Just returned from Windstar's Costa Rica cruise and wanted to share our experience. We went right after New Year's, which is normally one of the slowest weeks for cruising. We only had 56 passengers on board - no crowds here! Mostly couples on board - a few newlyweds and the majority were in their 50s & 60s. We were somewhere in between and enjoyed the variety of ages and backgrounds. Never felt the cruise was dominated by any one age group. This was only our second cruise, first was on a larger ship to Alaska. I think the small ship experience has spoiled us! Truly, bigger ships still may be a better idea for families with children and multi-generation groups. You might also be bored if you are looking for exiting nightlife and shows. There were many times we were the only ones in the lounge or casino but that seemed to pick up a little towards the end of the week. I enjoyed the feeling of being on my own personal yacht and the quietness provided a much-needed break from the real world. Plus, quieter evenings ensured we ready for early days at port!
A concern I had before the trip was whether the service would be too "over the top". I enjoy good food and pampering, of course, but didn't want it to be overdone. I was relieved to find that the staff was very attentive but weren't tripping over themselves and treating you like royalty. Very nice people that seemed to enjoy what they do.
The ship itself was nice. Not new but everything seemed well maintained. Our stateroom was plenty big. Two closet areas, cabinet space and room under the bed for suitcases. The bathroom was laid out well with lots of storage and room to get ready. We especially enjoyed the flatscreen TV and DVD player to catch up on movies we don't seem to have time to see at home.
The food was fantastic. A full breakfast was served each day in the Veranda where you could choose from indoor or outdoor dining. Pancakes, waffles, eggs, omelets were available every day and made-to-order. They also had a full buffet of fruits, pasties, yogurt, cereals and oatmeal to choose from. I found everything to be very tasty and fresh. They also serve a Continental breakfast by the pool for several hours during the morning to take care of the early/late risers. I didn't find these items to be quite as good (milk wasn't too cold) but was convenient. Full lunches were served every day in the Veranda. Salad bar, meats & cheeses, fruits, desserts were available in the buffet. Could also order specialty sandwiches. A hot buffet was prepared each day and was different ethnic foods (Mexican one day, Indonesian another day). The last day of the cruise, there was a nicely done beach barbeque with a variety of grilled foods & salads). Dinners were wonderful and served in the dining room. There you could choose between a table for 2, 4, 6, etc. There were 5 courses (starter, soup, salad, main & dessert) and could choose one or more items from each category. Menu changed every day but there were a few "standards" like grilled chicken & salmon that were available every day. As a vegetarian, I was happy to see a good selection of things I could eat. The meals were filling, but I never felt that they overloaded people to the point that lots of food was wasted. On most nights, they also had dining at Candles available (unless too windy). A few tables are set up on deck with white tablecloths and yes, candles, and they serve the same menu all week (seafood, fish & steak). My husband said he enjoyed one of the best fillet mignon's he ever had. Atmosphere was romantic and something different to try - no additional charge. We also tried room service a couple times during the week and found the meals to be hot and tasty. It was nice to have this option available 24 hours a day. They will also serve popcorn to go with your movies!
Did want to comment on the dress code since that was a topic I was interested in before we went! Very casual during the day. Most people were off to see a port and dressed appropriately for whatever activity they were doing. We saw a lot of sport sandals and walking shoes. It does get hot during the second half of the trip so lots of tank tops and shorts worn as well. At night, people were well-dressed but not dressy. For men, mostly Dockers or linen pants. No shorts were allowed (or noticed). Most wore polo type golf shirts or button up shirts (like Tommy Bahama, Hawaiian print, or long sleeve dress shirts). I did see sandals on men at night, and they looked fine. Many also wore loafer-type shoes. For ladies, lots of sundresses were worn. Also saw pants and capris with nicer tops (no jeans). The dress seemed to get a little more casual by the end of the week when we wanted to wear the dresses and jewelry found at port! I wore sandals with a heel (which many also wore), but also wished I had brought a dressy, flat sandal. One evening was more casual when they did a poolside party for dinner.
PORTS: San Juan Del Sur - Nicaragua: This was my least favorite port. The ½ day Grenada excursion was cancelled so only full day tour was available. We weren't interested in spending 1 hour 45 mins each way in a bus so we explored on our own (those that went on the excursion had a good time). We walked to Hotel Piedras y Olas (Pelican Eyes) and enjoyed their pool for the day. The hotel is about a 10-15 min walk from the dock area. Once you get to the hotel, you keep climbing stairs..up and up...to see different pools/restaurants. We went to the highest pool which was an infinity pool overlooking the water and our boat. It was a nice way to spend the day. We also visited a small animal rescue organization that is onsite at the hotel. I had arranged a tour there ahead of time but was disappointed to find that the hotel was under new ownership and recently decided to close the sanctuary. I probably wouldn't have chosen to spend the day there if I had known that ahead of time. Not sure why Windstar has this as a port with only one choice (Grenada) as an excursion. I didn't feel as comfortable walking around this city as I did in other cities in Costa Rica.
Playa del Coco: nice, friendly beach town. We walked around town on our own and looked at the shops. The people were very friendly and were not pushy about getting you to buy anything. Both the Corobici River Float and Canopy Tour were offered that day. We did similar activities during our 3 day pre-cruise trip so didn't want to do these.
Quepos: Only excursion offered was a morning trip to Manuel Antonio - make sure to bring plenty of water - very hot/humid. We decided to see the park in the afternoon with a guide we found on TripAdvisor (Juan Luis Brenes with Aguilla Tours). We were able to see so much wildlife (two and three toed sloths - with a baby, howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys and squirrel monkeys). Our guide said the morning tours are more crowded and you normally don't see as much. This is a beautiful area and the park is well worth the visit. Because it's so close to the beach, many people that visit aren't what I'd call nature lovers. We noticed names carved in trees, people trying to feed the capuchins. Because of this, I enjoyed other parks in Costa Rica more (Monteverde, Arenal, Curu). We also toured Villa Vanilla in the morning. They picked us up at the dock at 9:00 a.m., and we were finished in time to see Manuel Antonio. This was one of the highlights on our trip. You can read all about the tour on TripAdvisor. So much to see & do at this port. Would have liked more choices from Windstar or maybe an overnight here.
Bahia Drake: I am embarrassed to say we didn't leave the ship this day! This was the port I was most excited about and by the time we got here, we were so worn out that we decided to stay on board. It was also extremely hot/humid so having the pool to ourselves was a refreshing idea. The ship offered 3 tours here (horseback riding, Corcovado park tour & Isla de Cano). Heard good things about all 3.
Curu: We took the ship's tour of this park. It's small so you could probably walk on your own, but I think the guides do a great job of finding wildlife by observing different sounds/smells. We spotted interesting birds and troups of Capuchin monkeys. They were much more fun to watch than the ones at Manuel Antonio because they were still wild and afraid of people. They got pretty close to us and crossed over branches right over our heads so that was a neat experience. This park was very remote, wild and quiet. Although small, it was one of our favorites.
Tortuga Island: This was a nice way to end the cruise. After enjoying the beach BBQ, you could rent cushioned lounge chairs/umbrellas or just enjoy the beach. Swimming was good here with nice, clear water. Windstar also had the water toys out so you could kayak or waterski as well.
To summarize this LONG review, I would definitely take Windstar again. Only con would be lack of choices at some of the ports. We like to do our own research & planning so I was able to book other tours I was interested in. I enjoyed everything onboard (food, service, staff, atmosphere) and would have a hard time cruising with anyone else!