My husband and I just returned from a 7 night Caribbean cruise aboard the Star Legend. We're fairly experienced cruisers, having been on a total of about 8 others, all on Carnival or Royal Caribbean. In fact, we've run out of itineraries on the big ships. It was either try a smaller line or start repeating - hence our first Windstar cruise.
A bit about us. We're late thirty/early forty-somethings who, while not really athletes, tend to be active do-ers on our vacations. We like exploring, drinking cocktails and collecting experiences, not t-shirts. For the sake of space, I'm not going to discuss ports here. Instead, I'm going to focus on the cruise, ship and staff. Here are some notes about our experience.
First impressions: Wow. From our hotel on the beach in the Condado area of San Juan to our stateroom took about 45 minutes. I brought 3 bottles of wine aboard in my carry-on (for two people) and no eyebrows were raised. The gangway was truly a gangway, complete with wooden stairs to climb. I didn't ask, as it wasn't relevant to us, but I would assume there must be a provision in place for those with mobility issues as the stairs are a bit narrow and steep. In less than 5 minutes we'd been handed a glass of complimentary rum punch, checked in and traded our passports for room keys.
We were then greeted by a steward who walked us to our room and opened the door for us. Inside we found a plate of fresh food, a vase of orchids, and...SPACE. A full sitting area with a couch, coffee table and two chairs separated by draw curtains from a sleeping area with a bed, end tables and dressing vanity. There was a backlit cabinet of various wine and cocktail glasses that contained a concealed mini-fridge. There was a Bose sound dock and a flat screen tv. (Tip: bring an auxillary cord to connect the sound dock to your particular device. We had to go back out to CVS to buy one.)
There was a WALK-IN CLOSET with more than enough hangers and hanging space. It contained storage shelves, a few small drawers and the safe, which had a digital combination lock. The bathroom had decent storage space and a full tub. (Tip: Despite improved bathroom storage space I was still grateful for my over-door shoe holder to keep the sunscreen, stain sticks, etc. No comments from our steward about their not being allowed.) Overall, the room felt spacious and luxurious. The neutral tan/grey interior was a vast improvement over Carnival's inexplicable orange theme.
We were in a basic room on deck four - the lowest guest room deck. We had no noise from above or below. There were no odors or moisture issues. Our window was huge so the room was bright and cheery during the day. We book balcony rooms on the big ships and our door is never closed. I thought I'd miss that, but justified it with the old "but you're never really in your room," excuse. As it turns out, no, I didn't miss the balcony and to my pleasant surprise, the room was so nice and spacious that I enjoyed spending time in it.
Throughout the week we noticed dozens of little touches that separate Windstar from the Big Box lines. For example, drinks came in glasses. Everywhere - even on deck. No cheesy plastic cups or giant pineapples with straws through them. Wine came in wine glasses. Cocktails came in cocktail glasses, etc. There are no paper towels in the public bathrooms - just cloth hand towels. All drinks but alcohol are included. I inquired about a "soda package" on day one, which garnered gentle chuckles. We didn't purchase the alcohol package so I can't comment as to its value.
The pool deck area was an oasis. No hairy chest contests, belly-flop duels or blaring hip-hop. The loungers were all cushioned and there was an unlimited supply of oversized towels. The loungers on the upper deck were all paired with oversized umbrellas, which was nice. While I thoroughly enjoyed the peace of the pool deck, I do think that perhaps Windstar could lighten up a bit on the music. I appreciated not hearing the Wobble or Cupid Shuffle twice per day, but the deck tunes definitely skewed a bit old for my taste. Four Barry Manilow songs in 1.5 hours? Remember, if we're all asleep we're not buying drinks! The two hot tubs were comfortably hot, and while the pool was small, it was one of those "swimmer" pools, in which the push of a button created a current against which one could swim for exercise.
The food was exquisite. Nothing tastes mass produced. We ate in the Veranda for breakfast each morning. I always ordered a custom omelet, and never waited more than 5 minutes for it, at the most. We were never on board for lunch. We ate dinner in Amphora most nights. The menu was varied and we tried a bit of everything. The staff were gracious when my husband, a bottomless pit of an eater, ordered double appetizers or even two entrees. Our only complaint, re: food, is that there are periods through the day, such as late afternoon/early evening, and after 9 pm, when room service is the only option. We would return to the ship around 5 pm after busy days in port, starving, and there wouldn't really be much available.
