Although I had looked around Star Clipper before, I had never been at sea in one of the Clipper ships. Therefore when the opportunity arose to visit Barbados, and then spend 3 nights onboard Royal Clipper cruising to Antigua, I didn’t need to think about it for too long. I give details below of my review of the trip, as well as some facts and figures for the ship.
I arrived in Gatwick bright and early, to meet the other 6 people in our group, and we were all really looking forward to the trip. Things got even better when we found that British Airways had upgraded us to World Traveller Plus. When we arrived in a hot and sunny Barbados we were transferred to the Tamarind hotel, which is part of the Elegant Hotels group. I had an Ocean View Junior Suite, which was really spacious, and had great air conditioning.
Over the next couple of days we were kept busy, with guided tours of the Tamarind, The House, Colony Club and Turtle Beach hotels. We also enjoyed a catamaran trip, which included snorkelling with turtles, a guided tour of the island, and on the second evening we enjoyed dinner at ‘Cin Cin’, which is one of the newest restaurants on the West Coast.
Cruise Day 1 – We arrived at the port in Bridgetown, and were met by the magnificent sight of the Royal Clipper. Even with the massive Ventura and Celebrity Eclipse berthed behind her, she still stood out as being so impressive. You could feel the excitement of everyone waiting to get on board, and that included a high level of repeat passengers, not just first timers like me.
After finding my cabin and unpacking, I met the others in the bar for a drink, which was followed by a lifeboat drill. After dinner we went up on deck for the sail away at 10pm. Despite it being dark, it was still impressive to see all the sails being hoisted. We set sail to the haunting sound of Conquest of Paradise, by Vangelis, which added to the occasion. I have been on many cruises before, but none matched the magic of this departure from port. People stayed up on deck for a long time after leaving port, and then we had a last drink before I returned to my cabin for the night.
During the night it was windy, and there was some movement from side to side. However, this is a sailing ship after all, and I didn’t find it as bad as I have experienced previously in some large cruise liners.
Cruise Day 2 – after a relaxing breakfast there was a second lifeboat drill / briefing, although lifejackets weren’t needed for this one. It was held by the cruise director, and we were given some more information about the ship, and told that there were 178 passengers onboard for this cruise, nearly half of whom had cruised with Star Clippers previously. Then the Captain gave a short talk and introduced us to the main officers and crew. After this I spent some time relaxing around the ship, before meeting the others for lunch, during which we anchored in Rodney’s Bay in St Lucia. After lunch some people took a tender to the beach, but I took one to the Marina, where I had a rum punch and took advantage of a fast internet connection.
Back onboard again I made use of the time to transfer photos and videos to my laptop, and then had a short nap. Sail away today was at 6pm, and then I met the others for drinks before dinner. After eating we went to the Tropical Bar for the Fashion Show at 10pm. In fact this was the sports crew modelling everything which could be purchased in the shop onboard, with some music and humour thrown in. This isn’t the sort of entertainment you would get on one of the mainstream cruise ships, but people don’t cruise with Star Clippers for a mainstream type of holiday. There was a surprisingly good party atmosphere in the Tropical Bar, which is open at both sides of the ship, and was therefore not too hot. After the show there was music from the resident duo, with people happy to either just listen or join in dancing.
Cruise Day 3 – we had been told last night of a rare event this morning so, after coffee and Danish pastries, everyone was up on deck before 8am. As we approached the coastline of Dominica, we could see Star Clipper in the distance, and we gradually sailed towards her. As we got near we could see that all her passengers and crew were also on deck. We circled around the back of her, and both ships raised all sails, and then we set off alongside each other. Both ships were playing music, and everyone was waving. Crew members on both ships climbed along the bowsprit on the front of the ships, and flags were waved. Everyone I spoke to said that the occasion was really special
After breakfast there was the opportunity to climb the rigging to the crow’s nest, which I saw a number of people doing. I took the opportunity to go and visit the bridge, which is open for passengers to go and have a look around, and chat to the officer of the watch.
We anchored off Cabrits in Dominica at around midday, and again there was a choice of tenders to either the beach or the marina, for those not booked on excursions. I chose to stay onboard and relax, and try the ship’s internet, however it was extremely slow.
The ship sailed at 4.30pm, but then anchored further round the island in the bay at Roseau at 7pm for 30 minutes, to enable people who had done certain excursions to get back onboard.
At 6.30pm our group met to have a look at some of the other cabin categories, which enabled me to get more photos to show customers how they differ. We then went to watch the sail away from Roseau, before going to dinner. Then at 10pm there was a music quiz in the Tropical Bar.
