Windstar Cruises Review: A Small Luxury Cruise Line
Windstar Cruises maintains that they are 180 Degrees from Ordinary. After sailing on their luxury cruises numerous times, I completely agree. In fact, they are extraordinary. Recently my husband and I set off on a repositioning cruise from Dublin, bound for Lisbon, on their flagship vessel the WindSurf.
Sailing with Windstar Cruise line is more akin to a voyage on a large luxury yacht. With room for only 310 passengers, the ship never feels crowded. Throughout your entire trip, you can expect 5-star service with a personal touch from the crew. They are always attentive and friendly and by the second day onboard you can expect they will address you by name.
This detailed Windstar Cruises Review examines why you should book your next small luxury cruise with them.
All 122 staterooms have ocean views, luxury Egyptian cotton linens, and a fully-stocked minibar. At almost 200 square feet, the cabins are spacious and have ample storage for all of your belongings.
Fresh fruit, flowers, and water are replenished daily by your personal steward. You will definitely feel pampered, if not a little spoiled.
The bathroom is stocked with L’Occitanne toiletries that leave the scent of verbena permeating throughout your cabin. In addition to these items, you might pack a few travel-sized toiletries of your own.
Pro Tip: Most of the cabins on Decks 1 & 2 are side by side with doors that open on an angle into the hallway. Although you may only run into your neighbor once or twice during the cruise, you will likely hear them coming and going. There are a handful of cabins like mine (room 226) that have single facing doors to the hallway which a great for a little more privacy.
World Class Dining
Although all Windstar Cruise ships have options for all-day dining, you will not find any large cruise ship style buffets on board. Rather, 24/7 dining comes only in the form of room service. I like to take advantage of this luxury by having fresh coffee and croissants delivered to my room daily. It is the best kind of alarm clock I can think of using while on a cruise.
A full breakfast is served al fresco at The Veranda which is also a great spot for lunch. In the evenings this space is transformed to become Candles, Windstar’s signature outdoor restaurant. A perfect for dinner on the nights when sail away takes place a little bit later.
If you prefer to dine inside you can choose either Amphora or Stella Bistro. There are never assigned seats or requirements to dine with other guests. You choose who you want to sit with and when. You can also leave your formal clothes at home. Despite being a luxury cruise, Windstar has a casual dress code. They only request no jeans, shorts or t-shirts in the restaurant and lounges in the evenings.
If you do find yourself needing a mid-day nibble, the Yacht Club Sandwich & Espresso Bar on the Wind Surf offers baked goods, small sandwiches, pastries, and specialty coffee drinks. The Compass Rose also serves afternoon tea with sandwiches and sweets.
A testament to Windstar’s culinary expertise is their partnership with the James Beard Foundation. Their themed cruises that feature James Beard Foundation chefs are a foodie’s dream. Guests enjoy chef demos, special beverage pairings, and market tours.
Pro Tip: If you want to dine at either of the smaller more intimate restaurants like Candles or The Bistro, you will need to book reservations in advance. They both have limited seating. This is best done during the embarkation process in order to secure prime reservation times.
The Wind Surf has multiple public spaces for guests to use. Even on days at sea, you will find plenty of room to relax, play a game or find a cozy nook to read your favorite book.
Unlike larger cruise ships, there is no jockeying for the best position or the need to save lounge chairs. There are plenty of them spread out on deck. On sunny days the chairs will be draped with sumptuous beach towels and on chilly days, they are replaced with cozy fleece blankets.
The Windsurf has a small pool, two whirlpools, and a watersports platform. The beauty of a small luxury cruise is having a limited number of passengers on board, which also means you might occasionally find yourself in the hot tub all alone!
I love a day at the spa and enjoy almost every type of treatment they have to offer. I enjoy anything that makes me feel pampered and causes total relaxation such as facials, massages, or body wraps. You cannot go wrong with any of the Windspa choices, however, if I had to recommend just one treatment I would say book their Bamboo Massage, a Signature Treatment that uses a special roller for a heavenly 75-minute full body treatment.
