Editor’s note: TPG editor Erica Silverstein sailed on Star Pride on a free trip provided by Windstar Cruises. The opinions expressed below are entirely hers and weren’t subject to review by the line.
Like inserting a leaf into your dining room table, Windstar’s Star Pride was recently split into two to allow a new midsection to be added to the cruise ship. And like your dinner table, the ship can now accommodate more guests and more goodies.
I’m on board Star Pride’s inaugural post-refurbishment cruise to check out new additions, such as Spanish restaurant Cuadro 44 by Anthony Sasso and expanded outer deck areas, including a new pool and Star Grill by Steven Raichlen. It doesn’t hurt that the ship is sailing through the beautiful islands of Greece and Italy.
Star Pride is the last of Windstar’s three yachts to be stretched and upgraded. I sailed Star Pride’s identical twin sister, Star Breeze, before its stretch, and can say that much of the ship is the same, from the panoramic Yacht Club lounge and library to the main restaurant, Amphora. Many of the upgrades were done under the hood; the ship received all-new state-of-the-art and energy-efficient engines and more environmentally friendly wastewater treatment systems.
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I notice the changes most on the expanded sun deck, now with a proper infinity pool (instead of a tiny plunge pool); the new suites and the redone cabin bathrooms; and the additional dining venues. Windstar fans can rest assured that the ship retains its upscale-yet-casual vibe, water sports platform and toys, and fan-favorite deck barbecue night.
Whether you’re a Windstar devotee or a first-timer looking for a small-ship experience with the right balance of refinement and low-key ambiance, here are five things to love about the remodeled Star Pride (and its two identical sister ships) — and a couple of caveats.
Cabins and suites
Star Pride increased in size from 212 to 312 passengers with the addition of 50 new cabins and suites, but existing rooms also received upgrades. More notable, in my opinion, is that all cabins now have brand-new bathrooms with square-sink double vanities and glass-walled showers (some have tubs).
Windstar still stocks the bathrooms with L’Occitane toiletries, but instead of individual bottles that many a passenger has tucked into their suitcase, Windstar now provides dispensers of shower gel, shampoo and conditioner in the shower, along with bar soap and an individual bottle of body lotion.
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Among the new suites are two owner’s suites, which can be combined with neighboring cabins to create a gigantic three-bedroom, two-balcony suite, and new deluxe suites, which are 464 square feet with a balcony and a third berth.
The ocean-view and balcony cabins on board now fall into two categories: Star suites and regular suites. The Star accommodations are the all-new rooms, located in the ship’s new midsection. They position the sleeping area of the room by the window or French balcony (tiny, step-out verandas that can hold one person standing but are too small for seating), with the living area by the door. The original cabins have the reverse layout.
Both layouts feature a couch and two easy chairs by a coffee table, and a vanity with drawers across from the bed. While the older rooms maintain the original (and occasionally scuffed) furnishings, the new suites sport an updated look with lighter colors and more useful furniture. I love the new vanity with three full-size bureau drawers and a stool underneath the desk surface rather than a heavy chair that’s hard to move and sticks out into the room.
The closets are also updated with rectangular (rather than triangular) shelves and a small bureau (versus the weird shelving unit in the old rooms that reminds me of a filing cabinet).
The new cabins also have more plug and USB outlets, including ones by the bed, while the older rooms have limited plugs by the vanity and in the living room.
If you’re not a fan of beds by the window or balcony, but want the new furniture and additional outlets, you will have to choose which is more important to you because Windstar President Christopher Prelog, who is on board for the ship’s relaunch, told the media group at a press conference that the line has no plans to update the old-style cabins in the near future.
Cuadro 44 by Anthony Sasso
Cruise passengers love to have dining choices, and those on Windstar’s ships were previously limited to breakfast and lunch in Veranda, the indoor-outdoor buffet (with a small menu of hot items you can order a la minute); dinner in Amphora, the main restaurant, or Candles, the intimate alfresco pop-up restaurant that takes over Veranda at night; snacks in the Yacht Club; and room service. With the stretch, Star Pride now offers two additional dining choices.
The first is Cuadro 44 by Anthony Sasso, a Spanish restaurant with an open kitchen and a menu of small plates, entrees, sides and desserts. Sasso is the head chef at Michelin-starred Casa Mono in New York City.
Meat lovers can always have a field day at a Spanish restaurant (folks were waxing poetic about the jamon Iberico), but this pescatarian was pleased to find a large enough variety of vegetarian options, including Spanish tortilla, grilled mushrooms and patatas bravas. I sampled the two house sangrias (because research) and actually enjoyed the refreshing apple-and-raspberry-cider sangria more than the classic version.
Do not miss the churros and chocolate for dessert. Pro tip: Each churro is enormous, but you can ask for one instead of two in an order.
