If I told you I was cruising the Caribbean and that passengers on the ship were jumping off the back of the ship into the water, you would get a mental image of a yacht. If I told you I was on a cruise ship that had 5 different restaurants, you would get the mental image of a large cruise ship. What if both were true? Then you might be on the Windstar Star Breeze.
Table of contents: ()
- Windstar Star Breeze
- Windstar Star Breeze – The Ship
- Dining on the Star Breeze
- Social Spaces on the Star Breeze
- Life Onboard the Star Breeze
- The Itinerary – Leeward Islands
- Cruising in 2021 with COVID
- Shore Excursions
Windstar Star Breeze
The Windstar Star Breeze is a different kind of cruise ship. Even after a recent remodeling of the ship stretched it to have more cabins, The most to ship can hold is 312 passengers. The Star Breeze is the first of three ships by Windstar with this configuration. It doesn’t have the iconic sails of the Windstar’s Wind Star, Wind Spirit, and Wind Surf but it makes up for it with modern amenities.
I had the opportunity to cruise in the Caribbean on the Windstar Star Breeze on one of their first cruises after the Star Breeze trip to the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy where it was cut in half and stretched by 84 feet. It was also one of the first cruises after cruising stopped for the COVID-19 pandemic… more on that later.
While it was being rebuilt the engines of the Star Breeze were replaced with ones that will burn cleaner fuel for reduced emissions. HEPA filters and UV-C lights were added to HVAC systems on the ship to kill the likes of coronavirus, mold, bacteria, and fungi.
I cruised as a guest of Windstar (they paid).
Windstar Star Breeze – The Ship
The Star Breeze looks like a typical cruise ship and has many of the same amenities. It doesn’t have the casino, the art auctions, or the ship’s photographer… none of which I would miss if all cruise ships got rid of them. It has 8 decks, with the lowest 2 reserved for the crew.
The Windstar Star Breeze is an all-suite ship. There are no small cabins. There are some exceptionally large suites including 4 owner’s suites. We stayed in cabin 530 which is a Star Balcony Suite. It had a bedroom area, a living area, a walk-in closet, and a bathroom. It was the largest suite I have had on a cruise ship.
The french doors open up onto a small balcony (large enough to stand on but not large enough to have a place to sit). I am picky about beds. Most hotel beds are not as comfortable as the one we have at home, but this one was terrific.
The desk area had two U.S. style plugs, two European-style 2 round prong plugs, and 2 USB-style plugs. Each side of the bed also had two additional outlets including 2 USB outlets. It is almost like it was designed in this century by people who understand we carry a lot of electronics…. because it was.
The dresser had 3 large drawers with more storage in the nightstands and room under the bed to store our suitcases. With the storage in the walk-in closet, we only used half of the storage space in the room, but we do pack lighter than many.
There was fresh water in the room, a mini-bar with soda and liquor (soda free, alcohol would depend on your drink plan), and assorted glassware. Treats like bonbons, macaroons, and rum cake kept showing up on the coffee table during the week.
The walk-in closet had our life jackets, lots of space to hang up clothes, lots of shelving, drawers with laundry bags, robes, and a safe. The light goes on when you open the door. One addition I did not notice until later in the week. Turn off all the lights in the room and you can still find the closet because of the glow-in-the-dark life jacket symbol on the door. Also, notice the magnet on the cabin door that says that the room has been cleared in case of emergency is also glow-in-the-dark.
Pro Tip: As with most cruise cabins, the walls are metal. If you want to keep track of your daily schedule consider bringing some refrigerator magnets to post the schedule in your room.
Dining on the Star Breeze
The Star Breeze has 5 dining options which range from formal to casual. All dining options(plus room service) are included in the price of the cruise.
The main dining room on Deck 3 is Amphora. This is the usual white table cloth, order off the menu, and whatever you do leave room for dessert kind of great service. The dining room is open seating with a number of tables for 2 or 4 and some for larger groups.
The menu included the kind of surf and turf I expect on a cruise ship including lobster on the final night of the cruise but also included some more varied and tasty options like the crispy tofu dish shown above. The menu changes daily with some standard dishes always available.
