Windstar Offers a Nautical Treasure Hunt as Cruises Cast Off

By Kyle O'Brien 

Cruise ships that have been docked because of the pandemic are setting sail again and promoting people getting back on the high seas, as is evidenced by Celebrity Cruises’ new campaign.

Windstar Cruises is weighing anchor as well, promoting its boutique yacht cruises with a twist on treasure hunts. Beginning today, Windstar starts running a massive treasure hunt, offering a grand prize of a free cruise to one of the line’s ports of call for those savvy enough to crack the code. It’s Windstar’s way of commemorating the return of cruising with fully vaccinated crews and guests.

Called “The 180 Degrees From Ordinary Treasure Hunt,” the sweepstakes leverages Windstar’s point of difference versus other larger and more traditional cruise lines, and invites players to go online and watch 11 short videos that will be hosted on Windstar’s social channels and the sweepstakes landing page. The videos, created by Windstar’s creative agency partner Episode Four, contain a number, letter or symbol that, when strung together, form a Google Plus code revealing the destination of the treasure. Once players figure out the code, they are entered to win a cruise to retrieve the treasure.


Not the usual treasure hunt

Treasure hunts are nothing new in the marketing world, but Windstar and Episode Four tailored the hunt specifically for Windstar customers and potential cruisers. Windstar is known in the industry for going to off-the-beaten path ports with its private yacht-style cruises, with only 148 to 342 guests onboard. The line pays attention to the details to make its guests’ experiences “180 degrees from ordinary.” The videos in the treasure hunt invites customers to go on an adventure virtually on the yachts to look for clues.

“Episode Four’s proprietary data product, which uncovers insights about what target audiences are most interested in, revealed that people who cruise massively over index versus the general population on their interest in maps,” Mark Himmelsbach, founding partner at Episode Four, told Adweek. “In addition to treasure hunts being a nautical tradition—that fact, combined with Windstar’s offering of cruise itineraries all over the globe—steered us towards creating a new kind of treasure hunt.”

Though it looks like a conventional treasure hunt, the contest is actually a product demo in disguise, designed to deliver on Windstar’s brand positioning of “180 Degrees from Ordinary,” Himmelsbach stated. The agency made a total of 180 mini-films, each one reflecting tiny details about the cruising experience and each one representing one degree from ordinary. He said by watching the films in the contest people will be able to discover the code that, once cracked, will lead them to know where the treasure is located.

The team used Google Plus codes to allow for more creative ways of hiding the 11 elements of the code in the films.

Safety first

Windstar is accentuating its Covid-19 safety protocols, and states that it is one of the first travel companies to require all guests and crew to be vaccinated.

“(It’s) something that our guests are very appreciative of and research shows that they want,” Betsy O’Rourke, chief marketing officer at Xanterra Travel Collection, Windstar’s parent company, told Adweek. “Further, all guests are tested prior to boarding any of our yachts to ensure everyone is negative, and our crew is tested every week. We have implemented a host of other health and safety precautions in addition to testing, including social distancing, masks and new high-tech air filtration systems.”

In addition, O’Rourke said the company monitors every country and port its ships visit and follows all changing regulations. Windstar also allows guests to cancel up to 48 hours prior to departure and receive a future cruise credit if they don’t feel comfortable taking a cruise.

Ultimately, Windstar is hoping that the treasure hunt helps ramp up interest in travel as the holiday season approaches.

“We know there is a lot of pent-up demand after a year-and-a-half of staying home, and despite the complexities with traveling abroad currently and uncertainty about the Delta variant, we’re seeing some bookings for people who just want to escape as well as a lot of bookings for 2022 from people who want to wait until things stabilize,” said O’Rourke.


Client:  Windstar Cruises

Creative Agency:  Episode Four

Founding Partner:  Teddy Lynn

Founding Partner:  Mark Himmelsbach

Executive Creative Director:  Andrew Miller

Executive Producer:  Lindsay Fa

Executive Director of Strategy:  Leslie Walsh

Executive Director of Strategy:  Sarah Greenfield

Art Director:  Emily Galvelis

Art Director:  Emily Kim

Account Director:  Athena Livadas

Director of Operations:  Jenni Lynn

Production Coordinator:  Aaron St Jean

Director/Photographer:  Sasha Gulish

DP:  John Pingry

Producer:  Jake Hakanson

Editor/Animator:  Evan Vetter

Art Department:  Maya Judd