Windstar Cruises Wind Surf Review
The romance and allure of the Seven Seas are alive and well aboard this five-masted sailing yacht.
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There are no children’s facilities aboard Wind Surf. More specifically, the Windstar website states: “Children, especially infants and toddlers, are not encouraged aboard Windstar cruises. The intimate ship size and unregimented atmosphere are adult in orientation and do not provide for the care, supervision or entertainment of children.”
While we think a sailing-oriented teen might find a Wind Surf cruise pretty cool, pre-teens would largely be left to their own devices and might be miserable for the lack of playmates.
Considering the size of Wind Surf, we expected certain limitations with the scope of meal service, and yet this never posed a problem on our seven-night voyage. Wind Surf did an excellent job with the dining—it was as good or better than what we receive on most of the mainstream lines. Even the room service menu was more extensive and varied than what most ships offer.
Breakfast and lunch are limited to room service and The Veranda, which offers both a modest buffet spread and a menu. Alternately, continental breakfast and sandwiches are available in the Yacht Club. For dinner, AmphorA served as the ship’s main dining room, while Stella Bistro offered an alternative, somewhat more intimate environment. Candles Grill was the ship’s steakhouse, located on the pool deck under the stars (weather permitting). For Stella Bistro and—especially—Candles, reservations are strongly advised. On one night of the cruise all of these venues were closed and a deck-top Barbecue Buffet Dinner was organized.
At all of Wind Surf’s restaurants there are plenty of two-seat tables, which meant we were never forced to share with other guests.
Wind Spa & Fitness Center
The ship’s spa facilities on Deck 2 aft are operated by Steiner Leisure, the dominant player in spa services for the cruise industry. There were just three treatment rooms (each appeared to be converted from a former cabin), but appointments didn’t seem particularly hard to come by on short notice. Prices were in line with Steiner services on other ships, which are somewhat higher than at most quality resorts. But there were specials each day, announced in the ship’s daily newsletter.
With a somewhat reduced staff the list of services was a bit shorter than we find on most ships, but they included a variety of massages, starting at $79 for the 25-minute deep tissue massage ($129 for a 50-minute treatment). Facials started at $119 for a 50-minute treatment. Also available were acupuncture and salon services for men and women.
The Fitness Center was beautifully located up on the Star Deck, offering sea views port and starboard. There were 8 cardio machines by Technogym, along with various machines for weightlifting and resistance. The gym was never crowded when we visited, though with just three treadmills and two bikes, it wasn’t hard for the specific equipment we wanted to be in use at peak hours. Complimentary morning stretch, abs training, Pilates and Yoga sessions were available (one in the morning, one in the late afternoon), but the ship’s one trainer was more than 10 minutes late for the stretch session we attended. Personal training was offered at $85 for a one-hour session. The Fitness Center was open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Of the 158 cabins aboard Wind Surf, 79 percent are Oceanview, which is what we stayed in (described below). All are identical in size and view, the only difference in pricing is based on location (Deck 1 forward and aft being cheapest, Deck 3 being most expensive). There are no Inside or Balcony cabins.
There are 31 Suites located on Deck 3 (except for once unit located on the Bridge Deck). All of the suites were created by combining two standard cabins, and each has two bathrooms. There are also two Bridge Suites located on the Bridge Deck. None of these units have balconies; the units on the Bridge Deck are fronted by public walkways.
On any horizon, Wind Surf cuts a fetching profile. With bright white sheets enveloping more than a half-acre of surface across five masts, a trim hull that slices gamely through the sea, and a bow that looks sharp enough to parry with an iceberg, this elegant motor-sail yacht slinks into the smaller ports of the Caribbean and Europe that bigger cruise ships can only dream about. It’s not a cruise for everyone, and our journey wasn’t perfect, but—spoiler alert—we fell in love with Wind Surf.
Wind Surf had a full cocktail selection, a decent wine list and five bars spread around the ship. Unlike most of the mainstream lines, bottled water, soft drinks, cappuccino, espresso, coffee, iced tea, juices and milk were all included in the cruise fare. However, unlike most of the luxury cruise lines, alcoholic drinks were additional.
Cocktail prices ranged $7.75 for Cosmopolitans and Margaritas to $10.75 for martinis made with Grey Goose vodka. A beverage package was available, for $108 per cabin, per day, plus 15-percent service charge. The package covered unlimited alcoholic drinks (except top shelf spirits such as Remy Martin and Hennessy x.o. cognac), beer and wine priced under $12 per glass. Guests were asked to sign up for the package by the end of the first day onboard.
