Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women


Every experience and every adventure is fueled by emotion. Whether the emotion is tied to a celebration, a holiday escape or simply a need for distraction, cruising has become a top choice – truly providing a comforting and comfortable way to travel.

I am sad for the few lost souls out there who just don’t know a great thing when they see it!

A misconception due to lack of information or one bad experience on the wrong ship can create unfounded bias. Those opinionated travelers usually fall into two categories with some rare exceptions: the cautious consumer that has never cruised and the price shopper who has only cruised “cattle-call style” with the big ships. In this new year, I wish for you an open mind and the willingness to explore the possibilities.

There is choice in the cruise category.

My preference and recommendation is “Civilized Cruising”, a travel option that if planned strategically will not break the budget and offers an elevated experience.

Just read a few of my prior cruise ship reviews and you will soon understand that there is a formula for a truly fantastic voyage.

It is an artful blend of the ship, the staff, service and destination.

Windstar Cruises makes the grade, recognized by top travel pubs as among the very best in civilized cruising.

Condé Nast Traveler readers voted Windstar the world’s best small ship cruise line.

A ship does not have to be large to make a big impression. In fact, a smaller ship provides a more inviting, immersive cultural experience. You will not find crowds or long lines, only stress-free accessibility and freedom to explore.

Translated, that means the ability to customize a vacation plan onboard and in port.

I learned this early on several years ago with Windstar. This first foray was on the Wind Surf. The cruise was an unforgettable exotic adventure that carried me from the palaces of Lisbon to the markets of Morocco. Need I say more? The majesty of the ship, as it danced against the open sea, transported me back in time to the glory days of seafaring and new world discoveries. Climbing the masthead and toasting the sunset at each sail-away to the musical score of “1492” were the ultimate “wow” moments that I am sure topped every guest’s bucket list as it did mine.

Windstar’s celebrated reputation and its iconic sailing ships continue to make it a leader in the small ship category with a growing fan club of frequent cruisers.

In response to the demand, Windstar acquired three luxury power yachts from Seabourn. Following a multi-million dollar renovation project spanning two years, the Star Pride, Star Breeze and Star Legend were transformed.  Bravo Windstar! The cruise company has successfully raised the bar with expanded sailings and innovative programs to re-engage consumers and reignite the art of cruising.

A new class of cruising – luxury power yachting – is now available to both prospective clients and faithful followers.

I booked passage on the Star Breeze in late October to a destination that is dear to my heart – Italy. I was returning to soak in the beauty of the coast, rekindle childhood memories of family trips and honor my Italian heritage.

In retrospect, I am very certain that my dear Italian father’s spirit was with me as I explored the squares and churches of each port city, indulged in wines of his homeland and feasted on the finest of cuisine.

My Papa must have been delighted to see his little girl playing princess for a week – pampered and traveling in style aboard the Star Breeze. I know I enjoyed every moment.

His words, “Mangia, Mangia, Mangia”, reverberated in my mind at every delectable meal evoking a prayerful thought and a smile.

The cruise followed a magical itinerary that was a blend of natural beauty, history and unforgettable coastal regional delights.  Venice, one of the most idyllic picturesque cities, was the point of embarkation for the 8 day/ 7 night sail.  As gondolas passed our ship at sunset and the sail-away party ensued, I realized this was not ordinary. There was something really special about this trip and about the ship. The positive energy flowed as the excitement grew with every encounter. From the well-disposed and accommodating crew to the elaborate menus and enriching excursions, there was never disappointment. Each stop along the way was amazing. The nautical adventure also featured UNESCO World Heritage sites in Croatia and Montenegro before ending in Rome.

Star Breeze’s size allows the ship to navigate into intimate harbors where the monster mega-liners cannot sail.

The size advantage serves Windstar passengers in many ways – convenience and cost-savings combined with an authentic experience.

In most ports of call, a long tender boat ride is usually required to get to where you want to be. With Windstar, walk on/walk off is easy.  My embarkation in Venice was a 30 minute process with no water taxi required. I walked along the canal with my roller bag in tow to the San Basilio terminal for boarding and registration. In our Dubrovnik stopover, I ventured out alone on a self-guided walking tour instead of signing up for the formal excursion. With other ships, “doing your own thing” may not be possible, fun or cost-effective. You may be stuck at the commercial port which is usually a tourist trap or you will need to coordinate a private tour well in advance.  And, keep in mind, private tours/taxis will have minimums and can often be unreliable.

A personalized touch from an attentive and service-oriented staff is the norm.

The Star Breeze cruise deck plan has a total of 106 staterooms for a capacity of 212 passengers. The crew/staff averages 140 persons providing a superior service ratio of nearly 1:2 when the ship is full and even better when it is not. With Windstar, you are never just a cabin number. By day two, don’t be surprised it Star Breeze team member greets you by your first name and knows your favorite beverage. And, keep in mind, coffee, tea and all soft drinks are complimentary. Who wants to pay a premium for a diet coke?

All-Suite is so-so Sweet!