Veranda / Candles
Veranda is the buffet-based dining option on the 7th deck where breakfast and lunch are available. You can dine inside or out on the covered deck on the stern of the ship surrounded by glass.
For breakfast, there is a menu you can order from with items like eggs benedict, french toast, waffles but there is also a buffet that changes daily with fresh fruit, wonderful fresh baked goods, the makings of an English breakfast, fancy coffees, an omelet station, and crispy bacon the way U.S. passengers expect.
For lunch, there is again the menu with hamburgers, etc. The buffet is set up with a salad bar, more baked goods, some daily specials, a wonderful assortment of desserts, and a carving station or some other specialty offering.
At night the same space reopens as Candles which is a sit-down order from the menu space. The food is equally as good as in Amphora is perhaps a bit more casual. Reservations are needed for dinner. We would have eaten at Candles on more evenings but did not book quickly enough.
A new addition to the ship since the refit is the Cuadro 44 Spanish Tapas restaurant. You also need to make reservations to eat at Cuadro 44. I will be honest that Spanish food does not make my list of favorite cuisines. I would rank it after French, Italian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, American, and maybe some others. But many of my fellow travelers were thrilled to see the restaurant and raved about the charred octopus in particular.
You can order tapas (small plates) or entrees… or you could just skip to the churros and chocolate.
I did enjoy what we ordered which included the Lamb Chops, the Potatas Bravas, and the Piquillo Peppers. The serving sizes are smaller but you can order more dishes if you like. The price, like the rest of the dining options, is included in the cost of your cruise.
In the name of research, we ordered both the churros and chocolate and the cheese plate for dessert. They also served us the Crema Catalana. They were all wonderful.
Also new is the casual Star Grill next to the Star Bar on deck 8. The Star Grill stays open later in the afternoon so we ate there a number of times when Veranda had closed before we returned to the ship from a shore excursion. There was usually some type of grilled meat or two (all terrific), some sides, fresh rolls, a salad bar, and a fruit and dessert bar. Later in the afternoon, it would re-open as a hamburger grill.
Get there in time for the trivia if they are doing that in the afternoon at the Star Bar. We would have won the general trivia… or at least tied.., if we had not forgotten that Timothy Dalton played James Bond.
Social Spaces on the Star Breeze
The Lounge is on deck 5. This was where we had the meet the captain event with cocktails. It is also where we gathered for the daily port talk where we heard about the next day’s activities. We also met in the lounge to be issued our snorkel equipment (free of charge) on the first day of the cruise.
All shore excursions also start in the Lounge so you come here to grab your water bottle and beach towel before forming groups and heading to the tenders or the gangway.
The Lounge can also be used for evening performances but, on our cruise, these tended to be up at the Star Bar or the Compass Rose.
Just off the Lounge is a meeting room that a private group was using part of the time on our cruise. We also met up with the ship’s doctor here for the ongoing COVID tests that we needed to get into various ports.
Main Concourse – Reception / Destination Services
Just behind the Lounge on Deck 5 is the spiral staircases that will take you down to Amphora the main dining room or up to Coudro 44 and Veranda. One side of this central space is the reception desk where you can check on your bill, get some cash, or deal with administrative issues.
On the other side of the space is the destination services area where you can book your shore excursions or your departure tour.
The Bow / Hot Tub
There is an open area in the bow of the ship where you can stand when you are coming into port for a great view. There is also a hot tub in that space.
In the stern on deck six is the Compass Rose which is the largest of the bars on the ship. The Compass Rose didn’t get as much patronage when we were there just because there was a lot of empty space on the boat. It has a baby grand piano and nightly entertainment.
Yacht Club Cafe and Library
The Yacht Club Cafe and Library is in the bow on deck 8. This was probably my favorite of the public spaces.
The Yacht Clu has a small cafe area that also had sandwiches and desserts, and foo foo coffees available during the day.
It had seating areas, library materials, and computers you could use along with a couple of TVs on with the news or documentaries.
And then also some games you could play or puzzles you could work on. The Yacht Club is up on the top deck and the front of the boat so it has beautiful views. If I was going to hang out and I didn’t want to hang out in the room, I would go up to the Yacht Club.
