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The last rope slipped from its post and was gathered in, the stretch of water between the ship and pier widened, and 148 passengers watched as the four-masted Wind Star vessel from Windstar Cruises went free, cruising into the Caribbean as ships under sail have done for centuries.
But centuries ago, people didn’t sit down to dinner in a spacious restaurant with Murano-glass chandeliers, Riedel stemware and a choice among seafood, beef and vegetarian dishes.
Amphora, Wind Star’s fine-dining room, was redesigned in 2012 during the $18 million refurbishment of Windstar’s three sailing ships. The results are beautiful, with plenty of two-, four- and six-person seatings that facilitate conversation. In the evenings, guests can order from Amphora’s menu as part of Wind Star’s 24-hour room service.
Breakfast and lunch are served buffet-style in the indoor-outdoor Veranda, with a three-counter array of hot and cold dishes and special touches such as two kinds of custom eggs Benedict and smoothies made with a choice of milk. At lunchtime, guests will find a pasta-assembling station, Caribbean specialties, a variety of hot entrees and a huge salad and fruit bar — not to mention desserts that have guests trading spoonfuls and sighing with pleasure. And the once-a-cruise evening outdoor barbecue in Candles, the pop-up restaurant by the pool, is probably most responsible for adding inches to the hips of guests.
To counter the delicious meals, there’s a well-designed gym with cardio and resistance equipment and mats for floor work; it became noticeably busier as the cruise went on, as did interest in the watersports platform and Wind Spa.
Truthfully, I was somewhat wary when I came onboard. I’ve always loved Windstar’s ships — though they really did need a full refurbishment — but I was afraid Wind Star might have lost its character. The reality is that it couldn’t have been done more sensitively. Longtime guests commented that it was like seeing an old friend show up beautifully dressed, but still the same person.
Perhaps the clearest evidence is in the staterooms — 73 identical cabins with 188 square feet (one Owner’s Suite is 220 feet) that come with two portholes each. They are well-appointed, with cunning drawers and cabinets designed to stay secure when there are rough seas. Eurotop mattresses now make the beds extremely comfortable, and the bathrooms have been redesigned with an oval layout that is a tremendous improvement on the old ones. But my favorite feature is the booth with table setup that is so inviting that guests use it as a dinner table, a desk and a place to socialize.
Wind Star has a library of carefully chosen DVDs and books, along with music in the evenings. However, its sophisticated guests are generally more interested in conversation, watching the sea and sipping from dozens of wine choices, local and international beers and bartenders’ concoctions.
On my March cruise, passengers were heavily North American, along with British, Australian, Scandinavian and German guests. Forty percent had sailed with Windstar before; the previous cruise had 60 percent repeaters.
The onboard culture is quite friendly, and in the evenings, guests traded stories about the tours and, particularly, about the guides and drivers. Those on the full-day tours — usually the acid test of quality — were especially delighted with their knowledgeable, friendly guides.
Wind Star has a cordial open-bridge policy, led by captain Belinda Bennett. The first black woman captaining a ship in the cruise industry, Bennett was greeted by guests with a roar of approval when she introduced the crew. The staff is so excellent that one guest described them as “more magic than service.”
Wind Star is a wonderful choice for people who like luxury and informality and enjoy active cruising and sweeping into unusual ports. The only caveat is that the ship is not wheelchair accessible and can be difficult for those with mobility issues, as there is no elevator and many ports are accessed by tender. It’s also not a ship for young children.
But along with everyone else — and as a West Coast guest who was sailing for the first time with Windstar summed it up — I felt that “I really couldn’t find anything to complain about.”