Paying tribute to the golden age of tall ships, Wind Star -- a four-mast, motor-sailing yacht -- is the namesake ship in Windstar Cruises' informal-yet-upscale fleet. The 148-passenger ship specializes in taking cruisers to exotic destinations around the world, highlighting smaller ports big ships can't access. Though Wind Star debuted in 1986, don't let the ship's age fool you; routine maintenance and bow-to-stern refurbishments guarantee it can deftly maneuver across waves and look sexy doing it.
For travelers swept up in the romance of a sailing vessel, Wind Star delivers nautical inspiration galore: an elegant fluted funnel; six triangular, self-furling, computer-operated sails; and four masts that each rise to 204 feet. (The sails aren't just for show, either; the captain uses them, as needed, to increase speed and stability.) With 10,000 square feet of open deck space covered in teak wood and an aura reminiscent of sailing ships of yore, Wind Star is a sailor's dream. When the ship sets sail, the longstanding tradition is to play the bombastic theme song "Conquest of Paradise" from the film "1492," with sails unfurling as the music builds to a resounding crescendo.
Also adding to the ship's romantic atmosphere is its low passenger occupancy, which ensures a high crew-to-passenger ratio (1 to 1.5) and attentive, personalized service. You might be surprised at how quickly staff learn passengers' names, and some repeat cruisers and employees have developed friendships. Several returning passengers on our cruise told us the service is a big part of what keeps them coming back; one group told us they returned specifically for their dining room waiter, and requested to sit in his section every night.
Between the outstanding service and upscale touches -- such as inclusive dining, with the opportunity to enjoy James Beard Award-winning chef's creations every night -- passengers can be pampered without feeling like they're in a stuffy or pretentious environment. (In fact, Windstar encourages against packing a suit and tie.) On the other hand, you must be OK with sacrificing common luxury touches, like balconies in the staterooms and multiple dining options.
If a razzmatazz theater with Broadway-style shows, a bling-a-ding casino and multiple nightclubs showcasing a breadth of musical genres are musts, Wind Star's tranquil tucked-into-bed-by-midnight vibe will leave you wanting more. On the other hand, if you crave interesting conversations with engaging people in a laid-back-yet-sophisticated environment marked by top-notch service and fine food, this ship is the perfect escape.
Puntarenas (Puerto Caldera), Quepos, Isla Parida, Colon (Cristobal)
Well-heeled and well-traveled, Wind Star passengers are active, adventurous and skew toward middle age, with some in their 70s or older and some in their 30s or younger. Sea-loving honeymooners are attracted to the enchantment of a sailing yacht. Passengers are predominantly North Americans, no matter where Wind Star navigates, and the onboard language is English. Occasionally, the line will welcome other nationalities such as those from the UK, Australia and Germany. Many travelers are also repeat Windstar cruisers.
Note: The ship is not accessible to those with mobility issues; there are no elevators, so getting between decks is done via stairs, some of which are narrow, and there are no accessible cabins. Several of the ship's port visits also involve "wet landings," meaning passengers tender on a Zodiac (as opposed to a lifeboat) and have to walk through ankle- to knee-deep water to get to shore.
Passengers on Wind Star will never feel pressured to dress to the nines; the line suggests packing like you would for an elegant resort, while ensuring you remain comfortable. During the day, shorts and a blouse, a sundress or cover-up (over a bathing suit) are suitable for women, while men typically wear a collared shirt and shorts. Shore excursion attire is far more casual, with both men and women wearing T-shirts and UV-protective sportswear.
At night, the dress code becomes Casual Elegance, meaning T-shirts, shorts, jeans, flip-flops and hats are prohibited in the main dining room (but acceptable in Candles, the ship's casual outdoor dinner venue). Women commonly wear a dress, skirt and blouse or pantsuit, and men sport slacks with dress shirts or collared shirts. We didn't see any men on our cruise wearing a suit and tie, as they're not required or even suggested. There also are no theme nights necessitating costumes or special attire.
All meals in all venues at all times are covered in your cruise fare, as are nonalcoholic beverages, espresso and cappuccino. A service fee of $13.50 per person, per day, is automatically added to passenger accounts. In addition, a tip of 15 percent is automatically added to bar and spa bills.
The U.S. dollar is the currency used onboard.
The 148-passenger Wind Spirit sails French Polynesia year-round; its small size, stellar service and water sports marina make you feel like you're on a private yacht.
Four-masted ship carries 148 passengers; it offers a casually elegant vibe, fine dining, excellent service, water sports and a focus on off-the-beaten-path destinations.
Windstar's biggest ship carries just 310 passengers; the five-masted vessel is truly romantic with alfresco dining options, cozy cabins and water sports from the ship.
Ship highlights include suites with expansive bathrooms and large walk-in closets, great ocean views throughout, an impressive spa menu and an expanded top deck.
Windstar's Star Legend offers an "almost luxury" experience and a laid-back vibe; you'll find larger cabins and elevators not found on its sister ships with sails.
Windstar's 212-passenger Star Breeze is a yacht-style small cruise ship with a casual ambiance, spacious cabins and multiple lounges -- but no full-size pool.