I’m not a cruise person, but things are different on a small ship, where the staff-to-guest ratio approaches 1:1 and itineraries are personally curated. This was my experience as a guest on a recent weeklong cruise on Windstar’s Windsurf yacht, which departed from St. Maarten and took me to Barbuda, Dominica, St. Lucia, Guadeloupe, St. Kitts and St. Barth’s.
Windstar offers the option to add a night or two before sailing, which I did the night before departure at Oyster Bay Beach Resort. The hotel was no-frills but comfortable, and my room’s balcony directly faced the water. The restaurant is fine for breakfast, but I took a taxi to Yvette’s for a local taste of pan-fried snapper, pickled conch and johnnycakes.
A 30-minute, late-morning shuttle took us to port where we checked in, cleared security, dropped off luggage and took a short shuttle to board. Since the Windsurf’s maximum capacity is just 310 guests, this was a relatively speedy process. Once aboard I enjoyed a welcome cocktail; received a plastic card which served as my room key and method of purchasing anything on board; and had the opportunity to book dining reservations, excursions and spa treatments.
Windstar’s flagship vessel Windsurf is one of the largest sailing ships in the world with six decks and 201 international staff. My 188-square-foot deluxe ocean-view stateroom was decidedly more spacious than the same room category on a larger ship; there was room for a queen bed, which can be separated into twins if you prefer. The large mirrored closet had hanging space as well as cubbies, and I could actually move in the shower and bathroom without bumping my elbows. The bathrooms have ample shelf space as well as a hairdryer and L’Occitane bath products. Fresh flowers and fruit and a stocked minibar were nice touches. One thing you won’t find in these rooms, though, is a balcony; instead there is a porthole that can’t be opened. My cabin attendant was available to make up my room each morning, provide turn-down service each evening and set out information about the following day’s destination as well as excursions, dining and activities.
Dining is laid-back and flexible on the Windsurf, with all meals included in all venues at all times, along with a 24-hour room service menu. All non-alcoholic beverages including cappuccino and espresso are also included. If you want to sip beer, wine, cocktails or spirits you can pay as you go or book a beverage package.
Veranda is the only restaurant open during breakfast and lunch; each meal offers an optional buffet inside but you can also order from the menu — or have both. The other restaurants on board technically require reservations, but you can make them right up until the evening you want to dine. I also walked in several times without a reservation and was seated after a brief wait.
Amphora, the ship’s main dining room, offers a fixed-price, four-course meal: starters and salads, soup, main course and dessert. The menu comprises about five choices for starters and mains as well as a classics section. Stella Bistro, a French-focused eatery, was the highlight of my culinary experience; I found the French onion soup, escargot, seared scallops and pan-seared duck extraordinary, and the service was flawless. In the evenings the exterior tables at Veranda become Candles Grill. Yacht Club mid-ship is where you’ll find sandwiches, ice cream and coffee throughout the day. A deck barbecue is held once per sailing; ours moved indoors because of rain. No matter where I dined, staff greeted me by name; even with 310 guests, that was impressive.
A bar adjacent to the pool and two hot tubs was convenient as I hung out on deck, and sipping a drink while catching live entertainment and bands in The Lounge made for a fun post-dinner activity. But my absolute favorite bar was Compass Rose located aft, whose indoor and outdoor seating, specialty drinks during happy hour and nightly duo created a lively yet intimate imbibing experience. Cigar smokers can retreat to Terrace, the ship’s only smoking section, which serves a small drinks menu.
The fitness center has treadmills and elliptical machines that look out onto the ocean, as well as weights, yoga mats, exercise balls and a Kinesis core muscle station. Daily classes include AM Yoga, stretching, Pilates and circuits and you can also book a personal assessment or training sessions.
The spa is one place this ship misses the mark. Treatment rooms are located near the engine room, which can be loud. Lighting is bright and the entire feel is more clinical than Zen. Upcoming ship-wide renovations will move the spa mid-ship and make it more enjoyable. My facial was just okay, but my massage was deep and therapeutic.
Because the Windsurf is relatively small, we were able to go where the big guys couldn’t, meaning we could dock at St. Kitts, Dominica and St. Maarten and just walk to shore. At other ports we anchored and took tenders, which never required more than a few minutes’ wait.
With a large variety of excursions on each island, none was especially crowded. I took a cooking class on Dominica, spending the afternoon with a local family learning about traditional ingredients, preparing lunch and enjoying it with a panoramic view of the island. I enjoyed Windstar’s private beach on Pigeon Island, St. Lucia, set up with a stocked bar and barbecue lunch. I did a snorkeling boat expedition on St. Kitts that turned into a booze cruise and dance party. And I walked around the super-cute town of Les Saintes, Guadeloupe.
Windstar’s ships have an open-bridge policy: As long as the ship is sailing and the door is open you can pop in to meet the captain, check out the navigational systems, see what other ships are in neighboring waters and glean some tips for stargazing. Chatting and snapping a selfie with Cap. Pedro Pinto is something I won’t forget.
On port days when the weather is good and the seas are calm enough, the crew opens up the Water Sports Platform and sets out stand-up paddle boards, snorkeling gear, water skis, windsurfing equipment and kayaks. If that’s a bit too ambitious, a large inflatable trampoline and floats are tethered to lounge on. This offering is great when you haven’t booked an excursion but still want to partake in some water fun.
Every evening we left port the sails unfurled and the cruise line’s signature song “1492” played over the loudspeaker. It was always a dramatic moment and a daily reminder of how this ship was small in size but big on experience.
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