If you're considering a small-ship vacation with Windstar Cruises, you might be puzzling over whether to choose one of the line's sailing yachts vs. motor yacht.
On warm-weather Windstar sailings, one of the most popular activities is the weekly barbeque on the teak decks, featuring grilled lobster tails and steaks. Guests and crew dance around deck to Kool & The Gang's "Celebration" and other dance tunes. The event happens under masts with billowing sails on the line’s three sailing ships -- the 148-passenger Wind Star and Wind Spirit and the 342-passenger Wind Surf -- and with the backdrop of a pool festooned with colored lights on the stretched and renovated all-suite Star Plus motor yachts -- the 312-passenger Star Breeze, Star Legend and Star Pride.
Whether you go with the romance of sails or the practicality of motors, on all Windstar ships you'll sail to small ports and isolated coves, the kind of secret places only ship's with shallow drafts can visit.
But there are differences between exploring on a sailing yacht vs. motor yacht. Here are some tips to help you decide which Windstar experience is right for you.
Sailing into, say, St. Barth's you will be the envy of the fancy yachts in the harbor on Windstar's sailing yachts. They are built to make an impression -- Wind Surf, one of the largest sailing ships in the world.
All three sailing ships operate with a combination of wind power and engines. The sails are self-unfurling, and controlled via computer (there's no tugging the ropes). With their big open deck spaces, the ships are the perfect venue for languid days in warm weather destinations such as the Caribbean, Greek Isles and Tahiti. It's a distinctive, romantic experience.
If you are looking to go farther afield, however, consider that the faster motor yachts are equipped to get you comfortably, at up to 15 knots, to warm weather spots and beyond, to destinations such as Alaska, the Middle East and Australia.
The sailing yachts attract a good number of sailors who are universally impressed by the "big" accommodations (compared to the tiny facilities on their own boats). On Wind Star and Wind Spirit, standard cabins are a well-designed 188 square feet and all are ocean view. If you want to beef that up, book the 220-square-foot Owner's Suite with sitting and dining area.
Standard staterooms on Wind Surf are also 188 square feet, but in a renovation several years ago on one deck, cabins were cleverly combined so that guests can book 376-foot suites with two bathrooms. There's also a 495-square-foot Bridge Suite, for those who want to hang out near the ship's officers.
The all-suite motor yachts deliver more space. The typical suite is 275 square feet with a curtain to separate the living and sleeping areas, walk-in closets and big bathrooms with double sinks and tile showers or tubs.
Thanks to the stretch, which added 50 suites (for 100 additional people), some accommodations come with step-out French balconies, while others have either a picture window or portholes. Five premium suites have separate bedrooms and verandas, and offer considerably more space -- at the top an Owner's Suite that can be combined with adjacent suites for a 1,374-square-foot, three-bedroom, three-bathroom retreat. While Windstar caters mostly to an adult audience, families would be well-accommodated in this layout.
All the Windstar ships have a classy main dining room, Amphora, where the continental and locally focused cuisine includes daily specials by James Beard-chosen chefs.
They also have the buffet-style Veranda cafe with indoor and outdoor seating. At night, the cafe becomes Candles, where steakhouse cuisine and seafood are served outdoors, under the stars, on romantically lit tables. Wind Surf adds a French restaurant, Stella Bistro, where you can order an excellent cassoulet.
But if you're a foodie and want to experience one of the best eateries at sea, consider the motor yachts. Windstar met Anthony Sasso via the James Beard Foundation. He's a young chef who gained attention at the Michelin-starred Casa Mono & Bar Jamon in New York. At the 34-seat Cuadro 44, he delivers a creative tapas experience featuring Spanish and Portuguese flavors, as fine as you'll find anywhere -- from the perfectly grilled octopus to the churros with chocolate sauce.
Also on the motor yachts, Windstar turned to acclaimed barbecue guru and cookbook author Steve Raichlen to create featured dishes for the outdoor Star Grill, open for lunch and dinner with menus that change twice a day. Don’t miss Raichlin's bourbon brined turkey breast!
On the small sailing ships, indoor spots are limited to the dining venues, a main lounge (where performances including a delightful weekly crew show), a small library and a small spa. All this is fine with a crowd that prefers to be out on deck anyway, including alone time in hidden nooks, grabbing drinks at the outdoor bar or dipping in the small pool and hot tub.
The motor yachts and Wind Surf have more places to go onboard -- including a second lounge, Compass Rose, where a piano player takes late night requests, and an expansive Yacht Club where guests can catch ocean views, check their email and grab a snack or espresso drink (the sailing ships are getting a smaller version).
The update of the motor yachts also brings an expanded spa with steam and sauna and relaxation rooms and an expanded boutique that will delight shopaholics -- including with jewelry and watches and an impressive line of logo wear. Out on deck, the newly expanded pool is large enough for eight people to schmooze, drinks in hand, and there's a nearby hot tub -- as well as a second "Hidden" hot tub forward on Deck 5.
With the increased capacity on the motor yachts, Windstar has been experimenting with entertainment designed to give more choices, including the addition of a five-piece band, an entertainment director and stage performances in the lounge.
Of note to those with mobility challenges, Wind Surf and motor yachts have elevators, while the smaller sailing ships do not.
All Windstar ships share the common denominator of being small enough that at times you will find yourself fantasizing that you are on your own private yacht, within touching distance of some of the world's most coveted ports.
On all the ships the atmosphere is both casually elegant (no jackets and ties required) and convivial. These are ships where you can unwind, enjoy the sea, make new friends, while staying in very nice accommodations and eating very good food -- as highlighted in Windstar's status as the official cruise line of the James Beard Foundation.
The ships feature an open bridge policy, so you can mingle with the officers. You can cool off at a watersports platform, swimming out to floating mats or borrow kayaks and paddleboards. The crew is universally friendly, joining guests in enjoying the relaxed atmosphere.
Go with Wind Surf, Wind Star or Wind Spirit if you're looking for the magic of sailing beneath billowing bedsheet-white sails.
Star Breeze, Star Legend and Star Pride are gorgeous ships, too, with that little bit more choice of dining, accommodation, and entertainment, if that's what is important to you.
Updated February 13, 2023