Cruises: 11/7-14/2004 - Nice to Barcelona 11/14/21/2004 - Barcelona to Lisbon
While no cruise is perfect, our back to back cruises on the Wind Surf were way above average. We sailed to great ports, all the while feeling that we were privileged and pampered. Nothing beats the feeling of being on a ship under sail, and it's a pleasure to sail with a few hundred other passengers, rather than a few thousand.
For a description of the ship, public rooms, fellow passengers, fitness and recreation, family, dress code, and tipping, see the main Cruise Critic review of the Wind Surf.
Best part of the trip
Except for the two bad weather days, every day was a best part. The crew was friendly and helpful, the passengers were interesting, the ports were great, and the ship itself was fun. It was great having a feeling of elegance, yet not having to dress up - Windstar really does have "casual elegance."
Worst part of the trip
This was a tie between two things: disembarkation, and a very bumpy, unplanned sea day when everything seemed to go wrong. Both will be discussed below.
There was some confusion as to when we could board, so we were at the pier a bit after 1 p.m., but couldn't board until 2. Once we could board, embarkation was painless. (Give them a 3 for information accuracy, 5 for the actual boarding, averaging a 4.) We had left our bags on the pier around 10:30 a.m., and they magically appeared in our room. We climbed up the gangplank at 2, took the mandatory awful boarding picture, then were ushered into the lounge and handed a mimosa. We filled out forms, and that was it. Even a goof regarding our boarding cards was fixed quickly. Indeed, that became a keynote of the trip: Windstar made few mistakes; but when they did, they usually fixed it quickly.
These were the smallest rooms we'd had on our five cruises (188 square feet), and we were concerned that we would feel cramped. We needn't have had any fears: though compact, the rooms were very comfortable, and we had no cabin fever even after two weeks. There seemed to be room for all our belongings. We did miss having a bath tub; but we knew that in advance.
The steward was unobtrusive: perhaps a bit too much so. However, the room was kept clean, and when we asked for something (ice, more shampoo, etc.) it arrived promptly. The towels and bathrobes were good, and the fruit bowl was kept filled.
The food in the dining rooms was so good, and so convenient, that we never even tried room service. Breakfast and lunch were served in the Veranda room; however, we quickly found that we could avoid crowds (the crowds weren't very big, anyway), and get waiter service for several items, if we sat in the adjacent Bistro. The breakfast choices always included pancakes, French toast, waffles, and at least one light cuisine choice. Eggs were made to order, smoked salmon was available every day, and caviar was available two or three times each week. There was lots of fruit, meusli, great breads and pastries, and stuff we never even tried, such as British breakfast, cold cereal, breakfast meats (hot and cold), etc.
We had three or four lunches off the ship, mostly on excursions; but it was a temptation to eat every lunch on the ship. Most lunches had themes (Italian, Spanish, Asian), and the choices were generally interesting. Grilled food, such as fish and burgers, was always available. The salads were especially varied and interesting. There were always lots of desserts, including low fat and the famous HAL bread pudding. The review of "sfg" of a 2002 cruise mentioned the need for a sandwich bar, and said that buffet choices were not too good. We felt that buffet choices were excellent. While there still is no area where the ship crew makes cold sandwiches, there are plenty of sandwich ingredients available, including great bread, for making your own sandwiches. We never did so, because the other choices were so good.
The lobster and lamb chop barbecue lunch, on the last cruise day of each week, was a highlight of the trip.
If we had any quibbles with the food, it involved dinner. During the first week, when the ship had 210 passengers, everything went smoothly, and meals took a leisurely but not slow amount of time. In week two, when there were 300 passengers, service slowed, and we experienced waits on occasion. Nonetheless, our Indonesian server, Lilik, was always courteous and attentive.
As for the food itself, it was not five star, but it was the best we've had on a cruise ship. There was some effort to serve food that related to where we were (the Mediterranean). There were vegetarian choices, healthy food, and "low carb" food, as well as four or five other choices. We always got a table for two, as requested, unless we asked for a larger table. One night we were at a table for six, and we had six different main courses - all good. With soup, salad, appetizer, main course, and dessert there was too much food: by the end of the trip we were consistently skipping at least one course.
The menus were so good that we kept putting off trying the alternate restaurant, the Bistro. On our first try, we were too seasick to enjoy the food. This was the missed port day in Mahon, as described below, and was not a fair test of the restaurant. When we finally did try it in normal weather, we enjoyed it as much as the main restaurant.
Wine and Liquor
We can't really judge this area. Since we were sailing in wine country (France and Spain), we purchased almost all of our wine on shore, and paid a $10 corkage fee each time we opened a bottle. (The wine steward did give us one "freebie" each week). Similarly, the bar crew was very friendly even though we normally ordered iced tea, rather than something alcoholic.
