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Cruising the Med on Windstar’s luxury ship after multimillion-dollar refresh

Windstar boasts a fleet of small luxury cruise ships with boutique ship Star Pride only renovated last year. Sailawaze checked the vessel out as it sailed the Mediterranean.

Words & pictures by Rebecca Barnes

Watching the white-tipped waves crash dramatically against the rocks edging the beach, our tour guide tells us that this stretch of the Atlantic Ocean is often called the Coast of Death, due to how many ships and oil tankers it has claimed over the years.

Even today, Galicia’s ‘Costa da Morte’ is renowned for being the most dangerous coastline in Spain, with hundreds of shipwrecks. And as I watch brave surfers battling against the swell, I think about the fact I am sailing on a small ship in the area – although I have every faith in my floating home for the next few days.

In fact, I’d already put my sea legs to the test as we’d sailed from Lisbon and Porto on the 314-guest boutique ship Star Pride, Windstars’ third all-suite Star Plus Class vessel which, last year, was stretched and refreshed during a multi-year, $250 million project across all three of the Star Class ships, considered to be one of the most complex and comprehensive in small ship cruising.

Conditions were a little rocky, but Star Pride handled it with ease – my fellow sailors also seemed oblivious and carried on drinking, dining and socialising around the infinity pool. Good thing really, as we were headed into the infamous Bay of Biscay, known for its often lively sea state.

The recent stretching has added 27 metres to the middle section of the ship, which equates to an additional 50 rooms and 100 guests. Ship improvements include a new tender docking point which is now safer for guests and a new and improved pool which is bigger and now elevated.

The old casino and library (although you’ll still find some books in the Yacht Club Cafe) have made way for a new Spanish restaurant, Cuadro 44 by Anthony Sasso; the Star Grill for outdoor dining; and a larger boutique. The main dining room Amphora has also been expanded and the spa and fitness studio is now twice the size of its previous incarnation.

Behind the scenes, the vessel has been fitted with new environmentally friendly engines; guests are also encouraged to report suspected environmental concerns, while the ship’s Environmental Officer is on hand to answer any inquiries or questions.

There are 10 new Star Porthole Suites and new Star Balcony Suites, one of which is my crash pad for the sailing. In contrast to the older balcony suites, the Star Balcony layout has the bed by the window instead of the sitting area, plus there’s new furniture and more charging points – however, old and new balcony suites alike have refreshed bathrooms, carpets and mattresses.

I’ll be honest and say that the new suites are amongst the most homely I’ve ever encountered on a cruise ship – they’re perfectly proportioned and elegantly decorated with dressing rooms, sofas, luxury bath amenities and even double sinks in the pristine bathrooms.

The only slight downside, if you like watching the world go by, is that Juliet balconies take the place of balconies you can actually sit out on. But what you lose in private outside space you gain when you consider that cruising on Windstar is akin to sailing on a private yacht.

Sea days on Star Pride are laidback affairs; the dress code is ‘tasteful but relaxed’, and guests kick back with coffee and pastries in the Yacht Club, perhaps a sunrise stretch, a cooking demo or a spot of trivia with Steve the entertainment manager.

And as day slips into night, post-dinner entertainment is as lively or low-key as you like: live music and dancing in Compass Rose, deck BBQs, port talks, or game nights such as the highly entertaining Liars Club, where guests are challenged to guess which officer is lying and which one is telling the truth.

It’s certainly a comfortable and convivial environment to sail in, but we’re happy to stretch our legs ashore when we reach El Ferrol, Spain, where we set out for a five-hour excursion which takes us on a panoramic drive to the wildly beautiful city of A Coruña with its treacherous ocean.

En route we stop at the Tower of Hercules which was built in the 2nd century by Emperor Trajan and is the oldest Roman lighthouse in the world, unbelievably still in use today.

We push on and see the glass-fronted ‘Crystal City’ window houses that are synonymous with the city, along with the giant mosaic octopus sculpture which pays homage to the local Galician dish, Pulpo Gallego.

After wandering the narrow cobbled streets in the Old Town, we lunch in a local Spanish bar in Plaza Maria Pita, a pedestrian square flanked by buzzing terraced cafes. The spread includes local cheese including creamy manchego, crusty homemade bread, salty parma ham and calamari, washed down with Galician red and white wine.

More and more cruise lines are now staying longer in port, and on this sailing Star Pride is no exception with an overnight stop in the Unesco World Heritage city of Bordeaux, which has long been known as La Belle au Bois Dormant, or sleeping beauty.

Along with a rich cultural heritage which includes more than 350 historic monuments and buildings, city highlights include the must-visit cultural hub and wine museum, La Cite Du Vin.

Unravelling the tale of world wine across all cultures, the Belvedere at the top of the building treats visitors to a 360-degree view of the city while sampling wine from one of the world’s greatest vineyards.

Overnighting in a destination means you can also venture further than Bordeaux to explore the chateaux of the Medoc region, or Saint-Emilion, the heartland of the merlot grape with a medieval village that’s set amongst vineyards, and is also a Unesco World Heritage site.

It’s not just the region’s wine offering that’s well rounded – this diverse itinerary ticks all the boxes, whether you’re looking to sample excellent regional food, discover local culture or simply experience the best in small ship sailing combined with new and improved onboard spaces. It is, as they say in Spain, perfecto.

Set Sail

Souks & Sherries: Iberia & Morocco with Windstar Cruises

Duration: 10 nights

Where: Lisbon | Portimao | Gibraltar | Casablanca | Cadiz overnight | Malaga overnight | Cartagena | at sea | Barcelona

Ship: Star Pride

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Published 08.13.22