Pro Tip: Book your spa treatment(s) as soon as you board after you check-in. Most guests will visit the spa during the days at sea and appointment times can be limited. Also if you book during embarkation, you can take advantage of the multiple spa treatments discounted pricing 10/20/30 percent off.
One of the greatest luxuries of cruising is that your hotel room moves with you. With our itinerary, we were able to visit five countries in just eight days without ever having to get on a plane or repack our bags. Nor did we have to stand in line for immigration control in each new place.
When I cruise, I select an itinerary based on the ports stops that we will visit. Because of their size Windstar Cruises is able to visit smaller places where most larger ships cannot dock. I view the port choices as an opportunity to get a taste of place that I might return to one day on future travels.
While I have been to Ireland, England, France, and Spain I had never been to Portugal. The cruise I chose took us to Lisbon and Porto. After just a few short hours in both of these cities, I knew I would be booking a return trip to explore this beautiful country again.
Pro-tip: Do diligent research about the ports. You should consider where a tender is used to get into the port vs. docking right on the quay. It is also important to consider the distance from the pier into town. Sometimes the city center is not walkable from where the ship docked. Often times Windstar will provide shuttle service into town, however other times you might be on your own.
Windstar Shore Excursions
You can book shore excursions directly through Windstar or on your own. I have done both. In El Ferrol, Spain we booked the full day Santiago de Compostella tour through Windstar. It eliminated the hassle and complexity of booking our own transportation, tours, lunch, and entry to the famous Cathedral of Santiago.
Conversely, in Vigo, Spain we joined a few other passengers for a private wine tour. Before our trip, while using Cruise Critic to research our port stops, I noticed that someone was looking for a couple to join their tour of the Rías Baixas region. We gladly obliged. We spent the day with a private guide and just four other passengers exploring the small town of Cambados and then visiting the small fishing village of Combaro for lunch.
There are also times when I choose not to book an excursion at all. For example St. Mary’s, on the Isles of Scilly, is small enough to discover on your own. We wandered the town, browsed the shops and had lunch at a lovely little pub. No tour guide needed.
Windstar Cruises Review
Windstar has some of the best small luxury cruise ships in its fleet. The Windstar ships have been awarded numerous accolades including, Worlds Best Small-Ship Cruise Line by Conde Nast Traveler. Their ships may be small in size but they are large in luxury.
Cruising is an excellent choice for all types of travelers. It is a diverse vacation option that checks off many boxes. I also believe it is an optimal choice for multi-generational travel. On this luxury cruise, we witnessed families of all ages traveling and enjoying their time together. With meals, excursions, and activities all taken care of, cruising eliminates the hassle out of planning the details for a large group. While there is plenty of forced togetherness, there is no requirement that you do everything in mass. It is always possible to carve out alone time.
If you are ready for an unexpected experience on a small cruise ship for your next vacation, I’d highly recommend checking them out. I am dreaming of the Windstar Cruises Tahiti for my next cruise.
Disclosure: A Complimentary voyage was provided by Windstar Cruises. No other compensation was received for this review. This post reflects the honest opinion of my experience without outside influence.
Photo Credit: Spa photo provided by Windstar Cruises, all other photos are mine.
Super informative – very thorough review of a small cruise ship vacation
Looking forward to more of windstar !!!
Thank you for your kind comments. I neglected to mention one of the wonderful things about cruising on Windstar is meeting people like you and Ira. All the best – Dana
Would love to go out on a cruise some time! Looks awesome.
I love small ship sailings. I think it is a great way to dip your toes into cruising if you are unsure.
I have never done a cruise, but this looks so much fun!
Small ships are much different than what you might perceive cruising it like. This method of travel is very different than mega cruise ships that have 5000 people.
I have always thought I would feel like a lion in a cage on a cruise ship, but it actually looks really relaxing. And I really like the fact that you see all these different places, but your room stays the same. No hazzle finding a new room in a new town.
