virtuoso global April 2019 7 Reasons to Sail (Soon) with Windstar

7 Reasons to Sail (Soon) with Windstar

Docked in Lisbon, a popular stop for travelers.
Docked in Lisbon, a popular stop for travelers.

On a recent cruise to Costa Rica and Panama, I needed my morning coffee fix. I made my way to the top-of-ship Yacht Club aboard Star Breeze and leaned against the espresso bar, where the barista, Yogi, seemed to appear out of nowhere and greeted me with a warm, wide smile. “Hello, Miss Susan! Would you like your double cappuccino?”

As large cruise ships continue to out-dazzle each other with the latest bells and whistles, smaller vessels such as Windstar’s fleet have sailed under the radar. Yet, like Yogi’s seemingly magical appearance, these motor and sailing ships cast a certain spell, so that, once someone steps aboard, that person is hooked. Just ask Virtuoso travel advisor Nancy Cutter, who has traveled with the boutique cruise line more than 30 times. “Windstar has a devoted following,” she says. “The experience is unlike any other – and often becomes addictive.”

So, what exactly can travelers do on a Windstar journey that makes them repeatedly return to this small-ship cruise line?

Cruising in Panama.
Cruising in Panama.

Visit off-the-beaten-path destinations.

Certain ports of call are impractical (or impossible) for larger vessels to reach. Visiting these “hidden gem” destinations creates a heightened sense of authenticity, without losing any sense of luxury. As a Windstar guest, you can dine in a tiny Greek taverna where the owner personally serves you, or meet the friendly islanders on remote Niue, where contact with outsiders is extremely limited. Such interactions, says Cutter, are becoming increasingly rare. “The world is changing quite rapidly,” the advisor emphasizes. “It’s really unique nowadays to go somewhere and actually feel that sense of place.”

Visit off-the-beaten path stops in Norway.
Visit off-the-beaten path stops in Norway.

Get closer – and more connected – to the water.

Aboard a Windstar sailing ship, some ship railings are just a few dozen feet above the water. Cruisers feel a connection to the water below them and can watch a variety of wildlife go by, like a pod of playful, splashing dolphins.

That connectivity is further enhanced by a Watersports Platform, where guests can grab complimentary snorkeling gear and water toys or just jump right in, like Virtuoso travel advisor Nancy Yale. “I did the ‘polar plunge’ in Iceland, then sipped vodka immediately after!” she says.

Guests can enjoy expert-led Signature Expeditions kayaking around tiny inlets in Alaska with a team of experts, or embark on diving excursions to top sites, such as Fakarava, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, during a 17-day Twice the Tahiti itinerary that does a double loop around the archipelago.

Windstar offers more Alaska itineraries in 2019.
Windstar offers more Alaska itineraries in 2019.

Discover the small things that matter.

Thoughtfulness lies behind the details on Windstar ships, such as a bouquet of fresh flowers waiting in your suite, an Open Bridge policy that lets you share navigation charts (and more espresso!) with the captain, fresh towels waiting after a day ashore, and sailing away from each port to the sound of Vangelis’ “1492 Conquest of Paradise.”

“Windstar has stayed very committed to its small-ship culture,” says Cutter. That commitment is exemplified in the company’s unprecedented $250 million investment that will “stretch” its three Star-class motor ships, while still delivering those immersive experiences. Between October 2019 and November 2020, each ship – Star Breeze, Star Legend, and Star Pride – will be cut in half and a new section inserted, adding 50 suites along with two dining venues, an expanded fitness center, and an enhanced spa. New, environmentally friendly engines will be installed, for an even softer carbon footprint.
Coming in 2020: more suite options like this one.
Coming in 2020: more suite options like this one.

Enjoy a small staff-to-guest ratio.

Windstar maintains one of the lowest (1:1.5) staff-to-guest ratios at sea, so each crew member is personally invested in creating a memorable experience for the guests – and the guests, in turn, become invested in the crew.
 
On my cruise, I was genuinely excited to hear that my steward, Abdul, would soon be reunited with his 5-year-old son in their small village outside Jakarta. During a late-night quiz show in the Compass Rose lounge space, guests rooted for our DJ, William, who used his quick wit and British charm to create fun and familiarity. And Apple, a server in Veranda restaurant, wowed the crowd at the crew talent show, belting out a Donna Summer song before joining her husband, Jorge, for a duet on Coldplay’s “Yellow.”
 
“The staff is happy to serve, and the guests are happy to be recognized,” says Cutter. “That’s a win-win for everybody.”

Let your imagination go wild.

Windstar is always adding new destinations and itineraries to their offerings. The cruise line has been quick to recognize travel trends, and was one of the first companies to circumnavigate Iceland. They’ve increased their departures in of-the-moment Norway, and one of Cutter’s clients recently did a North Sea crossing that visited Greenland. Yale mentions the impressive, expanded Alaska offerings for 2019, including a new itinerary that combines an Inside Passage cruise with a Canadian Rockies rail journey aboard the Rocky Mountaineer and a scenic helicopter tour.

It’s a matter of taste.

Cutter says that Windstar’s partnership with the James Beard Foundation has taken the onboard culinary experience “to the fine dining level.” Amphora restaurant menus feature dishes created by James Beard Award-nominated chefs, who also join top sommeliers on select voyages for onboard demos, special tasting dinners, and market tours. My Panama Canal cruise featured Pittsburgh-based chef Jamilka Borges, a nominee for the 2019 Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic award; later this year, chef Duskie Estes, a fierce competitor on Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef, shows off her chops when Star Legend hits culinary hot spots between Vancouver, British Columbia, and San Diego on a new epicurean-themed West Coast voyage.
Celebrated chef Jamilka Borges joined a Windstar cruise to Panama.
Celebrated chef Jamilka Borges joined a Windstar cruise to Panama.

You become part of a community.

Due to the small size and intimacy of Windstar’s ships, friendships form quickly among travelers from all over the world – and once they step off, those same travelers usually want to get right back on board. In fact, recent figures show that half of all Windstar guests have sailed with the cruise line before. Cutter often hears from clients who, after returning home, want to sign up for another itinerary and bring along friends to share the experience. I asked the advisor what creates a legion of loyal Windstar fans. “It’s personal,” Cutter says, ”and it’s human.”

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