Passengers:148 World's Best 2016 Awards Rank: #5 Small Ocean Ship Best for: Sophisticated, active cruisers looking to combine the romance of a sailing yacht with a small, culinary-minded ship that can explore ports the megaships can’t
Sails: Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, the Mediterranean, the Panama Canal
At a Glance: A Travel + Leisure World’s Best 2016 winner, placing fifth 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 Spirit, the four-mast, six-sail Wind Surf feels truly yacht-like. With only 148 passengers on board, it doesn’t take long until the crew knows everyone’s names.
There is just something about sailing across the ocean under unfurled sails. And because the ship is so small, you’ll feel less like you’re on a cruise ship and more like you’re on an actual yacht. 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.
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 and arctic char with tahini sauce, pomegranate, and walnuts. But the highlight might be the nightly special, made with ingredients bought at port that day. Tip: Go light on lunch the day of the decadent once-per-voyage deck barbecue: Between the spread of salads and shrimp and antipasti and the grilled lobster tails and fish jerk chicken, you’ll fill up quick.
This is a small ship, so don’t expect to find any megasuites (or balconies) onboard. Standard cabins are a comfortable 188 square feet, while the owner’s suite is 220 square feet—smaller than the smallest suite on Windstar’s three power yachts. As for décor, think earth tones and ivory with wooden accents.
Windstar tends to attract younger, more active cruisers. To cater to that crowd, there’s also a retractable marina off the stern, giving passengers direct access to the sea so they can swim, waterski, kayak, or sailboard when Wind Star is anchored.
Once per cruise, guests are invited to a complimentary Destination Discovery Event on shore. The goal is to give passengers a sense of place and a feeling of authenticity: Think a passengers-only beach party on a Caribbean isle or a concert and dinner under the stars at Celsus Library in Ephesus, Turkey. Or simply tag along with the ship’s chef as he or she shops local markets for ingredients to use in your meal that night.