Adding New Cruise Lines Into The Mix
We have traditionally cruised with Oceania Cruises. This year we decided to taste test some new cruise lines. For the fall, we booked trips with Viking Cruises to China and Windstar Cruises to Japan. It will be a year of firsts. In the spring, we are doing our first small land group tour with Overseas Adventure Tours. When a last minute opportunity came up to taste test Windstar Cruises before the fall, we jumped on it. Our first cruise with Windstar in the Caribbean let us sample the Windstar difference.
Cruises with Oceania have spanned the gamut from short Caribbean jaunts to our amazing 51 day adventure through the Middle East and Africa. We know the brand offer well and have had awesome customer service experiences. We heard great things about Viking Cruises’ land and cruise adventure to China. On a bit of a whim, we decided to add on a taste test cruise to Japan. Few of the cruise lines are in the far east in the fall but we found a great route with WindStar Cruises.
Our first cruise with Windstar in the Caribbean offered us our first look at what we can expect in the fall.
The Difference That Size Makes
We have cruised on both sizes of Oceania Cruises ships – 600 and 1,200 passenger ships. When we crossed the Atlantic we used the bigger ship. But have used a mix of the two ship sizes for other cruises. We generally like the smaller ships for their intimacy. At some point we actually want to try one of the mega size cruise ships like the Harmony of the Seas. We don’t think we will like a ship that big, but we want to have the experience.
Our first cruise with Windstar was on Star Pride. There were 170 passengers (capacity was 212) and 154 staff on board. It was a cruising ship and not a sailing ship. We really want to do a sailing ship but the sailing ship was not doing the route we wanted for our last minute booking. And the trip around Japan in the fall is also on the same class of Windstar ship. We plan to try the sailing ships, hopefully in the South Pacific.
Star Pride was the only cruise ship in the San Juan port. This meant there was no ready reference size nearby. It looked quite big from the dock. But after an hour on board, we realized how small the ship really was. Nothing was more than a minute or two walk. The ship had all of the major amenities you expect, but just smaller. It took us no time to figure out where everything was.
If the ship was much smaller than we were used to, the cabin was much bigger. We booked a room with just a window, not the French balcony. But our room was the same size as other cabins. We had two large rooms. The sitting area had two chairs and a full size sofa. There was almost 3 feet at the bottom of the bed. The bathroom had a full size bathtub. And we had a walk in closet. The only time we had ever had a cabin this big was when we paid for a Butler class veranda suite (right below the major suite level).
Once we got used to the smaller ship footprint, the size actually made getting around easy. There were enough nooks so that you could find a quiet spot out of your cabin. There was lots of deck space for lounging.
But the one downside the the smaller ship was stability at sea. We hit the open seas at the time when major ground swells were coming down from storms up north. The ship rocked and rolled a lot more than we have been used to. I was prepared for seasickness but luckily it never hit on our first cruise with Windstar. But I am sure there were many people who were uncomfortable for the many days of rough seas.
Smaller Group Excursions Were Nice
We had been to many of the islands that we visited on this Caribbean cruise with Windstar. So we did not look at cruise ship excursions in many of the ports.
We did book two adventures through the ship. In St Kitts, we went with 4 other people to zipline over the rainforest. In Martinique, we joined about 20 other people for a catamaran trip to snorkel and sail. We got a much smaller catamaran than we did on another cruise when we took a catamaran to Bequia Island in St Vincent. The smaller excursion groups were nice. But then, we did not book any bus tours.
The downside of much fewer guests was that sometimes there were not sufficient people signed up to fill a tour. We were very disappointed when our sailboat excursion in Guadaloupe was cancelled. There were no other ship excursions that interested us. And with no internet most of the time, it was impossible to try to book our own excursion at the last moment.
We were delighted to find that many of the days the ship was at the port stop for long hours. We were generally in about 8am and many days we did not leave until after 6pm. This meant that we were able to book our own scuba diving in Grenada. And we did not have any worries about missing the ship sailing.
We enjoyed our excursions on our first cruise with Windstar. There were a number of different options at every port. And it was easy to book
Cruise Destinations Were Often Not Main Ports
On our Caribbean cruise, the ship did not always anchor off the main island or main cruise port in many of the destinations we went. This meant that in many ports, there were not always a lot of excursion options if you tried on your own. It also meant that we had to tender to port for 7 or our 8 ports. This was probably my least favourite part of the whole Windstar cruise to the Caribbean. We have happy that on our next Windstar cruise in Japan we will be docked for all ports.
But the smaller ports meant that we were often the only ship in that location. We did not find crowded towns. When we anchored off of Anse Matin in Martinique, we saw two massive cruise ships in the main dock across the harbour in Fort De France. We were glad we had not docked there.
