OnboardWindstar Cruises, the unique three-ship fleet of sailing vessels that was created in 1986, is undergoing a major renaissance. Under new ownership, its parent company invested in an $18 million refurbishment of Wind Star, Wind Spirit and Wind Surf. In an even bigger move, it was announced in early 2013 that Windstar would double its fleet with the acquisition of Seabourn's original trio of ships -- Seabourn Pride, Seabourn Spirit and Seabourn Spirit. They will join Windstar between 2014 and 2015.
The move signifies that Windstar, while remaining committed to the easy-going, casually elegant cruising style that its sailing vessels have made popular, is broadening its reach. The experience on the 208-passenger Seabourn vessels, which is among the more formal cruise ships in the luxury market, will become more laid-back when they join Windstar. What they'll offer, in addition to the increasingly rare small ship experience, is a chance for the cruise line to expand its itineraries.
In the meantime, Windstar Cruises' current trio of sleek, masted sailing ships, with computer-directed sails, offer an intriguing balance of sophisticated pampering, exceptional service and luxurious amenities -- amidst an oh-so-casual atmosphere. The ships, technically know as motor-sail-yachts, carry 148 to 310 passengers and feature teak decks, rich wood interiors, light cuisine, extensive wine lists and attentive staffs. Passenger-to-crew ratios are1.5 to 1, resulting in a superb level of personalized service.
And though its fleet is the industry's oldest (average ship age: more than 20 years), Windstar continues to regularly upgrade and refurbish all three ships; recent improvements have targeted cabins, public rooms, restaurants and below-deck mechanical operations.
Windstar's small ships lend a cozy, intimate cruise experience. But its a'la carte pricing strategy -- unlike luxury lines, you'll pay extra for shore excursions, airfare, cocktails, fitness classes and the like -- means cruise fares fall in the somewhat moderate category. "Casual elegance" is the designated dress code, and that idea permeates the onboard vibe. Passengers leave ties and formal wear at home in favor of country club casual sportswear -- day and night. There are few organized activities and none of the typical cruise line Vegas-style reviews.
About Windstar CruisesWindstar Cruises is owned by Denver-based Xanterra Parks & Resorts, which acquired the line in 2011. Xanterra is best known for operating national and state park concessionaries. But it also owns disparate tourism-oriented companies such as VBT Worldwide (bicycling and other tours), Williamsburg, Virginia's well-known Kingsmill Reosrt, and, of course, Windstar Cruises.
Windstar ships sail to some 100 ports in 50 countries in Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean. With its Seabourn acquisition, it will expand beyond these regions to the South Pacific and Far East.
Wind Surf, at 14,745 tons with a passenger capacity of 310, is the largest and bears another distinction in that it has five masts to each of the other ships' four. Built in 1990 as Club Med I, it joined the fleet in 1998. Siblings Wind Star and Wind Spirit both measure 5,530 tons and carry 148 passengers, and launched in 1986 and 1988 respectively.
(Wind Song, an identical sibling to Wind Star that was introduced in 1987 and sailed in French Polynesia, was destroyed by a fire in 2002; there were no passenger or crew fatalities.)
All three ships have completed the fleet's recent $18 million refurbishment program in early 2013, which included staterooms, public rooms and deck areas.
Windstar Cruises FleetCabins and suites on its three sailing vessels all have ocean views (but only a handful have balconies) and are decked out with Bose SoundDocks, flat-screen TV's, high-thread count bedding, Egyptian cotton towels, waffle-weave robes and slippers, L'Occitane amenities, fresh fruit and flowers.
One of the biggest changes, in light of the fleetwide refurbishment, has been a new focus on dining. Dining aims to highlight the local cuisine of the regions visited, including the Mediterranean, Costa Rica and Caribbean. All three ships feature AmphoraA, the ships' main restaurant, which serves Continental-focused cuisine and is an open-seating venue. Candles Grill, focusing on steaks, is centered around the ships' pools, weather permitting. And the intimate Veranda, Windstar Cruises' buffet venue, with indoor and outdoor seating, combines made-to-order grill items with food stations.
The 310-passenger Wind Surf, larger than Wind Star and Wind Spirit, has an additional eatery; Stella Bistro features French bistro-style fare with a contemporary accent.
While the WindSpa onboard Windstar's ships has top-notch offerings -- from salon to spa services -- the facilities have not been part of the fleetwide upgrades and are a bit desultory.
One of our favorite features -- available on all of Windstar's vessels -- is the water sports platform with its range of complimentary water sports. Available are snorkeling, windsailing, paddleboating and water-skiing. There are licensed instructors for scuba, as well. On Wind Surf only, a new addition is an inflatable island with a trampoline.
Fellow PassengersWindstar passengers tend to be active, well-traveled, well-educated adults of all ages -- mostly North American and British -- who enjoy the more laid-back atmosphere of a smaller ship, the idea of traveling under sail and the unique itineraries that Windstar provides.
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