I’m a bit late with my reviews, time got away from me…
My wife and I were on the Star Legend , Windstar Cruse from January 28 - February 4, 2017. I have been on numerous cruises, Norwegian, Carnival, Disney, Celebrity, etc. I ... Read More
I’m a bit late with my reviews, time got away from me…
My wife and I were on the Star Legend , Windstar Cruse from January 28 - February 4, 2017. I have been on numerous cruises, Norwegian, Carnival, Disney, Celebrity, etc. I wanted to do a cruise for my birthday and had originally planned to go on Celebrity. I very much like Celebrity, their food, wine ships etc. but there weren’t any itineraries that I had not been on many times before. Looking at 7-10 days, I eliminated the all-inclusive ships because they had longer trips. I was very interested in a smaller ship experience, did a bunch of research and settled on the Start Legend, 7-day cruise out of San Juan. I have always liked days at sea which was not an option but I was willing to trade that for atypical cruise ports, only one of which I had been to before (St. Maarten) I was one of the first to book this cruise 6-months in advance and got the (French) Veranda room C223 which I selected because I have been prone to seasickness and it was in the middle of the ship… more on that later but it wasn’t a problem for me.
We arrived in San Juan the day before and stayed in a hotel in the Old Town. We like San Juan and knew we would like visiting again and more importantly it lowers the travel stress for me tremendously knowing we have time to spare if there are travel problems… which there were.
I’m going to take a little detour to mention how great Southwest was on this trip, skip this paragraph if you’re not interested. Before I go into detail, all during the flight ordeal, I never complained or yelled. We were on vacation and had time to spare so I simply remained polite and when we were accommodated I thanked the Southwest people many times. As a result they returned the friendliness and everyone went out of their way to help us.
We flew Southwest from New Orleans and as we drove there, I started receiving emails that our flight was delayed over an hour, which meant we would miss our connection in Orlando to San Juan. We tried to change flights out of Orlando to in the morning over the phone, but while the Southwest agents were extremely helpful, it was too close to departure and we could only make changes at the airport. Not that big a deal, plenty rooms at the Orlando Airport Hilton and plenty of seats on first flight out the next day. Since we know we would be late we had a long NOLA lunch with cocktails and eased to the airport where we were able to get a reservation on the morning flight to San Juan. Once in the air it looked like we just might make it so I went up to talk to the flight crew and as it turned out the San Juan flight wasn’t going anywhere until we got there… that flight also had our crew! Once we landed, we went to the gate to try and get our seats back on the evening flight, they were almost fully booked and it was all messed up because we had switched just hours before, but with a few nice words from our flight crew, we we had seats just not together. Off we went, next thing I know I’m getting free drinks from our new friends on the crew AND our bags were the first off in San Juan, much to our surprise. Huge appreciation to everyone we worked with at Southwest (and the folks at Decanter Hotel in San Juan), they made what could have been a very stressful trip come back together terrifically.
We had a very nice day walking around San Juan, buying Panama hats at Ole, drinking Mojitos and getting souvenirs for the family. We have learned to do the gift buying right away, you might find a better deal later on but you don't have to worry about it the rest of the trip and the recipients don’t know the difference anyway. One of the nice things about this cruise is you could board as late as 5 pm which meant we had a relaxed day of shopping and sightseeing. We took a taxi to the pier and dropped off right at the curb were met by an port agent with a checklist with our names and cabin on it. After a short walk down the pier to the terminal, were greeted by a ships agent with the same list and were warmly welcomed. Dropping our luggage at the scanner, we were directed to the gangway… talk about easy. Knowing I could bring two bottles of wine I ran into the duty free store in the terminal and bought two bottles of Prosecco, (which we didn't even finish on the cruise). The wine was a decent price but if you want to bring wine on board I would recommend the duty free store at the airport where they have remarkably low prices. We headed up the gangway and were guided to the small room to do our paperwork while sipping the complimentary champagne. One staff member and the two of us, wow so easy and relaxed. One new thing, they did keep our passports which was a little bit of a surprise but I keep copies so NBD. Heading to our cabin you appreciate how small the ship really is… it’s right down the hall.
SHIP & SHIPS STAFF: The ship is very nice but older and it is quite small compared to large cruise ships. It was so easy to go up or down a few stairs and be at the bar, restaurant or whatever. It’s also fun to watch the ship go chugging right into small channels and harbors. Given the few passengers and comparatively large staff they quickly learn your name (Mr. Robert in the southern tradition) and your drink, food and other preferences. I spent a lot of time at the Star Bar and like they do on all cruise ships, the bartenders encourage you to get the drink package which you can do through the first whole day on the ship and any drinks already purchased will be included in the plan. Usually I don't buy a drink package but this trip I decided to and was glad, some things are not on the package but there are premium liquors on the list so I didn't miss anything. They have very good wines by the glass so we also didn't miss getting bottles of wine at dinner. We actually tried more wines and drinks and I enjoyed not waiting for or worrying about the tab when ordering. There are only a few bartenders so they quickly get to know you, I also think since we were on a package, the bartenders tended to do big pours and the bar service was just so simple after a day or two you don't even have to show your card anymore. We were also able to get the mini bar steward (who was also a Bartender) to load it with only the drinks we wanted, that were also on our drink package, and she kept it stocked and ready to go. I did additionally tip these especially attentive crewmbers.
