Review of Windstar
One of the industry's top-luxury ship travel brands, Windstar Cruises is a passenger shipping company operating a fleet of smaller-sized vessels (sailing ships and mega-yachts). Largest yachts have max passenger capacity 310 (per vessel). The company offers exotic itineraries visiting around 150 ports worldwide, including in Caribbean, Central America, Asia, South Pacific (Australia New Zealand), Europe (Mediterranean, Baltic).
In May 2014, Windstar added to its fleet of sailing yachts the mega-yacht Star Pride, which was followed by the sisterships Star Breeze and Star Legend (May 2015). The additional capacity resulted in new itineraries (including cruises through Panama Canal, Costa Rica, Iceland) and allowed Windstar to sail in Tahiti year-round. In 2014, Conde Nast awarded the brand "World's Best Small Ship Cruise Line" (Readers Choice Awards).
The cruise line was established by Karl Gosta Andren in 1984 and initially named "Windstar Sail Cruises". Its first boat (Wind Star) was launched in 1986, followed by Wind Song (1987, sunk in 2003) and Wind Spirit (1988). Two additional sail ships were ordered from "Ateliers et Chantiers du Havre" (shipyard in Le havre France, 1905-1999) - Wind Saga and Wind Surf. The newbuilds were planned to be 5-masted (computer-controlled) schooners, twice bigger (by passenger capacity) and 1/3 longer (660 ft - compared to the older 440-ft fleetmates). Company's President is John Delaney.
In 1987, HAL-Holland America Line purchased 50% of Windstar Sail Cruises, and in 1988 - the rest of the company. In 1989, HAL became a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation. The shipbuilding option for Wind Saga and Wind Surf was passed up. The French Government assisted in building these vessels for Club Med. They were launched as "Club Med I" and "Club Med II". Carnival Corp (via HAL) retained rights of the first refusal for purchase. In 1998, Windstar acquired only Club Med 1 (renamed to Wind Surf). Club Med 2 was purchased by the private French company Club Med SA (subsidiary of Fosun International Ltd / 1992-founded, Shanghai-headquartered Chinese investment company).
In March 2007, Windstar was sold to Ambassadors International for USD 100 million. On April 1, 2011, Ambassadors filed for bankruptcy. Windstar was planned to be sold to Whippoorwill Associates Inc (White Plains NY). However, through a 2-day bid in Bankruptcy court in Delaware, the company was acquired by Anschutz Corporation for USD 39 million. Currently, Windstar Cruises is a subsidiary of Xanterra Parks and Resorts (USA's largest national and state park concession management company).
On February 19, 2013, was announced that Windstar had completed the purchase of Seabourn's 3 mega-yachts (Star Breeze, Star Pride, Star Legend). Star Pride entered service on May 5, 2014, with inaugural voyage Barcelona to Rome. Windstar increased its fleet in May 2015 (from 4 to 6 yachts) with Star Legend and Star Breeze. Both yachts underwent 3-week USD 17 million drydock refurbs in Genoa Italy, before the christening ceremony in May. The 212-passenger Legend and Breeze received complete upgrades of all cabins, dining venues, public areas.
For 2018-Q1, the company reported 40% on bookings, with wave pricing up 30% (over 2017). In 2018 were introduced nearly 150 new cruise ports, as well as new itineraries and destinations. Most boats started to offer more over-night stays, which drove bookings from repeat customers. Tours and shipboard enrichment programs for the new regions, as well as onboard dining (local cuisine) were enhanced. 2018's B2B bookings (on back-to-back cruises) featured a new 14-day dining menu - fully integrated the "James Beard Foundation" signature menu items.
