New and Improved

After undergoing many changes, the Wind Surf emerges with upgrades

By: Anita Dunham-Potter

Leaving port under sail brings some extra magic to a cruise, even a little romance. As Captain Mark Boylin maneuvered the five-masted Wind Surf out of Barcelona’s harbor and into the Mediterranean Sea, the transformation was breathtaking. Amid the stiff winds and white-capped waters, the captain pressed a button that unfurled the ship’s seven triangular-shaped sails and instantly Wind Surf took on the seas.

Winds of Change

It’s been a busy 16 months for the Wind Surf and Windstar. At the end of 2006, the ship received a major makeover under a “Degrees of Difference” program when the company was part of Holland America Line; then, in April 2007, Windstar Cruises got a new owner when Carnival Corp. sold the line to Ambassadors International.

Sailing on Windstar has always been wonderful, so it’s hard to think it could get any better, but change has had a positive effect. Guests will still find Windstar’s signature elements friendly, attentive service and the casual, unregimented nature of the cruise itself but the ships new features add to the quality.

One of the biggest changes is the Yacht Club, a common area that replaced the library with all the comforts of a neighborhood coffeehouse, including plush seating, a flat-screen television, an espresso bar and eight computers with Internet access. Another welcome addition is wireless Internet, available throughout the ship. The gym was also updated with new weights and televisions, and the WindSpa has added a couple’s massage room and pedicure chair.

Staterooms have been given a makeover with remodeled bathrooms as well as Bose SoundDocks for plugging in an iPod. And, if you didn’t bring an MP3 player, clients can borrow an iPod, with music already loaded, from the library.

My 188-square-foot oceanview stateroom was efficiently organized with a desk, plenty of closet space, a stocked mini-bar, a refrigerator, robes and slippers, a queen-size bed topped with new Egyptian cotton bedding and fluffy pillows. There is also a flat-screen television with limited channel choices. Fortunately, there is also a DVD player and the ship has an extensive selection of DVDs available for viewing.

Bathrooms have been given the most attention with refinished teak floors, upgraded lighting, granite countertops, porcelain sinks, magnifying mirror and luxurious L’Occitane toiletries.

There are also 31 suites onboard offering 376 square feet with a large sitting area. Two new 500-square-foot suites have been added on the Bridge Deck, bringing the ship’s capacity to 312 (formerly 308). These new suites each have living and dining areas, a separate bedroom with a walk-in closet and a marble bathroom with a shower and whirlpool tub. Guests in these rooms also receive additional amenities such as unpacking service, dinner with the captain, evening canapes, high tea service, complimentary bottled water in-suite, chilled champagne upon arrival and laundry and pressing service.

Outstanding Cuisine

Windstar’s food is always exceptional, thanks to menus inspired by celebrity chef Joachim Splichal. There are two evening dining options: the open-seating venue called The Restaurant and an alternative dining venue called Degrees. Four nights a week, Degrees features a steakhouse menu; the other nights, it offers rotating menus from Northern Italy, France and Indonesia. There is no additional charge, but you’ll need to make reservations.

Breakfast and lunch are served in the delightful glass-enclosed Veranda, which extends out onto the Star Deck to offer an al fresco alternative. There is also a grill for cooked-to-order breakfasts, while at lunch, there is a refreshing array of pasta, barbeque and salads on offer. Clients who like to graze throughout the day can enjoy snacks at the Pool Bar and afternoon tea at Compass Rose. Another new amenity is Wind Surf’s 24-hour room service, allowing clients to order off dining room menus.

Wind Surf’s crew is attentive and the laid-back atmosphere allows for interaction that is not possible on other ships. Guests are always welcome on the bridge, where you can chat up the officers and learn about sailing. Service is stellar; the waiters and cabin stewards are always smiling and are quick to please. I was always impressed, and a little taken aback, that they remembered my name, despite the slight contact I had with them.

However, there was one weakness about the cruise: a lack of entertainment and enrichment programs, which became painfully obvious during bad weather and an extra day spent in Monaco. There wasn’t much to do, and no additional shore excursions were made available, which was a major complaint among passengers. However, the matter is something that Windstar is working on.

Unique Adventure

Alas, you don’t come aboard the Wind Surf for entertainment; you come for the smaller-ship experience and the romance of sailing. The relatively small size of Windstar’s vessels gives them access to many ports that can’t handle larger cruise ships. The result is a more yachting type of experience with stops at charming locations unlikely to be explored any other way. My mid-October itinerary sailed from Barcelona to Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy, with stops in Palamos, Spain; Sete, France; Monte Carlo, Monaco; and Portofino and Livorno (the ports for Florence and Tuscany) in Italy. Sailing schedules are set to provide passengers with plenty of daylight to enjoy and explore the ports of call or to use the ship’s watersports platform, which is lowered from the stern when the weather is calm.

The clientele aboard Windstar ships is generally upscale with a focus on informal, but tasteful living. According to Windstar’s statistics, the average passenger age is in the mid-50s. On my sailing, many passengers were in their 70s, but I also met several honeymooners in their 40s. Most were repeat customers, and several told me they were in double-digit sailings on Windstar. So, if your clients are ready for high-seas adventure, the romance of sailing, good food and relaxation, then the Wind Surf is definitely ready to receive them.