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Christopher Prelog started his cruise career as a waiter onboard Seabourn Cruise Line’s Seabourn Legend in 1998. Harnessing his background in hospitality over the next two decades at Seabourn, and later Windstar Cruises, he rose through the ranks and was most recently named president of Windstar.
We had the chance to catch up with Prelog and find out about next year’s Alaska sailing season.
As the new president of Windstar Cruises, what is your vision for the future of the company?We have some immediate needs as a cruise industry, but my vision for the long term is to continue to be the undisputed leader in small-yacht cruising. Windstar is already established as the leader, and we wish to continue to be in that spot.
With COVID-19 in all our daily lives, it is really about integrating our Beyond Ordinary Care program when we restart next year so that the new operating format supports that vision of being the leader. That is what we are doing right now.
How do you foresee your background in hospitality and cruising contributing to the brand?Cruising is a hospitality and service industry, and my background in hospitality helps to position Windstar as the leader in small-yacht cruising.
I like to always look through two lenses when touching the brand, and it is the lens of our guests — what they will experience — and the lens of our crew on how to deliver it. I think I am very fortunate that I have had both experiences, which helps tremendously working onboard to understand how that gets delivered.
Cruising is a hospitality and service industry, and my background in hospitality helps to position Windstar as the leader in small-yacht cruising.
Other than timing, has the Star Plus Initiative been modified at all due to the pandemic?No, not at all. Our ships are being converted as previously outlined. There are no changes to the plans being made. It is a project we want to continue to implement.
We have made some changes to enhance our HVAC system because of the Beyond Ordinary Care program. In fact, we are retrofitting it. Our HVAC systems will be upgraded with HEPA filtration, and the UV-C lighting technology will also be implemented in all our HVAC units. So, that is all on track.
Does Windstar still anticipate a full season in Alaska next year?Absolutely, yes. We are counting on it. At the recent Seatrade Cruise Virtual there was, of course, a lot of discussion about Alaska. The cruise industry has felt the impact of suspending operations there in 2020, and the region is very encouraging and wants to support the cruise industry coming back in 2021.
Will guests see changes to the onboard experience?There will be some onboard changes, including social distancing, a policy on masks, eliminating buffets, COVID-19 testing before clients come onboard and reduced capacities in staterooms. Those adjustments will most likely impact the experience somewhat.
And these protocols are still evolving due to all the various government legislation coming out. We are strictly following CLIA’s (Cruise Lines International Association) COVID-19 guidance, and it is still being developed. So, what exactly that will be, we don’t know yet. But I am quite confident that it will end up in a place where requirements are acceptable to guests. I mean, who knew six or seven months ago that mask wearing would be where it is now? Most people have accepted it.
With smaller ports in Alaska, do you think the health bubble will allow guests to explore on their own beyond sanctioned shore excursions?It is still quite early to say. We are working on the best approach for Alaskan ports.
It’s really a two-way street here. We are obviously having to make sure that our guests and crew onboard are safe and healthy. And we also have to make sure that the local places we visit remain healthy. Plus, it works the other way, too — the local places we visit need to ensure the ship remains safe and healthy. There is good dialogue between the ports and the cruise lines.
Alaska is certainly a wilderness area. We will offer hiking, kayaking and Zodiac tours with our expedition program — which, as a private tour, is in its own health bubble.
Will there be any modifications to the Windstar Signature Expeditions in the region?There will be a modification because the Star Breeze is going to be in Alaska. It will be our first Star Plus ship in Alaska. So, we will have the new expanded watersports platform with more variety onboard for our guests, as well as more space.
Similarly, I think our expedition program will be geared to this new platform, but we are still aiming at offering all the expedition programs as we have done in past years.
What Alaskan itineraries are planned for 2021?There are some interesting things happening in 2021. We will feature a first-time stop in Valdez on Windstar’s new Alaska Glaciers & Prince William Sound itinerary. That is something we have not done before, and it’s a really beautiful spot.
We have also implemented a couple of seven-day cruise itineraries in Alaska for those who cannot get away for 10 or 11 days. And clients can always combine it with our land tour program of pre- and post-cruise options.
Plus, we have our traditional Vancouver to Anchorage cruises over 11 to 12 days. So, we offer quite a variety of options and try to meet multiple needs across our program.
Regardless of region, what should agents be doing during this time ahead of Windstar’s eventual restart?Familiarize yourself with our small-yacht cruising. Have a look at what the Star Plus Initiative really offers. Check out our Beyond Ordinary Care program.
It is a multilayer safety protocol. It’s based on the fact that there is not a single solution to the pandemic. It is everything from testing to social distancing to HVAC upgrades with many aspects to ensuring everyone is healthy and safe.
Just understand there are no lines; there are no crowds. We have a lot of outdoor dining options. The ships are perfect coming out after the pandemic. It is socially distancing by default as small ships with few guests.
And don’t forget that we have an amazing crew at Windstar. We are very, very fortunate and proud to have a team on our ship who has just done an outstanding job delivering the product. It is on a small ship where you can experience that so well because they get to know you so well, and they cater to your needs.
Also just newly announced for Windstar is the line’s enhanced loyalty program including new tiers and benefits. The Yacht Club will consist of a progression from One Star to Four Star levels beginning with guests’ first cruises. Tiers are based on points with one point granted per day cruised. Additional points are awarded daily for higher category suites.
Depending on the tier, available perks encompass a combination of 5% discount on all sailings and an extra 5% “welcome home” discount on voyages booked within 60 days of disembarkation from a qualifying cruise; a $100 onboard credit referral gift for the referrer and each referred “first to brand” friend; early notification of new ports and itineraries; advance sales notice; private sales opportunities; Yacht Club Member sailings; exclusive onboard officer experiences and bonus discounts at other Xanterra Travel Collection brands; plus discounts on shore excursions, Wi-Fi, laundry service, logo merchandise and beverage packages.
The DetailsWindstar Cruiseswww.windstarcruises.com