My wife and I sailed on the January 17, 2009 voyage of the Royal Clipper round-trip from Barbados. This was our second cruise with Star Clippers, having also sailed on the Star Clipper in 2006. Our previous cruises were on Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Carnival and NCL. We had grown tired of the larger ships and wanted to try a sailing cruise for a change. After sailing on the Star Clipper and Royal Clipper, we have no desire to return to the mass market cruise ships.
We took a taxi from the airport and arrived at the pier in Barbados around 4:00, and the check-in process had already begun. Check-in consisted of receiving our ID cards (which doubled as our room keys), dropping off our passports and leaving an imprint of our credit card for purchases on the ship. We finished with the process and were taken to the ship via a very short shuttle ride. As we boarded the ship, we were met by the Captain and Hotel Manager and given complementary cold drinks and light snacks on deck. We then were escorted to our cabin and our luggage was delivered to our room shortly after our arrival.
The Royal Clipper is a fabulous ship. It is a sailing vessel, not a cruise ship. The ship is very elegant and sophisticated with none of the pseudo-glitz of the large ships. There are no casinos, ship’s photographers, show lounges or elevators. There are three bars on board: the outside Tropical Bar; the inside Piano Bar and a Pool Bar. All of the nightly entertainment occurs at the Tropical Bar.
The ship has plenty of teak and mahogany wood, all varnished to a high gloss. Additionally, there is lots of brass, which is also kept polished. The crew was working every day doing routine maintenance around the ship.
The ship’s passenger capacity is 220, and this week it seemed filled. The breakdown of passengers was international - from the United States, Canada and Europe. About one-half of the passengers had previously sailed with Star Clippers. There were several passengers on board for two weeks, combining the Grenadine Islands itinerary of this sailing with the Windward Islands sailing the week immediately prior to or after our sailing. The crew members were from 25 different countries.
The ship offers several features not found on cruise ships: passengers could climb the main mast to the first level crow’s nest (with appropriate safety equipment) on two separate occasions during the week; we could relax on the widow’s netting at the bow of the ship anytime the crew was not operating the sails; there was an open bridge policy throughout the week; the crew lowered tenders one day during the week to give the passengers the opportunity to photograph the Royal Clipper at sea under full sails; and passengers were given the opportunity to steer the ship while at sea.
Each day as the sails were raised as we were leaving a port, the ship would play the Vangelis soundtrack, “1492: Conquest of Paradise” over the sound system. The passengers would congregate on deck to watch the crew raising the sails and to listen to the music. The sailing during certain periods throughout the week was rough. We heard that some passengers were ill at points during the week due to the ship’s movement. However, we did not feel any discomfort during the week.
We booked a Category 6 (Inside) room, cabin 228. In retrospect, we would have booked a higher category (Outside) room to give us a little more space. The room had a fixed double bed. The bathroom had a shower, toilet, sink and a two-door medicine cabinet with plenty of shelving for storing toiletries. While most of the electrical outlets in the cabin are 220 volts, there are two outlets in the bathroom for 110 volts, which I used for charging our digital camera’s battery. These outlets could also be used for electric razors or charging cell phones. There was a hair dryer attached to the wall in the bathroom.
The cabin had just enough storage and closet space for the two of us. A safe with a programmable lock was located in one of the cabinets. There was a TV in the room, which received a few English speaking programs, including CNN International. A DVD player was also in the room, and video disks could be borrowed from the ship’s collection. Our cabin attendant was excellent. Towels were exchanged each morning and evening.
All meals were served in the main dining room. Like the rest of the ship, the main dining room was very elegant. It was very common for the ship’s officers, including the captain, to join a group of diners at each meal.
All dining is open seating, with service between 8:00 and 10:00 for breakfast, 12:00 and 2:00 for lunch and 7:30 and 10:00 for dinner. There are no formal nights - dress for dinner is resort casual for men and women.
Buffet meals were served for breakfast and lunch. For breakfast, there was an assortment of cereal, yogurts, pastries and fruits, along with scrambled eggs, French toast or pancakes, bacon, sausage or ham and potatoes. There was also a station for fresh omelets and eggs each morning. Lunchtime had a nice assortment of salads, cold cuts, cheeses, fruits and homemade soups, plus one or two hot entrées. There was also a carving station each day with either fish or meat. The breakfasts and lunches were all very good.
An afternoon snack would be served daily between 5:00 and 6:00 at the Tropical Bar. Like the breakfasts and lunches, the afternoon snack was very good. The snack would consist of items such as finger sandwiches, fruit, a hot dish and dessert.
The dinners have improved since our last cruise on the Star Clipper. On our prior cruise, we were disappointed in the dinners served, both in the nightly selection and quality of food. We were much more pleased with the dinners on this cruise. Dinner would feature four choices for the main course: a seafood entree; a vegetarian entree; a meat entrée and a Caribbean chef’s special. Lobster Tail was served on Thursday night, which is the Captain’s Dinner. One nice thing about the dinner food on this cruise (and on the prior Star Clipper cruise) was that each night, the various entrées would be displayed in the piano bar for the passengers to get an idea of what would be served that evening.
An early morning breakfast of croissants and pastries was also available in the Piano Bar from 6:00 to 8:00 in the mornings. Many mornings, we would be up early and grab a croissant and coffee and tea and sit on the deck as the ship sailed to the next stop.
Coffee, tea and fresh fruit are available 24 hours a day in the Piano Bar. The coffee on the ship is barely drinkable. I think that they must let it brew too long and leave it on the heat after it has finished brewing. The best thing I found was to grab a fresh cup as soon as the brew cycle finished or to mix the coffee with hot water to dilute it somewhat.
