Windstar Announces Major Fleet Upgrade

August 14, 2003

Windstar, which lost one of its four sail-cruise vessels in a tragic fire last year, and whose future has been the focus of much traveler speculation, has announced a renewed commitment to refurbishing its fleet. The company plans to spend an extra $6.5 million this fall - above and beyond already-planned upgrades. Wind Star and Wind Spirit had been earmarked for a freshen-up - and as a result of the newly available funds will undergo more concentrated refurbishments. Wind Surf, which had not been slated for an additional touch-up this year, gets an unexpected windfall.

All three ships will serve a stint in dry-dock in November. The refurbishment will emphasize cosmetic appeal, which, for Wind Star and Wind Spirit, involves updating staterooms, redecorating main lounges, upgrading fitness equipment and sprucing up the Verandah Café. On Wind Surf, suites will be upgraded as will the main lounge and the ship's Bistro Café.

Interestingly, members of the Cruise Critic community can take some credit for Windstar's windfall. A source at Windstar said that pressure by a group of 48 repeat passengers, who sent a petition to Windstar's senior operations chief (and then posted it - along with his response - on Cruise Critic's Windstar boards), managed to attract the company's attention. "It did prove the power of the Internet," says community member Bill Oman, a 23-cruise veteran of Windstar, and the leader of the petition effort.

Windstar owns one of cruisedom's oldest fleets with an average age of 15 years. Last year's devastating fire on Wind Song, which was sailing French Polynesian itineraries, resulted in a complete write-off - and according to parent company Carnival Corporation's 2002 annual report, Windstar received $31 million related to the casualty loss. Still, the cruise line has no plans to replace Wind Song with a new ship, says marketing vice president Tom Russell, because "it's just not even feasible to build a ship that could deliver that [luxury] product at that capacity." The identical Wind Star and Wind Spirit have a capacity of just 148 passengers. Wind Surf, the former Club Med I, is somewhat larger, and can carry 308 people.

Russell did say that the company is still interested in acquiring Club Med II, which is identical to Wind Surf, but says Windstar has no option on it at this time.

While pleased about the extra refurbishment windfall, Bill Oman, the 23-cruise veteran, does express concern that the company is not addressing equally, if not more important, mechanical issues.

"That part they are sidestepping," he says. "We are continuing to follow their maintenance issues more closely than we might otherwise because of the history and age of the ships. We're delighted in the more substantial investment and we're happy to see they are getting 'facials.' But facials are only skin deep."