Wines by the glass started at $6.50 for an “early muscat” from an unidentified Oregon winery or merlot from Round Hill vineyard. Other options for a dollar or two more included Rutherford Ranch chardonnay, Firestone sauvignon blanc, Seghesio pinot grigio, La Valentina from Montepulciano d’Abruzo, Barnard Griffin syrah; Veuve Clicquot Champagne was $18. The list had a selection of modestly priced (under $30) wines by the bottle—mostly European wineries we weren’t familiar with—plus such offerings as Frog’s Leap sauvignon blanc ($37), Rodney Strong chardonnay, Chalk Hill ($47), Artesa merlot reserve ($45), King Estate signature pinot noir ($41), and Scott Harvey old vine zinfandel ($49); Champagne started at $70 for Mumm Cordon Rouge brut.
The constrained selection of beers included the usual American name brands for $5.45, or $6.45 for imports—Grolsch was the most exotic label we encountered.
About Our Cruise
Originally launched in 1984, Windstar Cruises has been owned by various entities, including at one time Holland America Line/Carnival Corp. In 2011, Windstar’s three-ship fleet was acquired by Xanterra Parks and Resorts, a company that manages several storied National Park Service properties. Privately held by Denver-based billionaire Philip Anschutz, Xanterra may have been an ideal match for Windstar. The company set about refurbishing the fleet—$18 million for the three vessels—and in 2013 Xanterra announced it was expanding Windstar by acquiring the three 208-passenger luxury power yachts of Seabourn Cruises, to be phased into the fleet in 2014-15. Suddenly, Windstar Cruises has become a major player in the boutique ship category.
Built in 1990, Wind Surf is the largest and youngest member of the Windstar fleet of tall ships, offering a unique cruising experience for just 312 passengers. In fact, with its twin, Club Med 2 (owned by the Club Méditerranée all-inclusive resort chain), Wind Surf is the largest sailing cruiser at sea. The ship offers Caribbean voyages out of St. Maarten in the winter and spends the balance of the year in the Mediterranean and northern Europe.
For cruisers who depend on a varied, comprehensive selection of shore excursions, Wind Surf may not be a good fit (on our itinerary there were just two or three options per port). But for us, a big part of Windstar’s appeal was snuggling into offbeat locales. How many other cruise ships park for three hours at the base of an active volcano, serving a delicious al fresco barbecue for dinner on the top deck while smoldering lava tumbles into the sea a few hundred yards away? Most of the islands Wind Surf calls on—the British Virgin Islands’ Jost Van Dyke, Guadeloupe’s Iles des Saintes, the Scilly Isles, Capri, Lipari—are well off the navigational charts for mainstream cruise lines. The quaint ports and anchorages mirror the intimacy and (dare we say) verisimilitude of the ship itself.
In contrast with classic schooners, Wind Surf’s Dacron sails are electronically controlled by the bridge. Before our cruise we were curious as to whether those sails would get much of a workout. In truth, we suspect most of the nautical miles we covered—maybe the vast majority—were under engine power. But for every sailaway from port or anchor the sails did unfurl, and on one night the engines were all but silent till midnight or later as we eased quietly through the Mediterranean. The amateur sailing devotee in us enjoyed being able to go up to the open bridge and chat with the officers on duty. The captain told us that “we use the sails as much as we can,” but the reality is that a strict itinerary, unpredictable winds, and the necessity of powering the ship’s normal functions require that the engines operate most of the time. But when Wind Surf steers out of port under full sail and Vangelis’ theme from “1492: Conquest of Paradise” comes booming over the speaker system, we couldn’t help but feel our spine tingle with fantasies of seafaring adventure stirred to life.
Wind Surf’s main dining room is an elegant venue that was completely revamped during the December 2012 renovation. Located on the Main Deck, forward, AmphorA is named for the tall, two-handled ancient Greek/Roman jars (there’s one displayed at the entry). Open only for dinner, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., there are no set seating times. But since AmphorA can seat 216 guests—roughly two-thirds of Wind Surf’s capacity—there is almost never a wait for seating (including the ship’s two other restaurants virtually every guest can be seated at one venue or another at the same time). Further, there are 26 two-top tables, so we never had to share.
Amid sophisticated décor AmphorA has well-spaced tables, beautifully set with handsome gold glass chargers. Alas, the chargers had an uneven surface and they remained on the table for the starter course, which meant our appetizer dishes rocked and rattled as we ate. But the chargers were removed for other courses, so this is a minor quibble.
The menu changes nightly, offering eight starters and six or seven entrées. Mains that were always available were grilled or broiled sirloin steak, chicken breast, salmon and penne marinara. Appetizers we enjoyed included fried calamari served with a garlic-lemon aioli; an antipasto platter with meats and grilled vegetables; a Portobello mushroom gratin stuffed with crab; the pear and goat cheese salad with a slice of prosciutto; a “tunatini”—raw ahi tuna marinated and served in a martini glass; and a hearty lobster bisque with a good amount of flesh poking through. On the other hand, we found salads to be fairly rudimentary.