On St. Martin night we almost skipped dinner on board as we'd been advised that all the restaurants would be closed in favor of a top deck barbecue. We chose to go to it at the last minute and were so glad we did. Delicious! Best meal of the trip. Don't miss it. We also did eat at Candles one night. The food was excellent, as expected, and the breeze was nice, but its located at the very back of the ship. The engine noise was surprisingly loud. We decided that we liked the main dining room better.
My husband, who hates to iron only slightly more than he hates to pack, has a habit of shoving all his dinner shirts into the suitcase then sending them for pressing on the first day. He's also a clothes guy, who likes options. On Carnival and RC, this combination has led to pressing bills of $60 to $75 to start our cruise. Surprisingly, he sent 8 shirts for pressing on day one and our total bill was less than $20.
The other major difference I noticed on this cruise was the crew. Naturally, on a smaller vessel one gets to know both crew and fellow passengers better than when there are 5000 others aboard. But the Windstar crew were around a lot. We saw them at port. We drank with them at the bar (off duty, of course.) Even the Captain, when he was off duty, would come and have a drink and mingle. They were delightful, accessible and very much part of the Windstar experience.
Our fellow cruisers appeared to range in age from 20 to 80+. There were no children. (I received mixed reports about this. Not sure if its a Windstar policy or just a gentle recommendation. But another Tip: This ship is just not for kids. They would have been bored to death.) Everyone I met was pleasant. Most were very well-traveled. Multiple US states and nationalities were represented.
As has probably been reported, we learned upon arrival that a broken tender vessel meant that we would be unable to go to Culebra. Instead we went to St. Thomas. I appreciate the fact that the ship made provisions to find us an alternate port, rather than just skipping a port day entirely. I do believe that the problem must have been fixed by the end of St. Thomas day, as for the rest of the cruise we appeared to be using just ship tenders with no issues.
We had two small problems while on board. The first, involved our plans for St Martin port day. We'd planned to take the ferry to Anguilla for the day, which required our passports. I made a mental note to stop by guest services the night before to ask for them - then promptly forgot to do so. The next morning, we went there first thing to retrieve them, and learned that both the purser and the assistant purser had gone ashore early to process some new crew. The guest services staff tried several times to reach them via walkie-talkie and were unable to do so. We ultimately had two choices - wait an indeterminate amount of time - perhaps two hours or more - for them to return, or switch gears and find something to do in Marigot instead. We opted for the latter option. As we exited out to the tender area, we chanced upon the first officer. He stopped us and apologized, stating that he'd heard what was going on. He was trying to reach the purser to get permission to go into the safe without her. He said that if we wanted to wait, he'd find us onboard as soon as he heard something. At this point, we'd resigned ourselves to the change of plans, so we simply thanked him profusely for his attention and left the boat.
The second problem occurred on Jost Van Dyke. We were up bright and early and ready for the first tender. Upon reaching the tender deck, we were informed that the first few tenders were going to be full of guests who'd booked ship-sponsored excursions. It would be about an hour until one was available for "independents." I've learned that one can always catch more flies with honey, as they say, so I simply smiled and said, "No problem. We'll wait. Maybe we can squeeze onto one." Sixty seconds later he was on his walkie-talkie and arranged for the Zodiac raft to bring us to shore. Instead of waiting an hour, we were literally the first two guests onto Jost Van Dyke by about 30 minutes.
The point of those two stories is simply to illustrate that the customer service on Windstar is outstanding. In both cases, we had problems (one entirely of my own making, I might add) that staff went out of their way to try to solve for us. Would this have happened if the officers in question didn't know us by name after seeing us around the boat for the past few days? I doubt it.
Evening entertainment options are limited. There are a few bars on board - all of which were well staffed. There was a duo that sang in the lounge, and one that sang at the pool deck bar. The casino is limited to a few slot machines and two tables. I'd browsed the single store through in about 20 minutes. As I mentioned, we're do-ers. We're up early and go all day. Usually, one after dinner drink, a walk up to the front for some star-gazing and we were ready to go to sleep. But those who enjoy shows and lots of evening action might be a bit bored in the evenings.
Disembarkation was as smooth as embarkation. We awoke, cleaned up, and went to the veranda for breakfast. Afterward, we scanned our keys "out" one last time and walked back down the steps. Our luggage was right there, as were porters. The customs line was very short. From breakfast to cab in about 6 minutes. Amazing.
I cannot compare Windstar to lines like Seabourne, as I've not sailed them, but they were definitely a luxurious upgrade in comparison to the big boat lines. The minute our steward escorted us into our room I was ruined for life for the big ships. Our Windstar cruise was simply delightful. We felt pampered, relaxed and loved darn-near every second of it. We're already researching our next one.