Windstar Cruises Wind Surf Review
The romance and allure of the Seven Seas are alive and well aboard this five-masted sailing yacht.
Considering the size of Wind Surf, we expected certain limitations with the scope of meal service, and yet this never posed a problem on our seven-night voyage. Wind Surf did an excellent job with the dining—it was as good or better than what we receive on most of the mainstream lines. Even the room service menu was more extensive and varied than what most ships offer.
Breakfast and lunch are limited to room service and The Veranda, which offers both a modest buffet spread and a menu. Alternately, continental breakfast and sandwiches are available in the Yacht Club. For dinner, AmphorA served as the ship’s main dining room, while Stella Bistro offered an alternative, somewhat more intimate environment. Candles Grill was the ship’s steakhouse, located on the pool deck under the stars (weather permitting). For Stella Bistro and—especially—Candles, reservations are strongly advised. On one night of the cruise all of these venues were closed and a deck-top Barbecue Buffet Dinner was organized.
At all of Wind Surf’s restaurants there are plenty of two-seat tables, which meant we were never forced to share with other guests.
Wind Surf’s main dining room is an elegant venue that was completely revamped during the December 2012 renovation. Located on the Main Deck, forward, AmphorA is named for the tall, two-handled ancient Greek/Roman jars (there’s one displayed at the entry). Open only for dinner, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., there are no set seating times. But since AmphorA can seat 216 guests—roughly two-thirds of Wind Surf’s capacity—there is almost never a wait for seating (including the ship’s two other restaurants virtually every guest can be seated at one venue or another at the same time). Further, there are 26 two-top tables, so we never had to share.
Amid sophisticated décor AmphorA has well-spaced tables, beautifully set with handsome gold glass chargers. Alas, the chargers had an uneven surface and they remained on the table for the starter course, which meant our appetizer dishes rocked and rattled as we ate. But the chargers were removed for other courses, so this is a minor quibble.
The menu changes nightly, offering eight starters and six or seven entrées. Mains that were always available were grilled or broiled sirloin steak, chicken breast, salmon and penne marinara. Appetizers we enjoyed included fried calamari served with a garlic-lemon aioli; an antipasto platter with meats and grilled vegetables; a Portobello mushroom gratin stuffed with crab; the pear and goat cheese salad with a slice of prosciutto; a “tunatini”—raw ahi tuna marinated and served in a martini glass; and a hearty lobster bisque with a good amount of flesh poking through. On the other hand, we found salads to be fairly rudimentary.
For entrées we like the sautéed pork tenderloin and we thought the prime rib was a good, juicy cut. The wild forest mushroom and truffle risotto was excellent, perfectly cooked, while the surf and turf one night included a small, succulent lobster tail and petite filet mignon, also nicely done. The chicken piccata was in an egg batter, heavier than we are accustomed to, but it was satisfying. Among the standout desserts was the After Eight Surprise, a mint mousse atop chocolate sponge cake, and a scrumptious banana cream pie. The chocolate lava cake and a warm pear Tatin were unsurprising but delicious.
Located on the Star Deck with tables both inside and out, this was Wind Surf’s main breakfast and lunch option. There was both a modest buffet selection and a menu available, with much of the food cooked to order at an outdoor grill right at midship. We found most of our meals here to be just fine, and we enjoyed eating here except for the afternoon when construction immediately below carried on until multiple guest complaints brought a senior crewmember to stop it.
At breakfast, the buffet selection included bagels with smoked salmon and fixings, Greek yogurt and honey, packaged cereals, a nice selection of sliced fruit plus stewed (compote) fruits such as pear and peaches. Hot buffet offerings included scrambled eggs, bacon (soft or crispy), oatmeal and cream of wheat, sausage (chicken or pork), fried potatoes, etc. But we were happier ordering off the menu, which included a variety of eggs Benedict-style preparations (California, Spanish, Messina), plus poached eggs over corned beef hash or salmon hash, a breakfast burrito, or omelets to order with hash browns.
The lunch selection changed daily and would include cold choices from the buffet such as seafood, curried chicken or pasta salad, cold cuts, cheese and fruit, marinated vegetables. There was a hot and cold soup of the day—it might be papaya bisque or gazpacho for cold, Portuguese bean or corn chowder for hot. Among the hot buffet items were pork schnitzel, salmon escalopes, baklava spiced lamb, fish and chips, or chicken satay with spicy peanut sauce. But the menu also offered a half-dozen entrées cooked to order, such as Black Forest sandwich, leg of lamb, fontina and mushroom burger, a pasta of the day such as fettuccini carbonara or bami goring with pork and veggies, and a Caesar salad with a topping of the day like seafood or roasted chorizo.
The main alternative to AmphorA for the evening meal was this equally attractive dining room located on the Star Deck, just forward of the Veranda. Open only for dinner, there was no surcharge for dining here. Whereas AmphorA offered Continental fare, Stella Bistro has a French menu—actually two, which alternated. Although reservations were suggested, with 82 seats for Wind Surf’s 312 passengers, there were ample tables for all guests to dine here at least once. Like AmphorA, the fixed tables were nicely spaced—the smaller room was quite comfortable and well appointed.
Among the starters we tried, the Napoleon of portobello mushroom was a treat, a goat cheese soufflé was satisfying, and escargots bourguignon was done in classic style. The salads here were more to our liking than what we had at AmphorA—a simple arugula salad with marinated boiled potatoes and a wedge of goat cheese, and frisée with shredded duck breast. There were also soups: bouillabaisse, lobster bisque, classic French onion soup.
