A longer ocean crossing (with no resupply of provisions, no chance to go ashore & no meals missed!) gives plenty of opportunity to delve deep into many aspects of operation and performance and find out the full range of what the galley can produce! We had many discussions with staff at all levels and of course talked to many of the other (52!) guests some of whom had completed over 30 Windstar cruises. We also had 14 wonderful dinners (including one hosted by the charming doctor, Jerry) & we dined with many other different guests.
Our overall impression shared without exception by everyone we spoke to was that Windstar as experienced on this long sea voyage was better than ever. On joining, our wine case was willingly whipped from us and carried to our cabin while we enjoyed canapes and sparkling wine as we gently completed the simple arrival procedures. Leaving was just as smooth after a slowly enjoyed full normal breakfast service.
We found that most of the officers and the majority of the hotel staff had (having been given a choice) transferred to the new company and were very pleased to have done so. They were all very happy with their shoreside management (both Ambassador and the contracted ship management agency) and felt that much more money was now being invested in appropriate maintenance and material rather than hitherto when in HAL ownership. It was pointed out that much work was being done behind the scenes to ensure the ships would operate well into the future. This included for example replating much of the hull (in last years Lisbon longer than normal docking). This they said contrasted with HAL which tended to concentrate on improvements visible to the passengers at the expense of more serious maintenance. HAL also tried to impose big ship procedures on these small vessels which obviously had irked the crew.The new management methods appear to be paying off for the new company (and guets) as the crew obviously had great pride in the ongoing maintenance tasks we saw being undertaken as well as other routine jobs
The (young) Captain (Alan Maclary), newly joined Hotel manager( Marcus) & his senior team were always much in evidence although supervision in Wind Star hardly seems necessary. The dining room looked stunningly smart with beautiful glass chargers at each place setting (and matching accoutrements) set off by many flower arrangements. Zome (Concepcion) the Executive Chef sets extremely high standards in all aspects of catering. The range of choice at all meals was amazing especially noting the lack of new supplies at the normal halfway stage. The food was elegantly presented, appropriately portioned and simply amazing. Zome's talents are clearly recognised within the company which is anxious to have him spend a some time in each of the other vessels after his forthcoming leave; presumably they intend to lift standards (if that is necessary.)
Apparently catering supplies are sourced a little differently in the Med (although nominally to the same standard) which explain some variations in menu and style. In the Caribbean and Costa Rica supplies are sourced through USA. Evidently Zome is responsible for many new recipes (approved at head office of course).
The range (and size!) of attractive appetisers (eg sushi, tapas, fish, etc etc) available in the lounge before dinner was also astounding (& hardly necessary!)
The Australian hosts (Jane and Simon, soon to take leave) put on an excellent program of amusements during the crossing. Romel the charismatic Bar manager was also frequently in evidence - cocktail demonstrations, line dance, salsa etc! Ships officers found time to explain astro navigation, night sky and teach knots
The cabins seemed in good shape, beds very comfortable, ac worked well and bathroom shower was as good as any we have come across anywhere. Pity that the new (thin)bathrobes are not (to our mind) as good as the old terry robes they replaced. We tried an IPOD but not sure why they bothered to provide them as most people now seem to have their own.
The DVD library was good although oddly, we got so busy we only had time to see a few!
As mentioned earlier we brought our own wine based on our earlier experience in Wind Surf where the wine list was on the expensive side and excellent low priced wine (in Portugal) could easily be brought on board.
The new wine list has a choice from about $20 and this combined with the increased corkage of $15 plus gratuity made bringing our own wine unnecessary. Some may think the bar drinks at $6 and up plus gratuity are also overpriced.
Our only minor critiscism relates to the absence of good tea making facilities - that is to say lack of boiling water and good fresh tea bags (or preferably leaf tea!) We did eventually discover the teapots!
To us Wind Star, the ship, as seen on a thin populated Transat voyage is a class act well worthy of its 5 star status . Based on our experience we would not hesitate to recommend this cruise line. Having read the forum comments we were prepared for drop in standards, what we found was the opposite. Really, this is a secret too good to share!!