In July 2018, Windstar announced its partnership with Luggage Forward (US-based luggage shipping company). The new service allows passengers to ship their luggage doorstep-to-stateroom (and back home again), thus truly traveling light. Luggage Forward provides premier door-to-door shipping services to 200 countries worldwide (including over 150 cruise ports). Company's own team of customs specialists handles the country-specific paperwork to ensure on-time deliveries. Travelers can track the shipment in real-time. Luggage Forward service can be booked online or via phone. Rates are fixed, without additional charges or fees applied. Luggage's arrival on time and safety is guaranteed. Luggage Forward offers money-back plus USD 500 on-time guarantee.
In early-February 2019, the company announced "Club 180" program designed to reward top-performing travel agencies. The amenities that they can offer to potential customers include free Wi-Fi, laundry, OBC, priority services, benefits for travel agents, plus Windstar's support on marketing-sales. The 3-level "Club 180" program was initially based on sales results in 2018, with membership renewed annually (adding new members in December).
As of 2020, Windstar cruise itineraries include 330 ports and destinations globally, of which 50 were newly added for season 2020-2021. Among the most popular destinations are Australia New Zealand (and South Pacific Islands), Alaska, Western Caribbean, Europe.
(NEW) All-Inclusive Beverage Package
In May 2019, Windstar Cruises introduced the "All-In Package" - company's first all-inclusive package that includes unlimited Wi-Fi and laundry service, hotel and drinks gratuities, plus the "Captain's Exclusive Beverage Package" (premium wines by the glass, beers, mini-bar beverages, cocktails). All-In Package's cost is USD 89 per person, per day. The all-inclusive package can be purchased online (pre-cruise) or on the ship (up through day 2 of the voyage).
" Captain's Exclusive Beverage Package" includes all beers (domestic and imported), wines/sparkling wines by the glass (33 selections), liqueurs, cordials, aperitifs, cocktails, all cabin mini-bar items. For the cocktails, passengers may choose from 40+ liquor brands (daily rotating, subject to availability).
WINDSTAR's Star Ships refurbishments 2020 drydock reconstructions
On November 15, 2018, Windstar Cruises announced company's "Star Plus Initiative" - drydock refit and refurbishment program budgeted USD 250 million. The project was partially financed through Export Credit facility guaranteed by SACE Italy (financial and insurance products and services). The "Star Plus" drydocking project includes enlarging (stretching) and engine upgrades for fleet's three Star-Class vessels (in brackets - completion dates) - Star Breeze (February 20, 2020), Star Legend (July 2, 2020) and Star Pride (November 20, 2020).
Windstar's "Star Plus" project increased the fleet's capacity by 24%. When completed, the project will result in bigger capacity (254 to 320 passengers, 140 to 190 crew), increased GT tonnage/volume (9975 to 12995 tons), increased length (134 to 159 m), more staterooms (106 to 156), adding new venues and public spaces, machinery upgrades (new Wartsila marine diesel engines). The project was scheduled for the period October 2019 through November 2020, at Fincantieri's shipyards in Palermo (Sicily Island, Italy) and Trieste (Italy).
The ships' drydock lengthening includes cutting each vessel in two and installing a new (prefabricated) midship section with length 25 m (83 ft). Vessel's LOA length will be increased from 134 m (439 ft) to 159 m (522). The midship section has an additional elevator. These sections were built (pre-fabricated and assembled) in Trieste, then barged to Palermo to be inserted into the vessels.
Following the drydocks, each ship will have 2 new dining venues (Cuadro 44 by Anthony Sasso, Star Grill by Steven Raichlen), new / expanded retail shopping space (Signature Shop), enlarged Gym (Fitness Center with Motion Studio for classes), expanded wellness complex (WindSpa by Steiner), new bar lounge (deck 5), larger sundeck and swimming pool (deck 7), new tender loading area (deck 3 midship), two new tender boats (90-seat each), new whirlpool and enlarged swimming pool (on deck 8), expanded and upgraded staff-crew areas and crew cabins. The two new dining venues are a specialty restaurant (Cuadro 44, aft-portside on deck 6, the former Casino area) and a casual outdoor BBQ restaurant (Star Grill, adjacent to Star Bar on deck 8).