Even better, there’s no charge to dine at Cuadro 44 but the restaurant is small, so make reservations early. If you want to meet new friends, request the central communal table where guests can enjoy family-style dining even if they’re not part of a large group. Bringing people together over food is apparently one of Sasso’s hallmarks.
The previous incarnation of Star Pride had a disappointing pool deck with a one-person swim-against-the-current pool and one small hot tub. With the stretch, Windstar jumped on the opportunity to create a more inviting pool deck, with extra space for both sunbathing and the line’s famous deck barbecue parties.
The centerpiece of the area is a terraced deck with a hot tub at the top, an infinity pool in the middle and a cascading series of pools below. (Swing by at night when it’s lit up with colored lights.) Lounge chairs take over the open deck, as well as the deck space overlooking the pool from above.
While the area is a huge improvement, self-conscious cruisers should know that the “infinity” side of the pool (the glass front wall) is open to the lounge seating, so everyone can see your legs in the pool.
Star Bar and Star Grill
The alfresco Star Bar has always been a popular spot on Star Pride and its sister ships, but the area’s refurbishment and expansion takes the experience up several notches. The extra space allowed for the addition of dining tables along the starboard side and comfortable outdoor couches and cushioned chairs under a shade canopy on the port side. Day or night, it’s an inviting hangout for chatting, reading or kicking back with the signature cocktail of the day. It’s become my go-to destination whenever the weather is nice.
Inspired by the ship’s fan-favorite deck barbecues, Windstar execs chose to add an outdoor dining venue to the upper-deck spot. In the morning, the crew sets out grab-and-go breakfast items, such as yogurt parfaits and egg-and-cheese English muffin sandwiches, for cruisers looking to avoid the crush in Veranda. (I was impressed by still-runny yolks on my breakfast sandwich this morning.)
At lunch, the space morphs into the alfresco Star Grill by barbecue guru Steven Raichlen. Here, you can order burgers and hot dogs and help yourself to salads, a daily quiche, vegetarian dishes and desserts, or choose the day’s rotisserie and smoker menu items, created by Raichlen. The Star Grill will eventually offer dinner, too, but that dining concept is still being finalized.
Though Raichlen specializes in American barbecue, the dishes here traverse the world, such as Moroccan roast lamb shoulder or ship-cured and -smoked pastrami. If tables are full, grab a seat at the Star Bar.
And if you’re looking for soft-serve ice cream, the self-serve machine is tucked away at the end of the grill’s dessert bar. Unlike most ships that only serve up chocolate or vanilla flavors, Star Pride’s change daily; I’ve seen mango and raspberry so far.
I could wax poetic about the quadrupled-in-size spa and fitness center, which was completely gutted and redone with a larger gym (including group class space and a raised ceiling over all the cardio machines except one elliptical trainer), multiple treatment rooms and a thermal suite with sauna, steam room, experience shower and heated loungers. But while the change is a definite improvement over the previous spa, I’d rather talk about my favorite indoor space on board.
That’s the Yacht Club, the top-of-the-ship, circular observation lounge. It hasn’t changed noticeably post-refurb, and that’s okay because it was perfect as it was. Couches and easy chairs line the floor-to-ceiling windows, offering 270-degree views at the front of the ship. You’ll find a chess game and puzzles if your brain needs a workout, and a few guidebooks in the two curved bookcases surrounding the central seating area.
The outdoor deck encircling the lounge is a key spot for watching sailaway or just gazing out to sea. The coffee bar is a favorite place for coffee, tea, quick morning breakfast or cookies and small sandwiches during the afternoon. Word on the street is that the homemade granola bars are the hot midday snack.
It’s a simple formula, but it works. The circular space is striking when you first walk through the door, it’s never crowded and it’s the ideal hangout with drinks, snacks, comfy seating and simple entertainments. Even though my cabin has a spacious sitting area, I find myself choosing to bring my laptop to the Yacht Club to enjoy a cup of tea and the ocean views.
Although Star Pride’s refurbishment has been planned for years, that doesn’t make it immune to the dreaded supply chain issues affecting all sorts of construction projects. The new water toys for the ship’s water sports platform have not yet arrived, and the line’s president told our media group that the platform wouldn’t be operational until the ship leaves Europe and arrives in the Caribbean. Many passengers were disappointed that it was not open as scheduled in our first port of call.
A new elevator midship will be useful for passengers with mobility issues. However, the elevators on board are so small that they aren’t useful if you have claustrophobia issues. We fit three people into one that claimed to fit four (we scoffed at that idea), and we all agreed that we would be taking the stairs from now on.
Fans of the old Star Pride will love this new incarnation of the ship because it’s essentially the same goal with more of the things cruisers enjoy: more modern cabins, more true suites, more deck space and more dining choices. The ship only increased in capacity by 100 passengers, so it remains intimate and friendly without crowds and queues.
New-to-Windstar travelers will appreciate the ship’s small size and casual luxury, dishes by renowned chefs on every menu, and port-intensive itineraries that feature ports the bigger ships can’t visit.
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