It certainly makes it very to easy to explore multiple places in a short amount of time.
I had no idea cruises went from Dublin to Lisbon. I’m not a huge cruise person, but am intrigued by this route. The accommodation looks amazing! Thanks for sharing 🙂
Yes, check out the northern European voyages to see what they are offering this year.
We were recently on a river cruise in Asia with a very upmarket and flash cruise line. While discussing other cruises with several guests Windstar was mentioned more than once as a great cruise line.
That is great to hear about Windstar. Which river cruise did you do? I haven’t been on one yet but would love to.
I got hooked at 24 hour room service. Buffets are ok, but they can’t beat a meal made just for you. And brought to your room no less! This is the way to cruise.
The first time we cruised on Windstar with our daughter, she would order hot chocolate and popcorn so she could have ‘movie night’ in our cabin!
My wife and I have discussed taking a Windstar Cruise, but have yet to do so. But after reading this, I know we need to make it a priority. We’ve been on several cruises on the big ships. I really like the small touches you mention, such as fresh flowers in the room and blankets on the lounge chairs on those colder days.
If you do decide to go, come back and let me know which voyage you take. I have been on their cruises in the Mediterranean and sailed through the Panama Canal as well. Amazing experience.
Wow! Windstar cruises really do look like they are one of the best! A hot tub for yourself – now that’s the dream! Its great that they can visit smaller places. One of the things that usually bother us about cruises is that they always only target bigger cities. Windstar cruises seems like the perfect balance.
I completely agree. When we sailed through the Panama Canal with Windstar a few years ago, we even had a very small private island as a port stop. One of my other favorite small ports was Le Lavandou when we cruised south of France.
I like the small feel of this type of cruise, it seems like a really nice way to see the various countries. Did you have to pay extra for food and drinks or was a lot of it included? Many people have said that on the bigger cruises you can get all inclusive food and drinks but this cruise seems to be a bit more upscale and usually that means a lot of extra fees so I’m just curious.
All meals in all venues at all times, including room service, are included. All non-alcoholic beverages, including cappuccino, espresso, and other specialty non-alcoholic drinks are also included.
For wine, beer and alcohol you can pay by the drink or purchase one of three drink packages that range from $32-$52 per guest, per day. I would suppose you would need to estimate how much you would drink during the cruise to decide if those are a savings or if it is better to purchase one at a time.
Other things like spa treatments, internet, laundry are also extra charges but that is fairly normal for any cruise. However, there are always special offers and often times they will include a shipboard credit that you can put towards any of these extras.
I never really thought making a cruise, but someday i need to try it. And the windstar seem like a perfect way to start…
My big question is…if you’re keen on spending more time on land, should you still consider a cruise. This is why we haven’t been on one yet. Daytrips seem too short for me to explore places. That apart, Windstar Cruises seems like a great option. Those staterooms are big and comfortable.
I like to think of a cruise as an opportunity to see a lot of places (on land) in a short amount of time. On this trip we were in five countries (Ireland, England, France, Spain, and Portugal) in just eight days. We certainly did not explore everything but we got enough of a taste of each place to know if we want to go back and spend more time there.
If you decide to cruise, check into the details of each port stop. Sometimes you are in port from 8:00 – 4:00pm or there are some stops that are 8:00am – 8:00pm giving you a full day on land and time to eat dinner in town.
I haven’t been on a cruise yet, but if I do, I think Windstar would be the way to go, as the massive cruise ships don’t sound very fun to me. I like that the service is more personalized and that the ship is smaller so it can go into smaller ports of call. Also, the food options sound much better and who doesn’t want some alone time in the hot tub? Thanks for putting this on my radar!
I’ve never been on a cruise before but it’s definitely something I would consider. It’s cool that it sailed out from Dublin 😊
I’ve never been on a proper cruise, but this looks amazing!! I’ll have to check out Windstar Cruises to see about going on one of them myself. Thank you so much for sharing!
After four sailings with them, I feel confident saying I think you would really love it.
