It’s the first sailing of Windstar Cruises’ new Star Pride. “New” might be a misleading term to apply to this luxury vessel that first sailed under the Seabourn banner, but the ship I’m aboard right now bears little resemblance to the one that sailed out of the shipyard in 1989.
Initially, Windstar Cruises’ acquisition of Seabourn’s sister yachts baffled me. In 2014, when the ships first joined the Windstar fleet, the line was synonymous with tall ships like Windsurf, majestic billowing sails their dramatic signature. A trio of yachts, particularly 30-year-old ones, went firmly against the tide.
I was wrong. And it was Windstar’s Star Plus Initiative, an aggressive and complex $250 million renovation program, that changed my mind.
What I find aboard Star Pride today is far from the new-carpeting-and-bedding-in-staterooms type upgrades we hear so much about in the cruise industry. Star Pride (along with Star Breeze and Star Legend) was lengthened—cut in half and welded back together with a new 84-foot section inserted—to add 50 suites (including two new Grand Owner’s Suites that may be combined into a massive 1,374-square foot 3-bedroom, 3-bath suite) that increased each yacht’s capacity from 212 to 312 guests. There are new dining options, an expanded spa and fitness center, an infinity pool, and even things that guests will never see, like completely new engines that make Star Pride more environmentally-friendly. With her new, larger size Windstar has even added crew to maintain its impressive 1.5-1 guest-to-crew ratio.
Star Pride might not be a new ship, but you’d never know it.
The Suite Life
It’s a long flight from JFK to Athens to board Star Pride’s inaugural “A Piece of Greece and a Slice of Sicily” sailing but even after over nine hours in the air, I am intrigued by the newly-stretched vessel I’m about to board. I find myself searching for tell-tale signs of the welding that secures the newly-added section, but all I see is an elegant and pristine ship, a simple nautical blue stripe the only adornment on her hull.
At a mere 12,995 gross tons, this larger Star Pride is still a little slip of a thing and I head to suite 621 expecting cozy and, yes, even cramped digs. Instead, I open the door to a spacious 277-square feet of living space with a queen-size bed dressed in luxury linens (including stunning white on white nautical-print pillowcases), a generous sitting area, walk-in closet and small balcony that, while not large enough to hold furniture, is more than adequate for gazing at the sea or checking the day’s weather. The bathroom is a modern one with a wall of brown, beige and cream tiles its focal point and a shower that offers a choice of hand-held spray or wide-faced rain shower and a trio of high-end L’Occitane toiletries—shampoo, conditioner and shower gel—resting in a silver fixture.
Mine is a an original suite—something I can tell by the fact that the bed is located at the suite’s entrance, while suites added during the Star Plus Initiative feature a sleeping area alongside the window or balcony. While the line considered revamping all cabins to the new configuration, both designs have been maintained, allowing guests to choose whether they’ll wake with a view of the ocean or prefer the original design.
A Yacht…It’s Not
Hey! Cruising’s yacht category just might be my favorite category of all but, let’s face it, for those accustomed to the bells and whistles of the big ships, the activities and public spaces of a true yacht just might seem a tad too limited.
From its inception, Star Pride has been referred to as a “yacht”—it still is—and it is with that in mind that I set out to explore the ship, fully expecting to discover a limited variety of public rooms and activities.
What I find astonishes me! This, I realize, is not a yacht at all—it’s like a full-size cruise ship that shrunk in the wash. In a very good way.
Despite Star Pride’s abbreviated size, everything (with the exception of a casino) is here: Spacious lounges like the Yacht Club and the pre-dinner drink spot Compass Rose, an impressive fitness center, beauty salon and spa, multiple specialty restaurants, an impressive main dining room, boutiques, a library (that really needs some novels to supplement its travel volumes), separate reception and shore excursion offices, spacious deck space with plenty of deck chairs, a small infinity swimming pool and hot tub, and the outdoor, horseshoe-shaped Star Bar, a delightful meeting spot that I found to be the social heart of Star Pride.
Best of all, wherever a guest chooses to go is likely a short flight up or down via the crisscross golden banister staircase or elevator and not a 20-minute walk down confusing corridors!
And while Star Pride’s design manages to offer everything found on a larger ship, at the same time she offers the most popular features of the yachting experience, like a sports platform that allows guests direct access to the sea to kayak, snorkel, paddleboard and more and an open bridge where you can learn about the engineering marvel on which you’re sailing. In pleasant weather, events like the Captain’s Welcome and Farewell are held on deck, under the stars and not in the confines of an interior lounge and, of course, the ship’s small size allows her to sail to exotic and out-of-the-way destinations that are off limits to large cruise ships.
Don’t expect Star Pride’s daily program (available through the Windstar app or, upon request, in printed version), to list page after page of “activities.” Instead, like a yacht, Star Pride zeroes in on the important stuff: port talks, wine tastings, trivia, and evening entertainment. A smart move, I find, because, seriously, when was the last time you actually attended a napkin folding or a line-dancing class?
A Taste of Star Pride
It was a sphere—somewhere between the size of a golf ball and a baseball—fried to golden perfection, resting in a puddle of creamy and decadent smoked paprika-spiked aioli and topped with a dollop of house-made tomato jam. I pierced the crispy shell and discovered a riot of tender shiitake mushrooms, sensuously bathed in an earthy, savory sauce.
