This was my 6th cruise on the Wind Surf, first 3 times were when it was the Club Med 1 (Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Polynesian itineraries). I have also cruised several times on the Wind Star and Wind Spirit, most recently in Costa Rica. This was also my 3rd time sailing out of Civitavecchia, once on the Club Med 1, later on a (now defunct) Renaissance ship, and now again on the Wind Surf. Although the experiences were similar (all of them GREAT), there were some notable differences.
First, the Wind Surf Review that was written by Cruise Critic contributor Jana Jones is very comprehensive and accurate, so I will try not to repeat any of this basic information. I love the Wind Surf, and small ship luxury cruising in general. I cannot imagine enjoying one of those mega-sized cruise ships with thousands of passengers. If you have ever been in St. Thomas when a large ship is in port, and seen the throngs of passengers wandering the streets at 10 AM in the morning, with beers in hand, you may understand my viewpoint. TRAVEL TO THE PORT
We chose a Rome-Rome itinerary because of the fantastic price we got from Windstar via the Foremast Club (previous Windstar cruisers), and the reasonable air fare resulting from flying into and out of Rome (no 3-way itinerary). We got a great Delta airfare of $649 out of the Baltimore-Washington airport, connecting through New York.
Unfortunately, the trip both ways was a real nightmare, mostly due to routing complications caused by the volcanic eruption in Iceland. Or flight from NY to Rome was delayed 4 hours, then cancelled due to mechanical problems with the plane. We then got on an Alitalia flight to London, which had to turn around and return to NY mid-flight due to another mechanical problem. As a result, we arrived in Rome over 12 hours late, thoroughly exhausted and frazzled. Luckily, we choose to travel with carry-on bags only, which really saved our bacon on more than one occasion. More on that later.
One fellow traveler offered this observation about Delta --- DELTA = Doesn't Ever Leave the Airport, or alternatively, DELTA - Don't Expect Luggage to Arrive. In Delta's defense, their customer service staff was overwhelmed by the many schedule disruptions, but did their best to re-schedule flights, and otherwise accommodate their customers. After our return, my wife and I each received a nice letter from Delta, along with 17,500 complimentary frequent flier miles.
Because we had visited Rome twice before, we chose to go directly to Civitavecchia from the airport. We booked a room at the Hotel Bramante, which I researched via the Travel Advisor website, and Expedia. The hotel arranged ground transportation for us (nice Mercedes van). We previously had travelled to Civitavecchia by means of the train, and since there is a train terminal right at the airport, this would have been very economical and convenient. However, since we actually arrived so late, it was nice to have a driver waiting for us, with a relaxing 45 minute drive to the hotel.
The hotel is small, but sparkling clean, and very comfortable. There was a nice continental breakfast, and complimentary shuttle service to the dock. The hotel is not located in a very scenic part of town, so we did no strolling about. Checking in at dockside was a breeze, and we were soon aboard.
We were in Cabin # 148, very convenient to the forward elevator and stairs. No surprises there --- the cabin was clean and comfortable. We unpacked, went right up to the Veranda to enjoy some lunch.
Again, no surprises for us. The crew was installing brand-new fitness equipment, and the bar staff was replacing all of the crystal and stemware, so it was obvious that Windstar is serious about maintenance and upkeep.
One thing I did notice on this and other cruises on the Wind Surf, is that the sails were never up for more than a few minutes, despite some fairly steady breezes. I am suspecting that this may be due to some sort of mechanical problems, and also because the larger size of the ship compared to its smaller sisters. Last year in Costa Rica, the ship got up to 14 knots on sail power alone. That REALLY got everyone excited!
As usual, the food was excellent, without being over the top. We took breakfast and lunch on deck whenever possible, weather permitting. I really enjoyed the fresh-squeezed OJ, ripe melons, and smoked salmon for breakfast, and looked forward to the cold soup of the day at lunch, along with the brad pudding. It was too cool in the evening to eat on deck, so we didn't get to try Candles or Le Marche. There was also no BBQ night, again possibly due to the coolish weather. Highlight of the cruise was having dinner with the captain, along with Fran Bigelow (Guest Lecturer) and her husband. Low spot for me was the coffee --- too strong and bitter (I DO like my Starbucks). Also, in my opinion, the wine list is pretty average.
