In this review I will provide:
• My impressions of Wind Surf and the onboard experience
• A few thoughts / tips regarding beaches at the ports of call
• Pros and Cons of Wind Surf versus a 5 star big ship
• Top experiences aboard Wind Surf
• How Wind Surf can go from "good to great"
We had a great vacation, and enjoyed the special experiences that are unique to Wind Surf and hard to replicate on a big ship. We spent a major percentage of our "onboard time" outside on the deck, and we were amazed by the feeling of being closer to the ocean. That said, Wind Surf definitely needs refurbishment and the ship's outdated and tired interiors detracted from our overall experience.
We chose this cruise because we wanted to have a low key, outdoor-oriented, yet deluxe, vacation...and we have wanted to try the Wind Surf. We also expected that the dining on Wind Surf was high quality and conducive to healthy choices thus we could stay in shape. Also, we have been to most of these ports before, so we weren't looking for in-depth tours...just a relaxing trip with more exposure to sea and sun. These expectations were met.
The Wind Surf , with five masts and white sails, looks great from a distance. However, the interior is VERY tired and undistinguished. Wind Surf is definitely in need of refurbishment to bring it anywhere close to 5 star cruise ship standards, in terms of interior design and amenities. The food, however, is generally very good, and in the main restaurant it is excellent. The crew is quite friendly and wants to get to know you. On this ship, there is a sense of going on an adventure (as opposed to a party) and being close to the ocean...much more so than on the large cruise ships we have been on. It is a unique experience, and definitely different from a big ship. There are both pros and cons. We will definitely do more big-ship cruises, but would also look forward to another Wind Surf voyage if the rumored refurbishment actually occurs. (We've heard that a major refurb is in the works for Wind Surf, now that Philip Anschutz has purchased the line, but we don't know the details.)
The Ship - Interior
We were, to be very honest, shocked when we came aboard. I was expecting a 5 star ship. But the colors, textures, materials, lighting and layout are nowhere near five star, modern standards. We are perhaps spoiled by Celebrity's Solstice-class ships, which are spectacular, modern and elegant. In addition, other luxury new-builds like Oceania Marina and Seaborne's Odyssey-class are magnificent and will compete with Wind Star for high-end cruisers.
Important interior spaces, such as the lounges, restaurants, inner hallways and cabins, are decidedly 3 star. The undecorated areas (outer hallways, stair wells, decks) are highly functional with an unadorned, nautical feel. For example, the interior stair towers are very spartan. If you have ever been on a big ship and peeked into the "Crew Only" stairways and hallways, you will have the basic sense of how Wind Surf looks. Being outside on the deck of Wind Surf is great. Inside is not too special. There are no balconied cabins - only cabins with port holes. With so much deck space, it's easy to get outside and you don't feel too hemmed in. Still, there is no substitute for a balcony.
We had a Category A cabin located mid-ship, starboard side, directly opposite a stair tower. It has a standard layout, similar to the majority of cabins on the ship. Category A cabins are on Deck 2, while Category B cabins are on Deck 1. We paid about a 15% premium for Category A, which was worth it to me because we were closer to the main deck (4) and close, but not too close, to the main gangway in the aft section of Deck 2. The cabin is very well laid out and feels spacious for 188 sq ft. The fit and finish is dated and tired. I thought there was far too much use of formica- clad cabinetry (as opposed to wood) with a utilitarian look. But the room is highly functional. The bathroom is spacious and nice, with teak floors and granite counters. The shower is circular, with a shower curtain, good quality fixtures, and nice water pressure. It was a perfectly comfortable shower, even for me at 6'4".
We eventually got used to the shabby chic dEcor, largely because the cruise itinerary, food, service and the outdoor experiences were so good. By why should we have to make that trade-off? A ship of this class should have beautiful interiors, and this is not currently the case.
