Star Breeze Cruise Review by LTC Dan
- Sail Date: September 2016
- Destination: Eastern Mediterranean
- Cabin Type: Classic Suite
My wife and I started out dreaming about a perfect anniversary cruise many years ago. I got the first twinkle in my eye in January 2012. I remember it well -- we got a mailer from Oceania, and I started to think, "...yeah, we need to do a real blow out vacation for our 30th." The more I thought about it, the more I liked the notion. Maybe a land-cruise thing. Something original and unique. Not a tightly wound-up pre-cruise deal with some operator showing their tried-and-true tourist sites, all on board the comfort (?) of a bus with a strict timetable and pre-book hotels. On no. We like doing our own thing.
I wanted a land tour on our own terms -- fly in somewhere exotic, rent a car, and see the remote areas a lot of folks have yet to discover. And I really liked it to be a lead-in for a fabulous cruise to follow. I wanted to try a cruise line we'd never experienced before.
After watching a lot of Travel Channel shows, reading various websites, and pouring over countless mailers from the usual suspects, it started to gel. My wife became amused at the travel planner mode I'd slipped into. "Do you want to chip in?" I asked. "No," she said; she was very happy with me figuring it all out. "Just fill me in before we buy any plane tickets or cruise packages."
I obsessed about this (in a good way) for the longest time. I had spreadsheets, itinerary options, brochures, you name it. I had budget plans and calendars. Before long, the boys were also amused at all my busy-work, which was a really neat hobby. I put up with a lot of gentle ribbing. "This isn't work, this is fun", I'd say to myself.
Some people really like the razzle-dazzle of a big boats, and we'd done that before (Costa, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, and Carnival). Not this time. I wanted a SMALL ship. The entertainment on board could be minimal, for all I cared. I wanted a port-intensive cruise in the Eastern or Western Mediterranean. It had to feature Venice, Dubrovnik, and Kotor; those were places I knew would be fabulous. Anything else was gravy. Hopefully, we'd have an overnight stay in Venice, but if not we could book a pre-cruise night in a local hotel. I liked the comfort of something plush, but knew we didn't need or even appreciate the strictures of formality. Service was a big deal. I liked the idea of upscale cuisine. We weren't planning on doing any onshore excursions, and so we wanted ports that would be fun just to wander around on our own.
As for the pre-cruise deal, I found out about Slovenia. I specifically discovered that Lake Bled was only a short drive to Venice, and it had unbelievably beautiful scenery, Germanic cuisine and architecture. PERFECT, right up my alley -- an alpine wonderland nestled in the Julian Alps, and we could get to our cruise easily when that was done.
And then I finally settled on Windstar. And I am so glad we did. So here's the deal guys....
1. There were two perfect itineraries that suited our needs, an 8-night Venice-Rome trip aboard the sailing yacht Wind Surf (departing October 1st), and a 9-night Venice-Athens trip aboard the motorized yacht Star Breeze (departing September 30th). I really wanted the romance of the sails, and the fleet's flagship would deliver. And Wind Surf's Italian itinerary at the tail end looked more appealing than Star Breeze's planned stops in Albania and Greece. But Star Breeze had all-suite accommodations, an extra night, and everything we needed for hundreds of dollars less. Go figure. TIP: Look for the best deals as the sailing date approaches. Best prices almost always hit about 60-90 days out. For now the motorized yachts (Star Breeze, Star Legend, and Star Pride) don't have quite the same prestige/wow factor, and tend to have better final pricing than Wind Surf, Wind Star, and Wind Spirit.
2. By all means, DO schedule a one- or a two-night land component (at a minimum) as a lead-in for an overseas cruise. You'll need that to avoid suffering from jet lag. TIP: Try a longer "land tour" if you can swing it. Try setting your own plans, because you can usually save money and proceed at your own pace.