The Star Breeze does have a small pool and hot tub along with a pool deck in the middle of deck 7. It has lounge chairs where you can work on your suntan on the pool deck and on deck 8 overlooking the pool deck. This area was also used for whole ship events like the sail away, the crew farewell, and on our cruise the BBQ.
Life Onboard the Star Breeze
On deck 7 behind the bridge are the World Spa and the fitness center. You can get your full body massage or you can get your beauty treatments. I had my first hot rock massage which was a bit more expensive but quite relaxing.
I counted 78 different options on the price list for the World Spa. They offer facials, massage, acupuncture, beauty treatments, yoga, pilates, personal trainers, hair and nails services, and waxing.
Some of the classes are complimentary like guided meditation, yoga, and pilates and the rest of the services are an additional charge.
Here is the price list (click to expand):
Joan won a voucher for the fitness center and used that toward an hour with a personal trainer which she enjoyed but you don’t need to pay anything to use the fitness center on your own. It is equipped with ellipticals and treadmills, a rowing machine, and weight machines.
Also on deck 7 is the bridge which is open except when they’re doing specific maneuvers and I was always busy enough that I didn’t manage to get into the bridge and take some pictures. But there were just so many things to do and the times that I tried to get there happen to be when we’re getting in and out of a port where they needed to concentrate.
Wind Star has some traditions that you might not find on other cruise lines. When we sailed out of the first port which was in St Maarten, the guests were invited up to the pool deck to see the sail away ceremony. Windstar has a special song that it plays as it sails out of port which was accompanied by choreography. There was a similar ceremony with a march of flags for the crew farewell.
My favorite of the Windstar traditions was the BBQ dinner which was held the 2nd to last night of our cruise. On our cruise, the pool deck was turned into an open-air dining room. A wonderful dinner was served in the fading light of the day. Often this dinner is held on some remote island instead which seems like it would be an even bigger undertaking for the crew.
Some of the dishes served were prepared right there on the deck. All of this while the band serenaded us. We managed to get in the dinner just before a brief tropical shower.
I did not make it to the watersports platform on my cruise. They open up the platform which is in the stern of the ship when the ship is not in a busy port but anchored off shore. It was opened up twice during our cruise but once I missed it because it closed before we got back from a shore excursion and the second time the sea got rough so the platform was closed.
The Itinerary – Leeward Islands
I will get into much more detail about what it was like to cruise in July of 2021 with COVID still around, but I do have to mention that the biggest effect it had on our cruise was not COVID tests, wearing masks, or social distancing. It literally changed our itinerary.
When we signed up for the cruise it was supposed to head to the British Virgin Islands with stops at Jost Van Dyke, Tortola, and Virgin Gorda. But 24 hours before we boarded the ship the British Virgin Islands closed to cruise ships because of rising COVID cases. As it turns out St. Barts also closed, although we did not learn this for a few more days. So with 24 hours’ notice the captain, crew, and company needed to come up with an entirely new itinerary.
We sailed instead south to Barbados, and then north again to St Lucia, Antigua, and then back to St. Maarteen. They were undoubtedly some people who were disappointed by the change of itinerary but don’t count me among them. As it turns out, I had visited the British Virgin Islands before (but you will have to go all the way back to Episode 19 of the Amateur Traveler podcast to hear about that trip), but had not been to any of the islands on our new itinerary.
They canceled all the shore excursions that people had booked and had to come up with entirely new offerings as well.
Cruising in 2021 with COVID
Because of COVID, if we left the ship we had to leave on a shore excursion. So even a trip to the beach needed to be a “bubble tour”. We had to be with an approved guide and company. This is not a Windstar rule but a CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) rule. We would have spent a bit less money for shore excursions if we had not had those rules.
We were tested to get into St Marrten from the U.S. We needed either a PCR test within 72 hours or a rapid test within 48 hours. We ended up getting both to make sure we would have the results when we needed them. CVS did a great job of turning around those results.
