Shore excursions are not included in Wind Star's cruise fare. The line offers a variety of standard tours and Concierge Collection options, which have smaller group limits and are geared toward offering a more intimate local and cultural experience. Standard tours on our Costa Rica and Panama Canal cruise included a foodie tour of Panama City and ziplining in Costa Rica, while Concierge Collection tours ranged from a yoga retreat on Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula and a visit to a mountain lodge with a homecooked lunch.
On select itineraries, such as those in the Greek Isles and Mediterranean, passengers also can tag along with the executive chef when he visits a port of call's fish or produce market. This free tour is usually offered once during the cruise; those interested must sign up at reception.
Select warm-weather itineraries dedicate one day to a complimentary beach outing and barbecue. Passengers are taken via Zodiac to the beach, where they can spend the day sunbathing on a lounger, unwinding with beach yoga, taking advantage of Wind Star's water sport equipment (kayaks, paddle-boards and snorkeling gear), wildlife-spotting and exploring on their own.
Ice-cold infused water and soft drinks are available to take as needed, while a pop-up bar offers a "beach cocktail of the day" and other alcoholic beverages for an added fee (or as part of a prepaid beverage package). Crew members transport food from the ship to the island, for the barbecue lunch, which includes a generous spread of grilled meats, fresh salads and fruits, savory sides and freshly baked desserts.
A few low-key activities are available during the day, such as napkin- or towel-folding demonstrations, fruit carving shows or un-hosted games of bridge. Wind Star has an open-bridge policy (rare in the cruise industry), so you can visit the wheelhouse to chat with the captain or officers at any time, as long as the ship is at sea and conditions calm -- no reservations or guided tour necessary.
Wind Star hosts the majority of its entertainment in the Yacht Club lounge, a new space added during the ship's November 2018 refurb, which replaces the tight lounge-casino venue that was there before. The new room boasts a bar in the back, a coffee counter toward the front, a small dance floor and an entertainment corner with a baby grand piano, electronic keyboard and amplification equipment.
A single musician or musician-and-singer duo perform in the Yacht Club lounge every evening, covering well-known songs from a range of entertainers, such as Frank Sinatra, James Taylor, Carol King, Jason Mraz and Lady Gaga.
Wind Star's passengers are generally not a late-night crowd. Passengers meet to talk and sometimes dance. The musicians also occasionally will host activities such as trivia or themed music and dancing. If the weather is agreeable, people will often have a glass of wine or cocktail upstairs at the Pool Bar. Every night, Wind Star holds "Cigars Under the Stars," on the top deck; cigars are available for purchase.
While we enjoyed the laid-back vibe day and night, which fostered great conversation with new friends, we were a bit disappointed in the lack of activities offered throughout the day and at night. We would have liked to see something like a game of beanbag toss on the top deck, or more rounds of trivia at night. Passengers on our cruise seemed to have an itch for more variety and staying out after dinner, but ended up with more of a "I guess we'll just go to bed" attitude.
Every night, the ship's destination manager (often accompanied by a local naturalist) gives destination and excursion talks every evening in the Yacht Club lounge, during which waiters pass platters of appetizers, such as cocktail shrimp, cheese puffs and salmon rolls. They also take drink orders.
Local talent is also invited onboard one evening when the vessel stays a bit later in a port. For example, on our cruise, local school children performed a traditional folklore dance in the Yacht Club lounge during a stop in Puerto Jiminez, Costa Rica.
There are two bars onboard, with a selection of top-shelf products that are available to be served throughout the ship.
Most cocktails run $8 to $12. Beers are $6 to $7, and wine is $8 to $13 per glass, with some exceptional vintages that run higher. Also available are aperitifs, ports and a variety of tequila, whiskey, bourbon and vodka.
Windstar offers two beverage packages: The Topmast Discoveries Beer & Wine package ($49 per person, per day), which includes domestic and imported beer and 33 varieties of wine by the glass, and the Captain's Exclusive beverage package ($59 per person, per day), which covers all domestic and imported beers and 33 varieties of wine and Champagne by the glass as well as cordials, liqueurs, apertifs, cocktails and mini-bar items.
Yacht Club (Deck 3): Sporting a sleek, transitional design (blending modern and traditional elements) with a nautical color scheme, this spacious lounge has ample seating for daytime and nighttime activities -- two- and four-top cocktail tables, and sofas and chaises surrounding coffee tables with ottomans for added relaxation. Other room features include a skylight, a dance space in the center, a cozy area where the musicians perform and large picture windows, dressed with dark-wood plantation shutters on three sides. There's also a video/TV monitor that's used for port talks.
Pool Bar (Deck 4): This is the busiest bar during the day, when passengers tend to spend time outdoors. It's also the bar mostly used by waiters to retrieve specialty coffee and other drinks during breakfast and lunch hours at the Veranda.