For entrées we like the sautéed pork tenderloin and we thought the prime rib was a good, juicy cut. The wild forest mushroom and truffle risotto was excellent, perfectly cooked, while the surf and turf one night included a small, succulent lobster tail and petite filet mignon, also nicely done. The chicken piccata was in an egg batter, heavier than we are accustomed to, but it was satisfying. Among the standout desserts was the After Eight Surprise, a mint mousse atop chocolate sponge cake, and a scrumptious banana cream pie. The chocolate lava cake and a warm pear Tatin were unsurprising but delicious.
Our Cabin: Oceanview
Bright white and gleaming like Wind Surf’s sails, we were fairly happy with our cabin, which benefited through the the ship’s December 2012 renovation. We had a pair of porthole-style windows, each 15 inches wide, and fronting the windows was a sheer, which provided adequate privacy when pulled (when we were docked), and there was a curtain that blocked out all light. Our cabin was located on Deck 1, and our cabin floor was even with the outside water level—we felt very close to the sea.
We measured our cabin at about 178 square feet, slightly smaller than the 188 square feet shown on Windstar’s website. With a swank, padded headboard, our bed was a very comfortable mattress, or rather—two mattresses joined together. The seam was concealed by a pillowtop. There were adjustable pillow-level reading lights on either side of the bed—these were like spotlights, perfect for reading when a partner is sleeping. Atop the reading lights were lamps, and additional lighting included fluorescent fixtures above the windows, and recessed ceiling lights—in all, plenty of illumination.
Next to the bed was a wall cabinet that had a shelf for an alarm clock, and additional empty enclosed shelves for storing small items like books. To the left was another set of shelves that included a phone (out of reach from the bed), a Pioneer DVD player, and a Bose docking station and speaker for an iPod or other compatible accessories (an iPod Nano could be borrowed front the front desk, pre-loaded with a customized playlist). Below was a stocked minibar and fridge; there was an ice bucket, sporadically refilled by our cabin attendant. Left of the cabinet was the closet, which was two compartments, each 22 inches wide. There were 18 wood clothes hangers, two of which had robes for our use; there were also pairs of slippers. While not as large as the closets on most cruise ships, combined with various drawers and shelves it was adequate for two (especially considering the ship’s relaxed dress code). Another pair of cabinets ran along the ceiling facing the bed.
On the opposite wall next to the cabin entry was another built-in feature, a desk with a large mirror above; there were two comfy leather chairs for sitting. There were six drawers, a couple more shelves above, and the TV—a 22-inch Samsung—was mounted here (an array of DVDs was available from the Library to play on the cabin DVD player). There was a single 110-volt (U.S. style) outlet and two 220-volt (European) outlets, all at the desk area (below the TV). On the second day of the cruise we noticed that the U.S. outlet was dead—we reported this to the front desk and it was fixed within a couple hours.
Though not large, the bathroom had an unusual layout that worked well for us, and had a handsome, polished teak floor. There was a round chamber for the toilet, and facing it was a matching compartment for the shower. Between these chambers was the vanity, a sink set into a granite counter and shelving units on either side of the mirror; there was also an illuminated makeup mirror. An outlet for shavers was above the sink, convertible to 115-volt or 230-volt. The floor of the round shower was 35 inches across, larger than many we’ve encountered on mainstream cruise lines; there was a synthetic fabric curtain fronting the shower and there was a retractable clothesline. There were two Hansgrohe showerheads, one in a fixed position, the other a handheld—both had adjustable sprays.
The Signature Shop was Wind Surf’s one and only boutique, but it was packed with merchandize, more eclectic than what we typically see on cruise ships. We found Wallaroo and Tilley hats, Gretchen Scott cover-ups, ladies Gittex swimwear, Patagonia clothing, watches by Fossil, Citizen and Michael Kors, blown glass ornaments, neoprene laptop sleeves, flip-flops, jewelry from Roman Glass and Antica Murrina. Captain’s uniforms for toddlers were charmers.
In addition to Windsurf logo items such as T-shirts, sweatshirts, sunglasses, visors and key chains, there was a small selection of sundries—sun block, pain relievers, batteries, memory cards, etc. CDs of the Wind Surf’s sail-away theme song by Vangelis (aka the “1492: Conquest of Paradise” soundtrack) were also available.
Wind Surf had a photographer with a Photo Gallery. Prints were priced $15 for 6x8 or $20 for 8x10, with discounts for orders or five or more (or all photos on CD for $200). On one afternoon, the Bowsprit—that pointy thing at the front of the ship—was opened for photos, a pretty unique cruise photo op, we’d say.
