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Eighth Cruise Wonder, Anyone?

A writer for Conde Nast Traveler, Ondine Cohane, has produced the “Seven Cruise Wonders of the World.” It’s a clever idea and, like all such lists, highly subjective.

Picking up on it, Princess Cruises now has a contest for cruisers to add No. 8. The top prize is to sail away to one of the wonders (the eighth?) on a Princess ship.

What would your pick be?

Before deciding, here is Ms Cohane’s criteria for what qualifies as a cruise wonder, followed by her list of seven:

“The particular sense of arrival when approaching them by ship, the experience of anticipation and excitement when closing in on each treasure, and the sense of discovery that only an arrival by ship can really create.”

1. Fiordland National Park, New Zealand
2. Panama Canal
3. Shiretoko Peninsula, Japan
4. Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska
5. Christ the Redeemer (statue), Brazil
6. Trunk Bay, St. John, Virgin Islands
7. Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

So, about Number Eight?

Obviously, you draw on your experiences from cruising, not from pictures, We’ve seen two of her wonders (Glacier Bay, Panama Canal) and wouldn’t object to their inclusions. Using her criteria and our experiences, three candidates come to mind for the eighth wonder…

VancouverVancouver: Approaching the Lions Gate Bridge and sailing under it, both times in early morning as the sun crested over the North Shore Mountains.

Venice: As beautiful and intriguing an arrival by ship as we’ve ever seen, and the city lives up to the anticipation.

New York: Crossing under the Verrazano Bridge to be faced with the Statue of Liberty, that icon of freedom.

Over to you…

In the news…

• Royal Caribbean pushing 30 per cent discounts on all cruise ships
• First LGBT cruise line, Anteros, to announce itineraries in April 2016
• SplashGolf in interactive water environment installed on Norwegian Epic

Today at portsandbows.com: Day by day on Fathom's Cuba cruise


Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas
7 nights
December 13, 2015
Galveston (return): Falmouth, Grand Cayman, Cozumel
Inside: $512
Cost per day: $73
www.royalcaribbean.com

Windstar: Best Small Line…Big Growth

When you increase something, anything, by 50 per cent it’s a big deal. For Windstar Cruises, the month that starts tomorrow is a big deal.

Next Friday, Windstar officially adds a ship to its fleet of four when the Star Breeze is christened in Nice, France. This will come two days after Windstar takes possession of its sixth ship, the Star Legend, and its official addition to the fleet will come May 25 in Rome.

What today is a four-ship fleet will become a six-ship fleet. Hence, 50 per cent.

Windstar’s an interesting cruise line. It has been around, in one form or another, for 30 years. It has been bought by Holland America, Carnival Corporation, Ambassadors International and — most recently — by Xanterra, a subsidiary of the powerful Anschutz Corporation.

None of its ships carries more than 300 or so passengers. In the eyes of Conde Nast Traveler readers, this is the “World’s Best Small Ship Cruise Line” and, clearly, it is growing. The last three ships were purchased from another luxury line after they sailed as Bar DaySeabourn’s Pride, Legend and Spirit. The Star Pride arrived a year ago and the two making their Windstar debuts this month have undergone $8.5 million in upgrades.

Each.

Based on feedback from Star Pride passengers over the last year, Windstar doubled its investment in refurbishing the Pride’s two sisters.

The Breeze also underwent a name change. It was the Spirit at Seabourn, but there’s already a Wind Spirit in this fleet.

Six ships is a 100 per cent expansion in the last year. With the ability to accommodate 636 more passengers on the three ship additions (212 each), the overall capacity grows dramatically, to 1,242. Windstar can now take twice as many people on exotic, small-port excursions on ships that are in reality known as yachts.

The demand must be there, and this oft-orphaned cruise line is doing its best to meet it.

Today at portsandbows.com: Scenic Jasper on the Danube

Norwegian Sun
4 nights
September 28, 2015
Vancouver, Victoria, San Diego
Inside: $219
Cost per day: $54
www.ncl.com

Windstar A Winner With Conde Nast

While we’ve talked about it, we’ve never cruised on a Windstar ship…aka, yacht. It’s always been an intriguing prospect, made more intriguing by yesterday’s announcement Windstarthat Conde Nast Traveler readers have rated it as the No. 1 “small ship cruise line” in the world.

The annual Readers’ Choice Awards claim to be the longest-running and most prestigious in the travel industry, the “best of the best of travel.” More than 76,000 readers voted on, among other things, 453 cruise ships.

For small ships, their choice was Windstar.

This is a cruise line that obviously focuses on small ports, for the very good reason that it has small ships. It has six of them, having doubled the fleet last year, and they go all over the world — Asia, the Caribbean, all over Europe, Arabia, across both oceans, Tahiti and through the Panama Canal.

Windstar has been around for three decades and has, like many cruise lines, had multiple owners. Holland America owned it the longest, from 1987 to 2007, and Holland America’s corporate company (Carnival) sold it to Ambassadors International for a reported $100 million. One bankruptcy later, the powerful (and privately owned) Anschutz Corporation picked it up for a reported $39 million and today it thrives under that corporate banner as a high-end cruise line.

And “high-end” is something else that separates it from the traditional cruise lines. Put it another way: for many of us, a Windstar cruise is only a windfall away.

Today at portsandbows.com: Holland America and Christmas

Carnival Liberty
5 nights
November 23, 2014
Port Canaveral (return): Nassau, Half Moon Cay, Freeport
Inside: $189
Cost per day: $37
www.carnival.com

Good as Gold for The Little Cruise Line That Can

It's still more than a month to the Olympics but there's already an underdog with a gold medal…in cruising.

Windstar.

Windstar? It's a small-ship cruise line, right? This big player in a small market is now a big fish in a big pond, as in the ocean. According to Conde Nast Traveler, Windstarwhich every year produces its Gold List of travel for hotels, resorts and cruise lines…sort of like being a five-star ranking in the eyes of an acknowledged expert.

The category for cruising is called Ocean Cruises and seven lines made it for 2014. One of them is Windstar, a sailing fleet that the average cruiser would not think of as being "ocean" vessels. In fact, the only heavyweight in this year's class is Disney…the other five are Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, SeaDream and Silversea.

Clearly, the trending is to smaller ships — at least in awards — with first-class service. In service, Windstar scored 97.3, slightly better than its itineraries (96.7) and food (94.7). Its overall rating for seven categories was 92.0.

Crystal (94.4) was at the head of the class with an overall score of 94.4. Second was Seabourn at 92.6 and Windstar was third.

In Sochi, Russia next month they'll call third place a "bronze" medal. At Windstar, it's gold.

Ruby Princess
9 nights
March 1, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Grand CaymanCozumel, Fort Lauderdale, Grand Turk
Inside: $605
Cost per day: $67
www.princess.com

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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