If you have a bucket list, get it out and add tall ship sailing to that list!
We were part of a small group that joined the Royal Clipper on a seven day sailing from Barbados through the Grenadines. For all of us the tall ship experience was a first. My wife and I have cruised many times and the large mainstream ships, the others had never or seldom cruised.
The ship: Royal Clipper is a beautiful five-masted sailing ship with 42 square and triangular sails. With a length of 439’ and beam of 54’ her footprint (sic?) is less than a quarter of a megaship. A mere 227 passengers fill her two and a half passenger decks. As one of our fellow passengers stated, “she is a proper sailing vessel.” When the sails were hoisted she was simply magnificent. A sailor could explain better than me, but with all the square sails Royal Clipper was more stable and had a little more power than her sisters Star Clipper and Star Flyer. The two “Star” ships have mostly triangular sails and are more agile and can ride the wind from a widerangle.
The primary gathering place aboard is the Tropical Bar. This open air bar is under cover and the sides can be rolled down and secured in inclement weather to keep the party going. Everything from the muster drill, to the afternoon buffet, to the talent show was held in the Tropical Bar. Midship, the interior of the ship was defined by a three deck atrium. On deck one, in the middle of the atrium is the dining room, site of most meals. Deck two has an open atrium with the purser’s desk/Sloop Shop aft and the shore excursions desk forward. The Piano Bar surrounded the atrium on deck three. Twenty four hour coffee and tea service are available in the Piano Bar as the early bird breakfast and midnight buffet. Stopping by right before dinner you can see the main courses plated up for review. Most cruise ship atria that I have seen are crowned either with windows way up high or a panoramic painting. On Royal Clipper light filters into the atrium through the midship swimming pool!
The Sun Deck, deck four, is where the daytime action is, and some of the nighttime action as well, features an additional bar that is open when passengers are up and about. There are three pools, two small ones forward and aft and a little larger one midship where you can spy on the Piano Bar. There are plenty of loungers around the deck, some undercover since there are no large superstructures to cast shade. You have to be careful though, you might lose your favorite spot if the bosun needs to work on sails. A small space on deck three aft has more chairs. Another option for lounging is the netting on either side of the bowsprit.
Of course, the stars of the Sun Deck are the masts, sails and all that rigging. Several occasions were provided to climb to the first crow’s nest, ten meters up. This was a blast, if you are able you should do it. You are strapped into the same type of safety harness as the crew, I met the Chief Engineer up there – we had the same safety equipment. Next you are clipped to a belay line and a member of the water sports team will guide your ascent while you are greeted at the top and clipped off the line. You can’t beat the climb for exhilaration and the crow’s nest for the views.
The cabins: We each had a category two cabin, all on deck two and relatively mid-ship. Though all of our cabins were the same category, each had a slightly different layout. The cabins were snug compared to most found on the megaships. Each had two twin beds that could be joined together. The bed frames, as the rest of the cabin, were a rich dark wood, possibly mahogany though some was also a veneer. The cabins had a small closet, a desk and a small dresser. The foot of the bed had an additional drawer. The desk held your safe, glasses and an ice bucket. Need ice? Just take the bucket up to your friendly bartender. The bathrooms were marble and had lots of storage for such a small space. Marble was a very good surface to have if you showered while the ship was listing. To that end there were grab bars as well as drains inside and outside the shower.
Service: The service throughout the ship was excellent. Our cabin steward was an absolute delight. She always seemed to be enjoying herself and it seemed there was nothing she wouldn’t do for her passengers. Likewise, the food and bar servers were all personable and very good at their jobs.
Food: Royal Clipper only serves six meals a day; early-bird breakfast, a breakfast buffer, lunch buffer, afternoon snack, dinner and a midnight buffet. No 24 hour food, but what they provide should be more than enough for anyone. The food was consistently high quality and offered plenty of variety. Buffet items were made in small batches and were filled as needed. Each day’s lunch had a theme including a beach barbecue on Tobago Cays and an open-air buffet in the Tropical Bar one day. Add to that, Royal Clipper had the best sounding dining room choir I have heard at sea. (I believe passengers in suites and maybe category one could get room service.)
Passengers: Over 40% of Royal Clipper’s passengers were repeat cruisers and many of them were doing back-to-back cruises. Generally they were on the high side of fifty. Our cruise had one teenager and a few twenty and thirty somethings. I would guess the passengers were split evenly from both sides of the Atlantic. The European contingent came mostly from the UK, France and Germany. Most were a delight to chat with.
Itinerary: Before arriving in each port the cruise director gave a port talk, usually on the Sun Deck, in up to three languages. This could be in the morning and/or afternoon. Port guides were provided at the end of each talk and at the gangway and not a Diamonds International mentioned all week. Most of our stops were yacht harbors so our little ship was the big boy in town. We only docked in Martinique. Grenada and St Vincent also had cruise terminals though we tendered there from our anchorage in the harbor.
Our first stop was called Captain’s Best. This was a beach stop on Union Island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It was a nice long sandy beach. The water sports team brought over kayaks, wind surfers and a few other water toys. There was some snorkeling. Royal Clipper issued mask, fins and snorkels to all who wanted them at the beginning of the cruise which were yours to use throughout the cruise. Though the beach was “uninhabited” there were several little bars some with a bit of crafts and clothing for sale along with them.
Day two we were in St. George’s, Grenada. Part of our group did a ship’s excursion to a nutmeg co-op, a chocolate plantation and some waterfalls and enjoyed their time. The rest explored St. George’s. That didn’t take too long. We did wander up to the fort and acquired a volunteer “guide”, he was hard to shake. He was informative, and actually provided a narrative of the 1983 action that I did not get in the US media. Don’t know if he was playing to get crowd or being honest. We did give him small tip in the end.
We had an all-day beach break in Tobago Cays on the third day. Again there were water toys. This time Royal Clipper brought over bar staff and we had a beach buffet much like a mainstream cruise line private island experience. This time we were truly on an uninhabited island but that did not keep a few entrepreneurs from coming over from St. Vincent. A Windjammer was also in port that day and had their own barbecue going.
Wednesday found us in Kingstown, St. Vincent in the morning and then the little town of Admiralty Bay, Bequia in the afternoon for another beach stop. We didn’t seem much in Kingstown as we planned to do our climb to the crow’s nest that morning. Some of our group walked up the botanical gardens and enjoyed both the walk and the gardens. Admiralty Bay was a cute little town with a whaling history and somewhat of a whaling culture though they do not active whaling. We spent some time in town and then took the short walk to the beach to catch a tender back to the ship.
We made two stops in Martinique the next day calling on Fort-de-France in the morning and the small town and beach stop of Anse d’Arlet in the afternoon. Those choosing to do so could taxi between them. Fort-de-France was a mix of European and Caribbean influences as Martinique is an overseas department of France. Be sure to get by the library. The museum of Martinique only took cash Euros so we had skip it, pity. We didn’t go ashore in Anse as I had scheduled to do the engine room tour, and yes we actually got to go into the engine room.
Our final day found us making two stops in St. Lucia, Marigot Bay and Soufriere. Neither of these stops were particularly memorable. Marigot Bay was a nice little yacht harbor town whose biggest claim to fame seemed to be the hotel used for filming Dr. Doolittle. It didn’t take long to round the harbor though a hike up the hill revealed a great view across the harbor and back at the ship. I went zip-lining from Soufriere. A few of the ladies in our group went into town and were “creeped out” by the groups of guys offering to help show them around. Plan your time in St. Lucia ahead. The island has much to offer but not necessarily at these ports.
Embarkation / Disembarkation: Upon arrival at the Bridgetown Cruise Terminal we went through a quick customs and health check and added our luggage to a pile to be put on board – no porters with their hand out – and walked across the street to the ship. What could be easier? We walked up the gangway and were welcomed aboard by the captain and first mate and found ourselves in the Tropical Bar where there was a buffet and free welcome aboard rum punch. We were a little confused and didn’t realized we were to go to the Piano Bar to check in. After wandering a little, we figured that out, stood in line for a few minutes, registered, and were escorted to our cabins.
At embarkation we were provided customs forms and instructions to clear Bajan customs on our return. We were asked to complete them and return the customs forms and our passports to the purser’s desk by midweek. At the end of the cruise we simply signed our final bill and picked up our stamped passports and approved customs forms in the Tropical Bar, those with cash accounts went to the purser’s desk. After disembarking we walked back across the street, claimed our luggage and went through a cursory customs check. After that we were on our way.
* Who would not enjoy Royal Clipper? There are many features of a modern mega-ship that you just can’t cram onto a small sailing vessel. If these are too important to you a sailing on a Star Clipper ship might not be for you. There is no casino, show lounge or disco. There is not much on-board shopping. There are no “branded” experiences, no Starbucks, Johnny Rockets or celebrity endorsed anything. They only feed you six times a day, so if you really need that 3AM pizza you might be in trouble. There is passenger camaraderie and conviviality. That was enough for me.