Cruise ship's powerplant will be upgraded from the current four Bergen diesel engines (model B33:45, combined power output 7,3 MW) to 4 Wartsila engines (model Wartsila 46F, combined output 5 MW) running on the cleaner ULSD (ultra-low sulfur diesel) fuel.
Each liner will receive 50 new cabins (to a total of 156), which (based on the total investment) means shipbuilding cost per berth USD 267,000. Among the new cabins are two Midship Owner Suites and two enlarged Forward Grand Owner Suites - all located on Deck 6. All existing staterooms will be completely refurbished, including bathrooms, balconies, sliding doors, furniture, equipment. The new public spaces and staterooms were designed by the NYC-based "The Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry".
In 2016, Windstar Cruises scheduled Star Pride yacht's drydock refurbishment at the cost of USD 4,5 million. In the period 2014-2016, the company invested over USD 21,5 million in drydock refits and refurbishments of the newest yachts Pride, Breeze, and Legend.
All Windstar ships serve itineraries that mix exotic and marquee ports, top-notch cuisine and a variety of dining venues, superb service, and intimate small ship cruising. All ships of the line feature the luxury-minded 1.5-to-1 guest-to-crew ratio. Windstar cabins include flatscreen televisions, Bose SoundDock, L'Occitane amenities, fresh fruit, flowers, and indulgent bedding.
Each of the ships has a sports marina. In sports in which Windstar vessels are anchored, travelers can engage in water sports like swimming, kayaking, snorkeling, wind sailing, water skiing, and paddle-boating.
One of the greatest changes for Windstar Cruises, across its fleet, is the dining upgrade. Cuisine highlights the local fare of regions visited, including the Caribbean, Costa Rica, Tahiti, Asia, and the Mediterranean. The food is always the highest quality, with extra attention paid to passengers with special dietary needs. Ships' main restaurant, open-seating AmphorA, serves Continental-focused cuisine. Candles Grill provides a steakhouse-style menu. Stella Bistro, which is available only onboard Wind Surf, is a French-inspired, reservation-only venue. For breakfast and lunch, the intimate Veranda buffet restaurant combines food stations with made-to-order grilled items. It features both indoor and outdoor seating.
The most significant difference between Windstar's trio of sailing ships and the series of yachts is their stateroom size. On Windstar's Wind Spirit, Wind Surf and Wind Star, standard cabins measure just 188 sq.feet and have no verandas. Views are provided from porthole-style windows. Wind Surf offers 360-sq. foot suites which essentially are two standard cabins put together.
Star Pride and her siblings feature more spacious cabins, each measuring 277 sq.feet, with nice marble bathrooms including bathtubs. 36 of the staterooms have French balconies (large picture windows that open).
Windstar's "small ship" vacations create an intimate cruising experience, but the company's a la carte pricing strategy (unlike most luxury cruise lines) means passengers have to pay extra for airfare, shore excursions, beverages, fitness classes. The designated dress code is "Casual elegance", and that idea overtakes the onboard vibe. Cruisers leave formalwear at home in favor of day and night country club casual sportswear. Few are the organized activities and none of the typical Vegas-style revues.
Windstar passengers tend to be well-educated, well-traveled and active adults of all ages, mainly from UK, USA Canada, Australia New Zealand. They enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of a smaller cruise ship, the unique itineraries provided by Windstar, and the chance to travel under sail.
For season 2018, James Beard Foundation (NYC-based US national non-profit culinary arts organization) launched "Culinary Collection" series on all eight Windstar cruise itineraries. Fleetwide, Windstar launched the James Beard culinary program with exclusive recipes and menus created by guest chefs (including Hugh Acheson, Renee Erickson, Andy Ricker, Mario Pagan, Keith Rhodes). As special guests, they were booked on 2018 themed voyages, also presenting (on a rotating basis) their original food recipes on the ships' menus throughout 2018. Along with guest chefs, Windstar's 2018 line-up also featured renowned sommeliers and mixologists on board.
