Windstar President Chris Prelog has just completed the most whirlwind week in a career at sea that started 25 years ago. One of many highlights of his company’s 35th birthday cruise, on Windstar Star Breeze, seven nights from Sunday 19 October, was announcing a partnership with the Moorea-based Coral Gardener conservation charity, kicking off with a US$35,000 donation. Another highlight was the presence aboard of the President of French Polynesia, The Hon Edouard Fritch, who hosted the entire complement of cruise guests to a reception at his official palace in Papeete on the last night of the one-off week.
Windstar deliberately attracts the young-at-hearts. It’s informal, casual and lifestyle (one first-time cruiser, stopping off between New Zealand and the USA, says she is now hooked, as long as all cruises are like this). If any product’s culture is honed by its boss, Chris Prelog defines the Windstar tag of ‘180-degrees from ordinary’. Austrian by birth, he started at sea as a restaurant busboy. Now Seattle-based, he sails whenever can, mingling with passengers and crew alike. His at-sea look is Windstar polo shirt (he personally leads a 7 am fitness class). Star Breeze’s very-English captain, schooled at Eton no less, is similarly out and about, in shorts even when he officiates at the regular renewal of vows that passengers can buy, onboard or on one of the two private islands that Windstar uses, one all-day hangout and one dinner barbeque.
Windstar Wind Spirit, a sail yacht, is permanently rostered in French Polynesia, year-round. Windstar Star Breeze, a vessel that was previously Seabourn, is doing the islands until 10 November, when she sails for Australia. Windstar recently sliced the old Star Breeze in two, to insert a new middle section. She now has 156 cabins, 27 sq m up, and nobody minds that the old casino is now a splendid Spanish restaurant. Interestingly, permanent awnings mean at least three restaurants flow to outdoor dining options (Windstar partners with the James Beard Foundation and onboard Executive Chef, Melburnian Gavin Baxter, is a magician at enhancing flavours). About 50% of passengers opt for the US$99 a day, add-on, any beverages and WiFi.
Windstar almost goes overboard on experiences. There are so many to buy into, from watching the insemination that will eventually produce black pearls through to 4×4 treks, and photography tips to surfing, there’s barely time for the excellent Elemis spa or the well-equipped library – I only just managed to skip through a 30-second guide to the best 50 philosophers of all time.
Typically, 27 sq m cabin 628, shares an outer foyer with 630, so great for families. There’s a small balcony, and the TY-Group king-size bed, firm mattress and Egyptian linens, leaves ample space to move around (choose, at time of booking, if you want bedroom or sitting closer to the window). There’s enough storage for a round-the-world cruise, and Europe and US sockets are complemented by inset USB ports, including bedside. The bathroom – twin sinks, Grohe double-shower – has L’Occitane toiletries. 628’s twice-daily housekeeping was meticulously done by a really charming Indonesian.
Windstar staff have fun. They seem to relish the additional tasks of tendering every item imaginable ashore to private islands, and they’re quick to learn names. Interaction between staff and guests is way above industry par. In fact Windstar seems to exist to some extent because everyone enjoys the experience, and this must surely include the ultimate owner, American billionaire Philip Anschutz. Apparently he has always favoured small ships, in the way that he likes boutique railroads.
Windstar falls into his Xanterra Travel Collection, the operator of some of the US’ best national parks – this portfolio also includes tour operators Country Walkers, Holiday Vacations, and VBT biking, plus Grand Canyon railways, and park lodges (Xanterra is affiliated to The Broadmoor and Sea Island resorts and this December Windstar themes two of Star Breeze’s 37 sq m suites, #500 and #501, one as The Broadmoor and the other as Sea Island). Anschutz has his fingers in everything from oil and gas to such sports teams as Los Angeles Galaxy, Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids, Houston Dynamo, San Jose Earthquakes, and the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, plus the National Hockey League’s Los Angeles Kings. On the entertainment side, his list of holdings includes for London’s 02, and so on. Yes, say Chris Prelog and Windstar’s dynamo Chief Marketing Officer Betsy O’Rourke, more Xanterra-brand affiliation is being considered.
Mary Gostelow publishes the daily girlahead.com, a weekly newswire Mary Gostelow’s Inner Circle, and a unique weekly 15-minute industry Mary Gostelow Girlahead Podcast, all part of Almont Global.