Despite new ownership, it's as good as the old -- and getting better. Part Two of our Wind Surf cruise report.
Taking Wind Surf on a Test Run We had a chance to sail on the newly refurbished Wind Surf in early June. We knew that Ambassadors International had just acquired the ship, so we were eager to see if there is any noticeable difference between the Windstar we sailed on in 1999 and the one we see today.
One thing that has not changed is the great crewing concept. Windstar ships have always been crewed by the same people who staff Holland America ships - Indonesians and Filipinos who come from special training facilities and shipping agents in their home countries. The new owners ensured that nothing has changed in the way the crew is hired or trained. In addition, nearly the entire ground operation for the line (reservations, etc.) was included in the acquisition, and there have been no noticeable changes there, either. If you went on Windstar last year, or if you go next year, you are not likely to notice a perceptible difference. Indeed, many crew members on these ships have already been there for years, and they plan on staying many more.
We loved the small passenger loads and the service convenience this provides. On an itinerary that offers a different port every day, you can't beat a fast and filling breakfast, all the port information you need, and getting off of the ship as quickly as possible.
Speaking of breakfast, even though it is a buffet, you still get exemplary table service. After serving ourselves we would order the delicious eggs Benedict and Windstar's signature peanut butter French toast, which was delivered to our table. We never had to wait more than a minute for someone to refill our coffee cup -- even my wife, who only takes half a cup at a time to keep it as hot as possible. Of course, they all knew that about her without being reminded.
The only thing about this trip that surprised us was the seeming lack of diversity in shore excursion options. Though the trips came at a fair price, some were canceled due to lack of interest. To get the most out of Windstar's great itineraries I suggest taking the cruise with friends -- at least one or two additional couples -- and making arrangements with local guides to pick you up at the ship for personalized tours.
click on pictures below for larger images:
|Crew Show Singer||Left half of Suite||Right half of Suite|
The Best Part of the Ship The thing we loved of the most about this Windstar ship was our stateroom. This suite is simply a pair of mirror-image standard cabins with the wall between them cut out. One side has a king-size bed, while the other has a large sofa bed and two chairs surrounding a table big enough to eat meals. But the best part was what was left intact: twice the closet space, two individual desks, and separate bathrooms. This is something I have never had on any ship, making this the first cruise where I never felt crowded in the stateroom no matter what we were doing.
All in all, it was a very relaxing vacation. I don't think I have ever met so many new people on any single cruise. Between the port-intensive itineraries and the great in-cabin entertainment centers, it was also one of the most entertaining cruises I ever taken. But this does not mean the ship itself is especially entertaining. The casino is very small, and the only entertainment at all is a dance combo playing nightly. There was the inevitable Crew Show (similar to the Holland America Crew Show). If you have ever seen one, you know exactly what I am talking about.
I do recommend a thorough reading of the destinations before you select an itinerary. While this is certainly not the cruise line's fault -- especially when the demand is there for small ships to take people to new and unusual destinations -- I found some of the ports rather boring. I suppose if I say that about St. Tropez and Monte Carlo, both considered to be among the world's most exclusive resort towns, then you can call me jaded. But I would pass up Palamos, Spain or Marseilles for Nice or Portofino any day. And in Corsica we were stuck eating glace during the afternoon when all the French shops shut down from noon to 3 p.m.
click on pictures below for larger images:
|Portoveneres, Italy||Provense - near St Tropez||Quiet Colors of Corsica|
The Worst Part of the Ship For most people this is not a factor, but it must be noted that for people with limited mobility, Windstar ships are probably not a good choice. The smaller ships have no elevator, and many doorways have tall thresholds that would be impossible for a wheelchair and difficult for person using a walker.
Summing Up the "New" Windstar It's easy to say this with sincerity. The best thing about the new Windstar, now under the management of Ambassadors International Cruise Group, is that it is still the same old Windstar for all intents and purposes. David Giersdorf is at the helm, and he has known everything there is to know about the company for years. The staff and crew philosophy are the same as they have always been, and the "Degrees of Difference" program has already been implemented on one ship and will be complete on the others within a year.
Go to part 1 of this article