My husband and I have always wanted to see Alaska. Unfortunately, we chose Windstar's costly 14-day cruise on the 200-passenger Star Legend and 4-day pre-cruise to Denali. We were extremely disappointed. After many cruises on lines ... Read More
My husband and I have always wanted to see Alaska. Unfortunately, we chose Windstar's costly 14-day cruise on the 200-passenger Star Legend and 4-day pre-cruise to Denali. We were extremely disappointed. After many cruises on lines ranging from Tauck, Silverseas, and Star Clipper to Royal Caribbean, this is--by far--the worst experience we ever had.
The 4-day pre-cruise trip through Denali was a total ripoff. For $5,000, Windstar provided a bus trip, a few hours on the Alaska railroad, 2 dinners and a box lunch, with a boring tour guide who spent as little time and energy as possible with the oversized 38-person group. For example: Day 4 took us from Talkeetna to Seward, an area with hundreds if not thousands of wonderful things to see and do, but it seemed as if Windstar only wanted to burn up the time with as little cost to Windstar as possible. We were bussed to downtown Anchorage and deposited at a museum for several hours, then dumped at a FLEA MARKET where we were told to scrounge our lunch among filthy food stalls before being bussed to the ship in Seward. Really? for $1,250 a day? Thank goodness our I-Phone directed us to a clean restaurant and edible food to wait out our precious, costly day in this magnificent area. If you want to see Denali, fly to Anchorage and rent a car or take the train, hire a flight seeing tour in Talkeetna and take the Park Service bus tour in Denali; you will have a much better experience for a fraction of the cost.
Onboard the Star Legend, the staff's principal mission is to extract as much onboard revenue from each passenger as possible. Everything but the food was extra: excursions, fitness classes and other onboard activities, drinks, wine with dinner, etc., and involuntary service charges were added to our account daily regardless of the service provided. Another passenger warned us too late to make our own inventory of the in-room bar, as she and others were charged for items that weren't provided in the first place.
There was something wrong with the ship's engines, causing a vibration that often made it difficult to sleep. The ship was designed for warm weather locations. We had to walk outside to reach the Veranda/Candles dining area and a lot of the dining and bar space was outdoors, where it was too cold and rainy for use during most of our cruise. The temperature control didn't work; our stateroom and the Compass Rose and other public areas were frequently too cold.
Most of the passengers came down with a bad cold, which was undoubtedly due to the poor housekeeping and lack of ventilation. Our stateroom was large and well-arranged, but the carpet was worn and dirty and the housekeeping was not properly managed or supervised. The room was never made up until late afternoon. Glasses were removed but not replaced, dust cloths and trays were left behind, and we had to ask for shampoo, water and other necessities. Nothing was ever really cleaned. I dropped an earring and looked under the bed for it; no one had vacuumed there in a long time.
The food quality was good, but the service and use of venues was not properly managed. The large dining room, AmphorA, had impossibly slow service at breakfast and lunch, which drove everyone to the buffet at Veranda. With little indoor space, Veranda was overcrowded but no effort was made to extend the breakfast and lunch hours there or provide a buffet option or better service in AmphorA. The fixed menu at Veranda/Candles was good but boring.
The excursions were just commercial operations any traveler could use at a much lower cost. Windstar added no value and did nothing to assure the safety or comfort of its passengers, but added 80% to 100% to the cost. No Windstar representative accompanied any of the excursions. No headphones or microphones were provided by Windstar, so it was often impossible to hear speakers and guides. We had several upsetting experiences. For example:
1. We took a jet boat excursion up the Sitkine River ($350 each), a wild river in a wilderness area. After the driver drove recklessly and put the boat aground on a shoal, we learned that he had no tow line, no dock line or other line of any kind, no anchor or winch, and had not even connected his GPS to the Coast Guard emergency system. A second boat also lacked any rescue line, anchor or winch, but had an old dock line. The passengers were told to stand in the stern while the other boat tried to tow us off the shoal. The line broke, the boat jerked violently, and the second crewman went hurtling through the passengers, knocked my grip off the rail, and pushed me down the steps from the stern to the floor of the cabin. I suffered bruises that have still not healed. After several more broken lines, the boat was finally towed off the shoal and they raced through the remainder of the tour with no refunds. When I complained about the operator's lack of safety equipment and procedures, Windstar's destination manager was unable to understand that any responsible boat operator carries a rescue line and other safety equipment and connects his GPS to the Coast Guard system. He gave us a partial refund of $340 and never inquired about my injuries.
2. In Sitka, my husband went sport fishing ($299) while I took the wildlife excursion ($149). The previous day, we conferred with the destinations manager on where and when we could meet to continue our day together, and were told both boats returned to the same dock next to our ship. When I returned, I checked again and was told to wait on that dock for the fishing excursion to return at 1:30. When it didn't return, no one on Windstar could locate the 8 missing passengers or contact the operator, who for his own convenience had left them on a dock in downtown Sitka. The fishing excursion had been extremely rough, because the driver did not know how to operate the boat properly in that weather. Eventually, my husband made his way back to the ship, but it was too late to salvage our chance to see Sitka.
3. In Juneau, we had reserved a dogsledding excursion by helicopter on the Mendenhall Glacier ($629 each) and were scheduled for a 2:45 pm departure. The dogsledding trips were cancelled at 9 am that morning, but Windstar did not inform us of the cancellation until 2:00 pm. We waited all day for the 2:45 excursion, when we could have walked down the dock and taken a seaplane to see the entire Juneau Icefield or many other commercial offerings. Windstar deliberately wasted our day, so our only option would be their abbreviated helicopter trip to the bottom of the Mendenhall ($365 each). Locking in their profit was far more important than our experience.
The best thing about this trip was the onboard kayaking and zodiac expeditions. The expedition crew was well-organized, safety conscious, and knowledgeable. However, there were only four opportunities to use these resources and the ship only carried a handful of kayaks and three zodiacs so only a fraction of the passengers could go. On the days the ship anchored in the scenic fjords for the 2-hour kayaking and 1-hour zodiac trips, there was nothing else to do. The other saving grace was the passengers, interesting people and pleasant company.
There were several enrichment activities, but no set schedule for them. Entertainment consisted of 2 duos who repeated the same playlists. We tried to enjoy drinks and dancing in the lounge after dinner, but it was extremely cold and the "dance music" was more suitable for 20-somethings than the demographics of the passengers. There was no outside entertainment.
The final straw came at disembarkation, when we were required to drag all of our luggage through the dock terminal in Vancouver to the city tour with hotel ($79 each plus hotel). No one from Windstar accompanied the passengers from the dock terminal. When we reached the hotel, our luggage was left in the driveway and we were on our own. Even on inexpensive student tours, I have never seen a company fail to transfer the passengers and their baggage to their hotel or the airport in a considerate manner. This was like a kick in the pants as we walked out the door, pockets picked. Read Less