Age: mid 40s
Number of Cruises: First Cruise
Cruise Line: Wind Star
Ship: Wind Surf
Sailing Date: N/A
Itinerary: Southern Caribbean
This review is for Windstar Cruises’ WIND SURF, sailing from Barbados. For reference, my wife and I are in our mid to late 40’s. This was our first cruise, as well as being a honeymoon cruise. We have both traveled extensively, and are more concerned with quality and value than with finding the lowest priced travel and vacations.
Embarkation and Settling In
We arrived in Barbados about 6 hours before the midnight sailing time. Details on that part of the trip can be found in the ‘Air Travel/Transfers’ section later in this review.
Upon arrival at the pier, I noticed a Celebrity ship at the far end of the pier. (I later found out it was the Horizon). However, it was preparing to leave, so there was no evidence of other vacationers. The port area is fairly desolate, with the feel of a working freight terminal. At the foot of the gangway, a crewman checked our cruise contracts and waved us aboard. We made our way up the gangway and into the reception area. Since there were only eight Wind Surf passengers on our flight, there was no waiting to handle formalities. We were offered soft drinks or punch as we reached the area. We were given a short packet of forms to fill out, including an activity waiver form and a credit card form. Along with the embarkation form that came with the cruise documents and our passports, we went to a counter where they swiped our credit card, checked our passports, gave us paper ID cards and room keys. We were pointed in the right direction and off we went to the cabin.
There were no ID photos taken, nor was there any special screening of any of our luggage, either carryon or checked. Passports were returned to you, and were not requested again until departure
We were in cabin 261, fifth back on the starboard side on the 2nd deck above water. The 1st and 2nd decks are standard cabins, with the 3rd deck being mostly suites, with some standard cabins sprinkled here and there. I visited a first deck cabin and felt it was too close to the water for my tastes.
Crew areas on the Wind Surf are in the front of the ship, so our cabin was actually over 1/3 of the way back from the bow. We were near the forward elevator, which made for easy access to both of the restaurants and the main lounge, as well as the outdoor Veranda where breakfast and lunch were served. The pool on the top deck was easy to reach, but we were on the other end of the ship from the aft pool, Jacuzzis, the spa and the piano bar. Maybe I’m food oriented, but found this location to be very convenient for our interests.
Since you are part way back, even with the forward cabins, the hike to the water sports platform is no more than 300 ft. Easily managed in the passageways of the cabin decks.
Our luggage arrived swiftly and we began to unpack. Linda and I are compulsive overpackers, always wanting to have clothing choices, even on the last day. In spite of that, we put everything away with room to spare.
The standard Windstar cabin is 188 sq. ft., and it is well laid out. There are two large portholes with covers and drapery, and under them is a 5-inch wooden ledge along the outside wall. The ledge has a railing, so it can be used for small items such as cameras and handbags. The beds are convertible twins, which felt like a single mattress when joined into a queen. Four sleeping pillows are provided, along with two decorative throw pillows. There are sheets and blanket, along with a spare blanket and bedspread.
The room has a double door closet about 5 feet wide and 7 feet high, with a center partition. For each side, there is a full-width shelf on top, a shoe rack on half the bottom, along with a triple shelf arrangement on the other half of the closet floor. There are also elastic nets built into the sides of the closet and the doors for loose items.
The desk area has four deep drawers available for storage, along with two 18" circular shelves above the television. There are four overhead compartments, in which they store the two life jackets as well as the spare blanket. Not overly convenient (I had to stand on the end of the bed to open and use them), but good for storing things you won’t need on the cruise, such as coats and other travel clothing.
The room includes a telephone, 13" television, a VCR and a JVC stereo system with CD player. The quality of the sound from the stereo was quite good, and we were glad to have brought some of our favorite CD’s from home. There is also a small refrigerator and separate mini-bar compartment. The refrigerator is filled with beers, wines and sodas, so there is almost no room for your own items. We later asked that the refrigerator mini-bar items be removed, and they were with no hassle. (Prices for the mini-bar items were the same as in the upstairs lounge)
The TV receives CNN as well as a European text-news channel. There were also at least 3 movies running simultaneously, along with other programming. There is also a closed circuit TV camera located on the top deck aimed toward the stern, which is piped into the room TV. Of course, you also have the in-room VCR.