The Ship - Exterior
The ship looks great from afar. It is always the most unique ship in the harbor, and it is surprisingly large. At 14,745 tonnes and 312 passengers, Wind Surf is referred to as a "small ship" but it did not feel small. It's over 600' long with a 63' beam, so there is plenty of ship there. However, when Mariner of the Seas pulled up next to us (at 138,000 tonnes and 3,100 passengers) the size difference was obvious. But for day-to-day life aboard, I felt that it was more than large enough, but not so big that it is hard to get around. I really liked the size of this ship. I like the mega-ships, too. Each has it's own benefits.
Besides the sails, a major difference between Wind Surf and other ships is the large amount of outdoor space and the emphasis towards being outside on deck. There is plenty of deck space and a lot of well-spaced chairs and loungers. I read that there are 22,000 square feet of deck space for the 312 passengers. You will, of course, spend at-sea days outside, but you can also have the majority of your meals outside, too. We had all of our breakfasts and lunches at outdoor tables, and 3 of our 7 dinners. Since the ship is smaller, you are much closer to the water, which also enhances the outdoor experience.
Being on the deck of the ship is fantastic, but as with the interiors, it is not as aesthetically pleasing as it should be because:
• The decking seems worn out
• The sight lines are sometimes marred by random wires and cables that are not professionally tacked down
• The life boats look 40 years old
• Some equipment that is in plain view, like folding ramps and gangways, appear old and worn
• There is too much rust and decay in view
• The outdoor venues, like Veranda and Compass Rose, are tired and visually unexciting
We would love to see an upgrade to the exterior aesthetics to truly highlight the ship's unique qualities. But overall, we tremendously enjoyed the decks, the outdoor dining venues, and the feeling of being outside all the time.
The motion of this ship is more evident than on a big ship...perhaps 30% more. That said, the ship's motion would not deter me from sailing Wind Surf again, and I would say I have average, or slightly more-than-average, susceptibility to motion sickness.
We had relatively calm seas throughout the trip, so I don't know how the ship handles rougher seas. When the ship was moving at cruising speed, it was quite stable. At very low speeds, and going in and out of port, the rolling was more pronounced. My wife and I each had one day of low-to-moderate motion sickness, which in my case was cured by a Bonine.
We tendered at 3 of our ports of call: Mykonos, Santorini and Bodrum. Despite advertising that the small size of the ship allows Wind Surf to go where others cannot, we still docked where the big ships docked, and tendered at the same ports where the big ships tendered. I didn't see any difference at all, at least not on this itinerary. However, the tendering process is MUCH easier on Wind Surf. There was rarely a line waiting for the tender to show up (20 people max.) There are no "tender numbers" or waiting in a staging area, or any of the other hassles that tendering from a large ship entails. One annoyance was that when we arrived in certain ports, such as Santorini, we would "drift" rather than anchor. Apparently, Wind Surf's anchor chain is not long enough to set anchor in deep harbors. Thus the ship slowly drifted in a circle, which made us queasy!
The entertainment is sometimes pretty good, especially the house band in the lounge and the duet that sings at Compass Rose, and sometimes not up to par. We can certainly live without the Broadway shows and Las Vegas revues of the big ships, but we would still like to see an upgrade in the entertainment quality. The "comedian / magician" is campy and silly, which is fun for about 15 minutes, but then it wears thin. He should be a warm-up act, rather than the main event. The musical revue put on by the crew was also fun, but would be more appropriate at Karaoke night. BTW, the crew put together a terrific slide show, which gave insights to their daily efforts to keep us spoiled passengers happy! I really enjoyed it, and it was a testament to dedicated teamwork and comradery at sea.
The sail away music, as I mentioned, is very well done and in keeping with the nature of the itinerary.
Food and Drink
Overall, we thought the food on board was excellent, and we enjoyed dining al fresco as often as possible.
The main restaurant, cleverly named The Restaurant, offered truly excellent food each time we dined there. There is a new menu every night, and the cuisine is creative, delicious and tastefully presented. We live in New York city, and this is as good as many of the restaurants here. Our friends from London said the same thing...that The Restaurant could hold its own versus fine London restaurants. As with the rest of the ship, the dEcor is nothing to write home about, but the food and service are excellent. By the way, we had one evening when we did not think the service was up to standards, and we said so. The hotel manager was very responsive, and sent us a nice letter and a bottle of wine as a gesture of good will. This was greatly appreciated. All of our subsequent experiences were faultless.