3. If you want small and intimate, even romantic, try Windstar. There are others in the same smaller boat market niche (such as Seabourn and Silversea -- expensive!), or Azamara and Oceania (less all-inclusive, but nice). But Windstar is really unique, having a loose, but upscale vibe that was perfect for us. TIP: Try the three sailing hybrid ships for the ultimate in romance.
4. Stay away from Athens, in my humble opinion. A very dirty port, a rather run-down and unattractive city, and it remains prone to economic unrest. On the next to last day of the cruise, we found out the air traffic controllers in Athens were threatening a strike. It would have stranded us for days. Thankfully, the threat blew over, but it left us shaken. TIP: Of the two itineraries we considered, I think the Venice-Rome one would have been superior for that reason. So if airline scheduling and general safety are important to you, I think the Western Mediterranean is a more stable bet for now.
5. You'll LOVE Windstar's cabins, dining, service, and value for money. The service is especially noteworthy. Everyone we encountered made a point of learning our names and the smiles were infectious. Every time I passed through security when disembarking for a port activity, the guy there would say, "Good morning, Sir Danny!" It made me feel like a knight sallying forth to slay the dragon. TIP: Remember to give praise in writing for those that impress you, because Windstar takes note of that on their exit surveys. High performers are handsomely rewarded, tend to be promoted quickly, and stay with the company.
6. Here's my praise for the MVP of the cruise -- Marius, the cruise director (not sure of his actual title) was a hero for us. His daily presentations about each upcoming port were entertaining and accurate. He was frequently funny, and a standout star in the hilarious "Liar's Club" event one night in the lounge. And when we thought we were going to have to find an alternative way to leave Greece (because of the planned strike) he went out of the way to help us make arrangements. I taught him the Americanism "warm fuzzy" after that -- "Marius, everything you did for us was so accurate, so reliable, so completely credible that it was the first time all day someone gave me a warm fuzzy". (He was glad to find out that I was talking about a feeling inside rather than something unseemly.)
7. It was a real pleasure to link up with a fellow Cruise Critic contributor, who introduced herself in the main dining room, Amphora. TIP: It was fortunate that my avatar has my photo, and that helped the other person pick me out in the crowd. As you all know, fellow Cruise critic contributors can offer great advice!
8. One final thing, a minor quibble. If you arrive in Venice for a planned sailing from San Basilo Terminal, be forewarned that it is a long trek from the gate at the port entrance (near San Maritima Terminal) to the dock. Guards will force you to get out of your shuttle/taxi and make you hoof it. So plan on taking a water taxi from the gate if the weather is rainy or hot. TIP: This is where Windstar has a chance to improve. They need to put good information online explaining how to get to the San Basilo Terminal. Very clear, concise, from A to B to C. Very lacking there -- many of us have spent a lot of time online (to no avail) trying to figure this stuff out. Until then, I imagine Venice would be a better disembarkation port since Windstar can help with transfers.
Port & Shore Excursion Reviews
DubrovnikFabulous, and a real highlight of our vacation. Wonderful opportunities for site seeing, walking the walls, buying souvenirs, and taking pictures of beautiful scenery. Should be on everyone's bucket list.View All 1,110 Dubrovnik Cruise Port Reviews
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KotorAbsolutely our favorite port. Gorgeous. Not yet spoiled by commercialism and tourist activities. Unbelievably scenic, with great photo ops everywhere. Souvenirs are less expensive than Dubrovnik. An absolute five-star, gotta-see destination, and should be at the top of anyone's bucket list.View All 643 Kotor Cruise Port Reviews
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VeniceVenice is best explored early in the day, at dawn if possible. Wandering around after dinner also works. Plan on getting lost, because no tourist map will prepare you for the maze of canals, alleys and pathways. That's okay! Just get re-oriented by looking for signs to the Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco. Venice is a very expensive city, but with some looking around just about everyone will find nice souvenirs for every taste worth buying.View All 1,360 Venice Cruise Port Reviews
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