As the ship’s de facto coffee bar, the Yacht Club was open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily serving standard espresso and cappuccino drinks. The bar opened onto the Library, where there was seating, but most days we didn’t see many gathered here.
Located on Deck 2 aft, Wind Surf has just one, square swimming facility, and it's not much more than a plunge pool, but it is appealingly positioned, and adequately sized for a small ship. The pool was flanked by two Jacuzzi tubs. The relatively few loungers surrounding the pool were often at a premium. Swimming hours were 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily (Candles Grill opened at 7 p.m. nightly, preventing evening access for bathers).
This was our favorite watering hole aboard Wind Surf, and it had the longest operating hours of any venue on the ship. Located on the Bridge Deck, overlooking the aft, Compass Rose had a decent amount of tables outside with faux wicker chairs and a few umbrellas (it was one of the few outdoor areas that had much shade, another plus). The bar itself was indoors, and there was a good amount of seating here as well. At night a vocal-guitar duo performed here, and on a couple nights engaged us in a very competitive pop music trivia contest.
The full cocktail menu was available. Each morning, coffee, tea and a light continental breakfast was set out here, along with cookies and tea from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Our bathroom was stocked with fine L’Occitane amenities—soap bars, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion. A hair dryer was found in one of the desk drawers (where the outlet was located). There were two pair of slippers and a couple bathrobes in the closet. At embarkation, a bowl of fresh fruit was set on the desk—replenished at least once during our cruise—as well as a vase with a tulip. Chocolates were delivered each evening at turn-down.
Our cabin had a Pioneer DVD player and a Bose docking station and speaker for an iPod or similar accessories. The cabin safe was actually two—stacked, old-school Futura units. Both were too small for anything like a laptop or midsized camera (actual dimensions of the opening for each was 4 by 6 inches). The all-beverage minibar was stocked within the mini-fridge, with nip bottles of spirits on a pullout rack. The selection included sodas, beer (alas, no more provocative than Heineken), wine, and a good range of spirits including Beefeater gin, Smirnoff vodka, Jack Daniel’s bourbon, Kahlua, etc.
Down Below Deck
Obviously, a cruise aboard Wind Surf is not exactly comparable to one on today’s modern cruise ships that carry 10 times as many guests. There are a number of things you won’t find: no showroom productions, no Bingo sessions, no children’s facilities, and onboard activities are limited. Though there are elevators, the ship is not very wheelchair-accessible. There’s not even a cruise director—how would we manage?
But there were more similarities than we initially expected. There’s a pool, a gym, a spa and a casino. We had multiple dining options, a DVD library, and bikes were available for rent—perfect for exploring smaller ports. Uniquely, there’s even a marina that unfolds from the stern with kayaks, a Zodiac and windsurf equipment. (On our cruise the marina emerged at one tender port but not at two others, perhaps restricted by local regulations.)
None of Wind Surf’s cabins have balconies, though all have an ocean view. Our quarters were comfortable, with a fresh and contemporary veneer following a December 2012 renovation of the ship. Similarly, the restaurants got a facelift and we found dining to be solid, both better and more diversified than we expected. Entertainment, though limited, was fine for the size of the ship—we particularly enjoyed the vocal/guitar duo with a serious affinity for Mark Knopfler that kept us entertained at the convivial Compass Rose bar.
Alas, there were some areas of our cruise that should have been better. Repairs were conducted on one top deck area during lunch, meaning loud sawing sounds and dust were inescapable for anyone dining at the Veranda (the only restaurant available for lunch). We were disappointed that non-smoking areas were not always enforced. The port side of the pool deck was a designated smoking area, but when several smokers congregated the starboard side was also usually flooded with cigarette smells.
Although service overall was very good, and we appreciate a staff that can recall names and preferences, sometimes it was a bit too informal. This would be a deal-breaker for anyone expecting white-glove coddling. Inappropriate presumptuousness was particularly a problem for one crewmember.
Now almost a quarter-century old, Wind Surf is getting up in her years. Fortunately, most areas of the ship did not appear in bad shape, though the teak decks up top definitely show their age.
Most of the service we received aboard Wind Surf was excellent, friendly. Many of the crewmembers had been with Windstar for a number of years and they were proud of the ship. However, we found one crewmember to be overly familiar and forward—to the point that we deliberately avoided his stations during meals. We also noted, in contrast to most cruise lines, that we almost never saw our cabin steward, who breezed in and out of our quarters quickly each day. While we can’t say there was anything unattended to, we were surprised to not meet him until the third day of our cruise.
Wind Surf’s normal compliment of crew is 191 and the number of guests at full occupancy is 310. This equates to a ratio of 1.6 guests for each crewmember, a relatively high level of staffing for the industry.