In the cabinet area near the stereo and VCR were an additional two shelves that could be used for open storage. To the side was a cabinet with three doors. One contained two digital safes for your use. Neither was very large, nor with a wide opening, so don’t bring a large hard-sided jewelry case. It was quite easy to use, and held Linda’s collection of small jewelry bags and our wallets with room to spare. Above that were two more unlocked compartments for other items. All in all, more room than we used, even with all of our stuff. There is a sitting chair and a desk area, though we didn’t use them much.
The bathroom has a vacuum toilet, a shower with both a fixed and a flexible hose shower head, and a sink area with two large cabinets behind mirrors and a shelf in front of the center mirror. There is also some cabinet space below the sink, which we used for suntan lotions and the like. A built-in hairdryer is also included. The bathroom has wood decking, in contrast to the carpeting in the rest of the cabin. Hot and cold water was always available, and the toilet was efficient and trouble-free. There was plenty of room for all of Linda’s makeup and toiletry items, plus mine - neither of us needed to live out of a Dopp kit, which was a pleasant experience.
There were five sets of ceiling/wall lights in the cabin, plus one in the bath, which made for some getting used to. The main lighting panel by the stereo is labeled, and they do provide a way to get just the lighting you want in the room, be it bright, romantic, or localized. They have also installed a second set of switches on the wall at the head of the bed. These, though, are unlabeled, so you have to get used to what switch turns off what. An additional pair of individual soft reading lights over the head of the bed is a nice touch, if you are sleeping and your partner chooses to stay up and read. Luckily, there is also a master switch near the door that turns off all the lights with one click. It made for a quick and easy exit.
The cabins are done in white walls, with blue carpeting and accents and a mahogany wood color. There is a full size mirror at the desk area (ceiling to desk level) along with a large mirror along the side of the cabin opposite the bed.
We were able to fit all of our luggage but one piece under the bed. The Travelpro and the soft cargo bags and Linda’s carryon fit with no problem, as did the large Delsey garment bag. The Samsonite EZCart was never going to make it, so we put it in the corner of the room next to the outside wall and the head of the bed. It made for a nice nightstand, and was easy to use as a dirty clothes hamper.
All in all, we never once felt cramped in the cabin, though we wished that there had been room in the bathroom for both of us to use the sink/mirror at the same time. But for those that must have that, there are always the suites, which have two matching bathrooms. (Because the suites are two standard cabins combined into one larger cabin)
The bathroom was supplied with hand and bath soaps, shampoo and conditioner, body lotion and many fluffy towels. There were also pool/beach towels (green) in the rooms, though they could also be found at all hours near the pools and Jacuzzis.
The soaps were quite different than usual hotel soaps, especial the bath bar. It had a texture that was stimulating to use. Other products were high quality and readily available from the cabin steward.
In the closet, there were two large terrycloth robes that were both comfortable and good-sized. They got a lot of use on the trip. There was fresh fruit in a bowl on the desk, replenished daily. Stationery and postcards were freely available. The VCR and stereo were nice touches that were appreciated. Unfortunately, there were three separate remote controls. Wake-up service was available on the room phone.
The mini-bar is a small sliding compartment with about 20 liquor miniatures, as well as 8 glasses of various shapes/sizes and a corkscrew/bottle opener. The refrigerator was stocked with beers, sodas and wines. There was also a snack basket with candy, chips and the like as part of the mini-bar.
Every day, a 6-8 page fax of the latest news is distributed to each cabin. Interestingly, there was both a US version (NY Times) and a UK version (Times of London) edition available, depending on where you are from. I only discovered this when seeing someone reading the UK version on deck. The crew automatically gives you the version most appropriate to your home address.
Facilities on the Ship
The Wind Surf is the big brother to the original three Windstar ships, and as such, has more in the way of facilities. But it will never be confused with the Grand Princess. On Deck 0, under the waterline, there is a conference room. I was told that it gets used when the ship is chartered or when there is a large business group on board, but during our sailing, it was unused. I tried to get a look at it, but it was locked and unavailable for viewing.
There are two elevators on the ship, with minimal waits for their use.
On deck 2 is the Wind Spa, run by Steiner, along with the water sports platform. The spa is fully equipped, and professionally run. We made use of the massages, and were quite pleased. Also, in contrast to some reviews of other ships, there was no push for any of the products, which surprised me. The water sports platform drops down from the stern of the ship and is at water level. From there, you can participate in snorkeling, scuba, banana boat rides and kayaking.