Anchored in the bay, we were surrounding by crystal blue water and other boats. After being tendered to shore, we often just wandered in the quaint small towns. We have been docked in many cruise ports that were not in the least bit inviting to leave the ship.
On our stop in Grenada with Windstar, the ship was small enough to be docked in the main cruise terminal. It was great to be right in town.
We visited smaller ports and often anchored in the bay on our first cruise with Windstar. This was at times both a positive and negative experience.
Special Events Put On By The Ship Were Excellent
There were a number of special events put on by the crew. We enjoyed every one we attended. Several times we had BBQ burgers available for lunch on the deck. On the night we were in Grenada, there was a huge BBQ on the deck with steel band music. There was so much food to eat. And the fun went on for hours.
On the day we were in St Lucia, a whole beach party was set up. There were beach chairs and umbrellas for those who wanted to laze on the beach. The water sports equipment was all brought to the shore. And a great BBQ feast was put on. It was a great way to enjoy a day in St Lucia.
On our first cruise with Windstar, staff went out of their way to ensure that the guests had a wonderful experience on each special event.
The Marina Deck Had Good Potential
One of the things we were excited to try on the Windstar Star Pride was the Marina Deck. The ship had a large supply of water sports equipment. Snorkels and fins were available for use through the trip. We brought our own snorkelling gear since we went scuba diving in Grenada. But if we only wanted equipment for casual use, we would definitely borrow the ship’s gear.
This was a large water sports area that opened up at water level at the back of the ship. A sunning pad and trampoline was set out on a line to the ship. David took advantage to try out the Marina Deck after we visited Antigua. He looked like he had fun. But the waves were really rough and I did not feel comfortable going in.
Unfortunately, on too many days the seas around the ship when we were anchored were too rough to have the Marina Deck open or to be comfortable to use. The Marina Deck had great potential but was not fully realized on our first cruise with Windstar. We were also anchored out quite deep, so it was not really a good platform for snorkelling. We wondered if this may be different on a Windstar cruise in the Pacific Islands.
Focus On Customer Service
We have always been amazed at how great the customer service was on Oceania Cruises. Their staff to passenger ratio is high. On most ships, the attention to detail and customer satisfaction is paramount. When issues have arisen, they have generally been dealt with quickly and effectively. This customer recovery is certainly a major factor in our brand loyalty.
The staff to customer ratios onboard the Windstar Star Pride was also good. However, because there is a base level of staff needed to run any ship, it seemed like the front facing staff ratios were a bit lower than we were used to. But the service was generally delivered by smiling and attentive staff. Our cabin steward was great. Every day we got a smile when we saw what creative towel art waited for us. We talked to other guests and not everyone got the same attention from their cabin staff.
At the very first meeting introductory night, guests were encouraged to report any issue immediately. Not to hold onto beefs until it was time to do the guest survey. We had a couple of minor issues and all were addressed with one call to reception. There was follow up to make sure we were satisfied.
We were a bit surprised at how little we saw senior officers on the decks or milling with the passengers. Expected behaviour is modelled by leaders. But other than at formal meetings like the Captain’s introduction, we saw little of customer service behaviour that set an example.
Things That Could Be Improved On
Overall, the things that could be improved were minor and would not affect our decision to cruise with Windstar again. We had a couple of maintenance issues. But a quick call to reception got someone to our cabin quickly. We found the bed hard. But one call to reception got us a bed topper. That fixed the problem.
We never received the kind of pre-cruise package we were used to getting. I thought it was because we had booked so late. What we finally received the day before we left to join the cruise ship was a few pages that confirmed the cruise details. Everything else was handled when we arrived at the cruise pier in San Juan. It was a bit confusing for a first cruise. But the next time we will know what to expect.
There was a real shortage of electrical outlets in the cabin. And none beside the beds. We understand that it is because this is an older retrofitted ship. But we were very glad we had brought an extension cord and multi-plug with us. After all, we do travel with a lot of electronics!
We learned a lot on our first cruise with Windstar. There were no major issues. We would be better prepared for our Japan cruise with Windstar.
Our First Cruise With Windstar Was A Great Taste Test
We enjoyed our first cruise with Windstar to the Caribbean. The ports were great, accommodations met our needs and we never went hungry even though we stuck to our extreme low carb diet. We enjoyed the days in port, whether they were ship excursions or ones we booked on our long port days. Some days we just wandered the little towns we were anchored off of.
This first cruise with Windstar was meant to be a taste test. We are booked to travel with Windstar in Japan on our fall trip to the Far East. We definitely will look forward to our next experience.
Do you think our first cruise with Windstar was a success? Would it tempt you to try the brand?
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