toasting with champagne aboard cruise

Incredible Service, Amazing Food & Surprisingly Intimate – Windstar Cruises Review – Rome to Barcelona

Joanne Imeson from Cruise Portfolio recently enjoyed her first Windstar cruise on Wind Surf’s Glitter and Glam of the Rivera. She shares her experience below.

Incredible Service, Amazing Food & Surprisingly Intimate 
 It Can Only Be Windstar!
After having returned from a week’s cruise with Windstar onboard the Wind Surf I’ve found myself desperate to finish my blog purely so that I don’t forget or leave anything out about this incredible weeks sailing. It was so good, I’m not even sure I know where to start….
Firstly let’s get to know the facts and figures; the MSY Wind Surf holds 310 passengers with around 197 crew which means no lines or waiting, there’s always someone there to help. In terms of staterooms there are 122 deluxe ocean view staterooms, 31 deluxe ocean view suites and 2 deluxe ocean view bridge suites. At almost 15,000 tonnes the Wind Surf is actually the world’s largest sailing yacht and when I saw her I have to admit she was even larger than I had imaged but after having experienced the cruise I would say the size is pretty perfect. For me, it wasn’t until I saw the Wind Surf up close to other cruise lines I realized I pretty much had my own private yacht… And I can’t lie, I did feel rather smug!
Day 1 – Rome/Civitavecchia – Embarkation Day
My day started off with a mild panic, our flight was delayed by over an hour so my mind was racing with all the usual questions… What if we miss our transfer? What if they forget about us? What do we do? Needless to say, I soon learnt that as like everything with Windstar, I needn’t worry at all as they have everything under control. As we landed we were greeted with a friendly smile and someone holding a Windstar clipboard. Phew! After picking up our luggage we were taken to our transfer and after a pleasant journey we swiftly arrived at the ship. We were around 20 minutes early for embarkation but that soon passed as we were greeted with drinks and the usual paperwork to complete as like all cruise lines upon embarkation. The whole embarkation process was nice and easy, different stopping stations where we filled out details, gave in paperwork etc – along with welcome champagne of course! We were then escorted to our stateroom, number 325, one of the deluxe ocean view staterooms. It was lovely, very well appointed and far more spacious than I’d imagined. I came onboard with my mum, and for me the easiest tester for a stateroom in terms of size and amenities is how well it manages two females trying to get ready before dinner – the stateroom passed the test! I don’t know where to start, from the fruit basket, chocolates and array of L’occitane bathroom products to the ever so comfy bed, within 5 minutes I was already sold on Windstar.2

The door knocked and Dani our steward was there to introduce himself. He even told us if there was anything we needed just to leave him a little note. I found this quite a nice touch, no one likes the whole awkwardness of wanting to ask your steward a quick question or for a quick favour but not knowing when you’ll see them next so this was great, plus I’ve never wanted to appear rude by leaving a note, so for him to suggest to us that this was acceptable was fantastic. We mentioned to him we needed our bed converting into a twin however we said not to worry about it now as he must be busy with everyone embarking and we said feel free to do it later when he had more time. Unbelievably we went for lunch, returned an hour later and the beds had been separated into a twin with a bedside table in between – now that was fast service!

