Windstar Cruises has a surprisingly varied fleet for a cruise line with only six small ships.
The cruise line was known for years for its fleet of three-masted sailing yachts (imagine a hybrid of a small cruise ship and a large four- or five-masted sailing vessel). But in the mid-2010s, in a bid to expand without building new ships, the line acquired three small, aging cruise ships from luxury line Seabourn and completely refurbished them.
Windstar’s fleet is now equal parts sailing ships (known as the Wind class) and yachts (the Star Plus class), tied together by a casual-yet-upscale vibe, friendly crews and port-intensive itineraries.
While Windstar loyalists happily cross from masted yacht to regular ship, depending on the itinerary, newcomers will want to understand the differences between the line’s two classes of ships because the onboard amenities are different enough to affect your vacation experience.
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An introduction to Windstar ships
Windstar Cruises specializes in small ships carrying between 148 and 342 passengers each. Though the line calls them yachts, the ships are structured more like tiny cruise ships with indoor lounges and communal dining rooms.
The Wind-class sailing ships come in two sizes: the 5,307-ton Wind Spirit and Wind Star and the 14,745-ton Wind Surf. The non-sail motor yachts are all identical at 12,995 tons.
Most of Windstar’s fleet was not originally built for Windstar. Wind Surf originally sailed as a Club Med cruise ship. The motor yacht trio started their lives as Seabourn vessels.
That does not mean you should expect worn-out ships. Windstar recently spent $250 million to not just update but also lengthen the three motor yachts of its Star Plus class. The ships were cut open and a new midsection was added to create more space for additional cabins (Windstar calls them suites, even if they have only one room), new dining venues and expanded outdoor deck areas.
The ships function more as a comfortable home base than destinations by themselves. Onboard attractions are limited to a few restaurants, a small spa and fitness center, a pool and hot tub, and a tiny boutique. You’ll find two or three bars, rather than a large assortment. There’s no kids club because children younger than 8 aren’t allowed onboard.
The biggest difference between the classes, besides the sails, is that cabins on Star Plus-class ships are marketed as suites. While most aren’t true, multiroom suites, the cabins are spacious with separate living and sleeping areas, French (step-out) balconies on most rooms and good-size bathrooms. The cabins on Wind-class ships are more compact and nautical in design, with porthole windows and small living spaces tricked out with hidden storage to maximize space.
What all the ships have in common is a water sports platform. On select days when the ship is anchored (not docked at a pier) and the weather and government regulations align, crew members can offer water sports, such as swimming and kayaking, right off the back of the ship.
Ships in class: Wind Surf (1989), Wind Spirit (1988) and Wind Star (1986).
Size: 5,307 tons (Spirit and Star) to 14,745 tons (Surf).
Technically, Windstar’s Wind-class ships comprise two different types of ships, but the line categorizes all of its ships with sails together.
The 148-passenger Wind Spirit and Wind Star are the only ships in the current fleet custom-built for Windstar. Each has four decks and as many masts for sails. The ships each feature one 220-square-foot Owner’s Suite, and the rest of the cabins are 188-square-feet rooms. Each cabin, including the suite, features a window; you will not find a private balcony on these ships.
Most of the public areas are found on the upper two decks with cabins on the lower two, with the exception of a small gym and the exit to the water sports platform on Deck 2. Deck 3 features the majority of the indoor spaces, including the Amphora main restaurant, boutique, reception desk, library, tiny spa, main lounge and a cafe serving coffee drinks and small snacks.
The topmost deck features the indoor-outdoor buffet restaurant Veranda, which transforms into the waiter-served Candles restaurant in the evening. A pool, hot tub and pool bar round out the alfresco offerings.
The 342-passenger Wind Surf joined the Windstar fleet in 1998 after sailing for Club Med. It follows the same basic idea as its two sailing sisters, but with more space and a few more attractions.
It’s got six decks, five masts and four types of cabins (again all with windows only, no balconies). These include 188-square-foot regular cabins and 18 suites measuring 376 square feet, which are essentially double cabins with two bathrooms, two vanities and a sitting area where the second bed should be. These rooms are found throughout decks 1 through 3.
One 242-square-foot Officer’s Suite and two 495-square-foot Bridge suites are located on Deck 5 (Bridge Deck).
