Can affordable luxury cruising get any better?
We’ve cruised on the Wind Spirit in French Polynesia twice now – one of the best cruises in Tahiti!
We’ve also sailed on Windstar Cruises’ Star Pride in Asia, and enjoyed another Windstar cruise in the Med.
Now we’ve just finished cruising again on the Star Pride (our fifth Windstar cruise) – this time a 9-night voyage in Greece and Turkey. The ship had recently been “stretched” and refurbished.
So what can you take away from this Windstar Cruise review of ours?
In a nutshell, Windstar is hard to beat for romantic small ship cruises in the “won’t-break-the-bank,” affordable luxury category.
But we know you want all the nitty gritty, so read on!
Windstar Cruise review: The ships
At one time, Windstar was known for their three motorized, tall ship, sailing-style yachts – Wind Surf, Wind Spirit and Wind Star.
The line then acquired the Seabourn Pride from the luxury Seabourn fleet. (You might want to read our Seabourn Cruises review.)
It set sail as the Star Pride under the Windstar flag in 2014.
Two sister ships were also plucked from Seabourn.
After a multi-million-dollar transformation (double the upgrades of the Star Pride), they were launched by Windstar as the Star Legend and Star Breeze in May, 2015.
All six ships have since been extensively renovated yet again.
Carrying just 148 to 342 passengers each, they’re intimate enough to nose into hidden bays, small ports and secluded villages that the big ship contenders can only dream about.
We love the youthful style of Windstar’s classic yachts with their striking white sails.
But with all-suite accommodations and more amenities, the three larger “Star Plus” ships – Star Pride, Star Legend and Star Breeze – offer an enhanced level of luxury for port-hopping Windstar guests.
There are differences between the two classes of ships. And we’ll dive into them in this review of Windstar Cruises.
But on the whole, all the Windstar yachts offer a somewhat similar cruising experience.
The Windstar sailing ships
The first two sailing-style vessels are smaller than the Star Plus ships.
Custom-built for Windstar, the Wind Star (launched 1985) and Wind Spirit (launched 1988) each carry 148 passengers.
They’re classic 440-foot beauties, with four masts and four computer-operated sails each.
The 342-passenger Wind Surf is larger (617 feet long). She sports five masts and seven triangular, self-furling sails.
The Windstar “Star Plus” ships
Windstar Cruises’ Star Pride, Star Breeze and Star Legend are luxurious, all-suite power yachts. (See our Star Pride review.)
In a recent $250 million refurbishment, all three ships were stretched (they’re now 522 feet long). Basically, they were cut in half and a new block was added in the middle.
This increased each ship’s capacity to 312 guests. The staterooms were refurbished and received new bathrooms too.
Additional restaurants plus a new infinity pool were added to each ship.
They debuted in their new gussied-up form in 2021 and 2022.
Formerly known as “Star Class” ships before being stretched and refurbished, Windstar now calls these three vessels “Star Plus” ships.
Windstar Cruises cabins
On all ships, luxury touches in your cabin include:
- A bowl of fresh fruit restocked daily
- Mini-bar (fridge) that is also restocked daily
- A small vase of fresh flowers
- Soft bathrobes
- Nightly turn-down service with chef-made chocolates
Windstar cabins on the sailing ships
One of the biggest differences between the sailing yachts and the Star Plus vessels is the size of the cabins.
On the sailing yachts, the “regular” cabins are smaller than the “regular” suites on the non-masted Star Plus ships.
Wind Spirit and Wind Star cabins
The cabins are all 188 square feet in size on the Wind Star and Wind Spirit (except for the 220-square-foot Owner’s Suite).
The space is cozy, but the cabin is well-designed and comfortable. You’ll find a queen-sized bed with a cream leather headboard (or two single beds, if you prefer), flat-screen TV and DVD player, mini-fridge, pull-out dressing table, cushioned arm-chairs and plentiful cupboard space.
You won’t find any cabins with balconies, however.
They’re all outside cabins with double portholes (which don’t open).
We remember the very strange (but not unpleasant) “washing machine” sensation of lying in our bed, watching the waves outside slosh against the portholes.
The bathrooms are design delights – with cylindrical showers, granite countertops, teak floors and curved vanities with granite countertops that store more fluffy white towels (changed twice daily) than you can possibly use.
As on all Windstar ships, you lather up with L’Occitane toiletries.
Wind Surf cabins
On the Wind Surf, you have a choice of three cabin types:
- 150 Standard Staterooms – 188 square feet
- 18 Suites – Most are 376 square feet
- 2 Bridge Suites – 495 square feet
- 1 Officer’s Suite
Décor colors are neutral shades of cream with pops of royal blue.
Like the two baby yachts, most cabins on the Wind Surf have two small portholes for a window.
