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As we concluded our cruise from Dublin to Lisbon sailing on the 10-day Cuisines and Cultures of Spain, France and Portugal aboard the 106 all-suite Star Legend, our thoughts focused on all of the amazing, authentic and educational onboard and onshore experiences we’d had. Windstar Cruises, known for its prowess in the small ship cruise line market, knows how to deliver a unique product. Imagine a Michelin-rated lunch at a Relais & Chateaux property, the Chateau Cordeillan-Bages, located on the edge of France’s wine-growing municipality of Pauillac, or a vineyard visit in the Medoc wine region of Bordeaux. Throw in educational cooking and wine tasting events on board the ship, including dinner featuring signature recipes by James Beard-award winning chef Hugh Acheson, and wine pairing by sommelier Steven Grubbs, as well as Star Legend’s wonderfully curated small ship experience topped off with top-caliber service from a friendly Windstar staff, and you have a happy repeat-bookings client for life.

Chateau in the Medoc wine region. (Laurel Herman)

The Ship
Our suite, although the ship’s smallest size category at 290 sq. ft., provided more than enough space for two persons during the more than weeklong cruise. These accommodations feature a walk-in closet with a safe; a bathroom with marble tile, just-perfect lighting, cabinets and a shower/tub; a comfy bed; a dresser offering plenty of drawer space; and a separate sitting area with a couch, chairs, TV, bar and fridge. Larger suites go up to 581 sq. ft., notes guest services manager Ulf Rademaker.

All of the suites were refitted in April 2015, giving this yacht-style ship a contemporary feel with neutral tones of blue, cream and light-colored wood. The intimate, 212-guest Star Legend was just the right size for our taste. We loved its nimbleness as it was able to get into ports like Saint-Malo and Bordeaux, allowing guests to step off the ship and walk right into town instead of taking a tender—a real treat. During this James Beard-focused culinary cruise, we visited beautiful ports filled with historic treasures. Your clients will have ample choices in each port if they want to explore on their own or they can choose from a number of reasonably priced excursions that can be booked in advance. We also loved that the Star Legend never felt overcrowded—even though all of the 106 suites were booked—and there are nooks to escape to if your clients want a bit of “me” time. We enjoyed The Yacht Club at the front of the ship and atop, offering panoramic views of the ocean or ports of call. It’s the ideal place for guests to have a coffee, snack, read, chat with new friends or spend time just admiring the scenery. At the Compass Rose lounge, guests can enjoy live piano music, while the main lounge is the place for port talks or entertainment, depending on the evening. A top recommendation is the Wind Spa, with its array of treatments including massages, facials, and steam/sauna rooms; yoga or Pilates are offered most days, or passengers can participate in a Zumba-like dance class on deck. Take note on the commissionable items, which include pre- and post-cruise hotel land packages (5 percent); and pre-booked beverage package, travel protection, and pre-booked internet usage plans (all at 10 percent).

Chef Hugh Acheson on board the Star Legend.
Chef Hugh Acheson on board the Star Legend. (Laurel Herman)

Aah…the Food
Because one of Windstar Cruises’ pillars is its culinary offerings, it was a no-brainer when the cruise line announced its partnership with the James Beard Foundation to offer a Culinary Cruise Collection. The cruise we sailed on was one of the James Beard culinary cruises, featuring chef Acheson and his sommelier Grubbs, with cooking demonstrations and wine tastings during the sailing. The highlight for the foodies on board was a singular dinner and wine pairing during which guests dined on Acheson’s signature recipes of gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) with white bean puree, Lyonnaise salad with bacon vinaigrette, and cod with leeks, chorizo and pimenton potato puree, with tomatoes. That said, the entire culinary experience aboard this Windstar sailing for the duration of the cruise was nothing less than spectacular. The onboard Austrian chef, Klaus, made sure of that. For breakfast, lunch and dinner, there was a range of choices, the ingredients were fresh, reflecting the seasonal produce and the ports we visited, and the presentations were well done. Another plus for your client is the various onboard dining venues, including al fresco dining (weather permitting), to choose from at no extra charge.

The philosophy behind the James Beard Foundation is to provide fresh, locally sourced foods for everyone, and according to Kris Moon, v.p. of the foundation, the partnership with Windstar is working out very well because this is also a Windstar pillar. Each day, we had a choice of fresh foods sourced from the ports we visited: Saint-Malo oysters, La Rochelle mussels, in Bordeaux, fresh cod, and on and on it went throughout the cruise. Moon says that chefs are coming out of the kitchen to have an impact on their communities for change, improving food and pushing for the freshest ingredients. Moon adds that the partnership with Windstar is also in part due to the line’s appreciation of culture and experiences of place, the small ports where food is authentic. “We see this association with Windstar being a great partnership and continuing into 2018 and beyond,” says Moon. Another James Beard cruise departs on Jan. 20, 2018 on the Star Legend, sailing in Southeast Asia for the first time with another James Beard-affiliated chef. In fact, agents can count on a total of six epicurean-focused cruises to book for clients in 2018.

Travel advisor Barbara Agustin of FROSCH (winner of Recommend’s 50th Anniversary Sweepstakes) says, “the food on board is excellent and I was also pleased with the quality, choice and the presentation. Much better than a large ship experience.” Agustin notes that when agents sell a Windstar cruise to clients, that they need to remind them of the great advantage all of the line’s ships have of being able to get into the ports without having to take a tender. She also points to the complimentary Destination Discovery Event that was included with this cruise, where the guests visited a private chateau in Bordeaux with live music, local food and, of course, wines. Each Windstar cruise will have something special like this for its guests, and in addition to the Star Legend, sister ships Star Breeze and Star Pride offer the same type of small ship personalized experience with many other itineraries to choose from around the globe.

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