After a lengthy break from multiple sailings on Windstar, it was with some trepidation that we decided to book this trans-Atlantic crossing from Lisbon to Bridgetown on the Wind Star. We were concerned that we would be longing for the "old days" on this cruise. We shouldn’t have worried. The “new” Windstar exceeded our expectations in all areas with two exceptions that I will describe at the end of this review.
We spent a couple of nights in Lisbon before the cruise. We stayed at the Hotel Avenida Palace. The positive reviews we read online were accurate, and we would happily stay at the hotel again. The staff could not have been more gracious or accommodating, and the location was perfect for both walking on our own as well as taking tours/trams, etc. Next time, we would, however, ask for a room with a renovated bathroom.
The Lisbon Cruise Terminal was a short taxi ride from the hotel. We were dropped off at the terminal where a check-in table was set up outside. Both the Wind Star and the Wind Surf had passengers embarking at the same terminal. Each passenger gave their name and the ship they were sailing. The staff then chose the appropriate luggage tag for the ship, wrote the cabin number on the tag, and then attached the tag to the luggage. Porters took the luggage and it was not seen again until it was placed in the cabin.
The terminal had a waiting area where Windstar had set up water (and juice, I think) for passengers waiting to board the ships. We had a bit of a wait when we arrived because there were passengers from three different ships that needed to board. The Wind Star was the last to be called.
Once we cleared passport control, it took us less than five minutes to board the ship. At the bottom of the gangway, there was some of the crew to help with carry-on bags. The Captain and some of the other staff were at the top of the gangway to welcome passengers onboard.
Formal check-in was in the lounge. This is where we filled out the final paperwork. When the paper work was completed, we went to the onboard check-in desk; passports were taken (kept until we arrived in Barbados), photos were taken, and room keys were provided. We had a beverage package, and gave our room key to a person who placed a sticker for the beverage package on the key. Another person made our dining reservation at Candles. (I recommend signing up for a dinner at that time if you have a specific day that you would like to book. It was first come, first served, and it was a popular venue. )
After we had completed formalities, a member of the crew took the carry-on and walked with us to our cabin. By the time we got to our cabin, the first of our bags had already arrived. Shortly after that, our second bag was delivered. While I set to unpacking (my choice), my DH went to have lunch in the Veranda.
Lunch was served from 1:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. The longer lunch hours were much appreciated by passengers. Muster, which is mandatory for all passengers, was at 4:15 p.m., and the sailaway was at 5:00 p.m.
After the sailaway, it was time to go down to our cabin to get ready for our first dinner onboard.
Although the layout of the cabins was always efficient, the new layout made the cabin appear more spacious and, also, provided a sense of separation from the bed to the seating area. A cabinet that contained shelves, a BOSE system, water with glasses and ice bucket; a minibar, and a fridge was placed between the two areas. The seating area contained two upholstered corner seats with an expandable table in the middle. Under the upholstered seats were storage compartments. Under the table was a removable stool for additional seating. There were two plugs on the wall over the table, one North American and one European. The area functioned perfectly as a desk, or dining table. It's also a great place to read or use the computer without disturbing one's spouse/partner/travelling companion.
There was an end table (shelf) on the side of the bed closest to the portholes, but no end table on the other side of the bed. There was a narrow passage between the bed and the wall adjacent to the foot of the bed to access the porthole side of the bed. The side of the bed closest to the cabinet had a built in narrow shelf where one could keep the TV remote, a couple of books, etc. There were also both European and North American outlets in this area, and I found it the perfect place to charge my iPad and phone.
On this crossing, there were more options for planned activities than I had expected. There was the morning Yoga, and Walk a Mile (where the distance increased each day of the cruise). There was a guest lecturer onboard who provided sessions on how to "Write Your Life Story". One could choose to go to Trivia, Name that Tune, play sports against fellow guests on the Wii, take a galley tour, visit the bridge, play in Blackjack tournaments, go to a wine tasting, cocktail demonstrations (where you try the cocktails if you want), a ship building contest, dance classes, a Tagalog class, napkin folding, and a cooking class. There was also unhosted chess and bridge for those passengers who were interested.
