Guest Review Of Windstar’s Costa Rica & Panama Canal Cruise
Two years ago we cruised with Windstar on Star Breeze from Barcelona to Lisbon and fell in love with sailing the seas on this small luxury ship.
So, when we found out Star Breeze would be cruising Costa Rica and the Panama Canal we knew it would be an ideal ship to transit the Canal. Star Pride, Star Legend and Star Breeze all underwent $8.5-million makeovers to enhance their all suite accommodations, public spaces and dining rooms to create luxury cruising experiences for their guests.
Once aboard Star Breeze, it was easy to settle in to the yachting lifestyle again. Thankfully for us, there were no formal nights or set times for dinner. (There is a dining room dress code though.) We liked having the breakfast options of the hearty buffet or smaller offerings of granola parfaits and smoothies found in the Yacht Club each morning. The casual, outdoor Star Bar was a great gathering spot for a drink before dinner and to enjoy the onboard entertainers – two different duos who performed nightly. On the second day we were on a first-name basis with the crew and other guests and felt comfortable strolling to the ship’s Bridge to chat with the Officer of the Watch, who was always generous with information about the navigation system or questions we had. You really start to feel like you’re on your own yacht!
With only 212 guests, the power yacht experience feels intimate and authentic. On our Panama Canal cruise we experienced the magnitude of the man-made interoceanic waterway but also felt fully immersed in the nature that surrounded us. At each port, Star Breeze dropped anchor near small marinas or in picturesque bays where we were the only cruise ship and sometimes the only ship. Sporty inflatable Zodiacs, lumbering lifeboats, were used to transport guests from ship to shore and back.
The service is extremely personal at every level and the food was very good. Windstar played to its strengths by hosting an elaborate dinner barbecue one night on its outdoor decks and showcased the talents of its predominantly Indonesian galley team with a buffet lunch of authentic Indian cuisine one afternoon.
I hope you enjoy the trip recap below and please feel free to ask questions in comments below about cruising with Windstar. We’ve sailed on Wind Surf and Star Breeze twice.
Day 1 Embarkation: Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica
We hired our own driver to pick us up at our hotel in San Jose and take us to Puerto Caldera where we boarded the ship. We were traveling with a group of six so we opted to hire private shuttles and schedule some private tours throughout the cruise so we could customize our excursions and have our own transportation.
It only took about 20 minutes from the time we stepped off our shuttle until we inserted our newly-minted keycard into the door of our spacious suite and began to unpack while we sipped our welcome-aboard mimosas. With only 212 passengers, the boarding process is so fast and easy – no lines – just a quick check through security and you’re aboard.Our suite was a spacious 277 square-feet including a sitting area, desk, bar, flat-screen TV, walk-in closet and large bathroom with combo tub-shower and a generous supply of bath amenities from luxury label L’Occitane®. The bed and comforter were dressed in Egyptian cotton linens and robes and slippers were provided.
The public spaces are designed for intimate conversations or for groups who want to sit together. It’s so easy to meet people on a small ship and by the second day we recognized everyone.
There are plenty of lounges and sitting areas on the sun deck plus a jacuzzi and swim spa. We used the Fitness Center a few times which had ample space and equipment. The ship also has a Spa and Wellness Center. The spa offers a large array of services including facials, massages, mani/pedi, waxing, hairstyling, and tooth whitening. The Wellness Center under the direction of the Fitness Director provides complimentary daily fitness classes and personal training, body composition analysis and nutritional consultation for a fee.
Day 2: Quepos and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
The ship offered its own shore excursion to Manuel Antonio National Park but we pre-booked a private tour with our own professional tour guide prior to leaving home. The guides in the national park are professionals who undergo vigorous training and have a camaraderie that is evident on the trails. They are quick to share information with one another and inform fellow guides of animal sightings along the trail. Our private guide, Manuel, was outstanding and I would highly recommend him to anyone booking their own tour. He took some fantastic pictures for us though his telescope (the owl photo above was taken with my iPhone 6s through Manuel’s telescope.) Before becoming a guide, Manuel traveled all over Costa Rica to surf the best spots but was always intrigued by the plants, birds and animals he would find in the jungles near the camps where he stayed. His passion for surfing eventually gave way to his passion for nature so when he returned back from one of his surfing trips he decided to train to be a guide. Please contact us if you’d like information about booking with Manuel.
