By Jana Jones, Cruise Critic contributor
One would think that a "motor sailing yacht," complete with five masts and seven sails, and with a passenger capacity of only 312, would be a small and cozy little ship. But Windstar Cruises' Wind Surf is surprisingly expansive, feeling much bigger inside than one would expect.
Another plus: The 14,745-ton vessel's distinct profile is a familiar sight in the smaller ports around the Mediterranean and Caribbean, ports which larger ships cannot enter. This fact, and the unique onboard ambience, fueled largely by the presence of its sails, makes the ship an intriguing alternative to larger, more frenetic vessels. The itineraries are another draw, as they blend calls at the aforementioned smaller ports -- a Mediterranean cruise from Barcelona to Monte Carlo also stops at Italy's Corsica and Spain's Palamos, and a Caribbean trip from Barbados includes the French West Indies' Iles des Saintes as well as St. Martin.
Built in 1990 as Club Med I, Wind Surf served as a "motor sailing" alternative for the French resort company. It was uniquely crafted with 25,000 square ft. of computer-operated sails and a water-ballast stabilizing system that keeps the ship level while in motion. When Windstar acquired the ship in 1998, it lowered the passenger capacity by 78 to make room for amenities such as a large spa and an alternative eatery that were not available on the bare-bones Club Med I (these additions are absent on Windstar's smaller Wind Star and Wind Spirit).
Wind Surf is the flagship of the Windstar fleet, which includes the identical, and much smaller, 5,350-ton, 148-passenger Wind Star and Wind Spirit siblings. The biggest difference between this ship and the others is that Wind Surf's extra space allows for some familiar large-ship amenities (the aforementioned spa and alternative restaurant along with a roomy casino) while sacrificing little of the twins' reputation for personalized service. So you can chat with the captain and other officers, view the ship's operation from the bridge, and experience "we know your name" service while also participating in casino gambling, art auctions and spa indulgences.
So Wind Surf is a hybrid -- big ship in a small ship or, you could argue, a small ship in a big one. And that makes it hard to pigeon-hole. It's not quite a luxury experience (there are no balcony cabins, bathrooms don't have tubs, and room service is limited), and yet it's not mass market, either (you will rarely feel part of a crowd, onboard or off).
Windstar's positioning of the ship as a luxury yacht can be misleading. The white plastic loungers scattered around the decks seemed out of place for an upscale ship, and the fact that there was no shuttle service whatsoever (even for a fee) during our overnight in Monaco, where the buses stop running at 7 p.m. and cabs don't come to the dock after 5 p.m., seemed pretty downscale too.
And yet: the service personnel (waiters, room stewards, bar servers) were the best we've ever had, really remembering your name after the first time you're asked, and remembering your drink preference after your first order. And (important for us), you can get a complimentary espresso or cappuccino at any time, not just at dinner, which is definitely not found on mass-market lines.
We'll give kudos to Windstar for a regular commitment to refurbishing and upgrading its ships, and Wind Surf is no exception. It underwent a series of improvements several years ago and received another series of fresh additions in November 2006.
Wind Surf Fellow Passengers
Passengers tend to be well-traveled and active in mind and spirit, with age ranges from 30 - 80. The ship tends to appeal to folks who like a traditional cruise ship style but want to try a more exotic experience.
Wind Surf Dress Code
During the day, dress onboard is decidedly casual, even "beachy." In the evenings, "country-club casual" prevails, with men wearing collared shirts (no ties) and women in pant suits or coordinates. There are no formal nights onboard. Dress in Degrees seemed to be more oriented toward cocktail-attire, but that is not a requirement of the ship -- the only caveat from that quarter being no bathing suits or tank tops allowed in the restaurants at supper time.
Wind Surf Gratuity
Windstar now automatically adds a hotel service charge of $11 per passenger to each guest'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 wait staff and cabin stewards, and others you may never meet, such as galley and laundry staff -- and represent an important part of their compensation. It isn't necessary to tip beyond the $11 per diem, of course, but almost everyone does.
This was a wonderful itinerary and a memorable voyage for many reasons.
After 2 days at a well-located hotel in London, we were transferred by motorcoach to Wind Surf at her dock at Portsmouth. Our ports in France were Cherbourg, St. ...continue
We were so looking forward to our Windsurf cruise. Our cabin was light, spacious, comfortable, always clean and fresh flowers and fruit were a nice touch. We enjoyed the Captain playing Vagellis 1492 "Conquest of Paradise” over the ...continue
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This was our fifth cruise with WS lines. While we still enjoy the ambiance, crew, small ship cruising, some of the changes are not for the better. There is now a "harder sell" mentality for the spa, shop and excursions. The port excursion prices ...continue