- The first "James Beard cruise" was themed "Icons of Southeast Asia" (January 20, 2018/14-day Hong Kong to Bangkok on Star Legend). Chef Andy Ricker presented Thai cuisine specialties. Each night, he served a signature dish in the ship's AmphorA dining room restaurant. He also hosted a private cooking demonstration.
- The James Beard cruise ship menus are ticket price inclusive (at no additional charge). Each dinner menu onboard has signature recipes and beverages (including starter, entree, dessert) prepared by James Beard Foundation-recognized ship chef.
- James Beard Chef dishes are notated on the menu and are free of charge (no additional fee is charged for their ordering).
- On February 21, 2018, was officially announced that the cruise company's exclusive partnership with James Beard Foundation expands through 2021.
Onboard cruise booking
In 2018, Windstar Cruises upgraded the company's shipboard cruise booking program. The new program now provides assistance with a dedicated Onboard Cruise Consultant. It was designed to help cruise passengers planning their future cruises on Windstar ships.
- The program was inaugurated onboard Star Legend during the 14-day repositioning cruise from Laem Chabang (Thailand) to Hong Kong (China). In 2018, Onboard Cruise Consultants also received the fleet-mates Star Breeze, Star Pride, and Wind Surf.
- Onboard booking gives Windstar passengers various discounts, extra value and bonus perks, including reduced deposits, savings, Yacht Club Membership (loyalty program) benefits, special offers, and promotions.
- When the initial booking is made by a travel agent, he/she remains "Agent of Record" for the new onboard booking, which means the agent receives full credit (full commission) for the onboard booking. Windstar then emails to the travel agency to confirm the booking with the invoice and itinerary information.
Itinerary of Windstar
In 2020, Windstar debuts a new "world cruise" (named "Star Collector: Grand Caribbean Adventure"). The 56-day itinerary (on Wind Surf) includes the Caribbean and Panama Canal and has 38 call ports in 27 different countries.
Windstar Asia and Europe cruises 2020
The cruise line's itinerary program expansion brings a ship to Asia - Star Legend - deployed there for the winter season. The luxury yacht sails from Thailand, Malaysia Singapore, China, all the way up to South Korea and Japan. The new itineraries are the result of passenger feedback. Asia was among the most requested destinations in surveys of Windstar's loyalty program members.
Star Legend makes use of its small size to get into smaller waterways and ports and employ its water sports platform for swimming, snorkeling, standup paddleboarding, and other activities. Destination-focused options include food market tours (with the ship's chefs), local onboard entertainment and lecturers, signature private beach days in exotic places.
Itineraries are mostly 14 days in length, with embarkation and debarkation in big port cities - like Singapore, Hong Kong, Yokohama (Tokyo). Travelers can also book B2Bs / back-to-back cruises without repeating ports. Sea days are limited but spaced out to give passengers a break from land tours and port visits. Windstar also offers pre- and post-cruise packages to places like Cambodia's Angkor Wat and Burma's Bagan and Yangon.
New Asia itineraries include an exploration of greater China; Asian “pop culture” trip from Tokyo to Beijing and South Korea; Thailand & Malaysia cruise big on cities and beaches; and a new itinerary to discover Indonesia, including magical Bali. Windstar Cruises also offers different pre- and post-cruise packages in Asia, such as a foray to Angkor Wat out of Bangkok and a visit to the Great Wall in Beijing.
Windstar Cruises' in-depth exploration of Europe in 2020 boasts a variety of itineraries through the Baltic, North, Norwegian, Mediterranean, and Tyrrhenian seas visiting small ports of call and hidden harbours, not accessible by bigger cruise ships. With new and returning cruise ports in Greece, Turkey (overnights in Istanbul), Egypt, and Israel, along with new ports in Iceland, Cyprus, and France, 2020 promises to be an opportunity to discover Europe like never before.
