What can I say about my eleven – turned into eighteen-day cruise on Windstar’s Star Breeze in French Polynesia? While I can say a lot (who’d a thunk that?!) the single word that keeps coming to me is: NICE. I don’t mean that as “It was nice”, but the staff and cruise are nice, the guests are nice, the local people are nice and, well, everything was nice. It just puts you at ease.
Windstar is truly developing into a brand that excels at what I will call, “Casual Luxury”. There is a focus on making you feel more a part of a cruise family than a guest; starting with a desire to refer to you by first name (unless, of course, you prefer more formality). For me, it harkens me back to when the Star Breeze was the Seabourn Spirit and the ship – then in not nearly as great condition as it is now (after being part of a $250 Million Dollar Star Plus Refit Program) – and the philosophy was, “It’s not about the hardware, but the software…The People”. Seabourn was definitely more formal, but the heart of the philosophy lives on!
Before I get into too much detail and make this article way too long, here are my articles about my journey:
While the three Windstar Star Class ships, Breeze, Legend and Pride, are so much improved with two new and amazing dining venues, great cuisine, renovated and new suites (all with new excellent bathrooms), elevated public spaces and more are of worthy note, The People is what made my Windstar Experience so excellent.
Literally everyone from the deck crew to the waitstaff to the bartenders to the reception and tour staff to the Windstar executives were nice. And I don’t mean they “delivered” nice (like the server that smiles at you to your face and speaks ill of you out in the kitchen), but were actually really nice human beings that genuinely and urgently want to please you at every moment.
This is especially exception since there are all the personal barriers that were in place due to Covid-19 protocols. So not only were they always masked, but they had to keep socially distant when possible and sitting at a bar was not possible. But even with that, the Windstar “casual, but respectful” approach made you feel more relaxed and open.
However, that casual and kind manner does not mean a luxury level of service is not being provided…because it is. I have always said, “It is the Little Things” and Windstar certainly delivered them repeatedly. For example:
One more thing to consider right up front: While there was one case of someone boarding with Covid-19 and a few staff becoming infected, Windstar’s protocols shut it down and within a very few days there was ZERO active covid cases onboard. Only two guest (me being one of them) were isolated and they were because of my friendship with that Windstar executive caused us to be in extended close contact. Despite this, the ship and all operations and events carried on without a hitch! Good news like that doesn’t seem to make the news, but Windstar’s efforts – especially on a small ship – are newsworthy!
First, Windstar has been known as sort of a “Bare Feet and Rum Punch” sort of cruise line for many years…and many owners. That has been changing, especially with the purchase of the all-suite former Seabourn Pride, Spirit, and Legend, coupled with the infusion of former Seabourn executives; starting with John Delaney at President and then, after his retirement, Chris Prelog as President and an ever-growing list of hotel, culinary and operational folks.
As the triplets are truly providing a luxury hardware experience, that will only be getting better with experience and when the Covid restrictions are lifted (I truly noticed elevated service levels from my June 2021 sailing on the Star Breeze), the “180 Degrees from Ordinary” may be great for Windstar’s sailing ships, but I think it does a disservice to the public perception of this excellent product.
Now the more difficult to discuss. With a large Filipino, Indonesian, and Indian service staff there are, from time to time, a bit of a communication issue. But those issues barriers lessen over time. Many of the crew are shy at first because they don’t want to disappoint you with any language (not service) misses. I found that the more I talked with the staff the more comfortable they became. Hence, the best way to overcome any issue is to talk with the staff. (You should also be aware that, as a developing luxury product, Windstar has invested in programs to assist the with English as a Second Language.)
As for the Hardware, the triplets have honestly never been better and truly provide luxury accommodations, though only the Owner’s Suites provide full balconies. Having, on this cruise, to stay in both an original and new French Balcony suite, each is excellent and have touches many other luxury lines don’t have. Excellent linens with embroidered trim, true beautiful duvets (rather than duvet covers over blankets), great showers (there are a limited number of suites with bathtubs), comfortable full-sized chairs and sofas, etc. Other than the new suites having more convenient outlets and charging ports by the bed, for the most part the choice really comes down to “Do you want your bed or living area by the balcony/window.” Yes! You have a choice.
