Just as a bit of background, we are a Canadian couple in our mid 50’s from Montreal. This was our 13th cruise having sailed 5 times with Celebrity and now 8 times with Windstar on both the Sailing Ships and Motor Yachts, all in the ... Read More
Just as a bit of background, we are a Canadian couple in our mid 50’s from Montreal. This was our 13th cruise having sailed 5 times with Celebrity and now 8 times with Windstar on both the Sailing Ships and Motor Yachts, all in the Caribbean. What keeps us coming back to Windstar is the small size of the ships (and contrary to what some people may say, they will still be small by all standards even after the extensions), the great and friendly service, the amazing food, the camaraderie between the guests and staff, the relaxed dress code, the small & interesting ports, the minimal entertainment and a general feeling of freedom aboard these ships as they are geared to both independent (which we are) as well as less independent travelers who can book (expensive) tours through ship. Another notable advantage of visiting the Caribbean by way of a cruise vs a land-based vacation is there are no mosquitoes on deck at night and no need for repellent (we had brought some but never used it).
On this cruise, we travelled with 2 other couples, one of whom was new to Windstar (both got $200 referral OBC) and had never cruised while the other couple had sailed once with us on Star Pride in 2016. We did BTB 14 day Lovely Leeward Cruise out of San Juan on Star Legend Nov 2-16, the first time we had taken a cruise of more than 7 days. The overall feeling from all in our group was this was the perfect vacation we needed and that 2 weeks was definitely not too long and we would have stayed a 3rd week if we’d could. Yes the ship is older (vintage as our Italian friends like to call it), and aside from a few more obvious areas (such as near the Star Bar bathrooms on Deck 8), it is well maintained and certainly a pleasant ship to cruise on (the drydock will certainly help on that front). The food onboard was excellent and just keeps getting better. The company’s partnership with the James Beard Foundation is showing with creative plate presentations, improved seafood offering with fish now sourced locally almost every day and meats that were always cooked perfectly to order (from rare to medium well). Our Italian friends, who are fish aficionados, were very impressed by the quality and cooking of the fish dishes and not one person complained about any plate for the whole 2 weeks. We took the interesting Galley Tour with chef Nilesh and now understand how they can be so consistent in their cooking (everything is done from scratch à la minute) and also accommodate almost any kind of request (there is a list of 10-12 special requests at every meal based on a list I saw). So if you are a picky eater, they should be able to accommodate.
We did not notice any slip in service or food compared to our Feb 2019 cruise and if there is one thing food has improved at all venues. The weather was just about perfect (very little rain which is unusual at this time of year) and seas were fairly calm. We were able to get off at all the stops save for Vieques for obvious reasons (see below for details). Demographics of this cruise were typical of Windstar with most passengers in the 50 to 80 range. They say Windstar is not for kids but during the first week of the cruise, there were 5 young well behaved kids (6-10) onboard (incl. the Captain’s daughter) and judging by their smiling faces, they had a blast onboard and were treated like royalty by the crew…and this did not bother the remaining guests onboard.
On a minor negative note, we did notice on a regular basis, foul sewer smells from one side of the ship (and also near the Star Bar washrooms) but this was usually temporary. There was also a lack of loungers and umbrellas on the Pool and Star decks (and also at the bow hot tub area) which made it difficult to find a spot to lounge in the sun or shade. We spoke to staff who said new chairs and umbrellas were on their way in the coming weeks.
Overall another fantastic cruise with Windstar. Now for the details
Booking: We booked approx. 2 months ahead and found the price of this 14-day cruise to be very attractive at $1,799 (Canadian Special) (the price went as low as $1,599 a little later). We see no need to book far in advances as prices generally come down once within 90-day price guarantee period and usually get upgraded anyway. We and another couple went for lowest priced cabin S1 (112-116) and got upgraded to Balcony Suites BS1 (304-306) which was nice while the third couple had booked the highest non balcony category S3 (325) and got upgraded to a 530 sq ft Classic Suite (suite 06) mid ship deck 6, wow!. Again, Windstar offered the All-In Package (a 20% discount on the price of internet, drink package and laundry if all taken together prior to cruise) which we did not take as we did not care for the ship’s slow and expensive internet (we had access to a good roaming package which we used most of time as we were always close to islands). Given we had booked a 2 week cruise, we enjoyed complimentary laundry for the full 2 weeks which we used every other day.
