First impressions matter and both my first…and sustained…impressions of the Windstar Star Pride are excellent. The thing that has struck me the most is something I was told even before I was ever on the older version of this ship: “It isn’t about the hardware, but the software!”. The staff and crew on the Star Pride are, of course, the software and they are doing an incredible job.
What makes them so impressive is that you would never know this was the Windstar crew’s first full cruise in over two years. Things are flowing extremely well…and the staff and crew are doing it with about 240 guests onboard. Yes, it helps that Windstar has over 90% of its crew returning to it.
Paella at the Windstar Deck Barbecue
But it is why so many have returned that is the key: Windstar’s executives and management truly care about the staff and crew and they, in turn, care just that little bit extra…and always with that Windstar genuine smile. The “lead by example” philosophy goes far deeper than “Do it this way”, but rather by instilling a culture of care and concern. When you add to this Windstar philosophy the style of being just that bit understated; not focusing on “The Show”, but rather the experience, you cannot avoid feeling genuinely cared for and about.
I truly enjoy seeing the crew quietly singing along to the music and possibly doing a little subtle dance while waiting for something. You have to look for it, but it is there…and it makes me smile. A happy crew makes for happy guests!
In a way, there is a synergy between this and the impressive culinary offerings and presentations on Windstar. It is seriously promoting its relationship with the James Beard Foundation and is very proud of its elevated culinary experience. What I especially like is that Windstar doesn’t rely on gimmicks – so there is no promoting of champagne and caviar (caviar isn’t even an option) – but rather Windstar quietly provides excellent quality with a pleasing, but not over the top, presentation.
Complimenting that is an ever more diversified wine list along with a top (again formerly Seabourn) sommelier who has impressively worked with me for my great meal with Windstar’s President, Chris Prelog, as well as two wine tasting sessions (one open to the ship and one by invitation). There has been no promotion of something being an extraordinary wine or being a great – or not so great paring – until it was suggested by me (or another guest). No upsell. No pretense. Just a caring that you have the best wine for you. Note: There is a Premium Wine Tasting on the last day of the cruise – a sea day. Considering the wines we have already tasted this should be a great one.
Windstar makes a real effort to obtain local wines and culinary options as the Star Pride sails…not as corporate provisioning decided months earlier. Greek wines, Sicilian wines, a Shopping with the Chef in Trapani, Sicily bringing fresh swordfish, tuna, and dorado along with some amazing olives and Pecorino cheese onboard for the famous and very popular Windstar Deck Barbecue and some special offerings in the restaurants.
I hate to bring up the “S” word, but I have to. “S” has recently been pitching “S Moments” but unfortunately all the folks that really know what those special moments are have left the cruise line. So things that should simply be considered delivering what is expected from a luxury line are hyped as “moments”. But fortunately those that truly understand what “moments” are haven’t left the industry…and some of those Big Dogs have, as you know, settled into Windstar!
Here is a real Windstar Moment: I was discussing the pros and cons of allowing smoking far aft on Deck 8 outdoors and under the noisy engine exhaust stacks. With the ship underway there is literally no way for it to interfere with any guest who doesn’t want to smell cigarettes or cigars, so there is a real compromise but a tolerable one. During that conversation, just in passing, I mentioned I didn’t bring any cigars for this short cruise. The next day – without a hint – there was a knock on my door. I was presented with six Cuban cigars, a lighter, and a cutter.
A couple of days later I was just finishing my freshly caught Dorado at Candles, turned around and saw a blood red moonrise. I rushed back to my suite, grabbed one of those cigars, ordered a The Dalmore whisky (incredibly it is included in the All-In Package), and headed under the stacks. As I sat there quietly watching the moon rise and contemplating my fantasy move to Corfu, it was the perfect reason to smoke a cigar: You have to just take your time and be in the moment. Alas, it wound up being a two cigar moment…because it was just that wonderful.
That is a “Windstar Moment” that I always remember. Simple. Understated. Thoughtful.
I am also aware that some more improvements to the Windstar experience are coming. But I can’t tell you what they are because…believe it or not, Windstar won’t even tell me all of them! Seriously, I am very excited to see what the Windstar “Always Thinking Outside of the Box” approach is going to bring to the cruise experience.
But being perfectly honest there are a few things that I think are misses. While efforts are being made to reduce plastic waste, Windstar needs to go further. Plastic water bottles are still provided for tours and I have seen too many plastic straws in cocktails (though biodegradable ones are also used). I know there is a related effort to eliminate paper (no daily programs and limited use of cocktail napkins) but I hope that paper coffee cups are also eliminated soon.
On the culinary side of things, I have one – very personal – disappointment. I was so looking forward to the pastrami at the Star Grill. I was worried because it would be on the menu the same day I would be meeting my friend in Corfu, and, let’s face it, pastrami breath is not a good thing! But the pastrami fell short. Ugh. So, I only had a little bit. (I guess I’ll have to go on another Windstar cruise to get my pastrami fix!) However, the timing was perfect!
I also think Windstar needs to include more premium -and this hurts me to say – California red wines. There are enough U.S. clients who are now coming onboard Windstar – especially in the top suites – that know what they like and the like what they know. While I really enjoy the European diversity and quality of the Windstar premium wine list, it is not “my luxury” that is the only one that matters.
