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David Eisen, Cruise Editor

December 24, 2007 By: Travel Agent Central Contributor Travel Agent

I admit it: I like small ships. That is why the Wind Surf gets my endorsement for my favorite cruise of 2007. Yes, it might not be one of the newer ones, but even old dogs learn new tricks. The ship completed a five-week renovation last December called "Degrees of Difference," which resulted in updated public spaces, staterooms and amenities. Before I begin to gush too much, here are excerpts from what I wrote about the ship in March.

Unlike many cruise lines, bigger is not better in the case of Windstar Cruises. Sold by Carnival Corp. to Ambassadors International, Windstar maintains a three-ship fleet, of which the Wind Surf is the largest, at only 312 passengers.

While small in stature, the ship comes up big in delivering memorable guest experiences. A recently completed drydock refined the ship even more, while maintaining the intimate atmosphere that appeals to its legions. Travel Agent had the recent pleasure of joining the Wind Surf on a seven-day northbound Caribbean cruise out of Barbados, as the ship showed off its new gear.

Right away you know there is something different about a Windstar cruise: The ships have sails! Maybe not so much an anomaly, but cruises these days conjure images of roaring turbines, not Dacron decked masts. The Wind Surf has engines too, but when the breeze is just right, Captain Tim Robbins will cut the motors and allow the tradewinds to do all the work. A strong wind will propel the ship along around nine knots.

I, for one, was taken by the Wind Surf's comfortable small-ship ambiance. If you are into the theatrical and grandiose, a Windstar cruise is not for you. A Wind Surf voyage can best be described as elegantly laidback, with everything and anything still at your fingertips. This laissez-faire approach is part of the ship's culture: there are no formal nights, nor rarely will you see a gentleman in a jacket. Also, be warned that any convivial atmosphere usually dies down well before 11 p.m. The ship does have a small casino just off the lounge, but on one of the evenings I was there, only about four people were playing.

The Wind Surf's five-week enhancement period, dubbed Degrees of Difference, finished in December and resulted in new onboard amenities and updated public spaces and staterooms. Most impressive is the new Yacht Club, which serves as the ship's multi-functional social hub; it's a coffee bar-cum-library-cum-computer lounge. Two luxury suites on the bridge desk were also added.

Degrees of Difference really did make a difference in the ships' staterooms. It's amazing what can be done with such limited space; all rooms come with flat-screen TVs, DVD players and Bose SoundDocks for iPod Nanos, which can be rented for the entire week, fully loaded with songs. For me, nothing was better than renting a DVD from the Yacht Club's extensive library after a tough day in the sun. Bathrooms were also redone, fitted with new fixtures such as open glass shelving, and outfitted head-to-toe with L'Occitane products.

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