We wandered around the ship wanting to get a feel for the place and have a nosey; it certainly was a fun to explore. Soon enough it was time to get ready and join everyone on deck for the sail away party. Magical, that’s the only way to describe the feeling you get when the music starts and the sails go up. You get a sense of pride as you look around at your beautiful surroundings; that’s when you realise just how lucky you are. We all headed to dinner in AmphorA, their main restaurant.1
No reservation required, just turn up anytime between 7pm – 9pm and they will seat you. This I loved, it was so relaxed and it’s all on your own time and pace. You get experience things just how you want it, which I learn is pretty much the essence of Windstar. The food was fabulous! So tasty, and there’s great choice. Along with an array of starters and deserts they have around 6 main dishes to choose from and a wide choice of sides. If you don’t fancy any of the main dishes they always have around 4 standard choices such as a steak, chicken etc which you can then pair up with the sides too. We all sat around, got to know each other and the next thing you know it was 10pm, I was pretty exhausted from a long day so I decided to get an early night. On the way back to the stateroom my mum and I decided to swing by the library area and pick up a DVD. This was how good our cruise was: we picked up a DVD that night and it remained unwatched the whole cruise. We handed it back in on the last night after we hadn’t had a chance to watch it as we simply had so much fun onboard that staying in our room to watch a DVD was literally the last thing on our mind.
Day 2 – Portoferraio
We woke up to sun! This was a nice surprise considering it was November and we were sailing the Med. We headed to the Veranda for breakfast where we sat on deck and enjoyed our first morning onboard the Wind Surf. The Veranda is their ‘buffet’ style restaurant open for breakfast and lunch; you can sit indoors or on deck. The choice for breakfast was amazing, you could choose from fruits, pastries, ham, cheeses, cereal etc to a buffet of hot food or if you wanted they also had an a la carte menu for breakfast. I must point out they do also open up the Compass Rose for breakfast, however we never made it there as the Veranda was simply so good. And for those who never make breakfast…. You could swing by the Yacht Club and grab a pastry and a coffee. The Yacht Club was open until 5pm and served sandwiches and cakes throughout the day also.
We decided to get off and explore, we’d been provided with detailed maps and leaflets for the port so we wandered for hours enjoying a new place. We got back just in time to catch lunch at the Veranda, again we sat outside to make the most of the beautiful weather. There was a storm heading our way so we knew it wouldn’t stay this good for long. Lunch was brilliant. Again, they had a huge buffet with a big choice of hot dishes, salads, pastas and a cooking station with a changing special each day. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough they had the a la carte menu when you could order things like fries, burgers, hot dogs, pizza. We headed to the pool deck to grab a sunbed; we were given towels, asked what we wanted to drink and then were left to soak up the sun. The pool deck has 2 hot tubs, one pool, a good amount of sunbeds and a pool bar – what more could you want! There was also plenty of sunbeds on the other decks too so no need to fight!6
Tonight was the captains cocktails and I don’t think I’ve ever met such a charismatic character, I think in his past life he must have been a comedian as his welcome speech was brilliant! Tonight my mum and I had dinner in Candles, one of the 2 specialty restaurants onboard. Normally, weather permitting it would be for dining outside, however given it was quite cold they transformed the Veranda making it a beautiful dining experience with a lovely ambiance. This was by far the best meal I’ve eaten in a long time. Wow. My main was the fillet mignon and then you choose your side dishes. We decided to get a range of sides to share as they had fresh vegetables, creamy mushrooms and leeks, parmesan potatoes, it was simply divine.10
After dinner we headed to the Compass Rose and met up with the rest of the group for drinks. It had a lovely feel to it in there, dark wood, comfy seats and the best entertainment! A duo from England, who sang and played guitar – they were honestly incredible and they were such good fun, I think they honestly made up part of why we loved the cruise so much. We had the drinks package added on as part of our cruise, and that meant we felt much more relaxed, no need to worry about a bill at the end. It was $54pppd, and basically anything under $12 was included in the package. Soft drinks, teas and coffee were included complimentary anyway to all guests so it was only alcoholic beverages that made up the package. Despite Windstar not being all-inclusive, my advice would be to simply account for the drinks package as part of your overall upfront cruise cost and there you go – it’s all inclusive! At least for those who don’t drink there is therefore the option of not having to pay for it so I think it just makes perfect sense for the product.
Day 3 – Monte Carlo (Was Portofino)