Suites, however, have a window. And they’re almost twice the size, featuring a separate bedroom and living area. You get his-and-hers bathrooms as well (two bathrooms), though neither has a tub (just a shower).
Splurge on a Bridge Suite, and you get a king-size bed plus a full bathroom featuring a glass rain shower and a separate Jacuzzi bath.
Star Plus cabins (er, suites)
On the Star Pride, Star Breeze and Star Legend, all cabins are essentially “suites.”
They’re very spacious and feature walk-in closets, large bathrooms with two sinks and lots of storage space.
Your choices are:
- Porthole or Window Suite – 277 square feet
- Balcony Suite – 277 square feet
- Premium Suite – 400 square feet to 820 square feet
Porthole Suites and Window Suites
These suites have either portholes or picture windows, along with queen size beds.
Both times we cruised on the Star Pride, we were struck by how roomy our suite felt. At 277 square feet in size, these suites are larger than most accommodations on other ships.
And who doesn’t love a walk-in closet!
There’s enough space to hang clothes for a two-week or longer cruise. (Not that we needed all this space on our most recent 9-night Star Pride cruise, as we traveled carry-on.)
The original suites are configured so the bedroom space is closer to the doorway entrance, with the living area beside the portholes or window.
The new suites that were recently added in the middle (when the ships were stretched) reversed this layout. From the corridor, your walk into the living area of your cabin, and the bed is placed by the window.
Personally, we prefer this layout (Janice anyway), as there’s a little more privacy having the bed further away from the cabin door. Also, these suites have all new furnishings, unlike the original suites.
But it’s a bit of a “he says, she says” situation. George likes the older layout, which allows you to sit on the couch by the window and soak up the view (for example, during room service breakfast).
There are 58 Balcony Suites on each Star Plus ship.
What’s particularly nice about these suites is that they have French balconies with glass railings. Double doors open out onto the balcony.
You can’t relax out on the balcony – there’s no room for any furniture. But you can walk out whenever you want a breath of fresh air or to gaze out at your surroundings.
The top-of-the-line suites on each Star Plus vessel are the nine Premium Suites.
Called Deluxe Suites, Classic Suites and Owner’s Suites, these are larger than the Porthole, Window and Balcony Suites.
They have either French-style balconies or true verandas with lounge furniture.
As for dining onboard, the welcome Windstar philosophy of “casual elegance” is the same on all Windstar cruise ships.
Eat with whom you want (or just the two of you). Eat when you want.
And all restaurants are included in your cruise fare. There’s no additional charge for the specialty restaurants.
Reservations aren’t needed for the main restaurant (just show up). But you have to make reservations for the specialty restaurants, and you should book soon after boarding, as they’re popular.
As for Windstar Cruises’ dress code, gents, don’t worry – there’s no need to wear a jacket or tie in the evenings for dinner.
Think instead “country club casual.” There are no formal nights. Designer denim jeans are even acceptable!
Attractively decorated with Murano glass chandeliers and panels, AmphorA is the main dining room on all Windstar ships.
Usually open only for dinner (typically between 7:00 pm and 9:00 pm), its multi-course menu features international and ethnic specialties. Vegetarian and gluten-free options are available.
On one of our cruises, the Indian lamb biryani and chicken curry were so delicately spiced, they were as popular as the beef tenderloin main course.
The Veranda is the casual breakfast and lunch buffet venue on all ships, with indoor and outdoor seating at the stern.
As well as the buffet, there are menu options you can order (like Eggs Benedict for breakfast).
At night, the Veranda becomes the reservations-only Candles Grill, offering expertly prepared steak, lamb chops and seafood. (See the Candles menu.)
We especially liked eating alfresco on the Star Pride, watching dusk work its magic on the scenery ashore, as the ship pulled out of port in the evening.
On the Wind Surf, the Stella Bistro is a specialty French restaurant with a four-course menu. And we hear the food quality is excellent.
What to order? The garlicky escargot, French onion soup and Coquilles St. Jacques Provencale (scallops). They’re hot ticket items.
We also hear the Crepes Suzette, flambéed at your table, is the hit dessert. (They were excellent on our latest Star Pride cruise, served with generous pourings of Grand Marnier!)
This new specialty restaurant is only found on the Star Plus vessels – Star Pride, Star Legend and Star Breeze.
The 38-seat dinner restaurant serves up modern Spanish cuisine. It includes a chef’s counter and communal dining table.
You’ll want to share various small and large plates, tapas-style, to taste all the different flavors. (See the Cuadro 44 menu.)
Additional dining venues
Each of the six ships also has a Yacht Club lounge at the bow.
Attractive and nautical in feel, it’s a great place to hang out, play board games and read a book, especially if it’s chilly (or too hot) outside.
It also has a café, where you can get a cappuccino and a muffin or a snack.