Embarkation: Although we typically fly in the day before, given departure was only at 10PM we flew in on same day. Took cab from SJU airport ($25 approx 20 minutes) and arrived on ship at around 3h15pm. Check-in was swift as 1PM check-in rush was over and we booked the Candles dinner for our group of 6 right away with no issues. Sail away was on schedule at 10h00pm. There were approx. 200 passengers on board with 25% booked for the same 2 week cruise. Our friends had some luggage issues so they went and bought a few items right across from cruise pier at the Polo Ralph Lauren outlet prior to our 10PM departure (very convenient).
Cabin: We were in 304 and our friends in 306 and Suite 6 (all added to Star Legend stateroom sticky forum). Cabins are large and comfortable with 304 having a walk-in shower (no tub) while 306 and 06 have bath tubs. Note that the bed in 304 does not split to make 2 singles and as a result the bedframe does not allow you to put large suitcases underneath the bed as is the case normally (we put ours behind the 2 arm chairs in living room). Ship had a hot water issue on one day with no hot water from 10am to 6pm. This was fixed by end of day and was not a problem for us. All cabins were quiet with no maintenance issues. Our room attendants Luis and Ben were attentive and always had smiles on their faces although we did not have any special requirements. Reusable water bottles and ice bucket were refilled every day. Asked for mini bar to include more soda water and this was done for rest of cruise. We used complimentary laundry (offered on all BTB cruises) and had no issues (you can write instructions to do cold wash, no dryer etc on the order form). Occitane toiletries were replenished every 4 days. We did not use room service
Bars and Entertainment: Drinks were mostly taken outside at Star Bar. Did not go to Lounge or Compass Rose as we like to be outside on a Caribbean cruise. Bar service was always good. Entertainment is limited but this is fine with us. There were 2 music duos alternating at each venues. Latino duo was better and had some guests dancing at Star Bar. Sometimes during breaks, guests would plug IPad playlists in system to keep party going a little longer. This happened a few evenings with people dancing until midnight. A lot of fun. Windstar should consider having a DJ instead of second duo onboard. Unlike the last time we sailed, none of us were on any drink package. We all mostly drank beer (Red Stripe, Stella, Heineken) and wine (we tried at least 20-25 different wines with prices varying from $40 to $65) with the occasional cocktail or nightcap and in the end our bill was almost the same as basic bev. package but ended up drinking better quality wines by the bottle. The wines on the beverage package are OK with 12 whites (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Riesling), 15 reds (Cab, Merlot, Zin, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese), 4 sparklers and 2 rosés but the bottle selection is much better and priced decently (bottles that go unfinished are held until the following day) Approximately 25% of guests were on a drink package. I have posted the wine and cocktail list on the Windstar forum. We did not attend the Captains Welcome/Departure Cocktails nor the Yacht Club Members Cocktail as these were typically held too early for us. There were always seats at the Star Bar and one evening before dinner, our Italian friends could not believe we were the only ones on the Star deck and had the bar to ourselves as if we were on our own yacht…for 15 minutes. It was a great Windstar moment.
Sail Aways under the music of Vangelis and sometimes Andrea Bocelli were nice and moving but not as spectacular as on the sailing ships. This being said they remain a very popular and well attended event with plenty of smiles on everybody’s faces.
Food: What to say. The food was fantastic. We had dinner at Amphora every evening save for 2 times at Candles and 2 times at Deck BBQ on the late nights in Sint-Maarten and Bequia. Did not use room service. Although we were told the dinner menu at Amphora is on a one week rotation, there were several new dishes on the menu the second week so plenty of variety with no one eating the same thing twice throughout the 2 week cruise. Note there are vegetarian and gluten free options (more limited but possible if requested ahead). Breakfast was excellent with buffet or a la carte items available (French toast eggs benedict, waffles, pancakes, omelets or eggs any style always a hit especially with great crispy bacon and real maple syrup, after all, we are Canadian). After seeing the freshly squeezed OJ go away on our last Windsurf cruise in Feb 2019, I am glad to report that orange/grapefruit slices and freshly squeezed OJ were back on the buffet. Also a great improvement with the pastries in the AM as well desserts at night.
