Last updated: 06:45 PM ET, Sun August 07 2016

A Fresh Windstar

Windstar Cruises’ new owners add three “motor yachts” and new itineraries

Vacation Agent | Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Theresa Norton

A Fresh Windstar

PHOTO: At the christening of the Star Breeze were, from left, Capt. Krasimir Ivanov, Wendy Perrin, a local priest who prayed for the ship’s safety, and Windstar CEO Hans Birkholz.

With the christening of a pair of new ships in one month, Windstar Cruises completed its aggressive two-year journey to double the size of its fleet to six vessels with a total of 1,242 berths.

It wasn’t an expansion many predicted. After all, Windstar was known for operating three beautiful sailing ships and had encountered some troubled financial waters when its previous owner filed for bankruptcy. But Windstar has flourished and grown under a supportive and deep-pocketed new owner, Xanterra Parks and Resorts.

Xanterra, which operates many resorts in national and state parks, is a subsidiary of Anschutz Corp. owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz, who shows his personal support and enthusiasm for the product by attending Windstar christenings with his wife, Nancy.

The change in ownership, in May 2011, has injected new life into Windstar. Shortly after completing an $18 million renovation of the three sailing ships in late 2012, the company announced the purchase of three 212-guest sister ships from luxury line Seabourn.

All three Seabourn ships were renovated before joining the Windstar fleet — the Star Pride in May 2014 and the Star Breeze and Star Legend in May 2015.

The company learned a few things during the year between the christenings, Windstar CEO Hans Birkholz said during the Star Breeze festivities.

“During the last year we’ve learned a lot about what our guests like and what they don’t like,” Birkholz said. “We’ve taken these learnings, and we’ve completed a stem-to-stern transformation of this beautiful yacht. We’ve renovated every public space and every suite in Windstar style. There are a number of new features on this yacht that I think you will appreciate. They will enhance what you’ve come to expect from Windstar Cruises. And that is a luxury experience that brings you closer to the world.”

The Star Legend and Star Breeze each underwent an $8.5 million upgrade, more than triple the investment of the first ship, Star Pride, says Joe Duckett, vice president of marketing and sales for Windstar.

“There was no question we dramatically improved that yacht, but some people thought there were some areas we could address,” Duckett said in an interview. “We listen to our guests.”

This time, virtually no part of the ship was left untouched. All public areas on Star Breeze and Star Legend were completely renovated, as were the staterooms and suites.

READ MORE: Windstar Cruises Tempts Tastebuds with James Beard Foundation Collection

One of the biggest changes involved moving the swimming pool from Deck 7 aft to midship, near where the whirlpools were, to create space for more covered, outdoor seating in La Veranda, the casual buffet. Also, an outdoor staircase near La Veranda was removed to open up the space and allow more seating for Candles, the alternate outdoor dining experience.

The new swimming pool is larger than the old one, and has a current that can be turned on for those who want to feel like they’re swimming laps.

Another major improvement was expanding the deck space by 9 feet — 4.5 feet on each side of the Star Deck near the outdoor Star Bar. Duckett says that the extra space eliminates congestion and opens up space for sun loungers and dining tables during the deck barbecue held once during each cruise.

The project also transformed the observation lounge on the top deck into Windstar’s signature Yacht Club, a coffee bar and lounge. The club space was turned into Compass Rose, which was redesigned with new contemporary furnishings, new flooring and plantation shutters.

The card room was turned into a screening room for showing current movies. The main restaurant, AmphorA, got updated lighting, wall coverings, artwork and seating layouts.

Meanwhile, the Star Pride will return to drydock in April 2016 to undergo a more complete, $3 million refurbishment, which will include the features found on the two newer ships.

Star Legend is cruising in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe this summer season, while Star Breeze explores the Mediterranean. Following an ocean crossing in the fall, Star Legend will spend the winter in the Caribbean, operating a new itinerary, “San Juan and the Virgin Islands,” while Star Breeze operates another new route, “Icons of the Dutch Caribbean,” before sailing in Panama and Costa Rica.

