Passengers:310 World's Best 2016 Awards Rank: #6 Mid-size 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, Northern Europe, the Panama Canal
At a Glance: A Travel + Leisure World’s Best 2016 winner, placing sixth in the Mid-size 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. With five masts and seven sails, Wind Surf is both the line’s flagship sailing yacht and its largest, carrying almost twice the passengers of the line’s two four-masted ships. It has the same everyone-knows-your-name small-ship feel, but with a lot more room to move: There are more lounges onboard, and the spa, fitness center, and suites are all bigger than on the smaller sailed yachts.
Passengers who are set on taking a cruise on a sail-topped ship and want to stay in a big suite would do well to choose Wind Surf. All earth tones, grays and wooden accents, standard cabins are a comfortable 188 square feet, suites are 376 square feet and have two bathrooms, and bridge suites are 495 square feet—more than twice as big as the largest suites on Windstar’s other masted ships. Note: None of the staterooms have balconies.
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. Unique to Wind Surf is Stella Bistro, which serves a mix of modern and traditional French dishes. 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.
Windstar tends to attract younger, more active cruisers. To cater to that crowd, the ship has a fleet of bikes ready for use at port. 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 Star Legend is anchored. (No tender needed.)
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 private lecture by an archaeologist at the Valley of the Temples in Greece. 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.
At the ship’s Yacht Club Sandwich Bar, you can pick out a sandwich and some cookies, then take it onshore in an insulated cooler to eat on a Caribbean beach or grassy spot in the Mediterranean. It’s also a great spot to pick up an espresso in the morning.