By Megan Saunders, Business Development Executive
After a long hiatus from cruising, when the opportunity arose to join the newly stretched Star Legend on her inaugural sailing, I jumped at the chance to get onboard. After the initial excitement wore off I have to admit there was a bit of trepidation of what cruising and travelling would entail, with researching all the various protocols and requirements we would need to follow. I had heard experiences from fellow colleagues reassuring me it was well worth the few forms and a test here and there, but I still had some reservations having not experienced it myself.
Boarding and COVID Protocols
It is safe to say that travelling in this new era certainly take a bit more thinking and planning, and checking out all the relevant protocols does take a bit of research. We were joining the cruise in Gibraltar (a British territory) and so the entry requirements weren’t too difficult to follow. A quick passenger locator form was completed ready to be scanned at the airport, and before long it was time for us to jet off and soak up some autumn sunshine!
Check in at the airport was again certainly different to days gone by, and before we could check-in our bags, the airline had staff ready to check all the necessary forms and requirements were completed. I would certainly recommend printing out copies of your passenger locator forms, vaccine proof and any other documentation you need as it’s much easier to flick through these with the physical copies than switching between downloads on your phone. We were given a card to say our documents had been checked which we then presented at the departure gate to speed things up for us there, but if you were travelling with just carry-on luggage they would make all the necessary checks at the gate.
After these checks, we were then able to check-in our bags which (at Gatwick at least) are all done via self service machines, we found these to be very quick and user friendly, but there were plenty of staff on stand by to assist with any difficulties.
And just like that we were boarding our flight and it was time for our adventure to begin.
On arrival in Gibraltar the process was again pretty straight forward, at border control they scanned your passenger locator form along with passport checks and once we collected our baggage they had a pop-up testing site where all in-bound passengers were required to get a complimentary lateral flow test. All in all, the process took about 45 minutes from landing to getting into a taxi to head to the port and our test results were emailed to us within half on hour.
As we were joining this cruise a few days late we had a bit of a wait at the terminal for the immigration team to arrive and check our luggage there. I have to say the Windstar crew and staff at Gibraltar port were both fantastic at keeping us entertained and comfortable during this time. We got a full run down of the history of Gibraltar while we were waiting which was fascinating and the ship arranged to do our second required test in the terminal to help speed things up too. I have to say the nurse from the ship was incredibly gentle!
It took longer than we anticipated to get everything processed for us to board but Windstar again kept us comfortable with a few glasses of fizz and some cold water while waited and eventually we were back onboard a cruise ship – my happy place!
Masks have become part of our day to day lives now, and Windstar have a comprehensive policy to ensure that all crew and guests are kept safe during their time onboard. We came prepared with plenty of masks but we’re also provided with disposable masks in the room that were replenished daily as well as 2 bottles of hand sanitiser that you could take ashore with you. During our time onboard the protocols Windstar had put in place made us feel very comfortable and safe.
We were lucky enough to be sailing in one of the new Star category balcony suites which was beautifully appointed and spacious with a large walk-in shower. I really liked the layout with the living area in the middle and the bed closest to the balcony, it made the room feel even more spacious and open. The balcony reminded me more of a river ship, French style offering, which surprised me at first, but given the size of the ship (even stretched it carries just 312 passengers) it makes perfect sense for them to be this size as you are so close to the water you’d probably end up getting a bit wet if they were traditional balconies.
We did have a slight issue in our cabin where the sink from the suite above was leaking and left patches of our carpet soaking wet, we returned one afternoon to find a whole host of engineers working to rectify this, it was like the Tardis watching so many of them as they came out! The hotel director quickly appeared and offered us a suite opposite that we could use while they were finishing the works and the chief purser later contacted us to apologise for the inconvenience and offered us a premium bottle of wine to enjoy at dinner one evening by way of apology. Ultimately, we moved to the second suite as it took them a little longer than they anticipated to put everything in our original suite right, but the house keeping team took great care of us and moved all of our belongs across for us so there was very little inconvenience for us. I was very impressed with the way all the teams and individuals involved handed and resolved this issue and it was because of their professionalism and customer service that it was such a minor inconvenience.
Food is always an important part of my cruising experience and onboard Star Legend, there are four restaurants. Amphora which is the main dining room, Veranda used as the buffet restaurant for breakfast and lunch and the two speciality restaurants, Candles, which is the same venue as veranda and the newest addition of Cuadro 44.