The service in the main dining room and throughout the ship was good. However, with the ship filled to capacity, the service seemed slower than three years ago. We often had to ask for refills on water or coffee. Bar service was mainly at the bars, with no bar waiters hounding you to purchase drinks every few minutes. The guys (and one young lady) on the sports crew were excellent. As noted above, our cabin steward was excellent. The crew that worked the sails was also very good, showing great patience as the passengers were on deck as the crew was trying to raise or lower the sails. They were also very helpful with any information that the passengers asked them for. ENTERTAINMENT
Entertainment on the clipper ships is very limited – this is one area that could use improvement by Star Clippers. There was one entertainer on board who sang and played the keyboard during the afternoon snack period. He also played the piano in the Piano Bar during the dinner hours and served as the deejay for nighttime dancing. The music selection for nighttime dancing seemed strange and hardly anyone danced after the organized entertainment ended each evening. It would have been much nicer to have a talented duo or trio providing the dancing music in the evenings.
There were organized entertainment activities each night at 10:00 at the Tropical Bar. The first night was a Welcome Aboard party. Other nights featured crab races, a musical trivia quiz contest and a fashion show. A crew and passenger talent show was held on another night, which was very funny and enjoyable. While we were docked Monday night in Grenada, a very good steel drum band came aboard to play for us.
Other forms of entertainment centered around the cruise director’s daily talk on the upcoming port and the captain’s story time. Every morning before we reached a port, the cruise director would hold a briefing on the bridge. He would explain the history of the island and places of interest to visit. He detailed what times the tenders would operate to the town or to the beach, and what time the last tender would return to the ship at the end of the day. The captain held two story times. The first session lasted about one hour and consisted of the captain narrating a slide show of sailing ships and then answering questions from the passengers regarding the ship and sailing in general. He also held another story time later in the week, demonstrating sailing maneuvers from the bridge area.
This is not a typical cruise ship itinerary. Because of its small size, the ship can fit into ports that the larger ships cannot. The stops are in remote islands and harbors. The focus on the stops is on sailing and enjoying the natural beauty of the islands. There is not a lot of activity going on in most of the ports.
At most stops, the ship would run two tenders, one to the town for limited shopping and to meet the shore excursions and the second one to a beach.
For each beach stop, the sports crew would take water ski equipment, a wave board (similar to a snow board), a windsurf board, sea kayaks, and small sailboats. All of these beach activities were provided with no additional charge. Snorkeling gear was also issued at the beginning of the week for use throughout the cruise, again at no additional charge.
After departing Barbados on Saturday, Sunday we stopped at uninhabited Young Island for a full beach day.
On Monday the ship called at Grenada and spent all day docked at the pier in St. Georges. Several excursions were offered by the ship but we opted to walk into town in the morning and stopped at a public library to use the Internet connection. During the afternoon, we took a private taxi tour of the island, stopping at a spice plantation, Annandale Falls and a scenic point overlooking the harbor.
On Tuesday the ship stopped at an uninhabited island in the Tobago Cays for a full day. This was probably the most beautiful beach we have ever been on. In addition to the beautiful beach, the natural harbor was filled with sailboats in the area for the day. You could take a short walk to the other side of the island where more sailboats were anchored offshore. There was good snorkeling right off of the beach. The ship’s crew provided a full beach barbecue for lunch at this island stop.
On Wednesday morning, we stopped in St. Vincent at the capital city of Kingstown. This was by far the worst stop of the week. No one could understand why the ship stops at this island. The pier area is crowded and dirty. Once you leave the protected area of the pier, you are hounded by taxi drivers. We did not feel comfortable walking through the city and headed back to the ship. Fortunately, we left St. Vincent around noon and sailed to Port Elizabeth, Bequia. As bad as St. Vincent was, Bequia was just as good. It is a beautiful island. The beach area is wide and sandy, without any rocks. There is a small town at the pier with many charming shops, restaurants and pubs. I know that many passengers made suggestions that St. Vincent should be dropped and the whole day should be spent in Bequia.
There were two stops on Thursday on Martinique. During the morning, we stopped at the capital city, Fort de France. We spent the morning walking the city streets. During the afternoon, we anchored off of Grand Anse Beach. While on the beach, the sports crew led a snorkeling excursion to another part of the island on their Zodiac boats. Two excursions were offered, each with a capacity of eight persons. I was fortunate enough to go on the first excursion, and it was simply the best snorkeling I have ever done. Our excursion stopped at the same site as the local scuba dive tours. The water was incredibly clear, as we were able to see the ocean floor at least 70 feet below us. The coral formations living on the rocks were fabulous. During our time in the water, we saw two eels and an octopus, along with many other colorful fish. The best part of the snorkeling excursion was that it was free – no additional charge for the side trip. After snorkeling, we stayed on the beach until the last tender at 6:00 and witnessed a beautiful sunset on the tender ride back to the ship.
The final stops on Friday were St. Lucia. In the morning, we stopped at Marigot Bay. A tender service was offered into a small marina, which turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. There was a coffee shop with nice patio seating along with several small specialty stores. There were several beautiful sailboats and yachts docked at the marina. A very nice resort hotel with beautiful grounds, Discovery at Marigot Bay, was located at the end of the marina. In the afternoon, we sailed to Soufriere Bay, where the sports team offered another snorkeling excursion – this time a one Euro fee was charged as we snorkeled at a St. Lucia national park, and the one Euro fee was the entrance fee to the park. During this snorkeling excursion, we saw and swam with a sea turtle for 10 or 15 minutes. The ship also offered shore excursions and a tender service to the town of La Soufriere. The passengers who went into the town were very disappointed, as they were harassed by local youths begging for money.
This was another great week with Star Clippers, and we would definitely love to sail with them in the future.