This is cruise #30 and cruise line #8 for us. We are in our mid-40s, professionals DINK. We've been sailing for 16 years but this was one of the best experiences ever. Here's why.
Service: the word gracious is on the website. It is a true definition of how we were treated. We were called by name almost immediately and felt as though all staff were genuinely concerned that we were cared for and having a good time. Because of only having 270 pax there was ample time for them to get to know us and us to get to know them. It seems silly to say, but I felt like I was on my own yacht. Not once did I hear the words called out to no one in particular "Bar Service?" It was, "Miss Barbara, can I get you something to drink?"
Crew: the open bridge policy is unique. Wander up there when you want (not during port times). Ask anything and prepared to be informed and entertained. Capt Clark has missed his calling as a comedian. He kept us entertained more than once during the welcome aboard and the farewell party. Funny, intelligent man. All other staff friendly and unobtrusive.
Sails: this was the reason I wanted to go on Windstar. I got goose bumps on sail away from St Maarten when the music started and the first sail got unfurled. It never got old for the other 6 nights either. We were on sail power for 39% of our cruise. So beautiful. Too bad we only saw the sails up while we were on board - but otherwise we would have missed the boat! We did bust a sail on the first night, the forward sail caught too much wind and let go, but it wasn't noticeable.
Venues: I was thinking I might be bored, since I'm pretty active, but I wasn't. I was so relaxed that it never occurred to me that I wasn't doing a lot. We went in to some ports, but truly I couldn't care less where we went so that's why there will be no reviews of the ports except maybe a small comment or two. The Compass Rose seemed to be the place to be. It was the only place where finding a spot to sit at times was difficult. Once they revamp the space they may address the seating arrangements. Afternoon tea, before and after drinks were all popular times.
The Lounge became like a family room, a place to gather for the port talk before dinner, have a drink and fabulous hot/cold hors d'oeuvres. The band was just right, playing a good mix and not too loud. Plenty of space for all and very cozy. I loved that room.
The Yacht Club is the rest of deck 4 (Main) and has reception (Ladies were so helpful and friendly), the sandwich bar and coffee station, library and DVD library (all free and readily available). Lots of comfy leather chairs for lounging.
Dining: Well. I like food. The first night we found a great little table for two at The Restaurant which suited us just fine. Great choices on the menu, and very well presented. Staff seemed to know the menu very well and were completely able to adjust without "checking". Good for the fussy eater my DH is. The first night though, our waiter Steven seemed to disappear after the main course was served. My pork was not cooked and I wasn't at all happy, but he nor any other staff were anywhere to be found, and when they came close I couldn't get their attention. Finally, he did come back and I explained my problem. It was too late to fix it although he was genuinely sorry he'd disappointed me. Needless to say at that point I wasn't hopeful for the rest of the cruise if the first dinner was such a poor experience. Well, I needn't have worried. It was an absolute anomaly, and the service and food was outstanding, truly outstanding for the rest of the week.
We also tried Degrees for one meal, and found it wonderful as well. We just liked the Restaurant and our table a bit better. Degrees is on Deck 5 and adjacent to the Veranda restaurant and used as overflow seating for lunch and breakfast.
We had reservations one night at Candles, unfortunately one of the two nights it decided to rain during the evening. We missed out but heard good things.
The last night we ate at Le Marche, on deck 6 right under the sails. It was the seafood restaurant, and they served a starter including shrimp and tuna something, a wonderful greek salad, and about 5 entrees. We had the seafood trio and it was wonderful. Dessert was okay too, but by then I was so full...
Breakfast and Lunch were both buffet/A la Carte. Walk in, pick what you want from the buffet and the waiter will come along to see if you want pancakes, waffles, eggs benedict etc etc etc or at lunch a variety of grill items. There was never any lobster at lunch, despite rumours we'd heard. Oh well.
BBQ - two of these, one on the beach at lunch, the other on deck in the evening.
The beach one was at St Lucia. The amount of work that went into this preparation was amazing. Everything carried over by tender. Okay. China plates and real cutlery. The complete bar from the ship. Ice cream. Ribs, chicken, salads, dessert, tea, coffee. It was like eating on the ship except you were on the beach. The organization was incredible. Fantastic.
The BBQ on the ship looked as amazing, although we chose to eat in the dining room just because it was a little too dark and windy for our tastes. Glad we did too, because my filet mignon was perhaps the best I have had IN MY LIFE. I also had creme brulee at some point during the week - not usually a favourite, but hey, I tried. Chef Ronald's creme brulee must be the reason that people eat creme brulee. Wow.
Okay, enough about the food. You won't go hungry and you will love it. Did I mention the specialty coffee and the cheese plate and the plentiful choices of yummy things? German choc cake, also not a favourite, OMG So Good. LOL
One complaint: regular coffee in the morning was horrible.