Located on the Star Deck with tables both inside and out, this was Wind Surf’s main breakfast and lunch option. There was both a modest buffet selection and a menu available, with much of the food cooked to order at an outdoor grill right at midship. We found most of our meals here to be just fine, and we enjoyed eating here except for the afternoon when construction immediately below carried on until multiple guest complaints brought a senior crewmember to stop it.
At breakfast, the buffet selection included bagels with smoked salmon and fixings, Greek yogurt and honey, packaged cereals, a nice selection of sliced fruit plus stewed (compote) fruits such as pear and peaches. Hot buffet offerings included scrambled eggs, bacon (soft or crispy), oatmeal and cream of wheat, sausage (chicken or pork), fried potatoes, etc. But we were happier ordering off the menu, which included a variety of eggs Benedict-style preparations (California, Spanish, Messina), plus poached eggs over corned beef hash or salmon hash, a breakfast burrito, or omelets to order with hash browns.
The lunch selection changed daily and would include cold choices from the buffet such as seafood, curried chicken or pasta salad, cold cuts, cheese and fruit, marinated vegetables. There was a hot and cold soup of the day—it might be papaya bisque or gazpacho for cold, Portuguese bean or corn chowder for hot. Among the hot buffet items were pork schnitzel, salmon escalopes, baklava spiced lamb, fish and chips, or chicken satay with spicy peanut sauce. But the menu also offered a half-dozen entrées cooked to order, such as Black Forest sandwich, leg of lamb, fontina and mushroom burger, a pasta of the day such as fettuccini carbonara or bami goring with pork and veggies, and a Caesar salad with a topping of the day like seafood or roasted chorizo.
Wind Surf offered a few unusual recreational opportunities outside the Fitness Center. Accessed from Deck 2, a small Watersports Marina unfolded from the back of the ship. From the watersports platform, kayaks, small sailboats, windsurfers and snorkel gear were available for guest use, along with an inflatable water trampoline island. The platform is opened when the ship is at anchor (presumably never at docks), but it did not emerge at two of our tender ports (due either to sea conditions or local regulations). The equipment didn’t get much use by guests that we saw (the water wasn’t exactly warm), but by afternoon a few crewmembers were enjoying it.
Jogging was possible on the Star Deck (five-and-half laps equaled a mile), but one did need to content with diners at the Veranda Restaurant as well as sun loungers. Just above the marina was also a collection of bikes that could be rented for exploring ports. The rate was $15 for four hours, $25 for 8 hours.
Located on the Main Deck, aft, the Pool Bar faced the ship’s small pool, naturally, and it was a good spot for afternoon cocktails, whether we were swimming or not. One caveat: The port side of the seating area was designated for smokers, and when several congregated, the whole area was plagued with cigarette smells. This bar closed each evening at 6 p.m. as the space was converted into Candles Grill.
The ship’s daily one-page newsletter arrived in our room each evening, revealing the schedule of activities and hours of operation for the following day. Passports were collected from guests during embarkation and returned at the end of our cruise.
Overall, our cruise aboard Wind Surf was a delight, stirring romantic seafaring notions and delivering us to choice, small ports. True yachties may scoff at Wind Surf’s sea cred—the sails aren’t hoisted by hand, and itineraries are port intensive (sea days are rare, except for trans-Atlantic crossings). But we loved the abundant teak decks, were pleasantly surprised by the dining, and we appreciated the easy-going ambience and attitude of fellow guests. Although it’s not suited for most families with young kids, we’re hard-pressed to think of a better cruise option for a honeymooning couple.
Windstar Cruises is overpromising a bit when they position their line as “the leader in small ship luxury cruising.” Both Seabourn Cruises and Silversea Cruises—for starters—offer a more refined (albeit much more expensive) product. The standard cabins aboard Wind Surf were fine relative to oceanview cabins on mainstream cruise lines, but the accommodations didn’t compare to the entry-level cabins on true luxury ships. It will be interesting to watch how Seabourn’s three smaller ships fare as they are integrated into the Windstar fleet in 2014-15.
But marketing quibbles aside, our Wind Surf journey offered a refreshing change of pace from typical cruises. While some of the service issues we encountered should be addressed, we wouldn’t want stiff, formal ministrations in place of the personalized attention we received from a crew that has been with this line for many years.
We look forward to our next Windstar experience with pleasure, perhaps aboard one of the fleet’s smaller, four-masted ships, Wind Spirit and Wind Star.
Lead photo credit: Danita Delimont/Alamy
The main alternative to AmphorA for the evening meal was this equally attractive dining room located on the Star Deck, just forward of the Veranda. Open only for dinner, there was no surcharge for dining here. Whereas AmphorA offered Continental fare, Stella Bistro has a French menu—actually two, which alternated. Although reservations were suggested, with 82 seats for Wind Surf’s 312 passengers, there were ample tables for all guests to dine here at least once. Like AmphorA, the fixed tables were nicely spaced—the smaller room was quite comfortable and well appointed.