I always said that whoever prepares my death row meal will have to sail the seven seas to fill my requests. And now, that person will have to add Star Pride’s Candles Restaurant to his or her itinerary to pick up a roasted shiitake mushroom cromesqui before I’m punished for my heinous crime.
Despite its small size, Star Pride offers a mind-boggling six dining experiences, none of which carry a pesky surcharge. And with a long-standing association with The James Beard Foundation, you can be sure Windstar takes its culinary pursuits seriously.
-Amphora: A stunning, single-level modern space that allows guests to dine as simply or as lavishly as they wish. Beef Wellington, lobster or tender shrimp and bacon atop quinoa? Or maybe a simple roasted chicken breast, grilled salmon or a delicious cheesy vegetarian quiche studded with vegetables in a flaky crust. And, like everywhere aboard, dress is decidedly casual—even jeans, albeit “dress” ones without rips or holes, are permitted!
-Cuadro 44 by Anthony Sasso: Ole’! Cuadro 44 celebrates modern Spanish cuisine and tapas in a setting that can be romantic (choose a table for two) or communal (grab a seat at the chef’s table). Nibble on the delectable tomato bread, olives and anchovies that are offered at each table while you choose between tapas like piquant grilled chorizo, paella croquetas or extraordinary charred Portuguese octopus. “Large plates” include tender pork belly with grilled leeks, lamb chops with green apples and Manchego and, my favorite, Fideos Mar 7 Montana, a confit chicken leg, chorizo, black mussels and sea beans atop toasted angel hair. Top off your meal with churros y chocolate! We loved Cuadro 44 so much, we went twice! (Reservations Required.)
-Candles Steakhouse: When the sun sets, Star Pride’s Veranda is transformed into an al fresco steakhouse with a menu that everyone can enjoy. While carnivores will focus on filet mignon, porterhouse, bone-in rib eye or veal chop, pescatarians may choose from branzino, the grilled fish of the day (perhaps picked up by the chef in port that morning) or a mixed seafood skewer. Even vegans will delight in the creative black pepper tofu, chili fried with spiced soy sweet sauce. And everyone, of course, should order that incredible roasted shiitake mushroom cromesqui. (Reservations Required.)
-Veranda: The most popular breakfast and lunch spot aboard Star Pride, the indoor/outdoor Veranda supplements its buffet offerings with a menu of items that may be whipped up a la minute. At breakfast, expect a variety of fruits, breads, yogurts, cereals, and cheeses at the buffet before selecting an omelet or other specialty. At lunch, you’ll find salads, carved meats, the thinnest crust pizza, sushi, pasta and more. And don’t miss the coffee station at the entrance with cappuccinos, lattes and other caffeinated (and non-caffeinated choices) prepared on the spot.
-The Star Grill by Steven Raichlen: Open for lunch and, occasionally, dinner, this outdoor, casual restaurant by Barbecue Hall of Famer Steven Raichlen celebrates world barbecue with dishes like shrimp on sugarcane, tea smoked duck, spareribs and smoked prime rib along with burgers, hotdogs and salads. Don’t expect fire, charcoal and other onboard safety no-nos, nor a deck filled with smoke! These dishes are prepared in the galley and enhanced with succulent marinades created in the U.S. (The Star Grill is also a handy breakfast option for sunworshippers, just a deck up from the pool.)
-The Yacht Club: This lovely observation lounge, hidden behind The Star Bar on deck 8, is worth seeking out for a serene continental breakfast and snacks and sandwiches through the day.
Of course, a taste of Star Pride isn’t complete without mention of her Barbecue Deck Party, an outdoor celebration of food, fun and dancing under the stars. On this evening, deck chairs are cleared out and, in their place, dining tables are arranged for a dinner that, on our sailing, included luscious paella, roast pig, shrimp, filet mignon and more and an entire table dedicated to the local cheeses and other specialties of Sardinia, the port we had called at that day.
Star Pride Ashore
Free shuttles into town, as much bottled water as you’d like and shore excursions that run the gamut from an active cycling experience in Corfu to an educational visit to The Acropolis and The Acropolis Museum in Athens and wine tastings in Sicily! That’s what I found during my Star Pride sailing.
Prices started at $55 for a walking tour in Trapani, Sicily followed by a Sicilian Coffee Break that included a scrumptious cannoli the size of a shoe and $79 for a tour of Cagliari, Sardinia and visit to its fish market to upwards of $1,000 for a half-day “Concierge Collection” private tour that allows you to design your own itinerary ashore.
A Great Deal
Not too long ago, I decided against purchasing a cruise ship beverage package when I realized I’d be weaving and slurring had I even attempted to drink enough to justify the package’s $100+ per day cost. I also passed on the $29 per person internet package. Right now aboard Windstar, guests may take advantage of its “All-In” package, a $79 per person per day deal, that includes unlimited wine, beer, cocktails and Wi-Fi, plus gratuities. You can’t beat that!
During my Star Pride sailing I was impressed with all that was included. Surcharges for specialty restaurants? Nope. Bottled water to take along on shore excursions? Take two bottles or more from the supply located near the gangway.
And solo travelers will be delighted to hear that Windstar has reduced its single supplement to as low as 20% on many sailings, including those to Alaska, Greece, the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Tahiti and more. As a frequent solo traveler myself, I can assure you there’s nothing better than having that walk-in closet all to yourself…and, right now, you can do so at a very reasonable cost!
Star Pride sails Northern Europe and Iceland this summer, crosses the pond for a handful of Canadian voyages and then begins her Caribbean season begins in the Fall.
See sailings here