a drink or just be alone.
The Compass Rose, Star Bar and Yacht Club offer both inside and outside seating.
Drinks are reasonable priced (by my Manhattan standards anyway) and there is a daily "drink of the day".
The lounge on the sailing ships has always been a great place to listen to music or drink or just hang out. On the Star Pride, the 4 piece band plays in the small theater, which is set up in rows, very different from the Lounge on the Star, Spirit and Surf.
Another highlight of Windstar cruises is the incredible service. We walked into the dining room the first night and were great by name by the assistant restaurant manager, Yogi. We last saw him almost 18 months ago, yet he remembered us. And that's not unusual. After one day our cabin steward new our names, as did the Excursion Coordinator, the wait staff and various other employees around the ship. It's a wonderfully welcoming feeling when you come up for breakfast and almost every server greets you by name. And they remember personal preferences.
One of the four of us didn’t drink and after the first meal, the waiters all remembered it and never offered alcohol.
The cabins (all suites) are a mixed bag. Ours was called a balcony suite but had only a French balcony - no place to sit. Our friends opted for an Owner's Suite.
And while spacious, the view from their windows and balcony was obstructed by beams and equipment. Imagine paying extra money for a huge Owner's Suite and going to sit on your balcony with the hull of a lifeboat in front of you.
Two other Owner's Suites midships had unobstructed views - but they all cost the same.
Beds are comfortable and closet space is fine. Each bathroom had two sinks and a full bath tub and hand-held shower.
But some of the fixtures are worn and were clearly not part of Windstar's refurbishing. The company promises the two other ships they bought from Seaborne will be fully renovated. And the Pride will undergo further upgrades next year.
Unlike the bias opposed to bigger ships, there are only a handful of options for dinner. The main restaurant is AmphorA and the menu changes daily. However, grilled salmon, chicken and spaghetti are always available as are side dishes of steamed vegetables and potatoes.
The other options are reservation only Candles, an outdoor restaurant that is transformed at night. Eating outside as the sun sets is a magical experience.
And with seating for only about 25, it is quiet and slow-paced.
And of course, there is room service. The AmphorA menu is available during dinner service and an abbreviated menu is available other times of the day.
Entertainment of Windstar has always been low-keyed. That tradition, which Windstar veterans actually prefer, continues on the Pride. A four-piece band plays soft music nightly, starting in the theater and moving to other venues around the ship. Upstairs, is a male/female duo offering pleasant, conversation permitting music as well. There is a small (very small) casino, and that's about it. Windstar guests pride (no pun intended) themselves on amusing themselves.
Reading, playing games, napping, listening to music, is about all most of the guests require. Sea days are all about finding a quiet spot to get some sun or read or sleep.
Windstar passengers fit into a to a very specific niche. Those who love it are loyal and will vocally voice their allegiance to Windstar, while denouncing the tumult of mega ships. Those who want all the bells and whistles of the larger ships, will likely not be happy on the small Windstar yacht experience. And for Windstar to continue to grow and thrive, positive word of mouth is critical. And based on our experience on this cruise, I am happy to continue to recommend Windstar to anyone who wants a true relaxing, friendly and personal cruise vacation