The alternative dining venues are all offered at no additional charge...a very nice touch. Candles, which is Wind Surf's outdoor steakhouse, was wonderful. The food is very good and the experience of dining on deck, amid the surf and the stars was magical. Have I ever had a better steak? Sure, but that isn't the point! You are only allowed to book Candles once on the trip...and I can see why it is in high demand. It's a great experience that sets Wind Surf apart.
Note that dinner is served from 7:30 - 9:30. We always take second seating on cruises, as we like to dine later. But if you come in towards the end of the window (say 9:15, as we did on one evening) you will feel rushed.
Degrees is another alternative fine dining restaurant which is a little more intimate and offers a different theme each night. There's a nice mural paining on the wall, too. Our night was Mediterranean-inspired. It was delicious, and a nice change of pace.
Veranda is the main restaurant for breakfast and lunch. It is indoor / outdoor, so you have your choice. We always preferred outdoor seating, but many people took advantage of the air conditioned tables inside. The buffet is, of course, much smaller than on the big ships, and far more civilized. There are no lines, and they have a nice selection of very fresh fruits, salads and the usual breakfast and lunch choices. The wait staff will gladly handle a la carte orders from the menu, or customize something just for you. We greatly enjoyed having all of our breakfasts and lunches served to us at an outdoor table. A big plus versus the larger ships.
One quibble about the wine temperature. On several occasions, I ordered red wine by-the-glass and it was far too warm...sometimes bordering on hot. This happened at multiple venues on-board, and needs to be corrected. Wine is not cheap on Wind Surf. A glass of Frog's Leap cabernet is $15.50. For that price, it needs to be served at the proper temperature.
The outdoor bars did a nice business during the early evenings. It is a pleasure to have a drink on deck with the wind in your hair, and catch up with friends re the days events. For pre-dinner cocktails, we always stopped at The Lounge and chatted with Mikee the bar tender. Great guy. Note that there is seldom a crowd in the Lounge bar, unless there was a show...then it's quite busy.
Excursion Desk / Beaches
A major disappointment. Either no advice or bad advice. We are independent travelers...you know, the type that would buy a cruise billed as "180 degrees from ordinary" if you get my meaning! But the excursion desk is worse than ordinary. If you weren't buying a tour, they had very little time for you, and not much information to offer.
When on Rhodes, we asked about a nice beach. The "local expert" who was brought on board to answer such questions, sent us to Faliraki beach and advised us to take the bus. Faliraki is a dirty, over-crowded beach next to an awful, low-end, "tacky tourist" town. And the bus was jammed like a Tokyo subway. Gee, thanks.
In Kusadasi, we asked the excursion desk agent (the full time staffer) about nearby beaches. We got nothing but attitude and little advice. Clearly, he wanted to sell the tour to Ephesus. But we have already been there, so we just wanted to hang out on the beach. Thus, he would barely speak to us, and when he did he was quite sarcastic and dismissive. Unacceptable, and not a wise approach for a cruise line climbing out of bankruptcy.
Perfect. Not so much as a cloud for the entire cruise.
Ports of Call
The ports on this itinerary are amazing, especially if you are into history, as I am. This is a nice combination of fun-in-the-sun (e.g., Mykonos, Bodrum) and historical touring. I'm not going to say too much about the ports in this review (other than to comment on where to find nice beaches) because I am focusing on the ship and the experience, and you can get more professional reviews of the ports elsewhere.
