This was Windstar's inaugural food and wine cruise of Spain. My girlfriend and I jumped at the chance to book, since we'd been drinking the wines of Spain and enjoying authentic Spanish food at home and at the two local restaurants in Atlanta that serve it. Bottom line: the cruise delivered. It was just what I was hoping for and I can enthusiasticlly recommend it to others.
I had never cruised Windstar or the smaller ships before. I researched extensively online and mostly found comments saying simply "you're going to love it." To help other newbies or those considering future food and wine cruises, I'll try to give the details that stayed with me.
We boarded around 5:30 pm in Lisbon after spending a day and a half there on our own (no cruise hotels or transfers). I believe boarding started at 1:00 pm and all aboard was 10:00 pm for a 11:00 pm sail away. I was surprised to see what looked like the majority of passengers already on board and in the middle of the first wine tasting at 5:30 or 6:00. We had missed the muster drill but were pointed to someone from the bridge who gave us our own personal safety demonstration. We had also missed the first wine talk and general introduction of the men and the company who were providing the wine, but we weren't the only ones and we jumped right in.
There was a wine tasting and passed hors d'oeuvres every evening from 6:00 to 7:00. The atmosphere was that of a 300-person cocktail party -- festive and enjoyable, but it was challenging to hear the descriptions and discussion of the wines because we never arrived early enough to get a seat up front. The talk lasted about 15 minutes, all the while the hard-working staff circulated with generous samples of the evening's four featured wines. Windstar gave each of us a nifty little notebook to make notes on the wine, with preprinted pages where you could fill in the name, vintage, your thoughts, etc. These same wines were available that evening at dinner or later in the bar at no charge. I read elsewhere on the forum (thanks, r&rd) that there were 450 cases of wine for 320 passengers. It was more than ample! Obviously, I was super glad that I didn't spring for the alcohol package. I sure hope the bartenders and servers were compensated for lost tips, which usually come on the slip you sign for each drink. We tried to do our part.
There were a number of things that made this cruise different from the normal Lisbon to Barcelona sailing (I'm guessing here, since I don't have anything to compare it to). We had two wine pairing dinners, both excellent (although the only food complaints I heard all week were about the dry pork on the first pairing dinner. I can't say; I had the fish and it was excellent). Each course was paired with a wine that we had heard about in that evening's wine talk. I honestly couldn't tell if the food itself was Spanish-influenced; it didn't seem so to me, and that would have been a nice touch. There were two excellent cooking demonstrations by chef Seamus Mullen, the first on our day at sea and the second on the final afternoon. I missed the second one but tasted the result -- really good paella. I was so happy they distributed the recipes because we will definitely try our hand at making them. One evening a local flamenco troupe was brought on board, and I enjoyed every moment. They were fabulous. Again, so happy about that extra touch (which I've read happens on other Windstar cruise as well) because we otherwise wouldn't have an opportunity to see flamenco shows which are always at night.
Another feature of this cruising was two complimentary food/wine-themed shore excursions. These were the only excursions we took, Windstar or otherwise. The rest of the time we explored the port towns on our own. I was pleased with both the sherry cellar tour in Jerez de la Frontera and the vineyard tour outside Valencia. Both included city tours and the guides and buses were first-rate.
I had wondered how I would fare on a small ship, in terms of seasickness. I had no problems whatsoever, and we experienced a few high seas here and there but not much. My girlfriend, a more experienced cruiser than I, has always worn the patch but tried going without and she was fine too; didn't ever need the Dramamine we brought. The boat rocked a little but I found it pleasant. Although at times I did have to use the handrails walking around, just briefly.
The cabin was roomy and comfortable with plenty of space for our things. Liked the L'Occitane bath products. Our travel agent advised selecting a cabin in the middle of the ship for stability purposes. Our porthole was a few feet above the water and I spent a lot of time (probably too much) just staring out at the waves and being mesmerized. The one maintenance issue we had was fixed within hours. We made use of the Bose speaker, hooking it up to our iPhones. If you have the newer phone with the redesigned pin, you just ask at reception for an adapter. There was one outlet in the cabin (maybe suites have more, I don't know). It had two plugs, one European and one US. Since our cabin was on the lowest level the watertight doors in the hallway were closed when we were coming into or leaving port. These were every 40 feet or so and there is stairway access in each 40-foot section, so we weren't prevented from going up or down. It was just surprising and we always seemed to forget about it, so we'd go up the stairs to the second level and try to estimate where to go down again, since the cabin numbers don't directly correspond. Maybe other folks are familiar with this but it was new to me.
