Windstar Cruises, a line that operates three unique small cruise ships with computerized sails, has suddenly become the largest of the small ship (under 300 guests) operators with the announcement that it has purchased the three smaller and older Seabourn ships, the Pride, the Legend, and the Spirit. The delivery of the 208 passenger ships will occur over the course of the next 24 months with renovations and “re-branding” preceding deployment of the Pride in April of 2014 and the Spirit and Legend in 2015. Until the turnover, the vessels will continue to sail as part of the Seabourn fleet.
Windstar has, in past years, gone through some changes. It was owned by a river boat company and then purchased by its current owners, Xanterra Parks & Resorts. The company will now substantially increase in size to 1230 berths and likely deployments in Asia and South America. Windstar had already announced it was returning to Tahiti, a tough place for a cruise line to make money because of the cost and operational challenges of getting sufficient airlift.
The new company, based in Seattle, will be named Global Windstar. It is interesting to note that, prior to its purchase of Windstar, Xanterra had never been in the cruise business. The company operates parks and resorts, several adventure travel companies, and the Grand Hotel in Tusayan, Arizona.
Seabourn, for its part, has announced that it will likely launch a new 450-Guest ship that is identical to the three newbuilds, the Seabourn, Odyssey, Quest, and Sojourn. There are any number of operational benefits to having four identical ships, including the ability to make significant purchasing savings, the ability of loyal passengers to feel equally about each ship int he fleet, and, not to be understated, the ability of the cruise line to train travel agents as to ship logistics and cabin categories. So Seabourn looses 624 older berths on ships that are less efficient and gains one new ship with a capacity of 450.
Windstar has a lower price point than Seabourn and is not an inclusive cruise line. In fact, Windstar has always had enviable itineraries and provocative pricing. But onboard charges have been among the highest in the industry. The Windstar makeover will be interesting to watch and consumers may find some attractive price inducements to try the “new” ships. We have always felt that Windtar’s European officers working with a largely Philipino and Indonesian crew is a combination many lines, now employing primarily Eastern Europeans, observe with envy.