Luxury In A Casual Setting The Magic of Sailing with Windstar
by Vanessa Lee
The Compass Rose Lounge outdoor deck sailing away from St Lucia
Vanessa with Tim Boyles and Gede the Maitre d
Sailing away from Bequia, Grenadines
Vanessa and Tim sail away on the last day
Mayreau, Grenadines – guests on the beach in their sun shells for the beach day/bbq
Cooking up lunch at the beach bbq in Mayreau
With the wind blowing in your hair, sails billowing in the breeze, the sun shining and music playing, another Windstar cruise sets sail with a full complement of happy and anticipatory guests. This is what it was like recently when I sailed on the Wind Surf (my favourite yacht in the fleet) from Barbados to the deep Caribbean.
Why do I love this ship? Well, I do love being under sail but I also want some stability at sea, so the power sails work well. I have seen Wind Surf morph over the years with a number of enhancements and she really does have something for everyone, with guests loving the friendly, informal atmosphere. It’s a big part of the winning combination that Windstar offers and absolutely ‘180 degrees from Ordinary!’ And, of course, there are five other Windstar yachts, two sail and three motor yachts – all offering your clients a top-notch holiday experience. I also hope there are more to come – soon please!
When you say Windstar, a lot of people picture more of a Windjammer experience, and I have to correct them – no, this is a luxury yacht. It’s certainly a casual and relaxed sailing experience but it’s not to be confused with bareboat cruising. One of the things I noticed very quickly is that there were a lot of first-timers on the Surf (even some cruise first-timers) and they all had a lot of questions about the ship and the experience. Many didn’t really know what to expect. By the middle of the week, though, they were all thrilled!
For those of you who do not know the Windstar brand that well or need a refresher, here are some key points – as a brand does change over time with added amenities and enhancements.
There are four dining options on the Surf – more than on the other Windstar ships. The main restaurant AmphorA is a lovely room with great lighting and little noise. Reservations are not required and there’s open-seating dining every night from 7 to 9. The food is truly excellent and the menus showcase Windstar’s partnership with the James Beard Foundation. Several selections featured each evening were created by award-winning chefs from across the U.S.
Another popular choice by reservation (one per stateroom per cruise at the outset to ensure every guest can dine there), is Stella Bistro, all the way forward on the top deck. A French Bistro menu is offered here – think escargots, lobster bisque, French onion soup and some fab main courses. All truly delicious and in an intimate setting.
Who doesn’t love to dine al fresco? Candles, which is the outside seating portion of the casual Verandah restaurant (open for breakfast and lunch), is a prime choice for a variety of meats and seafood. This has really come a long way in recent years with a much greater menu selection – steaks being a feature. This is a must reserve spot -- at embarkation every guest can sign up – and can often return by checking with the maitre d’ -- especially after peak dining time.
Another choice is ‘Dining Under the Stars,’ which offers a few tables around the aft pool twice a week. It’s the most casual option, with limited choices, some self-serve, while mains are delivered. This must also be pre-booked due to limited space. If guests have enjoyed a long day ashore at the beach or on a tour, this is a more casual, relaxed option. Best of all, there are no charges for alternate dining at any onboard restaurant.
We were on the beverage package which gave us pouring wines by the glass as long as the price was $11.50 or below. The wine list is extensive and, overall, very good. From the 19 reds and 12 whites plus a few blush wines offered, only three on the red list were above the $11.50. As you may know, I love my red wine. I was very happy with the choices and we never had to go over the limit.
If one does want to order a special bottle of wine, beverage package buyers get a 30% discount. All our drinks and cocktails were also included along with a well-stocked mini bar. If your clients enjoy fine wines and a few cocktails a day then I do recommend they purchase this package ahead of time.
I particularly love Windstar service: it is friendly, genuine and warm in every way. Every time I sail, I meet crew and staff I have sailed with previously. It’s always a treat and something returning guests find particularly appealing (we had about 50% repeat guests on our cruise). The crew loyalty to the Windstar brand is phenomenal – always a good sign.
Highlights of our week included a wonderful beach day and barbecue on the beautiful sands of Mayreau in the Grenadines. With a population of only 300 we basically doubled the numbers on the island that day. We went kayaking, tried stand-up paddle boarding – not easy -- and swam and snorkelled to our heart’s content. All the while sipping on rum punch and enjoying the tasty beach BBQ cooked up by the ship’s chefs.
A beach day is one of the highlights of every cruise. Another popular weekly feature is the onboard deck barbecue where every guest dines on three levels of decks. A massive feast is prepared, offering both surf and turf, and on this occasion, we were entertained by a steel band and the ship’s band while crew members taught us to line-dance! It was one of those moments at sea when you feel totally special and privileged.
There is a Watersports marina platform that comes down on port days when the yacht is at anchor, and on day one you can head down to pick up snorkel gear for the week. There are plenty of water toys and on this kind of sunny, hot Caribbean cruise all were well-used and enjoyed.
What else? Well, I love sitting at the indoor/outdoor Compass Rose bar listening to a duo playing a wide selection of popular songs. This is a hotspot for guests to get to know each other – a key part of the social camaraderie on Windstar. The staterooms are well designed, comfy, efficient and beautifully maintained. However, the ship is your balcony here, so from sun-up to sunset and beyond, people are out and about engaging with each other and the crew and loving life on board.
And it’s all just truly magic at sea.
*All photos by Tim Boyles
Vanessa Lee Columnist
An internationally-known luxury cruise expert, Vanessa is publisher and editor of Cruise and Travel Lifestyles magazine. She contributes a column every other Friday for OJ’s Splash News and appears with Nina on the bi-monthly video Cruise Factor.