Passengers:148 World's Best 2016 Awards Rank: #2 Small Ocean Ship Best for: Sophisticated, active cruisers looking to explore Tahiti on a culinary-minded sailing yacht
Sails: The South Pacific
At a Glance: A Travel + Leisure World’s Best 2016 winner, placing second in the Small Ocean Ship category. Windstar’s luxury power yachts, Star Breeze, Star Legend, and Star Pride, are the newest members of the fleet. Still, when most people think “Windstar,” they picture its sail-topped vessels, Wind Surf, Wind Star, and Wind Spirit. Almost identical to sister ship Wind Star, the four-mast, six-sail Wind Spirit, which sails exclusively in Tahiti, feels truly yacht-like. With only 148 passengers on board, it doesn’t take long until the crew knows everyone’s names.
Wind Spirit makes good use of its small size, navigating the reefs and motus of French Polynesia year-round. The romance factor is upped even further by the fact that the trip is made under billowing white sails. And those sails aren’t just there as accessories: the captain will actually turn the engine off at times to let the ship move forward by pure wind power.
This is a small ship, so don’t expect to find any megasuites onboard. Most cabins are a comfortable 188 square feet, while the owner’s suite is 220 square feet. As for décor, think earth tones and ivory with wooden accents. There are no balconies onboard, either, considering drinks on the deck comes with the high drama of unfurled sails, you’ll hardly miss them.
Windstar is now the official cruise line of the James Beard Foundation, so watch for culinary-themed cruises led by James Beard-winning or -nominated chefs like Hugh Acheson. Whether or not a guest chef is onboard, expect to see cooking demonstrations of recipes created by James Beard award winners, as well as a James Beard Foundation Signature recipe on your dinner menu. In keeping with the line’s destination-centric philosophy, Windstar’s restaurants put an emphasis on seasonal, sustainable ingredients and regional dishes. For breakfast and lunch, head to the indoor-outdoor Veranda restaurant for the buffet. At night, the Veranda is transformed into Candles, a romantic reservations-only steak and seafood restaurant. But most nights, you’ll sit down at AmorphA, the main dining room, where you can order inventive dishes like prosciutto-wrapped quail with bread sauce. But the highlight might be the nightly special, made with ingredients bought at port that day.
Tahiti is all about watersports. Luckily, Wind Spirit has a retractable marina off the stern, giving passengers direct access to the islands’ startlingly blue lagoons and allowing them to swim, kayak, or sailboard when Wind Star is anchored. (No tenders required.)
Once per cruise, guests are invited to a complimentary Destination Discovery Event on shore. In Tahiti, that event is a feast on a private motu. After passengers are greeted with a flower lei before watching a performance by Tahitian fire dancers during a meal.