day on the Star Pride was at sea and was simply one of relaxing and enjoying
the friendly Windstar service. (I did
skip the knot tying event on the bridge, however. By the way Windstar has an “open bridge”
policy so when not in port you can visit the bridge.) Overall the small ship experience was truly
enjoyable…and, jumping forward to the end of the cruise docking in Istanbul
next to the Queen Elizabeth really brought home the difference between 212
guests and 3,000 passengers!
noticeable glitch was the obvious lack of staff in the Veranda during the
day. Staffing it as a self-service venue
when it clearly is not just doesn’t work.
When we dined in Amphora in the evening, the less than optimal staffing also
caused some lapses in service. Assistant
maître de’s should not be clearing tables or waiters running orders to the
galley. It is a bit frustrating when the
food is good, the views are spectacular and trying to order a glass of wine or
a burger becomes a frustration…though when the food is tasty and presented well
and the wine is poured…and by very friendly smiles…the effects of the frustration
sure, it is not the staff’s fault, but rather the lack of staff. The low key, “180 Degrees from Ordinary”,
service only works if there is enough staff.
(By way of comparison, on Seabourn there would be close to triple the
staff and they are moving quickly, as a team, to make sure everything is close
to perfect. That is not what Windstar is
about, and clearly it cannot be provided at Windstar’s price point, but there
needs to be a better balance.)
spend a good bit of time soaking in my hot tub on the bow, chatting with the
few other guests that found their way to this little quiet area, enjoying the
ever changing mountain views…and skipping past Sevastopol, Ukraine on the
Crimean peninsula – home to one of Russia’s largest naval fleets. (It was a little challenging being on a yacht
sailing past an area with a very real conflict.)
evening I decided on mixing up the Surf & Turf by substituting the bison
filet for the filet mignon. The lobster
was very good and the bison was excellent.
I did sample the filet mignon, though, and it was prepared nicely with a
flavorful and not too heavy sauce. As I
said, the Windstar cuisine is quite good; and most certainly better than most
cruise line offerings…just with a more laid back presentation.
marked our arrival in Odessa, Ukraine.
Windstar was quite good at making sure all was fine and honestly you
could not tell that there were any issues in the country aside from a comment
or two of uncertainty from our guide.
Speaking of our guide, we took the city highlights tour hoping to see
the Holocaust Memorial. Missing it was
not my only disappointment. There were
three buses (Windstar does not fill its buses, but limits them to about 36
guests) and each one had a markedly different experience based upon the
guide. Unfortunately our guide (not
Windstar’s fault, obviously) was the worst of the three…and only begrudgingly
mentioned any aspect of the enormous Jewish influence on the city. (Her line basically was, “In 1920 something
the State took over this building”; not mentioning the purge of Jews that built
and paid for almost everything of historical value in the city…and there is a
|Chilling with a shisha and a beer in Odessa, Ukraine|
was a bit surreal considering the war with Russia only miles away
We did tour the very impressive
Opera House (originally it had been cancelled, but Windstar made it happen!),
but, as I said, we did not go past the Holocaust Memorial though our bus went
in circles for the entire tour. Anyway,
after the tour we ventured into town and found a nice place to sit back, people
watch, have a drink and smoke a shisha. We were the last people back on the
yacht…with two minutes to spare!
the Star Pride it was time for a nap and then a wonderful Indian dinner
(offered by request the night before) consisting of very delicious prawns,
chicken, lamb and lentils along with nan and yogurt sauce. (I understand 36 suites took advantage of
this wonderful opportunity.) It was
great seeing the staff so excited for the evening and the chef coming out
really enjoying himself and all the smiles.
If there is one thing you get a great sense of on Windstar is that the staff
love their jobs.
off my evening was my sitting down on the sofa by the Star Bar and the
bartender brining me my Glenfiddich on the rocks without my asking. It is a very nice touch that just isn’t an
option on larger ships.
day was Constanta, Romania which was, and remains, a tough port. The oppressive regime that ended just over a
decade ago has left the country still in a solemn and desperate way. The Old City is a monument to neglect despite
the clear efforts to revitalize the town.