On the main deck, there is the ship’s main restaurant, main lounge and casino, the library, reception desk, gift shop, aft pool and Jacuzzis, and the pool bar. The restaurant is open seating and done in a muted decorating style. The lounge is in reds and blues, and is larger than would be needed on the ship. Aside from the Wednesday Caribbean night dinner, which is served in the lounge, it was sparsely used by the passengers on our voyage. The largest crowd I ever saw there was about 30 people one night.
The casino consists of a roulette table, a blackjack table and a Caribbean stud table, along with about 20 slot machines. The slots are either $.25 or dollar machines, and the tables were $5 minimums. They were in operation most evenings, but were never jammed. Staff there was pleasant and competent, though on the youthful side.
The library had books available for your reading pleasure, both in the library itself and in your cabin or on deck. The selection was varied, with about equal numbers of hardbacks and paperbacks. Available VCR tapes were also on display there, though you had to get the actual tapes at reception. There were about 600 tapes in stock, along with a similar number of CD’s. Checkout was at reception, and you were given a 24 hour period for using them. There were backgammon, chess and checkers in the library, along with a collection of recent periodicals and reference books.
The gift shop was well stocked with both sundries and souvenirs. The shop was only open while underway, so if you ran out of film or the like and were in port, you were out of luck for a shipboard purchase. There were daily "sales" and promotions in the shop, and prices were quite reasonable. Liquor was available for purchase, including for consumption on board. In fact, there was a sign saying: "Don’t let the fun end when the lounge closes", encouraging you to buy a bottle and drink it from your room. Prices on liquor were slightly better than at the duty-free at MIA, but selection was smaller. If you like to drink something other than your standard brands of scotch, vodka, gin, or whiskey, get it in Miami and don’t run the risk that they won’t carry your brand on board.
The aft pool is salt water, and was the coolest on board. This may be due to it being set down in the deck and partially shaded by the ship’s upper decks. The two Jacuzzi tubs each seat 4 comfortably. They have powerful jets, but were too hot to use on the last day of the trip. Someone from engineering was supposed to work on it, but it never happened. Other than that, they were very nice to use.
The aft pool bar is just a standard bar, but there was friendly staff, who were helpful but not pushy in their service.
On the bridge deck, along with the bridge (which was open 24 hours a day to all passengers), there was the Compass Rose lounge and aerobics gym. The lounge had a piano duo, and was the site of afternoon tea.
The star deck had the Bistro restaurant, the Veranda, the star deck pool, and the exercise spa. The Bistro is a smaller, reservation-required restaurant; again done in muted nautical tones/themes. The Veranda is the casual spot where the breakfast and lunch buffets were laid out. Seating is either inside, or on the deck. The star deck pool was about the same size as the aft pool, but was usually not as busy. The exercise gym had weight machines, treadmills, stair climbers, and other gym equipment. The machines were new and in good shape.
There is no show lounge, atrium, cigar bar, or other glitzy Vegas style area. Artwork throughout the ship was reserved and tasteful. There were no massive sculptures, but rather a good number of prints with a nautical/sailing theme. Stairwells were decorated with art at each landing, as were the public corridors and areas.
Breakfast: A continental breakfast of coffee/tea/milk, juices, rolls and toast is available from room service every morning except the last day. The night before, you leave a form on the doorknob indicating what you want, and what time you would like it to be delivered. The service was always what we asked for, and was delivered in the half-hour segment that we chose. It comes on a large tray, which can easily be put on the sitting chair, desk or bed. Coffee was in a large thermos carafe, which was full each time. There was always enough for several cups for each of us.
A full breakfast was available in the Veranda. Seating was either inside or on deck. The deck had a tendency to be breezy, so we learned to bring along a book to weigh down the napkins when we went back for seconds. The breakfast included a buffet with omelet bar, freshly made crepe bar, fresh fruit, rolls, cereals, and beverages. There was always the option to order from the daily menu, though most people just opted for the buffet. I tended to get items from both the menu and the buffet. Breakfasts were filling and fast. Most days, we had already had our morning coffee in the room, and hit the Veranda before leaving for shore. So we didn’t tend to linger, though it can be very inviting up on deck watching the scenery, especially on the first day spent cruising at sea.
