This was our second Windstar cruise, a back-to-back Costa Rica and the Panama Canal, followed by a Southern Caribbean Sweep itinerary from Colon, Panama to Cartegena, Colombia; Aruba, and Bequia in the Grenadines, with disembarkation in Barbados. We enjoyed our first Windstar cruise through the ABC Island and the Grenadines on the Star Pride so much that we wanted to sail through the Canal with this excellent upper premium level line. We are a retired couple, mid-60s, from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area.
Embarkation - Having flown in to San Jose, Costa Rica the day prior to boarding and joining some of the passengers at the Marriott hotel for the transfer to Puerto Caldera, we enjoyed the almost 2 hour bus ride as Windstar provided a Costa Rican guide who talked for about an hour about his country and how the cruise line conducts embarkation. The embarkation process in the lounge where you receive your cruise card, sign up for packages and excursions not booked online, enjoy a glass of champagne and meet some of the staff. Light lunch was also available until 3:30. Since we had boarded at 3:15, our cabin was available immediately. There was the obligatory safety drill with life jackets and a welcome aboard presentation and port talk about Quepos, tomorrow's port, before dinner at 7:00.
Public Rooms - We found public rooms were well maintained and included two lounges, two bars, a complete spa and gym, counter-current swimming pool, two hot tubs (one near pool & one at bow on deck 5), the Yacht Club (for views, books, early morning continental breakfast or lunch sandwiches), library next to casino with a few one-arm bandits and a blackjack table, and Signature Shop. Specialty coffee is complimentary at any venue. See Cabin review below for details of our stateroom. The ship also has a Sports Marina aft with non-motorized equipment for use when anchored.
Dining -- The main dining room AmphorA restaurant was open seating from 7-9 p.m. daily for dinner only. You can ask for whatever size table you desired and change the option nightly. Verandah which was aft on pool deck was used for Breakfast (7-9:30 am) and Lunch buffet daily (usually 12:30-2). There was indoor seating, but most guests ate on deck. There were always 4-5 options for special orders or you could help yourself at the buffet -- I never found any type of food to be missing, though the hot lunch buffet variety was lacking. Many ate fresh fruits and salads, and there were always several desserts of the cake/pastry variety and two frozen options (ice cream and sorbet) with toppings of all kinds available. Verandah is transformed into Candles at night for an upscale (think Specialty dining) experience out on deck which all guests are complimented once during the sailing; however, reservations are required due to limited space (book at embarkation). Service was always excellent at all dining venues.
Activities -- There were several events that were part of the planned activities which included a deck BBQ dinner in Balboa before transiting the Panama Canal and the second week after sailing from Bequia the last night. Another event was the Beach BBQ lunch on Isla Parida where a full lunch is prepared behind the beach, Table and chairs are provided, as well as use of the marina's water toys and a couple of spa tables for massages. Some local entertainment was provided while in Costa Rica which were cultural dancing shows (one with school children); in addition, there was a naturalist who gave presentations and was available for questions on board for the entire first cruise. On the sea days (one the first week and three the second), there were several tours and demonstrations one could attend such as towel animal folding demonstration, cooking demonstration with the head Chef, galley tour, cocktail demonstration, and a photography seminar. A movie and cards, Wii, & Board games were also available. One port night in Cartegena, we sailed at 8 p.m. and had arrived at 7 a.m., allowing ample time in port; however, our time in Bequia was limited to about 4-5 hours due to late arrival and early departure at 5 pm. as well as several other ships in port.
Shipboard Entertainment -- There were two duos, D'Harmony from South Africa who also performed on our Star Pride cruise and Nightlights (Elena and Julian) playing every night at the two venues of the Star Bar and Compass Rose. They also were featured during other events such as the Captain's party. There was also a Crew talent show at the end of each of the cruises,
Staff/Crew/Service - With such a small ship with few guests, it was very easy to get to know everyone. The crew learns your name within 24 hours and there is great camaraderie among everyone. Some of the guest services staff, the photographer and occasionally an officer participated on shore excursions. The Captain was from Croatia, and there is an open bridge policy for guests when not sailing from or into port. There is a deck area in front of the bridge and guests did participate in viewing and photographing arrivals and departures from ports as well as the transit of the Panama Canal, while simultaneously seeing what the Captain and officers were viewing.
Disembarkation - Quick and easy - We had completed customs forms several days prior which enabled Windstar to complete customs for all guests, so we merely retrieved our luggage and went on our way, with a ship's transfer to the airport.
Quepos - We took the Mangrove tour to the mouth of the Quebrada River and back, seeing capuchin monkeys, iguana, numerous birds such as herons, egrets, vultures, and warblers, and an anteater. Good tour. I also took an afternoon ziplining tour through the canopy on 10 different cable runs and this was great.
Balboa - Since we had been to the Canal 15 years ago, but not through it, we had seen the Gatun Locks Visitor's Center on the Atlantic side. We chose to take the Miraflores Locks tour with a stop at the visitor's center, combined with a 1-1/2 hour walking tour of the Old Town (Casco Viejo) Colonial Quarter of Panama City. Good tour.
Cartegena - Our tour included a stop at San Felipe Fort for fabulous views of the city and talk about the city's history, followed by a walking tour through the Old City touring the Church/Monastery as well. At the port, passengers can view an animal park with flamingeos, square monkeys, iguanas, and peacocks; large shopping area as well.
Aruba - Took private snorkeling tour.
Bequia - Since this was our third visit to this port, we wanted to take a tour of the highlights which included several stops; one with an excellent view of the harbor, one with a view from the other side, of the islands of St. Vincent, Mustique, Isle a Quatre, and others; and the third at the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary, founded and run by one man.
All cabins are suites with roomy accommodations on former Seabourn ship.This room is located near the forward elevator/stairs, making it convenient to reach the outdoor bar on the top deck as well as the Yacht Club, where continental breakfast and light sandwiches at lunchtime are available, board games, and the outdoor forward viewing deck. This room is also used for trivia, and the photographer's and future cruise desks. Note: the elevators are very small and really could only hold 4 people comfortably. The ship features all suites, with a minimum 227 sq. feet; the bathroom is large with plenty of storage space, double sinks, and a shower big enough for two with racks for towels or hanging wet items in addition to the clothesline. A separate living area contained a large loveseat and two chairs, plus a coffee table and built-in cabinets for the mini-bar serving area and the TV/DVR entertainment area - we never found the time to check out CD/DVRs. A curtain separated this area from the bedroom which allowed an early riser or late to bed partner to use their section privately. Small nightstands were on each side of the bed with reading lamps as well as a long desk area including drawer storage opposite the bed. Closet was ample and includes a safe and shelving. There was a hand held hair dryer in the desk. Toiletries by L'Occitane, refilled as needed which included shower gel, hair shampoo, hair conditioner and body lotion.
Mangrove tour excellent - see details in body of review
Private island beach BBQ lunch and activities