Notes about cruising 6: Windstar

I’ll try to keep this one short–after all, these ships are small. The three originals (the Wind Song, Wind Star, and Wind Spirit) hold 148 passengers in 74 cabins–73 of them identical (plus one “owner’s suite). The Wind Song was put out of commission by a fire.

WindStar picked up the Club Med II (a much larger, coarser version of the WindStar idea built after WindStar’s ships), renamed it the Wind Surf, and converted one deck’s worth of 188sqft. cabins into 376sq.ft. suites by removing interior walls. (As a result, they’re the only small suites I’ve ever heard of with two full bathrooms!) That ship still carries 308 passengers, more than twice as many as the “real” WindStar ships; it has more public spaces, but it’s not as classic.

How classic? WindStar ships are “wind cruisers.” They have regular engines–but they also have masts. When the wind reaches 10 knots, the captain pushes a button and little motors unfurl glorious sails from the (turning) masts. The ships run faster under sail than under engines, and when conditions are right the only running engine is the one required for electricity and the like, resulting in glorious quiet. There’s no sailing crew, but these are sailing ships.

We haven’t been on the Wind Surf, so can’t comment. The others are first-rate at what they do. The cabins are extremely well designed and comfortable, but there are no verandahs (and you get big portholes, not windows). There aren’t a lot of public spaces, there’s no neon or glitz, and they don’t schedule boatloads of Events to keep you busy.

What they do is sail into interesting ports with a small group of interesting people, serve restaurant-quality food in a restaurant-like setting (open seating, and although there’s a limited menu all food is cooked to order), offer some low-key local entertainment when appropriate in the single lounge/meeting space/bar, and maintain a great casual gathering spot on the open top deck, with a modest pool, a pool bar, and interesting snacks or special cooking demonstrations some afternoons. There’s actually a second restaurant where breakfast and (usually) lunch is served, a combination of buffet and menu items. WindStar gets local fish and produce whenever that’s possible, and if you go out fishing they’re only too happy to cook the results.

Oh, your room has a TV and either DVD player or VCR; the reception desk checks out movies. There’s a tiny so-called casino (two tables and four or five slot machines). There’s music and dancing at times. And, whenever the ship’s anchored in calm waters, there’s a water-sports platform opening directly from the stern, with all water sports except scuba free (snorkeling–they have equipment; ocean kayaks; windsurf boards; and more).

Not a cruise line for those who need to be Entertained. Not a cruise line for those who love formal dress: The dress code at dinner is always “resort casual,” which means nice shirts or equivalent but certainly not ties or formalwear. Also not for those who get seasick easily: small ships running under sail are going to sway a lot more than big cruiseliners with stabilizers. (On one cruise, there were evenings when we joked that anyone walking upright through the dining room had had way too much to drink!

Great destinations; well-planned shore excursions; interesting people; and you set your own pace. We love it. Others might not. It’s not cheap, and, yes, it is technically part of Holland America, which in turn means it’s owned by Carnival. Although we weren’t crazy about Holland America and are unlikely to cruise on Carnival, WindStar suits us fine.

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