Lunch: Lunch was also served in the Veranda. Again, there was the buffet, along with a barbecue grill and pasta bar. Several days featured freshly tossed Caesar salads. The grill usually had burgers, dogs, chicken breasts and other grill type items. A menu was also available to order from. Like the breakfast menu, many people didn’t even bother with it. They both change from day to day, so be sure to look at it even if you didn’t like what was on the menu the day before.
I developed the habit of finding out what was on the lunch menu before going ashore. Because it is smaller than many cruise ships, the Wind Surf anchors closer to shore Combined with a small passenger count, it is easy to shuttle back and forth on the tenders from the islands. The longest tender ride was 8 minutes (St. Marten), and with two tenders in constant operation, it wasn’t a major hassle to go back to the ship for lunch. (The shortest ride was about 3 minutes in Bequia). In addition, it gave us the opportunity to drop off shopping purchases, or to pick up more film or other items.
This proved especially important on the stop at Bequia on the last day. The grill lunch that day included NY steaks and lobster tails. Several people that we met on board told us they missed that lunch because they didn’t check on the menus. I knew that they were serving lobster tails, so I made sure that I was there. BTW, the steaks were good as well...nicely butterflied and tender.
The main dining area is the Restaurant. This is open for dinner from 7:30 to 9:30 PM, with open seating. There is a good mix of tables, ranging from 2 to 10 in size. Several times we asked to be seated with other people, and other times to be alone. Each time we got our request with a minimum of delay. Our longest wait for the restaurant was probably no more than 4 minutes in line. One point though; we were rarely there at the time when the restaurant opened, usually preferring to dine a bit later. So there may have been an initial wait when it first opened - we just weren’t part of it.
Food here was superb. Dinners consisted of an appetizer course, a soup course, a salad course, a main course, and dessert. There was never a problem ordering more than one of any course; on a night when they had a scallop dish as well as rack of lamb, we ordered a scallop entree for us to share. The waiter was very comfortable with that, and said it was often done. Menus were changed daily, and were available for viewing either late the previous evening or in the morning. There were only a few items that were repeated during the course of the week, mostly in the salad and desert courses. There was always a fish entree, as well as both a "light" entrée and a vegetarian dish.
The alternate dining area is the Bistro. This is a smaller room, seating about 50 passengers. Its hours are the same as the Restaurant, so there can be some turnover of tables of people who are starting their meals when the room opens. The Bistro features some more distinctive cuisine than the main room, with items that are somewhat out of the mainstream. For example, escargot were on the Bistro menu, but not on the Restaurant menu. Surf and turf was on the main room’s Friday menu, but didn’t reach the Bistro.
Portions were slightly smaller in the Bistro, but both were such that you should not go hungry in either room. The Bistro is quieter than the Restaurant, and has smaller tables, so you won’t be able to dine in a large group. The Bistro staff is separate from the Restaurant staff, so you won’t see the same faces serving you. The Bistro runs 3 menus over the course of the cruise: Sunday/Monday, Tuesday/Thursday, and Friday/Saturday. (Wednesday is Caribbean night; more on that later) So by checking the two menus against one another, you can pretty well get your preferred meals by judiciously choosing where to dine.
The menus feature the same courses, with different offerings. There is no overlap in the main courses, and little, if any, in the other. Desserts come the closest to similarity between the two rooms.
On Wednesday night, the Restaurant and Bistro are closed for Caribbean Night, which is held in the main lounge and in the hallways to the aft of the lounge. This is a buffet dinner, on a Caribbean theme, with much emphasis on seafood. The cold crab was superb, as was the jerk chicken. There was a large dessert table along with more food than could be eaten by twice the number of passengers aboard.
One important item: Since the Bistro is much smaller than the restaurant, reservations are required for it. The reservation book was always filled by noontime, and often by the end of breakfast. Be sure to check out the menus EARLY and make your reservations if you want the Bistro. Menus are posted at the reception desk, as well as in the foyer outside the Bistro and Veranda.
Overall ratings of the food: The Veranda ranged from good to superb. I got to enjoy their Eggs Benedict, along with the made-to-order crepes. The lunches were OK on some days, to spectacular on others. Much depended on the menu; there is only so much you can do with a grilled piece of chicken. The pasta bar was always a source of discovery.... sometimes ordinary, other times very different.
