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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

Pacific Paradise A Windstar Specialty

If there is one lasting introduction to the paradise that exits in the warmth of the Pacific Ocean, at least for those of us who were around in the ‘50s, that image is the movie-musical-TV film called South Pacific.

The story was based on a 1947 book by James Michener, and it spawned a Broadway musical two years later and a big-screen movie nine years after that. Almost seven decades later, the musical still comes and goes on stages around the world.

South PacificWhat never goes away is the image from a poster or an album cover of a world with which we were not familiar at that time.

The South Pacific.

Fast forward to today. Windstar Cruises announced this week it will be making continuous, year-round voyages to the South Pacific. Not content to whet customers’ appetites with its Dreams of Tahiti trips, Windstar will be extending itineraries to include the Tuamotu Islands. Who knows what or where the Tuamotu Islands are, but it doesn’t really matter because they’re in the South Pacific?

Lots of cruises ships criss-cross through that part of the ocean, going to and coming from Australia. Only the Wind Spirit will be there, week after week, starting next May 26. The cruises are from Papeete, return, and the cost starts at $3,000 so it’s not for the faint of wallet. All the cruises stop at Moorea, DCIM101GOPROTahaa, Raiatea, Huahine and Bora Bora — again, it doesn’t matter — and four times a year that’s extended to include the Tuamotus.

Apparently the Wind Spirit, which will have its 73 staterooms renovated before setting sail in May, is the perfect ship for touring around French Polynesia and not just because it was built in France. With six sails, it’s ideal for the warm breezes that power its billowing sails.

In reality, for some of us, the perfect ship is one that sails in the South Pacific. Period. That’s the magnet that draws us to paradise…just like the picture on the album cover.

Today at portsandbows.com: Think summer with Holland America

Royal Caribbean Serenade of the Seas
7 nights
January 3, 2015
New Orleans (return): FalmouthGrand CaymanCozumel
Oceanview: $464
Cost per day: $66
www.royalcaribbean.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

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

Cruise Trips of a Lifetime?

Three items we thought would be of interest as you head into the weekend…

* * *

Royal Caribbean is giving everyone a chance to win "your vacation of a lifetime" by answering four harmless questions online and giving the cruise line your email address.

What, exactly, is your vacation of a lifetime?

To Royal Caribbean's marketing people, it's a one-night inaugural cruise on the newly named but not-yet-built Quantum of the Seas, due in 2014, plus a one-week Caribbean cruise on either Oasis of the Seas or Allure of the Seas. Oh yes, and you get to meet Quantum's Godmother, Kristin Chenoweth.

While it's always worth entering a credible contest like this — as they say in the lottery business, you can't if win you don't have a "ticket" — it does leave us wondering about the vacation of a lifetime pitch. In this household, the vacation of a lifetime would be something exotic like two weeks on a ship to Hawaii (Rhapsody of the Seas) or a ship crossing the Atlantic (Navigator of the Seas)…but those are more about the trips than the ships.

You can enter until April 7.

* * *

Tahiti.

Now there's a trip of a lifetime. Polynesia is paradise, right?

It is for Windstar Cruises, which will sail a one-week Deams of Tahiti itinerary from May to November 2014 on its newly renovated 148-passenger yacht, Wind Spirit (left). The ship will visit five Tahitian islands and passengers will be able to do everything from savor Tahitian dishes to scuba dive to kayak.

Yes, there will be dancers.

Of course, you can't experience this trip of a lifetime by winning a contest…and you do have to get to Tahiti and back.

* * *

Ah, we always knew the Queen's birthday was in May, even though Elizabeth II was born in April. She is not, after all, the only queen in England.

Cunard has three and one of them, the cruise ship known as QM2, will be 10 years old on May 9th. That party will take place in Southampton, with her siblings, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth (not that one).

Once the candles have been blow out, Queen Mary 2 will celebrate by flitting off to New York and back, taking 3,000 or so of her closest friends with her on these "Birthday Crossings."

Trip of a lifetime? For some.


Celebrity Millennium
7 nights
May 31, 2013
Anchorage, Hubbard Glacier, Juneau, Skagway, Icy Strait Point, Ketchikan, Vancouver
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71
www.celebritycruises.com

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