Royal Clipper: A Review of Small Ship Sailing
Star Clippers largest vessel, the Royal Clipper, has 42 sails and in the Caribbean she rarely has to use her engines. Romantic? To be sure! Exciting? The dramatic unfurling was done on my cruise for the first time at night in Bridgetown, Barbados to beautiful music and it took my breath away! And if you sailors are wondering if she feels like a sailboat…the answer is yes. I heard many of the sailing enthusiasts on board remark how pleased they were that, despite her size, she truly rocked like a sailing vessel should.
My group of 19 were not seasoned sailors, for the most part, but each and every one of us enjoyed the week in the Grenadine Islands immensely. It didn’t hurt that we left just before a massive snow event in Cincinnati, the home town of most. I am a frequent cruiser, having boarded and fallen in love with no less than 30 ships now. I hope this review will help you in deciding if this kind of cruise experience is for you, or if you might be better suited for the big ship experience.
This is a lovely vessel, crafted in the image of the clipper ships of the early 1900s. The last voyages with cargo on the square riggers of old ending in the 1940s. Mikael Krafft became enthralled with these ships as a young lad, and his vision of creating passenger versions became a reality in 1991 with the Star Flyer (150 guests), launched in 1991 in Belgium. ’92 brought the sister ship Star Clipper, and in 2000, the five-masted Royal Clipper, holding up to 247 passengers, was born.
But you can read all about the stats yourselves…I want to share more of the emotions of boarding and sailing for a week with a diverse staff and visiting intimate and unique ports of call. The day to day life is easy, and the dress code very relaxed. At dinner, men are asked to wear long pants and no flip flops, and they ask you not wear your bathing suit only on the inside corridors, but otherwise we were comfy all week in T-shirts and shorts.
Guests were all ages, although our particular cruise tended to attract a mature crowd. We were entertained primarily by a young couple, Joanna and Jerry, who sang beautifully (and especially talented hip-hop dancers in the talent contest!). The public area where we gathered all day is called Tropical Bar, an beautiful open air space that has a nice size dance floor if you were so inclined. In fact, the day we boarded the ship my boyfriend and I did a couple of turns to the music! The excitement of finally meeting the Royal Clipper with a glass of rum punch in my hand after more than a year of planning was beyond! Oh, do leave your high-heels at home as they can damage the teak decking.
The check-in process (at 4 pm) was painless, as everything is done online nowadays. We dropped bags at the truck, walked across the expanse of concrete at the Bridgetown dock in the sun after a visit to the Mount Gay Rum Factory, gave our names at the bottom, and up the small gangway we went. The Captain, Sergey, Chief Officer Sergiy, Hotel Manager Peter and Cruise Director Mino greeted us with big smiles as we stepped aboard the shining ship. Music played, snacks awaited, and we mingled with each other and our as yet unknown companions for the week. When we were ready, into the line for finishing check-in we went, giving our credit cards before the making of our photo for the ship card. The mandatory drill with life jacket was in the tropical bar at 6:45, dinner 7:30-10 every evening.
As we were a large group, our Maitre’d assisted me in finding two tables inside a room that was a bit cooler than the main dining room. We dined here together four nights during the 7 night sailing, and I was grateful that could easily be arranged. He truly made my job easy! During cruises I encourage my clients to meet others whenever possible, so the other nights we did our own thing. It’s interesting how folks at sea seem to more easily open up to share about their life at home. With passengers from many different countries, it was a pleasure meeting folks on this cruise!
Small ship life is similar to the big ships, with fewer choices and less waiting around, of course! You get into a rhythm of leisure; Sleep, breakfast, excursion or swim on a beach, lunch, excursion or play on the toy deck on the back of the ship, nap, cocktail, dinner, entertainment…you get the picture. Excursions couldn’t be booked until you boarded, and as long as you made your choice before ten the day before, you were good to go! Very reasonably priced, I had some really great fun on the eco hike in Grenada (left), snorkel trip in St. Vincent and the St. Lucia combo gardens and drive-thru volcano tour. We took some amazing pics of the Pitons from a boutique hotel where we had a rum punch.
All dining is open seating, and we never had to wait for a table. The food was delicious, especially the desserts at lunchtime and the incredible dinner choices each evening. The breakfast buffet was complete, and every day you could have an omelette made to order. Only once did I have something served to me that I did not care for. The name of this food is sour melon, and not only was it strange looking and we had never heard of it, it tasted horrible…like medicine! We learned by asking questions that it can lower your blood pressure. My exact words when I tasted this “food” was “Holy cow! This better be good for some ailment, because it tastes like medicine!” We all laughed about it, but none could eat it! Below is one of the beautiful appetizer plates…loved this one!
