Background: We have just returned yesterday from a week long trip to Alaska. We had traveled with the Windstar (then part of Holland America) on our last trip and had loved it, this was nothing like it (which is a great advert for Windstar ... Read More
Background: We have just returned yesterday from a week long trip to Alaska. We had traveled with the Windstar (then part of Holland America) on our last trip and had loved it, this was nothing like it (which is a great advert for Windstar I suppose!). We were traveling with my 77 year old father and wanted a ship that wasn't too big, but had a good reputation and offered good accommodation, access to tours etc. We worked with our local travel company and they suggested this one.
Hotel: We self booked and stayed the Westin in Seattle, well recommended, it is a $30 cab ride to the pier though, as it is on the other side of town, but was worth being in the middle of things the night before we left on the cruise.
Ship Info: We pre registered, I highly recommend it, we sped thru the on boarding process. People started turning up at 12, the earliest they were letting you on board (we were there at 1). There were lots of people to help, beware of the offer to load your cases and carry them thru for you, it is only a 40 feet max trip before they get dropped off for x-ray and you don't see them again till you are in your state room. Look your best, the photo opportunities (and trust me there are many!) started before you even get on the ship.
The ship is well signed, three sets of elevators and stairs with maps in each elevator lobby you can't get lost too easily. But be careful not all floors are accessible by taking any elevator and expecting to be able to walk forwards and backwards. If you are assigned lower Fontine restaurant (main) seating, which is on the 4th floor, you have to go up or down stairs midships and then walk towards the back (aft) then go up / down to get to your floor (the kitchens are on the 4th).
Activities: Not many and childish in the main. Bingo (be prepared to spend $20 - $30 for your cards), Casino while at sea, the usual art auction of stuff they haven't been able to sell before. A few 'hole in one' competitions on the pool deck (they cover the pool, so it is swimmable if you want and there is a spa). Unending sales promotions for jewelry, how to shop in your next port talks (and funnily enough they seem to be happy to guarantee your purchases if you buy them from particular stores....). They had few activities for active people (towards the end basketball and ping pong) and the cruise director comes across as talking to 5 year olds all the time, false smiley voice sort of stuff. They did have a cooking demo a couple of days and they did have blackjack and Texas Hold'em comps on several days, they fill up quickly and yes of course it costs to join them. Did the kitchen tour, worth seeing behind the scenes.
Service: Excellent, the staff were all willing to go the extra mile, from the people in the dining room who ran upstairs to get some sugar free ice cream for my diabetic father to the cabin steward who left surprises in our rooms most nights for us. The people on the ship were excellent, I have no complaints there only praise, they all seem to care.
Shore Excursions: Again we booked ahead of time and was glad we had. We got the trips we wanted and the ship left an envelope in our room with all our excursion tickets in it, so we knew exactly what we were doing and when. We had been worried about booking a trip too close to the arrival of the ship at port, but there was no need to worry. They give you priority and if your trip is delayed getting back (and it is one you booked thru the ship) they will wait for you - they won't if you just wondered off to explore on your own! We choose to go Whale Watching, we went out to the Otter Sanctuary, we went on a float plane trip over a glacier and also choose to visit a rain forest. Only the rain forest one was not a good choice. Both the Whale watching and the Otter one's are MUST do's, they were awesome. Bring layers of clothes, including a light rain jacket, it can get wet there on the top deck. All the boat tours supply binoculars, so one less thing for you to carry. The guides were knowledgeable, young and just as excited at the things we saw as we were - we did get to see 5 whales bubble net feeding, several times - the true highlight of the whole trip.
Staterooms: We booked a suite for ourselves and a standard double room for my dad. We were able to link him to ours so we could disembark together on the one day we had to tender ashore. If you can afford it, I highly recommend it, there was plenty of room and a decent sized balcony. We also got binoculars as part of the room, complimentary laundry, champers from the captain, free DVD and book rental and access to the Neptune Lounge, where they have good coffee/tea and juices as well as no added sugar snacks, fruit and cookies, chocolate etc. The concierge in that room was great, anything you needed could be sourced by her, including last minute trips, reservations etc. The double is tiny, not a room you want to spend much time in, cramped sitting area at the end of the bed and a functional bathroom. We were ticked, they charged my dad 200% single occupancy for being on his own. They can arrange the beds as one king or 2 doubles, I suggest in order to be able to see out of the window behind the bed, that you consider asking in advance for them to separate the beds. The beds are comfy, good pillows and the suite has a large sofa that converts into a queen if you did want to put someone else in there too. Plenty of hanging room for clothes and drawers etc. A fridge in every room which was useful.
