In a way, Windstar Cruises has been through hell and back, a couple times. Changing management commonly sends shock waves through any organization as rank and file employees stand by, waiting to see what filters down to street level. Like the loss of a loved one, divorce or a career change, not knowing what comes next can bring debilitating stress to an otherwise smooth sailing operation. In the case of Windstar Cruises, a tiny cruise line with tiny ships, the effect of management changes could have been magnified. Another round of management changes at Windstar Cruises might have created a great big blob of ick that resonated with no one. Instead, new Windstar direction is moving forward with a talented cast in key positions, respecting where the line came from while charting a clear and exciting course to the future.
This could have easily been the story of a cruise line that sailed aimlessly through time. The reason for surviving at all: the will of hearty past guests and hard core staff members who would not give up. Indeed concern of both groups are an obvious top priority of new President John Delaney. Rightfully so, the motorized ships of Windstar Cruises were once the Yachts of Seabourn. Delaney was with Seabourn at that time. There is history to be considered.
With those ships came passengers loyal not to Seabourn but to the unique experience a 212-passenger ocean ship brings. Past guests typically make up half the passenger manifest on any given Windstar sailing. A significant issue with those loyal fans: over time, inaccurate records were kept of past passenger sailings. Probably not a priority under previous regimes, past guests were taken for granted.
One of the first significant moves made by Delaney: take their word for it, get their history straightened out and move along. Talking to past guests on a recent Windstar Pride sailing through the Panama Canal and Costa Rica, they were impressed. ‘It’s the right thing to do’ said my neighbor in the cabin next door. Overheard in public spaces ‘finally, someone who ‘gets it’ about us’. Done, at least on this particular sailing which happened to be a first annual President’s Cruise, stocked full of Windstar Cruises management staff.
On board also, another Seabourn alum: Chris Prelog, Vice President of Operations. At the time Prelog joined Windstar, Delaney noted “Our top-notch ship and shore-side teams look forward to working with Chris to bring to life the perfect pairing of classy yet casual, which is ideally suited to Windstar’s true small ship experience and our iconic sailing and all-suite yachts.” Interestingly, these are not the hopeful words of what might be. The existing Windstar experience is already ‘classy yet casual’, with room to grow. What they do right now nails a whole lot of critical areas other cruise lines fail miserably at.
Fresh hot bread is one of those bullet list items. Bread baskets hit the table in the main dining room with an assortment of bakery delights created minutes, not hours, before the meal. “You can do that on ships with just 200 people” is a statement commonly thrown around to explain some of the marvelous things going on at Windstar. It makes sense too and is seen throughout the sailing experience, right now.
The Hotel Director greets each and every passenger who walks on the ship. You can do that with just 200 people.
We’re going through the Panama Canal on a day-long event that begins early in the morning and lasts until late at night. Just 200 people on board make it an intimate experience.
Along the way, just 200 people going ashore makes for a private island experience like no other.
It was about right here that I thought “Hmm, this is very nice as it is. I wonder what the future will bring to Windstar.” Going back through notes made prior to sailing, background research on a cruise line I had no personal experience with, I found the answer. Hidden in a press release announcing the addition of Guenter Steinbrunner to the position of Corporate Hotel Manager came a guiding principle that should serve the cruise line and fans of cruise travel quite well.
“At Windstar we believe it takes talent to create talent.” said Prelog reflecting what it would take to realize president Delaney’s vision of growing Windstar, including acquiring and/or building new ships. I like that word. Talent. It comes from the same place as ‘creativity’. In the right hands, combining the two has been the rocket fuel that propels organizations forward in a very positive way.
Prelog further explained that “Building a team of consummate hospitality professionals lets our loyal cruisers, new guests and travel partners know that we are a customer-first operation, dedicated to creating those magical moments that perfectly match our legendary and luxurious small ships and deliver the experience that dream vacations are made of.”
Ok, if there was any doubt up until this point that last part of that last line speaks volumes “deliver the experience that dream vacations are made of.” Now they’re singing our song.
Interestingly, this was a President’s Cruise yet I have not mentioned new president Delaney all that much in this first of a series reflecting on my Windstar experience. That’s deliberate. Delaney shares a quality we see universally in good leaders. When the happy spotlight heads in their direction, they quickly divert notoriety to those in their organization that brought it in the first place.
That’s a solid starting place.
Wrap it up and tie it with a bow: Windstar is on the right track.
Next, we look a bit deeper into the organization, the current experience and what is likely to be on the horizon.