Sailing the Windward Islands on Star Clippers’ Royal Clipper was indeed a unique experience, unlike any other “cruise” I had been on before. Here are some of the unexpected elements that define the Star Clippers sailing experience.
One of the bonus benefits of booking passage on a small ship is getting on it.
Processing thousands of passengers on large ocean cruise ships, they have queues, waiting rooms, waiting rooms for high-level past guests and VIP’s, multiple layers of security and whatever else they need to get everyone on to the ship safely. 300 yard don’t-cross perimeters are set up around big ships in port, divers run security checks on the hulls of the ships and the U.S. Coast Guard is not far away.
On a small ship, you just walk on.
After a quick confirmation of our reservation and completion of a health assessment we were on the ship and in our stateroom. It was nice to see the Captain greeting each passenger as they boarded. We would see him often throughout the voyage.
The star of the show in the culinary department is table service in the dining room each night. Set as open seating, passengers can arrive any time between 7pm and 10pm to be served. The first night, the Hotel Director and the Maitre ‘d meet each group of diners as they enter, asking if they would like to dine with someone who spoke their language. Onboard was a mix of French, German and North Americans. Most of the crew were fluent in all three.
We liked that portions were small, encouraging diners to order multiple courses. And that we did, often enjoying five or more. Star Clipper branded house wine, also a favorite in addition to a surprisingly rich wine list.
Breakfast and Lunch on board are buffet style with a chef on duty for made-to-order eggs and omelettes in the morning and a variety custom tossed pasta and ingredients to your order for luncheon fare.
Special food events include a beach barbecue, a tropical deck lunch, midnight snacks and a cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvre served late afternoon. Early risers have a Continental breakfast starting at 5am.
See our Star Clippers Culinary Facebook photo album for related images
Life at sea is living easy with few activities and events scheduled for the day, and for good reason. Most passengers are off the ship during the day, either at the beach du jour or on an excursion. Services do continue however.
As opposed to big ships, there are no lines to speak of on Star Clippers. Getting off the ship for a tender might queue up enough people to fill the boat, that’s about it. Dining gets a boost here too due to the number of passengers on board. Less than 200, mostly all in one seating, things have to go well or everyone finds out very fast. Dinner service was flawless. Well cared-after buffet areas as well as the seating areas around it. Most all of the culinary creations we experienced were made for us, just us, our table.
Coffee and Tea are always available in the Piano bar. The Tropical Bar is an open air venue one deck down from the top so covered always. A pool bar, one deck up, is open at times during the day for those who stay behind to read a book or relax. Some do. I did.
The Sailing Part
This is a ship with sails. The sails are not just for show; they propel the ship, providing up to 75% of the thrust needed to move the vessel forward. The Star Clippers ships do have engines and need them to power the hotel operations.
Along with a ship with sails comes more discernable movement of the ship. Potential passengers with a history of suffering from motion discomfort should seriously consider this dominant element of the experience. I liked it. It was like being rocked to sleep every night. But there were nights when the sideboards installed by Cabin Stewards at nightly turndown were welcomed.
This is not a ship for the handicapped. If the rocking and rolling of the ship were not enough to keep those with mobility issues away, that there are no elevators or handicap-accessible facilities on board should bar all. 3″ to 10″ lips on nearly every door on the ship would make moving about quite difficult.
Sailing, as in how ships with sails do it, is an entirely different experience than ocean cruising. For those not familiar with sailing jargon and how it all works before embarkation, by the end of the second day a full understanding will be had. It’s a unique look into the trade of being a seaman without doing it. We watched as crew members climbed masts, launched boats, mended sails and did all sorts of professional sailing activities.
See the crew in action in our Royal Clipper Crew Facebook Photo Album.
Some Parts Are The Same
There are drinks of the day, your room key is also used to pay for things not included in the fare, there is a safety drill and they hold special onboard events. A Pirate’s Night with crab racing was quite popular as was the Guest and Crew talent show. They have a small store on board with logo wear and gifts. Passengers will show their seapass card to get on and off the ship and at the end of the sailing, it will be over.
Perhaps different here on ships with sails, the experience seems to stick with travelers longer. Knowing that if they return, odds are that the same crew members will be on board. They like what they do and no one else offers it.
In a way, sailing on Star Clippers is like stepping back in time a bit, to time when ships with sails were the latest, greatest and only way to travel across seas and oceans. Packed with all sorts of modern technology, Star Clippers has done a good job not letting it define the experience. Instead, technology charges what they do as a safe and enjoyable way to travel.