The 312-passenger Star Legend debuts in Europe in July 2020 (through November) following an extensive drydock renovation by Windstar's USD 250 million "Star Plus Initiative" (drydock 3 vessel reconstruction project), featuring an additional 50 new suites, 2 restaurants, elevated swimming pool, enhanced wellness complex (spa and fitness), and several other upgrades.
Of note in 2020 is the Sail Amsterdam Celebration, along with two epic European cruises. The 60+ day itineraries are port-intensive with few days at sea. Comprehensive Europe Flagship Sailing on Wind Surf includes the Sail Amsterdam experience beginning in Sweden and ending in Italy, which visits a total of 48 ports in 20 countries over 62 days in Northern Europe, the western and central Mediterranean.
The Grand European Tour sails from Iceland to Greece over 66 days on the newly reimagined Star Legend, calling at 53 ports in Iceland, Scotland, Norway, Northern Ireland, Faroe Islands, Wales, England, France, Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Italy, Malta, Turkey, and Greece. Prices for both voyages start at US$21,699 per person and offer the convenience of unpacking once with the perk of free-of-charge laundry service.
Other itinerary highlights for Windstar Cruises' Europe 2020 Season include:
- Rome & Grand Prix of Monaco is back on Wind Surf. The itinerary explores unique small ports including Portofino, Bastia, Saint Raphael. For the first time next year, the themed cruise will be a part of a longer Star Collector sailing, so passengers can pair their experience with another voyage.
- Quintessential Croatia, October 16, is a James Beard Foundation Culinary Cruise Collection trip, with 8 days aboard Wind Surf round-trip from Venice.
- Autumn on the Atlantic Coast boasts the cultural ports of Bilbao, Bordeaux, and Honfleur. The cruise will be a James Beard Foundation Culinary Cruise Collection offering, September 19.
- Autumn Revelries on the French Riviera features the line’s maiden call to Toulon.
- Greece, Israel & Egypt: Footsteps of Faith in the Holy Lands include Windstar’s return to Cyprus; Israel's Haifa and Ashdod; Egypt's Alexandria and Port Said, after a several-year absence. Late nights and overnights mean that passengers can arrange overland tours to Jerusalem, Petra, Cairo, and the Egyptian Pyramids.
- Greece via the Corinth Canal & Turkey: The Marvels of Ancient Rivals witnesses the first-ever Windstar call to Lemnos, the return of Windstar to Istanbul in Turkey after a several-year absence (plus an overnight), and the “old Venetian harbour” of Chania on Crete. The transit of the Corinth Canal is also notable.
- Ancient Epicenters in Autumn via the Corinth Canal sails from Athens to Rome with visits to Delphi (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Valletta, and transit of the Corinth Canal.
- Eire with Fire & Ice: Ireland and Iceland’s Overlooked Treasures is scheduled to access natural destinations that are inaccessible to larger ships and make the first-ever call to Djupivogur, Iceland (the gateway to Jokulsarion Glacier Lagoon, one of the most popular attractions in Iceland).
- Fado Folksongs, Tapas & Crystal: Portugal, Spain, Britain & Ireland features unique stops in the Isles of Scilly, popular with the most unspoiled beaches in Cornwall, as well as Fishguard and Waterford.
Booking is now open for Europe 2020 on over 80 itineraries on 116 sailing dates throughout the season, with fares starting at US$2,399 per person, double occupancy.
The majority of the departures in Europe are onboard Star Legend, Wind Surf, and Wind Star, with a limited number of voyages available as early as February 20 and as late as November 20, 2020, aboard Star-Plus renovated Star Breeze and Star Pride.
Windstar Australia New Zealand cruises 2020-2021
Windstar's 2020-2021 Australia New Zealand season is based on Star Breeze, with a series of "Signature Expeditions”. All voyages offer "intimate, expedition-style adventures and active enrichment, with kayaks and Zodiacs, launched right from the ship in remote bays and hidden harbours”.