The we were tested 4 times on the cruise, all of which were rapid tests. We had to pass a COVID test to get on the ship, then we had to be tested to get into Barbados, Antigua, and St Maarten again. St Lucia was able to use the test from Barbados and since we flew back right after the cruise, we used the last test to get back into the U.S. also.
Masks and Social Distancing
We did wear masks as we moved about the ship and on most of our shore excursions. We wore them getting off the ship, transfering by bus, on the ship’s tenders. We did abandon them when we were outdoors at the beach or on a catamaran. Most people were well behaved but you always have some people who have not learned how to wear a mask even after a year of a pandemic.
They did not allow as many people into the ship’s tenders, tried to spread out the diners at the restaurants and only had the crew serving food from the buffet.
As with the big cruise ships, when the ship stops at a port there are a series of optional shore excursions that you can book. We booked a shore excursion at each port. I usually factor that the cost of the shore excursion per person will be around 50% of the cost of the cruise per person, but on this cruise, the total came in somewhat lower. For full disclosure, Windstar gave me some money for shore excursions and we paid for my wife’s excursions. I am seeing this cruise list price for between $2,200 and $2,400 per person and we spent around $600 per person on shore excursions.
Every day there were four or five options. They would often include a beach trip, a cultural tour, and private tours with a guide and driver. Then they might have swimming with Stingrays (Antigua), a catamaran sail (Bermuda, St Lucia), a segway tour, or a zipline tour (St Lucia, Antigua).
We came in a day early before the cruise and stayed at the cruise hotel which was the lovely Oyster Bay Beach Resort in St Maarten.
We had taken an early flight that morning so we didn’t have the energy to do sightseeing before the cruise. When you leave the cruise you can get an airport transfer that will take you directly to the airport, But many people opted for the guided tour and transfer where you went to around the island and then be dropped off at either the airport or at your hotel if you were staying longer.
In Barbados, there were a couple of shore excursion options that we looked at. One of the options was a cultural tour of the island, which I would have loved to do. There’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bridgetown, the old historic center. We didn’t do that but I would love to get back there and explore Bridgetown.
There was a catamaran tour that included some snorkeling, and since you get snorkeling gear for free as part of your cruise, we wanted to take advantage of that. We sailed just around the corner from the harbor where the ship was moored into one of the sandy beaches in the southern end of Bridgetown. There was a spot where they knew they could probably see some sea turtles, of course, with all of these things, seeing wildlife never guaranteed.
About a third of the 130 passengers on the Star Breeze were on this particular catamaran. We all jumped in the water and there were two tiny sea turtles at the bottom 20 feet down. I took some underwater photos with my new GoPro 8, but having just been in the Galapagos, that wasn’t quite as impressive as what we had seen there. Then most people got back on the boat, but I swam for a little longer and saw a larger sea turtle that was about two feet long with a damaged flipper and took some underwater video of that. I stayed in the water a little longer and there was a three-foot turtle that was swimming right near me and right under me so that turned out to be a better experience than it looked like it was going be at first.
We then pulled up anchor, and went just a little ways away down the beach to where there was a wrecked sunken tugboat. That was one of the best snorkeling experiences I have ever had. You’re snorkeling over this tugboat again, it feels like you’re right out of the movie of Titanic. I’ve done that once before in Curaçao, this was a larger boat. And there’s just all of the sea life both growing on the boat as well as all of this fish in the water. And so that was a wonderful opportunity. Then we went and sailed down the coast saw the coast of Barbados and had a barbecue lunch, made a swimming stop, and then went back to the boat. That was a 5-hour trip.
We did talk about St. Lucia on Amateur Traveler recently. I was excited to see St Lucia after looking at so many beautiful pictures of the island as I was putting them into that episode.
St Lucia is a beautiful island. It is a very mountainous island with a vivid green landscape since gets a lot of rainfall. We opted to do two different tours because we did two different ports of call in St. Lucia. On the first day, we were anchored off Pigeon Island. That was one of the days that they opened up the water sports activity deck, but I did not get there because I was off on a shore excursion to the other side of the island to do a zip lining tour.