More Thoughts on the Ports and Beaches on this Itinerary
Our favorite spot is Psarou beach. It is small, but with great sand, and a great outdoor restaurant...Nammos. It is quite a scene. There are 200 foot mega yachts in the cove, legions of "beautiful people" and possibly a celeb or two all trying to get a choice lounge chair or hang out at the right table in the restaurant. We spent several hours at Nammos with new friends and eating great food. The Dom P was flowing freely, and it was a whale of a time...well worth the huge tab and the headache the next day! But be forewarned...Nammos is not the "stroll in and sit down" place catering to tourists, unless you come really early. At peak times, they control it like a New York City nightclub, where the beautiful / rich / famous / connected people get highly preferential treatment, and the regular people fight for the leftovers! Even their website brags about their snobby exclusivity...which is pretty obnoxious...but we choose to overlook these issues.
The other beaches in Mykonos are Paradise and Super Paradise. They have big reputations as party beaches. We have heard that P and SP are very crowded, loud and crazy, so we haven't been...we would rather stay at Psarou, which is a more civilized kind of crazy.
Getting a taxi in Mykonos is quite a feat. It took us 45 minutes, but persistence paid off. The best place is near the bus station, which is the transportation hub. It's utter chaos, with hundreds of tourists queued up for buses, renting scooters or trying to find taxis. But that is what it takes to get transportation in Mykonos. Watch out for the college girls driving their rental scooters! Many people take the bus to the beaches, especially P and SP, but no bus goes directly to Psarou (you supposedly can take the bus to Platys Gialos and walk to back Psarou. We chose to fight for a cab)
We wanted to see the beaches in Santorini, since we have toured the town on prior trips. We rented a car from Hertz in downtown Fira, the main town. It turned out to be a good choice for us. We got a very nice Fiat for 60 Euros / day, including tax and insurance. We drove to Oia (pronounced ee-ah), did a brief walk through that picturesque town, then headed for the beach. We ended up at Kamari beach, which is about 15 minutes outside of Fira. Very quaint and quiet village. Black pebble beach. Water shoes or Tevas required. We had lunch at King's Cafe, which I would recommend, in a thatch-covered, well-furnished gazebo along the beachfront. The beach is pretty to look at, but really uncomfortable...too rocky / pebbly for my tastes, though I am glad we went.
Supposedly the better, more sandy, beach is Perissa beach, but we did not have time to get to that one. Maybe next year.
Last point about Santorini...unless you have some romantic / masochistic desire to ride hot, sweaty donkeys, just take the cable car up to the top. The line can be long (we waited about 20 minutes this year; 40 minutes last year) but it is safer, much more civilized, and the views are great. Give yourself plenty of time to wait in line for the return trip, and consider the departure timing of the megaships.
We wanted to spend time on a beach in Rhodes. As discussed above, the WS excursion agent sent us to Faliraki via the crowded bus. Granted, there was a taxi strike on this particular day, so crowding was to be expected. But when we finally got to Faliraki (after passing several magnificent resort hotels in Kallithea along the way) were we shocked! Faliraki makes Daytona Beach and Panama City look like the Riviera. Faliraki village was full of tattoo parlors, sex shops, and tacky T-shirt stands ...and the beach was jam packed. What in the world compelled our excursion guide to suggest this place? We just started walking in the general direction of the nice hotels (1-2 miles north) until we got away from the sleaze.
En route to Faliraki, we had passed Kallithea and several 5 star resorts. It looked really nice, so you may want to try it.
Also, some of the beaches are serviced by water shuttles...which are far more pleasant than the crowed bus. We used Faliraki Sea Lines as our rescue boat out of Faliraki! They are based in Mandraki Harbor, in the Rhodes port, and there are other similar services there, too. Granted, the bus is 3 Euros and the water shuttle is 6, but the difference is more than worth it.
We ended up at Ladies Beach, which is a short taxi ride from the pier. It is very nice, but quite crowded. There were lots of locals, who were super friendly, and the water is crystal clear. But be advised (if you've been to other European beaches you know this) every square foot of beach is occupied by beach chairs and umbrellas, all in nice rows. And the sand is coarser and pebblier than American beaches. I enjoyed it...my wife did not. The shops and cafes are somewhere between commercial and quaint (much nicer than Faliraki!) I can recommend Ladies Beach, if you want a short beach break with the friendly locals, but don't expect Kapalua!
