With the help of our travel agent we found what we wanted by flying to Barbados five days prior to the cruise, staying at the Coral Mist hotel then sailing two seven-day cruises back-to-back on Royal Clipper. We offer our commentaries below hoping that they may assist fellow travellers.
SPV Royal Clipper: We will not attempt to repeat all that has been said about Star Clippers and SPV Royal Clipper. We offer our comments relating to our specific experience under distinct headings below: Overview There are no superlatives that adequately describe what we experienced. A cruise on Royal Clipper is a romantic experience of a lifetime! If you are looking for a floating spa with disco, casino, and floorshows, you will be unhappy on Royal Clipper. If you enjoy sailing with a few friends in a romantic setting you will love it. (With good sea legs)
The line's web site is good but lacks a few features. For example, we sent them an e-mail that they never answered using the "contact us" section. There is no possibility of pre-registration as offered by the main cruise lines. Given the small number of passengers for each sailing (227 passengers total) there is no anticipated delays on boarding. They offered an excellent DVD for free which turned out to be very useful in trip planning, and made our friends envious.
Once aboard, there is no doubt that this is a special experience that is almost unique and worth repeating. In our case, we had an outstanding cruise aboard an outstanding ship. At every stop people came to stare at this marvellous oversized yacht. It is unique in the world.
However, there is one caveat. This ship is open to passengers of all ages but there is precious little activity geared to the needs and interests of children. The five levels of the ship from the spa to the sun deck are only accessible by stairs. When walking around at sea the rule is one hand for the ship and one hand for you.
While on our two-week cruise we noted some electronic glitches. For example, our door key had to be re-programmed a few times because it failed to open the door. In addition, the same card has a bar code used when leaving and returning to the ship. This did not always show the passenger returning thus a frantic call was made to ensure that the ship would not sail without the passenger. Great idea but rather annoying when it happens every day to the same individual who has dutifully returned on time. The reception clerk had a language problem thus it was difficult to explain the problem and have the card re-programmed properly; a small point in an overall wonderful experience.
Caroline, the cruise director was a wonderful lady fluent in four languages and who never stopped looking after the passengers. She was simply outstanding.
Embarkation They were well organized for the embarkation process, which began at the specified time. Drinks were available for people waiting in line although the line moved rather quickly. Those who arrived early complained of waiting in line but the instructions were clear that embarkation would begin a 4 p.m. Our recommendation would be for people to arrive one hour after the embarkation time to assure a smooth process. The reception on board was first class and very well handled; wet towels, Bellini, escort to the cabin where the baggage was already awaiting us.
Cabin/steward/amenities The category 1 cabin is a very roomy 150 sq ft with more than adequate storage space. It was obviously designed by sailing enthusiasts and not a hotel architect. Every nook and cranny offered storage space in the form of shelving or drawers. Two roomy wardrobe offered more space than we expected. The safe is located under the writing desk and is also larger than expected. Music and an internal video is available on the TV which also had a DVD attached although I can't see anyone going on this ship to watch a DVD. The beds had excellent mattresses with duvet and pillows. We slept like babes. The marble bathroom is a sight to behold. Lots of mirrors, ample towels and a double floor drain that allows the water to drain while showering in heavy seas. Two hair dryers are available, one in the room and one in the bathroom. The usual amenities and toiletries are supplied throughout the cruise. The cabin exceeded our expectations.
Of note, the current on board is 220v with an 110v outlet in the bathroom for a shaver. It will not accept anything else. Thus a converter is required for any 110v appliance. The reception offers an array of converters for a small rental fee of €10.
The cabin steward is a key person on a cruise ship because he/she will leave a lasting impression. Our cabin steward was a young lady from Bulgaria who provided excellent service throughout our two-week stay. She kept the ice bucket full and re-supplied us with bottled water as we requested from her at the onset. Using a red/green door sign, she would refresh our cabin as soon as we left it.
Restaurant/food/service For a sailing vessel, the food services far exceeded our expectations just like the rest of the ship. Typically, they had fresh fruit available at all times with tea and coffee. Continental breakfast was available 0600-0800 followed by a huge breakfast buffet and a chef available to cook eggs and omelettes to order between 0800 and 1000. Theme hot/cold lunch buffet was served 1200 to 1400; snacks were available on deck from 1700 to 1800 prior to the evening dinner. Dinner was a seven-course meal served à la Carte between 1930 and 2200 with open seating. The wine list is extensive and storage service is available. Should you not finish your bottle it is labelled with your cabin number and available at the next meal. Finally, there is a huge snack available at 2330 after the limited in-house entertainment.