That was a great tour because of two things. One is we got to explore the island. We actually got to go on the winding mountain roads on St. Lucia with a driver to go to the part of the island where there was the zipline tour. So we got to see more of the island than I got to see on Barbados.
Then it was a wonderful zip line course with a great staff. They have 11 different lines as well as for different suspension bridges. It was a workout because, unlike ziplining courses where you start at the top of the valley and you work your way down this one, you ended up working way up and back. You were hiking a lot of steps and it was a good workout as you’re climbing all those steps in the jungle.
The staff was great. They took their cameras and took pictures of us. My wife loves a good zip line course. I’m usually with my fear of heights a little less excited than she was but had a great time doing that.
The next day we got another catamaran tour. We sailed down to the Pitons which are these tall, green mountainous peaks in the southern part of the island. They’re a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We sailed along the coast. When you sail along the coast of Barbados, it’s mostly flat and there’s a lot of hotels and houses and beaches but when you sail along the coast of St. Lucia it’s quite different. There are hidden fishing villages that didn’t even use to have a road to get there. You had to get there by boat.
We sailed into one secluded bay that I would love to explore if I get back to the island.
From St. Lucia, we sailed to Antigua. We originally hoping to have one day in Antigua and one in St. Barts, but St. Barts was closed so we did two in Antigua. We anchored the first day at St. John’s Antigua and then we anchored the next day down on the southern part of the island in Falmouth.
It was really interesting sailing into Antigua because they hadn’t had any cruise ships since March of 2020. As we sailed into the harbor, there were two different fireboats on each side of us spring water in various directions, and blowing their horns alternately on the left and on the right.
When we got to the dock and docked, there was a steel drum band there, dignitaries giving speeches, and a film crew. The film crew actually followed us down to Falmouth Harbor and the Nelson dockyard.
The big deal for Antigua is not that the Star Breeze is a big cruise ship or that there were a lot of us so that we were going to make a huge impact on the economy of Antigua, but that it brought hope. Antigua like a lot of these different islands is very reliant on tourism. The tourism economy in Antigua makes up about 85% of their economy. We saw it very directly on both St. Lucia and Antigua for one of our tour guides on each island it was their first day back at work since March of 2020. That’s one of the reasons why everybody is being careful with the bubble tours. The islands and the cruise lines don’t want to see cruising shut down again.
Nelson’s dockyard is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is named after Admiral Horatio Nelson of Battle of Trafalgar fame. The the English Admiral was stationed here when he was a younger man.
This was a very significant Harbor for the British Navy when they were controlling Antigua way back in the days of sail. It is such a protected harbor, that they could keep their ships here even during hurricane season, while the French and the Spanish had to take their ships out of the region back to Europe.
There was a significant harbor and dockyards here that could do repairs of sails and could even careen ships, where you turn ships over on the side, so you can scrape the barnacles off or repair the hull. And apparently they have still kept a lot of those skills in the people who work in the dock yards still are repairing wooden ships for people. Our guide, an American who is working as an archaeologist in the area, said that some of the people who know how to refinish teak decks get flown around the world to repair expensive yachts at pretty good wages. They still value those skills here and it’s one of the reasons why this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The other reason it is a UNESCO site is that it has a large collection of buildings from the Georgian era. We had a brief tour. We got to spend a little time in the museum and had a taste of the local rum (wow, that is strong!). I’d like to get back actually and spend a little more time there.
The next day. The shore excursion that we did was the kind that was also offered every day and that was just a beach outing. They take you as a group to a beach on a bubble tour where you are secluded from people but it’s a safe, beautiful beach. And Antigua has a lot of beautiful beaches. They have 365 beaches, one for every day of the year.
International travel still has challenges in 2021, but getting back to the Caribbean was worth it. The Windstar, with its smaller size and number of passengers, would be a great ship for any year. But, for 2021, it was a particularly great option.
Listen to the Amateur Traveler episode Sailing the Caribbean on the Windstar Star Breeze – Episode 764 or check out the rest of my photos of the Star Breeze or the Caribbean.
Thanks again to Windstar for sponsoring (paying for) my trip on the Windstar Star Breeze. All opinions expressed are my own and do not represent Windstar and also very rarely represent those of my wife.