Among the starters we tried, the Napoleon of portobello mushroom was a treat, a goat cheese soufflé was satisfying, and escargots bourguignon was done in classic style. The salads here were more to our liking than what we had at AmphorA—a simple arugula salad with marinated boiled potatoes and a wedge of goat cheese, and frisée with shredded duck breast. There were also soups: bouillabaisse, lobster bisque, classic French onion soup.
For entrées we tried the roasted chicken “grand mère,” a succulent and crisp quarter bird with rosemary, lemon and a red wine sauce—wonderful. The coquille St. Jacque Provençale offered a quartet of scallops on the half shell with a dollop of eggplant mousse; the dish was fine, but somewhat small for a main course. By contrast, the slow braised osso bucco appeared in a bowl like a yin and yang of polenta wrapped around the meat—a decadent and hearty dish.
The dessert menu trotted out predictable but welcome standards such as tarte tatin, crepes Suzette and chocolate fondue. We enjoyed these, but the cheese plate was our favorite, selected from a cheese trolly with accompaniments such as dried apricots, cashews and walnuts.
We did not stay in these other cabin options, but we have summaries here provided by Windstar Cruises. Note that any photos below have been provided by the cruise line and not our reviewer.
All staterooms have ocean views, queen beds, flat-screen TV with DVD player and Bose SoundDock speakers for Apple iPods. Suites include an extra bath and TV along with sitting area and his-and-her bathrooms. 376 square feet.
All staterooms have ocean views, queen beds, flat-screen TV with DVD player and Bose SoundDock speakers for Apple iPods. Bridge Suites offer the additional luxury of a spacious private living room and relaxing whirlpool spa. 495 square feet.
One of our favorite things about Wind Surf was all of the teak exterior decks. For a small ship there seemed to be lots to explore. The lowest exterior deck was the Main Deck, or Deck 4. This was where the lifeboats were located (preventing much of a view) and, to the aft, the pool. The forward section of this deck culminated in stairs that lead up to the Bridge.
The Bridge Deck, Deck 5, was more open, a great place for strolling and taking in the nautical experience. The actual bridge was open to visitors, there was various nautical equipment to peruse, and a few loungers were available at midship. Just above, the Star Deck was a wonderful space. This is where the barbecue dinner was conducted, it’s where The Veranda restaurant is located, along with the Fitness Center and a couple dozen loungers with a towel station. A small sign said five-and-a-half laps equaled a mile, but during breakfast and lunch hours this wasn’t necessarily the best place for a jog. One additional level, Deck 7, is a flying bridge that has its own steering station—it was great for photos.
Shows & Entertainment
Located midship on the Main Deck, The Lounge served as the ship’s primary entertainment venue. The stage—such as it was—was a platform raised a couple inches above the rest of the space. But it was big enough for a quartet, and the group Top Society played here most nights of our cruise. There was also a guest vocalist who performed on a couple evenings. The entertainment was okay, but so was gazing out at the stars. There was also a talented guitar-vocal due that performed in the Compass Rose bar nightly.
The ship’s DVD library was located next on the Main Deck next to the (book) Library. We found about 1300 titles available—a pretty eclectic collection that ranged from “Smokey and the Bandit” to “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party.” Something for everyone, you might say.
A galley tour was offered on one afternoon, and it was fairly interesting to see how our satisfying meals were prepared under Wind Surf’s constrained conditions (much smaller than what most cruise ships work with). The chef also organized a visit to a local market at one port, where he stocked up on fresh fruit, produce and other goods for the evening meal. There was no charge to join the short tour.
Located on the Main Deck next to the Yacht Club, there were just two PCs available for guests to check email or websites. The basic rate for internet access—using the ship’s computers or our own laptop anywhere on the ship—was $50 for 75 megabytes of data, or $100 for 160 megabytes. There was a usage meter (in a second browser) that indicated how many megs had been consumed. The internet station was not staffed.
This was the ship’s largest bar, open only in the evening. The full cocktail menu was available, and there was seating on chars and couches. Most nights this was also Wind Surf’s primary entertainment venue, with a stage barely raised a couple inches above the floor. A group called Top Society played here, a set the promoted light dancing. The Lounge was also used for check-in during embarkation, various presentations (shore excursions, captain’s cocktail reception), a wine tasting program, etc.
We so wanted to love Candles Grill, an al fresco steakhouse sitting next to the pool, on the aft deck. We arrived just before sundown and the open-air setting was unique—one can certainly take in the fresh air and sunset colors, with the waves lapping gently at the boat. But there’s no kitchen here, just the grill, and so most of the food (if not everything) that is not grilled is pre-prepared; alas, this constrains the results. That said, if we were lucky to be dining with a friend on their personal yacht and this was the meal they offered, we wouldn’t have any complaints. But compared to what Wind Surf does at its other dining venues, Candles doesn’t seem to aim very high.