Windstar, which still uses the slogan “180° From Ordinary,” differentiates the new ships by referring to them as “power yachts” so they aren’t confused with motor-sail vessels.

The power yachts give Windstar the extra capacity to explore the world on new itineraries to Southeast Asia, Arabia, and beyond. One eye-catching new voyage is a seven-day circumnavigation of Iceland. The Star Legend will operate that cruise, departing July 1, 2016, and sailing roundtrip from Reykjavik.


Meanwhile, Windstar has just returned to one of its historically most popular destinations, Tahiti, with the 148-guest Wind Spirit. It operated there for one season last year and now has returned on a year-round basis as of June. Before last year’s Tahiti season, it had been 10 years since Windstar operated in French Polynesia.

The company continues to make other improvements as well. A new complimentary feature, Private Event, made its debut this year and is featured once per cruise. The exclusive shoreside experience might include an after-hours tour and dinner under the stars in the magnificent Celsus Library of Ephesus or a private ballet performance in the famed Odessa National Opera and Ballet Theatre. In Tahiti, the Private Event featured a performance by local fire dancers on a secluded island, or “motu.” The evening also includes a dinner of Tahitian cuisine with tender suckling pig slowly steamed in a traditional earth oven.

Now some Private Events feature a celebrity. Olympic legend Mark Spitz, who won seven gold medals in 1972, actually gave swimming lessons when he joined the Wind Surf this past winter in the Caribbean. He also gave an onboard lecture and chatted with guests at dinner.

More recently, Windstar announced that former Miss Tahiti Mareva Georges will serve as Private Event Host during the Aug. 17 “Dreams of Tahiti” voyage.

Georges, who grew up in the city of Punaauia just outside of Papeete, was crowned Miss Tahiti in 1990 and went on to be crowned Miss France in 1991. Today she is an ambassador, promoting Tahiti in the U.S. in addition to sitting on the council for Miss France and the jury of the Miss Tahiti Committee.


Also new is an improved Yacht Club loyalty program that features offers from Xanterra sister companies, including Austin Adventures, Country Walkers, CW Safaris, VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations and Grand Canyon Railway. Also included are several iconic resorts, including the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Sea Island in Georgia, Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Va., and The Grand Hotel in Tusayan, Ariz.

Windstar passengers become members of the Yacht Club loyalty program after their first cruise. Then they get 5 percent savings on most cruise fares, complimentary one-category standard stateroom or suite upgrade at onboard check-in, discounts on upgrading from a standard stateroom to a suite at onboard check-in, a private member cocktail reception, invitation to dine with the captain or a ship’s officer, onboard discounts and amenities, and a $100 shipboard credit for members who refer new guests.

Travel agents also may already know Windstar’s newest sales executive. Steven Simao, a 20-year cruise industry veteran, joined the company as vice president of travel agency sales. Before that, he was director of international sales at Holland America Line and Seabourn and director of sales for Holland America’s Western division.

Windstar remains committed to the travel agent community, even naming Gloria Bohan, CEO of Omega World Travel, godmother of the Star Legend. “As we doubled our capacity, we are more reliant on our trade partners than ever before,” Duckett says.

All the hard work and investment is paying off. Although always an upscale and highly rated cruise line, Windstar achieved a much-deserved honor in late 2014 when it was recognized as the No. 1 small-ship cruise line in Condé Nast Traveler’s 27th annual Readers’ Choice Awards. What’s more, Windstar’s score of 90.065 ranked it the No. 2 spot among all ocean cruise lines of any sizes. The future definitely looks bright for Windstar Cruises.

For more information, call 866-766-3873 or visit


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Vacation Agent Magazine

A version of this article appears in print in the July 2015 issue of Vacation Agent Magazine.


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