New ownership breathes $18 million in vessel refurbishment, new crew training, increased food quality and new corporate positions into Windstar
06-28-2012  By: Zachary-Cy Vanasse
Vanessa Lee, president, Cruise Strategies & Dan Chappelle, vice president, sales, Windstar Cruises
Vanessa Lee, president, Cruise Strategies & Dan Chappelle, vice president, sales, Windstar Cruises
A revamped and revitalized Windstar Cruises rolled into Toronto on Wednesday for training seminars and a cocktail reception with travel agents and industry partners.

“This isn’t your mother’s Windstar Cruises anymore,” Dan Chappelle, vice president, sales, Windstar Cruises, told

“Windstar has been out of sight, out of mind for a number of years. Our new ownership has invested $18 million in refurbishment of the vessels; called our ‘Star Treatment.’“

At present, the Wind Star has been completely refurbished to give it a classic yachting look and feel. The public areas have teak decks on the interior as well as the exterior, and the carpeting has been updated as have the corridors and the staterooms.

The Wind Surf and the Wind Spirit will see the complete refurbishment of public areas this fall, while the ships’ staterooms and corridors have already undergone the complete transformation.

Dan Chappelle, vice president, sales, Windstar Cruises
“For all intents and purposes, with the exception of the hull, everything is brand new,” said Chappelle.

The refurbishment of Windstar’s vessels isn’t the only change the cruise line has recently implemented. Chappelle informed agents that Windstar has improved training to its crew members, increased food quality; an executive chef has been hired to instruct and teach staff, the reservations department is now called vacation planning, and at the corporate level a number of positions, including Chappelle’s, have been created in order to bring new life and ideas into the cruise line.

“Quite frankly, we were in a turnaround situation,” Chappelle says of Windstar Cruises when he joined the organization last October.

At that time, Windstar Cruises had gone through a number of changes since Carnival sold the line to Ambassadors International in March of 2007, including Ambassador International’s filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April of 2011. The cruise line was then purchased by Anschutz Corp. in bankruptcy court before finally being sold to Xanterra, Windstar’s current owners.

“Our CEO, Hans Birkholz, has done a fine job of bringing the right people in and putting them in the right roles. My role, because of my history with the travel agent community, is to help re-establish and cement those ties. [Travel agents are] our largest piece of the distribution system and it is very important that we have the relationships with the agency community to continue to grow and deliver the product and, at the end of the day, help them make more money.”

In light of all the changes, one of the cruise lines’ main goals in yesterday’s training seminars was to remind Canadian travel agents that Windstar Cruises is still present and that it should be top of mind when they are selling luxury cruises.

“We are a niche product. We are luxury sailing yachts,” said Chappelle. “So the question I hear more often than any is: Who is the Windstar guest and how do I know who to sell Windstar to? And the answer is quite simple... [they are the clients who] are taking river cruises, who have already done small ship cruises. They are couples traditionally – active professionals – aged 45 to 65 on average, empty nesters, typically very well travelled; we are usually not their first cruise. They also expect to get what they paid for.”

Chappelle also noted that Windstar will soon be changing its travel agent commission tier structure.

“We need to be easier to do business with. As a result of that we are creating commissions tiers that are more achievable,” he said.

Windstar will continue to use a tier system for agent commissions, but will restructure it with, what Chappelle referred to as, “more realistic thresholds.”