We had good lunches at Veranda when we made it back in time from the island as the venue is only open from 12h00 to 14h00. Good selection of a la carte items and buffet. We were late a few times and had to “settle” for sandwiches and cookies from Yacht Club which were excellent. Lunch should be extended to 14h30 to accommodate those with dietary restrictions as the menu at the Yacht Club, while good, remains limited for them. Service in the dining rooms at dinner was well paced with meals usually lasting 2 hours (or sometimes more, our choice) but I am sure someone could probably have a 3 course meal in less than an hour if that’s what they wanted, just not our style as we like to linger with the cheese plate and wine before having drinks at Star Bar while listening to one of the music duos. We mostly had dinner around 8pm and never had to wait more than a few minutes for a table and by the time we were finished around 10-10h30PM, we were often the last table in the room. Deck BBQ food was great with lobster and suckling pig a highlight. A couple of times they arranged a small buffet lunch next to Star Bar at lunch time (once was a curry bar and the other one was Mumbai meets Caribbean), both proved to be popular with guests.
Dinner at Amphora was always excellent (don’t miss the Beef Wellington or Chocolate Soufflé). Kudos to chef Nilesh Kanvinde and his crew for all the fabulous meals and to Maitre D’ Mr Santos and his waiters for the good service. Candles was very good both times with good quality meats and fish done to everyone’s order. The veal chop and red wine sauce is always a winner and make sure not to miss the side of prosciutto/parmesan potatoes.
Beach BBQ was held in Fischer’s Cove Virgin Gorda in week 1 and Pigeon Island in week 2 (both just OK locations as we prefer Prickly Pear and Mayreau). While food was good both times (mac&cheese is great), the small size of the beach in St Lucia coupled with 200 people going in and out of water constantly means that the water turns cloudy pretty quickly and was not really appealing by 2PM (BBQ ended at 4). Not an issue in Fischer’s Cove as beach is wider.
A couple of evenings, we were treated to very good canapés at Star Bar before dinner. Contrary to previous cruises, there seemed to be more selections and greater quantities of canapés so that people did get seconds. I suspect these were also served in the Compass Rose but we never attended this venue so cannot confirm.
Some in our group are a bit picky about their coffee and their verdict was that caffe lattes at the Veranda in the morning were good (regular coffee not so much) but the best were the ones from the Yacht Club (Yogi was our favorite barista for the 2 weeks). Croissants/muffins and fresh squeezed OJ are also offered at the venue for early risers (6AM) while sandwiches and sweet treats are offered in the afternoon until 6PM. Note the sandwiches are very much improved (try the Greek sandwich) from our last cruise with greater selections (at least 8-10 types of sandwiches) and quantities available.
Reception Natasha at Reception was excellent and helpful as much as she could as one in our party did not get their luggage. She accommodated us with internet access and satellite phone access to talk to the airline and her team went to airport to see if luggage had arrived.
Marina: We used the marina a few times and it was open probably 4 or 5 times during the 2 week cruise. Several people were using it when available. The water toys were also brought to the beach on Pigeon Island and Fischer’s Cove for the Beach BBQ but the large trampoline was out of action for the full 2 weeks as staff said it was a different model that was too long to set up and were waiting for a smaller one.
Spa: One person in our party enjoyed a 75minute massage at the spa and was satisfied with the treatment but beware of the product push at the end.
Gym: Some people in our group used the gym and were satisfied with the equipment and personnel. Note the gym is small and may be busy during certain peak morning times depending on itinerary
Tenders: Tenders were used in all ports except St. Martin and Grenada. While tender service was good and timely, the tenders themselves are in need of a total overhaul which I understand is happening with the extension of the ship.
Bridge: Visited the bridge a couple of times (it was closed more often than expected) and officers were accommodating and helpful.
Stops and excursions: We generally are not the type to book ship excursions as we feel they are overpriced and like to do things on our own. I typically like to do my own research and do not like to plan too long ahead.
Vieques: We had planned to go to Sun Beach and were getting ready to tender to shore when Captain came on to advise that there had been a shooting incident in the tender landing area in the morning (no passengers were present in the area at the time) in which a targeted local resident was killed and a Windstar employee shot in the leg by a stray bullet. As a result, the Captain cancelled the stop and pulled the anchor early around 3PM (vs 9PM scheduled) meaning we would arrive in St Barth’s around 6AM, earlier than the 11AM expected. Given most passengers were onboard, they quickly set up a Curry Bar buffet for lunch which was appreciated by guests. The injured employee was flown to San Juan where he received treatment and is now OK. This could have been far worse and was handled properly by the Captain. We understand this stop has now been replaced by St-Thomas.