Also, the ship does list while under sail. That is just part of how sailing works. The list is usually gentle, like rocking a baby. A few in our group took less-drowsy motion sickness pills and were fine except when crossing to and from Barbados. The westbound crossing was at night so still wasn’t much of a problem. I only needed to work on stabilizing myself while walking in the roughest seas. But if you have a problem with motion sickness this might not be for you. There are no elevators so mobility scooters would be a problem. I saw several passengers with canes and they seemed to be okay.
REVIEW – MEDITERRANEAN CRUISE ABOARD THE ROYAL CLIPPER
ROME TO VENICE
A Little Information about Star Clippers
Let me say right from the start that I am a big fan of the Star Clippers sailing experience. This cruise is our 5th on Star Clippers and the second time we have sailed on the Royal Clipper. We have also sailed on the sister ships Star Flyer and Star Clipper and have cruised with them in Thailand, Tahiti, Greece & Turkey and the Caribbean out of Barbados. My husband and I own our own sailboat in Florida and have chartered sailboats around the world for bareboat experiences. I wanted to write a review of our latest sailing experience aboard the Royal Clipper, and share some of my observations and comparisons with the other ships of the line and with other types of cruises.
When deciding to go on a cruise, one of the major decisions a person has to make, other than the destination, is if you want a traditional cruise ship or a sailing vessel. There are pros and cons of both options which I will not go into here, but if youare not absolutely certain that being on a real sailboat is of the upmost importance, you may want to think twice about sailing with Star Clippers. On any of the ships in the Star Clipper line, you will find the cabins are not as big or luxurious as a traditional cruise ship, the food is not as good or as plentiful and are no formal dress up functions. There is also no bingo, casino or glitzy entertainment. If you have any mobility problems, there are stairs everywhere and there is no elevator. With this said, it is interesting to note that the Star Clippers has a very loyal and dedicated clientele, with over 60% of passengers on any given cruise being repeat customers. My husband and I would not consider going on any other commercial cruise line than Star Clippers.
I am pointing this out at the beginning of my review to alert readers that this may not be the cruise for you, depending on your priorities and expectations. On this last cruise, I met several passengers who were very unhappy and complained about the food, entertainment, nightlife, accommodations, foreigners, layout of the ship and anything else they could think about. They thought they were going on another Carnival Cruise and never came to appreciate the unique and wonderful experience that being on a tall ship can bring. If, however, you are active and healthy, adventurous and friendly, if food is not your priority on a cruise and you can live without a balcony cabin, than you should consider taking a cruise on one of the Star Clipper ships.
Rome – Civitavecchia port – Day 1
On our 11-day cruise, the Royal Clipper departed from Civitavecchia – the port of Rome. Civitavecchia is about an hour outside the city of Rome. The best and most inexpensive way to reach Civitavecchia is to take the train. From the Rome airport, take the Leonardo express train into Rome (14 Euros). The train drops you off at the Termini station (Track 29) and is right next to the Piza train (on Track 27) that takes you to Civitavecchia (4 Euros). Buy both tickets at once at the airport and just get off one train and hop on the other…it could not be easier. If you want to spend some time in Rome, I believe there is a place to store your bags at the train station. Be aware that both Track 29 and 27 are at the absolute furthest parts of the Termini train station, so be prepared for a long walk to get to the main terminal and leave plenty of time.
There is also the option of transfers with the cruise line. Those passengers that decide to do that option (it is about $85 per person) walk from the airport to the adjacent Hilton Airport Hotel (10 minute walk with covered walkways). They store your luggage and provide a meeting room with chairs to hang out in. You have the option to take the train into the city on your own or use the hotel's free shuttle bus into Rome (which is an hour away). At 5:00 these passengers must be back at the hotel to take a bus out to the port.
If you take the train from Rome out to Civitavecchia, you will arrive at the train station, which is not right on the water. From the station, you can take a short taxi ride to the ship for around 7 Euros. I believe there also may be a shuttle bus but I am not sure about its schedule. Boarding the ship is from 4:00pm – 10:00pm, and the ship departs at 11:00pm or as soon as everyone is onboard.
At the port of Civitavecchia, the ship will be docked alongside pier no 11, 12, 13 or 14. It is very obvious there it is, as you can spot it from miles away, so it is not hard to find. At the port terminal, we went through a security scanner and got on the ship after a quick check-in where they took our photo and issued us a ship ID card. This card, which we call our MULTIPASS (like in the movie 5th Element), is also your room key, ID for boarding and credit card for all ships purchases. At this point, you also surrender your passport, which you will not get back again until the end of the cruise.
To get on the ship, one must climb the steep boarding stairway – a wobbly but secure contraption attached to the outside of the ship. This is one reason why this ship is not recommended for anyone with mobility problems. Once on the ship, we were welcomed with a tropical drink and shown to our cabin.
Unfortunately for us, our luggage was lost by Delta Airlines, and did not make it to the Rome airport with us (I guess our luggage had always wanted to visit Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris). We reported this to the ships purser, who then contacted the ships port agent. The port agent was hopeful that we might be reunited with our lost luggage in 3 days in Sicily, where he would send it when found. Our stops before then were too small to have an airport, so I guess we would be wearing our current attire a lot in the next few days.
At this point I must say that the staff on the ship went out of their way to help and accommodate us with clothing and supplies. The ships store opened and gave us toiletries. They also offered us any clothing in the store for a 50% discount and gave us free laundry service. Our room steward took our cloths when we went to bed at night and returned them to us in the morning clean and fresh. The purser kept in contact with the port agent and kept us posted on the status of our luggage. I guess this kind of thing happens frequently – so it you are going on a cruise take an emergency bag with you on the plane with underwear, shorts, sandals and toiletries!
The ship left port at around 9:30 when all of the passengers were onboard. One of the most magical experiences on any Star Clipper sailing is leaving port. Everyone gathers up on deck while the crew hoists some of the sails (most are automatically unfurled), while the beautiful and haunting musical theme from the film 1492 plays. I must confess that I never tire of this experience no matter how many times I sail out of port on one of their ships.
Ponza – Day 2
We had a leisurely sail and anchored off the small island of Ponza at around noon. As it was a Sunday, and we were very jet lagged and had no sport cloths to wear, so we decided to take it easy on the ship. The people who did go ashore said it was a beautiful little town and some of the shops were open. No shore excursions were available at Ponza, which was a very small and isolated island. There were lots of huge yachts anchored in the bay. Around sunset we set sail for Capri. The evening entertainment was a fashion show put on by the ship's store.
The Star Clipper Fleet
The Royal Clipper is the largest of the Star Clipper fleet, with 5 masts and about 225 passengers at full capacity. The cabins on the Royal are a little bit larger and nicer than those on the smaller ships. The dining room is multi level, with a small inner ring that is used for the breakfast and lunch buffets. The two identical sister ships, the Star Flyer and the Star Clipper have 4 masts and a maximum of 170 passengers. Even though there is only a difference of about 50 passengers, the Royal feels much larger than the other two ships.
Unique to the Royal is a cool spa that is located at the bottom of the ship, with porthole windows looking out underwater. The Royal also has 3 saltwater pools and a water sport platform that opens up at the stern. The Flyer and Clipper have 2 saltwater pools. All ships have dive masters, snorkeling equipment (provided free), kayaks and sailboards. There is also a Learn To Dive program on the ships available to passengers who want to try it out before committing to a longer program on shore or on the ship. The largest gathering area on the ship is the Tropical Bar, which is at the center of the ship and open to the elements, although they put up a shade canvas.
Even though I love the elegance of the Royal, I think I prefer the smaller and more intimate ambience of the Flyer and the Clipper. I think the biggest advantage of the Royal is the stern water sport platform, which is much easier for diving and snorkeling.
Capri – Day 3
We arrive in Capri around 11:00 and after a quick lunch on the ship embark on an Island Tour (53 Euros) at 1:00. This was the only tour offered. On Capri, there is no ship tender service, only local boats because the port is too small and crowded. We are picked up at the ship in a boat by the tour operator, who takes us to the Coral Grotto and White Virgin Grotto (which we back into). We see the famous Faraglioni rock formations surrounding the island and take the boat through a rock arch.
The boat drops us off at Marina Grande, where we take a small tour bus up to Anacapri. From here we have the option of looking around the town and shopping, visiting Villa San Michele which is built on the ruins of Tiberius's palaces or taking the chair lift up to Monte Solaro. We decide on the chair lift, which is like an individual ski lift that takes you up to the top of the mountain and incredible views of Capri and the Bay of Naples. We meet back at the drop off area and take another bus down to Capri. Here we have time to shop and look around, and are given tickets to take the Funicolare back down to the port. There is a long line for the Funicolare and it drops you off a short distance from the dock, where we take a shuttle boat back to the ship.
