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Windstar Cruises - Star Pride Black Sea Cruise - Part I
My flights to Istanbul to join Windstar Cruises’ Star Pride
(formerly the Seabourn Pride) were fine, but did remind me how much I dislike
Frankfurt airport. My flight from Newark
to Frankfurt was delayed because of weather resulting in my having only one
hour to connect to my flight to Istanbul.
Of course it was decided to disembark the 747 via buses about as far
from the terminal as possible and then (and I kid you not) change the gate for
my flight…which was about as far as humanly possible from where the bus dropped
me…from Gate B26 to B20 to B46 to B32, so that we could take a bus to the
aircraft which was literally next to where I was originally dropped off
(A18). But, alas, I did make the
We stayed at Hotel Nena, which is a moderately priced hotel
right in the heart of the Sultanahmet area.
It is very comfortable with friendly staff and, if you have a Deluxe
room, sweeping views of The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and the Bosporus with a
If you are staying in
Istanbul for only a night or two and want to be smack in the middle of the
tourist areas (you are also walking distance to Topaki Palace, Blue Mosque,
Hagia Sofia, Yeribatan Saryari and the Hippodrome) it is a great price sensitive
Our included private transfer from Ataturk Airport (usually 30
Euros if you stay less than three nights) brought us to the hotel where we were
brought to a light, airy, lounge for a glass of wine and an introduction to the
area, providing us with maps and just
enough brochures; a nice touch.
After a short nap it was time to explore the area as the sun
was setting on a Saturday night. To be
sure this is a more touristic area, so right after The Grand Bazaar closes, the
rest of the shops close and the busy streets quiet. It provides for a lovely stroll. We stopped for a Turkish coffee for a bit of
energy and then wandered gazing at The Blue Mosque lit up at night and a bit of
people watching. We stopped at the
famous Pudding Shop for some kofte, borek, cicek and raki (flattened spiced
lamb meatballs, goat cheese filled fried flaky pastries, yogurt with cucumber
and dill along with a ouzo-like drink which you mix with water and ice). This was, of course, instead of what made The
Pudding Shop famous in the 60’s: opium,
poetry and travelers hooking up as they head off to, or were returning from,
After a couple of raki back at the Hotel Nena it was time
for bed as the hotel arranged a private guide for us the next morning.
Our day started with a beautiful buffet breakfast (included
at Hotel Nena) with a mixture of typical Turkish breakfast items and
Our guided tour of Istanbul started at 9:00 a.m. and didn’t
finish until 5:30 p.m. visiting (again) all of the main sites of Istanbul along
with a lunch of various Turkish meze and Iskender kebobs and lamb shish. Then it was a stroll through the Egyptian
(Spice) Market and then a ferry from near the Galata Bridge over to Uskudar on
the Asian side – giving us a nice view of Dolmabache Palace – and then the
brand new subway (Metro) which took us back to the Sultanahmet district. Our guide was OK, but confirmed to me that
other than waiting in lines, visiting these sites with a good guide book can be
just as, if not, more enjoyable.
The Dome of The Blue Mosque
After a very short rest, it was time for a special dinner at
the Ciragan Palace’s Tugra Restaurant where you can, if fortunate enough, dine
on the same marble terrace as the last of the Turkish sultans. This is pretty much the only thing that I am
doing on a luxury versus a premium basis.
The Ottoman cuisine was exceptional and the ambiance was wonderful. After a stroll around the beautiful grounds
it was back to our hotel for a nightcap and a chat on our balcony overlooking
the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia.
The next morning, before boarding the Windstar Star Pride,
it was off to The Grand Bazaar. I love
wandering the Old Bazaar as it still has a bit of the charm that the now more
touristic newer areas have. Then it was
off to the port.