We’ve never done a cruise before but this sure looks enticing!
If you are at all hesitant to cruise, a small ship like Windstar is the way to start!
I am a very experienced cruiser, but I have not cruised with Windstar before. Due to motion sickness, I usually can only do extremely large vessels, but there are some definite pros to Windstar. Partnered with James Beard?? Wow! I also really like that you can get into smaller ports that the larger ships can’t get into. Makes for many more options!
Sorry to hear about the motion sickness. I think if you wanted to cruise with Windstar, it would be best to choose an itinerary that doesn’t cross any large seas or channels. One that sticks pretty close to the coastline. Also, I am sure you know that cabins in the middle of the ship tend to be the most stable.
The rooms look like that!!! (thats what captured my eye whilst looking and reading this post). That looks so comfy and would happily pay the extra for comfort. And a massage, yes please. To be honest, I never done a cruise but looking into it.
The accommodation choices on the Windsurf are quite nice! If you have never cruised before, you should start with a small ship like Windstar. I think you would love it.
I’m surprised to hear multi-generational, although I bet it has to do with the route you chose. We met a couple in Dominica who said they were the youngest on the ship by A LOT! The ship looks beautiful though.
I think it has more to do with your family’s mindset. You don’t have to take a cruise that has a waterslide and rock climbing wall just because you have children traveling with you. I started cruising with my grandmother and my kids (her great-grandchildren) on Windstar when they were 8 & 11. We were definitely an anomaly at that time – oldest and youngest passengers on board. Though on other voyages since then I have met families of multiple generations traveling together.
I love reading about cruises! They always make feel like going for one. I especially love the small and intimate ship and the spa! The room looks and sounds great too! I just wish I didnt get seasick 😀
What an elegant looking ship! Definitely a great place for some fun and relaxation!
I have never been on a cruise before but I would love too that is for sure. I would definitely try out Windstar Cruises and stay in one of those amazing state room the only problem is that bed looks and sounds so comfy that I would struggle to leave it. I could easily see myself sitting in either the small pool or two whirlpools in the afternoon after a day of exploring.
The rooms are very nice, but so is the rest of the ship. I am sure you’d want to explore all of it.
I haven’t cruised with Winstar but it looks like a nice line. The rooms are spacious, which is a nice change, and I love that they choose L’Occitane toiletries. I was thrilled to learn that HA now uses my fave, Elemis.
I haven’t been on HA yet. I love luxury toiletries. It is like having a mini spa right in your own room.
Thanks for the detailed review. We are looking at their 10 day Ancient Greece cruise. Do you know anyone who has taken this trip?
I think this Greece cruise looks amazing too. I don’t know anyone personally who has been on that voyage, but you can check Cruise Critic to see if anyone has reviewed it. If you go, please come back and let me know how it was.
Thanks!! Will check out Cruise Critic. Planning Summer 2019; I’ll send a review after the trip!
I stumbled onto your site via a link from CruiseCritic. Congrats on a useful review. We will be spending a week on Wind Surf this December, on the Caribbean. This will be my first cruise, with 5 of us on board (my wife, son, and my parents, age 87-ish). So, we have 3 generations of us. Your review has helped cement my expectations for this trip. I am really looking forward to it, and I REALLY like the “coffee and croissants” suggestion.
I am so glad to hear that you found this article useful. You will love the Wind Surf! it will be perfect for your multi-gen trip. My first cruise with Windstar was on the Wind Surf in 2010 with my Grandmother (then 92) and my kids (her great-grandchildren). Although I have not been on the Caribbean itinerary, I am happy to answer any questions you might have about sailing with seniors. We sailed with Windstar through the Panama Canal with my Grandma.
We’ve done both big cruise ships and river cruises – this looks like the perfect combination of the two, getting access to wonderful ports with all the big cruise amenities but the more personal attention and comfort of a river cruise.
You are absolutely right in your assessment. It is the perfect blend of cruising. Some of their ships are even as small as 148 passengers.