We were excited about this cruise, having been on a cruise on the Royal Clipper several years ago and expecting it to be a similar experience. We were disappointed that it wasn't.
Prior to the cruise the admin left a lot to be desired as we didn't get any final documentation until a few days before we left despite having paid in full when we booked. Although loyal Windstar cruisers on CC assured us that we didn't need any paperwork, we did actually really NEED to know which port to go to and at what time!! Fortunately this info did arrive in time and we were otherwise happy with the embarkation process which was very straightforward.
Although our cabin was one of the cheapest we were pleased with it and it compared well with our cabin on Royal Clipper which WASN'T the cheapest. The shower was one of the best we've experienced on a ship! We didn't have a balcony but we were hoping for an active cruise so didn't think we'd miss it. We did!
Our fellow passengers were quite a bit older than we'd expected. We are active 60+ year olds but certainly didn't feel older than the majority.....the reason for this became clear as the cruise progressed.
We were expecting this to be quite an active cruise......a sailing ship with a watersports platform going into bays where larger cruise ships can't dock. This was exactly what we experienced on Royal Clipper where, if the platform couldn't be put out due to rough seas or for any other reason, the staff took all the water 'toys' onto the beach and guests were able to use them there. There were sailing dinghys, windsurfers, kayaks, snorkelling gear and even an opportunity to try water skiing. The engines were turned off at some point during every sail so we could experience the feeling of truly sailing. Unfortunately, with Windstar the sails and watersports platform are just ornamental. We didn't ever sail without engines and the watersports platform was only in use for one short afternoon. And on that occasion the activities consisted of swimming and there were a couple of kayaks available, but the ship was so far away from the shore that there was nowhere interesting to go with them. We tried one for about 10 minutes then got bored, and one other woman went in one, paddled about 10 metres and then returned!! But even the opportunity to swim would have been welcomed but this wasn't offered more than on that one occasion..
Perhaps one of the reasons for this may have been that, if too many activities were offered for free, people may not have bought the very expensive shore excursions? And the company are making a killing from these!! Virtually everyone on the ship went on one every day.....and the reports back from them generally weren't very good. Though there were occasional exceptions.
The other very expensive extra being pushed by staff were the beverage packages. On arrival on the ship we were told that we only need to drink 4 drinks a day in order to make a package worth it. Not true.........in fact we would have needed to drink about 7 each! The barman tried again when we ordered our first drink. He told us we would be in profit at over 3!! And he was VERY pushy!!
On the plus side, apart from that barman we found all of the rest of the staff to be excellent....extremely friendly, efficient and helpful.
Another big plus was the food which I really couldn't fault. The whole dining experience was excellent.
But our biggest disappointment of this cruise were the changes made to the original itinerary. As I said before, we were expecting a similar experience to the Royal Clipper and we were drawn to the itinerary which offered several islands and bays off the coast of Panama and Costa Rica. Even before the cruise started (and only 2 days after we booked!) we were sent an e-mail to say that one of the islands had been swapped for another day in Panama City. We were unimpressed as were a good number of other passengers. Many people had spent a few days there before the cruise so were really not happy to have yet another day added to the one we already had there. If they DID need to take out the original island then I think more effort could have been made to swap it for something offering an equivalent experience. To make matters worse, during the cruise the captain advised that high winds made it impossible to visit another island on our itinerary. This was then replaced by another port which again didn't offer anything like the experience (the Beach BBQ) we were expecting. It was a small port with virtually nothing to do unless you went on an excursion and with nowhere to swim. And to make matters worse the expected high winds did not materialise!!
Windstar has a lot of repeat guests and loyal customers but I'm afraid we won't be joining them. We were expecting more of a small ship expedition experience but what Windstar seems to offer is a more traditional cruise ship experience (with expensive excursions, drinks packages etc) on a smaller scale so without some of the amenities you would expect on a larger ship (no balcony cabins, no swimming pool, no casino and only very limited entertainment consisting of one pianist and a not very good vocalist) This isn't what we want though it certainly seems to keep quite a few people happy so I accept that it's 'horses for courses.'
The cabin itself was much as expected........not big but well fitted and certainly adequate. The bed was comfortable. The porthole windows didn't add much to the experience and we missed having a balcony, The shower was superb....one of the best we've had on a cruise.
Very grotty port.