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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 ship 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 sailed and 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. $12 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!