All staterooms have an ocean view! It gets better – rooms also include a sitting area, flat screen television and Bose sound docking system. The Classic Suite (400 sq. ft.) and Owner Suite (500-520 sq. ft) are larger and feature a veranda.  In-room amenities and design upgrades include a cd/dvd player, iPod Nano, 110V/220V power outlet, stocked mini-bar with complimentary soft drinks, walk-in closet, a large marble bathroom and L’Occitane toiletries. If you want to cozy up in your cabin with dinner and a movie after a long day of sightseeing …no worries. The ship has a library of books and 500+ movie titles and room service available 24/7. All, at no additional charge. I spent a restful evening watching a full season of House of Cards with a nice bottle of Sangiovese and a three-course culinary extravaganza.

The Star Breeze delivers diversity in terms of palate and atmosphere – from fine dining to casual buffet.

Dining is always a pleasure when there is open seating.

There are three main dining venues on board the ship:

Veranda (by Day)/ Candles (by Night):  Veranda, located in the aft of the yacht, is the perfect spot for outdoor casual dining. Breakfast and lunch buffet service daily with sweeping views from the deck. At night, Veranda unleashes its alter-ego as Candles, the ships exclusive grill…firing up steaks and romance under a starry sky. Given the limited outdoor seating, Candles does require a reservation (no-fee required) to guarantee every guest the opportunity to indulge in the experience.

AmphorA:  Star Breeze’s signature fine dining restaurant is where tables are dressed in white linen and crystal against a backdrop of mirrored panels. Guests are treated to full wine/spirit service and a delectable menu of international, contemporary and farm-to-table dishes. Each evening, the Chef and his talented team present a unique multi- course culinary masterpiece for the menu that features a regional delicacy and/or custom recipe. Great food that is fresh and good for you… is the best reason to lose the guilt over a few extra calories. Note: Windstar offers an unlimited wine, spirit and cocktail package that provides a savings. Guests are also allowed to carry on board two bottles of wine to enjoy in cabin or at dinner for a small corkage fee.

Pool Deck: On most days, the pool deck is private haunt for early morning coffee, afternoon tea and happy hour conversation. But when Windstar throws a party….the pool deck transforms into party central. Every cruise features a fabulous BBQ gala with music, dancing and an array of exotic world dishes from jerk chicken to seafood paella. The stuffed Asian-style suckling pig always garners star power and selfie appeal. Festivities continue well past dinner into the night with music, laughter and a crew-lead line dance that rivals America’s Got Talent.

Snacker’s Delight:

I swore to secrecy but need to share; the Yacht Club, located in the Observation Lounge Deck is a true find. This little convenience café counter is a gold mine for those who skipped or slept through lunch. In addition to soft drinks, tea and coffee, you will find a mix of sandwiches and dessert items. What happens at the Yacht Club stays at the Yacht Club – so don’t worry if you snag that extra slice of cheesecake. Everyone does!

A Shore Thing: Excursions are aligned with customer service in mind at all times.

AIPS – “authentic, intimate, personal and social”

The “same old thing” is nixed from the Windstar vocabulary.

Words like –  old world charm, captivating, mesmerizing, moving and magical  – are more in tune with the daily discourse and descriptive.

The excursions I chose were creative, well executed and thoughtfully designed to include a local twist. No cattle call; all groups were pleasantly manageable with 15-20 guests. The more popular excursions merged tour groups at specific points to give guests optimal access to attractions and personal space. My visit to the Island of Capri will always remain a favorite tour and treasured memory. A Capri highlight that should not be missed is the Giardini Di Augusto, a beautiful public garden with astounding vistas of the rocky coastline and hillsides dotted with villas.

That’s Entertainment:

You won’t find Broadway Shows or the Rockettes. But you will find talented international artists that will touch your heart with every melody and song.

The mood in the ship’s Compass Lounge is always relaxing. Think “Jazz Bar” atmosphere with no smoke and no cover.

Windstar works to retain your loyalty with a special perk – a private event.

Each cruise offers a unique program that is guaranteed to tantalize all your senses, especially your taste buds.

The Star Breeze event showcased the flavors of Sicily with a visit to Gambino Vineyards. Guests enjoyed music and a lunch featuring regional dishes with local wines. Gambino’s Nero d’Avola rocked my world enough for me to risk transport of two bottles home in my luggage. Happy to report – safe arrival and safe disposal (savored every sip).

The Windspa and Fitness Center give guests a chance to indulge in a little pampering or work out while taking in the view.

Discerning travelers, foodies and history buffs are sure to embrace the Windstar civilized cruising experience and celebrate in the art of small ship cruising for years to come.

Fast Facts:

  • CAPACITY: 212 guests
  • SUITES: 106 suites, all outside with ocean views
  • OWNER’S SUITES: 2, with private verandas
  • CLASSIC SUITES: 4, with private verandas
  • BALCONY SUITES: 36, with French-style balconies
  • OCEAN VIEW SUITES: 64, with picture windows
  • DECKS: 6 guest decks

Cruise Fare Includes:

  • All meals in all venues at all times, including room service menu available 24 hours
  • All non-alcoholic beverages, including cappuccino, espresso, and other specialty non-alcoholic drinks
  • Welcome cocktails at reception
  • All onboard entertainment
  • Unlimited use of Fitness Center
  • Unlimited use of all water sports equipment
  • Informative nightly port talks and destination briefings
  • Private Event Experience

 

To check out special savings promotions and plan your 2016 voyage, visit the Windstar Cruises website or contact your local cruise agent.

 

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