There are physically three dining venues, plus in-suite dining, on the Star Breeze. My favorite dining venue is the semi-al fresco Star Grill, which is really a misnomer as it specializes in superb house-smoked and roasted cuisine. You can read more in my other articles about the plethora of fantastic offerings, but my favorite is the world-class pastrami. There is also a wide variety of salads that change daily. Some folks mentioned they would have liked a fish offering at this venue…and they have a good point.
I have to emphasize that the hamburgers with oven-baked steak fries are fantastic. The hot dogs are also excellent…save the buns are slightly too large and make sure ketchup isn’t put on yours! LOL
Due to Covid, Cuadro 44‘s inside dining venue was closed, so it was served in the Star Grill. The tapas-focused menu is outstanding and the diverse main courses have selections to please every palate. I highly recommend the octopus and the bacalao, but there are many great choices.
Candles is the al fresco and inside Steakhouse, which is converted from the casual Veranda for breakfast and lunch. It offers a surprisingly international menu of starters and mains including fish, poultry, vegetarian and steaks along with the expected steakhouse sides. Every meal was solid, even the vegetarian one I tried. The best was my Porterhouse steak which was, in true luxury steakhouse manner, presented then taken back to the galley for cooking. When it was returned to the table I was surprised that it had been expertly sliced and placed back together so the presentation was perfect.
The Veranda is the al fresco (and inside) place for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast has a wide variety of offerings and custom egg, omelet, pancake, etc. orders are commonplace and done well. My fried eggs were always perfect and not greasy. Poached eggs were fresh, perfect doneness and no hint of vinegar. I noticed a number of custom benedict orders were placed every morning. The oatmeal, granola and muesli were also top-notch. I did not try The Veranda for lunch simply because I was always so happy at the Star Grill.
I only dined in the main dining room, Amphora, once…I mean I was in French Polynesia. While it is a beautiful space and the service was very good, I and others felt the cuisine was just not up to the standards of Candles, Cuadro 44 or Star Grill. Of course, those three venues set a very high standard!
One other bit of Hardware worth noting: Every Windstar ship has a Marina. And, unlike “the other cruise line” that claims to be the only one with marinas, Windstar actually uses them as often as possible! From swimming to kayaking, paddle boarding to waterskiing, to just floating around, this is a very Windstar experience worth taking advantage of!
One area that needs improvement is the premium wine list; something I am confident will improve as more luxury guests and, thus, more demand, grow. More specifically, there is a good variety and some very strong wines, but in the true premium wine category there are only a few choices of any particular varietal and little to no reference to specific vintages. With the ships being laid up for almost two years (especially with their refit), limited capacity on the ships due to Covid, the passenger mix (hence demand) and the negative cashflows of literally every cruise line, makes this area fairly low on the list of things to be addressed, but it needs to be at some point. That said, if you have a more international rather than California-centric palate there are more choices. I was quite content over my eighteen days.
Another issue is Windstar’s failure to promote its inclusiveness sufficiently. On this cruise, there were three wonderful experiences (The Tahitian Celebration Dinner, the Private Motu in Bora Bora, and the Private Beach Party in Taha’a) that one is hard-pressed to have known they were included…until you are on the ship and you attended the port talks.
Along those lines, Windstar is moving forward with its All-In Package (Beverages, Wi-Fi, and Gratuities) as well as Laundry on longer and back-to-back cruises. I would like to see this become the standard pricing in time. But as I noted above, Windstar needs to attract more of the luxury client and dispel its reputation of being less than that before it could consider it. Windstar is, in fact, very loyal to its prior guests and is currently focused on getting them on the triplets rather than avoiding them due to price.
I can’t wait for Windstar to have everything moving at 100%. In fact, I really can’t! I am holding the 2022 Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural Cruise on the Star Legend on October 2, 2022. Announcing the New 2022 Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural Cruise – October 2022. Want to join me?