Wind Surf Sails High After Refit

Travel Weekly managing editor Donna Tunney cruised aboard Windstar Cruises' Wind Surf roundtrip from Nice, France, to the Italian Riviera. Her report follows:

ABOARD THE WIND SURF -- As far as I could tell, few things delighted passengers aboard this five-masted ship more than its sails.

Time and again, people stopped what they were doing to watch 21,000 square feet of Dacron unfurl and reach skyward, giving added speed to this elegant vessel.

I was intrigued by the 312-passenger sailing cruise ship -- it operates under a self-styled brand of motorsailing, with the sail technology controlled from the bridge.

That was fine with me. As the wife of an avid sailor, it was gratifying to know I would not be called upon to climb forward to raise the jib or adjust the mainsheet. (Sailor types know what I mean, and, landlubbers -- well, you get the drift.)

The Wind Surf recently emerged from a comprehensive refit. Windstar Cruises bought the former Club Med I earlier this year for $25 million. An $8 million refurbishment, which was completed in late April, brought the ship up to Windstar standards.

All of the public areas were redone, the cabins were refurbished and a 10,000-square-foot spa was added. By removing walls between cabins, the line turned 62 standard cabins into 31 suites -- each a spacious 376 square feet with two bathrooms.

Wind Surf is the first Windstar vessel to offer suites. As with Windstar's other ships, this one sports a casual but luxurious ambience.

According to the cruise line -- and my own observations -- here is a blueprint for the ideal Wind Surf passenger list:

  • They are between 40 and 60.
  • Their household income is $120,000 or better.
  • They are inclined toward soft-adventure excursions.
  • They prefer not to pack fancy clothes.
  • They shy away from the standard, overproduced cruise ship shows.
  • They don't bring the kids.
  • Although children are welcome on the ship, there is a distinct lack of kids' activities, which speaks for itself.

    The main show lounge features a trio that entertains for a few hours each night, then moves on to one of the bars. No Las Vegas feather costumes here.

    On my cruise, all 31 of the suites had been booked by one travel agent -- Charlene Carter, who is an independent contractor affiliated with Preferred Travel Services in Las Vegas. In an interview after the cruise, Carter, who was on board escorting her group of 55 people, gave the ship high marks.

    "I loved it. It's been beautifully redone -- I would definitely recommend it," she said.

    Carter said her upscale clientele -- who prefer suite accommodations -- had heard about the ship and wanted to see it. "The men especially liked not having to pack tuxedos, and everyone loved having his-and-hers bathrooms," she said.

    Even standard cabins on the ship are adequately sized, and all offer ocean views. Standard amenities include a television and VCR; CD player; personal safe; minibar and refrigerator; hair dryer, and bathrobes.

    Our cruise took us to six ports on the French and Italian Rivieras, where we saw small fishing villages, cosmopolitan cities and ancient walled towns. There was a wide selection of shore excursions, such as wine tastings, small-boat rides into coastal inlets and motorcoach and walking trips.

    The passengers seemed happy with the choice of excursions, with one major exception: Embarking and disembarking proved difficult for many. The Wind Surf has a very steep, 41-step gangway. High winds and a rolling sea made transferring from the tenders to the gangway a dangerous procedure on several occasions.

    Carter said two clients in her group had an especially hard time: One elderly person who used a cane had to forego some excursions, and another client who suffered from multiple sclerosis had difficulty handling the stairs.

    The agent suggested adapting the sports platform at the stern of the ship into a water-level entry. Cruise line officials who were on board told reporters that an alternative embarkation route was "something the line would look at."

    The Wind Surf has two main dining spots: the Restaurant and the Bistro. Both are single seating. The Restaurant is open for three meals a day, the Bistro just for dinner.

    Menu choices are similar in the two locations, except that the Bistro claims to be more experimental with its dishes. I dined in both and saw little difference except for the decor of the room, with the Bistro being cozier and more colorful.

    The food in both venues was generally good. Dining companions said their favorites were the beef, lamb and duck entrees.

    Breakfast and lunch are served in the Terrace, an indoor/outdoor dining area just outside the Bistro. The big draw for breakfast there is the made-to-order omelette, which passengers seemed to adore.

    For lunch, a wide range of salads, fruits, cheeses and specialty dishes were available. One day, as an alternative, a barbeque featured lobster tails, chicken and steaks.

    A continental breakfast for early risers is served in the Compass Rose bar starting at 6 a.m., and individual pizzas are available at the pool bar daily from noon to 2 p.m.

    The ship was six weeks out of its refit when I sailed in mid-June, and the artwork for the restaurant had not yet arrived. Covering the bare walls might make all the difference.

    Aside from the gangway, Carter cited one other problem on the Wind Surf -- too few crew members. Carter said she told the line that there was not enough staff for 312 passengers. The line agreed, she said, and was in the process of redoing the crews' quarters to accommodate more staff.

    I was oblivious of any shortage of crew, but then I wasn't looking after 55 clients.

    As Carter said, "The ship was just brought out, so there are going to be some kinks." The kinks, however, did not stop the travel agent -- or me -- from giving Wind Surf two thumbs up.

    * * *

    Ship: Wind Surf.
    Line: Windstar.
    Size: 14,745 tons.
    Length: 617 feet.
    Passengers: 312.

    Itineraries: The ship sails through September from Nice, France, and visits Cannes and St.-Tropez, France; Monte Carlo, and Portofino, Portoferraio and Portovenere, Italy.

    The ship will spend its winter season in the Caribbean, operating seven-day cruises from Barbados. Port calls will be made at Nevis, St. Martin, St. Barts, Grenada and St. Lucia.

    Next spring, the vessel will take up an expanded European itinerary that can be sold as a 14-day cruise or in seven-day segments.

    Added will be Rome, Sorrento, Taormina and Venice, Italy; Corfu, Greece, and Dubrovnik and Losinj, Croatia. Starting May 22, the Cannes port call will be replaced with Bonifacio, Italy.

    Rates: Brochure prices for the seven-night French & Italian Riviera Cruise are from $4,565 for a stateroom and from $6,763 for a suite. Next year's rates were not available.

    Reservations: (800) 258-7245.

    Web: www.windstarcruises.com.

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