I'm an avid, frequent, and very guilty cruiser. I'm guilty in that I often read reviews, but seldom write or contribute. I'm in my mid 40's and recently travelled on the New Year's sailing of the Star Legend with my wife, 18 year old son, 16 year old daughter and my parents. By way of background, we are very experienced cruises. I'm fortunate to be approaching 80 cruises under my belt and spend about 8 weeks a year at sea. Over the years my taste in cruising has changed for a variety of reasons including maturity and unfortunately the commercialization of the cruise industry. Years ago (i.e. 1982) I loved the food, service and traditional service on lines like Princess and Sitmar. In fact, those early life cruise experiences are what ultimately conditioned my brain to subconsciously always be on the hunt for a vintage cruising experience of days gone by. The introduction of mega ships which are built with every square inch and second on board designed to be profit centers has cheapened and ruined the cruise experience in my opinion. Upcharges for eating, peeing, standing in the grand atrium etc. while fighting large crowds and eating poor quality food seems to have become the norm for many of the large mass market lines.
Over the years as my taste in cruising has changed so has my consideration of what lines I will and won't spend my hard earned dollars and vacation time on cruising. In recent years, I have really enjoyed Oceania, Regent, and Azamara as to me these lines have recreated the magic of cruising and done it so well. The two mass market lines I still think do a "good" job compared to the others are Celebrity & Holland America - especially in their suite class (I see that's a topic of many other threads).
So...for the New Year I booked my family on the Summit 7 night Caribbean cruise out of San Juan. After securing non-refundable airline tickets from Los Angeles to San Juan I learned that he Summit was due for a major refurbishment in early 2016 and was not keen on sailing on a ship about to go into dry dock. Enter the Star Legend of Windstar Cruises. It turned out the Star Legend was sailing the exact same day from San Juan as the Celebrity Summit on a 7 night itinerary so I decided to take a risk - cruising on a ship and line that non of my family had sailed on before and more worrisome had really bad reviews. I was determined to go have a great time no matter what. A new experience awaited.
We flew in a few days early and stayed at the Ritz Carlton San Juan which was a great opportunity to unwind after a long day of travel and enjoy a few days of rest and relaxation before the cruise.
On the day of embarkation we hired a van to take us to the Old San Juan Pier ($32 fixed rate for 6 people and 10 bags - they charge $1/bag). While driving to the pier we passed the mega ships. My daughter asked "daddy is that our ship?". While driving along the piers at the Old San Juan water front our driver missed our pier because he could not see the Star Legend behind the pier building. Yes - that's how small the Star Legend is - 10,000 tons. 200 passengers. Half the size as the original Love Boat (Pacific Princess 20,000 tons) with 1/3 the number of passengers.
We quickly unloaded our luggage at the pier and within 5 minutes were the only passengers (3pm) climbing the gangway to be checked in on board. Upon embarkation we were taken to the ships lounge to be checked in and were offered complimentary welcome aboard drinks. This process took just a few minutes. By far this was the best embarkation process ever. The friendly crew who checked us in also had other jobs on the ship and we saw them often.
So...off to our cabins we went to unload our carry-ons and start exploring the Star Legend. The Star Legend is the former Seabourn Legend and underwent a $8.5 million refurbishment in early 2015. For a 23 year old ship (and please remember it is a 23 year old ship!) this yachts looks fabulous! We opted for the lowest category suite (all cabins are suites) on deck 4 as I didn't see the value in upgrading to a higher deck for the same size suite and rocking is always less the lower you are. The suites were very well appointed and immaculately kept. We were all impressed by the size. The bathrooms are clearly older, but also very clean and marble clad (Carrera white). Bath amenities included L'Occitane products and large towels. There is a combined bathtub/shower combination with a handheld shower sprayer (mounted in awkward way) that always had great pressure.
