Where can you go on a Windstar Cruises ship? A surprising number of places, given the line’s small size. Despite having just six vessels, the upscale line operates voyages to a wide range of destinations around the world, from North America and Europe to French Polynesia.
Among all the Windstar cruise destinations, Europe might be the most popular. As is often the case with higher-end lines, Windstar has a particularly large footprint when it comes to Europe itineraries. Nearly half of the 534 voyages currently on its schedule for 2024 focus on either the Mediterranean or Northern Europe. In a typical year, the line will deploy five of its six ships to Europe for at least part of the year.
Windstar also typically deploys at least one of its vessels year-round to Tahiti for sailings around the islands of French Polynesia. It’s a particular specialty of the line.
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In the winter, at least two and sometimes three Windstar vessels will move to the warm waters of the Caribbean, another area of focus. In addition to classic Caribbean sailings, those vessels also often do sailings through the Panama Canal, another specialty of the line.
Currently, Windstar’s itinerary lineup offers sailings as short as six nights and as long as 55 nights. The company generally doesn’t do short sailings of just three or four nights, unlike big-ship lines.
Here, a look at TPG’s picks for the five best destinations you can visit on a Windstar Cruises ship.
Of all the places that Windstar ships sail, none gets as much focus from the line as the Mediterranean. As of the publishing of this story, a whopping 212 of the 534 voyages on the line’s schedule for the coming year included calls in the region. That’s 40% of all Windstar itineraries.
The Mediterranean trips offer a wide range of port stops and vary greatly in length. There is everything from relatively short, seven-night sailings around the sunny Greek islands to 23-day voyages that span a good chunk of the Mediterranean from Montenegro and Croatia to the far western coast of Spain.
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Windstar features voyages focused specifically on the Western Mediterranean or the Eastern portion and voyages that include days traveling beyond the edges of the Mediterranean to such places as the Canary Islands.
Typical of the latter is the line’s epic, 18-night “Star Collector: Canaries, Casablanca and the Costa del Sol” routing. It’s a one-way trip between Barcelona and the Canary Islands with a mix of stops in Spain, Portugal, Morocco and the Canary Islands. It’s a deep exploration into the western side of Europe and North Africa.
Some of Windstar’s Mediterranean itineraries also include a visit to Israel, although port stops in Israel have been canceled for the next few months due to the war between Israel and Hamas. For now, Israel remains on itineraries scheduled to depart in April 2024 and beyond.
Typical of the line’s more focused, quickie Mediterranean itineraries are its eight-night “Myths and Marvels of the Aegean” routing out of Piraeus, Greece (the port for Athens) that concentrates on the islands of Greece and Turkey with seven stops in the countries.
In the Mediterranean, the line’s main hubs are Piraeus, Civitavecchia (the port for Rome) and Barcelona.
Windstar has been one of the leaders in a trend that has swept the cruise world in the past decade: cruises that focus solely on Iceland.
In 2016, Windstar became the first traditional cruise brand to operate complete circumnavigations of the Kentucky-size island nation, joining a handful of expedition-style cruise operators such as Lindblad Expeditions and Hurtigruten that were starting to add Iceland circlings.
And while other cruise brands including Ponant and Scenic Luxury Cruises have since followed Windstar in offering voyages that take in every corner of Iceland, Windstar remains one of the biggest players in the market with regular summer sailings.
In a typical year, Windstar will offer seven-night circlings of Iceland every week from June through late August.
The trips begin and end in Reykjavik, Iceland’s main city and capital. The ship will sail in a counterclockwise direction around the country with stops at some of Iceland’s most remote areas. It’s a chance to see the full range of Iceland’s famously striking geothermal fields of geysers and fumaroles, mountains, glaciers, volcanoes and waterfalls without having to navigate the ring road that circles the country. And it includes stops in some of Iceland’s smallest and quirkiest towns.
In 2024, the 312-passenger Star Pride will call on places like Heimaey Island, where passengers see the frozen-in-place lava flows of a famous 1973 eruption that covered a third of the town.
Another call at little-visited Grundarfjordur, along the remote Snæfellsnes Peninsula, offers the chance to hike onto the glacier atop nearby Snæfellsjökull volcano, the setting for Jules Verne’s 19th-century classic “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”
Other stops include Akureyri, the gateway to the geothermal fields of of Hverir and their bubbling mud pots and whistling steam vents.