We spoke with other passengers that did most of this stuff by themselves (except the boat tour) for a much cheaper price than we paid on the tour, and while we could have done it ourselves I think the tour was a good value. We were discouraged from trying to go to the Blue Grotto (which Capri is most famous for), but we could have done it from a tourist office at the harbor. Those that did try to see the Blue Grotto paid to be taken there only to not be allowed in because the seas were too rough (and no refund…you take your chances).
We set sail at around 7:00 to a beautiful sunset and rough seas. Entertainment tonight was a Music Trivia contest.
Food on the Royal Clipper
The most common question people ask about a cruise is, “How was the food?” As food is often a very subjective area, it is sometimes a difficult question to answer. Unfortunately, on this particular cruise the answer is simple…the food was not very good.
As I have stated at the beginning of this review, this was not my first Star Clipper cruise and not my first experience aboard the Royal Clipper. We had sailed on the Star Flyer 8 months previously in Tahiti, so we had fairly recent exposure to the culinary offerings on that ship – where the food was outstanding. Unless the parent company had instigated a drastic reduction in food quality, which I seriously doubt, I would blame it on the chef. Our chef on the Star Flyer in Tahiti was from the Philippines and his food was well prepared, interesting and had delicious seasonings. The chef on the Royal Clipper was from Jamaica, and his menu was uninspired, the food poorly prepared, bland and downright boring. It is the only cruise in memory where I lost weight and tried to eat off the ship whenever possible. The main topic of conversation among the passengers was how bad the food was.
One German passenger commented to me that he liked to get the cheese course for dessert, but they gave him the exact same cheeses every night. He observed that at lunch they have different cheeses every day, and so he asked the waiter to give him those different cheeses at dinner. They complied with his request…but why didn't they offer that to everyone? I think it shows a lack of leadership in the kitchen, people doing as little as possible instead of trying for excellence.
Every day is the same breakfast buffet on the Royal. There are made to order omelets and a selection of fruits, breads and cereals. Also offered was underdone bacon, sausages that looked like cut up hot dogs and some other hot items such as crepes or pancakes. On the 7th day (of an 11 day cruise), the fresh mushrooms ran out – so my husband stopped eating the omelets (what's the point without mushrooms?). Someone should have planned that better.
Lunch was also a buffet, the layout of the dining room on the Royal making for a traffic jam. (The buffet layout is better on the Flyer and Clipper because the dining room is all one level and more open.) The lunch was often the best meal of the day, with different themes such as Asian or Italian. The crew decorated the room with festive flags and banners and there was often a carving station with a ham or turkey. Also offered was a dessert buffet and many cheese and salad options.
Dinner was served at table, the maitre d' seating people together and doing a great job of remembering who liked to sit together. I found most people preferred to sit with others that spoke the same language, so there were the German tables, the French tables and the English tables. Star Clipper cruises are always an international mix of people, and our cruise had passengers from 38 different countries. Meeting and talking with passengers from all over the world is one of the most enjoyable things about traveling on a Star Clipper cruise. The food is served in courses and the ship has a good selection of wine offerings. If you don't finish a bottle, they will label it and save it for you for the next night.
It is a shame that the food was so disappointing on this cruise and I hope that they take steps to improve it on the Royal Clipper soon. If they read their comment cards from passengers, they should be aware of the problem.
Giardini Naxos, Sicily – Day 4
Sometime during the very early pre-dawn morning, the ship sailed by the active volcanic island of Stromboli – a smoking cone rising straight out of the ocean. I failed to wake up in time to see it, but a fellow passenger who did said she saw a fiery lava plume amid the smoke. I saw it at a distance, and even then it was a magnificent sight.
We arrived at the Straits of Messina at around 9:30 and were entertained by a talk by Captain Sergey about piracy and how it is affecting passenger ships. I had previously sailed on the Star Flyer in Thailand, but they have discontinued that route because of increased safety concerns in the area. Captain Sergey, originally from Russia, is one of a select few tall ship captains in the world, and is very good at what he does. He also lectured us later in the week about the different designs and configurations of sailing ships and told us about the new ship that the Star Clipper line plans to add in 2014.
We arrived at the port of Naxos at around 2:00 and we were anxiously awaiting the arrival of our luggage. I had been very fortunate to meet an absolutely wonderful fellow passenger from Ohio named Marcy. After hearing that I had no cloths, and observing that she was about the same size as me, she sent me an whole bag of cloths to wear until my own arrived. She even had new underwear, still in the Wal-Mart bag. She said she had taken along extra cloths, not knowing why. I believe she was a guardian angel sent to rescue me. She was traveling with her husband and two other couples (the Ohio gang), who became our friends and made our trip delightful.
In Sicily, the ship offered several excursion options; a transfer to Taormina and tour of Greek theater (39 Euros), a brunch and wine tasting tour (89 Euros), or a tour of Mt Etna (94 Euros).
There is not much to do at the port of Naxos, but the beautiful town of Taormina is just down the coast, perched on a cliff. When a passenger asked our cruise director Angela why the ship went to Naxos instead of Taormina, she answered that they had not yet figured out how to sail up a mountain.
We decided not to take a tour but to share a taxi with our friends (the Ohio gang). We negotiated a fare of 40 Euros for 6 (I think we could have done better if we would have haggled more), and our driver took us up to the town of Taormina, arranging to pick us up again in 3 hours. We walked a couple of blocks up to the ancient (3rd century BC) Greek theater. The theater is still in use and has beautiful views of the coast and Mt. Etna, looming in the background. We walked back down through the streets of Taormina, stopping for wonderful gelato at Gelatomania. There were lots of touristy shops in town, also lots of tourists. I purchased a beautiful red pottery platter, glazed with the "Fire of Etna" pattern. After having a drink in a café, we return to the ship.
Our luggage had arrived…thank you purser Yula!
Some of our friends did the Mt. Etna tour and had a great time and brought back a whole backpack of rocks. In Hawaii, Pele doesn't like you to take home any lava, but I guess things are different in Sicily, where it is considered good luck.
Our ship departs at almost midnight, but before we leave some local entertainers come on board for a Sicilian folklore performance. Also, a local fashion designer shows some of her over-the-top fashions with young local models.
At Sea – Day 5
There were very rough seas during the night and throughout the next day making any people seasick. I personally like it when it is rough…it rocks me to sleep and makes me feel like we are on the ocean. This sentiment was not shared by most of the other passengers. The mast climbing was cancelled and swimming pool drained. Marcy and I spent the day in the ships library where we painted some watercolor scenes of the ship. A great day at sea.
Electrical and Internet Connections
The electrical system on the Royal Clipper is the European plug system – 2 round holes. On the Star Clipper and the Star Flyer the electrical system is the American plug system. There is a hair dryer in the cabin, but if you need to charge your phone, camera or computer, you need to bring an adapter. Most computer and camera chargers these days operate on a dual voltage system…you can use anything between 120volt-240volt. Check your device to see if it is dual voltage. If it is not a dual voltage device, you need to bring a converter adapter (more expensive and larger).
All of the Star Clipper ships have computer and wireless service available. You purchase a wireless card (good for 1 hour) for about 11 Euros. You can either use their computers (very slow ones) or use your own wireless device. I used my iPad and it worked great. Their signal comes from a satellite, so very slow to use. I usually typed my emails before signing on to system account, then copied and pasted them into my email. It is amazing how fast you can use up 1 hour of connection time on a slow satellite connection.
Corfu, Greece – Day 6
We arrived at the Greek Island of Corfu at around 8:00 and docked at the pier. This was the only port between Rome and Venice that we were at a dock; the other ports involved anchoring and a tender.
The ship offered 3 shore excursions in Corfu; a bus ride to the Achilleion (a neoclassical palace outside of town built by Empress Elisabeth of Austria) and a walking tour of the Old Town near the port (38 Euros), a cycling tour through olive groves that included some uphill riding (84 Euros) and a boat tour of the island including a beach swim (75 Euros).
We decided to explore the island on our own and rent a car. After docking, a free shuttle bus picked us up at the pier and took us to the terminal. Just outside the terminal were a string of taxis and a Royal Car Rental lot. We negotiated down from 70 Euros to 60 Euros (cash no credit cards) for a small manual transmission car – which was very comfortable even though we are tall people. It was easy to drive around the island as the roads are well marked in both Greek and English.
