|Star Pride // Photo by Windstar Cruises|
Windstar Cruises will sail new Asian itineraries this winter with Star Pride, the recently acquired and renovated ship that was the former Seabourn Pride. The cruises will call at ports in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and China.
The ship is one of three such motorized 212-passenger mega-yachts to be acquired from Seabourn Cruise Line (www.seabourn.com); the others will enter the Windstar fleet in 2015.
Star Pride has been recently renovated, with all public spaces, dining venues and suites updated. Clients can expect to see new furnishings, upholstery, lighting, wall coverings, carpeting, ceiling finishes, window treatments, and floor coverings.
Additionally, Star Pride is introducing the line's new Destination Suites concept. Each Owner’s Suite showcases a signature Windstar destination with locally themed decor and artwork. Windstar plans to eventually have Destination Suites fleet-wide.
What will Star Pride and the other two former Seabourn vessels do for the line? Would it have offered new Asian voyages without them?
“The new ships added the capacity we needed with the greatest potential to fit our luxury yacht-style of cruising with fewer than 300 passengers,” emphasized Joe Duckett, vice president, sales and marketing, Windstar Cruises. “We could not offer an experience in Asia without more yachts.”
He said any of the line’s vessels including the sailing ships would have created an ideal experience in Asia, but “the new power yachts are a little faster.”
What does Duckett see as a top "draw" with the new Asian schedule? He points to the “Singapore & Malay Peninsula" itinerary.
“This 10-day, roundtrip Singapore voyage is an incredible blend of vibrant cultures, cuisine and religions, including Malay, Indian and Chinese,” said Duckett, noting that Fodor's recognized it as one of its Top Ten New Cruise Itineraries in 2014.
|Halong Bay, Vietnam // Photo by Windstar Cruises|
Small Ship Perks
Star Pride’s smaller size – compared with larger ocean ships – has benefits for clients heavily focused on "the destination."
For example, when the ship is slated to visit Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam, it will dock downtown. Larger ships typically must dock about two hours away.
In Hong Kong, Star Pride also will dock downtown, giving guests stunning views of the skyline and easy access via the Victoria Ferry Terminal. The ship also will sail closer to the coast -- providing more scenic sailing than some big ship itineraries.
At Halong Bay in Vietnam, home to 3,000 limestone islands, Star Pride will sail alongside traditional “fishing junks,” through lagoons and by floating villages.
“Our new cruisetours are also getting a lot of attention,” Duckett said. “We recently introduced these three-day land tours on a couple of our Asia itineraries to offer an even an even greater immersion in the destination.”
Windstar’s new “City of Temples” tour package, for example, includes flights, hotel, meals and expert guided tours of Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
|Myanmar // Photo by Windstar Cruises|
Who are the best guests for the new Asian itineraries on Star Pride? Duckett said Windstar’s guests are well-traveled, luxury cruisers. They’re typically seeking a one-of-a-kind travel experience with exceptional personal service and smaller ports of call.
They're also looking for a vacation “without the formalities offered by many of the ultra-luxury travel suppliers,” Duckett said.
Travel Agent caught up with Bob Sharak, a former CLIA executive and consultant, who is president at Bob Sharak & Associates. He's sailed previously on Windstar and was onboard Wind Surf in the Baltic last week.
Among his observations? “The smaller ship provides a chance for camaraderie – to meet interesting people…and it’s easy to find a quiet space when you want ‘alone time,’” Sharak said.
He also emphasized that the line's onboard aura is akin to a private club where the staff know the guest’s name and preferences but people can “just relax and be themselves in a casual setting.”
Agents might talk to clients about this lack of formality, as well as showcase the hands-on experiences planned for the new Asian voyages.
For example, in Southeast Asia, the Star Pride’s chef will take guests along for shopping in local markets. One favorite market is Hoi An, Vietnam, known for its fresh Basa fish.
In Panang, Malaysia, guests will tour a local spice market on a coastal hillside – collecting herbs and spices before learning how to use them at the garden’s cooking school.
On the adventure side, Windstar offers a fleet of complimentary bicycles for guests to use. Clients who so desire might pedal out for a tour of Qui Nhon, Vietnam.
Star Pride also has a water sports platform, so guests enjoy water activities right off the ship. These include stand-up paddleboarding in Langkawi, Malaysia and snorkeling in Phuket, Thailand. Waterskiing and wakeboarding are also offered.
|Downtown Singapore // Photo by Windstar Cruises|
Travel Advisor Feedback
With more than 35 years of experience in selling cruises and travel, Craig Satterfield, expert cruise counselor, SureCruise.com, Las Vegas, NV, loves selling Windstar and has for a long time.