Dining: 5 choices: pool side: (burgers, hot dogs, little salad bar)no frills cooked to order Lido: average buffet stuff, with up to 10 people in front of you for the omelette in the morning and just 1 chef making them. The food was plentiful and when they say they close at xx.xx then they really are shut by then, so don't wait till the last moment. Tea and coffee available all day there, check your daily sheet for their times and specials, including the ice cream offerings (including sugar and fat free) and the changing late night buffet. Don't expect too much, it is far more like Denny's does buffet instead of the Ritz!! If you are looking for seafood coming out of the yazoo, you are going to be very disappointed.
Pinnacle Grill: $30 per person charge and the portions are not big. If you go there, make sure you don't bank on sharing any side dish, order one each, they are all included in the price, order as many as you want the rice is good, worth a try, but you only get one soup spoon size of it, so don't be polite or you'll end up in the lido afterwards! If you order wine there and don't finish it, they will have it delivered to the main dining room for you the next night. The menu doesn't change there. If you do go, order the baked alaska, they turn off the lights and make it into real theater - very enjoyable. Avoid the lamb chops, ours were tough!
Main dining room: set seating, excellent service, food sounds wonderful, looks good, tastes of nothing! Very ambitious menus, not executed well, you won't leave hungry, expect to spend up to 1.5 to 2 hours there, it is just a pity that the food lets the staff down!
In room dining: 24 hour (providing they are not serving dinner, in which case you wait till the 2nd sitting is done!), they have a limited 24 hour menu, but they also offer the main dining room menu at night while the dining room is open (you can order it, they just deliver it a little later, bizarre). No french fries available unless you visit the lido, so if all you want is burger and fries be prepared to have chips or potato salad instead. My husband is a 'fussy eater' just plain food, no sauces etc. they did have (on all but one night)an alternative menu so he could have his steak or salmon. Read the menu all the way thru, they offer soups in 4 different places on it!! TIP: Be there a couple of minutes AFTER the restaurant opens, they don't open the doors till your set time and the crowds are bad as everyone just huddles together blocking the elevator doors, standing on the stairs etc..
2 formal nights on board, they do rent tuxes and dresses if you really want to be pretentious and uncomfortable. Most people just wore pants and a jacket, but they do look for a tie for the men and a lot of the women either wore a nice dress or smart pants and a nice top. My husband refuses to dress to suit other people just decided to wear a collared shirt and smart pants without the tie or jacket - they did approach him as he entered the dining room to tell him it was formal night but he told them he was eating there and wasn't prepared to dress to impress others and they immediately backed off. The restaurant manager had already told us plenty of others do it too and it was fine!
Entertainment: Is that what they called it? Oh boy. Amateur night for the main part. A piano singer that can not sing in the piano bar, and wana'be's, never were's and won't ever be's in the main show room. The crew show was good, at least you felt it was genuine. The young musical based entertainers on the first night were ok for a high school production (lots of energy and false smiles), the rest were hit and miss at best.
The captain: Avoid the captain and his toasts, unless you really need that glass of cheap champaign. He is dour and on all the time there we never saw him smile. They even ask you not to shake his hand in case your germs infect him!! He was so rude that while the cruise director was introducing the department heads on to the stage he just kept talking to the person beside him instead of paying attention. You really got the impression that he'd rather be pulling his toe nails off with a pliers than being there with his guests on the 3 occasions we were at the same functions as him.
Points of particular noteworthy: They bombard you with 5 or 6 pieces of info every morning which they then add to as the day goes on. The daily broad sheet tells you very little but the bottom section tears off and is worth carrying with you. It tells you events for the day and the meal times and choices. They do supply a recycle can in your room, we filled it every day with useless shopping info on board and on shore, I really wish there was a way to opt out of the advertising paperwork, we could have saved half a rain forest!!!
Buy, buy buy: The seemingly non stop activities to get you to part with your money was very annoying. From the soft drinks card (yep, they aren't free) to the photo opportunities to the withdraw up to $1000 a day at the casino and we'll charge it to your card for just 3% commission is irritating. From the bling laden jewelry stores, to the over priced coffee shop (Starbucks eat your heart out, almost $7 for a frozen coffee drink) to the 'sign up for another cruise' talks, invitations for one on ones with the future cruise guy etc.. What they needed was 'here is our next port', this is what the town has to offer, this is what they are famous for, here are the names of some of the restaurants there, these are the sort of excursions we still have space for, instead of 'here is how to shop at our favorite stores there' (they even admit they get paid to advertise for them on board). The whole trip seemed like a way to part you with as much money as you could instead of a pleasurable, expensive, vacation for you. Bitter? yes we are, the over commercialized feel and lack of real substance of activities and quality of entertainment for the almost $8,500 we spent is criminal and we will be avoiding this line again. The Windstar line really is 180 degrees from the norm, and now we know why! Read Less