The Bistro and Restaurant were superb. Food was of consistently high quality, with the little touches that are possible when you aren’t serving a 1000 meals at a time. I probably preferred the Bistro a bit more, if only because of the eclectic menu choices. In any case, I didn’t have a single night when there weren’t at least two items on the menus that attracted my attention. Which makes the Bistro’s "two night per menu" policy an attraction.
The only real negative to the food on board was the coffee. For a cruise line that is HQ’ed in Seattle, the coffee capital of the US, they really don’t make a good cup of coffee. It was just adequate, which made for a sharp contrast to the care put into the rest of the cuisine. We took to ordering cappuccinos, which were slightly better than regular coffee.
Room service is also available 24 hours, with a fairly extensive menu.
Service in the Veranda was uptempo, with little wait for your orders. Dinner service was at a slow tempo, allowing you the time to savor your food and engage in conversation between courses. Every dinner for us was at least an hour and a half long, from start to finish. There was never any pressure by the staff to hurry along your meal. Because of the open seating nature of the dining areas, you would often get different waiters, captains and busboys. We had some wonderful service, and started to ask for tables in their particular sections. The dining room managers, who handled the seating assignments (no separate maitre’d), were very accommodating in this regard. We even were drifting to their areas in the Veranda for lunch and dinner.
I’ll discuss tipping later in the review.
The Wind Surf left Barbados on Sunday night at Midnight. Our departure was slightly delayed due to a missing passenger, who, as it turned out, boarded but didn’t check in at the reception desk. So there was some scrambling to determine if she actually was on board. This was the soon-to-become notable Mrs. Delaney. More on that to follow.
The first day was spent cruising at sea. This gave all of the passengers time to get to know the ship and to enjoy a relaxing day. At morning, we were passing between St. Lucia and Martinique, using sail. During the course of the day we passed by Dominica and Guadeloupe. The bridge was open for visits and was a popular spot that day Unfortunately, we passed by the recently erupted volcano on Montserrat at night.
Tuesday’s port was Nevis . As the ship anchored, we noticed several other ships. Pulling out my trusty binoculars, I observed the Cunard Sea Goddess I and two Windjammer ships (later ID’ed as the Polynesia and the Amazing Grace)
Nevis is a small island, with some delightful history. The island plays up its connection with both Alexander Hamilton and Horatio Nelson. Shore excursions were available, and we signed up for a tour. It gave us a nice feel for the island, and returned us to town with much of the day still left for us. As a port off the main cruise ship itineraries, Nevis was less commercial than other stops and gave us a good feeling for the start of the cruise.
The original scheduled stop for Wednesday was St. Marten, but we were informed that the island had asked for a change in our itinerary due to the large number of other ships that were stopped there that day. So Windstar flip-flopped the Wednesday and Thursday stops. Now we were going to St. Barth’s first.
St. Barth’s is a very posh pocket of French culture. Interestingly, the Sea Goddess and the two Windjammers also were stopping there that day. The Wind Spirit, one of the original Windstar ships, was also in port. That sailing, from St. Thomas, had been chartered and was unavailable to the public. It was nice to view the other ship and to see the difference in size between the two.
St. Barth’s is a pricey port, with many designer boutiques and fashion houses represented. There were many large private yachts docked in the harbor. Unless you are interested in designer fashion at full retail pricing, it’s not the shopping port of choice. We had a fun time browsing and comparing prices to Nordstrom back home. St. Barth’s is also the home of Le Select, a fun burger spot with a great crowd and decent pricing. I recommend the spot, for at least a cold beer on a hot day.
The ship stayed anchored in the Gustavius Harbor until 2AM, due to the short cruising time needed to reach St. Marten. This allowed us to return to town after dinner for a nighttime look at the port.
Thursday in St. Marten was the most commercial day of the voyage. Anchored with us at Marigot on the French side of the island were the Seabourn Legend, the Princess Danae, and another ship that I never did identify. Because of the size of the island, we signed up for a bus tour of both the French and Dutch sides. This was both good and bad, for it let us see both sides of the island, but not really get to explore the Dutch area. There were two stops for photo opportunities, one of which also had some souvenir stands and beverages available. There was also a longer stop of one hour in Philipsburg.
In Philipsburg, we got to experience the touristy side of the Caribbean. In port on the Dutch side were the Bolero, the Rhapsody of the Sea, and the Grand Princess. And the crowds were everywhere. We did some browsing in the shops, coming away with a lapis ring for myself. But the overall feel of Philipsburg was like a large shopping center. Perhaps if the tour stop was longer, or if we were on our own, the feeling would have subsided. But overall, this was the low point of the voyage.