He’s excited about the addition of Star Pride and the other two motorized small ocean vessels: “I think it is a perfect price point since they are lower than Seabourn and the others but offer a small ship experience.”
He’s sold one voyage on one of the motorized ships to the Canary Islands next year and will talk to clients about Windstar's new line-up as a great new option for those who want luxury but don't have the budget for an ultra-luxury product like Seabourn.
Also sailing on Windstar last week was travel advisor Carol Mackay, cruise and groups specialist, Travel Professionals International, Vancouver, BC, who described her Baltic voyage as "a superior product."
“What an experience!” she told us. “The passengers were mostly a surprise." Of the 280 or so onboard, she assessed that about 50 percent were in their mid-40s to mid-60s. But she also noticed a large contingency of much younger folks including at least two families with young children as well as many young adults, "all who seem to be enjoying themselves immensely.”
A large number of first-time cruisers were also sailing, another surprise to Mackay, who prior to her cruise wouldn't have thought the product and itinerary necessarily would have fit with that audience.
As for the cruise itself, Mackay saikd the food was great, all restaurants were at no extra charge and the crew was second to none with genuine smiles. “They’re not only happy to but actually are encouraged to interact personally with the passengers, which in all honesty is a refreshing change from the mass market cruise product," Mackay said.
She was pleased to see the captain spending much time on deck chatting up the passengers and noted that he ate most days in the buffet restaurant and main dining room. Other officers did the same. “The captain was even on one of our shore excursions in his ‘street clothes’ acting like a tourist” and mingling with the passengers, she noted.
While Mackay described the onboard entertainment as “pretty basic,” with music and dancing in two different venues plus a few passenger and crew fun interactive events, she said her voyage was also port intensive.
“So passengers were very busy throughout their entire time ashore, and most evenings the entertainment outlasted the passengers,” she noted. “Most passengers were just happy with sitting and relaxing.”
|Myanmar // Photo by Windstar Cruises|
What’s important for agents to consider when pitching this type of vacation to clients? “Many potential guests will probably not be as familiar with the destination as they are with Europe or the Caribbean, says Duckett. As a result, “they will look to agents who understand the destination or who specialize in the region.”
He suggests agents immerse themselves in Asian destinations via Web research, videos, fam trips, books and so on. That allows the agent to feel comfortable when promoting exotic voyages. It’s reflects the travel agent’s role as a “trusted advisor,” he emphasizes.
Mackay talked with many Windstar employees onboard about the new motorized ships. She said they were cautiously excited about the three new ships, and even those who best liked the sailing ships, were happy the company was expanding.
“One crew member was behind us on the gangway at the end of a day in port and proudly and excitedly pointed to the Seabourn Legend (soon to be in the Windstar fleet) docked behind us and exclaimed, ‘That's my new ship, and I can't wait to get on her,’” she said.
“Personally, I feel that the three Seabourn ships are a great acquisition,” said Mackay, stressing that will open up more itinerary options. “Yes, the passengers will be giving up the perception of the ‘romance’ of the sails, but gaining many more things that Windstar currently cannot provide including new and exciting ports of call,” she said.
Revenue & Trade Assistance
Members of Windstar's preferred consortia partners are paid based on sales production from 12 percent to 16 percent commission. “The revenue potential is tremendous and Windstar's average commission is substantial,” said Duckett.
Plus, “Asia is a destination with a higher average fare than most of our regions.” He noted that agents who add on three-day cruisetour generate even greater revenue and provide their clients with one of the best values in Asian luxury travel.
“Combine that with the fact that many Windstar guests tend to travel with friends - the potential earnings for the agent grow exponentially,” Duckett stressed.
Given the fleet expansion, Windstar is now adding staff in all areas of the marketing and sales organization, according to Duckett: “We're also investing in technology, training and new capabilities to provide great service and support to our travel partners. We have a great story, and we will continue to become easier to work with and sell.”
Sharak said he believes Star Pride and other motorized vessels joining the Windstar fleet will add a new reason to cruise for new and repeat guests.
As for the new Asian voyages, Satterfield believes they're "a really good addition to the Windstar selling inventory.” He hasn't sold any as yet, but then showed his optimism by re-emphasizing one word -- "yet."
For a look at Windstar in Asia, go here: www.windstarcruises.com/destinations/asia