Having heard many good things about the WindStar, and having received many brochures and emails touting the Windstar difference, I was looking forward to our cruise from Athens through the Greek Isles to Istanbul. We also had friends who sailed on this same ship in Sept. 2006 and were very enthusiastic about their cruise.
Unfortunately, this cruise was our least favorite. In fact, we can say that we did not like the ship and felt it was highly over-rated and over-priced.
Let me preface this by defining our travel style. We are both 57, have taken 15 other trips to Europe ( and Morocco ) varying in length from 1 to 2 weeks. All have been land trips and only 2 were small group tours (Prague-Vienna-Budapest in 1996 and Morocco in 1998). I have usually arranged all our trips, transportation and sightseeing. We generally stay in a city for 5-7 days, and are used to being independent travelers.
We have taken 5 other cruises: HAL Statendam Alaska (Anchorage-Vancouver) in 2001, Celebrity Zenith NYC-Bermuda in 2002, HAL Rotterdam Boston-Montreal in 2003, QM2 NYC-Caribbean in 2004, and Celebrity Constellation So. Caribbean from San Juan in 2005.
Windstar was very, very disappointing to both me and my husband. I am more of a traveler than he is, and since I do all the planning, I usually have a better idea of what to expect.
First, let me acknowledge that the staff was wonderful. They were the best part of the cruise.
I selected this cruise for the length (only 7 days) and itinerary. I knew the ship would be small. However, it was smaller than I could have imagined.
It felt like you were constantly on top of other people. There is no place for private space on the Windstar unless you want to retreat to your cabin. On a larger ship, I don’t feel the need for a balcony, because there is so much more space per passenger, but not on this ship. The cabins are nicely laid out, but it is all interior space. There are 2 portholes for light. Certainly glad I did not pay extra to be on the top deck, as there is no difference from the lower deck, except for being closer to the water line. They did show a lot of new DVD movie releases and had a great DVD rental library. However, the only seating in the cabin is a vanity stool and one chair or the bed. To watch TV, you need to sit or lie on the bed.
Windstar also bills itself as a luxury line. This is not a luxury cruise, just an expensive cruise. The per diem is more than cruising in Princess Grill on the QM2, which we had the privilege to do, thanks to an upgrade from heaven. That is true luxury. Windstar is not. Putting L’Occitane en Provence toiletries in the bathroom and Egyptian cotton sheets on the bed does not a luxury cruise make. The ship also needed a lot of freshening up - she is old and tired looking, with a lot of chipped paint and some rust. I know she is scheduled for an upgrade in the fall, but spiffing up the cabins and reconfiguring the small public spaces isn’t going to be enough to justify the high prices charged for this cruise.
The food was fairly average, not the fine dining that Windstar promotes. We were told that the ship is provisioned in the US for accounting purposes and cost control. So all the fish is frozen. Imagine sailing the Aegean, and being served mediocre, tasteless, almost inedible fish (snapper). And how about the same chocolate cake being served every day – one day for both the lunch buffet and dinner? Also, breakfast and lunch are mostly buffet, with menu options also available. The Verandah dining area isn’t large, so with the buffet style, it hardly makes for a feeling of luxury. At dinner, many of the tables are for 4, so you could end up sitting with a couple that isn’t quite compatible and no other dining companions. Once we got our colds, we did request to be seated alone, so as not to make anyone else sick or uncomfortable. However, that meant being stuck into either end of the dining room – near the kitchen entrance or the door. As for the on deck barbecue, my husband was less than thrilled with the crowded seating area, buffet lines (and some pushy people) - again, not what one expects for about $850 per couple per day. This was also the case at the chocolate buffet - a lot of which looked better than it tasted. (I'm a certified chocoholic!)
My cruise booking agent was informed of my husband's dietary restrictions and conveyed them to Windstar. Once onboard we found they knew nothing about these dietary restrictions. However, once we informed one of the waiters, he made sure that my husband had sugar free ice cream whenever he wanted it, and actually brought some to him, completely on his own, at the on deck BBQ.
Tea time snacks are served on the pool deck, but it is sometimes impossible to find a place to sit in order to eat.
