Star Clipper Shines Bright

| Tuesday, 05 Mar. 2013

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The sea, the sun and the sky are part of every cruise. But add the sails and you get something special. I recently tested the Star Clippers experience, and it was a perfect vacation-- sailing on a romantic clipper ship with just a few fellow passengers; having daily chats with a friendly captain and crew; exploring the culture of destinations not available to most tourists; and enjoying pleasant dinners served by an attentive staff. We could choose daily activities ranging from morning workouts to island adventures to simply lazing in the sun and staring up at the sails.

The Star Clippers ships were designed to provide the activities, amenities, and atmosphere of a private yacht. Company owner and CEO Mikael Krafft envisioned this mega-yacht experience as an alternative to mass-market cruises that is in harmony with nature and the sea. Star Clippers' fleet includes three sailing ships: the twins Star Clipper and Star Flyer, commissioned in the early 1990s; and the Royal Clipper, the largest true sailing clipper ship in the world, commissioned in 2000.

My husband and I recently returned from a week's sail through the Windward Isles of the Caribbean aboard Star Clipper. This is a new itinerary for the Clipper, which usually spends summers in the Mediterranean. The cruise departs from Bridgetown, Barbados-a port easily accessible by major airlines. From there, the ship crosses over to Antigua and then sails south, visiting St. Bart's, St. Kitts, Isles des Saintes and St. Lucia before returning to Barbados. Many passengers opt to combine this schedule with an alternating Leeward Islands itinerary into a 14-day cruise.

General Impressions

It's always a thrill to see the masts of a beautiful sailing ship in a harbor-and more exciting when you know that you will soon be boarding her! We saw Star Clipper reigning over the port at Bridgetown as we flew into Barbados. A representative from the line met us at the airport and put us in a taxi to the pier. The cheerful staffers-who hail from all over the world-welcomed us with a champagne cocktail upon boarding. We quickly unpacked and headed back to the deck to begin our sailing adventure. After a sumptuous buffet dinner, we returned to the deck to see the captain raise the sails as the ship glided smoothly out to sea.

The first day was spent at sea-an unparalleled treat for those who love to sail. The beauty of the ocean was unsurpassed, and there were enough islands off in the distance to allow us to indulge thoughts of Christopher Columbus as he sailed these waters and spotted land for the first time. We should note that we had been warned ahead of time that this area of the Atlantic could be rough, so we brought an over-the-counter motion sickness medication.

The cruise had plenty of memorable highlights. The first was a lovely beach picnic/cookout when we anchored at Falmouth, Antigua. Star Clipper's energetic staff is dedicated to water activities, so in addition to enjoying the picnic and simply lazing on the beach, passengers could take their pick of small sailboats, a banana-boat (like tubing on a giant banana), snorkeling or water skiing. A local steel band came on board for an hour of evening entertainment.

The third day's anchorage was at St. Bart's-a great shopping destination for those with great budgets. We opted instead for a short hike to the Shell Beach and a cool drink at a lovely bar overlooking the water there. A personal note: By Day Three, I had literally forgotten what day of the week it was-the hallmark of a relaxing vacation!

At St. Kitts we came across the mega-liner Millennium, which provided an interesting contrast to our full-rigged sailing ship. Passengers aboard the large ship crowed the deck to get a glimpse of Star Clipper. An odd irony: Star Clippers' ships boast more deck space per passenger than the giant cruisers! With unrestrained glee, Captain Klaus Muller fired three warning shots from a toy cannon before he raised the sheets and proudly sailed out of the harbor under the envious eyes of Millenium passengers.

Our favorite anchorage was among the Isles des Saintes, where we tendered into the little town of Terre de Haut. This lovely island boasts a breathtaking hike ("La Trace des Cretes") that concludes at the most beautiful strand of sand (Pompierre Beach) I have ever seen. The sleepy European-flavored town is lovely, and has several unusual (and reasonably priced) shops.

Our favorite meal was the Captain's Dinner, held after our day at Terre de Haut. The chef pulled out all the stops, going beyond his usual excellence to a meal that was sublime. The crowning touch was the requisite "Parade of Baked Alaska," an event I have come to loathe on large cruise ships due mostly to the inedible nature of the concoction it is named for. But this confection was delicious, and worthy of the serving ceremony.

My favorite evening's entertainment was the talent show. It was well-organized by Cruise Director Mara, and Ivan, the ship's resident musician, and included both passengers and crew, who provided a rapt audience with a selection of song and dance from around the world. The success of this event reflects the friendly atmosphere on the ship throughout the cruise.