The seafood cocktail, served in a martini glass, was fine, as was the Caprese salad (what could go wrong?). The Caesar salad was garnished with a healthy anchovy specimen. We ordered the lamb chops, which were serviceable, while the New York strip was not the best cut. Other entrée options included filet mignon and marinated sea bass (both of which looked better than what we had). Despite the food being our least interesting meal aboard Wind Surf, the setting was magical—we’d still rate this venue as a don’t-miss, but don’t forget to bring a jacket or wrap.
We were seated at a small table set against one of the Jacuzzi tubs. There are four of these, and we’d recommend requesting a table along the outer railings. But don’t be too choosy: On a seven-day cruise there are barely enough tables (23) available for all guests to dine here once, and not enough if inclement weather shuts the venue down for a night. Reservations are strongly recommended on embarkation day, and for a night early in the cruise (in case of weather). Select the day and time of your seating carefully. It’s nice to be dining at Candles while under sail, but the tables are all exposed to the wind; an evening with a late departure from port might be better.
Of course, Wind Surf’s casino was smaller than we usually see on cruise ships, but it was bigger than we expected it to be, with 27 slot machines, 3 card tables and a Roulette table. There were different themes each night—the first night was Straight Night, then Blackjack Attack, etc. While the slots were open soon after leaving each port, the tables opened as late as 8:30 p.m. on a couple nights. Overall, the casino didn’t see a lot of traffic on our cruise.
One night of our cruise was dedicated to the top-deck Barbecue Dinner. A tasty buffet was set out at dusk and Wind Surf nuzzled up to the base of the erupting volcano Stromboli. The skies darkened and we were mesmerized by incandescent lava sparking from the summit like a Roman candle.
The spread included salads and appetizers such as roasted marinated vegetables, poached shrimp, hearts of palm salad, grilled eggplant and chipotle corn salad, avocado stuffed with seafood, and various breads. Hot dishes included moussaka, spanakopita, pineapple fritters, baked potatoes, paella, and an Asian style suckling pig with applesauce. At the grill we could order jerk chicken drumsticks, wahoo fillet, baby pork ribs, lamb loin chops and lobster tails.
No one went away hungry—in fact, overall the food was better than what we experienced at Candles. The tables were covered and napkins were linen, and there was live music. All other venues were closed on this evening, and in the event of rain, the event is moved indoors.
Located on the Star Deck, this little cubbyhole, with seating for about a half-dozen, was the ship’s one interior space where smoking was allowed. While the door was always open, it was inconsistently staffed—it seemed to open sometimes when a guest requested service from elsewhere on the ship. We were told that the ship’s full bar menu was available here, but we suspect some drinks would be procured from another bar. The Terrace Bar counter extended outside, and at night this area was called “Cigars Under the Stars,” with a few leather chairs, a table and Oriental rug put out for effect. Cigars were available for sale.
The attire on Wind Surf was comfortably relaxed. Windstar recommends that guests dress as they would at an elegant resort, but we’d say the dress was a little less refined than that. On sea days, the ship’s breezy outdoor atmosphere is conducive for light fabrics such as cotton, linen and silk.
The strictest dress was for dinner, when a casual-elegant dress code takes effect; the requirements were no shorts, jeans, T-shirts, hats and tennis shoes. There are no formal nights. The Windstar website also specifically states: “No suits or ties.”
In addition to serving coffee, the Yacht Club is an alternative buffet option for quick meals, though most of it is served cold. Although only a small percentage of Wind Surf's guests seemed to use this spot, there are only just a handful of tables, and we found them full for periods during breakfast and, especially, lunch. Fortunately, few tend to linger long, so finding an open seat wasn’t too difficult the times we were here.
At breakfast the selection included individual plates of fruits, cereals including muesli and low-fat granola, yogurt and berries served parfait-style, and a nice selection of rolls, such as organic tomato and basil or organic carrot and sultanas, served with mango-lime or apricot-nectarine jam. At lunch there were nine different sandwiches, along with a soup of the day. We took our sandwich ashore with us one day and made our own island picnic.
The size and layout of Wind Surf created a number of unique spaces. The Reception Desk was found on the Main Deck (aka Deck 4), and was staffed 24 hours a day. Around the corner was the Library, which was shared by the Yacht Club (the ship’s café). Although there were a couple hundred books here—many of them reference-oriented—there were a lot of empty shelves soon after embarkation (we’re not sure they were quite full before casting off). This area had comfy couches and handsome Scandinavian chairs, some mismatched, along with a large TV monitor that was usually tuned to news or sports. We also found Backgammon and Chess sets, and there were two pairs of headphones to listen to music, though our fellow guests weren’t good about hanging them up properly on the charging stations.