On the first evening we dined in Amphora and I have to say all the crew were so welcoming and couldn’t have taken better care of us, particularly with the spot-on wine recommendations from our sommelier who presented us with a lovely wine he’s picked up just a few days ago while the ship was in Portugal that paired perfectly with my duck ragout pasta.
Being my first-time cruising with Windstar I didn’t know quite what to expect from the service and food, but I was very impressed with the quality of both. The crew are so warm and friendly, but attentive too and really do go the extra mile to ensure you are well looked after!
Breakfast in Veranda is a real treat with some lovely space that was well utilised outside! There was a great choice of pastries, fruits as well as fried food and an omelette station where the chef was making eggs to order. They also offer an a la carte menu with choices of pancakes, waffles and eggs benedict. Due to COVID regulation the buffets are slightly different now with everything being served for you rather than self-service, but this all ran smoothly and the crew were very keen to ensure you had enough of what you wanted so there was no shame in asking for a few extra hash browns!
For lunch you have a choice of either Veranda or the newly introduced Star Grill. At Veranda there is a buffet filled with salad options as well as some hot options that vary. They also have the live station, the highlight for us here was the muscle dish they prepared fresh to order. The kitchen can also prepare various a la carte lunch options too.
The Star Grill is certainly the place to come if you are looking for more casual comfort food. Each day they have a selection of 2 either meat or fish choices that guests can enjoy along with a smaller salad station too. The chicken wings we had were delicious! Just after the lunch service they also use this area for guests to grab a bite to eat if they come back later from a tour or excursion, one day it was a burger station where you could order a burger of your choice which the kitchen made fresh to order, another day it was quesadillas. Whilst we really enjoyed dining here, I think this restaurant has a lot of potential that it didn’t quite live up to, I suspect it will really come into its own once the ships can sail at full capacity again.
A real highlight for us was the famous deck BBQ and what a treat it was! The whole pool deck had been set up with a feast for all the guests onboard, the sangria was flowing and the atmosphere was just fantastic as we enjoyed suckling pig, paella, and all the trimmings sailing out of Malaga.
Our first speciality reservation of the cruise was in Candles, which uses the same venue as veranda at the aft of the ship. We dined outside with the views of Cartagena port keeping us company, it was really beautiful! The food certainly lived up to its speciality name too primarily offering fish and steak dishes. The parmesan roast potatoes that came as a side are a must order and I certainly recommend trying the trio of salts that they bring round, as I soon learnt, not all salts are made equal!
We certainly saved the best for last on our cruise – Cuadro 44 by ten-time Michelin-starred chef Anthony Sasso. This is the second of the ship’s new restaurants onboard as part of the star plus initiative and is a Spanish tapas style restaurant. We loved the décor in here that immediately transported you to Spain, and we loved the atmosphere with the open kitchen, and family style table. And I’ve not even got to the food yet. Wow every item on the tapas menu was delicious but my stand out were the paella croquetas, similar to an arancini ball and just delicious.
There was a variety of entertainment available throughout our cruise with a band and a duo who played at various venues throughout the ship daily and the Entertainment director who was also a classical singer and performed some evening shows as well.
We had a fabulous entertainment programme on one of our evenings in Malaga, where the ship arranged a local flamenco group to come onboard. It was an absolutely fantastic show with the group clearly very talented and passionate about what they do and we were all left completely mesmerised.
Another highlight followed the fun of the deck BBQ, the entire entertainment team were out in force with live music, a bit of signature Windstar Line dancing and it really was a party atmosphere, one of the only nights we really experienced.
And I can’t talk about entertainment without mentioning the Crew Show, I think the whole ship made their way into the theatre for this and rightly so. I had heard about this before I joined the ship and was worried it was going to be a bit tacky, maybe even cringy… I was definitely wrong! There are some incredibly talented crew onboard from singing and dancing and, without spoiling the surprise some acts left me sides hurting and crying with laughter.
Despite being a small ship, I think the entertainment team did a fantastic job, if you are looking for big west-end style shows then this isn’t the ship for you, but what they do so well in every aspect, is make it personal and intimate.
My initial trepidations I have to admit were all for nothing, yes there were minor inconveniences with various testing, rules and forms to fill in, but all of it was insignificant when the end result was to be back travelling the world, the best way you can, on a cruise. The sheer joy of being back emanates from the crew and is infectious and the same can be said about my fellow travellers, some enjoying their first ever cruise, some seasoned veterans but all just so delighted to be travelling once more.
Look out for our next blog which carries on the Windstar Cruises theme as Jenna from our Reservations team joins Star Legend in Barcelona
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