Windstar has been a longtime leader in French Polynesia cruises, too, operating in the region for 37 years. In fact, it’s one of just two traditional cruise lines that dominate the market for French Polynesia voyages — the other being one-ship line Paul Gauguin Cruises.
Like Paul Gauguin Cruises, Windstar offers French Polynesia sailings year-round out of Papeete, Tahiti, the main hub for the region. Ranging from seven to 18 nights, the trips take in such iconic French Polynesian islands as Bora Bora, Moorea, Tahaa and Huahine. They appeal heavily to couples looking for a romantic getaway.
For many years, Windstar has used one of its sailing ships, the 148-passenger Wind Spirit, for its French Polynesia sailings. But in early 2024, it replaced that vessel in the region with one of its bigger motor-powered vessels, the 312-passenger Star Breeze.
The redeployment more than doubles Windstar’s capacity in the region, a sign of just how popular these trips have become.
The voyages offer a large amount of time in each of the islands that are visited, thanks to the short distances between them. In most cases, the ship travels between the islands overnight and ties up or anchors in a new stunning bay each morning.
As is typical for French Polynesian trips, whether on land or water, days are spent exploring sandy tropical beaches, swimming and snorkeling in ridiculously clear water and visiting cultural attractions. You’ll have a chance to visit the sites where locals harvest the cultured black pearls that account for more than half of French Polynesia’s exports.
Diving is also a big draw on these trips. It’s a top excursion during calls at the islands of Raiatea and Bora Bora. Snorkeling with stingrays and joining a marine biologist in search of dolphins and whales are other popular excursions.
Like many upscale cruise brands operating smaller ships, Windstar doesn’t focus on Caribbean cruises. The Caribbean is more the domain of such big-ship cruise giants as Carnival Cruise Line or Royal Caribbean. Still, Windstar typically sends at least two of its six vessels to the Caribbean every winter to operate warm-weather-focused getaways to lesser-visited Caribbean ports — usually one of its motor-powered vessels and one of its wind-powered sailing vessels.
For 2024, Windstar’s two main vessels in the Caribbean will be the 312-passenger Star Pride, a motor-powered vessel, and the 342-passenger Wind Surf, a sailing vessel. One other Windstar sailing ship, the 148-passenger Wind Spirit, will also make an occasional appearance in the region.
For the most part, WIndstar’s lineup of Caribbean cruises is focused on round-trip, seven-night sailings out of St. Martin or Barbados.
When sailing out of St. Martin, the voyages typically include stops in St. Barts, Antigua, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands. When sailing out of Barbados, the ships will call at more southerly Caribbean islands such as St. Lucia and the Grenadines.
For 2024, most of the line’s sailings out of St. Martin will take place in the first part of the year, while the Barbados-based sailings will come at the end of the year.
In addition, the line also sometimes offers Caribbean sailings out of San Juan, Puerto Rico, with calls in St. Maarten (the Dutch side of the island of St. Martin), Guadeloupe, St. Lucia and the Grenadines.
At times, the line will run back-to-back seven-night sailings in the Caribbean with different itineraries. The two trips can be paired to create a longer, 14-night voyage with few repeating ports.
In addition to Caribbean trips, Windstar is known for a large number of sailings that begin in the Caribbean and end in the Pacific, or vice versa — voyages that involve a transit between the two regions via the Panama Canal.
Such trips offer travelers a chance to see the marvel of modern engineering that is the 48-mile-long Panama Canal up close. An entire day is spent traveling through the canal, including transits of the locks found at each end.
As is the case with many Panama Canal cruises, passengers on Windstar canal cruises also get a second chance to experience the canal the day before or after the transit when their ship docks at one side or the other of the canal. Shore excursions will take them to the locks for an up-close view of the lock chambers that their ship will navigate the next day (or passed through the previous day).
In a typical year, Windstar will offer as many as two departures a week through the Panama Canal from late November through the end of March. It typically has two of its six vessels operating such journeys in winter — one sailing ship and one motor ship.
The trips all are one-way, starting in either Aruba in the Caribbean or the port of Balboa on the Pacific side of Panama.
In addition to the experience of traveling through and visiting the canal, the Pacific-bound sailings visit Colombia, Costa Rica and the Caribbean side of Panama.
The Caribbean-bound sailings bring calls along the Pacific side of Costa Rica and Panama.
Windstar is a relatively small cruise line with just six ships, but its ships visit a wide array of cruise destinations. The line is known for regularly moving its vessels around the world to offer a diverse lineup of itineraries everywhere from North America and Europe to French Polynesia.
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