I want to state clearly and emphatically that WE LOVE WINDSTAR!! My wife and I have now been on seven Windstar cruises, including five on the Wind Surf. We have frequently recommended Windstar to relatives, friends and sometimes to complete strangers. The two couples traveling with us on this last voyage have sailed on multiple Windstar cruises with us. We recruited them to Windstar several years ago. These three couples have taken a combined total of eighteen Windstar cruises. We are invested in Windstar and want it to succeed. But we are in agreement that this most recent cruise was the least satisfying and most disappointing by far.
Before describing the disappointments, I'll highlight some of the many positives.
** The food service staff was, as always, outstanding. The waiters – many of whom we knew from previous cruises - were friendly, fun and efficient, and worked hard to cater to whatever we needed. After only a day or two, they knew our names and many of our preferences. Abdul did a great job.
** The housekeeping staff was also excellent. Our cabin steward, Darta, was friendly and efficient. Somehow, he always seemed to know when we were gone, because by the time we returned the cabin was always clean and straight. What few requests we had werequickly taken care of.
** Kudos to Klaus, the head chef! The food at all the restaurants was outstanding, perhaps the best we have ever had on a Windstar cruise. Good variety, well-prepared and beautifully presented. (I especially enjoyed the bison steak, which Klaus arranged for me to special order even when it wasn't on the menu.) Portion sizes were just right.
** The senior staff were terrific. Captain Peter Harris is certainly a very capable boat driver, since we regularly sailed from port to port safely and comfortably. But we especially appreciated his friendly, personable demeanor, his on-board visibility, and his willingness and eagerness to interact with passengers. We saw more of Peter, and spoke more with him, than any other ship captain we have encountered in many years of cruising. Likewise with Hotel Manager Ratko Strbac, who I was fortunate to get to know, like and respect. Ratko had only been with Windstar for a few weeks when we met him. He knows his business, and Windstar is fortunate to have him. His approach to guest relations will make the Wind Surf a much better ship on which to cruise.
** The lounge band was quite good; Coco has a terrific voice. But we found ourselves spending most evenings in the Compass Rose listening to Rain Duo. Craig and Niki were awesome! I could listen to Niki's sweet, beautiful, mesmerizing voice all night. And Craig's vocals and guitar playing would give Mark Knopfler a run for his money. (This is a great compliment, by the way.)
** The Wind Surf, and its smaller siblings, are, of course, one of the primary reasons we often sail with Windstar. We love these beautiful ships . . . the ambiance, the comfort and informality, the homey feeling. We enjoy, as well, many of the small, off-the-beaten-track ports of call.
Alas, this recent Windstar cruise was fraught with disappointments that tarnished the brand and seriously diminished our enjoyment of this vacation. Most of our concerns can be traced directly back to Windstar headquarters. For example:
** Initial check-in, and the few weeks leading up to it, were a mess. For the first time ever, no embarkation documents were mailed to us . . . instead, Windstar emailed us (through our travel agent) an ”eDOC TICKET”. This document was confusing and contradictory. It stated that check-in began at 1:00 pm; All Aboard was 4:00 pm; and departure was at 2:00 pm !!?? How does that work? We never could get clarification from Windstar, so, to be safe, we arrived at the terminal at 10:30 am, and then sat around for three hours twiddling our thumbs waiting to board. Because of Windstar's communications incompetence, we wasted an entire morning during which we could have been exploring Lisbon. This was an ominous beginning to our 16 day cruise on the Surf.
** On-board, we soon discovered that the Surf no longer has a Cruise Director. It now has what they call a “Destination Manager”, whose primary job seems to be to sell overpriced shore excursions. Her port talks spent precious little time promoting the sights, sounds, attractions and charm of the port city. Instead, she mostly encouraged folks to hop on a bus and go somewhere else. On top of that, information she did share with us was often incorrect or incomplete. Almost never did she discuss or promote any on-board activities. For example, trivia night, line-dancing instruction, market tour with Klaus, wine-tasting etc., etc., are all fine activities, but no one with Windstar, including our destination manager, promoted them.
** Speaking of on-board entertainment, the afternoon of third day, a Folklore song and dance group was brought on board.. They were very good, but passengers wouldn't have known about them unless they carefully read the daily program. The destination manager had said nothing about them the night before, and the lounge was barely half full. Those who did attend, (we did), were given no information at all about the performers. Where were they from? What region, or era, or ethnicity did their music and dance come from? What did their costumes represent? We don't know. The Windstar officer introducing them said little more than “Here's your entertainment”, after which no more words were spoken. What a wasted opportunity.
** Bar service in the lounge, and wine service in Amphora was often poor. We don't blame this on the servers . . . they were uniformly very good, friendly and attentive. There simply weren't enough of them to handle crowd. We can only guess that dictates from headquarters resulted in under-staffing, We were told that many of the more experienced staff had been transferred to the Star Pride.
** WiFi on board was awful! Connections were slow, intermittent or nonexistant. I signed up for access on the first day, and by the third day was so frustrated that I asked them to disconnect me. They did so without argument and with a full refund.
** The Dublin to Edinburgh portion of our back-to-back cruise started on an even worse note than it did in Lisbon. We had never been to Dublin before, so we signed up for the “special” Dublin city tour that would also transfer departing guests to the airport or a hotel. I asked the ladies at the reception desk several times if we would have to go to the airport ourselves. I told Ice that if the tour did require us to accompany the other passengers to the airport, that we would cancel. She checked with Jeff, who reportedly made a call or two, and then confirmed that after the Dublin tour we would be dropped off at the Davenport Hotel at 1:00 pm, and from there would join up with other guests going to the Wind Surf. Because of this promise, we took the tour. It was mostly a waste of time. We were very rushed. There was no expedited ticketing to anything, so we ended up standing in line for forty minutes to see the Book of Kells and then had only fifteen minutes there before we had to move on. We then started a whirlwind tour of St. Patrick's Cathedral at 11:45 am. We were told to be back on the bus at 12:05 pm, at which time our guide told us we were now heading for the airport. I asked “To the airport??!!” Yes, indeed. Precisely what we were promised would NOT happen was happening. I was incredulous – and furious - and told him to stop the bus. My wife and I got off the bus, not where we wanted to be but at a place better than a scenic drive to the airport. When we finally returned to the ship, I described to Jeff what had occurred. Jeff wasn't much help, but ultimately, Ratko, (the aforementioned hotel manager), stepped in and resolved the situation to our satisfaction. My thanks to Ratko for his concern, his empathy and his personal involvement.
Windstar is a great brand. We have traveled with Windstar often in the past, and will probably do so in the future. However, we are very concerned about what we felt was a marked deterioration in communications and service from previous Windstar cruises. This last Windstar cruise just didn't seem as special . . . too many corners had been cut. We worry that quality of the Surf, Spirit and Star will continue to suffer as the three Seabourn ships are brought on line and their experienced staff are diluted even more. We will be taking many more ocean cruises in the coming years. For the first time, however, we'll be seriously considering Azamara and Oceana and Viking as viable alternatives to Windstar.