(10:45 a.m. EST) Book any Windstar cruise, and you'll be tempted to tack on a few extra days before or after your sailing. The luxury, small-ship line sails from more than 30 cities around the world -- in exotic destinations like Costa Rica and the Panama Canal, Tahiti, the Greek Islands and Southeast Asia -- meaning the opportunities to explore more on land abound.
First, however, you'll need to determine whether you want to plan your own pre- or post-cruise trip or opt for Windstar's Easy Stays package. The Easy Stays package covers a luxury hotel room (for however many nights you choose, with taxes and resort fees included), transportation between the ship and terminal, breakfast and Wi-Fi. Tours are not included; however, you can book them separately through Windstar as an add-on to your Easy Stays package.
So, what's the better value? We compare our experience with an Easy Stays post-cruise package to what you might expect to pay a la carte, to help you weigh the costs. Note: Easy Stays package prices vary, based on a number of factors such as the destination, number of nights and time of year.
Our Panama Canal and Costa Rica cruise ended in Costa Rica's Puerto Caldera, roughly one hour and 30 minutes from the country's capital of San Jose, where we had plans to stay for one night ahead of our flight the next day. With the transfers included in our Easy Stays package, there was no wait time to get on the bus after we disembarked the ship. Our ride also was hosted by a local guide who shared fun facts about the region and insider tips on San Jose.
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A taxi ride from Puerto Caldera generally costs about $75, excluding tip. You'll likely be able to save a few bucks with Uber or another rideshare service. Of course, you'll have to wait around until your ride arrives; you also can't guarantee you'll have a driver with whom you can communicate about must-see attractions and local tips.
It's important to note, though, that Easy Stays packages do not include transfer service from the hotel to the airport (or pickup from the airport if you've booked a pre-cruise stay); those can be purchased separately from Windstar, or on your own. Windstar transfers are priced per person, so you can typically save by going your own way. We recommend Uber versus a taxi, as taxis to and from airports are known to hike up their fares. For example, to get to the airport -- which was three miles from our hotel -- an Uber cost $5 as opposed to $20 for a cab.
Cruises that begin or end in Costa Rica take passengers to the Costa Rica Marriott for their Easy Stays package. The four-star, hacienda-style hotel is set on a 30-acre coffee plantation and offers a golf driving range, full-service spa, resort-style pool and several complimentary activities to guests, such as a sushi-making class and sunset yoga.
Windstar handpicks premium hotels that meet various criteria, such as prime location for sightseeing and local charm. It places passengers in preferred-category rooms, offering upgrades when available, and also runs a concierge desk outside the lobby for anyone who has questions, needs local suggestions/tips or is interested in reserving activities.
Wi-Fi, as well as luggage porterage, also are included in the Easy Stays package. Additionally, passengers are entitled to a complimentary buffet-style breakfast. The breakfast can cost up to nearly $80 per couple, for regular-paying hotel guests.
Rates for the hotel we stayed at, for the same night, were almost half the price of our Easy Stays package -- at $155 per night. However, they did not include the transfer service, breakfast and Wi-Fi, all of which would have cost approximately $150, rounding out to be about the same as the Easy Stays package.
As mentioned, Windstar tours can be booked separately from the Easy Stays package, but we found privately arranged tours to be much more cost-efficient. (Learn more about booking independent versus ship-sponsored shore excursions.) Since we arrived at our hotel in the morning, we and our shipmates had plenty of time to arrange half-day tours or explore the area on our own.
Easy Stays pre- and post-cruise packages -- regardless of how many nights you choose -- can be a great value, especially when you consider the exclusive perks like concierge service and complimentary breakfast, as well as the convenience factor and sense of security you get when booking through a cruise line versus on your own. On the flip side, you can save a decent amount of money by booking your own hotel (or bed-and-breakfast) and transfers, if that's within your comfort zone.