Windstar offers a variety of tours, at least one in each port of call and as many as three were offered in a given port on our cruise. In addition, at each port you can opt to go it on your own by arranging a private car and a guide (maximum of 2 people) at a premium price or a van and a guide (maximum of 6 people) at an additional charge.
Many excursions are cultural or food-and-wine driven, while some have an active or outdoor angle, like hiking, for the more physically fit. Typically tours are half-day, lasting four to five hours. Few can take up a full day with eight hours away. They're best when they take you to a town or attraction that's a few hours away or otherwise more difficult to access on your own.
The tours offered onboard are a good value and often got us back in time to then explore the port of call. It gave us the best of both worlds, seeing what was in port and what was farther away. We saw many passengers choosing a few organized tours throughout the cruise.
Excursions come at a cost and should be arranged in advance. Once onboard, you can add to, change or cancel excursions. It's best to handle in advance to ensure availability.
One complimentary private event, called a Destination Discovery Event, is available on most cruises. Our complimentary private event was a spirited party at a third century Roman villa. Flanked on the hills near Portofino, the villa was filled with authentic music, food, wine and local purveyors, and was by far one of the best experiences of the cruise
Also, market tours are often available and free of charge on each cruise. Passengers join the chef to shop in local markets; he then uses the product(s) in the nightly special at dinner. This program is offered on most Windstar sailings at least once, but there are some sailings where time does not allow. Book in advance at the front desk.
Bikes are offered on all Windstar cruises and are placed out for passenger usage in ports where it makes sense to bike. Rentals are $39 for a half-day rental, $59 for full-day rental. Helmets, locks and chains are provided.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
This is a smaller ship, so there isn't an expansive menu of entertainment options or poolside activities. The focus is really on the destination and allowing passengers to explore in port.
What once was the Card Room has since been transformed into an intimate Screening Room where passengers can also watch the latest movies and play video games. Card games, board games and Wii games in the Screening Room are not hosted. If you're looking for more structured gaming, you'll find hosted Wii game tournaments, mini-golf tournaments, gaming lessons in the casino and blackjack tournaments.
Port talks, which are 15-minute daily chats led by the Voyage Leader (aka cruise director), take place in the Lounge before dinner.
Passengers are also invited on a galley tour at least once a cruise. They get an inside look into how the food is prepared. A cooking lesson is often on offer, which complements shopping with the chef. Check at reception for timing and booking.
Windstar Cruises is one of the few cruise lines to have an open bridge policy. Visits are off limits when in port, docking or sailing away. Otherwise, it is an open opportunity to meet captain and crew and get a behind the scenes look.
The Star Pride Signature Sail-Away is worth scheduling in, as it is a daily occurrence. Crew members hoist flags to the strains of Vangelis' "1492" song as the ship sails out of port, a holdover from the sail-raising tradition on the original Windstar ships. The Star Bar tends to be abuzz about this time regardless.
There is also a big BBQ night onboard, a crew talent show in the Lounge and an evening of crew and passenger line dancing in Compass Rose.
Evening entertainment in general is limited in comparison to big ship offerings, but what was on offer was more than enough and suited the ambiance onboard. After dinner, passengers migrate to the outdoor Star Bar to listen to a live duo of a musician/singer or a singer.
On our cruise, the crowds seemed a bit larger inside for the second duo at the Compass Rose. There was as much listening as dancing indoors. There's also a "casino" in the corner of the room that you would miss if it weren't pointed out to you. It is only open while at sea and for very limited hours. Check with reception for hours.
To complement the market tours, the chef often offers a cooking demonstration
onboard. This is not a hands-on demonstration. The venue for the demos is typically small and normally 35 to 45 people are in attendance. It is free, but you must sign up in advance at the front desk.
Windstar does offer speakers and lectures beyond the port talks, but only on select itineraries.
Star Pride Bars and Lounges
The bars and lounges on Star Pride are casual and comfortable. Many passengers turned up at the outdoor Star Bar for the daily sail-away, especially when it was near sundown or close to dinnertime. It's worth an early arrival to ensure a seat at or near the bar, or on a nearby lounger.
The Drink of the Day is another draw at cocktail hour. Rum Punch, Kir Royale and French Kiss were but a few on offer during our sailing. All drinks specials are $8 per drink. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added onto any and all alcoholic beverages served onboard.
A Drinks Package provides unlimited cocktails, sparkling wines, wines by the glass and all beers (for drinks typically priced under $12). The package includes mini-bar beverage selections and beverages provided through room service, as well as orders at the bars and restaurants onboard. The package cost per day (based on double occupancy) is $108.00 ($54 per person) per stateroom. Packages must be purchased on the first day of the cruise and must be purchased for the full duration of the cruise. The price does not include the standard 15-percent gratuity.