Star Breeze is homeported in Cairns and Melbourne. Iconic destinations include Great Barrier Reef, NZ's North and South Islands and all major port cities, with overnights in Christchurch and Wellington, as well as scenic Fiordland Park cruising. Star Breeze also offers 2 itineraries visiting both Australia and New Zealand between Sydney NSW and Auckland NZ.
Windstar’s Australia and New Zealand 2020-2021 itineraries offer 9 departures and run between November 2020-February 2021. Prices started from USD 4600 per person (double occupancy cabin rates).
Additionally, the sailing ship Wind Spirit is also based in the South Pacific Ocean (Tahiti) and in 2020 also visits Australia on two 7-day Coral Sea crossings (New Caledonia to Australia, and Australia to Indonesia), featuring calls to Cairns, Port Douglas, Yirrkala, Darwin, Thursday Island. Prices started at USD 1300 per person.
The 6 Windstar Australian itineraries include:
- 13-day Hidden Indonesia & Great Barrier Reef Exploration from Benoa, (Bali), Indonesia to Cairns, Australia
- 11-day Deep Dive Down Under: The Great Barrier Reef & Beyond from Cairns to Melbourne (or reverse)
- 13-day Penguin Parades to Pinot Noir: the Wild Side of Australia & Tasmania from Melbourne to Sydney
- 15-day Walkabout With Tassies, Aussies & Kiwis from Sydney to Auckland
- 15-day Comprehensive New Zealand round trip from Auckland
- 14-day Kiwis, Koalas & Kangaroos from Auckland to Sydney.
Windstar Cruises announced new destinations and itineraries in the South Pacific for 2020-2021 onboard the 148-guest MSY Wind Spirit. The sailing ship, designed for warm trade winds, is considered the belle of French Polynesia sailing year-round here since 2015. In 2020, the 4-masted Wind Spirit is due to reach farther shores offering a wealth of sail dates on fourteen new itineraries with maiden port calls in the Cook Islands, Fiji, Tonga, New Caledonia, and Australia, sailing between February-June 2020. Wind Spirit will sail back to the Islands of Tahiti and Tuamotus in July 2020, with departures available to reserve through December 2021. The new South Pacific collection of Wind Spirit features 14 unique itineraries and 23 departure dates with access to Niue, one of the world's smallest countries. A maiden port call to the rarely visited Vava’u port in Tonga is also available. Due to her smaller size, the vessel also sails into Yasawa-I-Rara Island, popular for its white sandy beaches.
Windstar Cruises 2021 Alaska Itineraries
Windstar's "Scenic Alaska" program features coastal cruising along Inside Passage, Misty Fjords (Alaska) and Tracy Arm or Endicott Arm fjords, port calls in Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, Skagway (the maiden port for Windstar). The company also offers coastal journeys with land tours to Fairbanks and Denali NP.
Windstar’s 11-day (and longer) Alaskan itineraries allow in-depth exploration and scenic cruising. The new 7-day voyage is due to customer demand for shorter voyages without sea days. The 2021's "Signature Expeditions" program features Zodiac boat tours and haymaking in Icy Bay (fjord close to Prince William Sound). In Barry Arm, 3 glaciers flow from the Chugach Mountains into the fjord.
Windstar’s 2021 Alaskan shore excursions include the White Pass and Yukon narrow-gauge train - out of Skagway AK through mountains, waterfalls, historic sites, glaciers, or a Glacier Point wilderness safari with hiking through dense rainforest, paddling a canoe on a mountain lake or catamaran cruising along fjords.
All of Windstar's Alaska 2021 cruises are part of the schedule of the drydock reconstructed (stretched) and completely refurbished 312-passenger Star Breeze. Prices for 2021 Alaskan voyages and cruise tours start at USD 3000 per person.
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