IMAGINE yourself on the teak deck of a timelessly elegant clipper ship, a warm breeze blowing in your face as the crew unfurl 54,000 square feet of sails above you.
You begin to tingle head to toe.
As you sail into the sunset, you sigh when you realize this is one of the most incredible experiences you have ever had.
Yup, that pretty much sums it up for me.
In December I experienced the Royal Clipper on a 7 day Windward Island sailing from Barbados, that included stops in St. Lucia, Dominica, Antigua, St. Kitts, Guadeloupe and Martinique. I love to cruise, have been on a good number of ocean and river cruises, and have sailed on small sailboats and catamarans on day trips, so I was very excited to experience a true sailing ship.
I really did not fully know what to expect, so I went with an open mind. And I ended up falling in love!
What made this sailing so special?
This is a sailing ship. Not a cruise ship. So everything was different. Which made the experience so much fun. Being a small ship, it wasn't difficult to navigate, however there were some areas I didn't find until later in the week. Little surprises. How fun is that! The lounges and bars were very nice spaces, as was the library. Plenty of areas to have private parties or meetings if you come with a leisure or business group.
This is a sailing ship. Not a cruise ship. Not the modern marvels being launched by other lines. As much as I enjoy cruise ships and all they offer, the Royal Clipper had all the comfort and amenities I needed and wanted along with a nautical flair and laid back casual ambience. Nothing formal. Perfect.
I found the cabin to be very comfortable. The Royal Clipper also has an Owner's Suite and a few deluxe cabins with balconies. I would highly recommend upgrading to a deluxe cabin. The balcony is quite nice and a perfect spot for some quiet time. I was not as enamored with the Owner's Suite (just being honest!).
I am by no means a food snob, but a big part of traveling is experiencing food that is different from what I normally have at home. Star Clippers offers that and then some.
Meals are normally served in the main (and only) dining room. An early bird continental breakfast can be had in the Piano Bar. We had one beach bar-b-q and one lunch served on deck in the Tropical Bar.
Breakfast and lunch is served buffet style, with a large variety of options. On this sailing there were a large number of Germans and Brits on board (which I later found out is normal on most sailings), and the breakfast options reflected this. Lunch had different themes each day, including Asian, Italian and seafood. My biggest complaint - way too many delicious dessert options. I'm not normally a big dessert eater, but these were too good to pass up. Around 5pm snacks were served, including cheese and crackers and tea sandwiches. Not too much but a nice variety to hold us until dinner.
Dinner started at 730 pm with open seating. The menu included new items each evening, with a meat, vegetarian or local fish option, as well as regular items, like steak and pasta. I suppose if one is a very picky eater there may not be enough variety, however I heard no complaints from my table mates.
The wine menu offered a wide variety of options, with wines hailing from Australia, Europe, South America and the US.
The Ports of Call
For the most part, Star Clipper itineraries take you into small ports of call, away from where the big ships stop. It's lovely not being overrun by thousands of tourists pouring off the ships. Each day we tendered in, either into a small marina or directly to a beach where we could spend the day relaxing, playing or snorkeling in the beautiful blue waters. On one stop some guests snorkeling just off the beach saw turtles, rays and too many colorful fish to count. And no one else around them. Awesome.
In several ports we had the opportunity to sign up for excursions, ranging from easy going scenic drives and rail rides to more active kayak eco tours, 4 x 4 jeep excursions, river tubing and hiking opportunities.
These small ports get you away from the tourist traps, allowing you to see more of how the locals truly live. In Dominica I hopped into a taxi with some friends and had our own little tour of the area. It was sad to see the devastation from last year's hurricanes, but at the same time wonderful to see the rebuilding efforts. Some of the new resorts coming are incredible. The highlight of this little jaunt was our driver as well as stopping at a local beach-side bar and eatery. Priceless. In Les Saintes I met the artist I purchased a few watercolors from. She spoke only French - I don't. How fun is that!
The entire experience was special, but three activities/events were extra special - not to be missed if at all possible.
As we were leaving port each night, the sails were being raised with the tune from the movie "1492: Conquest of Paradise" playing. Absolutely mesmerizing. It never got old. During one of the sail-aways the crew allowed guests to assist with the pulling of the ropes. I didn't participate, but those involved all said it wasn't as easy as it looked! Very sore muscles the next day. And the crew does this every night.
The one thing I absolutely wanted to do on this trip was climb up to the Crow's Nest. Mission accomplished and worth every minute. Also not as easy as it looked. Those rope steps can be a bit challenging. But the reward - oh my!
The last treat was the Photo Safari. Tenders took two groups around the ship for about 45 minutes to take photos from every angle. We started with the sun still up and ended at dusk with the sails all lit up. Breathtaking. I only took my smart phone, however those with better cameras came away with some fantastic shots.
Is the experience for everyone? No, but then again all cruise ships aren't for everyone either. On this sailing we had a family with younger children, multi-generational families, a couple on their honeymoon, a few singles and many couples of all age ranges. Some had sailed just about every itinerary Star Clippers has to offer (80% of their guests sail again within 2 years). A few sail on ultra-luxury cruise lines or adventure cruises in addition to Star Clippers.
Star Clippers is an authentic sailing experience. The sails are not for show. The ship is largely powered by the wind, with itineraries designed to take advantage of the trade winds. Cabins are not luxurious but very comfortable and the food is great. The ports are small and unique. Evening entertainment varies with local flavor.
If unique is what you are seeking, Star Clippers may very well fit the bill.
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