Pool Area: one pool, despite evidence of a pool on Deck 6 at one point in the design. Salt water. Chilly. But for some reason lovely and warm on the last day. Two hot tubs. Here's something: 3 pm Friday. sitting in the hot tub. Why, who knows since it's hot outside. Along comes a server with a plate of frozen lemon sorbet, fancy lemon sorbet in real glass dishes, on a china plate with a silver spoon. I'm in heaven. I'm on a yacht, in the hot tub, looking over the beautiful Caribbean, and eating lemon sorbet off a china plate. Is that the reason we cruise, or what? LOL
There are lots of loungers, especially since we were in port most days, and lots of places to sit with an iPad or kindle to read. Books too :)
Shade was at a premium, but could be found with a little effort.
Embarkation: we were late. 6 pm in fact. Among the last to board. We took a Windstar transfer (only the two of us with a company rep and driver in a very nice Jeep). Met at the port entrance and escorted to the ship, and eventually met by someone who took our luggage down to the ship for us. We quickly found our way to check in, filling out a few docs and then being escorted to our stateroom by the chief steward, and shown around the stateroom and its amenities. Nice touch.
Debarkation. Everyone off within 40 minutes. Nice leisurely breakfast, then maybe 3 announcements saying come get your passports and off you go. All luggage was at the top of the pier near the tour buses and taxis. Couldn't be simpler. We took the island tour through the cruise line since our flight wasn't until 430. It was a good option rather than sitting in the airport, although too much time driving around the island and not enough time downtown shopping. We've been there many times so I knew which stores were where and made a beeline for what I wanted. And time for a .99 cent beer at the Barefoot Terrance on the beach before heading to the airport.
My favourite bar staff: Bobby. Always smiled, called me by name, knew what I wanted and made sure I kept hydrated in the sun. I called him Roberto he was that good. Gino: Best hair at sea. Great dancer. Smile to launch a thousand ships. Makes a great martini.
My favourite wait staff: Steven. Gentle, funny and gracious. We were well looked after breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Daddy: the maitre d'hotel. Funny guy. Great for crew morale, not afraid to pitch in and serve or clean up. Always patting the staff on the back and smiling. A true leader.
Captain Clark: what a guy. Sail with him anywhere. Great Costa jokes :)
Other things to note:
Abilio is the port guy. The Port Guy has to be somebody's nephew. He was as one guest pointed out "not useful".
Vicki is the guest services manager. Didn't have to deal with her, but her voice would make you want to jump overboard.
The Ship. She's a little rough around the edges, but hey she's not a fancy new mega ship. There were lots of crew giving touch ups here and there as you would see on any sea-going vessel. We had a very rough cruise. If you were prone to sea sickness, you would not have been a happy person. I haven't been tossed around that much in a long time, and I never get sick, but there was one point when I wished it would just stop. Most people said that. However, the Doc wasn't too busy, because he was front and centre at the Crew Talent show (a highlight) giving his all in a Whitney Houston Tribute.
Ports: Who remembers from ports?
St Barts - busy and expensive. Good for yacht watching.
The rest I heard people suggest that even though they weren't crawling with other ships, there wasn't much to see or do. Organized tours to snorkle or swim seemed to be the best bet. Like I said, I've been to most islands and they've blended a long time ago.
Gym. Small and at times very busy. Although there were at least 10 cardio machines and several weight machines. Ample supply of free weights and stability balls. Two tvs to watch. Some space for stretching. It was nicely air conditioned. There were classes avail to do yoga on the deck, but for a fee.
Fellow passengers: They say 40-60. Our cruise more like 60-75. No herd mentality, but there was no reason to rush for anything because there was enough of whatever you wanted for everyone who wanted it. Lots of couples travelling together and plenty of mixing with strangers if that's what you wanted to do too. DH and I are kind of shy, but Bobby, our bar guy, introduced us to another Canadian couple and took credit all week for it :) 4 kids, 3 teen girls and one 8 year old boy. They kept busy reading, swimming from the marina on deck 2 and were very well-behaved. I think the crew enjoyed having them there.
Speaking of fees: pop, juice, coffee, tea and bottled water all included and no problem for the bar staff to bring it promptly. Alcohol has the standard %15 gratuity. To bring your own bottle onboard from any of the ports no problem, but a charge of $17.50 for uncorking in the dining room applied. Compared to Carnival or Princess the wine choices were a bit more high end, and about $10 more for the cheapest bottle. Expect to pay minimum $37 US for a bottle and up from there. Thankfully for me, DH won the equivalent of my bar bill in the casino and a bit more :).
Overall: a total winner. I would recommend this hand over heart. I will return. If you're even thinking about it - do it. You won't regret the experience.