As well, the Star Plus ships have the alfresco Star Grill – casual seating topside under cover.
It serves up different barbecued meats and fish for lunch and dinner, and there’s a small salad bar there too.
Barbecue on deck
And one evening on each cruise on every ship, Windstar pulls out all the stops with its gala deck barbecue under the stars – suckling pig, grilled lobster and paella, all cooked à la carte.
Windstar’s water sports platform
One of the things we love most about Windstar Cruises is their unique water sports platform at the back of each yacht, open when conditions are right.
You can burn off some of those calories you consume onboard with complimentary water toys like kayaks, sailboats and stand-up paddleboards.
How to make you feel like this is your own private yacht!
There’s also a delicious sense of freedom about swimming right from the yacht to floating rubber mats tied to the platform.
Nor do you have to pack snorkeling gear for your trip, as Windstar offers complimentary use of masks, snorkels and fins.
The water sports platform can only be used when the ship is anchored offshore (not docked in port). And of course, the weather has to allow it.
We were a little disappointed it wasn’t open on our recent Star Pride cruise.
The weather was good when we were in Santorini and we thought it could be deployed. But we were told the ship wasn’t actually anchored (and the propellers at the back were still moving to keep the ship in its position offshore) – so it wasn’t safe to use the water sports platform.
It’s a big hit on Windstar’s Caribbean and French Polynesia cruises, however! (Chances are better it can be deployed in these destinations.) If you read other Windstar Cruise Line reviews, you’ll see they also note that the water sports platform is a highlight on tropical cruise itineraries.
Other onboard activities and entertainment
Windstar’s fleet of small luxury cruise ships is quite relaxed when it comes to onboard activities and entertainment.
There are no annoying public announcements – just a light schedule of champagne tasting sessions and other shipboard activities.
You can also drop by the open bridge for an impromptu lesson in chart reading.
As well, the ships each have a small pool, hot tub (two hot tubs on the Star Plus vessels) and fitness center (another good spot to burn off some calories).
Windstar Cruises itineraries
The Windstar cruise line prides itself on their ports-of-call being one of their chief attractions.
Windstar’s sailing ship itineraries
We fondly recall our Tahiti and Amalfi Coast cruises on Windstar’s tall sailing-style ships, which slipped into smaller ports and island coves that larger ships couldn’t access.
You can also enjoy small ship cruising with Windstar on their tall vessels in other destinations, like Greece and the Caribbean.
Star Plus yacht itineraries
As for the Star Plus yachts, they go many places.
Alaska, the Caribbean, Europe (and the Med), Canada and New England, Central America and the Panama Canal, southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand are just some of the destinations visited.
Some Windstar Cruises itineraries entice you with unique cruising through Greece’s Corinth Canal – squeezing between its narrow limestone walls.
Or do you fancy exploring Iceland?
Star Legend and Star Pride circumnavigate Iceland on several summer voyages.
Soak in the famous Blue Lagoon, ride an Icelandic horse, fly over raging waterfalls, see huge puffin colonies and kayak through the West Fjords.
For winter, Costa Rica voyages on the Star Pride immerse you in all that’s special about the country – volcano tours, spider monkey spotting in national parks, swimming at white sand beaches and rainforest exploration.
Sign us up!
The long days in port were something we particularly enjoyed on our most recent Windstar cruise.
Departure times were usually 8:00 pm to 11:00 pm. And we overnighted in Rhodes, giving us two full days on the Greek island.
This meant we could squeeze the most out of each day, without worrying about getting back to the ship on time.
Shore excursions aren’t included in the cruise rates.
However, on many itineraries, you’re treated to a complimentary signature Destination Discovery Event.
For example, on South Pacific cruises, the event is an extravagant beach barbecue with Polynesian fire dancing.
In Kusadasi on our most recent Star Pride Turkey-and-Greece cruise, everyone was bused to the ancient Ephesus ruins for an amazing evening – dinner by moonlight in front of the facade of the Library of Celsus, accompanied by live classical music.
No Windstar Cruises review would be complete without mentioning the truly excellent, friendly service onboard – a standout feature.
Perhaps it has to do with the high crew/guest ratio.
But how the dining room staff knew so quickly our personal preferences on our cruises – sparkling vs. still water, skim milk lattes (not whole milk coffees) – is a marvel.
The sports-and-swim team (who doubled as dining stewards at dinner on our French Polynesia cruises) were fun and ever-helpful.
Every time we reboarded the ship after going ashore, there were cold facecloths waiting for us.
And the crew entertainment shows (held one evening on each cruise) had us in stitches.
So, what is the best Windstar ship?
That’s a tough one to answer!
Younger guests tend to gravitate toward the Windstar sailing ships.
These tall ships are impossibly romantic. Plus, they’re ideally suited to tropical destinations, where they can anchor off secluded beaches and the water sports platform can be set up.
