By Phyllis Steinberg, Cruise Critic contributor
As chic, trendy and sophisticated as the people who sail on it, Wind Spirit is a 148-passenger cruise ship with lovely white sails on deck. It was built in 1988, but when Xanterra Parks and Resorts acquired the Windstar line in 2011, it gave the ship -- along with sisters Wind Star and Wind Surf -- an $18 million refurbishment in 2012 to keep it fresh and youthful. In the cabins, creaky old bathrooms have been spruced up with granite countertops, high-piled towels and fancy showerheads. New combination DVD/CD/iPod players have upped the ante in the tech toys department, too.
During the refurbishment, The Restaurant was redesigned and renamed AmphorA, and a new menu was implemented. The Pool Bar was revamped to create additional alfresco seating for sunset dining at Candles Grill, with a new awning and deck furniture. The reception area was updated, and The Lounge got new hardwood flooring and a new AV system.
What hasn't changed, however, is the onboard experience. The cruise line has stuck to its core concept: a balance of small-ship features -- low passenger occupancy, high guest-to-crew ratios, personalized service -- and more big-ship ones, particularly where pricing is involved. Excursions and alcoholic beverages are additional charges, though water and soft drinks are included. The onboard atmosphere is just the right mix of upscale and laid-back; Wind Spirit combines the highest levels of food and service with a single open seating and casual attire.
If you're seeking a romantic escape, these ships are sublime. The sails are computerized and not really necessary for navigation or power, but who cares when the effect is exquisite? (When conditions are perfect, the engines are cut, and the ships are completely wind driven.) If your fantasy is making a spectacular entry into some of the best ports of the Caribbean or Eastern Mediterranean while sipping a glass of bubbly on deck, this may be your cruise experience.
Plus, beyond the romance of cruising on a real sailing vessel, you benefit from the small ship's access to otherwise unreachable ports. Wind Spirit offers unique itineraries that include ports of call both on and off the mainstream grid, as well as plenty of active adventures ashore. During a recent cruise to the Greek Isles and Turkey, we were the only ship in port in the majority of the destinations, allowing passengers to explore without being harangued by thousands of passengers from the mega-ships. Many of Wind Spirit's passengers wouldn't be caught dead on a conventional cruise ship, opting for bonding with other well-traveled couples and enjoying the excellent water sports offered right off the ship.
Wind Spirit Fellow Passengers
Wind Spirit passengers are sophisticated, urbane and well traveled. Many still work full-time, and shorter Caribbean itineraries especially attract a younger, more active crowd. The average age is about 50, with half of them in the 35 to 55 age range. Many families also travel on the ship with older teens and college-age children.
Wind Spirit Dress Code
During the day, shorts and T-shirts are appropriate. At night, jeans, shorts, T-shirts, tank tops and tennis shoes are "forbidden" in the main dining room. (But we did see a few neat jeans slip through.) The written code is "casual elegance": Men generally don button-down shirts or collared shirts with dress pants, and women wear sundresses or capris with light sweaters or blouses. Bottom line: Leave tuxes and evening gowns at home. Otherwise, pretty much anything goes.
Wind Spirit Gratuity
Windstar now automatically adds a hotel service charge of $12 per person to each passenger's shipboard account on a daily basis. If service exceeds or fails to meet expectations, you may adjust this amount at the end of the cruise. In addition, a 15 percent service charge is automatically added to bar charges and dining room wine purchases. These charges are paid entirely to Windstar crewmembers -- both crewmembers who serve you directly, such as waitstaff and cabin stewards, and others you may never meet, such as galley and laundry staff -- and represent an important part of their compensation.
We spent the night in the Marriott Panama City but booked ourselves instead of through Windstar and saved over $100 each doing it independently. Very nice hotel in a great location with pool and helpful staff.
First impressions of the ...continue
Only 1 day off the ship and I have already booked my next trip on Windstar vacation. I am typically not fond of cruises--which often feel more like cattle calls. That is SO not true with Windstar! It definitely feels like you are on a private ...continue
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We were enchanted with the ship and the crew from the moment we boarded. We knew that this was not in the true "luxury" class of ships but really wanted something small and intimate, and this was exactly the right trip for us. The trip was ...continue