St-Barth: Left ship around 10AM. Took a 10 minute cab ride (30 EUR each way for the 6 of us) from the pier to Pearl Beach Hotel (formerly Tom Beach) in St-Jean. The hotel has changed hands, been expanded and totally renovated following Irma with very nice results. Rented nice and comfortable loungers and umbrellas EUR20 p.p. (Eden Roc next door at EUR50, beach chair vendor next door (EUR10) or bring your towel ($0) but the last 2 options have no bathroom access). We all had lunch & rosé wine at their La Plage beach restaurant. Food and service were good but be prepared to spend upwards of US$100/$150 p.p. for lunch and chairs as this is St Barth. Did some shopping in St Jean and Gustavia. Boarded the tender back to the ship around 7PM. Had dinner at around 8h30 at Amphora
Montserrat: 2 couples took the ship excursion to Buried City and we stayed onboard as we had done the same excursion 2 years prior. While they found the excursion interesting, they also thought it was a bit drawn out (4hrs) with the luncheon at the end of the tour. Note that the tour no longer goes inside an abandoned hotel for security reasons (this was an interesting stop in the tour because it was as if time had stopped everywhere around the property). The ship was quiet while most guests were out and had the staff just to ourselves.
St. Martin: Beach day. Took a cab ($25 each way) to Karakter Bar & Restaurant on Simpsons Bay (Dutch side) on far side of the airport (not easy to find). Chairs free if you have lunch there but get there early, which we did. Food & service good with quite a large menu offering. Nice Beach with some wave action. Back on the ship by 6PM. Deck BBQ was held this evening. Great food (lobster, suckling pig, striploin, paella, lamb, lots of salads, flambéed bananas and a much improved dessert selection) and great time with some dancing interrupted by a short drizzle. No problem
Jost Van Dyke: Took safari cab ($5p.p.) to White Bay and went to quieter One Love beach bar at far end of beach. Nice cold drinks but food certainly basic. Soggy Dollar looked busy and loud so we were perfectly happy where we were. Took taxi and tender back to ship around 4PM. Given our late departure, we had the intent of coming back onshore to Foxy’s. However after having a great dinner at Candles, we were all pretty tired and went to bed around 11pm.
Virgin Gorda: We first took the Exploring VG and Baths Tour organized by ship. Simon of Speedy’s was our tour guide and was very entertaining and knowledgeable. The ride provides great views of the North Sound (the northern route however remains closed since Irma). Baths were great, not too crowded. This was our friends’ first time at The Baths and they were all impressed. Walked through the boulders and back up to restaurant. The tour comes back to Fischer’s Cove near Spanishtown at around 12h30, in time for lunch at the Beach BBQ. This was our first beach BBQ at this location (normally it’s held at Prickly Pear in Virgin Gorda’s North Sound but the park infrastructure has not been rebuilt since Irma) and while it is not bad, the scenery and surroundings are just not as nice. Food was good as usual.
San Juan: After a great week, one couple in our party went back home today (as were another 150 passengers) while 4 of us are staying for a second week (there were 43 passengers staying for 2 weeks). This is when it all hit: Thank God we were staying for another week, just felt sad for our friends who could not stay on. Wandered in Old San Juan in the morning and did a bit of shopping. Came back on uncrowded ship before 1PM check-in of second week guests, had lunch on Veranda, secured priority reservations for Candles before new guests boarded and then spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening at the bow of the ship taking advantage of hot tub and watched sunset while drinking the complimentary Collet Brut Champagne provided in our friends’ suite. A great relaxing afternoon Windstar style. Note, there were only 2 lounge chairs in this area when there used to be a dozen in the past. They also used to have a cooler with all sorts of soft drinks and water for client use but we did not see any this time around (it is a long walk to the bar).
St.Martin Take 2: Given this was a short stop (12h00-17h00), the 4 of us decided we wanted to do a bit of surveying on how St Martin (especially the French side which has been struggling) was recovering from Irma 2 years on. Good news, the Captain made up some time during the night and we arrived an hour early at the dock. Left ship around 11h30, 4 of us hired a van for $100 to do 3hr tour of island (with stops in Orient Bay and Grand Case). Orient Bay is slowly coming back with a few new restaurants (Kontiki, Kakao, Bikini) and some of the shops in the back having reopened. That being said, the nudist resort part of the beach at far end still looks abandoned with only the restaurant having reopened. Grand Case and Marigot are a different story as they still have a lot of placated buildings and empty lots and just a few restaurants opened. Taxi dropped us off on Front St. in Philipsburg where we did some shopping at the Longchamps store in Philipsburg (good prices) and had a few drinks at the nearby Holland House before heading back to cruise pier by using the water taxi ($5p.p.)
