For entertainment, Windstar, as befitting its low-key ambiance, doesn't go much for the elaborate song-and-dance performances you'll find on many lines. Therefore, Star Breeze's theater on Deck 5 -- rather unimaginatively dubbed "The Lounge" -- is home to enrichment activities and naturalist talks, local musicians and dancers brought onboard and the daily briefing on the next day's port. Do not miss the talent show put on by Star Breeze's multinational crew once per cruise -- it's a blast. Passengers tend to gather here for the voyage leader's nightly destination talk and a drink before heading to dinner.
During talks and performances, there's bar service in the lounge.
* May require additional fees
The lounge also serves as the place for check-in on embarkation day, the meeting point for shore excursions and the access to the stairs leading down to the water sports platform and tender/Zodiac boarding area.
Because Windstar tends to pack itineraries with ports of call and there aren't many sea days, activities during the day are practically nonexistent. When there is a day spent at sea, you'll find diversions such as seminars on weight loss, galley tours, wine tasting, trivia and line dancing. In truth, the typical passenger seems to prefer reading a book, playing cards and engaging in good conversation over being entertained.
Each day (or each night, depending on the ship's schedule), during the ship's sail-away from port, flags above the Star Bar on Deck 8 are hoisted to the tune of the haunting theme song from the film "1492." This is done in homage to the fleet's tradition of raising actual sails on its first three ships to the same tune; however, the experience is not nearly as impressive or emotional with a simple flag and while it's fun to be on deck to watch the ship sail away, the flag-raising ceremony can easily be missed. One unique aspect of Windstar cruising is the fact that captains have an open bridge policy -- feel free to wander by, and if the door's open, take a tour and ask questions. The bridge is located on Deck 7 forward.
Nightlife central on Star Breeze is the lovely Compass Rose, its main lounge, located on Deck 6 with a casino tucked alongside. A duo plays tunes at night. The casino offers several slots machine and two games tables for poker and blackjack. On our cruise, it was fairly popular and the gamers enthusiastic, despite its small size.
Another great evening spot onboard is the Star Bar, the ship's alfresco venue on the sun deck, which in good weather lives up to its name as it's the perfect spot to gaze at the nighttime sky above. (Serious stargazers should go forward of the Bridge on Deck 7 or forward of the Yacht Club on Deck 8, where it's darker, to gaze at the stars.) Usually, one of the ship's duos will set up behind the pool, and the deck is available for dancing, should anyone wish.
Occasionally, trivia events take place at night. A favorite evening activity is to borrow a DVD from the library, order popcorn from room service and catch a flick in your suite.
On a ship this cozy, there are only a handful of bars and lounges. All are lovely places to hang out, in addition to getting a drink.
Passengers can take advantage of an all-inclusive beverage package, for $108 per suite (plus a 15 percent gratuity). Close to half the passengers on our cruise were on a beverage package, though many had theirs included in their booking package.
Compass Rose (Deck 6): A wonderful spot for quiet reflection during the day, the bar itself doesn't open until dinner. It's a terrific spot for a pre-dinner cocktail and, because it's indoors, is the social hub of the ship when the weather's dicey. The piano is lined with stools so music aficionados can get close to the action, especially during Name That Tune.
Star Bar (Deck 8): The alfresco Star Bar is a hot spot day and night, and its bar also serves the Yacht Club next door. Padded wooden chairs and tables overlook the pool and lounge area below. This is the place to get a drink while sunbathing and chilling in the ship's tiny pool or hot tub.
The Yacht Club (Deck 8): Located at the very front of the ship on the top deck, the nautical-themed Yacht Club is the place to gaze out to sea through panoramic windows, read a book, play cards or board games, do a puzzle or look up photos taken from the ship's completely unobtrusive professional photographers. (They ask you if they can take your picture, rather than forcing you to pose.) It also serves continental breakfast and light afternoon snacks; you can get a coffee drink here, but for anything else, you need to head around the corner to the Star Bar.
One of the biggest positives of the major refurbishment that Windstar did with Star Breeze was to completely redesign the pool area to make it more useable and appealing. It added a small swim-against-the-current pool to the main area; most passengers use it to soak in as the current feature can be turned on and off. Adjacent is a large whirlpool. There is no regular pool onboard Star Breeze. While the lack of a pool seems surprising at first, most people don't miss one. On tropical itineraries, you have many opportunities to swim at a beach or in the salt-water "pool" at the water sports marina. European itineraries are usually too jam-packed with sightseeing to make swimming a priority.