Ports and Itinerary
Before we left, Walt, the host for the Windstar board, described our two weeks as a "killer itinerary." That was accurate. We had just the right mix of big cities (Marseilles, Barcelona, Malaga), medium size cities (Palma de Majorca, Tangier), and small places (Porquerolles, Ibiza, Sete, Portimao). Due to Mistral winds, we missed two ports: St. Florent, Corsica, and Mahon, Minorca. Both would have been great. However, the missed day at St. Florent resulted in one of the highlights of the trip. We went from Nice to Villefranche, a distance of about five miles, instead of going to Corsica. We took a tour to St. Paul de Vence, and placed a stone on Chagall's grave. Unforgettable. Villefranche itself was interesting, including a narrow, completely enclosed street, the Rua Obscura.
Visiting Tangier, Morocco, including our excursion to Tetuan (the white dove), was like stepping into another world. Everything was exotic, from the narrow alleyways to the robes worn by the people to the vendors who kept trying to get us to bargain for and purchase their goods. I hope the line keeps this port in its itineraries, but adds western-style bathrooms to the buses. We were one of a group who needed "facilities," and when we were shown a hole with two footprints, only Joe used it. The guide here was superb, keeping the worst vendors away and keeping all of us together.
Things did not turn out well for our other missed port, Mahon. (We missed the first and last scheduled ports of the first week's itinerary.) We spent a sea day in 60 knot winds. The ship is fairly stable; but no ship feels comfortable in such high winds, and Joan became seasick. To make matters worse, some thoughtless passenger flushed something that he shouldn't have flushed down a men's room toilet, and it knocked out the toilets for our entire bank of cabins and public areas. Even after the public bathroom was fixed, our toilet and the toilet in the room next to us had to be replaced. Imagine a sea day with near hurricane force winds, when you couldn't even use your own stateroom. With many empty rooms, the line could have let us rest in an empty room. Instead, we wandered from public room to public room. Joan was too doped up on seasickness pills to care, Windstar did give us a bottle of wine as a "make good," but they could and should have done more. In all justice to them, they probably had their hands full with a nasty storm and at least three broken toilets.
We used ship's excursions in about half the ports. In the other ports, Patrick, the excursion director, gave us plenty of information about the port, so we could do things on our own. With one big exception, the tours were reasonably priced and interesting, and gave us a good idea of the area in which we were traveling. We avoided the big, overcrowded tour from Malaga to Granada (which was loved by the people who took it); so all of our tours were also uncrowded: always under 30 people, twice under 15. The line made an effort to run each tour, even when fewer than 20 people signed up. Windstar negotiated a favorable dollar-euro ratio for those tours, so they were competitive with your private arrangements. So what was the problem? Bathroom stops. They were too infrequent, and the bathrooms on the buses were never available. Breakfast featured excellent coffee, fresh-squeezed juice and wonderful smoothies as well as abundant ice water. The busses could drive for more than an hour before arriving at our destination. Even when the busses had bathrooms, some gibberish prevented the guides from letting us use them. As a weight watcher, we learned to drink several glasses of water upon arising. We drink more water than most, and have never used a laxative. As the population ages, this will become more of a problem. We hope the line cures this problem.
There wasn't much of it, and we didn't miss it. There was a small casino, and there were usually bands in the two lounges. They were not well populated most of the time: people were simply too tired after exciting days on shore. Most people rented DVDs, and watched them in their rooms. Still, we have no doubt that, had we been night owls instead of early birds, we could easily have made our own entertainment. Nonetheless, if you want big, glitzy shows, this may not be the ship for you. The only "show" was the weekly crew show, which was quite interesting.
Level of service
Generally excellent, from the hostess, Cherie, on down. The crew made us feel pampered and special.
Very confusing. The "tipping not required" policy resulted in confusion about whether to tip, and how much. We ended up giving pooled tips to the dining room staff and bar staff, and individual tips to the room steward and wine steward. Clear guidelines would be better. Better still would be a slight increase in price, all of which would go into staff pay, so that tipping truly is not needed. Windstar will try this idea, as well as including wine with dinner, in its "Signature Sailings" in 2005.
After two great weeks, even the best disembarkation would have been a downer. The actual disembarkation was worse than that. Because the ship was going into dry dock, we disembarked an hour west of Lisbon, and had a long bus trip. (In fairness, getting off the ship was quick and well organized, and would have been good had we gone directly to the pier instead of into a bus.) Once we picked up our bags (loading them onto carts ourselves, since there seemed to be no porters), there was no one to help us get a cab. Joe went back inside to use the restroom, and got locked into the port terminal. There was no one to help him get out, and we lost our place in line trying to get a cab. Although it seemed the terminal was devoid of personnel, we soon discovered many workers. A few minutes after we loaded our luggage onto carts, people in orange suits started to take the carts back. We were left with piles of luggage on the ground and no cabs in sight. The most aggressive people got cabs quickly. Finally, someone from Windstar organized a line; but the pushy people, rather than those of us who arrived first, got on line first. Meanwhile cab drivers came up to us and offered to drive us for three or four times the meter rate. Absurd!
Despite a few glitches, a fantastic trip! Bravo, Wind Surf!