(11:15 a.m. EST) -- Everyone has their own idea of what a romantic vacation entails. On Windstar Cruises' flagship, Wind Star, a romantic vacation means soaking up the sunset beneath wind-blown sails, dining under the stars and venturing into off-the-beaten-path ports.
We've just returned from a 10-night Panama Canal and Costa Rica cruise onboard Wind Star, a 148-passenger, four-mast sailing ship whose timeless appearance made us fall in love at first sight. If you're overdue for a getaway with your other half, here are six reasons why we think Wind Star is a top choice.
Size matters … when it comes to cruise ships. If you're not a fan (or put off by the idea) of big ships, Wind Star might be your perfect match. It's small and luxurious, without being ostentatious and stuffy. And while the ship, which launched in 1986, still shows signs of wear after a November 2018 refurb that involved the addition of a beautiful new Yacht Club lounge (in place of the casino), the quirks pay tribute to its storied past.
The ship's rustic charm makes it feel cozy and intimate -- qualities that are romantic all on their own. It's also a great conversation starter, and those conversations don't take long to transpire into deeper connections and new friendships (and fun double dates!). By a few days in, our cruise felt more like a big house party or family reunion. That intimate vibe is part of what many repeat cruisers tell us keeps them coming back, and part of why Windstar continues to rank as the Best for Romance in Cruise Critic's Editors' Picks awards.
Imagine snuggling up under a blanket with your sweetie, on the top deck of a small sailing ship, gazing up at the stars… with no one else around. Wind Star's abundance of outdoor spaces allows you to soak up the views, no matter what time of day, without having to fight for a chair or good viewing spot. Every deck provides a wonderful vantage point -- whether you're transiting the Panama Canal or simply watching the sunset. There's enough space for everyone to spread out, and even retreat to a private corner to steal a kiss.
Every passenger is entitled to at least one night at Candles, the line's popular alfresco eatery, which takes over Wind Star's pool deck every night. Faux candles add romantic flair to the already intimate setup of two- and four-top tables nestled along one side of the deck. The menu is the same every night, but it's got enough variety to lure couples back a second night (depending on availability). Like all other Wind Star meals, Candles is free of charge, as are the gentle ocean breezes with which it's paired; you're responsible for the alcohol.
Wind Star's small size means it can get into destinations the big ships can't. Our itinerary, for example, included the charming fishing village of Quepos, Costa Rica; nearby Bahia Drake, a gateway to one of the largest lowland forests in Central America; and Isla Parida, a tiny slice of paradise off the coast of Panama. That's where we experienced Windstar's signature beach barbeque day -- complete with fabulous opportunities to view wildlife, do yoga on the beach, get in a refreshing hike or sip on endless fruity cocktails. We'd sometimes feel like we had the whole place to ourselves. There were no tourist masses (a typical sight when big ships are in port) despite it being the countries' high season, meaning couples could easily feel like they're worlds away.
Our off-the-beaten-path itinerary cultivated a thirst for adventure and spontaneity. Many couples were whisked away by Windstar-sponsored adrenaline-pumping shore excursions like zip-lining and snorkeling, while others opted to explore on their own -- some by taking Uber rides (or certified taxis) to remote beaches or magical waterfalls tucked away in the rainforests. (Uber is prevalent throughout Panama and Costa Rica; many drivers also offer full-day service for a set price. We felt perfectly safe, and found the prices to be much more affordable than a taxi.) Fewer crowds in these smaller towns also meant little to no wait time at restaurants.
From kayaking off the ship's watersports platform, to watching the sun go down as the sails rise, you might sometimes feel as though you're on your own private ship. Especially after dinner, when the onboard atmosphere begins to quiet down as many passengers return to their rooms for the night, you can escape almost anywhere for blissful solitude -- or savor wine and good conversation with new friends you feel like you've known forever, in a cozy nook of the lounge.