Like its smaller sisters, Wind Surf contains the Amphora Restaurant and Veranda/Candles, main lounge, Yacht Club Cafe, pool and hot tubs, boutique, spa and fitness center. In addition, the ship adds a third dining venue – Stella Bistro – and the Terrace Bar, both on the ship’s top deck.
Windstar deploys its sailing ships to destinations with more concentrated routes, where the romance factor is high (to complement the ships’ beautiful sails). These include Tahiti and French Polynesia, Costa Rica and the Panama Canal, and Greece.
Star Plus class
Ships in class: Star Legend (1990), Star Breeze (1988) and Star Pride (1988).
Size: 12,995 tons.
The Star Plus-class ships are all pre-owned cruise ships. They debuted in the late ’80s and early ’90s for luxury cruise line Seabourn and Windstar purchased them and brought them into the fleet 25 years later in 2014 and 2015.
The trio came to Windstar as 212-passenger, 9,975-ton cruise ships. Windstar refurbished the ships to clean them up and add the line’s branding before they debuted but quickly realized more was needed to bring the ships in line with modern standards, both under the hood and in passenger-facing venues.
So the line announced a $250 million refurbishment project that included lengthening the ships by adding a new midsection. Extensive below-decks work was done to replace the existing engines with more efficient ones, as well as improve environmental standards. Above decks, each ship received 100 new cabins and suites, additional restaurants and expanded deck space to host a new infinity pool and more space for the line’s famous deck barbecues.
Work on the project began in 2019, with the renovated ships debuting in 2021 and 2022.
Similar to Wind Surf, the Star Plus-class ships feature six passenger decks, a water sports platform, Amphora and Veranda/Candles restaurants and a boutique.
Each ship has a lounge that serves as an excursion assembly station and a theater for live entertainment and talks, as well as the large Compass Rose bar and lounge for dancing, drinking and whiling the evening away. Dining venues exclusive to this class include the alfresco Star Grill by Steven Raichlen and the Spanish Cuadro 44 by Anthony Sasso.
The spa and fitness center is much larger on these ships, featuring a complimentary thermal suite with heated lounges and saunas, as well as a separate workout room and fitness studio for group classes. A tiered infinity pool and hot tub are the focal point of Deck 7, but there’s a somewhat-secret hot tub on Deck 5 forward, as well.
The Yacht Club is a gorgeous circular hangout and library space with board games and a little cafe area, and the Star Bar is surrounded by comfortable patio furniture one deck above the pool. There’s also a screening room on Deck 5.
Cabins come in nine varieties. Five of them are the same size — 277 square feet — with two key differences. The first is whether the room offers a porthole, picture window or French balcony (which is big enough for one person to step out onto, but too small for a seating area); the second is whether the room has the original furnishings and the bed by the bathroom or is a newly built cabin with more modern furnishings and the bed by the window.
You can tell which style of cabin you’re getting by the name. Star porthole, ocean-view and balcony suites are the new suites; plain ocean-view and balcony suites are the originals.
All cabins have updated bathrooms, some with tub-shower combos and others with shower only.
True suites range from 400 to 820 square feet, and include the Classic, Deluxe, Owner’s Suite Forward and Owner’s Suite Midship. The latter can be combined with surrounding standard suites to transform into a three-bedroom, 1,374-square-foot Grand Owner’s Suite.
The Star Plus-class ships are the line’s traveling class, taking the longer, more sightseeing-focused routes in places like Alaska, Asia, Australia and northern Europe. With more indoor space, these ships can better handle destinations like Iceland and Alaska where the weather may prevent passengers from spending large amounts of time outdoors when sailing.
Windstar’s two classes of ships can be quickly summarized as either sailing ships with smaller cabins and limited public spaces or upscale small ships with spacious cabins and more choices of restaurants and hangouts.
No matter which you choose, you’ll get a similar experience. That’s because each of the six ships honors the brand’s themes of a casual onboard vibe with adult-focused upscale touches, fine dining in partnership with the James Beard Foundation, low-key outdoor fun, destination exploration and a friendly, helpful crew.
Windstar’s fleet is so small that many cruisers find that the destination guides their vacation choice more than the ship. As the line carefully matches ship style to the itinerary, you’ll likely find yourself content with whichever class of ship you find yourself sailing.
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Featured image courtesy of Windstar Cruises.