Getting on and off the ship at ports of call was always smooth and easy. Sometimes we walked right into town, other times there was a shuttle. Disembarkation in Barcelona was especially painless and well-organized. There was a slight change in our itinerary, which their website or materials prepare you for, and that was docking in Palma, Mallorca instead of tendering to Soller. The seas were evidently too rough to tender, so everybody was pretty happy that the captain made the call. No excursions were harmed in the making of this change. I've never been to either city, but I was delighted with Palma -- probably my favorite port on this itinerary.
The service was very good, as other posters have written. I think reading all the other comments had set my expectations very high and the service didn't quite live up to them but was still very good. It's been years since I cruised and that was on a big NCL ship. I imagine the service we received on the Wind Surf was much better than the big ships can offer, but I didn't experience the bit where "the crew addresses you by name early in the cruise." The only ones who addressed us by name were our wonderful cabin steward and, interestingly, the woman in the gift shop. But I'm not complaining in the least. The servers had a huge job to do, with the nightly wine tastings and the two pairing dinners where everyone was seated at the same time. And we never hung out in one area or one bar long enough to really get to know the staff so that's part of it too.
Food is such a subjective thing but I'll give my take. The dinners were tasty with a good selection of entrées. There was always the option of ordering salmon, streak, chicken and one other dish if none of the selections appealed. The quality, presentation and portion size were good. My only complaint is a minor one: the bread, butter and coffee were really subpar. Especially since the bread and coffee are so good in Spain, it was disappointing to be served dull bread, low quality butter and weak coffee. I tried the coffee shop for lattes and espressos, but it was the same week coffee in a different form. The drinks were priced well and we enjoyed the daily cocktail, an interesting concoction named after a city we'd recently visited.
We only ate one or two breakfasts and lunches on board, preferring to eat those meals in port. But the ones we ate had a good selection of fresh food. We ordered room service one night and were very pleased with it. Stella Bistro was a nice change of pace (or menu, anyway) from the dining room. After the first night, dining at Candles was moved inside due to windy conditions. That was a-okay with me, because it did not look pleasant for the diners (or the waitstaff) that first night on deck.
One thing that stood out and really exceeded my expectations was the deck barbecue. I wanted to eat one of everything (and maybe five servings of lobster) and then go back for seconds and thirds. On everything. It was a gorgeous evening, the band from the lounge was playing, Spanish wine was flowing -- a stellar night.
As far as activities and entertainment, I like the idea of Windstar's low-key approach of not having a lot of planned events. This cruise may have been a little different because it *did* feel like there were a number of activities, with the daily wine talks and tastings and the two cooking demonstrations. I enjoyed the two singing groups in the evening, and there was a guest entertainer as well. The engine room tour felt special; I wouldn't expect to get to go behind the scenes like that and walk through the engine room on any other ship. We missed the shopping trip in port with the chef because of an excursion, and they didn't seem to offer the galley tour on this cruise.
I like how Windstar doesn't make many announcements over the intercom. There was generally one each day, usually as we were leaving port. It became a running joke between my girlfriend and I that the captain always apologized for making the announcement -- politeness is always welcome, but it's okay, one announcement a day is nothing to apologize for. I think an officer on the bridge got in a bit of trouble for announcing that there was a pod of whales to be seen; I was glad he told us! But I think it was at the tail end of the last dinner seating so I can understand not wanting everyone in the the dining room to rush to the windows.
We used the fitness center twice. I loved watching the sea as I rode the bike or used the elliptical. I was rewarded for my attempts at fitness by a dolphin sighting! We didn't use the laundry service so I can't comment on that.
There was hardly any smoking on deck. Very rare and not a bother at all.
The passengers ranged in age a good bit. The majority seemed to be late 50s or 60 and older. Being in my mid-40s I was curious how many near-ish my age there were, and I estimated 30 or so people under 50, which is more than I had expected. The other passengers were friendly, no stuffiness at all. The casual evening attire (as compared to coat and tie or black tie) was welcome. Some dressed more elegantly than others but really, anything other than jeans was fine.
Overall, an excellent experience on board. Very good service, a stunning vessel, an emphasis on the local food and drink, enchanting ports of call -- I highly recommend it.