We drove to Paleokastritsa, a beach town on the other side of the island, after a stop in Lakones. Lakones is perched high on top of a mountain and has a fabulous view. We stopped at a great restaurant in Lakones and had fresh squeezed juice and cappuccino while eating the delicious homemade baklava. The streets in town are very narrow, so cars stop at the light on one edge of town and wait for the cars coming in the opposite direction to pass. The driving in Corfu was beautiful, going from beautiful turquoise beaches to ancient olive groves and mountains. Where the other islands were dry, Corfu was green and lush in many places.
Driving down to Paleokastritsa, a nice beachfront community with 3 bays and lots of tourists. We went up to a monastery and walked around then left town and drove to Glifada, another beach community, where we ate grilled fish on the beach. Next we drove up to the mountaintop village of Pelekas (which had some better looking eating places) and on to the Achillion Palace.
The tragic beauty Empress Elisabeth of Austria, the Princess Diana of her day, built the Achillion Palace. The palace and gardens were beautiful, with a giant statue of Achilles looking out over the ocean from the cliffside gardens. Inside, the house is filled with assorted items with little or no connection to Elisabeth. We drove back to the ship and departed from Corfu at around 4:00.
Our friends that took the bike tour had a great time and highly recommended the tour, although an older gentleman broke his leg on the tour and spent the rest of the trip in a cast.
During the evening, we began playing bridge in the library with a German couple we met on the ship. He was now retired, but as a career he had been the German ambassador to Cuba and several South American countries. It was fun getting to know him and his wife, both good bridge players.
Kotor, Montenegro – Day 7
Around 10:00am the Royal entered the beautiful Bay of Kotor in Montenegro. The bay is a large, windy fjord, with Cyprus covered mountains towering over the ship. After several twists and turns we finally arrived at the end of the fjord and the walled city of Kotor.
The ship offered 2 excursions in Kotor; a walking tour of Kotor (20 Euros) or a bus and boat tour to the island near Perast (59 Euros).
We signed up for the Perast excursion and after taking the tender into Kotor boarded a bus to drive us to the small town of Perast about 6 miles away. At Perast, we boarded a small boat to take us to the Lady of the Rocks, a small church built on a man-made island in the bay. The shrine has wonderful paintings on the walls and ceilings and displays silver medallions given by grateful sea captains for safe voyages. There is also a small museum.
Back in Perast, nothing much to see except gypsy women selling linen tablecloths along the waterfront. These tablecloths were obviously made in China, not locally. We headed back to Kotor and the guide took us to the city gates, handed us a free map from the local tourist office and left us. We felt this tour was a complete rip-off. We could have taken a taxi to Perast for 10 Euros and a boat trip to the island for 5 Euros.
We walked around the walled city of Kotor on our own. Kotor is a beautiful city, with a huge ziz-zag wall built behind it up the mountains. Several people hiked up the wall, and said it was a spectacular, but hard, climb (without safety rails). We found Kotor delightful, uncrowded (I don't think big cruise ships can get in there), and authentic, with local people still living in the walled city. It was like a town that was poised on the precipice between living city and tourist destination. None of the shops were touristy – it was like they had no idea of what to sell, what tourists would want to buy. Most of the shops were grocery stores and shoe stores selling usable items to the locals. After being in so many towns that had been transformed from real city to Disney tourist fantasy town, it was refreshing to walk the noncommercial streets of Kotor. I predict it will not stay this way for long because Kotor has everything it takes to become a major tourist destination.
As it was my birthday, we met with up with our Ohio friends from the ship and took a couple of taxis to a local restaurant I had heard about – Star Mlili. It was about a 15-minute taxi ride (7 Euro) away, on the water in an old olive mill. The gardens were beautifully landscaped, with a stream and waterfall set next to the diners and lanterns hung from the trees. We dined on the local specialty of black mussels, squid and "Mama's Eggplant" – delicious. The local wine was superb as was the almond cake.
Getting back to the ship, we could hear the music from the waterfront bars echo across the water while we gazed up at the illuminated city wall, which lit up the entire hillside.
Sailing on the Royal Clipper
As I said before, the best thing about a Star Clipper cruise is the sailing. The ship attempts to sail as much as possible. On our cruise, from Rome to Venice, we found the ship had difficulty sailing on the Corfu to Venice portion of the journey. This is because the prevailing winds at this time of year are from the north, and it is hard to sail directly into the wind. Because of this, the Venice to Rome cruise may be a better choice for those that want to do a lot of sailing.
Even when the ship is motoring, there are still some sails up. They have an itinerary to keep, so they sail as much as they can without jeopardizing the schedule.
Dubrovnik, Croatia – Day 8
We sailed into Dubrovnik, Croatia at around noon and were soon joined at anchor by a huge cruise ship with over 3,000 passengers. Dubrovnik is an ancient walled city (UNESCO World Heritage list), and the best thing to do there is to walk the top of the city wall – which is almost 3 miles long.
There were 2 tours offered by the ship; a bus tour of surrounding villages ending at the Old Town (40 Euros – which was cancelled because of lack of interest) or a walking tour of Dubrovnik (33 Euros).
We decided to explore by ourselves and took the tender ashore, which dropped us off right at the city gates. Because of the other huge ship in port, the city was crowded with tourists. We waited until the crowds thinned and then climbed up to the city wall walk. The wall completely circled the city and involved lots of steps. There were occasional towers and rest areas with small cafes offering cold drinks. The view was amazing – the sea on 3 sides and the mountains climbing up on the other. Dubrovnik was recently involved in a war, and the most obvious evidence of that were the new roof tiles covering the city. While we were up on the wall, we watched the huge cruise ship pull up anchor and sail away through a narrow pass – dwarfing the city as it passed.
Back down in the Old Town, we had gelato and explored the narrow streets and grand promenade of the Stradun. Dubrovnik is known for its fine gold and silver filigree jewelry, unique and handmade. I purchased some in a small shop, where the owner makes the items during the long winters and sells to tourists in the busy summers. Several times a day, costumed guards run through the streets for tourists to take blurry photos of. We also saw some weddings at many of the churches. Even though Dubrovnik is a tourist city, it still has local character. At sunset, we sat at a bar that was literally perched on the cliffs outside the city wall – spectacular!
Some of our friends took the cable car up to the top of the mountain from just outside the city gates. They said there was an interesting war museum and a great view up there. Other friends who took the ships walking tour were disappointed in it, so we were glad we did our own thing. The ship left port at almost midnight; so many passengers went into town for dinner.
Korcula, Croatia – Day 9
We arrived at the quaint town and island of Korcula at about 10:30. We took the tender to shore and had a quick look around the town, which was easy to do because is very small and compact. We climbed the tower for a great view and had gelato at a café on the water.
The ship offered several excursions; a walking tour of the city (20 Euros), a Buggy Adventure (98 Euros) or an island bus tour that included lunch (65 Euros).
We had signed up for the Buggy tour immediately when we got on the ship in Rome. It sounded like a great tour and had only spots for 7 couples. This turned out to be one of our best tours on the cruise and was totally fun.
We were picked up at the tender dock by a small boat, which took us to the other side of the island. We got off and were assigned our "buggies". The buggies were like a go-cart and sat 2 people side by side. We were given a helmet to wear that had goggles, which came in very handy on our dusty off-road travels. It was fun driving through the hills, olive groves and vineyards, climbing higher up the mountain on rough trails. We stopped at a winery and sampled the local wine – good stuff. We then drove down to a nice sand beach were we went for a swim with the local kids that were enjoying their last day of summer vacation before school started. The tour captain brought out fresh fruit and local cheese on the short trip back to the ship on his small boat. A great adventure!
Friends that took the walking tour were not happy and thought it was boring. Others spent the day in kayaks and small sailboats off the sport platform at the rear of the ship. Many had trouble getting back to the ship because of the strong currents and had to be rescued by the sports team.
That afternoon, just before sunset, the ship had its Photo Excursion. Passengers departed the ship in 2 tenders and circled the ship as it raised its sails. I got some beautiful photos with the spectacular sunset in the background.
That night was Pirate Night in the dining room, with passengers encouraged to dress up as a pirate with whatever they had on had. There were some very creative and enthusiastic costumes. The entertainment that night was a crab race, where you can bet $5 on which crab will cross the deck racetrack first. It is pretty funny, as the crabs are very unpredictable.
Crew on the Royal Clipper
There are about 100 crewmembers on the Royal Clipper (about 70 crew on the other ships). The main divisions seem to be the Bridge staff (the Captain and those that sail the ship, including the seamen), the Purser and Hotel staff (including all those wonderful room stewards), the Engineering and Maintenance staff (they are always painting and varnishing the ship – nonstop), and the Food staff (including the chef and all the bar and restaurant staff). There is also the Cruise Director, who organizes all of the tours at port and orchestrates the activities on board and the Gift Shop manager who stocks the ships store. Our sailing also included a Marine Biologist, who gave lectures and had dolphin-watching sessions in the mornings.