We were originally scheduled to be in Portofino today, however due to the bad weather the Captain made an announcement the night before explaining we would no longer be able to call there. It’s totally understandable; the 8weather coming in really wasn’t great so we headed for Monte Carlo instead where we could at least be in the safety of the harbor. We were due to be there the day after anyway so this way we had 2 full days docked in Monte Carlo – hats off to the Captain and crew for their fast thinking and swift organisation. After having been to Monte Carlo many of times before we only briefly got off the ship returning to spend most of the day attempting to dry off from the rain. We headed up to the Veranda where yet again we were spoilt for choice in terms of their food. After having mooched around the yacht I thought my afternoon would be best spent in the gym.
For the size of the ship the gym was very impressive. From the usual cardio machines to the weights and floor space it was very large and not only that but they had various classes throughout the day that were all included at no extra charge. Guests of Windstar are encouraged to stay very active and I think this is great, especially seeing as the food is so good you do tend to eat more than you would back home. Before dinner we all met in the Lounge for a drink which had a lovely relaxing feel and a great band playing throughout the evening. At 6:30pm every night one of the team would do a quick 30 minute talk on the port for the next day, running through all the excursions, any options we had plus general history and points of interest. Tonight we dined in the Stela Bistro, which was amazing food. I had an onion tart and French onion soup to start followed by a steak; I did skip dessert (as though I was trying to be healthy after having gone to the gym earlier… despite already having 3 courses). The speciality restaurants onboard were all included in the cruise fare, bookable once onboard and they were pretty easy to get space in which was great. After dinner we ended up in the Compass Rose, of course!
Singing, dancing and drinks until late, after which we decided to hit the hot tub. Now, 1am may seem like an unusual time to head to the hot tub, but honestly, we were having such fun we didn’t want the night to end. The rain had stopped, and the air was nice and warm so it seems like a perfect idea, especially as we had the twinkly lights of Monte Carlo as a backdrop. Again, it was just one of those wow moments that really make you stop and think.
 Day 4 – Monte Carlo15
The rain was light in the morning, so after grabbing breakfast in the Veranda we all headed off for a stroll and joined the local petit train to take us on a 1 hour roundtrip journey around the sights of Monte Carlo. After heading back to the ship I decided I try out the room service for lunch and I’m glad I did. I went for a steak sandwich and fries and it certainly was yummy, made even better by the courtesy call 20 minutes later asking not only if I’d enjoyed the meal but if I’d like my tray collected. Now that’s service for you. I split my afternoon between the hot tub and the gym followed by a much deserved nap. It was one of our groups birthdays the following day and as they hadn’t tried Candles as of yet I stopped by reception and enquired as to if by any chance I could get a table for 6 the following night in the restaurant. They made the reservation without any issues. That night after all meeting in the lounge we headed to AmphorA for our evening meal, again we turned up at a time that suited us (between 7pm-9pm) and asked for a table of 10. Not a problem at all. We had a lovely evening getting to know new friends and all being part of the same wonderful experience. After dinner heading off to the Compass Rose was a must, the duo in there were simply incredible. I decided to stick to the tea/hot chocolate and have an ish-early evening. I wanted to get a nice early start for the next day. I swung by ‘Cigars under the Stars’ before I left, it’s a small cigar room/bar just above the Compass Rose, gorgeous furniture and had a nice feel to the place, it’s nice that for a small ship there’s more options than most would think. The Captain did let us know that as the weather was still quite bad, instead of leaving Monte Carlo around 2am, taking it slow and possibly having to endure rough seas along the way we would stay docked until 6am and then go full speed to Cannes to arrive us only 30 minutes later than scheduled. That sounded like a far better idea to me, I liked the planning ahead – the Captain was a smart man!
Day 5 – Cannes