Our boarding of the Windstar Star Pride was swift and
easy. Check-in was similar to when it was
a Seabourn ship: Ushered to the Lounge
where check-in was quick and friendly. Mimosas
(really orange juice with a splash were offered as we walked in. The Lounge is now refreshed with a blue color
theme and comfortable chairs. The
Reception area remains as it was…which was recently renovated and updated by
It was then off to our suite, 310 a French Veranda
suite. But before I could get up the
staircase, the hotel Manager, Nick Burger, greeted me. I was surprised; not
knowing that this former Seabourn Hotel Manager was back with Windstar. (He was involved in the transformation of the
ship…but more on that later.)
One thing I noticed on the way to our suite is the “artwork”. It is a matter of taste, but photos of
tropical beaches just don’t seem to fit with the itineraries of the Star Pride or
the overall elegance of this ship.
The color palette in the suite is, again, blue with beige
highlights and is quite pretty. Gone are
the ottomans that fit under the coffee table, but the blue sofa is quite
comfortable as are the two beige chairs with nice pillows.
Star Pride's Standard Suite Vanity
There are a few small changes, but most of
them are not significant.
-As we purchased the beverage package (required
for both passengers in a suite), the refrigerator was stocked with one each of
a variety of beers and soda, a mini-split of a modest white wine and cava. Next to the refrigerator is a rack with a
variety of miniature liquors and a mini-split of red wine. (These are restocked as needed.) These would be extra cost if the beverage
package was not chosen as in most other premium cruise lines.
-L’Occitane quality bath amenities are provided,
but gone is the fluffy rug and the thick towels; now being relegated to two
thin bath towels and two thin hand towels.
-As I mentioned on the Wind Surf, there is no
filler piece when the beds are configured as a queen. This, frankly, drives me nuts.
-While the Stateroom Directory has a menu for
room service, the hanger to put outside your door only allows for a continental
breakfast. The room service menu is
quite limited, but there is enough offered to satisfy most. (I rarely have room service and on this small
ship I can’t see it being a big issue…other than for those that want a full
breakfast served at a specified time without having to call in the morning.)
All in all it is a refreshed stateroom that works well and
is extremely comfortable.
We then headed down to Amphora (formerly The Restaurant) for lunch. Not much has changed other than lunch
was a buffet. The buffet was a mix of
various salads, cheeses, breads, cured meats, three hot dishes and a carving station. It was nicely presented and enjoyable. Bar stewards were quite attentive and, again,
having the beverage package made things quite seamless.
Now settled, it was time for a soak in “my” hot tub on the bow. The hot tub was fine and the deck furniture
the same as when it was the Pride. What
was not good was the lack of any towels.
I did not expect any bar service, but once the Star Bar server knew we
were there, bringing a refill was not an issue.
After a shower – with a new showerhead – it was time for
dinner in Amphora. The service is
friendly and definitely premium, not luxury, as one can see how Seabourn would
have three or even four people tending to your water, wine, silverware, ordering
and presentation where now two are tasked with the same. One benefit:
As Windstar places all of the silverware you might possibly need on the
table before you sit and Seabourn would provide/take away silverware dependent
on your course, the noise of the silverware drawers is all but absent. (I do miss the flare, but it is not a big
issue.) The wait staff, however, is very friendly with a “can do” attitude.
I figured I would order a challenging dish: prime rib and asked for it medium rare. It was perfect. (Meanwhile at the table behind me Windstar
delivered it as ordered and the guests sent it back nonetheless. No problem.
No issue. It was addressed
politely, quickly and with a smile.) My
water glass was filled regularly, but the wine glass was a bit of a
challenge. Desserts were OK, but overall
too mass market for me. We shall see how
it goes…not that dessert selections are going to make my cruise choice!
After dinner it was up to the Star Bar (formerly the Sky
Bar). It is still a great space; now
with its teak chairs covered with beige cushions and new upscale bar
One change: drinks are served in actual glasses unless
you are taking them to the whirlpools, in which case Windstar also uses plastic. Service is friendly and while they asked me
for my suite number, once they knew I had the beverage package it has been a
very seamless experience.
It was a very nice first day and the Pride remains one
comfortable and elegant ship.