Marigot was another pocket of France, transported to the warmth of the Caribbean. Quieter than Philipsburg, it was a step down in posh from St. Barth’s, but still had an
upscale feel to the town. We wandered the town and enjoyed the touches of France that we saw. It was also the first port where we found an international edition of USA Today, with a front-page story on a major winter storm that was ravaging the midwest and east. Made us feel a little smug and special in our shorts and suntan lotion.
I wonder... if there were the Legend, the Danae, the Bolero, the Rhapsody, the Grand, a mystery ship plus ourselves docked today, just what were in port yesterday that caused the change in itineraries. Seems we were an overcrowding fleet as it was.
Friday’s port of call was Ile de Saintes, part of the French department of Guadeloupe. Much smaller and a delightful port stop. My wife saw that the little cafe near the dock had a particular Belgian beer on tap, which I had never had. So she insisted we each get some. Each was an eight dollar glass of beer, which has now left me with the permanent job of beer selector for our family!
There were some excellent artists represented in the little shops in town. A famous watercolor artist (??) has a gallery immediately opposite the dock, but we were more impressed with some of the lesser-known talents we found. We picked up two watercolors, and another four prints.
The last port, on Saturday, was Bequia. This was our favorite spot, and unfortunately, the shortest port call. We found a delightful beach, accessible only by a small "water taxi". We also found the Whalebone Inn, which has an arch made from whale ribs outside the front door, along with bar stools made from whale vertebrae. Bequia is one of the last whaling stations left in the world, and they are allowed to hunt two per year, using hand weapons only.
We found a very relaxed atmosphere in Bequia, and chatted with a number of visitors who come down for extended periods and stay in rented guesthouses. It had the cozy feel of an undiscovered private getaway, and we were sad to have to return to the ship.
The ship docked back in Barbados very early on Sunday morning, and it was off to the airport for the morning BWIA flight back to Miami.
On Thursday, a flyer was distributed asking all passengers to tell what their travel plans were after the ship returned to Barbados. This included a list of the various flights from Barbados, as well as hotel stays on the island. We filled out the form, and on Saturday were given a sheet with disembarkation information. We also received our shipboard account statements, which would be automatically processed unless we made any changes at the reception desk.
Passengers were grouped on the basis of their flight times. Ours was the first group, and we were given green colored tags to place on our bags. This color system would be how they were offload from the ship, in order of departure priority. Bags would have to be in the hallway no later than 2AM, which gave us plenty of time to do our packing and preparation. We set the bags outside in the hallway, keeping our two carryons.
On Sunday morning, there was a continental breakfast available in the restaurant, though there was little time for us to enjoy it. We grabbed some coffee and a danish or two and made our way to the main lounge. At several long tables were Barbados officials who processed our passports and whisked us on our way. There was no customs inspection on arrival in Barbados, nor any at the airport. We left the ship and loaded into mini-busses for the ride to the airport.
Our cruise package from Windstar included free air from Miami, and we opted to take their air/sea add-on from Cleveland to Miami. The add-on fare was less than we could have obtained into MIA, though we could have flown on our own into FLL for a bit less than the add-on and done a ground transfer. But with a lot of luggage and coming off a busy wedding day, that wasn’t the way for us to go. We had an 8:45 AM flight from CLE on Continental, with a connection to BWIA. This was our preferred routing, and was obtained without a special request to Windstar. Luggage was checked straight through from CLE to BGI, so there was no luggage hassle at MIA. The CO flight was very full, though the BW aircraft was only about half filled. BW uses an MD-83 on the flight, so there is no inflight entertainment. The food was excellent, even in coach, and there was room to spread out and take empty seats. (BWIA uses a catering company by the name of Flying Food. If you ever see a Flying Food truck pulling up to your aircraft, be sure to have the meal.)
MIA was its usual weekend madhouse, with tons of cruise ship passengers making their way into or out of town. The BWIA counter was an island of calm in a sea of American Airlines chaos.
