On March 3, 2019 I fly to Hong Kong to meet up with the “new” Windstar Cruises and the Star Legend (previously the Seabourn Legend) for a 14 night cruise and land tour which ends in Beijing, China. This is going to be a very interesting experience for me for at least two reasons:
Other than spending time in Taipei, Taiwan and a day in Okinawa, Japan I haven’t been anywhere in the area; and,
I am anxious to see what John Delaney, President of Windstar Cruises (formerly Seabourn’s Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing), and the team of former Seabourn executives that work with him, have done to transform the Windstar product.
Windstar Cruises’ Star Legend
I do have to say that, as I write this, I have one of my most critical (but lovable) clients onboard the Star Legend in an Owner’s Suite for the two week cruise before I embark (I am joining them for the final eleven days of their cruise) and, with them having just sailed on the Seabourn Encore in a Penthouse last month, I was initially a bit nervous opening his emails. Silly me!
He emails, however, pretty much say it all…and it is all good! He commented how nice and accommodating the staff has been, treating he and his wife like VIPs, but admitting, “I just thought it was the dread of my reputation!” and a later one, “Sorry Eric I tried to be obnoxious but everyone is tripping over themselves being helpful.” and then my favorite, “I’m becoming frustrated that I’m unable to find fault with anything on this cruise“
Having previously sailed on the Wind Surf and the Star Pride and Star Breeze prior to John Delaney taking over the helm, I was confident things onboard a Windstar ship would be friendly, but at a premium level. It appears that Windstar may just be inching into the luxury (or at least near-luxury) category. But let me not start heaping praises just yet. I have yet to have boarded the ship!
So what is this journey about and what is my game plan…which sounds so strange having returned from my Patagonia and Antarctica cruise on the Seabourn Quest less than a month ago?!
I have decided that I am going to “Follow the Food!”. I know. I know. A shocking concept for me.
Here is my itinerary once I board the Star Legend:
Mar 5 Tue – Hong Kong, China Embark: 12:00 PM Overnight
Mar 6 Wed – Hong Kong, China Depart: 4:00 PM
Mar 7 Thu – At Sea
Mar 8 Fri – Taipei (Keelung), China (Taiwan) 7:00 AM 6:00 PM
Mar 9 Sat – Ishigaki Island, Japan 9:00 AM 4:00 PM
Mar 10 Sun – At Sea
Mar 11 Mon – Shanghai, China 9:00 AM Overnight
Mar 12 Tue – Shanghai, China Depart 6:00 PM
Mar 13 Wed – At Sea
Mar 14 Thu – Qingdao, China 8:00 AM 5:00 PM
Mar 15 Fri – At Sea
Mar 16 Sat – Beijing (Tianjin), China 7:00 AM
Mar 16 Sat – Tianjin Port To Beijing (Overnight China World Hotel)
Mar 17 Sun – Beijing To Xian (Overnight Gran Melia Xian Hotel)
Mar 18 Mon – Xian To Beijing (Overnight China World Hotel)
Mar 19 Tue – Beijing To Beijing Airport
But before I do I will spend one night in Hong Kong at the Mira Moon Hotel; a boutique hotel located in the busy Causeway Bay area. Besides its beautiful decor I booked it because it is near where my first culinary adventure will be the next morning.
Before heading over to the Star Legend I will be embarking on a Private Street Food to Michelin Star Culinary Tour of Hong Kong. Just me, my guide and doing what I do best, “Culinary and Culture”. With that background, I am sure I will figure out what do to since the Star Legend will be overnighting in Hong Kong.
By the way, I am staying in a standard Oceanview Suite. I am not, however, going to detail about the suite or the ship here; especially since Windstar is embarking on a $250,000,000 Star Plus Initiative expanding and renovating the Star Pride, Star Breeze and Star Legend starting in October 2019 and completing the transformation of these three ships by November 2020.
Windstar Cruises’ Star Legend Oceanview Suite
After a restful day at sea, I arrive in Taiwan, where I spent three days with my daughter a few years ago. If you are interested you can read my five articles starting with this one:
Although I really enjoyed my time in Taipei, and encourage everyone to explore this exciting city, I am heading north to the more remote wilderness and rural area which is supposed to be spectacularly beautiful. While I still have Antarctica and Tahoe visions dancing in my head, it is an area I have wanted to visit and it gives me an opportunity to experience, for the first time, a Windstar tour.
Next up is Ishigaki Island, Japan another area of natural beauty. To be honest, I haven’t figured out exactly what I am going to do as its claim to fame is its beautiful beaches and Japan’s largest coral reef. But with the temperatures in the 50’s (10 c) I’m thinking that may not be my best option. It may be a day for me to wander…or pick up a taxi.
After another sea day I arrive in Shanghai, China for two full days. I know all the buzz is about how many new towering architectural marvels are being built there, but honestly, I am not a “building kinda guy”. I want to embrace culture and cuisine. So I have been trying to find unique experiences and, while they do exist, dealing with the local tour operators has been quite a challenge. But I have found two opportunities that should give me a nice exposure while also giving me some free time to explore independently. First up is a half day Private Tasting Tour of Shanghai and a wander through its Old Town. The following day will be a full day Private Tour of Suzhou; an area that apparently still has the classic Chinese gardens, ancient narrow streets and a local’s lunch.
After a third day at sea (I like the relaxed pace of this cruise) I arrive at Qingdao, China the beer capital of China. Now that makes me happy! Well you know I am going to include the Tsingtao Brewery and local food (including the day portion of the TaiDong Night Market), but I will also delve into the Chinese wine culture. Believe it or not, China is one of the world’s largest consumers of fine wines (including French and American) and is working hard to develop it’s own vineyards and wineries.
One more day at sea (ahhhh) and I disembark Windstar’s Star Legend in Tianjin, China and continue with Windstar’s land tour of Beijing visiting the actual, then needed, Great Wall, Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square as well other highlights over two days. One thing I am looking forward to is lunch on Day 2 at The Brickyard at Mutianyu (a sustainable tourism project whose dining experience includes both typical Chinese comfort foods and Western options, both created from 80% locally sourced seasonal products). After lunch I fly to Xi’an to see the Terra Cotta Warriors before heading back to Beijing and then flying home.
I am looking forward to seeing how Windstar delivers on the land tour; a known weak spot for many cruise lines. One thing I can say upfront is that the land tour is extremely well priced and the hotel accommodations are high quality. A good start!
If you have any questions while I am on this journey, or wish to discuss booking your own Windstar Cruise, Give me a call, drop me an email or send me a Facebook message!