After our cruise in 2013 on the Star Flyer, we didn't plan to ever book another cruise with them. There were just too many problems including unsafe tender transfers. However, we saw a sweet deal that included airfare and decided to give them another try. Our experience was better, but still with significant negative issues. The people who seem happiest with Star Clippers are those who don't really care where they are going or what they do -- don't worry, be happy. During the two weeks we were on board, there was confusion over excursions, because of the poor performance of the cruise director, and strong winds meant that several port stops were cancelled. None of the beach stops ever occurred, so those who wanted to use the kayaks and small sailboats were disappointed. We also never got to the Scandola Nature Reserve, which was to be a highlight even though there were three ways we should have had a chance to see it -- access from Ile Rousse, access from Porto, and a sail by on the Star Flyer herself.
On the plus side, the "hotel" side of the ship was very well run this time. All of the staff who participated in the tip pool performed very well. The food was also better than I remembered on prior cruises. Also, this was our third time on Star Clipper's ships, but the first time that the sails were used for propulsion. This captain liked to use the sails.
The bad news was that the schedule was much too aggressive for the wind conditions. We had no rain, but we skipped Ile Rousse, Corsica where we had hoped to take an excursion to the Scandola Nature Reserve (more on that later) and the beach stop that day. We did get to go ashore in St. Florent instead of Ile Rousse. The other opportunity to see the Scandola Nature Reserve and Porto also was canceled because of high wind and slow speed. That day, which was to have been a highlight turned into a full day at sea with virtually no activities. We also skipped a beach stop the last full day of the cruise. My impression was that the port schedule was much too aggressive given the speed at which the ship could to travel. The published itinerary should not depend on perfect weather to avoid cancelling numerous stops.
Our two-week cruise really consisted of two back-to-back one-week segments. The first week the cruise director, Matt, turned in an unimpressive performance. Matt provided very little info on the ports and there was poor quality control of the excursions.
On the excursion in Majorca, the guide skipped the most beautiful view in the monastery we visited. Many on the tour wondered out to take pictures including my husband. The guide raced on without collecting people and vanished into a maze of small rooms. My husband could never find us until we exited the building.
Mid-day on the "changeover" day between cruises in Monaco, I signed us up for a couple of excursions, but was confused about the difference between two different tours of the Scandola Nature Reserve. One excursion was from the port of Ile Rousse, Corsica and the other was from Porto, Corsica. When I saw Matt at the cruise terminal a little before 5 PM (when the new passengers couldn't board until 4 PM), I asked him about the two excursions. First he insisted that the two excursions were very different. Then he reversed himself and said that the excursion to the Scandola Nature Reserve that was to be offered the next day would be cancelled, because of insufficient interest. I asked him how people could sign up if they hadn't yet boarded? Matt insisted that I would get a note under my door that evening cancelling the excursion. When I returned to the ship, I saw that the minimum number of passengers had signed up for the excursion. That night we received a note in our cabin saying, "Unfortunately our excursion "Girolata & Scandola Reserve" tomorrow has to be cancelled due to low numbers of participants." We were subsequently told that the excursion was cancelled because of too much wind. Then we were told that they were trying to replace the cruise director.
The captain further muddied the waters, by trying to coverup the lies that we had been told by Matt, insisting that the excursion was cancelled due to weather, when we had the letter saying the problem was lack of participants even though I knew a sufficient number had subscribed.
Matt must have been told that night that they were looking for a replacement, because his performance sank to new lows and stayed there. (Subsequently we heard that he would be leaving his position the day we disembarked in Cannes.) Matt's performance the second week made his service the first week look good by comparison. He repeatedly got the names of ports and excursions confused. In one port, he incorrectly announced in three languages a tour to the Scandola Reserve, when the only excursion was going somewhere else entirely. His port briefings became a bigger and bigger joke. The disembarkation briefing turned into shambles when he posted lists that had scrambled the transfers for people.
We had one very bad tender transfer in Costa Smeralda, Sardinia. The ship was supposed to depart immediately after our excursion returned. In high wind, we all marched down to the tender and boarded. There were 30 passengers packed in and about 7 crew. Matt was looking for the port agent to get clearance, so we smashed up and down banging into the dock. My husband said that at least one of the boat bumpers was destroyed by the banging. Then Matt jumped off the boat and stood on the dock looking for the ostensibly missing port agent while we circling in the heaving waves. A number of us asked to be taken to the boat, but we were kept churning for about 20 minutes. Later we got all kinds of mixed messages as to what the problem was. The captain said that there was no need for the port agent to come out to the boat and that the agent just needed to call in the clearance. He claimed the problem was that he was dragging his anchor and had to reposition the ship. The web of conflicting info made it very difficult to know what was lies and what was the truth.
I did complain that in such seas life jackets should have been available. The captain then told me that life jackets made the situation more dangerous because people couldn't see their feet. He claimed that if someone fell in the water, they could immediately pull them out. (When we sailed with Hurtigruten to Greenland and with Swan Hellenic to Antarctica, we always wore compact life jackets for tender transfers.)