Review of Windstar
One of the industry's top luxury brands, Windstar Cruises is a passenger shipping company operating a fleet of smaller-sized ships (mega-yachts). Largest yachts have capacity up to 310 passengers. The company offers exotic itineraries visiting around 150 ports worldwide, including in Caribbean, Central America, Asia, South Pacific (Australia New Zealand), Europe.
In May 2014, Windstar Cruises added to its fleet of sailing yachts the Star Pride power yacht, which was followed by 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 ships were ordered from "Ateliers et Chantiers du Havre" (shipyard in 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, Holland America Line (HAL) purchased 50% of Windstar Sail Cruises, and the rest of the company in 1988. 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 liners 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 I (renamed to Wind Surf). Club Med 2 was purchased by the private French company Club Med SA (a subsidiary of Fosun Group).
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 Star Breeze, Star Pride, and 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 drydocks in Genoa, before the christening ceremony in May. The 212-passenger Legend and Breeze received complete upgrades of all cabins, dining venues, and 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 (for 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 a 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).
Star-Class ship refurbishments 2019-2020
On November 15, 2018, Windstar announced the "Star Plus Initiative" - drydock refurbishment program budgeted USD 250 million. The project includes enlarging (stretching) and engine changes for fleet's three Star-Class ships - Star Breeze, Star Legend, Star Pride. The initiative will result in bigger passenger capacity, adding new staterooms, venues, and public spaces, also new, more efficient engines. Ship's capacity will be increased by 68% (from 212 to 312 passengers). The project is scheduled for the period October 2019 through November 2020, at Fincantieri's shipyards in Palermo (Sicily Island, Italy) and Trieste.
When completed, the "Star Plus" project will increase the Windstar fleet's capacity by 24%. Star Plus Initiative is partially financed through Export Credit facility guaranteed by SACE Italy (financial and insurance products and services).
- The drydock lengthening includes cutting each vessel in two and installing a new (prefabricated) midship section with length 25,6 m (84 ft). Vessel's LOA length will be increased from 135 m (443 ft) to 161 m (528).
- Following drydock, each ship will have two new dining venues, new shop, new retail space; enlarged fitness, new Spa, larger swimming pool (infinity pool), new tender loading area (midship), two new tender boats (90-seat each), expanded and upgraded staff-crew areas and cabins. The two new dining venues are an alternative/specialty restaurant and a casual BBQ space (adjacent to Star Bar). The midship section has an additional elevator.
- Ship's current diesel engines (7 per ship) will be replaced with 4 new engines running on cleaner (ultra-low sulfur) diesel fuel, thus reducing CO emissions.
- Each ship 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 50 new cabins is the 3-Bedroom Owner Suites (sized 128 m2 / 1375 ft2, max capacity 7 pax, midship-located 3 adjoining cabins). All existing staterooms will be completely refurbished, including bathrooms, balconies, sliding doors. The new public spaces and cabins 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, 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 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 2019
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.
The return to Asia for the cruise line in 2019 brings 4 new voyages, as well as the recurrence of 4 of the company’s most popular trips sailing in the region for 27 sailings for passengers to choose from. Windstar increased departures for popular Japan voyages timed with its popular cherry blossom season and fall foliage.
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. In addition, the cruise line offers over 200 shore excursions in Asia in 2019, including experiences like exploring Komodo National Park on foot, visiting a traditional Malay home, and participating in a night tour of Shanghai plus dinner on The Bund (the most famous street in Asia).
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