Could be your cruise of a lifetime, but I was expecting a bit more
My wife and I recently completed the "Riviera" cruise from Rome to Barcelona during the period of June 19 to 26, 2014. We were celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary and were doing the trip "first class". As such, we booked one of Wind Surf's suites -- cabin #501 -- at a total cost of $9,000.
I can honestly say we have never anticipated a trip more and very much wanted to enjoy every aspect of the Windstar experience and make it our preferred cruise line going forward. There are so many aspects of this cruise line that are really great.
- We loved being at port each day of the trip.
- We found the food to be quite good (with some exceptions I will note later).
- The "on deck" dinner bar-b-q celebration was excellent and a true highlight of the week.
- The size of the ship was wonderful for easily meeting new friends and quickly getting around.
- The on-ship laundry service was very convenient and fairly priced.
- The water sports platform off the back of the boat is fun after exploring a port all day. Note that I used the word “after” here.
Despite all of these positives, there are some troubling negatives that really affect whether I will ever cruise with Windstar again. They are:
- Suite #501 is unacceptably noisy. At the beginning of the trip we dealt with extreme vibrations from the mounted flat screen TV. While annoying, we solved the problem and were able to fall back to sleep. The last night was absolutely awful though. There is a metal track on the foot of the bed's head board. Extremely loud noises from elsewhere in the ship kept coming up through this metal track. It kept us up all night. For $9,000, there should be no problems with a room.
- We had to take tenders at 5 of the 6 stops. This is the exact opposite of the "experience" that Windstar touts of being able to reach ports that other cruise ships cannot. The need for tenders was most annoying in Monaco and Cannes. At Monaco, most people dressed up at night to go to the Grand Casino. Wearing evening clothes on a tender is not very comfortable. At Cannes, our plan was to take a tour to a winery in the day and then go to a beach in the afternoon. I assumed a quick change would be possible if the ship was docked. However, the extra 45-50 minutes it takes to use the tender made this plan impractical. I suppose Windstar could say that tenders were used in order to have the water sports platform opened all day, but I suspect that more passengers would have preferred less time with the water sports platform if it meant being able to avoid tenders at least part of the day.
- Further on the docking, the city of Monaco has awful taxi service yet the tenders had to dock a considerable distance from the Grand Casino. It would have been a nice extra touch to have a shuttle bus waiting for people in the evening to take them to the Grand Casino.
- The welcome luncheon was very low quality. Our first experience on the ship should be top notch to set the correct tone. Instead, some of the lunch choices were Chicken-Al-a-King and Beef Lasagna. Really? This is what I would expect to see at a budget all-you-can-eat buffet -- not on a cruise ship charging top dollar.
- The specialty restaurants -- Stella's and Candles -- had inferior menus to the main dining room. We discussed this with other passengers who shared a similar opinion. The main dining room was very good though.
- We were unable to make any of the group talks about the next day's stop due to its scheduled time just when people are getting ready for dinner. However, given how little nearly every member of the Wind Surf staff knew about a stop, I question how much value these meetings could have been. We literally got no guidance on the best beaches to visit or wonderful little towns just outside of the port city. We got lucky to have found out about Eze outside of Monaco and Collioure outside of Port Vendres since the Windstar staff provided no guidance at all.
- Port Vendres was definitely the worst stop by far. I have no idea why Windstar chose to tender there instead of Collioure, which was so much more scenic. We all joked that Port Vendres must have paid Windstar to stop versus the other way around (I am not sure it is so far-fetched though).
- The explanation of the tipping service was very poor. I asked on the last night about the policy. The main desk gave an answer that suggested the base cruise fare included tips and anything I give specific cruise staff was in addition to this amount. As such, I proceeded to give out about $150 in "extra" tips. You can imagine my surprise (anger?) when I saw that gratuities were added to my on-board expenses.
I gave Windstar an opportunity to respond to these criticisms before writing a review. I got a basic form letter response with a modest incentive to cruise with them again by 2015, which I will be unable to use. Despite this long list of “complaints” the ship and cruise experience could be really special if they just learn to pay a little more attention to details. I cannot say for sure I would rule them out for future travel, but I do know they missed the mark a bit too often on this past trip.