All the in-town beaches in Bodrum were crowded, rocky and not too appealing. I am told there are better beaches outside of town, but we did not go. We went back to the ship and spent the day on Wind Surf's marina deck jumping in and out of the Aegean. It is a terrific feature...maybe the highlight of the trip... and is possibly worth the price of the cruise by itself!
Istanbul is one of the most spectacular cities you will ever see. It is in the same class as New York, Venice, San Francisco and Hong Kong in terms of gorgeous waterways framing a fascinating skyline. The history and monuments are second to none. So you should stay and play, if possible.
The ship sailed into Istanbul at 6am. We have been before, so we know it's worth getting up early to see. We told all our friends to drag themselves on deck at 6, and you won't be disappointed! We glided by the famous landmarks...Topkapi, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque...and saw the sun rise on the Bosphorus. It was almost like going back in time.
We stayed two nights at the SwissHotel Bosphorus, which is in the New District, between Taksim Square and the Bosphorus. Our room (1BR suite) in the new Suite Tower had just been renovated in over-the-top, ultra-modern style. It was absolutely spectacular. The owners must have found the best designers in town and said, "create the most incredible modern apartment in Europe"...and they did. There is even a rooftop infinity pool with wonderful views. I am not sure whether the main towers (East and West) have yet been renovated, so be sure to check. But we would highly endorse this hotel.
One last tip...try a Bosphorus river cruise. We really enjoyed it. There are short cruises (90 minutes) and long cruises (5-6 hours.) We took the long cruise, which travels the full length of the Bosphorus (about 16 miles), makes several stops, then drops you off in a fishing village / tourist trap called Anadolu Kavagi for a 2.5 hour lunch break. The cruise also provides a nice look at the Black Sea, which I definitely wanted to see. Overall, we would say that the benefits of the long cruise are that you see the Black Sea, you can hike up to the old castle ruins outside Anadolu Kavagi, and you sail the entire Bosphorus. The downside is that the trip is VERY long. I definitely had to cash in some brownie points with my wife after that...she was a trooper, taking the longer cruise and making the long, hot climb to the castle (300 meter altitude gain) so I could see the Black Sea. Thanks Honey!
You can get 80% of the experience on the short cruise (since most of the important sites are below the FSM Bridge) but if you have to see it all, take the long cruise.
Pros and Cons, versus a 5 star "big ship"
You may like Wind Surf if you ...
• Want a more adventurous experience, with a "going to sea" feeling
• Would like to spend a lot of time outside, feeling the breeze and seeing the water
• Would enjoy direct access to the ocean from the ship's marina deck (the highlight of the trip, for us!)
• Prefer an uncrowded ship
• Prefer a smaller ship where it's easy to get around (for example, we never used the elevator)
• Prefer a relaxed yet elegant feel, where the upscale and well-travelled passengers dress "country club casual"
• Like a younger crowd than some other cruise lines (there's no one in a motorized chair trying to cut you off at the buffet line!)
• Don't want to fight for lounge chairs on deck
• Prefer (or don't mind) a relatively quiet ship, that can at times feel empty
• Enjoy the serenity of no frequent announcements and no steel drum music
• Don't mind that the interiors are sub-par (to put it kindly)
• Don't mind a little more motion when sailing
• Can do without a crowded lido deck buffet experience (on Wind Surf, you can serve yourself at a genteel, uncrowded buffet, or be served by the wait staff)
• Would enjoy fine dining on the deck at sunset!
You may prefer the big ship if you...
• Have to have a balcony
• Really enjoy all the activities and entertainment options such as bingo, rock climbing, kids club, Broadway show, onboard shopping mall, etc.