On Deck 4 aft, there is one plunge pool, good for a refreshing dip but not big enough to swim laps. Next to it is the hot tub, which can comfortably fit four people.
Sun deck space can be found by the pool and on a flying-bridge sunning platform with a large wooden ship's wheel (a great photo op) that hangs over the Pool Bar. There are enough chairs, padded chaise lounges and tables with umbrellas to seat everyone.
When at anchor in appropriate water and climate, Wind Star opens its water sports platform, entered via a trap-like door in the floor on Deck 2 aft, for direct access to the sea. Use of the life vests, floating mats, snorkeling gear, kayaks and skiffs for rides is complimentary. On special itineraries, the ship also will stock up with scuba-diving equipment. Passengers who wish to snorkel (or dive) during their cruise can retrieve a sanitized mask and snorkel, and keep it with them for the duration of the sailing.
On other itineraries, bicycles are carried onboard and available for rent in select ports of call: half-day for $15, full day for $25.
The reception desk is located on Deck 3, midship. There, passengers can purchase internet packages: a $60 "email package" for 200 megabytes, $120 "surfing package" for 500 megabytes and an unlimited internet plan for $35 per day, which must be purchased for the entire the cruise. Internet speeds depend upon the satellite connection. We found it to be mostly slow throughout the cruise, except when the ship was anchored near a more developed port, as long as we accessed our device from the lounge.
The Library, located on Deck 3 midship, has a four-person card table (with imprinted chessboard) and glass-door bookshelves holding hundreds of DVDs to borrow for free. There are books (fiction, nonfiction and travel guides), games and puzzles, which were a popular activity on our sailing. Two computers are set on a desk shelf in the library for use by passengers who didn't bring their own laptops or tablets.
Next door, at the Signature Shop, where all items are duty free, you can buy fine and costume jewelry, watches, sunglasses, sundresses, shirts, pants, Tilley hats, a Wind Star yacht model (which can be shipped to your home) and Windstar Cruise logowear, as well as sunscreens, toothbrushes and grooming sundries. Due to customs regulations, the gift shop is never open when a ship is in port.
There are no self-service laundry facilities. Many passengers who cruise for longer than a week take advantage of the laundry package, priced at $16 per day for two people or $8 per day for one person (passengers will be charged for each day of the cruise). Every day, you can have your bagged dirty clothes washed and returned to you folded or neatly hung. Laundry deals also are offered throughout the cruise; for example, passengers can take advantage of a one-time rate of $45 to wash and press as many clothes as they can fit into one bag.
Smoking is not permitted anywhere inside the ship, including your cabin; it's only allowed outside on Wind Star's Flying Bridge (Deck 5), where the "Cigars Under the Stars" event is held. During hours that Candles is offered by the pool, the smoking area is moved to Deck 4, forward.
Wind Star does not have an art gallery, nor are there official ship photographers.
The medical facility is on Deck 2 aft, and it's staffed by a physician. Medical fees are charged to your stateroom account, and a receipt is provided for travel insurance purposes.
The tidy WindSpa, tucked near the Lounge on Deck 3 aft, has two treatment rooms, where you can enjoy a 75-minute deep tissue massage ($179), 75-minute Elemis salt scrub ($199) or a 50-minute pro-collagen, age-defying facial ($145), among other bodywork techniques.
There are offerings specifically for men, such as the Elemis deep-cleanse grooming treatment with shave ($75). In its beauty salon area, services include haircuts ($25 to $35 for men, $59 to $79 for women, including blow dry), permanent color (from $95) and highlights (from $89). Manicures (from $45), acrylics and shellacs are in demand, as is the Go SMiLE teeth whitening ($149).
Spa deals are promoted throughout the cruise, such as progressive discounts on signature treatments. For example, if you book three services at once, you get 10 percent off the first, 20 percent off the second and 30 percent off the third.
The compact, mirrored gym on Deck 2 aft contains a handful of cardio and weight machines, as well as free weights, foam rollers and yoga mats. (Passengers taller than 6 feet will have an issue on the treadmills, due to the fitness center's short ceilings.) Towels and complimentary bottled water also are available.
A spa coordinator leads yoga or Pilates classes almost every morning, on the top deck.
Wind Star is not designed for young children, particularly infants and preschoolers. There are no child care facilities, babysitting capabilities, child-friendly activities nor a designated children's menu.
The ship is very much adult in orientation, so if you are considering bringing an older child, think about the youngster's personality and interests. A quiet, well-mannered 12-year-old, who is happy to hang out with family all the time, will do fine. A similarly aged child who would much prefer a vacation that offered a rock wall to climb, water rides, kid peers and video games, will not.
While the minimum age to sail is 8, the line discourages bringing children. Passengers under the age of 21 must be accompanied by a parent, guardian or chaperone who is at least 25 years old.
* May require additional fees