For this cruise (and our last cruise in Tahiti), our cruise director was Angela. Angela does a remarkable job keeping everyone informed with what is going on aboard ship (she does a daily newsletter delivered to the cabin), scheduling and organizing the tours. She also is the ships translator, which is a crucial job when you consider the international clientele aboard ship. All information is recited in English, German and French, and I would imagine they would also do Spanish if it were called for. Angela was completely fluent in all of those languages and did a remarkable job. She also plans and hosts the evening entertainments such as the talent show. Unfortunately for the passengers, Angela is leaving the ship in the spring to get married – we wish her luck in her new life in Turkey.
One of the gems of the Star Clipper cruise line is the cruise director Peter. We had the good fortune of getting to know him aboard the Star Flyer in Thailand (I believe he is currently on the Star Clipper). Peter, besides being fluent in a multitude of languages, is a nautical historian. He gives informal lectures and sailing with him is like taking a graduate class in naval history.
Tipping is done at the end of the cruise and can be paid by cash or added to your bill. I think that we tipped about 160 Euros for the entire 11-day cruise. All ships accounting is done in Euros and the charges will show up on your credit card as coming from Monaco.
There is usually not a medical doctor on the Star Clipper sailings, although we did have a doctor on our cruise.
Hvar, Croatia – Day 10
We sailed into Hvar (silent H) at around 10:00. Hvar is a beautiful town with lots of islands and sailboats.
There were several excursions offered in Hvar; a bus island tour (58 Euros), a jeep safari (80 Euros), a new sailing adventure (57 Euros) and a new Hiking tour.
We decided to go on the new sailing adventure tour. We went over to town in the tender and met up with the sailboat tour, which was a small 38' racing sailboat with one guy on it. There were only 6 people from the ship signed up for the tour, which was lucky because the boat did not have a lot of comfortable seating. We jumped on the boat and immediately went out into the busy harbor. As there was only one guy operating the boat, he looked at the passengers, zeroed in on my husband as the most likely candidate, and asked him if he wanted to take the helm while he handled the sails. This ended up to be a good call because my husband jumped at the chance and ended up sailing the boat for the entire cruise. Bora winds from the mountains enabled up to get up to speed of 10 knots. The area was dotted with small islands and filled with all types of sailboats. We had a great time sailing around the many islands – a great excursion and my husband's favorite! We stopped by a swimming beach, but as it was a bit cool and breezy no one wanted to swim.
After a couple of hours of some of the best sailing in our life, we were dropped off at the dock, which was adjacent to the large town square. We had a great lunch at a café in the square and then walked around the town, filled with jewelry shops selling chunky necklaces made from semi-precious stones from elsewhere. The pier was lined with stalls selling lavender, which the island is known for. We even had lavender flavored gelato before returning to the ship.
Some of our friends took the hiking tour, which they loved and felt was the best of the trip. They took a small van to a scenic area and then hiked through olive groves and lavender fields. They stopped at a ghost town, which had a small private restaurant that was open only for them. They feasted on grilled chicken and potatoes, washed down with great local wine.
Other friends walked around town, and down the long promenade to the left of the harbor. They purchased a beautiful watercolor painting from a local artist and sat at a fancy hotel on the water and drank very expensive lemonade while watching swimmers on the beach.
The ship departed at around 5:00 and that evening was the Captains dinner of lobster, steak and Baked Alaska. There was a crew and passenger talent show in the tropical bar, which was the best entertainment of the week, with some very talented performers and lots of enthusiasm.
Rovinj, Croatia – Day 11
It was raining when we arrived at Rovinj at around noon. There were 2 tours offered; a cycling tour that went to a nearby park for a swim (40 Euros) or an island tour by bus (49 Euros).
We were signed up for the cycling tour, but it was cancelled because of rain. The town of Rovinj is built on a hilly peninsula with the pinnacle of the town being St. Euphemia's church and tower. It was part of the Venetian empire and the architecture shows that influence. Legend has it that it was the birthplace of Marco Polo, who left town as a baby for Venice and then on to Asia as a teenager. One difference between Rovinj and other walled towns in Croatia is that Rovinj had always been relatively poor and consequentially had no big mansions or elegant squares. The town had small twisted streets winding up to the church, the centerpiece of the community. The crypt of St. Euphemia is on display in the church (she is a martyr famous for not being eaten by lions) and they open it once a year at their festival. There is also a large tower adjacent to the church with a wooden stairway right out of the Hitchcock movie Vertigo. It is a “climb at your own risk” kind of place, with big gaps and holes between the slats.
The German couple we played bridge with were very unhappy about the stop at Rovinj and thought there was nothing there worth seeing. As Americans, we were kind of intrigued by the small claustrophobic kind of setting and enjoyed walking through the maze, although I admit it was not the best stop.
Our cruise director Angela had told us at the beginning of the cruise that we should, "Get Kuna (currency of Croatia) in Korcula and spend it all in Rovinj at the art galleries." I was expecting to do just that, but it turned out that the town was full of bad and awful art galleries filled with kitschy tourist stuff. As far as I could tell, the only thing worth buying in Rovinj was a gelato. We were not sad to sail away at sunset, which looked very pretty setting over the town.
It is always sad to end a cruise, and you know the fun is over when you have to have your bags outside your cabin before you go to bed on your last night. A copy of the bill had been left under the door, and if everything was correct you could sign it and pick up your passport from the pursers desk.
Venice, Italy – departure
We arrived at the San Marco Straits at around 6:30 and sailed by an empty St. Marks square. After breakfast we waited in the lounge for the rain to subside a little before leaving the ship at around 9:30. A small shuttle took us the short way to the port terminal, although we would have walked it if it had not been raining so hard. After claiming our luggage, we took the nearby vaporetto (6 Euros), which took us right into the town center. We got off at the Rialto stop and hired a waiting porter (20 Euros) to take our bags to our hotel – the Hotel Aqua Palace.
The Hotel Aqua Palace turned out to be a great place to stay in Venice, midway between the Rialto Bridge and St. Marks Square on a small canal. I plan on writing a separate review of the hotel – but that is another story.
I was going to write an updated detailed review, but decided to read the others' before I began. John G's review, written in December 2001, really captures the experience perfectly. I recommend that you read and believe his article.
We had a marvelous and memorable trip through the Grenadines on a beautiful sailing vessel. There were 2 nights of "rock-n-roll" from the waves (1 evening, 10 people didn't make it to dinner, but all were fine by the next morning). The crew was splendid, especially Captain Sergey, and couldn't do enough to make everyone's trip enjoyable. Many of the staff have worked for Star Clippers for years, which speaks highly of the company.
The itinerary and anchorages were so good that we only took 1 excursion (in Grenada). Typically, the ship puts you directly in towns or beaches (sometimes both in a single day) that are picture perfect. We snorkeled at 5 different snorkel sites for free in a single week. They also have on-board activities (like mast climbing) that are really fun and free use of kayaks, sailfishes, snorkeling gear, etc. They even taught our 10-year-old how to waterski at no charge.This free daytime entertainment helps to defray the relatively high cost of the cruise, compared to the discount lines, where you have to buy lots of excursion add-ons. When you look at the whole packaage, we felt we got a lot for our money.
Our only criticism was with the food, which was adequate, but not very good. The kitchen does a great job with what it has on board. Unfortunately, that does not usually include fresh fish, meat or vegetables. They use lots of frozen and canned products, which is remarkable considering they are in port almost every day. Also, lunch is served from 12 to 2,the afternoon snack from 5-6 and dinner from 7:30-10, with no room service. If you eat an early lunch and miss the snack, it's a long way to go til dinner. But, this is really small stuff.
Most of the people we met in this older, international crowd were repeat sailors with Star Clippers. We understand why and hope to join them again, too. This is not a trip for everyone, but if the notion of a relatively small upscale sailing cruise appeals to you--this is definitely the way to go!
One last note--you definitely want to be fit. We had to take tenders almost all of the time and there is definitely some bounce to the transfer from ship to tender. Also, it is a 4-story walk-up from the cabins and dining room on the lowest deck to the topmost sundeck. Between that and the snorkeling, we felt that we stayed in shape all week, without using any of the gym equipment.
In short, we (family of 3) loved it!
We have cruised about a dozen times before, on the large cruise ships of Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Norwegian, and Celebrity. We were intrigued with taking a cruise on a smaller-sized, real sailing ship (no big entertainment, no casino, no long lines). The Royal Clipper is a beautiful new sailing ship of the Star Clippers cruise line.
