IN SEPTEMBER, we made a happy return to cruising, embarking on Windstar Cruises’ revitalized motor yacht, the Star Legend. We sailed from Lisbon, a city I enjoy immensely, with its historic, walkable centre full of fascinating neighbourhoods, ready for discovery. This was the inaugural cruise for Star Legend following a transformational dry dock, that left her lengthened and refurbished.
It feels marvellous to be travelling and on a cruise again. Even with some stress involved in checking on vaccine and test requirements, forms to fill out, downloading apps, all that mask-wearing and so on, it is truly worth the effort. The payback is immense, and the experiences we enjoyed in Portugal and Spain and on the ship, made it more than worthwhile.
After exploring Lisbon, we departed for a 10-day cruise of Spain and Portugal, culminating in Barcelona. The atmosphere onboard was light and breezy, and it was apparent how important it was for both crew and guests to meet up again. It had been a long, dry period of 18 months, and we were all more than ready to set sail for new adventures. To ensure safety, both guests and crew had to have two vaccines, and Windstar also required a negative Antigen test at the pier before boarding.
All in all, we had four Antigen tests between leaving for Portugal, sailing into Gibraltar and on arrival at Barcelona. We felt safe on the ship as we also wore face masks when moving about. Spain does allow visitors to explore on their own, but Portugal, at the time of writing, requires guests to go ashore in a bubble excursion. The elegant small motor yacht has emerged from her extensive and impressive drydock – dubbed the “Star Plus Initiative” – transformed, with 50 brand-new suites tucked in the vessel’s middle, two restaurants making their debut, as well as all-new bathrooms and carpeting for every suite. The ship was literally cut in half, and a whole new section of lovely suites, expansive indoor and outdoor decks, a redesigned, elevated pool and hot tub and more, were cleverly added. Also added were the aforementioned new restaurants: the intimate Cuadro 44 by famed American Chef Anthony Sasso; and the Star Grill by award-winning grilling guru Steven Raichlen who was onboard to fire up the bbq personally and kick things off with a blast!
I had previously sailed the Legend, and sister ships, Star Breeze and Star Pride, so I was familiar with the layout. The Pride emerges from her transformational drydock early next year, while the Breeze was the first to return to service a few months ago, also with 50 new suites and the same upgrades. The Star Legend is now longer and even more gorgeous, replete with fresh paint, polished wood, gleaming brass and attractive fixtures and fittings. She’s had far more than just a paint job though and can now comfortably accommodate another 100 guests – with a capacity of 312.
All accommodations are spacious suites, most coming in at just under 300 sq ft. Some have windows, ours had a Juliet balcony, and a few expansive Owners suites offer more overall room and spacious balconies. The new suites have the bed by the window or balcony, whereas the bed is closer to the bathroom in the original suites – some of which also have a tub rather than just a shower. The new rooms have ample electrical outlets for both European and US plugs and charging ports. A mini-fridge, which, if you have the beverage package, will be filled and replenished as required.
A long-time fan (since my Tahiti cruise in 1996), I always find that one of the most desirable elements of any Windstar cruise is the interaction between guests and crew. It can often make or break the experience on any ship, so with that in mind, when I board a Windstar sail or motor yacht, I know I will become – yet again – a part of the Windstar family. On our cruise, from a complement of just 121, we had many repeat guests, including one vibrant couple in their 80s sailing for 38 days on a series of back-to-back-to-back cruises. We met up with some newbies, most of whom had cruised before but had wanted “something smaller.” Many signed up for a future cruise during this sailing.
The crew numbered 204, and each was endearing, engaging, sweet, kind and thrilled to be back on a ship caring for their guests. The feeling was palpable, and, as a consequence, they were tripping over each other to spend time with us and could not do enough. Wherever we ventured on the yacht, smiling faces greeted us and ensured we had everything we could possibly need. On small ships, the crew gets to know their guests and their preferences very quickly. It is a lovely feeling to be so pampered.
Some of the highlights for me were the expanded indoor and outdoor deck space and the terrific new pool, which was well-used and positioned perfectly on Deck 7. The food was delicious throughout the ship and in every dining venue. The addition of the intimate, small plate Spanish restaurant, Cuadro 44, with its Michelin-starred Chef Anthony Sasso, is another close tie to Windstar’s relationship with the James Beard Foundation. This fabulous culinary association makes a great deal of sense. Dishes from the array of James Beard Chefs appear nightly at Amphora, the main restaurant, which is in the new section. Its delectable food, elegant décor and muted colour scheme made it a frequent choice for dinner.
When you’re in the Med, however, enjoying balmy, warm weather, one of my favourite spots is the Veranda outside on Deck 7 aft, which becomes Candles in the evening. Savouring a buffet lunch (staff serve everything to you these days), while sipping a glass or two of rosé is a treat while at night, the smallish Candles menu, consisting primarily of steaks and seafood and some salads and sides, is very popular and by reservation only. The dress onboard is casual at all times, so gentlemen wear a shirt with a collar and sleeves and long pants at dinner but otherwise, whatever pleases you is just fine, as long as it is in good taste!
And now to the Star Grill, at the top of the ship, located around the Star Bar with both table and casual couch seating. Open for lunch every day and sometimes at night, it will occasionally offer some grilled items in the middle of the afternoon. Steven Raichlen, the barbecue expert, has created a variety of menu items for Windstar which are very tasty, making this a terrific space for relaxing, enjoying a cocktail and a light bite.
Our itinerary was filled with interesting ports of call, most in Spain. We had two overnights – one in Cadiz with its ancient centre full of rambling streets and lovely squares and the other in Malaga, a top-rated stop. Its main town is absolutely gorgeous and very walkable. An overnight call allows guests the opportunity to enjoy shore excursions to such places as Seville or the Alhambra and to take a deeper look at the region and the port. There are tours for the very active and others for those who prefer a more relaxed schedule. Often there were opportunities for food, wine and sherry tastings, and even Segway tours and private cars and drivers for some something rather special. We also enjoyed Cartagena and a day on the beautiful Balearic island of Mallorca and its capital Palma – we loved it there.
Windstar is doing a great job and has elevated the onboard experience with further upgrades and changes planned. I love the fact that you can upgrade your cruise to be an all-inclusive one for $79 US per person per day, a package that includes unlimited Wi-Fi, gratuities and beverages, including wines by the glass from an impressive list of 33 vintages, beer and cocktails.
Windstar’s tag line is “180 degrees from Ordinary” a perfect descriptor for this cruise line’s three lovely motor yachts and three stunning sailing ships, Wind Surf, Wind Spirit and Wind Star.
Written by Vanessa Lee for Cruise & Travel Lifestyles (Winter 2021/2022). All photos courtesy of Windstar Cruises.