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Windstar’s Star Breeze on the island of Elba, during the inaugural cruise

A Sneak Peek at Windstar’s Plan to Improve Small-Ship Cruising

Many years ago Windstar changed my view of what a cruise could be.

I was invited onboard as a guest lecturer, and I took my dad. We sailed to all these little Caribbean islands you’d normally never get to—Bequia, Ile des Saintes, Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda…. What we loved most were the picture-postcard views as we sailed into and out of each harbor. In every port we were the only cruise ship. And what my dad really loved was that our bartender remembered his favorite drink from Day One and just automatically brought it to him, whenever he showed up.

Fast forward a few years. I was scheduled to be a guest lecturer again, and it was right after my wedding, so I took Tim, and it morphed into our honeymoon. Again we went to all these little unusual ports, this time in the Mediterranean: Kefalonia, Zakynthos, Monemvasia, Taormina, Corsica, Elba…. We even had the same bartender. His name was Danny. The fact that I even remember his name speaks volumes: Every time you’re back on Windstar, you’re back with family.

What I love most about Windstar is that it takes you to those hidden-gem places that would otherwise be too logistically difficult, time-consuming, or expensive to get to. That’s why Windstar changed my idea of what a cruise could be.

So I was honored when, a couple of years ago, Windstar named me godmother of its new ship Star Breeze. And I was happy to invite Windstar to sponsor the 2nd annual Wendy Perrin Global Travel Summit and to have president John Delaney share news about the company’s plans for 2017. Here’s a sneak peek at what’s coming:

Windstar president John Delaney speaks at the 2017 WendyPerrin.com Global Travel Summit

Windstar president John Delaney speaks at the 2017 WendyPerrin.com Global Travel Summit. Photo: Tim Baker

Returning to an old favorite

I’m so proud of Windstar for being one of only a few cruise lines sailing to Turkey in 2017. The port of call is Kusadasi. “We truly struggled with our decision to cancel Turkey last year because people love it, and it delivers,” Delaney told us. “But clearly we’re never going to do something that isn’t safe. We couldn’t accept the level of risk in Istanbul. But Kusadasi was never in the warnings by the U.S. State Department; that part of Turkey wasn’t included. And [nearby] Ephesus is a bucket-list place.”  To maintain a level of safety, he says, Windstar will continue to rely on State Department information and warnings.

Launching in new destinations

The line is adding new itineraries in new regions, most notably Alaska and Asia (with completely new trips to the Philippines, China, and Japan). “On every itinerary, there will be at least one port you physically can’t get into with a bigger ship,” Delaney said.  In Alaska, for example, guests on the 212-passenger Star Legend will be able to float right into Misty Fjords and Kenai Fjords. “Our ship that is doing Asia is the largest that can go all the way up the river to Bangkok,” he added. “Seville is another great example: We can sail right into downtown Seville. And the Corinth Canal—being able to do that wonder of the world is an incredible experience.”  In addition to introducing these new ports, Delaney says, Windstar will be extending port hours and adding more overnights on a variety of sailings across the board.

Introducing bespoke shore excursions

Delaney, who joined Windstar as president only seven months ago, shared what he described as his own personal focus for 2017: creating small, bespoke shore excursions open to only a handful of travelers at a time. “What I want to do is create regular offerings as part of our shore-excursion program that are the types of experiences WOW List travel specialists are able to put together: accessing ancient ruins before they open to the public, being in a local family home for a true cooking experience in Tuscany, etc. We’re trying to create once-in-a-lifetime experiences.” You can expect these to roll out on European sailings in the summer of 2018, though Delaney says he will be improving Windstar’s regular shore excursions along the way too. “We’ll make sure guests are seeing the best of the best,” he said. “We don’t plan shore excursions the way the big lines do—we don’t have to plan for thousands of passenger throughout. We’re small and different.”

Enhancing the onboard experience

Delaney says Windstar is also finding ways to improve the shipboard experience. Two new hires are going to help with that: Last week, Peter Tobler joined the small-ship cruise line as Director of Marine Hotel Operations, and back in November, cruise-industry veteran Christopher Prelog was brought on as Vice President of Fleet Operations. These may sound like bigwig positions that couldn’t possibly have any effect on your personal time onboard, but in reality they have quite an impact. Tobler has more than 30 years’ experience in the culinary side of cruising, and his new programs—which Delaney says will include changes such as locally inspired menus, special events, enhanced wine offerings, and new cocktail menus—will create the flavor of your foodie experiences onboard. Likewise, the arrival of Prelog suggests that Windstar is interested in finding ways to upgrade its ships with more luxurious and personal touches. As an example, Delaney mentioned a possible “sleeping program” that would let guests choose from a menu of scents, pillows, herbal teas, and turndown music or video. “Chris has a knack for innovation and surprise,” he said, “So stay tuned.”