We decided to walk from the port rather than take the complimentary shuttle
(it is about a mile) and started strolling down the new seaside promenade. It was rather pleasant until interrupted by a
badly decaying casino that looked like it once was “the” place. That sort of patterned continued as we walked
here and there. Eventually we decided to
have a beer, but the choice of spot came down to which lounge had the view of
the least depressing building that had, or was about, to fall down.
we took the complimentary Windstar shuttle to the beach “resort” town of Mamaia,
Romania. That too was
“interesting”. As we walked to the beach
(which, honestly, was out of season) the piles of cigarette butts, trash and
even a pile of rusted screws signaled a beach worse than the Jersey Shore had
ever seen in its darkest days. The water
was a dismal brown/black from an obvious sewer line that runs from the town into
the ocean. The buildings were rundown at
best and some had a “bombed out” look worse than anything Asbury Park, New
Jersey has endured.
Not dissuaded from
finding a gem, we picked the best looking restaurant and ordered a bottle of
Romanian wine – Mysterium (which wasn’t bad) – and two supposedly authentic
Romanian dishes (Bulz Romanesc and Dobrudjan Tochitura) that were pretty much inedible.
|When the menu board says they serve “crap” |
I should take the warning seriously!
note that the shuttles were small buses, run quite frequently, so there was no
waiting for the typical cruise ship bus to fill…waiting for “that” person. It was certainly was a more upscale
was the Deck Barbecue. I must admit I was not thrilled with the experience on
the Wind Surf last January as it seemed a bit disjointed, but Windstar’s Star
Pride hit the barbecue out of the park as it is has a far better setup for it. The buffet offerings included lobster tails,
a roast pig, lamb chops, flank steak, prawns, paella and much more with the
Star Pride staff providing great service with huge…and I mean huge…smiles and
incredible enthusiasm. (Did I mention
you get the sense that the staff love their jobs?)
interesting difference: On the Star
Pride the tables by the dance floor area are taken first, while on the Seabourn
Pride it was the tables upstairs by the now Star Bar (which I prefer). Why?
Dancing. Just about everyone was up
dancing including the crew. It was a
blast. Captain Alan MacAry and Hotel
Manager, Nick Burger, dined with us and it was very enjoyable. But when the band and singers started,
everyone was focused on the positive high energy level. (Sorry, no photos!)
day- our last day – was Nessebar, Bulgaria; a charming town and UNESCO Heritage
Site. The last time I was in this port I
headed out to the Bulgarian countryside so this time the plan was to stay and explore. We docked right in town (last time, on the
Radisson Diamond, she was too wide to dock so we tendered) which is one of the
big benefits of cruising on the Star Pride.
I am glad we got a relatively early start as we had the town pretty much
to ourselves walking on the beach (some pretty nice beach glass compared to
Romania’s broken bottles!), strolling down quiet lanes looking at art and
souvenirs (and two shops with disturbing Nazi artifacts) and enjoying the
morning passed, tour busses started to arrive and the quiet, quaint, village
became filled with tourists. It was time
to stroll over to the sea side of the village and find a quiet place for
lunch. A large wine barrel drew us into
Restaurant Andromeda Nesebar which has a wonderful view, friendly staff and
decent Bulgarian wine and a nice Bulgarian cheese platter (but I’m not so sure
all the cheeses were actually Bulgarian).
|Bulgarian Cheese Plate in Nessebar|
As we sat and enjoyed it all…being watched by a seagull just waiting for
her chance…we thought there was a cat on our feet, but a little scream later it
was determined to be a tortoise! We did
not expect that!
|The last thing I expected to say in Nessebar, Bulgaria was|
“Hey, there’s a tortoise on my foot!”
then time to head back to the Star Pride, where the dreaded luggage mats were
on our bed
and quickly tossed on the floor for a final nap…as the rain set
in…and then, unfortunately, back on the bed to pack. The rain interfered with my last visit to the
hot tub, but cleared in time for our final al fresco dinner in Candles and a
nightcap at the Star Bar.
arrived early in the morning in Istanbul, but without enough time to do
anything before our flight we took it leisurely, disembarked around 9:00 a.m.
and headed to the beautiful new Turkish Airlines Lounge at the airport for our
flights back home.
up: A summary of this new Windstar
product and the changes and improvements already in the pipeline.