REVIEW: If cruising on a ship the size of a shopping mall isn’t for you, consider a small ship of about 200 passengers for a less-crowded experience and the ability to access ports off the beaten path.
You’ll also enjoy the camaraderie of a small group, high-quality service where staff knows your name, and no lineups when getting on or off the ship. Small-ship cruise lines to consider include Windstar, Seabourn, Silversea and Regent.
Windstar just won “World’s Best Small Ship Cruise Line” from Conde Nast Traveler 2014 Readers’ Choice Awards. The line has expanded its fleet by buying three ships from Seabourn, a six-star cruise line. Windstar is spending about $20 million renovating them – renamed the Star Pride, Star Legend and Star Breeze – which means passengers will enjoy refreshed six-star ships, at Windstar’s five-star prices.
First up for a facelift was the 212-passenger Star Pride. It’s now so gorgeous it’s tempting to just stay onboard and skip the ports it visits. The polished marble, crystal chandeliers, brass railings, plush carpet, teak deck furniture and spacious cabins with ensuite bathtubs and walk-in closets, are difficult to leave.
A unique ship feature includes a drop-down marina platform where you can swim, snorkel, kayak or waterski around the ship – which makes it feel even more like your own personal mega-yacht.
Sumptuous dining is thanks to the recent hiring of Canadian Michael Sabourin as their corporate executive chef. He hails from Montreal and is well known for his delicious menus for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and Sandals resorts.
For the Star Pride’s inaugural Mediterranean season last May, Windstar chose lesser-known ports in France such as Sete and Sanary-sur-Mer, as well as Portoferraio on the island of Elba in Italy. These jewels are sprinkled among visits to the popular celebrity haunts of Portofino and Monte Carlo.
Sanary-sur-Mer is a French fishing village that’s considered the sunniest place in France since it gets less than 60 days of rain per year. It’s a permanent home to about 100 heritage boats dating back to 1895, giving it authenticity that some French towns have lost with increased tourism.
Sete is a charming fishing port and because it sits between the Mediterranean and the saltwater Thau Lagoon, it’s known for its oyster and mussel fields. The town is criss-crossed by canals with bridges and some of the finest beaches in France are found along the coast that separates the lagoon from the sea.
Portoferraio, Italy, on the island of Elba, is where Napoleon was exiled 200 years ago and is a delightful surprise. The harbour is an ideal spot to enjoy a heaping dish of gelato. You’ll have no problem working off the calories if you walk up the steep cobblestone streets to the San Giacomo fort. You’ll also be rewarded with gorgeous views of the emerald waters below.
Portofino is famous for its tiny harbour of brightly painted fishing boats and quaint cafes, restaurants and shops. Walk up to the 16th century castle for its views of the harbour, as well as see Villa Olivetta mansion owned by Dolce and Gabanna. Madonna celebrated her 51st birthday here.
Monte Carlo is a town teeming with the toys of the rich and famous – Lamborghinis and Ferraris slink along the streets and multi-million dollar yachts bob in the harbour. With stores such as Chanel and Dior, window-shopping has wow-factor with $100,000 watches and designer clothing. The casino is a major highlight for its stunning architectural details, paintings and chandeliers. If James Bond showed up, you wouldn’t be surprised.
But you don’t need to be a movie star or high-roller to enjoy celebrity treatment on this cruise holiday. Back on board the Star Pride you’ll be wined and dined by Windstar crew and whisked away to the next fabulous port while you sleep.
For more information on Windstar’s ships and newest itineraries, visit Windstarcruises.com or call 800.258.7245.