My husband and I recently took a Windstar Cruise to the French Riviera — their “Treasures of Southern France” itinerary to be exact, which sailed from Nice to Barcelona.
While the cruise line has been reporting that they have renovated their ships, it appears to be mostly a soft-goods renovation as yes, the rooms had newer bed linens and carpeting and the dining room and public areas looked different (the dining room was actually quite nice), but the stateroom furniture was all the same and the ship is really starting to show some wear. In fact, our cabin steward told us they were planning more renovations and you could see a lot of signs of wear and tear throughout. Our stateroom carpeting was already quite dirty and the bathroom doorway showed signs of rust. While the crew seems to be busily working on repairs all of the time, the ship needs a major overhaul — including on the air conditioning and plumbing systems which weren’t quite up to par. The available Internet service (for a fee) was also quite poor as the steward on board basically told us it wasn’t worth our money and we should just go ashore and use the free Internet service available at the local cafes — which is what all of the crew does.
There is so much to share about this Windstar voyage that it is difficult to figure out where to begin. Let’s start with the food. While dinners in the dining room were tasty, they were a bit disappointing as there were few local specialties and some of the choices seemed wrong for cruising in the South of France. To be honest, as a past Windstar cruiser, it seems as if their menu is the same no matter where in the world you happen to be. And perhaps worst of all is that here we are cruising in the South of France, and there wasn’t one French wine on the menu! Napa wines were pretty much all they had.
Breakfast on the ship got really old, really fast. Every day one could expect to find a different version of Eggs Benedict. A waffle or pancake was also on the menu in addition to some meats and cheeses. To be honest — the meats looked a bit “bad” every morning. I’m not sure about you, but brown Prosciutto doesn’t look that good to me.
Lunches were even worse. Their standard luncheon menu was a hot dog, a hamburger, and then a specialty like a greasy Gyro or a Tex Mex Burger or Bean Burrito. We were in the South of France and this is the best you could do? One day they had a barbecue up on deck. It was 90+ outside and they were grilling mostly hot dogs and hamburgers. If you asked, you could get a piece of salmon or chicken, but the biggest fright were the mayonnaise salads sitting out in the warm temperatures. I was afraid to eat almost everything. We ate ashore most days because we wanted to try the delectable fresh fish, vegetables, and more. The one shining moment in all of this was the service. From the cabin steward to the waiters, the service on board was excellent. The dining room staff was incredibly organized and adept at what they did. That Windstar had down right.
While we docked in Nice where everyone embarked, we tendered in Cannes and then also in Sanary Sur Mer. After that we docked in some horrible commercial port in Marseilles, and then also in Port Vendres and again in Palamos. Each of these ports was noisy and not in the best parts of town. Here you were trying to enjoy breakfast on deck and there were local workers jack hammering just down below. Clearly, whomever had selected those ports either had never been, wasn’t aware there was work going on, or just didn’t care.
Even worse was Gonzalo the Destination Manager on board. He was not at all familiar with the region. While my main goal in taking this cruise was to see the lavender fields in Provence — an image which Windstar themselves promotes in association with this tour — when I boarded and asked Gonzalo which tour I could take to see these fields, he told me “the fields are everywhere and any tour will take you there.” He then tried to sell me on a $1,500 private car and driver tour which was out of my price range.
I later booked two of the excursions — the first to Aix en Provence. About 15 minutes before this tour was to depart, Gonzalo pulls me aside, tells me there are no lavender fields in bloom at this time of year, and offers me my money back for my tour. I took the tour anyway since I was already up early and dressed, but it was a terrible disappointment. We saw nothing and the tour itself was really bad. Upon my return I spoke to a friend who does small private tours of France and she told me there are, indeed, lavender fields everywhere in bloom. Apparently Windstar just didn’t offer any excursion that took you there.
While Windstar tries to sell its cruising as “180 Degrees From Ordinary,” the reality is that this is a mass-market cruise. Those who are happy to have wines from California and hamburgers for lunch will love this cruise. If you are journeying here to experience the lovely local specialties — and want experiences to buy a fresh baguette from a bakery to nibble on the way down the street, walk the stalls of the local market and eyeball the impressive tomatoes and flowers, and sample the local wines — you are much better served staying on land and driving yourself from town to town.
I suppose as a New Yorker and a luxury traveler, I have higher expectations than most, but when you are traveling on a cruise with a $3,000 price tag per person, you have certain expectations and this cruise fell far below them. Worse yet, when I complained to Windstar about all of these issues, they told me they needed to work on retraining and offered me a ridiculously low discount on a future cruise with them. As if I really like to throw good money after bad….