Get ready for a new era at Windstar Cruises. 

The small-ship cruise specialist is about to invest $250 million in major overhauls of the three motor ships that make up half its fleet. 

Windstar president John Delaney tells USA TODAY the Star Plus Initiative, as it’s being called, will bring new suites, restaurants, pool decks, retail spaces and expansive spa areas to the line’s 212-passenger Star Breeze and sister ships Star Legend and Star Pride.

All three of the vessels will be lengthened by around 20 percent as part of the initiative and also receive all-new, more-efficient engines. It’ll be the first time major cruise vessels have been lengthened and received new engines at the same time. 

“Lines have stretched ships before. But this is a little more complicated, as you can imagine,” Delaney says of the makeovers, which will take place starting next October at a shipyard in Italy. “It takes more time in the yard and also is more expensive.”

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While passengers will never see the new engines, they’ll have a major impact on the passenger experience by allowing the vessels to travel comfortably at a speed 3 to 4 knots faster than today, Delaney says. The ships currently cruise at a speed of around 12 knots. 

The faster speed will allow Windstar to improve and expand itineraries. 

“There are places that we would love to go today (that we can’t visit), places our guests have told us they want to go,” Delaney says. “A good example is New Zealand. We could do it today, but there’d be so many sea days to get down there, it wouldn’t really make sense. Now with the increased speed, we’ll be able to offer a normal (New Zealand) itinerary.” 

Delaney is most excited about the changes to the public areas of the ships, including the addition of all-new pool areas. The vessels currently have relatively small sun decks with only hot tubs and tiny counter-current pools. The overhaul will bring true pools and expanded sunning areas, Delaney says.

Other additions include new casual barbecue spaces on the ships near the pool areas, adjacent to the top-deck bars that are on all three vessels.

The ships also will get all-new fitness centers and spas on a much larger and more elegant scale than before. 

“When those ships were built, people didn’t expect a fabulous fitness center on a ship,” Delaney says. “Now they do.” 

Each of the ships will get a new alternative dining restaurant and see its casual Veranda Restaurant expanded to offer significantly more ocean-view seating. 

The overhauls will expand the capacity of each of the ships from 212 to 312 passengers. Overall, they’ll increase Windstar’s passenger capacity by 24 percent.

The work will be done at the Fincantieri shipyard in Palermo, Sicily, which earlier this year lengthened a Silversea Cruises ship by cutting it in half and adding a new midsection. One Windstar ship at a time will enter the facility for four months of work. The makeover of all three vessels will be done by November 2020.  

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