Cruise Day 4 – It was time to pack again after getting up, because, although the other passengers were onboard for 7 nights, our small group was just on for 3 nights. The ship arrived in Antigua and after an enjoyable lunch, and a few more drinks, we disembarked for our transfer to the airport.
For once luck wasn’t on our side, and there was a delay on the LIAT flight to Barbados, meaning we didn’t get to our hotel, the All Inclusive Crystal Cove, until gone 10pm. However we managed a few drinks relaxing by the pool, and caught the end of the evening’s entertainment.
After an enjoyable breakfast we were shown around the hotel, which has an amazing beachside position, and saw the various grades of accommodation on offer. We were then picked up to go for a tour of Harrison’s Cave, which has some amazing stalactite and stalagmite formations. Then it was back to the hotel for lunch, which was a waitress service menu in the restaurant, or they had a beach bar buffet alternative.
We then grabbed our cases and headed to the airport, where we found that we had again been lucky enough to have World Traveller Plus seats, courtesy of BA. We arrived back in Gatwick at 6am the next day, and I had to clear a lot of ice off my car windscreen before I could start on the long drive home.
I had a fantastic time onboard Royal Clipper, and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone wanting to try something a bit different.
Obviously everyone’s tastes and expectations vary, but I would categorise the Star Clipper experience as follows: -
People who are most likely to enjoy it –
People who perhaps might not enjoy it as much
Ship Facts & Figures – having entered service for Star Clippers in October 2000, Royal Clipper is just 5,061 tonnes and, according to Guinness World Records, is the world’s largest square rigger in service. Her five masts carry 42 sails, measuring a total of 54,600 square feet. She carries 227 passengers, in 114 cabins and suites, and 106 crew members.
Accommodation – there are eight grades available, all of which have a private safe, a television video system and DVD player, direct dial telephone, and hair dryers, and I give further details of other features below.
Dining – the dining room, which is situated within a three deck atrium, is large enough to seat all guests at once, and there is no seating plan so you can sit with whoever you want to. Times are generally as follows, but can be amended to suit the situation: -
Sometimes a deck lunch or beach barbecue will be organised
With regard to a dress code it is casual elegance for the entire cruise, so there is no need to pack black tie or formal gowns. For dinner gents should wear shirts with a collar and sleeves, but jackets are optional.
Onboard Facilities – there are three small swimming pools, a small shop selling souvenirs, toiletries, internet and Wi-Fi cards, a library, the indoor / outdoor Tropical Bar and Piano bar. Internet costs €6 for one hour, but is extremely slow. The Captain Nemo Lounge is where you will find the spa and health club, and services offered include massages, facial treatments, body treatments and hydrotherapy. There is a small gym with exercise machines, and even some underwater glass portholes. The navigation bridge operates an open policy, so you can go and see how things work and chat to the crew. You are also able to climb the masts, while wearing a safety harness and under the supervision of the crew of course. You can also assist the crew in raising the sails if you want to, or you can just relax with a drink and watch them do it.
All passengers have access to a programme of complimentary water sports, which includes kayaking, snorkelling, water-skiing, Laser sailing and windsurfing. Scuba diving may be offered by local operators, for a charge, to certified divers.
Entertainment – there is no structured entertainment programme, but there is a pianist onboard for music, and in some ports there could be local entertainers come onboard. Other events could include ‘crab racing’ contests, and songs and sea shanties sung by the ship’s crew. The Captain or First Officer will give a daily briefing on deck, with interesting information and stories. A highlight is always the Sail away at dusk with a drink in hand and the Conquest of Paradise from Vangelis playing over the deck speakers.
Destinations – Royal Clipper generally spends the summer from April until October in the Western Mediterranean, based in Venice and Piraeus (for Rome) offering a selection of itineraries from 7 to 12 nights in duration. She spends the winter months in the Caribbean, based in Barbados, offering mainly seven night cruises around the Windward Islands and the Grenadine Islands. Twice a year you have the opportunity for a 16 night Ocean Crossing, as she changes from one base to the other.
The Rest of the Fleet – the other two ships in the fleet are the identical sisters, Star Clipper and Star Flyer. They are both 2,298 tonnes, and carry 170 passengers in 85 cabins, and 72 crew members. Each ship has four masts which carry 16 sails, measuring a total of 36,000 square feet. The Star Clipper tends to be based in the Eastern Mediterranean in the summer and the Caribbean for the Leeward Islands and Treasure Islands in the winter. The Star Flyer is in the Western Mediterranean in the summer and Cuba for the winter.