Upon arrival in Barbados, we made our way across the tarmac and to Immigration. The procedure was fast and hassle free. The only delay was that the Barbados immigration cards have an area at the bottom that looks like an official area, but is really to be filled in by the passenger. Once that oversight was completed, we moved into the baggage claim area. There are a number of porters there, seeking your business. Be aware that there is a mandatory fee of $1 per bag that they move for you. It is posted on a sign in the baggage claim, but you might miss seeing it. Customs was very fast, especially when they saw the Windstar tags on the bags.
After leaving the customs area, we were met by a representative of the company that does the transfers for Windstar. We, and our luggage, were loaded into a mini-van for a swift trip through downtown Bridgetown. The sun was setting, so sightseeing was limited. The driver did provide a running narrative on the areas that we were passing, which made for an enjoyable drive. There was a security stop at the gate to the port, then on to the quay at the side of the ship. We only handled our carryons, as the rest was done by the transfer driver and the dock crew.
Returning from the cruise, we took a larger mini-bus, and the luggage followed in a cargo van. Perhaps due to the early hour, there was no commentary from the driver, which allowed for sleep if you desired. We arrived in plenty of time for our flight, as the BWIA counter was well staffed and with a light passenger load. Formalities were quickly completed and boarding passes issued. There is no departure tax from Barbados if you are leaving the island on the day your ship docks, so there was no headache in making sure you had the proper cash available.
The Barbados airport has a decent departure lounge area, with various shops including Colombian Emeralds. Linda found a pair of earrings, while I got several newspapers to last me the three and a half hours for the flight back to MIA. The duty free liquor has prices that are higher than on the ship, so you might want to do you purchasing on board. Especially because the ship’s store puts their liquor on sale the last day, reducing the price about 20%.
The flight back to MIA went without a hitch. One arrival, it was a long walk to Immigration, as several of the moving walkways were out of service. The lines at Immigration moved swiftly, our bags were waiting for us, already off the carousel, and Customs was quickly accomplished. Then it was rechecking them at the airline desk just outside the customs area. Carts are freely available in that part of MIA, and it makes it quite easy. I feel that MIA has the whole procedure down pat, and is my preferred point of entry back into the USA.
The CO flight back, by way of Orlando (MCO) was a hassle. Gulfstream Airlines is the commuter partner for CO in Florida, and they were having ground problems at MCO We arrived in the middle of a rainstorm, but no one bothered to bring the umbrellas down from the jetway to the tarmac where the turboprop commuter was parked. In addition, the luggage must have been left out in the rain, because the contents of the softsides were quite damp when we got home.
In talking with people on the ship who took American Airlines to Barbados, they told of crowded flights, long lines and poor service. We saw the long lines at the
American counter in BGI and MIA, and knew the flights would be jammed. My vote would be to take BWIA again.
The passenger mix on the ship were mostly couples in their 40’s to 60’s. There were a few couples younger than that, and about a dozen that I would put in the 70’s. Very few single people from what I observed. The group was a relatively relaxed lot, without a lot of "partying" or late night activities. Passengers were up and moving in the morning, and the early tenders to shore were always well filled. Our sailing went out with 276 passengers and about 170 crew.
There were two families on board, both with children in their early to late teens. Windstar has no programs for children, and actively discourages them on board. This may account for having no young children among the passengers. I will say that the two families were very well behaved, and fit in with the overall tenor of the cruise.
The one exception to that tenor, was the aforementioned Mrs. Delaney and another single lady she was traveling with. From the first night in the dining room, they became well know, not by name, but for their piercing and grating laughter. More of a shrieking sound, if the truth be known. It took an elegant dining experience and threw a bucket of cold water on the moment. Then it would pass, but you would always be waiting for it to come again. And it did. There were numerous complaints to the restaurant manager, who just shrugged his shoulders at first, not wanting to offend a guest. But after several nights, he finally had some words with her, and the laughter was reduced, but not eliminated. The manager did work to accommodate the other passengers by seating them in a corner of the room, as much away from the rest of the guests as possible. Other than that, there were no "problem" passengers on board. No raucous parties, no fisticuffs or shenanigans.
Windstar is a "no tipping required" line. When I asked the Bistro manager about tipping wait staff, he told me that he was not allowed to discuss the subject at all, and that passengers should do as they wished. No guidelines or anything were provided, nor discussed.
Our cabin steward did exactly what was asked of him, and we only saw him the first day at sea. Which is as we wanted. If we needed anything, we left a note in the room and it was done. There were always plenty of glasses in the room, along with full ice buckets. Lots of towels. Evening turndown service while we were at dinner. He even straightened out shoes that were left lying around the cabin. We left a tip for him, as we felt that he had left no item unattended, and even did some extras that we didn’t expect.
