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Windstar's Star Pride

There's an asterisk (*) beside this "new" ship because it's really an old ship being made new, which seems to be becoming a more economical way for cruise lines to expand their fleets. The Star Pride is the first of three ships from Seabourn Cruise Line that are moving to Windstar…in fact, the one is still sailing as the Seabourn Pride until April. Then it will undergo a "Windstarization" and emerge with a new name under a new flag, the third one to fly from its mast since it was, indeed, a new ship 25 years ago.

Launch date: May 5

Capacity: 212

Sister ships: None (yet…next year)

Maiden Voyage: Barcelona to Rome

Home Port: None

Ships in Windstar fleet: 4

Interesting: While it has no siblings for the time being, the Star Pride will welcome its two sister ships from Seabourn (the Legend and the Spirit) next year. All three will be all-suite ships that carry 212 passengers and together they will double the size of the Windstar fleet and raise its fleet-wide capacity to 1,230 berths. Besides accessing intimate ports — in the beginning in Europe — the Star Pride will feature more interaction with villagers, with local musicians entertaining on board and local market purchases to be served in the buffet for dinner. Each suite will have extras that include both a tub and a shower.

Norwegian Sun
7 nights
May 26, 2014
VancouverKetchikanJuneauSkagwayGlacier Bay, Hubbard Glacier, Anchorage
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $75
www.ncl.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

Alaska in Need of Cel Phone Help

Hold the phone, here comes a cruise ship!

That's the cry in Alaska these days, after residents discovered that the bandwidth used by cruise-ship passengers on their cel phones was impacting the bandwidth available to people who live in the 49th state.

Actually, not the whole state. Just Haines and Skagway, which both happen to be cruise ports.

What residents are experiencing are dropped calls, spotty Internet service and even a six-hour outage one day, according to a story in the Chilkat Valley News. Since most of the poor service is at eight in the morning and four in the afternoon, that day must have been one where most passengers stayed on the ship…and the phone.

Alaska's AT&T people are all over the problem and promising better service but don't know when. Nobody wants to rock the boat, or the cruise ship, because the presence of passengers in Haines and Skagway means so much to the economy.

Until things get better, they'll just put the cel phones away whenever they see a cruise ship.

Seabourn Sojourn
10 nights
November 17, 2013
Fort Lauderdale (return): San JuanSt. BartsAntiguaSt. JohnCatalina Island
Oceanview: $2,999
Cost per day: $299
www.seabourn.com

And The Ships' Names Will Be…

Windstar announced this week the name of its fourth ship, the first of three the luxury line purchased from Seabourn and scheduled to begin its new life one year from now. It currently sails as Seabourn Pride (right) and next year will become Star Pride (below).

Now this is just a wild guess…but when the Seabourn Legend and Seabourn Spirit join the Windstar fleet, in April and May of 2015, they will surely be known as the Star Legend and Star Spirit. The names will become official in the coming weeks, but the opportunity to be one of the Pride's 212 passengers comes first.

As in, two weeks from now.

Bookings start on May 14th and it's likely the "yacht's" cruises will fill up quickly. Philip Anschutz didn't quietly become one of the 50 richest men in North America by making risky moves, and the three-ship purchase from Seabourn will double the size of his Windstar fleet (When you drill down through the companies Anschutz owns, you'll find Windstar Cruises.). 

Can you say recession over?

“Star Pride and the additional two yachts will fit perfectly into Windstar’s intimate, yacht-style cruising by offering a small-ship luxury cruise with 300 passengers or less in a casually elegant style going to places bigger ships cannot go,” said Windstar's CEO, Hans Birkholz. “We are thrilled to be able to offer even more intriguing choices in Europe for the 2014 season.”

The three yachts currently sailing under Windstar's flag until next year are called Wind Star, Wind Surf and Wind Spirit. The Anschutz conglomerate purchased them for a reported $39 million at a bankruptcy sale two years ago and, since then, all three ships have been refurbished. Now they have three siblings and if anybody thought recessionary times were going to deplete the luxury cruise market, guess again.

Let's see now…is that tougher or easier than guessing the names of the new ships?


Carnival Glory
2 nights
November 1, 2013
Miami (return): Nassau
Inside:  $159
Cost per day: $79
www.carnival.com

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