There were very good wines by the glass; red, white, rose and sparkling at a surprisingly affordable price ($7). Things got much more interesting and more expensive by the bottle. There were a lot of bubbles by the bottle (Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot, Moet & Chandon and an Italian prosecco). Pouilly Fuisse (France) was on the Connoisseur's White List. The Connoisseur's Red List had all from Italian Chianti to Spanish Garnacha, Oregon pinot noirs and Syrahs from Washington State.
There was an endless array of chardonnays -- including French, Spanish and Argentinean -- beyond the usual California chardonnays like Rutherford Ranch and Napa Valley.
The Lounge (Deck 5, aft): The Lounge on Deck 5 received new flooring, lighting, sound system and furniture in the 2016 renovation. The elegant ambiance makes the Lounge an amenable space for entertainment and gatherings. It's where the welcome cocktail, port talks and the crew's talent show takes place, and it's where passengers typically gather for excursions or tenders.
Compass Rose (Deck 6, aft): The Compass Rose is open during the day, yet it is more popular later in the evening, after dinner and late into the night. It's decked out in comfortable banquets, sofas and small cocktail tables near the dance floor. Limited seating is available at the small bar and at the piano, near the pianist and singer. The ambiance is lively, and the dance floor tends to get busier each night.
If you're looking to gamble a bit, you'll find the casino discreetly set to the side of Compass Rose.
Yacht Club (Deck 8, forward): The biggest draw to the Yacht Club is the view. The semi-circular room with dark wood and plush couches has expansive views out the bow and on both sides of the ship. It is the prime spot for early birds to beat the crowds and enjoy the sun rising with an early coffee and a continental breakfast. If you don't want to commit to a big buffet, it's a great place to grab sandwiches or coffees throughout the day. Servers are happy to bring drinks in from the nearby Star Bar at any time of the day, and it's a nice spot for pre-dinner cocktails.
The Yacht Club is a serene scene throughout the day, an ideal place to read, write, check emails or simply enjoy the surrounding scenery. There isn't service past 5 p.m., but if the Star Bar is cold or windy, it's a great place to pop in for a quick warm up, in between ballads.
Star Bar (Deck 8, aft): The Star Bar is the one outside bar onboard. The Signature Sail-Away and $8 daily drink specials draw a crowd. Passengers gather around the bar, at neighboring tables and on loungers to watch the ship sail out of port and for pre-dinner drinks. After-dinner cocktails at the Star Bar draw a committed crowd every night, aided on our cruise by the talented duo that performed every evening.
Star Pride Outside Recreation
A small pool (more of a wading than a swimming pool) and two hot tubs are located on Deck 7. Just above those pools, the Star Deck (Deck 8) is often abuzz with sail-aways, sundowners, pre-or post-dinner cocktails or lazy loungers. This area was expanded by 4 feet on each side in the 2016 refurb, giving additional space for passengers to relax on deck chairs and take in the upper deck ambiance.
A whirlpool (hot tub) is tucked discreetly away on Deck 5 forward, and it's easy to forget it's there.
The watersports platform or Star Pride Marina is available as weather and port conditions allow. Windstar aims to have the platform open for at least one day during each cruise. Activities include standup paddleboarding, kayaking, sailing, water skiing and diving on certain itineraries. The Discover Scuba program is designed for those who are not certified divers, but interested in trying. The Certified Dive Program is for certified divers only. Bring proof of certification with you.
Star Pride Services
Aside from the Lounge, you'll find reception, the purser's desk, the shore excursion desk and a computer center with two computers and a printer on Deck 5. Just above, midship on Deck 6 is the library with a wide range of books and DVDs to check out for free. The Signature Shop is home to several Windstar logo tees, bags and hats and well-appointed signature gifts from the regions visited. It is a small shop, but surprisingly robust.
There are no self-serve launderettes onboard, but passengers can purchase a laundry package for $109 per cabin ($54.50 per person) for a seven-day cruise. It must be purchased by the first day of the cruise.
The internet package also needs to be purchased in advance. You are buying data versus days or minutes. The Basic Email Plan is $60 for 200MB, which averages out to approximately 15 to 60 minutes. The Surfing Plan at $120 is 500MB (approximately five hours). The Unlimited Plan ranges from $250 for seven days to $525 for 15 days. If purchased before departure, it's good for two devices. If purchased onboard, it's only good for one. It's all a bit pricy, but the service was excellent and available throughout the ship, in cabins and in common areas.