If you’re interested in an active itinerary with an emphasis on water sports, then the Wind Star, Wind Spirit or Wind Surf are perfect.
On the other hand, the Star Plus vessels are more spacious, offer more dining choices and have larger accommodations. Their suites are certainly more comfortable.
For Alaska, Iceland, northern Europe, eastern U.S. and the like, the Star Pride, Star Breeze and Star Legend are better suited (and the sailing ships aren’t deployed there anyway).
But you can expect a similar private yacht experience on all Windstar vessels – like the open bridge and relaxed but elegant dining.
Also, the cruise line matches the type of ship with the destination, so once you’ve picked your destination, you’re bound to be happy with the ship.
Our advice? Do both!
Cruise the Caribbean or French Polynesia on one of the sailing-style ships and then book another cruise on one of the Star Plus ships.
Are Windstar Cruises expensive?
Surprisingly, you don’t have to pay a fortune for all that Windstar Cruises offers.
Windstar offers excellent value for money when you take into account the wonderfully personal, small ship adventure provided by their yachts – which is worlds apart from the experience you get on the colossal cruise liners, packed to the brim with thousands of passengers.
You can choose to go cruise only or enhance your experience by adding on various packages (like a Windstar drinks package, daily WiFi package and/or unlimited laundry service package).
Even if you add on all the extras, your total cost will still be less than what a six-star cruise costs on, say, Seabourn (known for its unlimited free champagne), Silversea Cruises or Regent Seven Seas (RSSC).
More FAQs about Windstar Cruises
Is Windstar Cruises a luxury line?
In a way. We call it affordable luxury.
Windstar’s yachts don’t offer the same level of luxury as the six-star cruise ships – where alcohol and gratuities (sometimes shore excursions too) are included in the fare.
But as one of the best small ship cruise lines, they’re definitely a big step above the mass-market cruise lines like Princess, NCL and Carnival.
What is included on Windstar Cruises?
Your cruise price includes:
- Your cabin or suite accommodations (of course!)
- All meals (including at specialty restaurants) and 24-hour room service
- Non-alcoholic beverages, including sodas and specialty coffees like cappuccinos or lattes
- The complimentary Destination Discovery Event (offered on select itineraries)
- Watersport toys (like stand-up paddleboards and kayaks) from the water sports platform, weather conditions permitting
- Use of snorkeling gear
What’s not included?
- Alcoholic beverages (unless you have one of Windstar’s drinks packages)
- Shore excursions
What is the average age on Windstar Cruises?
The average age is about 45 to 65, with several younger and older passengers.
You’ll find more couples in their 30s and 40s, however, on the Wind Star, Wind Spirit and Wind Surf (the sailing-style ships). The line’s French Polynesia cruises, in particular, are a favorite for honeymooners – so you’ll likely mingle with some couples in their 20s too.
Most passengers are couples. The ships are adult-focused, and children under eight aren’t allowed.
Do Windstar ships really sail?
Yes, the sails on the three tall ships – Wind Star, Wind Spirit and Wind Surf – aren’t just for show. When the weather and wind conditions allow, they can operate under full sail (with engine assist).
On engine power alone, their top speed is 8½ to 10 knots. With both wind and engines, their top speed is about 14 knots.
What health and safety precautions does Windstar take?
To kill viruses, the ships have recently been refitted with new hospital-grade, high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters.
This feature makes us more comfortable cruising with Windstar (and it’s something recent Windstar Cruises reviews also note).
Star Clippers vs. Windstar
So you might ask: What’s the difference between Windstar vs. Star Clippers?
If you’re a sailing purist, the main difference is that the Windstar sailing-style ships are engine-powered with auxiliary sails.
Star Clippers ships, on the other hand, are true sailing ships with the assist of auxiliary engine power. On Star Clippers, the sails are used to power the ship about 70% of the time.
Another difference: Windstar’s ships are more luxurious and offer more amenities (like the watersports platform and specialty restaurants).
The whole cruise experience is more upscale on Windstar, and the cruise price reflects this. (True sailing afficionados might still prefer Star Clippers.)
That’s a wrap for our Windstar review!
You may know we’re cruise fans (we’ve sailed on more than 60 different cruises now).
The Windstar cruise line is a favorite of ours. We love the intimacy and small ship cruising experience.
And the Star Plus yachts, in particular, boast lots of star power!
For more information or to book, check Windstar Cruises’ website or call 1-888-279-2641.
Photo credits: 4, 8, 11, 18, 19, 26, 28, 29 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | Remaining images Windstar Cruises
This Windstar cruise review is based on our personal experience, sailing on five Windstar cruises. While we were hosted as media guests (and received the cruise on a complimentary basis), as always with all hosts, the cruise line had no editorial influence over this or our other articles on Windstar.