A Journey from Italy to France aboard the Wind Star

Windstar's Wind Star at anchor off Portofino, Italy. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Windstar’s Wind Star at anchor off Portofino, Italy. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

My journey aboard Windstar Cruises’ Wind Star whisked me from Italy to France, stopping on the small, out of the way ports that are perfectly suited to a ship this size. Perhaps that’s the greatest allure of a Windstar cruise beside the ships themselves; there is a reason this itinerary is called Yachting the Riviera: it takes you to places that would otherwise be inaccessible or difficult to get to.

In short, it’s a little like owning your own yacht, without the crippling moorage fees.

The Wind Star, like the rest of the fleet, recently underwent a massive refurbishment program. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The Wind Star, like the rest of the fleet, recently underwent a massive refurbishment program. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Beginning with a pre-cruise stay at the InterContinental de la Ville in Rome, we joined the Wind Star in Civitavecchia, sailing past ships far bigger than ours – but that didn’t stop their guests from coming to the rails to admire the sleek white ship gliding out of port to the Vangelis theme from the movie 1492: Conquest of Paradise.

Rome's Trevi Fountain. I tossed a coin in, which should hopefully ensure my return to this beautiful Italian city. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Rome’s Trevi Fountain. I tossed a coin in, which should hopefully ensure my return to this beautiful Italian city. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The full Live Voyage Report:

Departure from Civitavecchia was a real event: all eyes aboard the larger ships were on the Wind Star. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Departure from Civitavecchia was a real event: all eyes aboard the larger ships were on the Wind Star. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

This isn’t the first time I’ve sailed with Windstar. In 2011, I set sail aboard the Wind Spirit on a weeklong journey through the Baltics from Stockholm, Sweden to Oslo, Norway. And while that voyage greatly exceeded my expectations, it was taken during a time of great change for the company.

The line had just been purchased by Xanterra Parks and Resorts after their previous holding company declared bankruptcy. Certainly, when I booked my Wind Spirit voyage, the future of the company seemed to be in doubt.

Staterooms have been refreshed and enhanced, and I hear there's possibly more changes to come. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Staterooms have been refreshed and enhanced, and I hear there’s possibly more changes to come. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

But Xanterra – like Windstar’s guests – saw something special in the line, and the company set about giving Windstar a booster injection of cash designed to make it more competitive – and desirable – to cruisers.

Brochures were enhanced, websites upgraded. A company blog was started, and the line took a more active role in social media. But the greatest enhancements were reserved for the ships themselves, which all recently underwent a massive refurbishment program.

The results, as I discovered, are nothing short of stunning.

L'Occitane toiletries in every stateroom. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

L’Occitane toiletries in every stateroom. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Of course, fancy new carpeting and wall panelling do not a great cruise make – but they do help.

Service onboard is just as personable and professional as I remember it, but the food – which I always found to be quite good last time – seems to have been ratcheted up several notches. In seven days’ worth of breakfasts, lunches and dinners, I can’t recall having anything I didn’t thoroughly enjoy.

Dinner in AmphorA, the new name for the newly-styled main dining room aboard the Wind Star. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Dinner in AmphorA, the new name for the newly-styled main dining room aboard the Wind Star. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The crown jewel of the Windstar dining experience is, in my opinion, their on-deck Barbecue that happens once during most cruises. This isn’t just your standard, run-of-the-mill sailaway meal served on the pool deck, however: Windstar puts enough tables and chairs on the aft pool deck to seat all guests onboard (at least, on the smaller Wind Star and Wind Spirit), covers them with tablecloths and electric candles, and lays out a feast that could feed a small town.

The on-deck barbecue, held once per voyage, is one of the highlights of any Windstar voyage. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The on-deck barbecue, held once per voyage, is one of the highlights of any Windstar voyage. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

I was also pleasantly surprised to see the demographic on my Wind Star sailing was considerably lower than my previous voyage, with numerous families travelling with teenage children and passengers in their 20’s. And why not? You don’t need to have rock-climbing walls and waterslides when you’re in the Med aboard the Wind Star; you can just use the watersports platform that drops down from the stern nearly every time the ship is at anchor and conditions are favorable.