We had some other special events that also took place. The crew and staff spent a couple of days decorating the ship for Halloween, and it looked amazing. Halloween was filled with surprise events. In the morning, we had a "Very Bloody Mary" with different types of Bloody Mary drinks. Then, there was a fabulous BBQ deck lunch with sausages, hamburgers, chicken, fish and vegetables; jambalaya; seafood mac and cheese; potatoes; various salads; and other cold dishes. At 6:30 p.m., we had "A Halloween Surprise" from the crew. Later that evening, we had a Halloween Party. It was all great fun!
Later in the cruise, we had another deck BBQ lunch featuring a lot of the same foods as the first BBQ, but also an Indian curry and pappadoms. It was nice to have a menu that offered some “heat” as well as lots of choices for those who preferred to have no spice.
One night, we had a wonderful Deck BBQ “Under the Stars”. Shrimp, lobster, whole roast pig, various vegetable dishes, salads, cheese, and other delights were available. It was amazing to watch the crew set this up, the chefs prepare the meal, and the passengers (and staff) enjoy every moment of this special event.
I can’t provide much information on breakfast as we only ate one breakfast and we ordered room service for that breakfast. We had one order of Eggs Benedict and one order of poached eggs on toast. Both orders were cooked to perfection.
Lunch was served in the Veranda from 12:00 p.m. until 2:00 p.m. on all days with the exception of the deck BBQ lunch days. The Veranda had a small menu from which one could place orders with the wait staff. There was a self-serve buffet that included salad choices, a soup, different hot mains and vegetables, a carving station, and various desserts that always included bread pudding.
Dinner, which was from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 pm in the MDR, Amphora, was outstanding. All of the wait and bar staff provided a five star dining experience. Chef Eddy, and those who assisted him, created marvelous meals and we enjoyed every single course of every single dinner in Amphora.
We also loved dining on the deck in the evening at Candles, and were able to make more than one reservation. The service was top notch and the entrees were all cooked perfectly. The side dishes were “hit and miss” because they were not always hot enough; however, they were never overcooked (which, IMO, makes them inedible). As our waiters could attest, we definitely enjoyed most of the side dishes despite the fact they were not hot.
The evening entertainment consisted of a duo onboard, David and Marianne, who were great and played a wide range of music. If one didn’t feel like going to the lounge, there was always the choice of going up on deck, working on a large jigsaw puzzle, or watching a movie/reading/relaxing/sleeping in the cabin.
There were a couple of things that had a negative impact on the crossing: Instead of putting the ship in dry dock, major maintenance/replacement of parts/etc. were completed on the whole crossing. Some of the work included fixing/replacing the hydraulics (?) and/or mechanical mechanisms on all of the sails; a crew of specialists boarded in Lisbon to complete this mammoth task.
There were almost always areas of the outside deck one could not go. There was also the constant noise associated with the work being completed. (Lousy for us, but terrible for the crew who could not sleep during their rest times because of the noise.)
The internet was abysmal. Usually, we have to work and/or be in contact with work while we are cruising. It’s a good thing that this was not the case for most of this crossing. The internet was the worst that we have ever experienced on any ship on any crossing (Atlantic or Pacific). It took multiple attempts to be able to log on or stay logged on long enough to access our e-mails. It took me hours to send an e-mail with a document attached. Unfortunately, unlike the past, there was no access to a fax on the ship (probably because everything is done over the internet). Anyone who needs to be in frequent contact with the “outside world” should check more recent reviews to determine if the internet continues to be a problem.
Despite those issues, we still had a wonderful cruise because we sailed with friends, and had the pleasure of becoming reacquainted with other passengers whom we had met on previous Windstar trans-Atlantics.
In summary, the small ship experience, dining, officers, staff and crew were all fantastic. If Windstar could assure us that there would be no major maintenance on another cruise, and could also assure us that they had improved their internet service, we would not hesitate to sail on Windstar again.