The bar and restaurant service was outstanding. Even with open seating the restaurant staff would remember your preferences and chat with you freely.
Public facilities The sun deck carries a huge amount of deck chairs and offers three small pools for a refreshing dip. The centre pool forms the ceiling of the atrium visible from the dining room. (Don't scratch) The tropical bar on the main deck is the focus of most activities including evening entertainment. The piano bar is in the atrium and offers an air-conditioned space quieter than the tropical bar. It is also smoke-free as are all indoor spaces. Smoking is tolerated on the sun deck and in the tropical bar. The three-deck atrium has to be seen to be fully appreciated. There is also a well-stocked library, a conference room with Internet access, and a gym/spa below sea level.
Sports & entertainment There is a three-member sports staff that offers morning exercise and a host of free activities during the day. The ship carries three zodiacs, two sunfish sailing boats, two sea kayaks, and snorkel equipment. All this is free but the scuba gear requires an extra fee. In good weather the staff also provides water skiing. At just about every stop an excursion to a beach is also provided free of charge. For example, at anchor off Le Bourg in Isles des Saintes (Guadeloupe) there was a tender going to town and another going to the beach every 30 minutes.
Entertainment was provided by a musical duo every day, a local steel band at one stop, on-board talent show featuring crew members and the odd passenger one evening, a fashion show, etc.
Itinerary Our first week on board went from Bridgetown Barbados to Union Island, Grenada, Tobago Cays, St. Vincent/Bequia, Martinique, St. Lucia and back to Barbados. During the second week we visited St. Lucia, Dominica, Antigua, Iles des Saintes, Martinique and back to Bridgetown. The captain is a true sailing enthusiast who demonstrated a keen interest in showing the ability of the ship and crew to perform difficult maneuvers. For example, using sails only (including the square sails) he performed a 360-degree turn that was an extraordinary demonstration of sailing choreography. (I was at the helm) It was simply awesome to see a 5000-ton square-rigger perform that maneuver. · Bridgetown - Clean and friendly as are the Bajans. There is a nice walking tour of the City or various excursions · Union Island (Grenadines) - A superb beach · Grenada - The spice island. Lots of excursions available · Tobago Cays - Another excellent anchorage and beach. Ship BBQ on the beach · St. Vincent & Bequia - Ship stops at both islands for excursions and beach · Martinique - Very nice city. The sidewalk from the cruise terminal to downtown (15 mins) is painted blue for ease of navigation. The botanical garden tour is interesting. · St. Lucia - Lush island with lots to do. We recommend the zip-line rain forest tour · Bridgetown - For passengers staying for another week the transition is very easy. Just exchange your door key at reception and voilà! · Dominica - Drop off at Roseau for excursions then sailed north to Cabrits National Park for a swim · Antigua - One of the jewels of the Caribbean. Great beaches. BBQ on the beach near Falmouth Harbour. Excursions include one for swimming with stingrays. · St. Kitts - Nice island with a scenic narrow gauge train ride · Isles des Saintes (Guadeloupe) - Anchor of Le Bourg which is a lovely and quaint seaside village. Great beach nearby. Prettiest stop in the cruise.
Sea motion The one thing over which we have no control is the weather. This is a sailing ship and the Captain is reluctant to use the engine for anything other that arriving and leaving a harbour. During our first week we encountered strong winds (35 knots) and heavy seas providing a significant amount of rolling and pitching which did not bother us or most passengers but there were some who grumbled...
Shore excursions Every evening a newsletter is distributed to the cabins outlining the activities of the next day. It is quite detailed and very useful but we found two minor issues with this process. First, an insert should be added with more information about the country being visited and the specific harbour/anchorage. This insert could also have a diagram of the shore installations found upon landing. This would be consistent with what cruise ships normally offer and be very useful indeed for those wishing to plan their own activities. Every morning the cruise director would give an arrival briefing on the bridge just before either docking or anchoring. Very useful but it highlights the second issue that shore excursion bookings close a minimum of 36 hours prior to arrival for valid reasons (bookings through their agent ashore). If more information were available on the ports and the excursions, better planning would enhance the visits. In a few cases we discovered information at the verbal briefing that would have enticed us to take an excursion but the bookings were already closed.
We used a number of the excursions offered and found them all to be well-done and good value for money. Many passengers were content to do their own excursions or just stay on board and enjoy what the ship had to offer.
Costs On board costs were consistent with industry standards. All charges are in Euros. We found the whole cruise to be good value for money.
SPV Royal Clipper: A superbly romantic ship that provides a great cruise. This is a ten out of ten for sailing enthusiasts!