Windstar Moves from Nowhere to No. 2 for Small Ships in Conde Nast Awards

When Conde Nast Traveler announced its 2013 Readers' Choice Awards this month, much of it was the "usual suspects" in the "usual places" because people who go on cruise ships and vote on these things generally don't change their preferences from year to year. But in perusing the list of winners, one cruise line jumped out for its ascension in the standings, if you will. The name is Windstar.

For years, Windstar was better known as a kind of car made by Ford, even though the cruise-ship brand has Windstar's Wind Spiritbeen around for almost 30 years and has been passed around, at times, like a commodity nobody really wanted. That was then.

Now, it is owned (and has been for two years) by Xanterra Parks and Resorts, a company not in Xanadu but in Denver. This is a cruise line purchased by its previous owner, the mighty Anschutz Corporation, in a bankruptcy court for the bargain-basement price of $39 million. It still has the same three ships, but all have undergone extensive re-furnishings, and over the next two years it will double the fleet after purchasing three more from Seabourn.

Oh yes, Conde Nast.

Windstar fits into what the magazine calls the Small-Ship category, one of four in which Conde Nast determines the world's Top 25 cruise lines. In 2012, Windstar wasn't on the list. In 2013, it was second in the Small-Ship category to Seabourn, ironically, by six-tenths of a point…and no, we don't know how the points system works but anything over 90 — be it in rating wines or grading students — is outstanding.

In fact, only five cruise lines of the Top 25 had a better score, Seabourn, Crystal (Mid-Size) and three river cruisers.

As the Windstar people are only too happy to point out, they finished first in three sub-categories: Small-Ship service, itineraries and design.

Windstar cruise ships are more like yachts, and that enables them to go where bigger ships cannot. Says CEO Hans Birkholz: "“The past two years we have been…revising every single itinerary to find the perfect combination of hidden harbors and legendary ports as well as improving our onboard experience with stem-to-stern renovations. We are thrilled to see our guests responding so favorably.”

Because it's an upscale line, Windstar is never going to create as many headlines as the heavyweights that cater to the mass market. The fact that it's creating headlines in its own niche is what's impressive.

Windstar Wind Spirit
7 nights
December 29, 2013
Puerto CalderaDrake BayGolfitoCoiba IslandPanama CanalPuerto QueposColon
Oceanview: $2,899
Cost per day: $414
www.windstarcruises.com

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