So it was a delight to hop aboard Star Breeze, once Seabourn Spirit, in Dubrovnik to check out the Windstar style.
First impressions were excellent. The ship has been beautifully refurbished in many locations, and is spotless throughout - in fact housekeeping was immaculate, with charming, prompt and attentive service from the cabin stewards (ours was Indonesian). I have always loved the dimensions of the sea view suites on these little ships, some with Juliet balconies, and although this is an elderly ship, everything looked fresh and inviting.
Throughout the ship, the officers were very visible (not so common nowadays), and everywhere you went you were greeted with a smile.
The Yacht Club and Compass Rose have been refurbished to a very high standard - both lounges are inviting and comfortable, and of course there is a full show lounge too. It was therefore a great pity that they seemed so underused, often deserted both during the day and in the evenings before and after dinner. I understand from Windstar that this is a work in progress, and we should be seeing an enhanced onboard programme very soon - watch this space for more news!
The ship has always had certain physical challenges. The pool that used to be located forward of the casual restaurant has been moved to a position alongside the Jacuzzi on the main sun deck, and the mezzanine deck above has been widened to give more space for sun loungers, but deck space continues to be crowded, especially on a high demand sea day. And whilst the marina at the back offers an excellent choice of equipment, that area is not overlooked from anywhere on the ship (except the Verandah), so unless you are completely committed to going down to the uninviting marina area, there is little engagement with this lovely option.
Casual dining for breakfast and lunch is offered in La Veranda, with plenty of outdoor space. In addition, an indoor area has been added where the pool used to be (the Courtyard), an excellent way to increase capacity which will be of particular interest on colder cruises when the outdoor space cannot be used. Dining here is buffet style, with some additional dishes to order. In the evening this restaurant converts to Candles (by reservation), a 'grill' style steak/fish restaurant with limited menu, inviting ambience and excellent quality food.
Meanwhile in the main restaurant AmphorA a good quality menu is offered every evening with plenty of choice, and most dishes are prepared à la minute so changes can be made to the dressings, sauces and garnishes. The delightful Canadian chef was ever present, and also offered a market visit ashore during the week and a cookery demonstration on the sea day.
Our fellow guests were beyond friendly - what a sociable ship! They were predominantly North American, and keen travellers, very engaged with the itinerary, so more or less everyone went ashore at every port. They were quite young (although I have to admit that as I get older, my definition of 'young' has changed significantly!) - I would say mainly in the 40-70 age range, and very laid back, with minimal dressing up in the evenings.
On disembarkation, the Captain and Hotel Manager were standing by at the bottom of the gangway to shake hands with everyone - a real blast from the past. It's years since I saw this done, and it is a very nice touch, leaving an excellent final impression.
There are interesting itineraries - a new programme in Asia commences this winter, followed by a season in Alaska; the Northern European options, in particular the Iceland circumnavigations, are great; and there is lots of choice in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Costa Rica and of course a year round programme in Tahiti.
So, in short, choose Windstar for the itinerary, the value, the relaxed style, and the pleasure of cruising without the crowds.
Find out more: Request a Windstar Cruises brochure