I found it very hard to come up with a number to rate this cruise. There was very good, there was average and there was bad. I also need to mention that we were first time cruisers as were the couple who traveled with us. We were ... Read More
I found it very hard to come up with a number to rate this cruise. There was very good, there was average and there was bad. I also need to mention that we were first time cruisers as were the couple who traveled with us. We were celebrating the wives 60th birthdays, and this is what they chose to do. I also need to say for the past 30 years I have been a special event planner, who has organized meetings all over the world, and I like to be in control. That being said, I knew that I would have no control once aboard the ship, and I was going to have to deal with it.
We chose this cruise because it was dedicated to wine and culinary tourism, and Windstar was including complimentary wines from the three countries we were visiting each night with dinner, and before dinner a tasting of those wines with a guest sommelier (more on that later). I tried hard to do my research on the ports, as if I was planning to do an event there. I also did research on cruising which brought me to Cruise Critic, which I perused continually for the year before we sailed. In reading previous reviews, I learned that we were going to be the outliers, as most of the reviews were written by folks who have been on many, many cruises.
As for the cruise, embarkation was a breeze. There were tons of smiles, and the sight of the Cliffs of Dover upon leaving was awesome. We arrived at our cabin, and were pleasantly surprised with the size and layout. We had been upgraded to a "balcony" suite (more on that later). The first day at sea was very nice, as we settled in and got to know the ship. We loved the size and the fact that of the 160 passengers, there were no children. I would agree with the term of casual luxury. We loved going to dinner in Aloha shirts, and wearing topsiders. The front line staff, cabin stewards and waiters were awesome. They could not do enough for us, and they always had smiles on their faces.
I have always been a morning person, so even on vacation I was up at 530am, into the shower, and then up to the Yacht Club, where I was met by Yahya, had a coffee, juice and pastry. Most days I was the only one in there until 630 or so. Very peaceful and relaxing.
On day three after we left St. Malo, I jumped in the shower only to find no water. Same for the sink and toilet.. I headed up to the Yacht Club to learn the water systems were down and they were working on it. The captain finally came on at 9am to say they were diverting to the town of Brest where there was a French Naval Base, and engineers who could fix the problem. We were in Brest until 3pm, and it wasn't until we departed that the Captain came on and apologized for the inconvenience. No offer of any compensation. If it was me at one of my events, the bar would have been thrown open. I know from experience that stuff happens, but the key is how the problem is addressed.
As for shore excursions, we booked two of Windstar's offerings, and I booked two private guides on my own. No comparison. At El Ferrol, we went on the Windstar excursion to Santiago de Compostela. Cost $189pp. Most of the time was spent on a coach with 40 other passengers. We then marched around this UNESCO World Heritage Site following a guide listening to her commentary through a headset. Not so good.
In Porto I hired Douro Exclusive and the owner Marco picked the 4 of us up, visited wineries in Douro and then had the most amazing lunch at a Michelin starred restaurant on a deck overlooking the river and vineyards. Cost $150pp.. In St. Emilion we took the Windstar excursion to Chateau Soutard. Again 40 pax on a coach. The winery was not ready for us when we got there, and were then dropped off in the old town of St. Emilion with no instructions on when to be back at the coach. I wanted to grab the microphone and take over. Not good at all. In Lisbon I hired "Your Friend in Lisbon" to take us on a port and tapas tour of town. Again an incredible experience. Cost $100pp.
In addition to their "offered" excursions, Windstar included a dinner at Chateau Giscours in Bordeaux. This was a fabulous evening, with great coordination, food, classical music, and premium wines, all held in the great room of this fantastic old Chateau. This was included in the cost of the cruise, and it was fantastic.
Now the guest sommelier was going to do a tasting each evening at 6pm in the main dining room. Each night there were three wines, one from each of the countries we were visiting(France, Spain and Portugal). I found the speaker a bit overbearing in his method and style. Almost like being talked down to. We went the first four nights, and then I decided I had had enough. Since we were going to have these wines at dinner, I didn't want to sit through the "talk". Our traveling companions did go every night, and said that by the end of the cruise the room was only 1/2 full. Not sure if Windstar did their due diligence on this selection.
As for disembarkation, it was also a breeze.
Finally my biggest gripe with this cruise is what happened on the front side. We booked in 17 months in advance. Paid the 10K final payment 3 months in advance, and then 2 days after making that payment, I was showing a colleague the cruise on the Windstar web site. I was shocked to see they had lowered the price $800pp. So I called our travel agent and she too was surprised by that amount and that she was going to call Windstar in Seattle. When she got back to me, she said Windstar offered a $100 per cabin shipboard credit, and she didn't think that was fair. Since this agency belongs to the Virtuoso organization, she told me they have pull, and was going to have her manager call. In the end they offered a $200 per cabin shipboard credit and upgraded us to the "balcony" suite. Being able to open the window in the cabin was nice, but certainly not worth the premium that Windstar assigns to those rooms.
It was not so much the money (as the price we paid was what we had budgeted for), again it was the way it was handled. Living in the Pacific Northwest, I have held elite flyer status with Alaska Airlines for years. Their policy is if the fare goes down before you fly, you get a credit. No questions. As for Windstar, if I have learned one thing over this past year is that premium cruising is a very competitive business. Here they had two couples, right in their demographic wheelhouse. We are on the cusp of retirement, have disposable income and the time to spend it. And they decide to play the nickel and dime game. I'm sure their argument would be, well our cabins are highly perishable. The minute the ship leaves, it is revenue that cannot be recovered. We held that cabin for you (albeit with $1500) for 17 months, and you were able to be sure you were on the ship, and make your air travel plans far in advance. There may be some weight in that, but in the end it is very short sighted. Even before I stepped foot on the Star Legend, I was pretty sure that if I ever cruised again it would not be on Windstar. And now after the cruise, I feel the same way. Read Less