For entrées we tried the roasted chicken “grand mère,” a succulent and crisp quarter bird with rosemary, lemon and a red wine sauce—wonderful. The coquille St. Jacque Provençale offered a quartet of scallops on the half shell with a dollop of eggplant mousse; the dish was fine, but somewhat small for a main course. By contrast, the slow braised osso bucco appeared in a bowl like a yin and yang of polenta wrapped around the meat—a decadent and hearty dish.
The dessert menu trotted out predictable but welcome standards such as tarte tatin, crepes Suzette and chocolate fondue. We enjoyed these, but the cheese plate was our favorite, selected from a cheese trolly with accompaniments such as dried apricots, cashews and walnuts.
We so wanted to love Candles Grill, an al fresco steakhouse sitting next to the pool, on the aft deck. We arrived just before sundown and the open-air setting was unique—one can certainly take in the fresh air and sunset colors, with the waves lapping gently at the boat. But there’s no kitchen here, just the grill, and so most of the food (if not everything) that is not grilled is pre-prepared; alas, this constrains the results. That said, if we were lucky to be dining with a friend on their personal yacht and this was the meal they offered, we wouldn’t have any complaints. But compared to what Wind Surf does at its other dining venues, Candles doesn’t seem to aim very high.
The seafood cocktail, served in a martini glass, was fine, as was the Caprese salad (what could go wrong?). The Caesar salad was garnished with a healthy anchovy specimen. We ordered the lamb chops, which were serviceable, while the New York strip was not the best cut. Other entrée options included filet mignon and marinated sea bass (both of which looked better than what we had). Despite the food being our least interesting meal aboard Wind Surf, the setting was magical—we’d still rate this venue as a don’t-miss, but don’t forget to bring a jacket or wrap.
We were seated at a small table set against one of the Jacuzzi tubs. There are four of these, and we’d recommend requesting a table along the outer railings. But don’t be too choosy: On a seven-day cruise there are barely enough tables (23) available for all guests to dine here once, and not enough if inclement weather shuts the venue down for a night. Reservations are strongly recommended on embarkation day, and for a night early in the cruise (in case of weather). Select the day and time of your seating carefully. It’s nice to be dining at Candles while under sail, but the tables are all exposed to the wind; an evening with a late departure from port might be better.
One night of our cruise was dedicated to the top-deck Barbecue Dinner. A tasty buffet was set out at dusk and Wind Surf nuzzled up to the base of the erupting volcano Stromboli. The skies darkened and we were mesmerized by incandescent lava sparking from the summit like a Roman candle.
The spread included salads and appetizers such as roasted marinated vegetables, poached shrimp, hearts of palm salad, grilled eggplant and chipotle corn salad, avocado stuffed with seafood, and various breads. Hot dishes included moussaka, spanakopita, pineapple fritters, baked potatoes, paella, and an Asian style suckling pig with applesauce. At the grill we could order jerk chicken drumsticks, wahoo fillet, baby pork ribs, lamb loin chops and lobster tails.
No one went away hungry—in fact, overall the food was better than what we experienced at Candles. The tables were covered and napkins were linen, and there was live music. All other venues were closed on this evening, and in the event of rain, the event is moved indoors.
In addition to serving coffee, the Yacht Club is an alternative buffet option for quick meals, though most of it is served cold. Although only a small percentage of Wind Surf's guests seemed to use this spot, there are only just a handful of tables, and we found them full for periods during breakfast and, especially, lunch. Fortunately, few tend to linger long, so finding an open seat wasn’t too difficult the times we were here.
At breakfast the selection included individual plates of fruits, cereals including muesli and low-fat granola, yogurt and berries served parfait-style, and a nice selection of rolls, such as organic tomato and basil or organic carrot and sultanas, served with mango-lime or apricot-nectarine jam. At lunch there were nine different sandwiches, along with a soup of the day. We took our sandwich ashore with us one day and made our own island picnic.
We were pleasantly surprised by the breadth of Wind Surf’s 24-hour room service selection. The only drawback is that there was no real table for dining on in our cabin, just the built-in desk, at which only one person could eat at a time.
The breakfast menu, available from 6 a.m. till noon, included hot items such as eggs Benedict, scrambled eggs, oatmeal, French toast, and pancakes, all of which could be ordered with sides of sausage, bacon, ham or hash browns. Cold fare included a fruit plate, various juices, bread, rolls and pastry, and a smoked salmon and bagel feast.
We called to request breakfast one morning and the order was delivered just 19 minutes later. Food arrived topped with plastic lids or with plastic wrap. Our order included eggs Hollandaise with sides of hash browns, and an omelet that was folded with peppers, onions, tomato, cheese and bacon. Both arrived hot, and the taste was just fine.
There are two menus for the rest of the day—the main one being available from noon to 10 p.m. On it, we found everything from crudités with ranch dressing and vegetable samosas, to burgers, grilled chicken sandwiches and Cobb salad. Entrées included grilled New York strip, sesame-crusted tuna, Thai chicken curry and vegetable lasagna. The short list of desserts featured apple pie, chocolate cake and a cheese plate. The late night menu, available from 10 p.m. till 6 p.m., was streamlined and included a few sandwiches, salads, Bircher muesli and popcorn, along with the same dessert selection.
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