We embarked in Venice. Checking in and getting our Stateroom keys could not have been easier. It took us less than 15 minutes from the time we got on line to the time we stepped into our cabin. Luggage came about 10 minutes after that. Because Windstar is so small, it's easy to recognize the familiar faces of returning crew. As we boarded, there was a bit of a hard sell for spa services, but the staff was pleasant and it was not unlike other pitches on other cruises.
It's easier to familiarize oneself with the ship. Walking the entire ship, on all decks takes maybe 20 minutes. I was pleased to see renovations and the addition of the "Yacht Club". Big screen TV where many watched the early rounds of the World Cup, a new free sandwich bar, library and great luxurious seats with headphones and ipod docs.
The staterooms were pretty much the same, thought we were upgraded to a suite. In retrospect, we really appreciate the extra space and my wife loved the 2 bathrooms!
There are not a ton of activities to describe on Windstar ships.Reading and talking are the main things to do. However, the rear sports deck is open when possible and kayaking and windsurfing are options.
The Windsurf, the bigger of the 3 ships, added "specialty" restaurants. Degrees, was our least favorite. It says it is Mediterranean but it seemed more American/Continental and the menu doesn't really change during the week. the regular Restaurant offered more variety and was excellent. We also dined in Candles, a steak place. It was outside and accommodated only about 20 guests. Very nice setting and service. Our favorite was Le Marche, a seafood restaurant also for about 20 guests outside on the rear of the ship. Watching the sun set as you eat and drink wine was quite an experience.
Service on Windstar has always been well-above average. The mostly Philippine and Indonesian staff work hard yet are always smiling. Our cabin steward, Agus, was friendly and charming and did a great job.
The captain, John Clark, was very visible. Sort of the David Letterman of ships. Henri Lemay (?), the hotel manager is a long time Windstar veteran and was very attentive. Eric, in charge of entertainment, is new to Windstar. He actually performed a couple fo times and was absolutely charming.
We stopped at Rovinj, Trogir and Dubrovnik in Croatia. All were wonderful and I'd strongly recommend doing these small towns on your own rather than paying for excursions. We had lunch in Trogir on a tethered barge that was absolutely romantic and charming and special. The next ports were Messina and Sorrento. Amongst the passengers, Messina got poor reviews. We didn't go to the town; rather we took the tour to Mt. Etna. We spent way too much time in the bus, but once there, it was very good. For some reason, the ship had to leave Sorrento early -at 2:30 in the afternoon. So all those who went on various tours just made it back in time. This was disappointing to all who had hoped to do the tour and get some shopping in. The traffic was unbearable (Italian roads were not built for tour buses). But our trip to Herculaneum was excellent. But again, 3 hours on the bus was not fun.Steve, the excursion director could have been more knowledgeable about the excursions, but he and his wife Amanda, were also new so I'd give him a pass.
Disembarkation was as smooth as can be.
The only complaint I had, and a did write directly to the company HQ, was that Windstar strangely does not acknowledge returning guests. I got a letter of apology in our room with a free bottle of wine, which was nice, but I still think a note on the computer when you check in should let the staff know who are returning guests and how often they've sailed with the cruise line. A simple, "Welcome back, we appreciate your business", would go a long way.
Other than that, we will most likely sail with Windstar again. For our tastes, few other cruise lines offer what Windstar does.