Judy and I flew out of Minneapolis on American Airlines on a Friday morning. We had decided to fly a day early to our cruise that started in Barbados, and spend one night in a hotel to ensure we wouldn't miss the boat. It was a long day of traveling. Our first plane was to Chicago. Second to Miami. Third to Barbados. We arrived in Barbados late, about 9:30 p.m., and got a ride over to our hotel for the night.
It was raining - the hotel staff told us December is usually their driest month, but they had been having a lot of rain this year (it figures). They have had some trouble with Dengue fever on the island,so our room had a mosquito coil slowly burning on the floor (nice touch). The cruiseline was supposed to pick us up at 3:30 the following day (Saturday) to take us to the ship, which was supposed to dock at 6:00 a.m., unloaded the passengers, then let us new passengers on the ship by 5:00 p.m. for a 10:00 sailing.
We checked out of our hotel at noon, and sat around the pool and read our books and relaxed until 3:30 p.m. I had a funny feeling that nobody would actually come get us as promised. Then a taxi driver looking for someone else asked us who we were waiting for, and when we told him we were waiting for a taxi to take us to the Royal Clipper, he said he had overheard some bad news - it wasn't coming back until the NEXT day because of problems! I asked him if this happened often, and he said, no.
So I called the agent for the cruise company and found out that indeed, the ship was very late getting back from Martinique to Barbados (the longest leg of the cruise)they had run into very strong head winds (were probably relying on their engine), and were due in about 8 or 9 p.m. They said we could stay at the hotel until they were ready to take us to the ship, or they could pick us up now and take us to a bar/restaurant/beach area downtown (Bridgetown) where the other passengers would be arriving. They would take us to a restaurant for dinner (a pretty forgettable meal), and then when it was time to board the ship, they would take us to the ship. We opted for the second option - we did not want to hang around the hotel anymore.
While we were waiting in Bridgetown, we met some of our fellow passengers on the voyage, including a nice older couple from Florida, whom we spent a lot of time with on the trip, as well as couples from England, Germany, and Virginia. It turned out there were only 97 passengers on our trip, on a boat that accommodated over 200. September 11th definitely had something to do with it. There were many English and German people on the cruise, so all announcements were made in three languages. On the menus in the dining room, French came first, then English, and then German. I also met an Austrian man who had cruised more exotic, adventurous places, such as the high arctic and Antarctica, and was looking forward next year to a voyage on a Russian icebreaker to reach the North Pole.
We finally were taken to the ship at 10:00 p.m., and the captain got us underway a little before midnight. Once we got out of the harbor (at each port) by engine power, the crew would start hoisting the 33 sails (give or take a couple) to the theme music from the movie, "Christopher Columbus: 1492." It was all very interesting and moving.
The passengers were never made to feel they were in the crew's way. This was a beautiful 2-year old ship, not an old Windjammer, and the passengers WERE NOT asked to help with the sails.
Once we got underway, we had to cross the Atlantic from Barbados to the first destination, Carriacou, an island north of Grenada. The rocking and tossing of the boat made me feel a little nauseous, so I decided to just lie down on my bed (wishing I hadn't eaten dinner). It was not that bad, and apparently did not affect Judy much. I was happy to discover the next morning I had fallen asleep, and we were now on calm seas.
Some drizzling on and off, but we took the tender boat that landed on Carriacou, and then went on to a tiny island called Sandy Island, where we did some snorkeling before it rained again. It was not much more than a sand bar with about 5 palm trees on it, but somebody later told me the island had a lot more trees before the most recent hurricane decreased their number.
Breakfasts and lunches on the ship were always buffets (breakfast also featured a chef making omelets to order), and you sat anywhere and with whom you wanted. The food was good, but I thought the quality (and variety) was a little bit below what I've usually experienced on Princess. Dinner was a choice of two entrees, as well as salad, soup, appetizer, and dessert. Because they put out an afternoon snack at 5:00, we never went to dinner before 8:00. Dinner also was come when you want and sit with whom you want. We met some other nice people this way, including a travel writer from Manhattan who was on board with her mother, and a schoolteacher from England. One night we ate with three of the four young Swedish people who were the water sports staff. We met some other English couples on the trip who were also very charming. One of them had been on the ship the previous week (a different island itinerary) and told us it was so rough sailing back to Barbados the previous Saturday that two women fell off their chairs in the dining room, and the silverware and glasses were falling off the tables. I was glad we missed that voyage.
We took the tender from the ship to Grenada. The taxi drivers here were VERY aggressive trying to engage you in conversation so they could take you on an island tour in their taxis. I do not think they believed us when we told them we had been to and seen much of the island before (we had). We walked around the markets, but did not find much to buy except for the usual spices. We did find a store that sold some exotic flavors of ice cream, and after we bought two cones, the owner gave us a golden-foil wrapped nutmeg, which is the leading export of Grenada (without the gold foil), and even appears on their flag. We bought some real cinnamon bark and some locally made vanilla extract for presents to friends back home.
We had been told that our ship would be moved at 4:00 p.m. to dock at the pier, so we would not need the tender boats to get back to the ship later. We got back to the pier at 2:30 and waited and waited but no tender ever came. I was starting to become annoyed, as we were running out of time left in Grenada to get to a beach. There was a huge container cargo ship blocking our view, which it turned out, prevented us from seeing that our ship had moved EARLY, and was around the corner from where we were waiting. I finally asked a woman in an information booth if she had heard of anything, and a man talking to her told us our ship was docked around the corner! So we went back to the ship and got changed into our swimsuits and got our snorkeling gear together, and took a taxi to Grenada's probably best-known beach, Grand Anse. It is supposed to have good snorkeling, but it is a very long beach, and apparently where the taxi dropped us off there were no fish.
This was the highlight day of the cruise for most people. We were now in the Grenadines, which included many small islands, some of which had beautiful beaches and coral reefs but no inhabitants. We first took an excursion that showed us Palm and Union Islands, then we stopped at a beautiful beach (Salt Whistle) on Maryeau for a swim, where the water was nice and warm, and different shades of aquamarine and blue and teal. Then we went snorkeling on the famous Horseshoe Reef circling the Tobago Cays (four uninhabited islets), and then were let off on another small island, I believe named Petite Bateau, where the rest of the ship's passengers were enjoying a very tasty beach barbeque lunch. Just when we got our food, the skies opened up and everyone got wet. But it didn't spoil what had been a terrific day.
One of the few disappointments on the cruise was that the cruise/excursion director did not appear to be very familiar with some of the islands, where to go, etc., but only knew about the excursions he was selling. In fairness to him, I think he had only been in the islands for a few weeks. But it was frustrating that, unlike the large cruise ships, this did not supply us with any island or city maps except for St. Lucia, and we never knew where exactly the ship would be stationed if it took people to a beach. In fact, because of the low passenger level, several of the shore excursions had to be cancelled because they didn't get the minimum amount of people needed.
The more we cruise, the more independent we seem to have become, especially if we have been to an island before. It is usually a lot cheaper to hire a taxi to take you where you want to go or see by yourselves, instead of paying for a tour through the ship. The only drawback is that you have got to make it back to the ship before it sails - they won't wait for you if you are late and are not on one of the ship's shore excursions.
We were supposed to be in St. Vincent in the morning, and the small yet quaint island of Bequia in the afternoon. The whole day it rained. The only washed-out day of the cruise. Judy and I walked around the markets in Kingstown in the morning, but didn't find any place that sold any kind of tee shirts or souvenirs; but we did find an Internet Cafe, which was very reasonable - $2 for 15 minutes (the ship's PC available to send an e-mail for $35 did not work, and I had to argue a little to get a refund). I sent an e-mail to our younger son at college, to tell him that if our voyage was delayed getting back to Barbados (as the last week's one was), when he got to the airport the day AFTER we were supposed to come home (Sunday), and called us to pick him up, if we didn't answer the phone, to take a taxi home.
I had been planning on getting a taxi driver to show us around the small island of Bequia in the afternoon, as well as let us off for an hour at one of the beautiful beaches on the island to swim and snorkel, but the rain changed all of that. We decided to walk around the small main street of the harbor (Port Elizabeth) anyhow, and bought a couple of souvenirs. There is a famous wooden boat shop in Bequia (the models sell for $200-$300), but the place was closed. But at least we weren't disappointed about the excursion to the very exclusive island of Mustique (homes owned by Bill Gates, Mick Jagger, etc.) being cancelled (because of the bad weather). Because we were only going to be in Bequia for a few hours, we had to decide before today between taking the Mustique excursion or spending the time on Bequia, and we had chosen Bequia.
Nice weather today in St. Lucia. We did not think we had enough time to take a taxi down to the southern end of the island where the snorkeling was (Anse Chastanet) as well as a beautiful view of the Pitons (two green mountains rising out of the sea), so we took a taxi north to Pigeon Island, where the Hyatt Hotel (which was pretty empty) had a beautiful swimming beach. This brings up one minor disappointment with the cruise: in several places the ship left at 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon, unlike the usual 5:00 or 6:00 on the large cruise ships. So our time on any one island was more limited.
