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Operator: Windstar Cruises
Year Built / Last Refurbished: 1988
Length / Tonnage: 440 / 5,300
Number of Cabins / Passengers: 75 / 150
Officers / Crew: Norwegian & British / Indonesian & Filipino
Operating Area: Mediterranean, transatlantic, Caribbean
Review by Christopher E. Smith, TravelPage.com, Associate Cruise Editor
This is not a cruise line with a lot of history, founded as it was, by the Anders family, who, by the 1980's, had bought and were operating New York City's Circle Line (sightseeing boats that circle Manhattan). They enjoyed sail, and thought many would agree with them. They knew from the experiences from Windjammer Cruises and a handful of charter sail ship operators based in New England that there was a market for sail cruisers....the difference with this company was that this would be more of a silk stocking operation, geared to people more interested in creature comforts and fancy cabins. Market or not, by the time the third ship came out, they were all too happy to accept a buy out by Holland America Line, which operates Windstar as a totally autonomous division. Because Holland America owns them, key on board figures are from that line, and hotel crews are Indonesian and Filipino.
Let's be honest here.....the WIND SPIRIT is powered as much by her engines as she is by her automated sails. Yet her looks are reminiscent of a sailing ship....but without the sheer....and her dimensions are such that when on board, you will get the impression you're on a sail powered vessel. Beyond that, WIND SPIRIT passengers, at least while indoors, won't realize they are on a hybrid of wind and mechanics.....they'll think they are in a private club....one with a membership of about 150. The Windstar concept isn't for everyone....but it's not for a lack of service or amenities that might turn off the occasional passenger. It's just that on board, the ship seems cramped.....small corridors, low ceilings, tiny lounges. She's really quite spacious for the number she carries, and she's comfortable too.....but no amount of cajoling will convince the chronically claustrophobic that Windstar is a good bet for them. Nor is Windstar a good choice for those with mobility impairments.....the ship has no elevator.
For those who don't mind the narrow confines of the WIND SPIRIT, here's what they can expect to get out of a cruise on her.....gentle service, excellent food, interesting fellow travelers, cozy but complete accommodations....and itineraries that can't be beat. Windstar is a line to consider if you are a traveler who appreciates the good things in life, but wants it all in a casual atmosphere....leave your fancy clothes at home...unless you're planning a special evening ashore....there are no formal nights or themed events.
How many lounges are necessary for only 150 people? On the WIND SPIRIT, there are four indoor areas to enjoy.....the Lounge, a casino, a library, and the Piano Bar....oh yes, the bridge is usually open to passengers too! Entertainment is low key.....a bit of live music in the bar, an occasional show or lecture in the lounge....but passengers on the WIND SPIRIT have chosen this ship because they prefer less regimentation....the thrill of being at sea is entertainment enough. For video addicts, the library stocks over 650 films and 500 compact discs.....any can be borrowed for use in the cabin.....the library also has a very nice assortment of books. The small casino has just enough amusements to keep the interest of players. The athletic can get a very basic workout in the small fitness room, then soothe themselves in the adjacent sauna. There's a water sports platform aft, a great spot from which you can use the ship's various floating amusements....sailboards, kayaks and such. The less adventurous swimmer might opt for the pool and hot tub located up top....we professional loafers prefer a ringside deck chair, situated in any number of the nooks and crannies of outdoor space.
When a shipboard kitchen has 1,500 mouths to feed in two sittings, you can be sure that much of the food will be on par with banquet fare.....intricate recipes will fall by the wayside. But when a kitchen has but one tenth the number of meals to produce, the food ought to be outstanding....and on the WIND SPIRIT, it is! This company, no different from their competitors, has been forced to cut back a little.....the high end perishables....caviar, lobster and such, are served less frequently than a few years ago....but don't let that deter you from traveling on the WIND SPIRIT....because what they do prepare for you is delicious....and satisfying. Fewer passengers also means more attention will be paid to your personal preferences. It also means that if you're not in the mood to dine with others, there will be available staff to serve your meal course by course in your cabin. The WIND SPIRIT's restaurant is designed for open sitting service.....you can get a table for yourselves or a table for many....don't be like me and get into a rut, insisting on the same table day in, day out....go ahead and experiment.....change table partners.....it's encouraged here.
The in spot for daytime fuel stops is the Veranda, up on Deck Four......lots of large windows, a very casual atmosphere, but with tables set as pleasantly as in the dining room. The Veranda requires that you come in dressed in just about anything but a bathing suit.....and with a location so close to the outdoor deck, it's great for sun bathers....no major troop movements from outdoors to indoors are necessary to get fed.
Every single cabin......except the coveted number 107.....are identical.....and they all have the same price for any cruise. Cabin 107, with roughly 50% more space, carries a surcharge of 30% above the standard cruise rate. With the cabins located on only two decks, there seems to be a preference for Deck Two accommodations.....the only advantage to them is that there's one less flight of stairs to climb when going topside. Each room has two portholes, and twin beds that convert to a queen......and all have a TV/VCR, CD player, a safe, and a minibar stuffed with water, juice and wine. The cabins have tons of storage space...you'll find more drawers and cupboards than on other ships....the only thing the rooms lack is a real sitting area....the best place to watch TV is from the bed. The bathrooms are masterpieces of efficient use of space.....with large mirrors, more storage space, and a perfectly serviceable shower....they're also pretty, with their teak floors and wood trim.
To feel at home on the WIND SPIRIT, you should be.....a good sailor....these vessels can get their share of movement in a heavy sea. You should be interested in making your own fun.....you won't find group games, large casinos, and grandiose floor shows here. And you should be a lover of good, unobtrusive service.....nothing here is loud or vulgar....except for the occasional misplaced passenger! Windstar gets well traveled, active people......those who simply must be near the ocean, and who love to swim, snorkel, scuba, waterski etc. will find they are not fish out of water on WIND SPIRIT. Children are not encouraged to sail on Windstar Cruises.....there are no facilities for their entertainment....However, kids are accepted for passage, but they should be the type of children who can make their own fun....quietly...there really aren't that many places on board for them to go and act like children.
Late into the season...which is a rarity....the WIND SPIRIT will remain in the Mediterranean, offering cruises between Istanbul and Athens or reverse. In October, she'll begin her trek west, with cruises from Athens to Civitavecchia (Rome) or from there to Lisbon and Barcelona. After her ocean crossing from Lisbon to St. Thomas, she'll begin a series of weekly cruises from there...calling at St. John, St. Martin, St. Barts, Tortola, Virgin Gorda and Jost van Dyke.
Although they have almost a monopoly on this niche market (Star Clipper is their direct competitor), Windstar does a superb job of delivering what is promised in their brochure. They are so good at their trade, they attract the same voyagers year in...year out....the annual transatlantic sailings are like a house party.....though new faces are always welcome here. Windstar really is flawless....and whether to travel with them or not really does boil down to two things.....if you would be happy on a ship that looks and feels like a sailing ship, then consider Windstar....if you prefer a very small group of fellow passengers, then consider Windstar. You really can't go wrong.....in fact, after one cruise with them, you may discover you don't like other types of cruises....and you might begin a lifelong love affair with these ships.
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