Also, my husband does not drink alcohol (blood sugar issue) so I also don’t. The big activity before dinner is cocktail time in a packed lounge – hardly comfortable. They stack up the deck chairs before then so you can’t even sit out on the deck instead. So if you don’t do cocktails, it’s pretty boring onboard.
So let’s use the fitness center. Well, the pictures of the fitness center online must be from the Windsurf which is the bigger ship. The center on the Windstar is a small, cramped room with semi-functional equipment - the programmable features of the elliptical and recumbent were almost, if not, impossible, to set. These aren't new machines with TV monitors, or even of recent vintage from their appearance. Often there was a wait for the machines (1 recumbent bike, 1 elliptical, 2 treadmills and 1 stairstepper, plus a universal and free weights). One day I came in during cocktail hour (best time to get a machine) and found one of the crew using the equipment. I’m not a snob, since I usually travel more budget than the price of Windstar, and I was not offended, but it does point up another aspect of such a small ship. On a true luxury ship, however, one would not share the facilities with the crew. However, this made me realize that if the crew is also using the equipment, then no wonder it has so much wear and tear and isn’t totally functional.
Seeing the sails go up the first time is really nice, but that pales in comparison to the crowded feeling on this ship. I know a lot of people say they don’t want to sail on the big behemoths. I don’t think I want to go on one of the XX of the Seas. However, I have enjoyed the Celebrity Constellation and the QM2 because they both provided the opportunity to find quiet space and private places. Even though we only had oceanview on the Constellation, not a balcony, we found plenty of places to go that were not crowded. My husband is in sales, and so he has to be "on" everyday. On vacation, he doesn't want to have to be "on" with people everyday. While we met some very nice people on the ship, there really isn't any way to have private space on Windstar unless you are in your cabin.
As for ports/shore excursions: MYKONOS - we toured on our own. Mykonos Town is small, can be seen in a few hours, so I am sorry that we did not take a tour to Delos. SANTORINI - shared a taxi to Oia with a couple from the ship. Best way to see the island. No need for ship's tour. We were in port on Monday, so ruins at Akrotiri are closed. RHODES - again, shared taxi to Lindos with couple from ship. Great savings over the price of the shore excursion. We later walked through the old city at our leisure. The Grand Master's Palace is mostly empty, so the floor mosaics are really the only important feature. Having recently been to Malta, which was also built by the Knights of St. John, we found Rhodes was not as impressive or beautiful. Some parts of it were interesting, but some were kind of seedy. Also, for a World Heritage sight, there were a lot of souvenir shops, which was disappointing. The synagogue is worth visiting. BODRUM - Again on our own, we toured the Castle, and walked the town. Be aware that the goods in the bazaar are not authentic (a very honest merchant informed us that everything is basically a copy). There is a Turkish bath in Bodrum, but we did not indulge. We did walk along the waterfront and relax in a cafe. While we were in port, the Wind Spirit was also in port, and there was an accident with one of their tenders and a local boat. Apparently some were injured and the Wind Spirit staff were doing everything to assist them (we later saw a passengers disembarking - apparently the spouse of one of the injured). KUSADASI - highlight of the trip. Used ship's excursion to Ephesus. Had a very good guide. Amount of time at the site was just right. We did see the carpet demo upon our return to Kusadasi, but there wasn't much time for anything else, so we just returned to the ship for lunch, after which it was almost time to set sail. SEA DAY - ship was crowded with everyone on board. Yes, there were chair hogs, so we ended up on the deck in front of the bridge. Not much to do onboard. Bring lots to read. Pool on board is ridiculously tiny - no one uses it, so it just takes up space. I only ever saw 1 person in the hot tub. Another space waster. Both pools looked kind of grungy, so maybe that's why no one was using them.
So, all in all, this wasn’t the ship for us. This cruise has convinced me even more that if I want to cruise, I need to be aware of the space to passenger ratio, and of the activities and size of fitness center available. I also think I am more suited to traveling in Europe on a land based vacation.
But all that being said, I also think that this ship is very highly over-rated as a luxury cruise. Perhaps at half the price we could have overlooked some of these things, but not for what we paid.