I’ll be watching—not only because I’m godmother to the Star Breeze, but also because it was fascinating to watch a cruise line president get up on stage at our summit to give a presentation about what’s coming in 2017, and then watch it evolve into a collaborative brainstorming session with our Trusted Travel Experts.  John was eager to hear their thoughts and feedback on what he’s introducing, and I have no doubt that our WOW Listers just gave Windstar a few more ideas about what discerning travelers like you really want. I’ll be eager to hear about your upcoming experiences onboard Windstar ships.  Please keep me posted!

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know. 

Additional reporting by Billie Cohen

The Star Breeze

What I Have in Common with the Queen of England and the Rockettes

Can you guess what I have in common with the Queen of England, Sophia Loren, the Rockettes, and Tinkerbell (besides two X chromosomes)? We’re all godmothers of ships. I’m honored and flattered that Windstar Cruises has named me the godmother of its newest ship, the Star Breeze. I’ll be christening the 212-passenger vessel on May 6 in Nice, France. Yes, that means I’ll get to smash the champagne bottle against the boat’s bow—a 4,000-year-old tradition (although the Vikings sprayed blood over the bow)—and host glittery parties on the inaugural voyage. We’ll be sailing to Rome, with stops in the picture-postcard ports of Monte Carlo, Portofino, and Portoferraio, on the island of Elba. While I’ve sailed on Windstar before as a guest lecturer, this will be my first time back onboard since I had children. And I cannot wait to return to the small, romantic, sophisticated ships of my pre-kids life!

Some of the most rewarding and authentic travel experiences I’ve had have been on Windstar voyages. That’s because they enable you to see collections of islands and stretches of coastline that would be too logistically difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to see any other way: The ships are small enough to sail into the tiny picturesque harbors and hidden coves that big ships can’t access.

As an example, my first Windstar voyage was in the Caribbean, and each day we stopped at a different off-the-beaten-path island—such as Bequia, Ile des Saintes, Jost Van Dyke, and Virgin Gorda. They’re the sorts of tiny islands where you can get off the ship and just meander off on your own and meet and talk to the locals. That’s hard to do on big cruise ships because the larger the ship, the more industrial and overbuilt the ports, the more time it takes to get on and off the ship, and the harder it is to escape the cruise crowds. I took my dad on that Windstar Caribbean trip, and what we loved most were the idyllic views as we sailed into port each morning and out again each evening. My dad also loved how the bartender remembered his name and favorite drink from Day One.

I was scheduled to be a guest lecturer on Windstar again right after I got married, so I took my husband, Tim, and it morphed into our honeymoon—the first of several (honeymoons, that is; not husbands). The cruise was from Athens to Monte Carlo, with stops in jewels such as Monemvasia, Greece; Taormina, Sicily; Capri, Italy; Bastia, Corsica; Portoferraio, Elba; Portofino, Italy; and St. Tropez, France. We had the same perspicacious bartender, Danny (yes, we remember his name too).

The day I recall most vividly—because it was the most perfect day of any cruise I’ve ever taken—was when we stopped in Fiskardo, a sweet fishing village on the Greek island of Kefalonia. Tim and I rented a car to explore the island. Our first stop was Myrtos Beach—a dazzling white arc of sand book-ended by dramatic cliffs and water in a dozen shades of blue. We were the only people there. After a swim and a couple of fun drives up and down the steep winding road with hairpin turns that leads to and from the beach, with Tim trying to teach me how to drive a stick (rental cars and zig-zag roads are good for that), we continued on and stopped at a seaside taverna for lunch. Again, we were the only people there—and it was the freshest calamari and Greek salad we’d ever tasted. On we went, passing a farm with a “honey for sale” sign. We stopped to buy some homemade honey and ended up spending an hour talking with the beekeeper and his daughter in their house and getting a tour of his traditional rural apiary. We continued criss-crossing the island, at each turn seeing views more glorious than the last. By the time the sun was setting, we were back onboard the ship in the hot tub, daiquiris in hand, watching our favorite new Greek island recede into the distance as we sailed to the next day’s adventure.

Back then never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that someday I might serve as the godmother of a Windstar ship. The inaugural sailing is sold out, but I’ll be hosting another Windstar voyage this summer—as well as lecturing onboard—and I’d love for you to join me! Details to come.

Have you sailed on Windstar? I’d love to hear about your experience.