Next we were off to explore this tiny yacht. Interior spaces are very well kept and the renovation was well done - in my opinion. A very warm and welcoming feeling throughout the yacht. We were disappointed by the outside decks and the restaurant/buffet on the back of the ship which had a very bad feng shui (to be kind). In my opinion, Windstar really screwed up badly by getting rid of the aft pool and replacing it with a dining platform forward of the rear buffet. My daughter referred to the pool as a bathtub. Frankly, some people probably have bathtubs at home which are larger. Our favorite outdoor spot was he forward hot tub on the bow.
After that scathing review of the pool area why would I give a 5 star review to this ship? A cruise experience is not just about being on the biggest, newest and fanciest vessel. There is so much more that goes into making memories. Let me make clear, that despite the less than ideal pool area and some really old and dilapidated other outdoor spaces (sports marina and aft crew area which you walk through to board tenders) this ship shines in every other way like a 5 star hotel.
Service was consistently excellent throughout. Food was good to very good. Being a small ship dinner options were limited and was 7-9pm in the Amphora Dining Room and 1 night during the cruise guests can enjoy Candles (verandah café turned into steak house at night). Food was consistently solid for dinner. One night the dining room is closed and dinner is a deck BBQ which was terrific and very well done. Breakfast and lunch were served in the aft buffet and offered typical fare (nothing to get excited about). Room service was outstanding, fast, and the menu extensive.
By the second day on board the crew knew most passengers by their first names and the amazing bar tenders even knew drink preferences. What a game changer.
No entertainment offered other than 2 duos (both very good).
The ambiance was incredibly friendly with most guest quickly mingling and getting to know one another. Interestingly, many of my friends thought we were crazy to bring our teenagers on Windstar as they said "there's nothing to do". As it turns out about 1/3 of the passengers were in the 15-25 age range traveling with their families. The kids/young adults LOVED this cruise! Not everybody needs to be entertained 24/7 and it was refreshing to make socializing our own entertainment. My kids even commented that they enjoyed the Star Legend more than the Oasis and Allure of the Seas. Much to be said about this and a whole commentary can be written about back to the basics.
One of the best features of Windstar is having only 200 passengers. Never a line! The ability to call on smaller ports that large ships can't was also an amazing bonus. I won't go into detail about the ports as this review is already quite long. However, I will say the ports were AMAZING! The beach BBQ on Prickly Pear Beach was the BEST we have ever experienced and Trumps (pardon the expression) Seabourn and other "luxury" lines.
Yes - it's true. Tender service is not optimal and the tenders are just that - tenders. The ship to shore boats Windstar uses on the Star Legend are NOT dual use life boats and tenders like those used on most other ships. These tenders are actually deployed from the sports marina by hydraulic devices. These boats are slow, but comfortable. Hopefully, Windstar will replace these tenders with new ones. Apparently, the Star Breeze or Star Pride has new tenders.
The sports marina was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. It was deployed daily and staffed with 2 amazing crew. We enjoyed the trampoline, water mats, kayaking and swimming. There is also a sailboat for use. My kids loved being towed around by the Zodiac on a banana boat type thing.
The captain could not have been more kind and accessible. Great sense of humor. We took advantage of the open bridge policy to watch sail away one night and were amazed at how welcome we were made to feel. Of note, the captain also had a terrific sense of humor despite previous posts.
In summary, I gave this terrific and very enjoyable cruise on the Star Legend 5 stars because of the amazing overall experience - much of which can be attributed to the most amazing, wonderful, kind and attentive staff we have ever experienced. There are a few areas where Windstar is rough around the edges, but this is not a traditional cruise and cannot be viewed as such. You really feel as if you are on a very large private yacht. My family is hooked on Windstar and cannot wait to return. Keep up the amazing work Windstar! Windstar truly is 180 degrees from ordinary. Sure, there are other ships/lines which are much more polished and luxurious, but in all fairness I don't think reviewers should be comparing the Star Legend to the likes of these other ships/lines.
The only conclusion I can take away from the negative reviews are that some people are just miserable and choose to be that way or their expectations were so off that the Windstar Star Legend experienced shocked them like jumping into cold water. I'm a luxury travel connoisseur and certainly could write a critical review of an experience that disappoints or does not meet advertised expectations. However, Windstar delivers exactly what it promises.
Thanks again Windstar!