• Prefer a lot of vibrant night life onboard
• Enjoy a major pool scene
• Look forward to dressing up for formal night in a spectacularly grand dining room
• Have mobility issues (Wind Surf has lots of stairs, hatches and high thresholds to step over)
• Have lots of kids and need the kid's program
• Want to load up on food at a huge buffet
• For whatever reason, actually want to attend an art sales pitch at sea
• Enjoy the incredible design, dEcor and artwork found in today's brand-new ships
• Like the stability that a 100,000 tonne vessel provides
• Prefer a state-of-the-art cabin with elegant dEcor and the latest electronics
• Like a palatial feel, rather than a yacht-like feel
Top Experiences on board Wind Surf
• The Sail-aways, with the sails unfurled and the soundtrack from "1492 - Conquest of Paradise" playing as our theme song. Awesome!
(I'm listening to it on my iTunes as I write this!)
• Dining on deck, starting at sunset and moving on to starlight. It's unlike any dining experiences on our 12 previous cruises.
• Spending hours in the Aegean sea off the coast of Bodrum, Turkey, utilizing the ship's marina deck, which provides direct access to the "wine dark sea."
• Sailing through history in the Dardenelles. The Captain did a beautiful job of narrating our passage through these historic straits, describing the many important events that occurred here, from the Trojan War to the battle of Gallipoli.
• Spending countless hours on deck. We seemed to spend our whole vacation out of doors...which was wonderful.
• Choosing the next book from their well-stocked library. The ship has a surprisingly strong collection of travel and historically-themed books. Going to Bodrum? There are several books about Herodotus, one of Bodrum's native sons. Touring Athens or sailing past Troy today? Flip through the Iliad or one of the many books on Greek history.
• Being pampered by the crew, who have a unique personality (Special kudos to Daddy and Mikee)
From Good to Great
If Mr. Anschutz happens to read this (I heard he was on board for at least one evening during this sailing) here is my advice for attracting customers like us...forty-something, upscale, frequent cruisers who are quite interested in Wind Star's essential value proposition of a beyond-the-ordinary, high-end cruise.
• Offer a sophisticated, yet relaxing and authentic, at-sea experience targeted towards a well-travelled, upscale clientele who have a sense of adventure. See my list of top experiences (above) and take them to the next level
• Transform the interior spaces from 3 star to 6 star. I would envision that boarding Wind Surf should be like stepping onto a billionaire's yacht. The feeling should be "Wow, I can't believe we get to do this!" instead of "Oh my, perhaps we made a mistake!" There are so many new-builds on the market which have spectacular interiors...and balconies...that Wind Star must keep up. Given all the special attributes of this ship, can you imagine how amazing it would be if the interiors were also best-in-class?
• Ensure that the entertainment is more sophisticated. The lounge needs a Diva. Perhaps a Celine Dion, Sarah Brightman or Cher sound-alike.
• Upgrade the exteriors to maximize the unique attributes of the ship. More teak, more varnish, more brass! Clean and paint everything!
• Re-furbish the cabins. Get rid of the formica-clad cabinetry. Upgrade the electronics and TV content.
• Take better advantage of the Marina deck. This is an amazing feature that few other ships have...a real point of differentiation!
Is Wind Surf our next cruise?
Maybe. We are huge fans of Celebrity's Solstice-class product, and will surely do that again. However, we are also starting to look at more deluxe, small ship alternatives such as Oceania and Seaborn...and we are quite interested in their new builds. We are trying to avoid anything that is "tired" and needing a major refurb, while trying to hide it with pillow menus, fancy toiletries and other band-aids. This is where Wind Surf is today. But it seems to me that Wind Surf, if significantly refurbished and upgraded, could find it's own niche in that 5-6 star class of offerings.
Overall, we had a great time and we're looking forward to another voyage on an enhanced Wind Surf!
Wind Surf 2011 Eastern Med; Athens - Istanbul
Eclipse 2011 Western Caribbean
Equinox 2010 Eastern Med; Rome to Rome
Constellation 2010 Baltic; Amsterdam to Amsterdam
Solstice 2010 Caribbean
Century 2009/2010 Caribbean
Solstice 2009 Caribbean
Majesty OTS 2009 Caribbean
Navigator OTS 2008 Caribbean
Constellation 2007 Caribbean
Serenade OTS 2006 Caribbean
Adventure OTS 2005 Caribbean
Stella Maris Eastern Med