Les Saintes: This was our 4th time to Les Saintes and we continue to enjoy this stop. The tender drops passengers off at the quaint village of Terre de Haut which has some interesting shops and courtyard restaurants as well as a well preserved fort & museum (Fort Napoleon) from which the views of the bay and our ship are simply breathtaking. Note the Fort is only open until 12h30 and bring €5 cash if you want to get in. We again rented a 4 seat electric golf cart (cost €70) from Green Car Rental to tour Island but you need to reserve it in advance and come early as these get taken up very quickly (we had learned this the hard way the first times we were there). Alternatively, the company also rents electric bicycles which we saw all around this hilly island. Went to Pompierre Beach (no entry fees but no services with a few restaurants just outside the beach area) and Fort Napoléon. Also visited newly renovated and expanded Hotel Bois-Joli near Pain de Sucre beach. Very nice & quiet. Did some shopping in the village (Mahogany Linen) and had a drink at Café de la Marine overlooking the harbor. This was our friends’ first time in Les Saintes and they enjoyed this charming stop so much that they are going back for the Christmas holidays
Bequia: This was our 4th time in Bequia, an island we love for its tranquility and nice beaches. Given there was a bit of rain early on, we left the ship late. Once onshore we took a water taxi ($5 each) to far end of Princess Margaret Beach to a small beach chair vendor. Rented chairs ($6 p.p. no need for umbrella, palm trees everywhere), very nice quiet beach. Vendor also had snacks and cold drinks. Walked back to town by using the very nice & scenic Belmont walkway passing by Jack’s Bar which was busy as usual when a ship is in town. Deck BBQ was held this evening with ship leaving around 9h45pm. Another great evening under the stars and a full moon. Magical
Grenada: Our ship was docked in old harbor which is more attractive than the large cruise ship dock on other side of town. As we have already done tours on this island, we decided this was a beach day. Most taxis will want to take you to Grande Anse Beach but we go to the less crowded Morne Rouge or Magazine Beaches. Cab ride to Magazine Beach was $35 for the 4 of us. This was our second time there and we continue to enjoy this beach. It is very picturesque, not too crowded compared to Grande Anse with very few people trying to sell you stuff on the beach. It also has some nice wave action. Our friends had never been and really enjoyed the spot. We rented beach chairs ($5 each) no umbrellas, plenty of trees and shade. Had lunch on the beach at the Aquarium Restaurant nearby. Food good but service was slow. Back on the ship around 4h30 and watched the sunset while enjoying our friends’ second complimentary Collet Brut Champagne bottle at Star Bar (no corkage fee) during happy hour and sail away.
Pigeon Island: This was our 5th time to Pigeon Island and it is not necessarily our favorite beach as the beach area is small and crowded with the water getting cloudy by early afternoon. The back area of the park, where they actually serve the BBQ is very nice with lots of shade. The water toys were brought to the beach (excluding the trampoline), as well as paddle boards and kayaks. They did not offer waterski and wakeboardings runs for those who wanted as on previous trips. BBQ food again was excellent
Day at Sea: Our final day was a sea day. Beautiful weather and gentle breeze. Spent the day on deck in and out of pool. Good idea to be up on deck early (around 8AM) if you want to secure loungers as there were a much smaller number of them than usual (probably only 35 chairs vs 70 normally).
San Juan Debarkation.: All good things have to come to an end. Debarkation was trouble free. Picked up passports the previous night, left luggage outside around 6h30 in the morning and had breakfast around 8am. Our flight was late (4h30pm) so we left the ship and our friends (who had an earlier flight) at around 8h45 after going through immigration and took a cab ($17 for the 2 of us, 10 minutes) to Marriott Stellaris Resort and took up their day pass offer which for $60 p.p. includes the holding of your luggage in a secure area, access to facilities, beach chairs & umbrellas, towels, Wifi, access to shower and changing room and a $20 p.p. F&B voucher which we used for lunch (food OK). The hotel has been completely renovated and property looks great. Service was excellent from bell hop to beach attendants. Got access to changing rooms and shower. We left at 1h45 for the airport. Ride was $20 for the 2 of us and took just under 15 minutes. Given we were flying to Canada and not connecting through a US airport, we did not have to go through the additional USDA bag screening that’s required at San Juan airport.
And this concluded another amazing Windstar cruise. Read Less