Christopher Prelog has been named president of Windstar Cruises, filling a role that opened in March when John Delaney stepped down.
Prelog was promoted to COO from vice president of fleet operations when Delaney left and has taken on the day-to-day operations of the company over the last six months, according to Andrew Todd, CEO of Windstar and its parent company, Xanterra Travel Collection.
"I very quickly knew he was doing very well and that there was no reason to look outside," Todd said. "We had the right guy in the company.
"He's done a great job, and with his experience, starting as a waiter and working his way up, he knows the operations inside out. He's a very collaborative guy, and he has improved communication a lot within Windstar and Xanterra. He's a great leader and a smart guy and we're super excited to have him at the helm."
For Prelog, the job brings him full circle in a 22-year cruise industry career that started in 1998 on what was then the Seabourn Legend, which at the time was part of Seabourn and owned by Carnival Corp. He left Austria to work as a waiter on the then-Sydney-based vessel, which at first didn't go very well.
"I called home and said, it's not going to work out for me. And my dad said, 'suck it up, you signed up for four months,'" Prelog said.
From there, he fell in love with the industry, helped in part by the ship's visit to Bora Bora in French Polynesia, where he was "blown away by the beauty." By the end of 2002 he was in Seabourn's Miami headquarters leading its hotel operations. When Seabourn sold the Legend, as well as its two sister ships, to Windstar in 2013, he said he wanted to cry because he'd miss the Legend so much.
"As fortune had it, the opportunity to join fleet operations at Windstar allowed me to work with those ships again," he said.
Prelog has been with Windstar for four years and has overseen the line's $250 million Star Plus Initiative to stretch and upgrade those three ships (now known as the Star Legend, Star Breeze and Star Pride) a project underway at Italy's Fincantieri shipyard. The Star Breeze is scheduled to be the first of the three ships to emerge from the upgrade this fall, followed by the Star Legend and Star Pride in 2021.
When the line ends its pandemic pause, delivering the Star Plus project will be a central focus for Prelog.
"It is such a significant investment, and the ships are going to look so amazing when they come out," he said, adding that the new Star Plus features, such as new restaurant concepts and suites, will eventually be worked into Windstar's masted ships as well. "We are definitely upping our culinary offerings and our variety."
Among them is a new alfresco restaurant in collaboration with Steven Raichlen, the grilling guru, that Prelog said will be the kind of addition in high demand when people start cruising again and part of the "significant advantage" Windstar's small ships will have when business resumes: that they carry fewer people than the larger ships, offer more space per guest and "have a tremendous amount of deck space and alfresco dining."
"We truly believe that will be the preferred choice of the future," he said.
Windstar's booking data indicates this may be true: 40% of its current 2021 bookings are first-to-brand customers that Windstar discerns have cruised with other lines.
And while the limited number of cruise ships in operation in Europe are controlling shore excursions, and the U.S. based lines have recently committed to doing the same, the nature of many of Windstar's small-ship itineraries create what Prelog calls a "protected bubble by default."
"In Tahiti, for example, everything is really close by, and you won't sit in crowded areas or buses at all, frankly," he said, adding that the activities offered off the sports platforms on the back of Windstar ships and the beach barbecues on private islands create "a protective bubble by default. There's a natural social distancing, but there will also be protocols in place as part of our programming."
Windstar created that programing in July, long before most cruise lines, with a multilayered approach to health and safety that includes using UV-C light that kills viruses.
For now, Prelog is happy to reverse the course he was on for the part of his tenure as COO -- figuring out how to get crew home and laying up ships -- to the start-up phase he is entering as president.
"The shift is really industry-wide," he said. "The last six months were very much focused on hunkering down and slowing down, and now it's working toward ramping up."
As of now, the line is scheduled to resume service in January, something Prelog says the company reviews on a daily basis.
"We are going to take healthy and safety as our guiding principles and work with CLIA and the authorities to figure out the best date to come back," he said. "Countries need to open up, airlines need to open so U.S. guests can travel to the destinations. There is a whole package of guidance we are taking into consideration to help us find the time and place to resume services."
Prelog has remained optimistic during what he says has been a difficult time.
"It's such a beautiful industry, and we're going through rough seas right now," he said. "But it's also a very resilient industry and a very passionate industry. If you love travel and seeing the world and meeting so many different people, it's a beautiful industry to work in."