Cabins

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Cabins, in six categories, are huge by sailing-ship standards. All are beautifully appointed, and have ample storage for clothes and beach gear. Category 6 cabins, the least expensive, have a pair of upper and lower berths and are most suitable for children traveling with parents, or singles traveling together who don't plan to spend much time inside. Categories 3-5 have two lower beds or a double bed; many also have a berth for a third person. These are priced according to deck (higher decks are most expensive) and convenience of location. Category 2 cabins are slightly larger and located on the Clipper deck, adjacent to the dining room. Cabins in Category 1 are lovely, appointed with minibar and whirlpool. All but Category 6 come with a TV, and are comfortable for lounging as well as sleeping. I agree with hotel manager Florian, whose favorites are the two Category 1 cabins closest to the aft pool-these cabins have close access to the aft deck, and provide a real sense of privacy. The Owner's Cabin is superlative-beautifully appointed and offering an even higher level of pampering.

Dining

Open-seating meals are served in the opulent dining room. Breakfast, lunch, and the first evening meal were served buffet-style. Breakfast included a selection of cooked entrees (including an omelet bar), pastries, cereal, yogurt, fruit, and the like. Lunches varied, with both hot and cold offerings and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Five-course dinners were served a la carte, with a choice of appetizers and several entrees. All meals were well-prepared, well-presented, and well received by passengers. Dress for breakfast and lunch is casual; shorts and t-shirts are not allowed at dinner (women are encouraged to wear casual dresses or dress-slacks; men are asked to wear slacks and polo or dress shirts.)

Passengers

Passengers on our cruise ranged in age from 16 to 86, and all seemed happy with what the cruise had to offer them. Children younger than 16 might be bored unless they have active parents to join them in water sports; there were no activities specifically geared to children. There were at least five single travelers, and each of them (from young adults to retirees) told us they enjoyed the cruise immensely. The ship boasts a very comfortable library, where those who didn't want to loll in the sun can read or play board games. We didn't ask for the ship's policy on handicapped travelers, but one must be able to climb 6-12 steps at a time since there are no elevators, and dining is on a lower deck. On the whole, passengers were active individuals who enjoy the outdoors; many are sailors themselves.

Activities and Entertainment

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Because of the small number of passengers (170 maximum), there is time and opportunity to get to know many of your fellow travelers. The captain and mates were readily available for chats about sailing, navigation, and other ship-talk. Water activities (swimming, snorkeling and the like) were available whenever the ship was anchored. Diving opportunities were available for both novice and experienced divers. An onboard dive-master provides excursions on most days, and while we didn't dive, those passengers who did found the experience to be quite good.

Shore excursions are available at most ports. The three we took were excellent, offering knowledgeable and friendly drivers and a chance to get to know the island and its culture. Adventurous cruisers may find that they can do just as well on their own, but we thought the excursions were well-chosen and reasonably priced.

A bar on the ship's tropical deck is the center of activity during the afternoon and evening. Musician Ivan performs "greatest hits" during a 5 p.m. snack break, and classical music in the piano bar before dinner. Sunsets on a sailing ship are always spectacular; ours were even better thanks to the haunting bagpipe melodies the Captain played each evening as the sun sank below the horizon.

There is special entertainment each evening after dinner: a steel band, a shipboard Olympics, a pirate's night, crab races, and a talent show. The large-scale entertainment (musical reviews, ballroom dancing, etc.) found on traditional (i.e. larger) cruise ships is not part of the Star Clipper experience. But we found "the sea, the sun, the sky, the sails" to be much more satisfying entertainment.

More Information

Royal Clipper and Star Flyer are spending the summer of 2002 sailing the Mediterranean. The flagship Royal Clipper offers a seven-day Balearic Islands itinerary from Cannes to Menorca, Majorca, Palamos, Barcelona, and St. Tropez. Air discounts may still be available for summer cruises.

Star Flyer offers two summer itineraries: a cruise along the French and Italian Rivieras to Corsica, Monaco, Portofino, and Livorno; or a week cruising the coast of southern Italy, visiting Paestum, Sicily, Lipari, and Sorrento.

Beginning in November, Star Clipper will reposition for a new Mayan Caribbean itinerary. These seven-night Western Caribbean cruises include ports like Cozumel, Belize, Honduras, and the Yucatan peninsula. For more information, request a brochure at 1-800-442-0556 or log onto the Star Clippers website www.starclippers.com.

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