At the same time it’s a bit puzzling, there is not a lot of guidance given on the ship you have to figure out a good bit by yourself and most of the time the staff does very well, anything you ask, you are quickly taken to, or gotten whatever you need. First time cruisers might find the lack of information disconcerting. I also strongly agree with other reviewers, it is not a good ship for mobility impaired folks, especially getting down to the ships tender dock, onto the tender, to shore and off at the pier, which we did everywhere except St Maarten.
We experienced this directly since my wife’s back “went out” the morning we arrived at Prickly Pear. She took some medication and rested a few hours and felt like she wanted to try to go to the Beach BBQ. We headed to the ladder to get a tender to the beach and were told there were no tenders because both were being used to take people on excursions, but we could ride in on the 14 foot RIB alongside. It’s 1:00 the time for the start of the BBQ and no tenders for 30-45 minutes. The tenders can be a bit difficult to get on but with a bad back no way was my wife getting on a RIB and neither was the older couple who came up soon after we did. I get they had to take people on excursions, but no tender at the start of the BBQ? such poor organization. We eventually got to the beach and the BBQ was in full swing but there was not a covered lounge chair available anywhere for my wife so we had to sit at a table.
DINING: The personal service extends to the dining room, you can choose to dine just together (as long as you don’t during a sudden wave of diners) or with a random group. Most nights, we wanted a table for two and we quickly learned to ask for the same waiter every time, otherwise he would be heartbroken. So much so that he even got us moved when there didn't appear to be a table in his section. He was a bit hard to understand sometimes but was so helpful and responsive we managed very well. The same goes for the drink staff in the dining room, who were also bartenders, so most nights the guy pouring my wine made my drink earlier in the day. We also had a few nights we dined with a group which was very enjoyable. We are not the most outgoing people so we used it as the opportunity to meet some interesting people and since there are so few people on the ship you see them several times a day. The food was excellent and we made a point to try the dishes with an Indian flair which was a pleasant and unconventional alternative to typical cruise dining options.
Several days we ordered room service for breakfast, The typical arrangement of filling out a card the night before with your desired time and we even added a juice or condiment not on the menu which we were given. If we chose 7:30-8:00 it would arrive promptly at 7:30, but it took a day or two to figure out the door bell and if it was ours or our neighbor. When we ate breakfast at the Compass Rose, we usually ran into “our” waiter where he served us “the best coffee in the world” (a Windstar joke I think) which really was very good. We almost always got a table by the rail and usually we had the buffet which was very good and fresh but small and a little disorganized, including how to hold your plate, hold up the lid on the chafing dish and spoon your eggs. When we ordered Eggs Benedict or an Omelette off the menu it tended to take a little while if we arrived at a busy time, and it was one of the few times there was a bit of a “crowd” such as it is on a ship with only 220 passengers. We didn’t eat lunch on the ship much, usually sandwiches from the Yacht Club and we did order Burgers & Fries from the Room Service menu and they were perfectly cooked and delicious.
ACTIVITIES, EXCURSIONS & PORTS: We don’t gamble or participate in “Night Life” activities so I can’t add anything there. I didn't plan any tours from the cruise, instead booked my own since I am comfortable booking with companies that are aware of cruise ship schedules and the cruise ones are pricey and restrictive. The ports and schedule were one of the best things about the cruise Because of the unusual ports and schedules, organizing your own excursions is very easy to do. Early arrivals and late departures are sooo nice and most places are much less crowded you can be much more relaxed walking and getting transportation. Unlike big ships where if you are late back to the ship you might get left in port (we’ve all cheered & jeered those folks racing up the pier), I think the Windstar crew actually would start calling your cell phone and track you down instead of departing without you. We did go on excursions in Culebra and Montserrat which I reviewed on Trip Advisor.
We also liked the sport deck on the back of the ship including taking out the small Hobie sailboat. It was comical because I’m a good sailor and once away, I promptly headed upwind which was toward the bow of the ship to give myself some room while I figured out the sailboats’ quirks. I got several hundred yards away and was thinking about circling the ship when I see the crew member on the deck waving at me, and seeing an officer about to get in the rib. Puzzled I sailed back toward the sport deck, the officer went back inside and the crew scolded me that I was too far in front of the ship and needed to sail closer, back and forth abeam of the ship, which I dutifully did. After a while they seemed to be aware I knew what I was doing, and was able to sail around and amongst the boats in the harbor but still where the crew could easily see us.