Every evening they provide you with the following days information printed out such as various events, timings and other important information. We noticed they were offering a chance to join the head Chef on a market tour. We swung by reception to sign ourselves up, grabbed a quick breakfast and then headed off to join the group. The Chef explained that although a lot of produce comes onboard in bulk at various stages to comply with all food, health and safety standards, they went out around 3 times a cruise to pick up fresh, local food. This not only gave their menu a more authentic feeling, but it always meant they were able to create new dishes as specials so that that the food was kept relevant and more in tune with the ports they visited. The tour lasted around an hour and a half. We saw the Chef buy Sea bass for that evenings special dish, along with local cheese, olives and4 vegetables. It was nice to get a behind the scenes look at how things are run. We headed back to the ship for a quick lunch before we were off again on another excursion – this time a paid, organised shore excursion. Greeted from the tender, we were guided on to a coach where we were given a talk about the surrounding areas along the way to Antibes. Once we’d arrived our guide took us on a walking tour of the old city where we ended at a bar for Absinthe tasting! After this we were given a bit of free time before the coach departed. The whole excursion ran smoothly, it was well planned and organised. By the time we arrived back at the tender we were the last group to board, the night had set in and the boat had its sails up and the lights on. What a sight, it was absolutely stunning. We were all scrambling around in the tender taking turns to get a picture from the window before we got too close. Now here’s the really good part… the tender driver had noticed what everyone was doing and he not only stopped the tender, but proceeded to slowly turn it from left to right so everyone had the opportunity to get a good photo. Again, it’s those little magical moments that the staff create for you that you’ll never forget.
Back onboard we got ready for dinner and then headed to Candles for the birthday meal. Yet again, the food didn’t disappoint being just as good as it was on our first visit. The best part, one of the head waiters noticed us from the morning tour and commented that as we were in Candles we hadn’t been able to pick the special from the main dining room menu which was the Sea bass we’d seen them buy earlier. Without even prompting he offered to bring us a dish for the table to arrive along with our other main courses, what a perfect idea. I think you get the picture now, but just in case you’ve not quite caught on yet, the dish was superb, as with all food onboard you just couldn’t fault it. After our mains, the lights went down and the staff gathered round to sing happy birthday and presented the birthday boy with a cake! Strangely enough it was a banana cake, which just so happened to be his favourite – Windstar really are spot on every time!
Off to the Compass Rose we headed for our usual evening entertainment, just as good as all the nights previous however as time went on we found that despite starting as a 2, then a group of 6, 8 etc we noticed the whole bar became one big family by the end of the cruise. The water sports Marina was open today, which unfortunately we missed as we had so many other things to do today but it’s a great little extra and just adds to the mountains of activities Windstar offer.
Day 6 – Marseilles
21The bad weather finally seemed to pass and we woke up to glorious sunshine. It was time for breakfast on the deck again! We then did the Galley tour to take another sneak peak at what goes on behind the scenes and it was fascinating learning just what goes on without us even realising it. Wow, the staff work hard. This port was by far my biggest surprise and was much more interesting and exciting than I’d had in mind. After exploring the area we headed back and sat on the pool deck. It seemed a crime not to enjoy the glorious weather so I sat back and relaxed with a glass of champagne, you know – when in Rome (or Marseilles!).
I decided for the gym again whilst I left everyone enjoying the hot tub, I knew what we had in store for the evening. A BBQ on deck! Windstar pulled out all the stops, the really did. We had everything from a giant suckling pig, ribs and chicken to paella, lobster and salads. The evening was so memorable, a huge spread of food cooked right in front of us on the top deck. Tables laid beautifully, candles, blankets and of course the smooth and attentive service by the crew.
Yet again, Windstar created a once in a lifetime evening that you’ll never forget. After dinner of course we headed to the Compass Rose, with this being our second to last evening we decided to make this the best one yet. At one point we all got up and danced, and I never get up and dance…. But in the spirit of the evening we all got carried away with the fun we were having and really allowed ourselves to let go and just enjoy the moment. Even the staff in the bar managed to let go a little and do a bit of dancing, behind the bar of course! I love the fact the staff onboard Wind Surf not only show you good service and are extremely professional but they actually let their personalities shine through and become more personable.
Day 7 – Port Vendres 
