October 2015 - Star Legend to Europe - Mediterranean
I believe that an objective and unemotional review is critical for the reader (YOU) in gaining the most information possible in both the positive and negative aspects of any review for a cruise line, hotel or resort. I so hope this review will assist or guide you in your decision about a Windstar cruise or act as a tool in your decision in comparing it to equal or similar lines (Azamara, Oceania and Seabourn).
Guests/passengers sail Windstar Cruises for its itinerary foremost and Windstar Cruises isn’t yet capable of delivering that promised itinerary or product as of now.
Let me share quickly here just a bit about myself: With the completion of this Windstar Cruise, I now have fifty-one (51) sailings completed with various cruise lines. I also have spent my entire life within the travel industry with 25 of those years flying for a major global airline.
My sailing was aboard Windstar Cruises ‘Star Legend’. This October 2015, sailing from Rome to Nice. Stateroom 132. It was my first Windstar experience and sadly, it will be my last Windstar experience.
Windstar Cruises has decided to aggressively enter the cruise market with what they call Yachts. Instead of just their sailing ships; they’ve now gone to smaller power vessels that Seabourn Cruises (another cruise line) no longer wanted due to age and condition. Enter ‘Star Legend’ and ‘Star Breeze’ and ‘Star Pride’. The line promotes itself as unique in getting you, the passenger into smaller ports that the mega or big cruise lines can’t get into. However, in my case or my sailing, Windstar Cruises failed to deliver the small port product while it argued with Italian port authorities over tender fees and instead decided to miss the most important port of the sailing.
You’ll find a main dining room, an aft dining venue used both day and night, a lounge snack area forward and of course room service 24/7. The boat/ship shows older and has few venues or entertainment options but remains quite comfortable and easy to navigate due to its 9000 GRT size. The aft pool has been removed and there is a very small pool and Jacuzzi mid-ship. Oddly enough, there is a petite sized casino and small gift shop that is mostly closed the entire cruise due to the time spent in port(s).
The ship is older. Nearing 25 years of service with its former owners, Seabourn Cruises and initially Royal Viking Line. Built in 1990. It’s a challenge to see where the recent $8.5 million in refurbishment per ship has gone to but the boat/ship shows well; albeit older.
There is some pitch and roll in the ride quality as it is a smaller vessel but that always depends on weather and sea conditions. Staying on a lower deck and mid ship will resolve or improve the ride quality greatly. The crew shared with us that they will not carry passengers when she makes her Atlantic crossing/repositioning in the near future to North America.
Let’s go over the PROS:
STATEROOM/CABIN: Largest standard stateroom ever at 275 square feet. Amazing comfort except for poor bedding/pillows. Walk-in closet, upscale L’Occitane bath products, tub/shower and power outlets for both European and North American appliances (No USB slots). Yet no evident signs of upgrading.
CUISINE: Food! Food! Food! Excellent and the best at-sea cuisine I have had since the early days of Princess or Sitmar Cruises. High quality in taste, selection and presentation. Room Service was just as good and dining in-suite was a delight!
PRIVATE EVENT: Windstar’s Complimentary Private Event (much like Azamara’s Amazing Evenings). As professional and well managed as one could expect (ours took us to the famous Monte Carlo Grand Casino Square). Complimentary casino admission, complimentary lavish dessert and champagne offerings and transfers were included that evening. Way too special!
CREW: Indonesian general ship crew/staffing is chosen by a third party vendor and supplied to Windstar cruises to cover everything from the dining room to photography services and about 90+% of the ships/boats overall staffing. Gracious, friendly and welcoming 24/7!
ITINERARY: Advertised or promised small harbor/harbor/port itinerary-BUT WARNING: That is how it is advertised but failed to occur because Windstar did not want to pay the tender fees in our case thereby missing the most important port of call. We were dumped/substituted for the day at the highly industrial port of Livorno, Italy next to cargo ships and loading cranes.
Let’s go over the CONS:
ITINERARY RELIABILITY: As said, the key port of call was missed by the cruise line because of a dispute over tender fees. There were no weather issues and the captain disclosed that it was Windstar management (in Seattle) that had made the decision to abandon the intended port and park us instead at the industrial port of Livorno, Italy. That sub-standard and poor decision left the ships passengers with few alternatives. It was the port for Cinque Terre and Portovenere. Twice, the captain referred us to THE CONTRACT from the cruise line that stated that the cruise line had the option of missing or cancelling any port, for any reason.
