Windstar Cruises’ Star Legend is fresh from a multimillion-dollar makeover. Colette Doyle boards the 312-guest vessel for the ultimate small ship experience.
The word “transformation” may initially conjure up thoughts of some dubious makeover on a ratings-grabbing reality show, but in the context of Seattle-based Windstar Cruises the term has a much more positive connotation.
In May this year, the line received Star Legend back from the Fincantieri shipyard in Palermo following completion of its part in a $250 million refurbishment programme called the Star Plus Initiative.
The renovation inserted a brand-new section into the ship, adding 50 new suites, plus reimagined public spaces and additional amenities, thereby increasing passenger capacity by almost 50 per cent to 312 guests in total.
All the suites feature French balconies and delightful touches such as fresh flowers, L’Occitane bath products and a bathrobe with slippers, while the premium suites additionally offer complimentary wifi, an Illy coffee machine and a bottle of prosecco on arrival, as well as that prized staple of cruise life: an invitation to dine with the captain. My spacious 277-square-feet suite features a generously configured living area and a completely remodelled bathroom.
When it comes to dining, despite its relatively petite size, Star Legend offers plenty of choice and now benefits from two entirely new restaurants: US TV chef Steven Raichlen’s Star Grill, an outdoor barbecue concept serving lunch, and Cuadro 44, which dishes up tapas created by Anthony Sasso, one of the youngest-ever chefs to be recognised by the Michelin Guide.
I eat at the latter on my first night on board and, as a life-long lover of small plates, I’m in raptures at the way you can order so many enticing little treats without having to worry about the bill (all speciality restaurants on board are free of charge).
Of the main courses, the lamb chops with salsa verde is the stand-out dish for me, but the pork belly from Extremadura runs it a very close second. And the cocktails served here deserve a special mention: not only do they know how to fix a mean classic sangria, but there are also a few intriguing variations on a theme.
The other speciality restaurant on board is Candles; during the day, this operates as buffet outlet Veranda, serving a huge selection of salads, cold cuts and cheeses, as well as a choice of hot dishes including burgers, hot dogs and a live cooking station that changes daily.
At night, however, it becomes an upscale steakhouse, serving the likes of filet mignon cooked to order (mine was a perfect medium rare, chargrilled on the outside but pink and juicy on the inside), as well as signature starters such as butter-poached shrimp, New England clam chowder and that steakhouse classic, creamy Caesar salad.
Windstar Cruises: Luxury as you like it
Even though it might be an unlikely scenario, given the plethora of food on offer at breakfast and lunch, those who find themselves peckish in between mealtimes can try out the Yacht Club Café located on deck eight, which offers a tempting array of sandwiches and cakes all afternoon.
In fact, food is at the heart of the Windstar experience: it is the official cruise line of the James Beard Foundation. This is a US non-profit organisation whose epicurean mission is “to celebrate, support and elevate the people behind America’s food culture and champion a standard of good food anchored in talent, equity and sustainability”.
Windstar Cruises and the James Beard Foundation have partnered in some capacity for the past five years and every evening the main dining room, Amphora, serves up a couple of dishes specially prepared by chefs affiliated with the foundation.
On one of the occasions I visit, a cauliflower panzanella salad is on offer as a starter, followed by pan-seared scallops in a Thai green curry sauce as a main course.
The newly constructed Amphora is testimony to how investment in the Star Plus Initiative is money well spent: the attractively decorated surroundings make for a swanky soirée – the ship is one of three acquired from Seabourn, so class is in its DNA. But it’s certainly not a case of style over substance, as the food here is seriously impressive on every occasion: lobster tail in a creamy seafood sauce is a particular highlight, as is the divine Grand Marnier soufflé.
“This is more like fine dining than the mass catering you get on some bigger ships”, as Vanessa, a travel agent from Penzance, so succinctly puts it.
“Luxury as you like it,” is the way that Steven Kona Simao, the line’s VP of sales, describes the Windstar Cruises offering. He maintains that it’s an upscale experience without the pretence or stuffiness – “no ball gown or black tie required”.
Seasoned cruiser Melanie from Texas wholeheartedly agrees; she has cruised five times with Windstar and tell me she loves the understated luxury, plus she believes it offers way better value than other lines operating in the same space.
Expanding in the UK cruise market
Despite the fact that Windstar has been going for more than a quarter of a century in the US, it is hitherto little known in the UK – hence the appointment of Anna Perrott, who previously worked at Travelbag, as business development manager.
Steve is animated about Windstar’s desire to work with UK agents, keen to share with them a product that has such “great potential”. In fact, agents will be crucial to the line’s success in the UK, as customers will need to book via the trade; it has appointed the Cruise Portfolio as its GSA and the agency will start undertaking PR activity as of next year.
On another note entirely, Steve introduces me to the BBC: nothing whatsoever to do with the venerable British broadcaster, this is in fact an intoxicating mixture of bananas, Bailey’s and colada cream. The mixologists on board Star Legend are masters of their craft, so my advice would be for agents to recommend that their clients pre-purchase a drinks package, as it offers the best value for money.
Entertainment on board is low-key and guests won’t see the kind of West End-style shows found on those ships of more mammoth proportions. Instead, three venues, the Lounge, Star Bar and Compass Rose, offer a mix of gentle humour, a medley of Broadway melodies and the sweet sounds of the Infinite Groove band.
On sea days, guests can check out the soothing environment of the spa: massages include Swedish and deep tissue, as well as ones using seaweed or a Thai herbal poultice; meanwhile, an acupuncturist treats conditions including pain management, insomnia, anxiety and – more pertinently – seasickness.
More adventurous types should head for the watersports platform: when the ship is anchored and weather conditions are right, this is the departure point for kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, windsurfing and water skiing (all at no extra charge).
With so much fun stuff happening on board guests might never want to get off, but that would be a real pity as the itinerary is carefully curated: after the iconic sights of Barcelona we sail into Sardinia, where destination manager Felipe takes guests on a tour of the fish market in Cagliari; in Sicily, meanwhile, guests can follow in the steps of the Godfather, or discover Mount Etna by cable car.
Three destinations in Greece are up next: Argostoli, Katakolon and then Crete – the country’s largest island and the fifth-largest in the entire Mediterranean – before the ship finally docks in that bastion of ancient culture, Athens.
All in all, a Windstar voyage is proof positive that good things really do come in small packages.