There were only 140 passengers on board, so many of the activities were very lightly attended. There was a Wii tournament, which was fun, and also a Blackjack tournament which I missed (I have won several times on previous occasions).
There were no children on board, and I don't ever remember seeing any on a previous Windstar cruise.
Excellent, as usual. Several staff recognized me from previous cruises, and vice versa.
This is an area where Windstar definitely needs to improve. The Wind Surf almost always has a large combo playing in the main lounge before and after dinner, and a guitarist/vocalist playing in the Compass Rose for Happy Hour, and after dinner. The Phillipino musicians in the combo were skilled, especially the lead singer, who must have watched a lot of Tom Jones videos. But they were extremely laid back, with no spark or energy --- a real snoozefest. In contrast, the Compass Rose had Callen & Joyce, who were outstanding. Callen is a gifted guitarist, and he does his own computerized arrangements, which allows him to sound like a full combo, with bass, drums, keyboards, etc. Joyce is only an average vocalist, but makes up for it with an infectious, sparkly personality. They have an extensive playlist, and do requests as well. They filled the bar up every night, especially when they had a "Name That Tune" contest, with a bottle of champagne as a price. It was so popular they did it again on our last night, to everyone's enjoyment.
Another highlight was the Guest Lecturer, Fran Bigelow, who has a gourmet chocolate business based in Seattle, Washington. Her presentation on the history and joys of chocolate was both entertaining and informative. One night she hosted a "tasting" of high-cocoa dark chocolates paired with vintage port. WOW!
The rest of the entertainment was dreadful. One night there was a comedy magic act that was really cornball. Another night Mark, the "Cruise Director" performed his cabaret act, which was also mediocre. He has a fine voice and is a polished performer, but the material is mostly show tunes, some of which featured "specialty" lyrics. If you like the Catskills in the '50's, you'd probably like his act. The rest of the cruise, he was almost invisible, which makes one wonder what his role was.
The weekly show put on by the staff and crew is OK, but after you've seen it a few times, the novelty of seeing the waiters perform their line dance gets a little old.
In general, it seems that Windstar has been trying in recent years to broaden their entertainment offerings, but without much success. For me, I would much rather listen to a good guitarist than watch a second-rate comedian or magician.
PORT & SHORE EXCURSIONS
We visited 5 ports --- Porto Vecchio, Corsica; Messina, Sicily; Sorrento, Italy; and the Italian islands of Capri and Ischia.
In general, I find many of the shore excursions to be very average and a bit overpriced. In many ports, renting a car and/or hiring a cab will allow you to see the same sights at a lower cost.
In Corsica, we took the tour to Bonifacio, which is incredibly scenic, well worth the visit. It's only about a on-hour drive from Porto Vecchio. In Messina, we stayed on the ship, and I didn't hear anyone raving about their time ashore. In Sorrento, my wife took the tour of Herculaneum, near Vesuvius, and greatly enjoyed it --- as the site is much better preserved than Pompeii. In Capri, we visited Anacapri, and took the chair lift to the top of the island, with spectacular views of the Faraglioni rocks below. I was greatly disappointed that when the ship set sail (speaking figuratively) from Capri that evening, it did not sail over by the rocks, which are not only scenic, but have been featured in so many movies. There was plenty of time, since Ischia is only a few miles away --- go figure. Unfortunately, the Blue Grotto was closed due the combination of rough water and high tide. In Ischia, we saw the "La Roca" castle, and visited a small fishing village on the other side of the island --- very scenic. Again, we could have done this very easily by taxi, at much lower cost.
DISEMBARKATION AND RETURN HOME
We shared ground transportation (another nice Mercedes van) back to Rome with another couple, probably could have done it just as easily and much cheaper via the train. Our flight back home was delayed 9 hours, then was routed North of Iceland, so we could look out the window and see that pesky volcano belching smoke and ash. Arrived in NY around 11 PM, but were able to breeze through Customs and baggage check (no checked luggage), got in the head of the line at the Delta Service Desk. We then lucked out when Delta decided to put us up for the night at the local Doubletree. After 4 hours sleep, and a flight through Atlanta back to Baltimore, we go home just about a full day late.
Another GREAT Windstar cruise! Can't wait until the next one.