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.