The Wind Star docked in Portoferraio, Italy. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The Wind Star docked in Portoferraio, Italy. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

If you need nightlife, this isn’t the ship for you. It was typically me and bartender Bobby holding court in the Lounge past 10pm, along with about five guests who were doing their best to beat the odds at the adjacent Casino.

But who needs nightlife when so much of your time is spent ashore? We took walking tours in Corsica and Cannes, and both were far more extensive and active than I was expecting, which pleased me. I hate taking a walking tour that barely covers any ground; in the case of Cannes, we walked nearly the entire length of the Rue d’Antibes from the old town to the new and back again.

Windstar's excursions deliver what they promise. Pictured here in Cinque Terre, Italy. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Windstar’s excursions deliver what they promise. Pictured here in Cinque Terre, Italy. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Additionally, I can’t say enough positive things about the excursions I took to Cinque Terre in Portovenere and to the village of Eze and the Villa Rothschild near Monte Carlo. All of our guides were spectacularly knowledgeable and friendly, and taking these tours added a level of depth and knowledge to these places that simply wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

Our German-born, Corsican tour guide was just one of many spectacular guides we had. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Our German-born, Corsican tour guide was just one of many spectacular guides we had. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

In Monte Carlo, we had a bit of dramatic foreshadowing as the Seabourn Legend was docked immediately behind us. Windstar has purchased Seabourn’s original trio of ships – Pride, Spirit and Legend – and will begin introducing them into their fleet in early 2014 as their elegant “Motor Yachts.”  Will it pay off for a company known for its sailing vessels to have larger yacht-style ships? I can’t see why not. The sails are important to the Windstar product, yes, but by offering voyages on these slightly larger vessels, Windstar can attract passengers for whom balconies and size are important consideration, while the sailing ships can remain as the true adventure product, because that’s really what it is: a great adventure.

Seabourn's Legend, soon to be part of the Windstar Cruises' fleet. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Seabourn’s Legend, soon to be part of the Windstar Cruises’ fleet. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

If you like river cruising or luxury cruising, chances are you’ll like Windstar. Sure, there are differences between the two, but there are also plenty of commonalities: all beverages except alcoholic ones are included in the cost of your fare; bicycles are available for the use of guests in port on a complimentary basis; and the ship’s watersports platform is also available free of charge.  There are also numerous little enhanced amenities, like leather keycard wallets for each guest, canvas tote bags, and L’Occitane toiletries that are replenished regularly.

Lavender in Eze, France. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Lavender in Eze, France. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

But like river cruising and luxury or expedition cruising, a Windstar cruise attracts the guest who is curious about the world and eager to see it without three thousand of their best friends all jostling for position on the open decks.

Portofino, Italy, as seen from above. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Portofino, Italy, as seen from above. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

My time aboard the Wind Star was as relaxed and enjoyable as they come. With Windstar, it’s not merely a vacation or a cruise: it’s an experience, an adventure, and a journey of discovery. And to be out at sea, at night, with the sails up, well.

That’s about as magical as it gets.

Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report aboard Windstar Cruises’ Wind Star has sadly come to a close. Be sure to tune in tomorrow as we unveil our next Live Voyage Report beginning in just under two weeks: a journey through Canada’s Maritimes!

 

 

5 Responses to Recap: Yachting the Riviera with Windstar Cruises

  1. […] Recap: Yachting the Riviera with Windstar Cruises […]

  2. […] our recent Live Voyage Report from Rome to Nice aboard Windstar Cruises’ Wind Star, I was fortunate to run into some of the newest vessels afloat, along with some old favorites. […]

  3. […] it’s because I stepped off of a sailing ship in the Mediterranean two weeks ago, but I feel like sailing. The Wind Star may be an awfully long way from the West […]

  4. […] August 2013: Windstar’s Wind Star – Yachting the Riviera – Rome to Nice […]

  5. […] I sailed aboard Windstar Cruises’ Wind Star this past summer from Rome to Nice, I was happy to see a number of crew I recognized from a voyage two years prior aboard the Wind […]

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