However, the second highlight of the trip took place in the afternoon. Since the weather was nice, the captain let people get onto a tender with their cameras, and after we sailed away from the ship, put up all the sails so we could take pictures of the ship in all of its glory. It was really something to see. Our tender even briefly maneuvered in front of the path of the ship, where it became very obvious how fast the sailing ship was really moving through the water, right at us!
The evenings on the ship were pretty quiet. One night they had a Caribbean party with a local steel drum band on board, another night a passenger talent show that turned out to be an all- CREW talent show, except for one older woman who belted out some aria from some opera we weren't familiar with. There were two channels on the in-room television showing year-old movies, one in English, one in German or French with the other language in subtitles. So I ended up rewatching some movies I had already seen, but were pretty good (like "Billy Elliot, Christopher Columbus: 1492," etc.) They showed "Columbus" because that's the movie whose music they played when the sails went up leaving port. The movie was over two hours long, but when it hit the two-hour mark, the movie stopped! Several of us at dinner shared our disappointment, and none of us (without the end of the movie) could remember if Columbus ended up being killed on his fourth voyage, or how his story ended. I found the answer on the web:
Christopher Columbus died in Valladolid, Spain, on May 20, 1506, at the age of 54. He had suffered through a long terminal illness that first showed symptoms on his third voyage eight years before.
According to his son Fernando, the cause of death was "gout." But in those days, gout was a catchall diagnosis for anything that caused joint pain. Recent research by Gerald Weissmann indicates that the most likely cause of death was Reiter's Syndrome, a rare tropical disease.
Last island of the trip, Martinique. We signed up for our only other ship's excursion - a morning catamaran ride down to a black sand beach that had snorkeling. When we got down there, they took us in a Zodiac boat to see the only two bat caves on the island. For some reason I could not get a picture of the hundreds of bats in the dark in the caves. Then we spent an hour snorkeling before it was time to sail back to the Royal Clipper for the last time. On one side of the bay I watched thousands of small, silver fish circle around and around, a fish river in the sea.
We had little over an hour left when we got back to the ship, and we walked into Fort du France, Martinque - it was a long walk, but all we found were restaurants, grocery stores, and shops for the locals. Martinique is much more cosmopolitan, white collar, and upscale than some of the other nearby islands like St. Lucia. We almost got lost trying to find our way back to the streets we needed to take back to the ship but fortunately found our way back.
In the afternoon, I went up on deck to attend a knot-tying class conducted by a member of the crew from Trinidad. His English was a little hard to understand, and of the six or seven students, I had the most trouble with one or two of the knots. He went through about seven different knots, all of which sounded like they had the same name, yet a different specific purpose. He would check each student's knot, and say, "Very good, excellent, or sometimes in my case, "I've never seen THAT one before!" I would have been happy if he had stopped after the first couple of knots so that I would remember something. In fact, after the class was finished, I realized I had become so confused about tying knots, that I temporarily forgot how to tie a simple bow or shoelace! Fortunately this knowledge returned later on that day.
We had our last dinner, and Judy started packing. Our bags had to be out in the hallway by 4:30 a.m. (the big cruise ships have a midnight deadline). Thankfully the seas were not too rough, although we had some bad vibrations shaking the doors in the room all the way back to Barbados on Friday night/early Saturday morning.
We had our early bird breakfast and left for the airport to catch our 9:00 flight from Barbados back to Miami. When we got to the airport, there was a really long line with just one security agent working on our flight. She had on plastic gloves and was opening up EVERY piece of to-be-checked luggage, and going through everything, including lots of dirty laundry. It went so slow, I do not know how our flight was ONLY 30 minutes late. When we got to Miami, going through customs was awful - the place was a madhouse of hundreds and hundreds of people dashing one way or the other, or standing in very long lines. When we went to the baggage carrousels to claim our luggage, they changed the carrousel number (1 to 8) THREE times without posting it on the electronic signs. Then, after we rechecked our luggage and went to catch our next flight, when we went through security, I was taken aside, padded down and "wanded," and also asked to show the soles of my shoes (something new and odd). We did not know until we got home that night about the incident that day on another American Airlines flight with the "shoe bomber" who had plastic explosive in his shoe and was trying to ignite it.
Some Additional Thoughts
The ship had three tiny saltwater pools, but we didn't use any of them. The rear of the ship on the first level had a marina platform that went opened down over the water, where they offered scuba, sailboating, wind surfing, water skiing, etc. on a couple of the islands, but we didn't have the chance to use it. The cabins themselves had nice wood paneling, and the bathrooms had marble floors (but also a tiny shower with a curtain that tended to want to stick to your rear and become more intimate with you than you desired).
The captain and entire crew of the ship were warm and gracious. With only 97 people on our voyage, we got to meet a lot of people and sometimes it felt like one big family. Indeed, there were about 23 people on board having a family reunion, complete with some children.
One evening the captain of the ship gave a basic navigation lesson, and passed around a real sextent, which would be useful if the global positioning satellite system went down. I was disappointed the lesson did not get into actual information about how they use the sails to propel the ship, or what the different 33 sails were for. Another afternoon Louis, the chief engineer, gave us a quick tour through the engine rooms of the ship. Some of the engine rooms were very hot and very noisy.
Below the waterline on the lowest level of the ship was a small gym/health spa. I used the treadmills there several afternoons. One wall had portholes that were underwater, but I never saw any fish swim by.
All of the ports we visited accepted American currency. The other islands, except Barbados and Martinique, also took EC (Eastern Caribbean) currency.
Many of the people on the ship had only been on one or none of the large cruise ships before, yet were pretty negative about them. I found myself a minority of one saying I have enjoyed both types of sailing experiences. But understand that this type of cruise on a real sailing vessel is NOT for everyone.
All in all, it was a real fun week and cruise, and we were all saddened to have to leave the ship and the people whose company we enjoyed during the week.
After numerous cruises to the Western Caribbean on a variety of conventional cruise ships, I was looking for something different for our annual wedding anniversary cruise in December. I found the Star Clipper Line on the internet and was fascinated by the Royal Clipper and the itinerary..the Windward Islands, places we had never been before. When we arrived in Barbados, and the cruiseline rep waiting at the airport called us by name, I knew we were in for something special. Our bags were in the cabin in minutes.
The ship is fairly new (July, 2000). This is a big sailing ship - not a hotel. Biggest sailing cruise ship in the world - certainly bigger than any plying the Caribbean waters or the Med. A visual feast with five very tall masts, and almost always under sail. Compare it to other sailing ships or steel cruise ships: 429 feet long, masts almost 200 feet high, 54 foot beam (width), 56,000 square feet of sail (a typical cabin on a cruise ship has 140 square feet floor area.) Includes 26 square sails, 12 staysails, three jibs, a spanker. Every time the sailedand hoisted sail, they played inspiring music over the topside speakers!
High quality appointments, cabin fixtures, and materials throughout. Very pleasant crew, enough food - well prepared - to keep us alive and happy. Rides the waves like a sailing ship - not bumpy, not flat, not boring. You're here to sail but not to fear for your life. 20 knots top speed at sail (that's very fast over 4-6 foot swells - feels great!)
This ship has stairs (lots of them), no elevator, three wetting pools, more open deck space than 5 cruise ships, ample lounge chairs, and a nice quiet "public" room and library. The cabins - even the basic ones - are very well appointed, attractive, and roomy. The whole place feels pretty upscale but you don't find yourself wishing you brought your tux or tiara.
Pax capacity is 228. The mix was 15% US, 20% UK, 50% Germany, 15% Canada and others. All adults. Age averages seemed to be 50+; some retirees, some captains of industry, some solos. There were a few younger single women. Many were past cruisers and past Clipper fans. A number of European's were taking back to back week cruises aboard, due to the high cost of flying to Barbados. Veteran cruisers appreciated the size/style/environment of this sailing ship vs. the "floating Hyatts".
At most ports, we anchored offshore and used the tenders to land. The marketing brochures of Star Clipper leads one to expect unique landing or small beach anchorages. This ship is too large to sneak into some swimming holes. But it certainly comes near shores easily. Although Windstar and other sailing lines (like Windjammer)" sail these waters, it was clear in most ports that the size and unique qualities of the Royal Clipper earned admiring gazes of many folks on shore, and even other conventional cruise ships. One went out of their way to pass close for their pax to take photographs of us under sail, leaving St. Kitts.
The Crew: A mixture of nationalities of very pleasant men and woman who are relaxed, polite, and obviously satisfied to work on this vessel. Many eastern European men are in the deck crew. Many said they had worked for several of the larger cruise lines but chose Star Clipper Lines. They treat the employees well, even letting some return home during peak periods like the holidays.