CABIN: Our cabin was BIG compared to large ship regular balcony cabins… so much more room, about as big as a Carnival Ocean Suite. I need fresh air and we usually spend allot of time sitting on the balcony so I was a little nervous about the French Balcony. While it was different of course, we could sit in a chair or on the couch with the door slid open, which was over half the width of the cabin, and didn’t miss the balcony at all and I could lean out and look around when I wanted a better view. We even slept with the door open several nights and it felt like we were almost on deck. We did experience heavy seas one night and the ship does move around allot more than a big ship. Being a small boat sailor I actually enjoyed the motion, probably because we were mostly pitching and the cabin was in the center of the ship. Talking to other folks they did have some anxious moments but I believe motion sickness medication did the job for all of them. Our Cabin steward was sweet and for my birthday she made a birthday cake out of towels and made a nice card she also made the usual towel animals regularly. However, this is an area I’ll echo other reviewers, she was very nice but not so good at her job, obviously from a lack of training and supervision. It didn’t ruin our trip because it was mostly a bunch of little stuff, not paying attention to where we put things, not replacing dirty glasses or removing dirty plates, not enough of certain towels and we noticed part way through the cruise she turned our bottom sheet around such that our heads were where our feet had been. Compared to Celebrity where you see supervisors among the staff checking things that kind of attention was not apparent at all.
SOME NEGATIVES: As good as the trip was there are times you can get quite frustrated on the Star Legend… Like with the tender situation at the BBQ, or our Cabin Steward, when they do fail, they fail spectacularly. Other things were kinda like this. The daily “bulletin" has little new info every day and is poorly organized you really don't look at it after the first day. But, when they do put some very important information in it, like when to pick up your passport so having ignored it all week on Friday you realize you should have paid more attention to that last one. After the first day it also doesn't include any information about the island you are visiting. For 3 days I went to the shore excursion desk to look for a map or whatever to find nothing…. until I happened to be at the Service desk and there they were. We wanted a bite to eat and it was after lunch one day, we thought about doing room service and were wandering around so my wife asked and she was quickly led to the Yacht Club snack bar in the back corner of the room which we had no idea was there. Along these lines being a sailor, I was charting and navigating along with the Captain so I went to the bridge to visit with the officer and see what the wind was blowing, he would hardly talk to me and was a bit surly. I made another attempt and met a nice officer who was very engaging and showed me the charts, radar etc. Then a third time it was surly guy again so I didn't stay. Candles was also a similar experience, Windstar seems to be trying to emulate the grill on the top deck of Celebrity ships, which is very nice, we eat there 2 or 3 times on a Celebrity Cruise. Instead as other people said you get iffy service, just ok food and a very noisy smoke stack right above your head. Our waiter in Amphora tried to tell us not to go on the last night but that was the only time that was available, so as a result we missed the Prime Rib.
Also, a personal thing, smoking. I understood when I booked that smoking was allowed in a specific area on deck, port side near the Star Bar (though not in cabins, important because we leave our door open most of the cruise). It’s a small ship so there’s not much space for smokers to get far away, but smokers are expected to be considerate and non-smokers tolerant. However, one of the smoking tables is under the deck overhang next to the Star Bar, right beside the door to the restrooms and Yacht Club in the bow. Departing Montserrat, the ship goes around the island so you can see the devastation caused by the volcano. During the several hours while we were cruising past the island, a gentlemen was smoking a cigar right next to that door while the side of the ship was lined with folks looking and taking pictures until it got too dark. The strong cigar smoke was wafting over everyone watching the island go by. If you wanted a drink or to go to the bathroom you had to go through the plume of smoke and every time the door was opened the smoke was drawn into the Yacht Club and the bathrooms. I even mentioned to the Captain when I ran into him on a stairwell that he should consider not allowing smoking at that specific table, but the ash tray was on the table the remainder of the cruise. Another situation where attention to detail is lacking.
ON THE OTHER HAND… We had a great time and most everyone was terrific, including the Casino staff. I didn't realize I needed $200 cash for an excursion and even though I wasn’t gambling they gave me a cash advance, something they would normally only do for a player. In another instance we were climbing in a pool when it appears the Hot Tub was closed but not the pool. We got some confused stares from the maintenance crew (I think there was a language barrier there) and were lounging away when an officer came up and explained they needed to cover the pool for the deck party and could he please help us move to the pool/hot tub at the bow while making sure a bar waiter would be available to serve us drinks.. which of course we did. I mention this because the maintenance crew handled the situation beautifully, they didn't get worked up and try to kick us out, they let us stay a few minutes and then got some help… and retrieved my hat from the edge of the ship before it blew overboard.
IN CONCLUSION… Because of the small number of passengers, there is a comfortable easiness among everyone. It feels so ordinary, starting up conversations with perfect strangers, sharing your birthday cake with another passenger also on a birthday cruise and then smiling as you regularly see people on deck or at breakfast. I would certainly go on Windstar again and recommend it for anyone wanting a easy relaxed cruise and does not have serious mobility issues. Read Less