As the Star Pride is virtually, if not literally, the twin of the Star Breeze, which I have discussed in detail, I am not going to go over those details. However, it is worth noting that there are three configurations of the French Balcony and Oceanview Suites: Original (bed by the entry door); Star (bed by the balcony door or window); Original with a bathtub.
This is the first time I have been in a French Balcony suite with a bathtub rather than a walk-in shower. It is one of the original deep Seabourn bathtubs, but refurbished and, thankfully, with brand new plumbing and hardware. During the refit, Windstar kept bathtubs in about 20 suites for those guests that enjoy the luxury of relaxing in a bath during their cruise. Ironically, however, as times change, so do the number of guests that actually want a bathtub.
Hence, Windstar is hearing more disappointment from guests that have a bathtub in their suite than from those expressing happiness. (This is a trend across quite a few cruise line brands, so expect there will be fewer and fewer bathtubs in the future.) For me, I can understand the disappointment (albeit slight) as I much prefer the standard Windstar walk-in shower. With the bathtub, the space is more narrow; the combination plumbing gives you a good shower, but just not as good; you have to deal with the large step into the deep bathtub; and, it can be slippery even with the provided bath mat.
So with that, What the Heck Has Goldring Been Doing to “Travel” on This Cruise?
After my day in Corfu, it was on to Argostoli, Greece. I felt obligated to take at least one ship’s tour and, honestly, I should have not done it. The other guests loved it and had big smiles. My bad. It was long ride (disclosed in the tour description) to an interesting Drogarati Cave – filled with stalagmites and stalactites – and then to Melissani Lake (a/k/a a sinkhole) – followed by 1.25 hours in a small town for “free time”. At least I discovered Anchovy Bruschetta (anchovies, avocado and mustard); something I will make at home!
The highlight was a photo stop with a view of an absolutely beautiful beach. When I saw orderly rows of umbrellas I thought, “Why the heck didn’t we spend our ‘free time’ there?” Oh well.
Messina, Sicily is where most of the guests headed off to Taormina, which is a pretty ancient town that, for me, is now overrun with tourists. So I figured since I had been there and usually find something of interest just wandering so I would walk around Messina. Covid hit this already struggling city hard. Even though I could find moments of history and beauty, the city was eerily quiet and most businesses were shuttered.
Next up was Trapani, Sicily. Once again, if you look you can find some real beauty, but you have to look!
It was time for Shopping with the Chef! Windstar’s Corporate Executive Chef and the ship’s Executive Chef led a small group to a very small and mostly empty fish market. (We arrived around 9:00 AM after most of the small fishermen had completed their day’s sales and were gone.) They did purchase some swordfish, tuna, and dorade (with the first two included in the Deck Barbecue and the latter on the menu in both restaurants that evening). We also visited the shop next door for some Pecorino cheese, salamis and olives.
I always say it is the Little Things. Here, while everyone was watching Windstar’s intrepid chefs pulling and pushing an ancient cart with our seafood, what I saw was a true metaphor for Sicily: A ragged cart with years and years of history…hobbled by a broken wheel with a spare tire hanging just above it. Oh the cart works, but with just a little effort it could be so much better!
But after my time in Messina, and the cart, I thought this adventure was enough time in Sicily for this journey.
Our last port was Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy. Now, this is a city I can enjoy myself in. I must have walked at least six miles, wandering through quiet backstreets with laundry hanging as frequently as bright red flowers, interesting architecture, and, of course, a fantastic central market! Windstar’s tour there was very popular, seemingly with another small group around every corner. (Bravo for keeping the groups to only six or so guests.)
The market has an upstairs filled with vendors selling meats, cheeses, and all sorts of amazing fruits and vegetables.
But downstairs was my favorite: The Fish Market! I was wandering about and chatting with some vendors (I don’t speak Italian and they don’t speak English, but with smiles, gestures and a bit of emotion, conversations easily if not also awkwardly flow.)
A Windstar guest who came on her own started asking me questions. Let’s just say she got a VIP tour and experienced live octopus and lobsters like she never had imagined!
As I was leaving the market she said she was going to take the bus to see various sights. I said in passing that I like to wander rather than take buses. And so I had a companion for a while and she saw how you see more and become more involved with a place if you just let things flow.
And it did right…until I saw a small pizza with bright red sauce in a shop out of the corner of my eye!
We stopped. I truly enjoyed my pizza. A crispy, chewy, crust with that amazing smell, covered with a sweet, fresh, tomato sauce. Truly a “little slice of heaven”!
It was sort of a er’ um “taste” of a Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural Cruise; the next one being October 2, 2022 on the Windstar Star Legend! UPDATED: The 2022 Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural Cruise on the Windstar Star Legend – October 2, 2022 – Goldring Travel
My tour ended there as she headed off to find a bus going to the beach (we didn’t depart Cagliari until 11:30 PM…another Windstar relaxed day!) and I continued my wandering ways…until the heat just made it a bit of an effort and siesta was about to begin.
It was then time for a shower and a nap before the Deck Barbecue, some after-dinner cocktails, and a relaxed morning as our cruise ends with a day at sea.