I still recall the classic Blackglama ads when I was a kid: Celebs like Barbra Streisand, Lauren Bacall and Bette Davis swaddled in mink, the memorable tagline asking simply, “What becomes a Legend most?”
Which might seem an incongruous way to lead off an article about a Caribbean cruise. And yet, Windstar’s stylish $8,5 million stem-to-stern refit of its 106-suite Star Legend (acquired last year from Seabourn) recalls the glamour of the old seafaring days, minus their stodginess. The ship itself is, as Katharine Hepburn memorably said in The Philadelphia Story, “yarˮ sleek lines, quick to the helm, “everything a boat should be…ˮ An oversize yacht rather than a leviathan liner, her interiors gleam with brass, chrome, hardwood and marble accents. The beautifully understated cabins (the smallest so large at 277 square feet that Windstar justifiably terms them suites) subtly recall bygone days with touches like crystal stemware in glass cabinetry, a palette of deep blues and earth tones, granite-clad bathrooms and handsome nautical artwork.
And the public spaces have just the right touch of grandeur, most memorably the Yacht Club on deck 8 right above the Bridge… its cushy, vaguely Deco furnishings take advantage of stunning 180-degree views through floor-to-ceiling picture windows.
Yet a delightful lack of pretension and formality prevail. In every aspect, the experience is much less structured than on larger cruise ships. For example, there’s no set seating – or time – at meals. (Which does create a brief logjam when the doors at the refined AmphorA open for dinner). Bianca, the charming guest services manager confirms in her lilting South African accent, “Yes, you can sit where you want when you want.ˮ “What if you’re alone?ˮ I retort with a mock comic sigh. “Well, we don’t quite run a dating service but we’ll match you up.ˮ
First things first. Time for lunch while we’re still in San Juan (the first time Windstar has launched from a U.S. port of call in recent history), getting ready to embark on the week’s adventure, I head up to the Veranda, Deck 7 Aft, the breakfast/lunch buffet restaurant with delightful outdoor terrace seating. Bianca confided that I should try the special Embarkation Roast Beef Sandwich. The meat is siow-roasted for over a day, then served in slabs on fresh-baked bread with the chef’s house-made creamy horseradish sauce. Ahhhhh yes.
I meet the rest of the press group, along with our intrepid P.R. host, Dana, over cocktails at the al fresco Star Bar (Deck 8 Forward). This would become the scene of much revelry over the next week, with creative cocktails of the day (ideal for toasting the ship as it sails from each port), as well as after-dinner cigars and live music alternating between two engaging U.K. musical duos.
After a brief tour of the main facilities with Bianca (including the soigne Compass Rose lounge on Deck 6 Aft, the other primary post-dinner music and cocktails venue, conveniently located by the small casino), we repair to AmphorA on Deck 3 for dinner.
The staff impresses right off the bat with such thoughtful touches as bringing black napkins for those who, like me, favor the standard Soho/WeHo-issue couture. And we receive a fine intro to the talents of Executive Chef Nilesh Kavinde and his corps de cuisine of 22 (28 including the cleaning crew). Each nightly changing menu offers several choices of appetizer, soup, salad, entree, sides (including fab crispy fried tossed in truffle oil and parmesan), and desserts (along with a list of always-available classics for the finicky like grilled Black Angus sirloin or North Atlantic salmon).
The culinary team and Dining Room Manager are adept at offering vegetarian or gluten-free variations with advance notic. “The Captain drives the ship but I make stomachs happy,ˮ the engaging Chef Nilesh informs me later on the voyage,
“Everything is made to order. Personalized attention and attention to detail are our mantras.ˮ
While menus are largely approved in advance in order to provision the galley, there’s plenty of room for creativity, especially since Windstar employs a network of purveyors at each port-of-call to augment the larder with fresh produce if necessary (always meeting strict guidelines). The cuisine merrily marries various culinary traditions from Italian to Indian – one night might offer both Chicken Tikka and Chicken Parmesan, and each menu cleverly incorporates some local ingredients and/or influences. The first night it’s Irish Sea sole roulade, stuffed with ripe regional mangoes and chilies, served over cranberries and pistachio wild rice pilaf and baby zucchini. I opted for the velvety wild mushroom vol au vent to start, followed by a beautifully al dente Indo-Pacific shrimp and shallow-water scallop risotto in white wine- lobster broth finished with mascarpone and Parmesan (and do I detect the subtlest hint of lemongrass?).
I forgot dessert – just this once, and retire to my ultra-comfortable suite. In addition to the daily program with its full listing of entertainment, restaurants and activities for the following day, my steward has left a little surprise: towel “animals,” dangling from the hanger shaped like monkeys.
The following morning, we dock at one my favorite islands off-islands, Culebra to the east of Puerto Rico. I awaken early enough to savor fresh-baked croissants and the invigorating view from the Yacht Club, then pass by the Fitness Center where the absurdly flexible Georgi leads a yoga class. After inspecting the complimentary aquatic activities aplenty from the Water Sports Platform at the stern (stand-up paddle boards, kayaks, and more), I take a tender to the island. I stroll the wide grin of Flamenco Beach, then trek across to another pleasing playa, Tamarindo. I’m tempted to head for the Culebra National Wildlife Refuge, as a refugee from a different kind of wild life on Manhattan, but opt instead to return and snoop around the ship. The shop and spa both offer specials galore: Each day will entice passengers with different discounted items. Georgi and his cohort Cleide run (well, in my case, it would be a crawl) an Ionithermie Cellulite Reduction Program Seminar and Detox for Weight Loss talk at the spa, as well as a complimentary footprint analysis.
Cocktail hour takes me from the Sail Away at the Star Bar to The Lounge, with semi-circular seating including cushy chairs and banquettes and small stage and dance floor. The Brit duo, Splash (a pianist and chanteuse in the requisite slinky sequined black dress), play Van Morrison’s “Moon Danceˮ then “Piaf’s Je Ne Regrette Rienˮ in honor of our next port of call, St. Barths, in between their amiable patter. The Voyage Leader Myron offers a historical and tour shtick, a nightly event, suggesting several shops and restaurants, as well as describing the available shore excursions and other activities for tomorrow’s destination.
After a quick change, I return to The Lounge where Captain Richard Reville will shortly host a Welcome Champagne Cocktail Reception. Several officers in dress uniform are already lined up, patiently waiting for them to open the doors. One lady stares admiringly at the sea of men in white, saying, “I have to find the right number of stripes on the uniform so I can thank him…ˮ Who knows for what, but service is the name of the game here… and it’s not a game of chance with Windstar.
As Hotel Manager Calvin D’Souza remarks, “We offer a personalized experience, one-on-one interaction with a ratio of almost two crew members to each guest. We can honor many special requests and socialize more with guests.ˮ Both Calvin and Chef Nilesh worked aboard the giant ships and rave about the difference. Soon enough we take our seats and the dapper Captain Reville takes the stage. “We like to use the word ‘excellent.’ We use it at Windstar a lot.ˮ Splash plays a “theme songˮ for each crew member as the Captain introduces them with good-natured raillery.