Most passengers don't discover the "secret" hot tub on Deck 5 forward. It's not a secret, nor is it exclusive to the suites that overlook it. It's open to anyone and -- like the main pool and whirlpool -- is open generally from 8 a.m. to sunset.
One of Windstar's strongest suits is its commitment to recreation. Even on a ship with just 212 passengers, there's plenty of ways to stay active. When the ship's at anchor and the seas are calm, Star Breeze opens its sports marina and from here, without extra charge, passengers can snorkel, kayak, paddleboard, pedal boat, swim or simply relax on a large rubber mat or trampoline. Another big plus: Star Breeze carries a fleet of eight bicycles. There's a rental fee of $15 for four hours or $25 for eight hours.
If you want to walk or jog onboard, you can do loops around Deck 7 from the pool area, around the bridge and back again, but there's no dedicated walking track.
The biggest beneficiary of Windstar's major investment in Star Breeze is the sun deck, which received a complete redesign, particularly the deck one floor above the pool area. It's been widened from 6.5 feet to almost 11 feet, and the broader width means there's plenty of room for chaise lounges. Dark brown wicker lounge chairs are topped with blue cushions and accompanied by shade umbrellas and wicker drink tables on both upper and lower levels.
Smokers have a dedicated spot on this otherwise nonsmoking ship; they can light up in an area adjacent to the Star Bar or on a small outer deck just aft of the lounge.
A small reception area on Deck 3 consists of a purser's desk, open around the clock, and a shore excursion office for booking tours. In an era in which libraries are disappearing on cruise ships, Star Breeze has a lovely one, stocked with books and DVDs to borrow, a peaceful seating area and two Internet-connected tabletop computers.
The shipwide WiFi is one of the priciest -- and most cumbersome -- we've experienced on a cruise ship. Rather than levy a per-minute fee, the service charges you for the megabytes you use. There are three plans. At $60, the "Email Plan" offers 200 MB of data and is best used by those whose needs online are extremely minimal. For 500 MB of data, there's the "Surfing Plan," which costs $120 for a bit more browsing and posting a few photos to social media sites. The "Unlimited Plan," for those who want to share and receive images and check in constantly, is $250. (Note, even with unlimited WiFi, you can only have one device logged in at a time.)
The ship's former card room has been beautifully revamped to incorporate a small theater. Its huge flat-screen television, along with cinema-like chairs, makes it a good place to watch news or films. The TV is also hooked up to a Wii video game system for private or tournament play. The room has plenty of tables sized right for games and cards.
The Signature Shop on Deck 6 stocks clothing, jewelry, sunglasses and other goods from brands such as Fendi, Kate Spade, Swarovski and Tommy Bahama. You can buy Windstar logo items, over-the-counter medicine and toiletries, and snacks like chips and chocolate; what you won't find are typical cruise ship duty-free items like liquor.
The ship has two small elevators in the central atrium area, which can accommodate wheelchairs, and one midship elevator that is particularly narrow and not recommended if you're claustrophobic. There is a medical center with one doctor onboard.
There is no self-service laundry, but you can send out items to be cleaned or pressed for a per-item fee. An unlimited laundry package is available, as well.
One area of the ship that did not receive a significant upgrade was its spa, but it's functional enough. There are three treatment rooms, and services include massages, facials and mud treatments. There's a salon for hair and nail treatments for men and women, as well as waxing and teeth whitening. Prices are resort-level but still more reasonable than we've found on many cruise ships, with a 50-minute Swedish massage costing $119 and a pedicure priced at $45.
Men's and women's changing rooms each contain a dry sauna and steam room, which are free for passengers to use.
The small fitness facility has ample free weights, a few resistance machines, three treadmills and two stationary bikes. If you are 6 feet tall or taller, you will hit your head on the ceiling when standing on the treadmill, so you must duck while you run. Exercise classes (Pilates, body conditioning, abs, stretching and yoga) are offered three times per day at no extra fee.
Children under seven years old are not allowed on Windstar ships. There is no organized kids' program or playroom. Well-traveled, well-behaved older children, who are happy enough to hang out with their parents and sightsee in port, are welcomed. You will see them most often on holiday sailings.