The Piano Bar (left) served as the inside lounge for the Royal, and it was comfy cozy. The open air deck above it had lots of lounge chairs in both sun and shade, and there were always places to sit to enjoy the views. Two round salt water pool and a larger one mid-ship were hardly used on our sailing. At any time you may ask the maintenance crew to help with the ropes and sails, which is wonderful. I never did, and I regret that. I did, however, get up for two sunrises. The Captain shared (rightfully so!) that this is the most magical time of the day. Wind in my hair, quiet solitude surrounding me, it’s a fabulous experience to watch the ship sail into port, whether to anchor (most ports) or dock (Martinique on our itinerary is the only docking). It was a perfect time to write in my journal.
Two of my favorite memories on the cruise: climbing to the Crow’s Nest and sitting (rather, climbing and getting a little scolding!) in the netting forward. Both experiences made my heart soar! I sure do hope you will do both. It’s amazing.
There is a spa and workout room on board, along with a steam bath. As I boarded with a cold, I used the steam bath a couple of times, and it was a big relief. Plus, it is a great way to get rid of those toxins from having too many drinks of the day! I sampled one of the massage therapists on embarkation for a few minutes and she was great. It’s a lovely way to relive the stress of travel day, to be sure.
Forward are the luxury cabins with balconies, and also a forward lounge. The captain did one of his talks here about his experiences sailing in a tall ship race following the route Columbus had taken. A gifted storyteller, her had a wonderful slideshow of it that was made by a professional photographer. They won! Tales of the difficulties rounding Cape Horn were especially riveting.
Fully aft was the location of our private cocktail party one evening, a reward for a group of more than 16 passengers. That was lovely while at full sail! A few steps down is a quiet area with lounge chairs for sun bathing and watching the wake. Just forward of that and accessible from the Tropical Bar is the library. This is a comfy place for connecting to the ship’s WiFi, which was very reasonably priced. $6 per hour or $18 for four, I still had about 90 minutes left on my package at the end of the week! It was speedy…no trouble doing the little bit of work and social media posting I did while traveling.
The “toy deck” is also accessible down a stairwell behind the library, although I was so busy all week that I didn’t have the opportunity to play with the wind surfer, paddle board, or ocean kayaks. This is used weather permitting…when seas are calm. You can swim from there as well. The toys were brought to the beach to play with on Union Island. One of the gentlemen in my group took off in the Sunfish sailboat and flew out pretty far, only to be frustrated coming back in against the wind. We giggled that he was going to have to sail after us when the ship set sail a little later! He finally made it back in, just in time.
Each evening we had a different theme for the party at ten. Pirate’s night was fun, as was the White party. The talent show was probably my favorite, as some of the ship’s crew performed, and I was asked to dance a Meringue with Meno. He’s good! Those Latin men sure do know how to use their hips. One night they did a fashion show and one of my guests was a model. I never made it to the midnight snack, but it was always served from 11:45p-1:00am. And the bar will remain open until last man or woman standing. Bar prices were really good, too. The house wines were just 3.50 E, and the owner’s wine label had a white, blush and red bottle for just 19E each. Those are great prices for a cruise ship!
I can without hesitation recommend Star Clippers for your next cruise. If you are looking for something a little bit different and you love being at sea, check the itineraries they offer. I didn’t speak too much about the cabin itself, but it had a cubbyhole for everything. We had one of the few inside cabins (cat 6) as I didn’t want an upgrade, and yes, it was smaller than the rest, but we managed just fine. When I cruise I am only in my cabin to sleep and change, anyway! We were close to mid ship, and on deck two, so the rocking was nice. Really only noticed on the first and last nights as we moved to and from Bridgetown where the sea was a little bit rougher. We had three drawers and multiple shelves for clothing, etc. and adequate space for toiletries in the medicine chest. The shower had just a curtain and was a bit small, so larger folks might want to upgrade so your bath is larger. It was just a pedestal sink with no shelving.
If you have any questions, feel free to connect with me. I would be pleased to help you choose your own cruise with Star Clippers! Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! It’s a great value and a wonderful way to visit some lovely islands and escape from the winter cold. But book early…the best cabins get snatched up very quickly!