Windstar Pride is a small ship with a new heart, Jeannine Williamson cruises and discovers what makes the ship so special.
As we sail along the Tagus River beneath Lisbon’s landmark Ponte 25 de Abril bridge and cruise onwards to the Atlantic I stand in the middle of Star Pride’s top deck in the late afternoon sunshine to take photos. It is a classic sailaway scene with a buzz in the air as happy passengers clink glasses and look forward to the days that lie ahead.
What makes it different is that a few months before I wouldn’t have been able to do it as the elegant deck, with a glass-sided infinity pool and tumbling water feature, simply didn’t exist. In very simplistic terms, the ship was cut in half, a new 84ft section was inserted and the vessel was put back together again. In reality, it was one of most ambitious ship ‘stretching’ projects ever undertaken and marked the completion of Windstar’s $250 million Star Plus initiative.
The work took around four months and Star Pride’s sister ships, Breeze and Legend, ‘went under the knife’ first. (If you want to see how it was done you can watch a fascinating video)
I was aboard one of Star Pride’s first sailings with the new look and it also marked my first experience of the line. Walking towards the sleek white vessel it’s hard to imagine what it looked like before as it appears to be in perfect proportion, and you certainly can’t see any tell-tale joins!
Windstar operates a fleet of six small ships and even die-hard fans won’t be troubled by the stretching exercise which also includes the addition of 50 new suites – increasing passenger capacity from 212 to 312 – two new restaurants and eco-friendly technical features such as new energy efficient engines. In cruising terms it’s still a very small ship. Quite a few of my shipmates were Windstar fans, also eager to be amongst the first to find out what it was like.
I was keen to experience it, too, and quickly felt at home with Windstar’s interpretation of luxury. Rather than feeling overly stuffy or uncomfortably ostentatious, it’s akin to laid-back extravagance with a relaxed feel and there’s no dress code or formal nights. My lovely cabin steward was on call if needed and turned up with treats including chocolate strawberries and canapes to go with the bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne waiting in the room, but he wasn’t always fussing around.
With small things often making as much difference as bigger ones, there are thoughtful amenities such as handy cards with useful phrases for every country visited and deep-pile bath mats. Elsewhere, if passengers are wearing black clothing at dinner they will be given a black napkin. A classy touch.
I stayed in one of the brand new Star Balcony Suites. They are very spacious at 277-square-feet with a large bathroom with L’Occitane toiletries, a walk-in wardrobe and curtain to divide the bedroom from the seating area. In the older cabins – all refreshed along with other areas of the ship as part of the refurbishment – the lounge area is next to the balcony. In the new suites it’s the other way around, which I liked as you can lie in bed and look out to sea, but of course passengers can pick whichever they prefer.
The extra space has allowed for other additions, such as Cuadro 44, a modern Spanish restaurant created by Anthony Sasso, one of the youngest chefs to be recognised by the Michelin Guide. Our meal there was a highlight starting with sangria, followed by tapas dishes for sharing, imaginative mains spanning meat, fish and veggie dishes and tasty desserts along with Spanish cheeses.
Up on deck there’s the new Star Grill a casual barbecue-style venue with a horseshoe-shaped bar and daily cocktails themed around the places visited. Other options include the main Amphora restaurant and Veranda buffet. By night, the latter cleverly metamorphosises into Candles steakhouse with served dishes (most notably a 40oz steak that we were reliably informed was usually ordered at least once per cruise, albeit by diners to share).
With bars and lounges including the elegant Yacht Club high up on Deck 8 and Compass Rose with live music, and amenities like the excellent spa, shop and a surprisingly big choice of well thought-out excursions, Star Pride packs plenty into a small ship that is friendly and personal. There aren’t many cruises vessels ships with an open bridge policy where you can chat to the captain and officers and view navigational charts.
All in all, Windstar should take great pride in what has been achieved in this extraordinary feat of marine engineering.
Windstar Pride will sail on itineraries in Iceland and North America before spending winter 2022/23 in the Caribbean. A seven-night all-inclusive Windward Islands Surf & Sunsets cruise, round-trip San Juan, starts from £3,199, including flights and tips. Visit www.windstarcruises.com