My Wife and I celebrated our 10th Anniversary aboard the Wind Surf on the Glitter & Glam of the Rivieras tour (Barcelona-Rome) Sept 20-27th, 2014. The key to this cruise is knowing what to expect, so you're not disappointed. We chose it mainly for 3 reasons: 1) the ports of call, 2) the intimacy and personal service of a small ship, and 3) small ship access to the ports.
We're experienced cruisers and travelers. Here's our honest opinion of our trip last week.
THE SHIP: This gal is 26 years old and shows every bit of it. She's tired, rusted, requires a ton of lipstick and daily maintenance to appear reasonably presentable up close, but from afar, she's got an amazing silhouette, classic lines and turns heads everywhere she goes. It's far from a luxury ship as frequently described, but it has a certain character to her that is rather appealing. It holds just over 300 passengers so it's small and therefore not at all crowded, intimate, and is able to access ports that monster sized ships don't. The staterooms are updated, comfortable and exceptionally well designed with plenty of storage and built-in 115V (US/Canada) and 230V (Europe) power outlets. There's a well appointed gift shop that's quite reasonably priced and stocks anything you might forget, and some nice memorabilia. This ship is surprisingly stable. It has very tall masts which offer balance and stability. The ship is 600 feet long and has very little rocking motion. It is however 28 years old and mechanical noise does transfer through the ship. Fortunately, the captain uses the sales virtually all the time while sailing at night which reduces/eliminates use of the engines. We've cruised on much bigger ships that are quieter, but have much more noticeable rocking motion than this ship.
OUTDOOR DECKS: The outdoor seating is mainly at the rear of the ship. The largest is at the rear of the ship around the tiny pool and 2 small hot tubs. Above the main level there's a smaller deck with bar, and an even smaller deck above that. Seating is very limited on all 3 rear decks. However, along both sides of the ship there are plenty of seats, usually unoccupied, and offering quiet enjoyment with excellent views.
THE SERVICE: We had Captain John Clark (who is a total comedic riot), Hotel Manager Ratko Strbac (who is extremely enthusiastic and approachable), and the entire crew work exceptionally hard to personalize your trip and create a relaxed, casual atmosphere with outstanding service to make up for the ship being old, tired, and not a luxury vessel. You're made to feel like you're visiting with family (in their old outdated house). Senior management are highly accessible and mingle with guests frequently. Whenever the ship is at sea, passengers are welcome to visit and experience the Captain's Bridge and control room. This is very unique to Windstar Cruises, and part of the approachable, hands-on environment of this cruise line.
THE FOOD: If you're looking to engorge yourself on 24/7 buffet, this is not the ship for you. Breakfast and lunch buffets are very good, with variety of fresh fruit, breads, hot foods, selection of hot items and made-to-order fair. You can always order room service, which we never did, but heard it's excellent. Dinners are very good, served in the formal dining room (business casual dress, dinner jackets without tie for men, although some men come in just dress shirts and collared polos, no shorts allowed). There are specialty nights that you have to book as soon as you board, one is "Candles" outdoor dining, the other is French cuisine at "Stellas". Both are excellent menus, but located in re-purposed areas used for dining during the day (not separate restaurants). Again, it's about the food and service, not the ship. You do have the option to dine alone or sit with other couples, which is a great way to meet people from around the world.
ENTERTAINMENT: We were well aware the onboard entertainment is minimal. We took this cruise for the ports, which are the real entertainment, and used the ship simply as a water taxi from port to port. If you're looking to stay onboard the ship for high entertainment value, you'll be sorrily disappointed. It's not that kind of cruise. Whenever the ship is anchored at port, the rear garage opens up to create a small water park with water slide, trampoline, kayaks, stand up paddle boards and water skiing... all dependent on weather conditions.
DEMOGRAPHIC: There are no children onboard (I don't think they're forbidden). Virtually no travelers in their 20's. Just the odd couple in their 30's. We are in our 40's and found almost no others. Most of the passengers are late 50's, 60's and early-mid 70's. The average age is about 65. Onboard entertainment is matched accordingly. Most "nightlife" on the ship shuts down very early. Again, this isn't a party boat, but rather, a unique means of getting from port to port where all the action is. A very large percentage of the passengers are multi-repeat customers.
1- BARCELONA SPAIN: Amazing metropolitan lively bustling city with excellent architecture, entertainment, historic sites, shopping, and excellent means of getting around. Highly recommend the all-day hop on/hop off open air bus with guided tutorial of points of interest. It takes you everywhere you'd want to visit. La Rambla is the most happening street in town, full of non-stop activity, cafes, restaurants, rocking night life, but also has loads of thieves, scammers and pick-pockets, so exercise caution.
2- PORT VENDRES FRANCE: Sleepy little fishing village. Aside from the main street of shops surrounding the marina, and a couple old castles nearby, there's not much happening here. Great day to take an excursion into the scenic countryside. If they dropped this port from the itinerary, it would improve the journey.
3- MARSEILLE FRANCE: Large, overpopulated and very dirty city. Extremely rude, uncooperative and unfriendly French locals once you get off the main tourist streets. Several points of interest best visited by the tiny tourist train that circulates throughout the city. Awesome view and photo opportunities from the hilltop in the east end overlooking the city. Can easily see the city in half a day, spend the other half in the countryside on excursion.
