My impressions of Windstar’s Star Breeze (after three days) are: Quiet, Energized, Friendly, Upscale, Familiar and Surprising.
As I have often said, having learned it from being on this very ship at the beginning of my career in travel: “It is not about the hardware. It is about the software…the people.” The Windstar officers, staff and crew have their own style which you need to experience to truly understand. There is a gentleness and warmth that flows over me every time I board a Windstar ship. But it is a bit different on the new Star Breeze. It is a little more refined. A little more upscale. And you can sense that the staff and crew know it. But still very Windstar…including the wonderful intuitive, but more casual service.
Ironically, the virtually new built Star Breeze is part of what it is about. It affords more refined, more upscale, more diverse experience. It is not like this older woman of the seas has had a facelift, but rather a rebirth. Yes, I know she is hardware, but her improvements and additions are giving the software the ability to do that much more for the Windstar guest.
With the new environmentally more efficient engines there is no rumble when getting underway and no noise as she cruises. The windows and doors are now truly weathertight (thus the crew doesn’t have to be distracted with cleaning up after every storm or high sea). State of the art sound insulation has been installed everywhere from walls to ceilings. In fact, my suite is almost eerily quiet.
There is wood…seemingly everywhere. I mentioned all the teak decking, but the solid, organic, feel of wood gives a richness…a yacht-like feel…to so many areas, including the Sky Bar/Star Grill area which is going to be a real social hub. Thick dark wood tables contrasting against the teak decks, the nautical feel of the varnished (and longer) Sky, I mean Star, Bar, when combined with glass windscreens/railings and the atrium-like canopy gives the ship a more luxurious and, dare I say, a more finished feel. And if the guest feels it, you know the crew and staff do too.
The lounge chairs on the deck are high quality with thick comfortable cushions. All-weather wicker sunbeds and protected sitting areas with comfortable sofas and chairs arranged for you to read a book, chat or kick back and enjoy an informal lunch.
The Spa is brand new and, again, much larger. It is extremely upscale with a beautiful steam bath and sauna along with warming relaxation lounges and an additional relaxation room; all available at no additional cost. There are multiple upscale massage/treatment rooms, a proper one seat salon and, of course, now an actual fitness center with more than enough high-end equipment and room for yoga and other lessons.
And, of course, there is the Yacht Club (formerly the Observation Lounge) that was installed prior to the first Inaugural Cruise of the Star Breeze. It is one of the most upscale areas of the ship where you can read a book, have a coffee and a croissant, enjoy the view over the bow, chat with fellow guests or catch up on the news on the discreet (and quiet) televisions.
There is now a new, larger, retail shop with a rather extensive array of limited issue clothing with a philosophy of what is old is old; not new again. Now you can purchase real jewelry and accessories and more. And it is in a space I think is close to triple of what it used to be. (I do think there needs to be more (any?) upscale logo-wear.)
Amphora remains as she was…on the outside. Behind the scenes she is now much quieter with sound-deadening acoustical insulation. But if you were on the Seabourn Spirit you have been in Amphora; she’s just been spruced up a bit; a compliment. (I will be discussing Amphora in another article.) Similarly, the Compass Rose, which has been the evening bar and lounge hasn’t changed; not that it had to since its update a short while ago.
OK, so with that brief review of the ship, let’s get to more of the details. Next up: The Star Grill.
Many of you know I love to barbeque, smoke meats, and grill. So I was actually pretty skeptical about how this concept restaurant would perform. I am unequivocally impressed. This is a truly legitimate smokehouse and barbeque. How could this be on a ship?
Windstar’s executive chef, and longtime friend, Graeme Cockburn, explained to me – quite proudly – that Windstar has installed eight brand new ovens in the Star Breeze’s main galley; with two of them used only as smokers for the Star Grill meats. (Yes, there is, ‘er um, “beefed up” ventilation too!) In addition, Windstar is committed to the Star Grill that it has constructed a separate galley integrated into the venue; dedicated solely to the art of barbeque and smokehouse…and seamless service without trolleys rolling about.
Though it is called Star Grill, this is not a “grill”, but a true upscale – dare I say it – BBQ Joint. And like a land-based pork/chicken heaven, you won’t see how the magic happens because that is “back of the house”. So don’t expect a show with flames jumping and meat flying about. True barbecue takes time…lots of time…in a low heat, slow cooking, process.
I had some truly superb Pulled Pork which had been marinated for seven days and then smoked for 17 hours. Now that is a commitment to the Art of Barbeque!