We stopped for lunch in Quepos and bid farewell to our driver because we decided to walk through town on our way back to the marina. For lunch I had ceviche and fried plantains with a cold Imperial Light – the local beer. And we had time for a margarita at the marina before we boarded a Zodiac back to the ship.
Day 3: Bahia Drake, Costa Rica
Windstar’s excursions at this port included horseback riding, ziplining and other nature tours but we decided to stay aboard and enjoy this small bay by kayak, paddleboard and snorkel and fins. Star Breeze has a Watersports Platform that opens at the aft of the ship and passengers have use all the sports equipment and water toys. If weather permits, experienced passengers can also waterski. We also spent the day enjoying the whirlpool and sun bathing on the deck.
Day 4: Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica
Puerto Jimenez, once a bustling little logging and mining town, is now home to just 1,780 residents. Located on the southeastern tip of the Oso Pennisula, the little town is a bit rustic with its dusty roads but the area is teeming with natural wonders. We had scheduled a private kayak excursion for our group of six and met up with our guide, Roberto, on the beach. We claimed our kayaks and began the 2-hour paddle on the calm waters of the Golfo Dulce. We tried snorkeling at our stopping point but visibility was poor and the water was very shallow.
The shore was muddy and not conducive to swimming so we headed back with our kayaks tied end-to-end and towed by Roberto’s little skiff. Back on land we enjoyed sandwiches and fruit provided by Roberto and watched parrots, macaws and monkeys in the trees above us.
Day 5: Isla Parida, Panama
We’ve been on cruises that have hosted beach barbecues for guests on private islands but none as fun and relaxing as Windstar’s barbeque on Isla Parida. There were plenty of lounge chairs for guests to enjoy the view as well as a full bar and an impressive buffet. The water sports team brought the kayaks, paddleboards and snorkel gear to the island so there were lots of activities to work up an appetite. A few guests made an impressive showing in a volleyball game with the crew and others showed off their waterskiing talents.
Day 6: Day at Sea
Our day at sea was filled with activities and leisure time. The galley tour on Star Breeze was one of the best galley tours I’ve experienced on a cruise ship in a long time. (Most big ships don’t even have them anymore.) The Chef gave a very detailed history of the culinary hierarchy of a kitchen staff and spent time answering guest questions and introducing his galley team who were busy prepping, baking and creating desserts for our dinner. We rounded out the day with a bartending class, sun bathing, relaxing (a lot of relaxing), visiting the Bridge (which is open to guests anytime the ship is underway) and attending the Crew Show. By now, we had gotten to know our waiters, bartenders, cabin steward and many other crew members so well that it felt like we were watching a family member perform.
Day 7: Panama Canal, Panama
The day of our Canal passage started early – 6:45 am early! While we were sleeping off the previous night’s revelry our crew was welcoming aboard the local pilot who would have full responsibility for navigating our ship through the Canal as well as a local expert who would provide commentary throughout the transit. It was our first time through the Panama Canal so when we heard the public announcement from the hallway that we would soon be entering the first lock we jumped out of bed, got dressed and hurried to the deck where we were greeted with urns of coffee and fresh pastries and many other guests who had risen earlier. The best part of being on a small ship was that there was plenty of room to move around and get a great view. It took just a few minutes to move forward to aft and check out different vantage points to watch the goings on. Traffic at the Canal can be unpredictable but we seemed to be entering each lock right on schedule. We had fantastic weather albeit a little windy. All guests received a personalized “Order of the Ditch” certificate to commemorate their Panama Canal passage.
Day 8: Disembarkation: Colon, Panama
We spent our last night anchored off the Port of Colon amid many other ships within site of the busy port activities. The next morning we docked and disembarkation was again fast and easy. We had a late afternoon flight from Panama back to San Diego so we scheduled our own transportation from the the ship to Panama City which allowed us a little extra time to sleep in. We were off the ship by 8:30 am.
If You Go:
For additional information on private yacht-style cruising with Windstar, contact a travel professional or Windstar Cruises by phone at 877-958-7718, or visit www.windstarcruises.com.