4- CANNES FRANCE: By far our favorite port of call on this trip. Small, quaint, picturesque town on the sea, in a large scenic cove, with tremendous display of wealth in mega yachts, hotels, cars and shopping. You'll surely recognize scenes from some of the many movies shot here. It's lifestyles of the rich and famous, but there's also a fabulous area in the west end of town for local shopping, food market, restaurants, historic buildings, and casual touring. Once again, take the tiny train tour to oversee all the hot spots and get a great impression of the town overall. This place is oozing with charm, glamour and scenery. Could easily spend 2 full days here, wish we could drop Port Vendres and double up on Cannes.
5- MONTE CARLO/MONACO: The home of uber-rich. Monaco is the flaunting ground of the super rich and famous... mega yachts, exotic cars, jet setter lifestyle, extremely expensive shops, this place reminds you that you're not a Billionaire. Best way to see it all is the open air hop on/hop off guided tour bus. You'll see the royal family's castle, the old historic town, the famous hercule marina, the lavish Monte Carlo Casino (totally over-rated as a casino, the kind of place you go just to say you've been, but don't get excited about the gambling, it's a flop in that regard), the Cafe Paris, and Hotel de Paris. Be mindful of bus schedules, getting stranded anywhere in Monaco is a problem as there are virtually no taxis in town! Most of the major streets you'll travel are part of the Monaco Grand Prix circuit which is interesting. Monaco is extremely hilly but also very wealthy. There are elevators and escalators everywhere, so you don't have to sweat too much.
6- PORTOFINO ITALY: This very picturesque village is a great spot to spend the day walking in an unhurried pace, visiting local shops, cafes, restaurants and sites. Santa Margherita is within a long walk, but there are plenty of water taxis and shuttles going frequently if you want more shopping (be mindful of the 1-4pm daily closures). Walking or driving along winding seaside roads is breathtaking.
7- PORTOFERRAIO ITALY: A small, sleepy little village much like Port Vendres France (stop #1) this place we could do without. It's got one of everything you need to sustain life, a few general stores, cafes, restaurants, and that's about it. Not much happening here as you'll quickly discover by taking the tiny train tour. Their claim to fame is a loose connection to Napolean, which is exploited touristically. Beyond that, there's little so see or do here. We wish this port was dropped in exchange for something more appropriate or traded for more time in Cannes or Monaco.
8- CIVITAVECCHIA ITALY: This is not a destination, it's the remote ship port town serving Rome, which is 1 hour drive away. There's nothing to see or do here, other than mildly interesting remains of the stone wall that once surrounded the town. The 1 hour drive along the cost is relaxing, with views of the sea, rolling hills, mountains of Tuscany in the distance, and a couple small villages along the way.
9- ROME ITALY: Rome is Rome. Thousands of years of history, churches, monuments, and attractions. 3 cities built on top of each other, there's plenty to see and do here. It's not our personal taste of destination. We find Rome to be grossly overcrowded, very dirty, riddled with graffiti and in desperate need of cleaning. The food is very good, but getting around is not fun, and when you leave, you'll likely fly out of Rome's airport, which is not at all within the city, but a good 30-45 minutes drive to its coastal location.
DAILY VISITS TO EACH PORT OF CALL:
One thing that was poorly done by Windstar is providing passengers with a good meaningful overview of each port with helpful tourist advice. There's a brief tourist version write-up left in your stateroom each day, and a sales pitch on a small number of Windstar-organized excursions. But we found it very helpful to step off the ship each morning and head straight for the tourist office. Get a local map, ask the office to circle major points of interest and highlight the stops for any hop on/hop off bus tours, we found these to be the best way to explore and see the cities. You should also Google each port of call to see if there happens to be any major events while you're there. For example, there was a major sailing regatta in Cannes and the international yacht show in Monaco. Both were huge events that Windstar never mentioned, but we discovered and enjoyed very much.
This is the single most disappointing part of this cruise and the ports of call. Onboard, there is internet/wifi which you purchase (not cheap) but it's painfully slow and highly unreliable. Avoid the pain, put your devices away and don't even bother trying. In port, the wifi is very unreliable, with the exception of Cannes and Monaco, which were both excellent.
- Buy a half decent pocket digital camera. We saw so many passengers trying to take pictures on their phones. The ports and sites and onboard views are amazing, you won't catch them on your cheap camera too well.
- Also buy a small portable tripod, the kind with flexible legs so you can wrap it around a pole or other structure to take a nice picture of the two of you, so every photo isn't a "selfie". Bring a spare battery and charge both in your room, so you can take pictures all day.
- Buy a travel shoulder bag with zippered pockets for security against pick-pockets and thieves, and watch your items very closely. Never carry your wallet or valuable in your back pockets or open bags.
- Buy a voltage adapter and carry it with you and onboard to charge batteries and phone.
- Book onboard appointments early (spa, special dinners, etc.) they fill up fast, do it as soon as you board.
- Onboard wine with dinner is $30+ per bottle. Good wine is $3-$6 Euro in each port. You can buy and bring wine onboard and drink it free in your room, or bring it to dinner for a $15 Euro corkage fee. Drinks on the ship in general are not cheap.
- Most ports have old cobble stone roads/walkways, which require very comfortable shoes