20Today was our last full day. I’m pretty sure you’ll have noticed I started the blog full of ‘I’s and ‘my’s but I’m ending it with ‘our’ and ‘we’ – but that’s just how it was. My mum and I embarked the ship as a pair, by the time we left we were part of a group. After breakfast and a mild panic of realisation I’d lost my earring we decided to risk the weather and explore the port. I’d like to point out my earring is still lost however I can’t praise the staffs efforts to find it enough, most importantly our room steward Dani who literally took apart our entire room and went so far as to move the bed/furniture. The sweetest thing was how apologetic he was when he hadn’t found it for me. Unfortunately when you lose just 1 earring and have no idea where on the ship you last 19had it in, it is pretty much a needle in a haystack situation, but they promised to contact me if it was found even after I’d disembarked and I couldn’t ask for more than that. Port Vendres seemed rather quiet so we figured we’d hop on another petit train as at least that wouldn’t take up too much time but would give us a good overview of the area. The local petit train was actually recommended as a great attraction in the port talk the night previously in the lounge. It was a great start, though the winding lanes and eventually after 20 minutes it took you to the next town which was beautiful. This was a stop off point, so they explained we were free to get out and wander however being out of season the trains ran only once an hour. This being the last day, and knowing we had so much to cram in we decided instead of getting off we’d continue through and enjoy the second part to the journey. WOW. So we set off back in the same direction, all presuming we were going back the same route but then all of a sudden the train made a turn and we started going higher and higher up this hill. 10 minutes later we found ourselves right at the top by an old fort, the same fort we’d seen earlier miles in the distance perched high above a cliff. The train stopped and we were given the opportunity to get out and take pictures.
Once back onboard the ship we grabbed a spot of lunch and did our packing. I left it until as late as possible to pack; I basically didn’t want to face reality that I was going home. I’d had an incredible week and I didn’t want it to end. We were given colour coded luggage tags relating to the time we would be disembarking and asked to leave our suitcases outside our room by 2am. We had our final dinner in AmphorA, this again didn’t disappoint as it was simply delicious. We made dinner last as long as possible and we were enjoying the food, wine and good company. Unfortunately it was an ish-early evening for me as we had to be off the yacht quite early for our flight. We stayed until the duo finished in the Compass Rose which was around midnight and then said our goodbyes and headed off to bed. I’d loved every minute onboard the Wind Surf and I honestly could have stayed on for much longer!
Day 8 – Barcelona – Disembarkation day
Waking up and realising we really did have to leave today did put me in quite a grumpy mood! We headed to Veranda for breakfast, sat outside on deck watching the lights of the dock shine in the dark morning sky and I realised instead of being grumpy for leaving I should be happy with the experience I’d had over the last week. Windstar had offered us a transfer, but as I’d been to Barcelona before and knew it was quite a short and easy transfer we decided to make our own way there in a taxi. We said our goodbyes to the friends we’d made along the way and the staff we’d become so fond of and reluctantly made our way off the ship….16
Top 5 things to note.
1.       The staff were incredible, literally every single one of them.
2.       The food was to die for. Great choice, presentation but more importantly the taste!
3.       What you want, when you want. They make things work around you and how you want your experience to be.
4.       It’s your own private yacht. From the open bridge policy to the ability to uncover what goes on behind the scenes.
5.       Windstar creates moments that you know you’ll never forget
Windstar Cruises won #1 in the small ship category for the Conde Nast Traveler readers’ choice awards in 2014 beating the likes of Silversea and Seabourn, and after one week onboard… I really know why!           22

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7 years ago

We absolutely love WindStar. It’s all in the staff that makes this line shine. Our last cruise in November on the Star we had yet another example of splendid service. We arrived on ship in Casablanca for dinner in Amphora, we were on a private excursion. Twice we were asked to come dine as they were going to serve late for the later arriving guests for this port. We were scheduled to leave 11pm I believe. It was unbelievable to me that that kind of accommodation was extended from the Dining Staff. I’m booked for WindStar yet again in 2015.… Read more »

Michael Sperry
7 years ago

Since 1998, we have enjoyed 24 Windstar Cruises. We’ve been from Insanbul to Lison, touring every mile of the Mediterranean’s northern coast inbetween. Spirit. We’ve been to the Caribbean over 12 times. We love the Wind Spirit, but our favorite is the Wind Surf. The service and food are all one could ask for; and we always look forward to seeing staff members we’ve met on previous cruises. It really does feel like the Wind Surf is our private yacht. We are off to the Caribbean in Feburary of 2015 for two weeks and cannot wait to step onto “our”… Read more »

Reply to  Michael Sperry
7 years ago

Thank you for the kind note Michael! We love having you onboard!

7 years ago

Thanks for your blog! Looking to do this for my 50th and you have me salivating!

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