Deck 5 was the Bridge Deck and the Bridge was open to visitors pretty much any time, except during sailaway. There were always at least two officers present, happy to answer questions about the ship. One venue on this deck that got little use during our cruise was the Nautilus Room, a conference room with chairs to seat about 50. The facility was perfunctory, but included a rear-projection TV screen for presentations.
There was no laundry room for guests to do their laundry, but basic laundry and pressing service was available (no dry cleaning). Items received before 9 a.m. were to be returned within 24 hours. Prices ranged from $1.80 for underwear to $3.30 for a blouse or sports shirt, and $3.80 for a sweater or sweatshirt to $6.45 for a suit or dress skirt. Most pressing was priced under $1; a suit or dress was $1.70.
An unlimited laundry package was available for $109 per cabin for the week ($54.50 for single-occupant cabins). Guests were asked to sign up for the package by the afternoon following embarkation.
We were pleasantly surprised by the breadth of Wind Surf’s 24-hour room service selection. The only drawback is that there was no real table for dining on in our cabin, just the built-in desk, at which only one person could eat at a time.
The breakfast menu, available from 6 a.m. till noon, included hot items such as eggs Benedict, scrambled eggs, oatmeal, French toast, and pancakes, all of which could be ordered with sides of sausage, bacon, ham or hash browns. Cold fare included a fruit plate, various juices, bread, rolls and pastry, and a smoked salmon and bagel feast.
We called to request breakfast one morning and the order was delivered just 19 minutes later. Food arrived topped with plastic lids or with plastic wrap. Our order included eggs Hollandaise with sides of hash browns, and an omelet that was folded with peppers, onions, tomato, cheese and bacon. Both arrived hot, and the taste was just fine.
There are two menus for the rest of the day—the main one being available from noon to 10 p.m. On it, we found everything from crudités with ranch dressing and vegetable samosas, to burgers, grilled chicken sandwiches and Cobb salad. Entrées included grilled New York strip, sesame-crusted tuna, Thai chicken curry and vegetable lasagna. The short list of desserts featured apple pie, chocolate cake and a cheese plate. The late night menu, available from 10 p.m. till 6 p.m., was streamlined and included a few sandwiches, salads, Bircher muesli and popcorn, along with the same dessert selection.
General Health & Safety
The mandatory safety drill was conducted prior to embarkation and guests were required to bring life jackets from their room for the demonstration. Hand sanitizers were present in the dining areas, though we observed no special emphasis on using them.
Although the smaller Wind Star and Wind Spirit ships operated by Windstar Cruises do not have elevators, Wind Surf has two—one forward, one aft. However, no cabins or bathrooms are considered wheelchair-accessible, and the ship does not have elevator access for boarding. Guests with limited mobility should be aware that a number of doorways have raised thresholds to step over.
There was an infirmary on Deck 1, staffed by a doctor. The facility was open 8 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. daily. A charge was applied to the cabin account for any services rendered or medications provided. Meclizine tablets for seasickness were available from the infirmary at no charge.
Designated smoking areas were the port side of the Compass Rose and Pool bars, and indoors at the Terrace Bar (the latter was also the location for cigar and pipe smoking). Smoking was otherwise not permitted inside the ship, including cabins and the casino. However, we observed guests smoking in other, non-smoking exterior areas of the ship in front of the crew, including the outdoor dining area of the Veranda restaurant. We were disappointed that the policy was not enforced while we were dining outdoors.
Tipping and Service Charges
A $12 per day, per guest gratuity was added to our checkout bill, to cover wait staff, our cabin steward as well as behind-the-scenes crewmembers. Additionally, a 15-percent service charge was added to all bar charges and wine purchases.
Guests were allowed to bring aboard wine and Champagne; bottles consumed in the restaurants or bars were subject to a $15 corkage fee. Other spirits were not allowed in cabins; Windstar offered to stow them until the last day of the voyage.
The minimum drinking age was 21.
Windstar Yacht Club is the frequent-cruiser program for guests. Formerly called the Foremast Club, the program was revamped in November 2013 with improved benefits that start following the first sailing.
Among them: A 5-percent discount on standard cruise fares for most voyages; upgrades to the next highest cabin category (or an upgrade from a standard cabin to a premium suite starting at $500 per person based on availability during onboard check-in); private member cocktail party; dining with the Captain or other ship officers; a Welcome Aboard gift; and savings of 10 percent on gift shop purchases. Additionally, a $100 shipboard credit is provided for each confirmed booking members refer to Windstar Cruises.
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