I also had Rum Cured Rack of Pork. Truly a depth of flavors. Not overly smoked. Not a cured like a ham. Really really good!
I’ve also had the chicken (two types) and both were deliciously herbed, very moist, and flavorful.
Of course, I had to engage my Hamburger Test, as I do on every cruise. The Star Grill receives a never before awarded A++. Literally every element was a win. Toasted bun…on both sides! A full slice of juicy tomato (not a green tasteless offering). A proper leaf of lettuce (not some square chopped thing.) A thin slice of onion (not a few scraggly pieces). Oh, yeah, the hamburger! It was thick, actually fit properly on the bun, was properly cooked and was juicy, but not too much so. Bonus points (hence the second +) for oven-roasted Steak Fries!
But not to worry for those who want more than, or instead of, meat. There is a large, very diverse salad bar which is a great addition or alternative.
I have not yet sampled the Star Grill for dinner, but you know I will. And if there is more to add I most certainly will. I might even try the Dessert Bar on the other side of the Star Grill!
Yesterday I also took a swim off the Marina and enjoyed feeling the warm Caribbean salt water finally hitting my skin after so long being trapped in the Sierra Mountains and Lake Tahoe. (OK, “trapped” would be unfair, but you know what I mean!) Windstar has two zodiacs keeping watch and has a few floats you can rest on along with a demarcation of the safe swimming area. Due to somewhat strong winds, there is a bit of a limitation, but it didn’t adversely affect my time. (I probably will be back in the sea later today as well.)
I’ve also taken time to try out the new Spa facilities. The new Steam Room is great. Much larger and very comfortable with perfect temperatures. The Sauna was a bit frustrating. It is a nice size and, of course, brand new. A bucket with water is provided as well. The disappointment was that the sauna was off when I arrived and giving it 15 minutes to warm up wasn’t enough. I’ll try again later.
Of course, I tried out both whirlpools, including “my” whirlpool on the bow. Both are brand new, larger and have great water circulation. Some of the jets aren’t working, but that will be fixed before you board! The whirlpool on the bow was just as it always was: Peaceful and without much of anyone around. I don’t really like being “center stage” when in a whirlpool and the midship one, now set back and higher, does much to eliminate that issue…and improve the view of those not in the whirlpool…because they don’t have to look at me!
At this point you may be asking, “So when does Eric go ashore and explore?” Well, Windstar has run into a bit of a problem. While it timely secured vaccines for the Wind Surf and its other crew, the vaccines for the Star Breeze crew has been delayed. So, while all of the guests are vaccinated, not all the crew are. This, in turn, has caused a few changes.
The British Virgin Islands first said we could still visit…and then said we can’t. St. Bart said we could visit…and then we can’t…and then we can…and then we can’t….and then, well, stay tuned. As of today, we have basically been at sea (I am NOT complaining!) and maybe returning to Sint Maarten tomorrow with the possibility of a few tours (not a big deal for me) before heading back to our “home anchorage” of Simpson Bay, where we are currently anchored.
The good news for the crew is that J&J vaccine has been secured and will be administered in a few days (after we disembark), so Windstar has canceled the next two cruises so the crew will be fully vaccinated and have sufficient days after getting their shots to meet the islands’ various requirements. This will, of course, open up the itineraries to those expected by the guests.
The crew has been required to wear facemasks at all time and the guests are as well (though outside in our breezy conditions and while eating or drinking they are not required). There is also social distancing in all dining and bar areas, with no bar seating permitted. NOTE: This may change at any time. These are not Windstar requirements, but an amalgam of CLIA, CDC and local regulations. Along those lines, St. Maarten has required we undergo an Antigen Covid-19 test today and has also required I log in each day to provide my temperature as part of its five day self-monitoring program.
To me this is just what must be expected as travel starts up with Covid-19. Flexibility and understanding is required. Things are changing and emotions and perceptions are significant factors over and above the actual science.
And, of course, to put things in perspective: Don’t you want be where I am? Don’t let the mask, social distancing and “first world” issues such as missing a tour become the focus of these early days of travel. As you go with the flow, you find that this new “normal” of not necessarily science-based limitations really don’t adversely affect you having an exceptional experience. It may be a bit different, but it is still exceptional. (And if this isn’t for you, then just wait a bit. But things may open up even more than you expected while you wait…and then you will be at home and not traveling. Personal risk versus reward.)
Time to go make my appointment for a deep tissue massage!