Officers were Norwegian, Polish, English, etc. Captain Marek is animated, boisterous, loves to dance with guests, eats in the dining room every night, and loves rainbows!! For most, his positive energy was contagious. The bridge is always open to visitors.
The Cabins: They're clean, well decorated, comfy, and have adequate space, with storage for bags under bed. We had a true double bed, not two twins faking it. Lots of wood (ersatz) and classical-looking materials. Marble (real) in the bathroom. Toiletries provided and towels changed twice a day. Storage adequate, not great. Rooms sound proof - except in some when the anchors come and go, or the power grinders help with the sail lines. Carpeting galore. Nice nautical colors and patterns. No neon. No "art". TV ran text news - sometimes. Movies played in English, French, German, and a variety of music on several channels. In room safes were available.
Public rooms: Nice variety - exterior very free form, interiors like large living rooms. A comfy library with a faux fireplace. A forward room called the Observation Lounge that few people use. Contains two computers for Internet use if you purchase an internet card, and board games. A library, as equipped as other ships. Below decks, you can descend to Nemo's Lounge. It's not a lounge as was planned, but the "gym" and a beauty salon. It has exercise machines, including some treadmills and stationery bicycles, and a few other devices. There were, as advertised, three or four underwater portholes ! A great idea. Except in day you can't see much.
Amidships, (above the water line) is a very nice and quiet inside room, called the Piano Bar which is really just a large space with couches, chairs, coffee machines, a bar and a piano. It surrounds the "atrium" - another touch from the "big iron ships."
The dining room is the lower level of the "atrium." The dining room is wonderful and skillfully plotted to handle everyone at any time. The galley (and dishes, serving stations) seem to be miles away - so it's quiet, odorless. Buffet dinner the first night before sailing, and all breakfasts and lunches. Dinner is open seating ala carte menu. Come in anytime between 7:30 and 10pm.
A bar and covered deck area (where we embark and disembark) were nautical and nice. This is were after dinner dancing, entertainment by crew and passengers, and fun and games takes place at night. One night they brought aboard a fabulous steel band until we sailed about 11pm.
The top (Sun) deck is the best - huge, all areas open. Features big things which help the ship sail - like masts, lines, machines, gadgets, chains. All teak decking, abundant benches and things to sit on or lean against or lie on. Visibility from the deck is 360 degrees with no air conditioning boxes or cranes blocking your view or your movement. The pools are wet - one has a glass bottom which is viewed from the piano bar atrium. Two are very small. I like to float in water that's floating on a ship that's floating in sea. It's comfy - if you like salt water.
There's lots of room to stand or sit by the bridge area - there's a great high platform to stand like an Admiral and study the horizon. Looking back over the deck, even the slightest roll of the ship is magnified by the 200 foot masts - this thing is an engineering marvel that must be seen to appreciated. We heard it cost $65 million to float it - that may be low. Forward (in front of) the bridge area is more deck space. And beyond that (even more forward) is some tight netting that hangs out over the water under the bowsprit. (That's the stick thing that points ahead of the ship.) You can get out on this net - there's room for a brigade - and ride (dry) above the waves just ahead of the ship as it cuts thru the surf.
Food: There's a lot of it. The variety at breakfast and lunch buffet each day is amazing. Breakfasts had all the normal crunchy stuff plus oatmeal. A nice chef with stove top cooked eggs any way/any time/any amount you like. Lunches had lots of greens, lots of cheeses, lots of noodle things, lots of fruits, lots of desserts. And many hot dishes, meats. Dinners were very nice. Every night there were three entry choices, and two choices of appetizer, a soup, a salad, a pasta, three desserts, and a cheese plate. Selections included lobster tail, rack of lamb, baked salmon, flounder, grouper, beef tenderloin, duck, shrimp tempura etc. The wine list is good, and more moderately priced than any cruise line we have been on. $125 for bottle of good French merlot, the house red wine, $22 for a French pinot noir, etc. They don't "push" alcohol. There were finger sandwiches, fruit and hot snacks from 5-6pm on deck, and a snack in the piano bar from 1130pm-0030am. There is no room service except in suites. Didn't need it anyway.
Noticeably absent are ship photographers. There was one captain's night, when men ore shirts with ties, few coats. Other nights, long trousers and tropical or polo shirts for men and nice casual for women. During the day shorts, etc were acceptable.
Sports The ship has a platform off the back (the stern) that lowers into the water. The ship comes apart - and a float platform, with room for 40, becomes a dock in the water (when the ship is anchored). You can swim off that - I did. They launch some scuba and snorkel adventures off that. They also offer banana boat and zodiac boat rides, and a Laser sailboat...all for free. You can borrow for a week (for free) all the snorkel and scuba gear you need. It's well organized. In some ports the equipment is moved to the beach.
Shops The a desk where the purser lives has toothpaste, lighters, and any combination of hats and shirts with the ship's logo. No emeralds, no booze, no art, no nonsense, no discounts. Diamonds International and Columbian Emeralds are not represented.
Tours Couldn't comment. We didn't take them. Seemed moderate and well-planned. Tour director was professional and thoughtful - not a shill for the line's treasury.
Ports: St. Lucia: most shops closed on Sunday. Visited Reduit Beach/anchored in Rodney Bay. Terre de Haut (Iles des Saintes): Anchored. Picturesque French fishing village with shops. Used private beach at resort hotel..topless permitted. Antigua: Anchored off Falmouth Harbor..longest in port day 11am-11pm. Tendered to beach for BBQ then tendered to yacht club and walked to English Harbor and Nelson Dockyard. Looks like Annapolis harbor with some HUGE yachts and lots of sailing yachts. Some people took taxis to St. John's to shop. St. Kitts: Anchored off Bassterre/then moved to anchorage at South Friars Beach in Frigate Bay. Spectacular unspoiled scenery. Artificial reef with good snorkling and some topless sunbathing. No hotels in sight..just beach, sea, and green mountains. Dominica: Pierside at Cabrits, Portsmouth. Rain forest. Snorkling excursion by tender to underwater park. Rain!! Martinique: Pierside in Forte de France. Walked to downtown shopping. Very French. My wife called it a woman's port: lots of boutique dress shops, jewelry, etc. Went to duty free shops. Some took ferry to resort strip which they swore was like the southern coast of France. Left too soon.
We purchased our air through the cruise line and bought insurance..due to the recent troubles. The ship arrived in Barbados the last day 13 hours late due to rough weather. They advised everyone early and they said they would handle new travel arrangements for everyone by satellite to their European and Florida offices, whether we had purchased through the cruise line or not. The held a briefing and then held "open bar" for the rest of the day..including wine with lunch and dinner. We finally arrived after dinner, and they promptly transported us to a Barbados resort hotel on the beach and provided the room and meals at not cost, and transfer to the airport the next day. A class act. And I only heard one complaint. Imagine that on Carnival!
Misc: No problem with purchasing liquor ashore and bringing it aboard to use in the cabin. 220V electricity except shavers. No doctor aboard, only a nurse who also works in the dining room. Tips directly to the crew are discouraged. Guideline is $8 per day per person, put in cash or charge to a pool shared equally by the crew. No smoking in cabins or any enclosed public areas, except a few smoking tables and a small area in the piano bar.
Major pros: Ship is stunning and sea-worthy - and truly sails (by hand, not computer.) Plenty of space, beautiful fixtures and decorating. Well planned. Passenger count and socialization, if desired, is very satisfying. "Intimate" is not the perfect word, but the idea works.
Major cons: None. But you must know difference between sailing this ship and floating on a cruise ship. This ship sails. There is the "motion of the ocean." Some may wish they were back in the Waldorf. Most pax who were concerned used patches or dramamine tablets.
Compares: To no ship at sea - it surpasses other "sailing" cruise ships that are upscale with metallic sails or sails that are moved by computers. The Royal's sails, while lowered and raised with power aids, are set and "trimmed" by the Captain and his crew for maximum efficiency. And in size and material, this is closest to what were true sailing ships of the 19th century - the way people and goods moved between the hemispheres. Note: We have cruised twice on Princess, 5 times on Carnival, once on HAL and once on RCL, and my wife has cruised on QE2 and Norwegian once each. We'll do those again, but this was special.
>From the pricing and outfitting, you will expect to see folks who might otherwise ride Princess or HAL ships. This is not the Carnival crowd. This is a cerebral crowd, usually sober, bored with slot machines, and past the stage of wearing baseball caps (backwards), tank top shirts, or nose rings. I'll likely try another Star Clippers Line cruise next year, perhaps on Star Clipper through the Treasure Islands, or the new Mayan Adventure.