OCCUPANCY/PASSENGER LOADS: We sailed with just a 55% occupancy factor. That in itself was a decisive aspect of the judgement to abandon a port that was costing the cruise line money for a 55% occupancy factor. If Windstar Cruises can’t fill its small ships for one of its most inviting itineraries; it will simply cease to exist; especially in light of its aggressive expansion goals. It certainly lost two passengers for repeat business forever from us and I share here that so many other passengers were so discontent at the overall handling by its Seattle Corporate headquarters.
SHIPS OFFICERS: The ships officers or management were arrogant, belligerent and intolerant of guests/passengers. I managed to gain a 30 minute meeting with the Captain, the Hotel Manager and the Voyage Leader. Only the Hotel Manager had any customer service skills and was very professional. The captain was often angry (as was the Voyage Leader) in that we were disputing the decision by Windstar to abandon its most important port. The captain was so very angry with us for questioning the operation that we later offered to disembark the vessel by his request. We also emailed the cruise line asking to leave the vessel for failing to deliver the promised product but Windstar Cruises ignored all emails we sent. Windstar Cruises (to date) has refused to answer or address our written correspondence.
ELEVATORS: The ship has two elevators in the center atrium area. One failed and was never repaired the entire week. Not a major issue but evident deferred maintenance.
TENDERS: The ship uses older motorboats instead of its tenders/lifeboats for ports where tendering is needed or permitted. These small motorboats are stored in what used to be the sports platform when the ships belonged to Seabourn Cruises. One of the two motorboat outboard motors remained inoperative the entire week yet the tender operation continued from the ship to the dock/port(s) on a single motor/engine. The entire week…
PHONES: In-room phones were often inoperative if you needed to contact room service. Instead, you would have to call the operator and have room service return the call to you.
TV: There is small older TV (maybe 20”) located in the stateroom and of course using satellite reception. It operated about 40-50% of the time. We remained along the coast of Italy and France the entire week with that same limited reception. The only alternative was to watch a continuous loop Rick Steve’s production about Rome. TV wasn’t essential for us as we were onboard for the ports of call but it along with other maintenance issues were evident the entire week.
BOTTLED WATER: Complimentary water is supplied upon boarding in each stateroom. BUT-NOT-SEALED. So we asked our stateroom attendant and was told that the water is refilled with the ships tap water with the same bottles being used cruise-after-cruise. There are no water packages available for sale onboard.
INTERNET: An astonishing and exorbitant $250.00 for one (1) device for the length of the cruise is optional for the 7 day cruise. You may also purchase a limited $60.00 version but that only gives you 200MB and lasts a day or so for very limited access to emails.
LIQUOR PACKAGES: There are no ‘Wine Packages’ offered onboard Windstar cruises but a liquor package is offered for approx.; $1000.00 on a 7 day cruise per stateroom ($117 per day plus tip).
SHORE EXCURSIONS: These all vary but expect much higher-than-average shore excursions and a very limited selection. In our case, we sailed at only 55% occupancy so some were cancelled and some operated at half a bus load. You’ll do much better planning your own shore excursions where needed. Detailed information about each excursion offered is best found online before your sailing.
TRANSFERS: We used Windstar’s transfer service from the airport in Rome to the port where the ship was waiting for $115 per person. However, we instead used a cab from the port in Nice to the Nice airport for $30 per couple or $15 each. A major improvement over Windstar’s excessive transfer prices.
If you book a Windstar Cruise, I would highly recommend that you purchase insurance from a third-party vendor (AIG, Travel Guard, etc). The solvency and the survivability of Windstar Cruises operating at a 55% occupancy factor and investing millions of dollars in older boats along with a very sub-standard managed operation in Seattle; make for an uncertain future. I was stunned and amazed that Windstar Cruises was operating so haphazardly that a contract or agreement wasn’t in place for the ships arrival at the various ports. As the captain shared with us; he was on the phone with Italian authorities’ right up until the last minute trying to arrange for tender operations at Portovennere, Italy. However, the cruise line and Italian authorities couldn’t agree on a price and the price offered (as per the captain) was too excessive for Windstar Cruises.
You’ll travel thousands and thousands of miles (in most cases) to get to a Windstar ship and you’ll invest well over the cruise fare itself to do so. To make such a journey and then have it fail because of a very incompetent operation; would cost you financially and emotionally; missing the cities you traveled so far to see.
I would probably have to admit that while I prefer the professional and competent lines of say a Celebrity Cruises or Royal Caribbean; I’d even sail again with the often questionable Carnival Cruise Lines before I would ever step aboard another Windstar Cruises ship/boat.
October 6th, 2015 Sailing Rome-Nice