In the dining areas, we tended to get tables served by three of the staff. They uniformly remembered our names and our preferences, and were always looking out for our needs. When coming to breakfast or lunch on the Veranda, they often would see us and scout out a table for us. We felt that these extra efforts merited tips.
I had acquired some vodka and rum during our port stops. As the cruise was ending, I had partials that I couldn’t bring back to the USA without duty. So I just decided to include them in the tip. I gave the three envelopes with their tips, along with a bag with the liquor. The smile told me that they appreciated that little personal extra as much as the money.
Since there is no assigned seating, and you may get any of the staff for any of the meals, I feel there is no real expectation of a tip by the staff. They said that they are paid well, and enjoy working for Windstar more than Holland America, which is where most came from. So tips tend to carry a more personal "thank you" than on other lines where they are part of the end-of-cruise ritual.
Finally, the second officer and I had struck up an ongoing conversation on the bridge over a number of days. As the cruise was ending, I had some fine scotch still left from the duty free at MIA. As he was English, I knew he would appreciate it, so I inquired if officers could accept such a token of thanks. He said that it was allowed, but rarely happened. He promised to drink a toast to our happy marriage after he got off duty.
Observations, Conclusions and Recommendations
Other items that really didn’t fit anywhere else:
Be sure to bring a goodly amount of small US bills for touristy purchases ashore. There is no real facility for changing US currency on board, other than the casino, and that is of limited usefulness. We brought ones, fives and tens, rather than twenties and fifties. It was always easier to give a wad of small bills to a vendor rather than dealing with getting change back in either francs or EC dollars.
Speaking of francs, be very careful about the exchange rates in shops and restaurants in St. Barth’s and St. Marten. Some places would take dollars at six francs to the dollar, while others (including The Select) do it at five to one. During our cruise, the official rate was 5.8 to one. That’s a big difference, so don’t get stuck on the wrong side of the exchange. (At the time the review is being written, the official rate has changed to 6.11 to one. I suggest checking the currency converter at www.thetrip.com for current information before you leave home. This converter works for virtually all currencies you are likely to encounter on almost any vacation trip.)
My wife started to experience some motion discomfort on the first day at sea. I picked up a pair of "SeaBands", the elastic accupressure wristbands, from the ship’s store. She put them on, and didn’t have any more problems. Psychological? Physiological? Whatever, they worked.
The cola brand aboard ship is Coke, as well as throughout the islands. Pepsi products were almost nowhere to be found. (Linda is a Diet Pepsi drinker, and really dislikes Diet Coke). On St. Barth’s, I found a grocery store that had two 2-liter bottles of Diet Pepsi on the shelf. The price was 29 francs each, about $5. So if you are a Pepsi person, get yours before leaving the USA.
There is no pushing of cocktails, as I have heard happens on other cruise lines. Apparently, management must feel that they make enough from the fares that they don’t need to nickel and dime you out of addition money at every turn. Interesting, coming from a company that is owned by Carnival.
Tours of both the engine room and the kitchens are each given once during the cruise. Check the daily activity sheet for details. Of course, the bridge is open 24 hours a day. (In fact, at night is a fascinating time to see it in operation.
Did we enjoy this cruise? Without a doubt, yes. Would be take another Windstar cruise? Without hesitation, yes. Would we recommend it to others? A qualified yes, depending on the interests and nature of the vacationers.
Windstar in not a cruise line for those who want to party the night away, or who are looking for the latest in large mega-ships. You won’t find the glittering shows or the flashing discos, or the towering atriums. Instead, you will get a comfortable, relaxing yet exciting vacation in fine surroundings with little to cause you cares.
We liked the cabins, the amenities, the comfortable size of the ship, and the types of passengers on board. The port stops on this itinerary were varied, and were to some islands that you would never visit on a mainstream cruise ship. The food was excellent, spare the coffee, and the crew were always friendly and helpful.
The ship is somewhat pricey, but that is a function of the size and nature of the cruise. We could have taken several Carnival cruises for the price of this trip, but that is not our type of choice. If you are on a tight budget, look elsewhere. If you want to get quality for your vacation dollar without jumping to the price levels for Seabourn and Crystal, Windstar may be the answer.