Royal Clipper Cruise Review by budaman: Tales from the Caribbean: Our week aboard the Royal Clipper
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Tales from the Caribbean: Our week aboard the Royal Clipper
It came & went so quickly, thankfully we have many pleasant memories and pictures to tide us over until our next adventure. Once again, Star Clipper's treated us to an excellent voyage......this time on the Royal Clipper as we sailed through the Grenadine's.
We visited Union Island, Grenada, Tobago Cays, St. Vincent, Bequai, Martinique & St. Lucia after starting our journey in Barbados between Nov. 14 & 21st.
We left Austin, Texas on Friday the 13th at 9AM on American Airlines and arrived in Barbados at 11PM after connections in Dallas & Miami. While the flight was long, everything went without a hitch. We were expecting the worse when we arrived in Barbados and hoped we would be at the Hilton by 1AM. To our delight, we cleared customs, caught a cab & were in our room by 11:45. One thing that has stuck with us was how nice and helpful everyone was: the Airport personnel, Customs Officers, Taxi driver and the Hilton staff. It bode well for an More excellent vacation.
The Hilton is a very nice hotel....large, but clean & well managed. Our room was on the 7th floor in the Lighthouse wing. We ordered room service when we got settled, and it arrived quickly and was very good. I had heard reports of how expensive dining is at the Hilton and Barbados in general, but we didn't think it was any more expensive than any other travel destination we have encountered. The package we booked included a bottle of Champagne, but as late as we checked in, and the number of cocktails we had on the flights, we decided to not pop the cork at that time. We awoke Saturday morning and looked over the balcony to see the most beautiful white sand and blue ocean. We went down to the Lighthouse Restaurant and had breakfast as it was also included. The buffet was well laid out with the usual assortment of breakfast items. After sitting down, the wind started up & we had a very heavy shower that lasted about 10 minutes....stuff was blowing off the tables and folks were scurrying around trying to stay dry. As quick as it came, it was over and the rest of the day was postcard perfect. Checkout is at noon, and since the Hotel was full, they couldn't extend check-out, but they do provide Hospitality Rooms for guests. These are reserved for 30 minutes, so we made ours for 3:15. After checking out, the Hilton staff stored our luggage and told us to enjoy the facilities and check back at 3. We hung around the beautiful beach & pool area, soaking up the sites & sun until it was our Hospitality time. We were able to take showers & iron some clothes and just relax a bit before heading to the Port and our date with the Royal Clipper, which we could see at the dock from the Hilton. Remember the bottle of Champagne? We never did get around to drinking it, but the Hilton said they would store it in the fridge & have it waiting for us when we returned the following Saturday. Finally it was time to head to the Port, so we hopped in our cab and we were off! On the way, we asked our driver f there was anywhere we could pick up some Rum to take aboard. He took us to a little market downtown & I ran in while he parked. The market was packed & as I was about to give up, our driver came in and said to let him handle it. He went up to the front of one of the lines and asked the next in line if he could cut in, which he kindly agreed to. That was indicative of everyone we met in Barbados. I was so grateful, I assisted with his groceries, so hopefully, I made his day a bit better also. After a short 10 minute ride, we were at the Port.
We arrived shortly after 4PM, which was apparently the same time everyone else decided to show up. This was one of the few negatives for the trip. It was very hot & humid, we were in a non A/C building and it took about 1 ½ hrs to get processed. They did pick up our bags & take them to the ship, so we didn't have to mess with those while we waited. There were also a few shops that were open, so we would take turns exploring while we waited. I was able to find some Cuban cigars at one of the shops. As an ex-smoker, that is one of my guilty pleasures on our vacations. One cigar for the week and a few to take home to friends.....I don't know, maybe 'cause they are illegal here or just to buck doctors orders. I really don't like smoking them. Once we had our flu checks, turned in our passports & filled out all the liability releases, we were off to the ship!
On Board at last!
We headed for the gangway, and as we reached the deck, we were greeted by Capt. Sergey Utitsyn, who welcomed us aboard. Hostesses passed out towels to freshen up and others passed out what I think were Rum Punches. There were also finger foods set up in the Tropical Bar. We mingled for a short time and headed to our cabin to check it out. Since we were offered some terrific discounts, I decided to splurge on one of the Suites. We had 314, which is the furthest aft of the Suites on the Port side. This cabin, along with the the corresponding cabin on the starboard side are arranged a bit different from the other Suites. They are a little longer than the others & have a slightly larger veranda. It was definitely larger than the cat.2 cabin we had on the Star Flyer and had quite a bit more closet space and the whirlpool tub wasn't a bad perk also. It also opened directly to the deck instead of into a hallway like the others. This night, we decided to utilize one of the main perks of the Suites....room service! Our Steward, Augustus, brought us the menu & told us to just check off what we'd like & he'd get it handled. We requested it for 8 and like clockwork, it was there. Augustus took very good care of us that week. Anything we requested, was handled prompt & correctly. We really missed him when we got home! Rachel at Star Clippers also sent us a bottle of champagne which went very well with dinner. It was a great start o the voyage. As we sat on our veranda relaxing, the other ships in Port started leaving. One was a Celebrity ship & the other the Sea Princess. They looked so huge next to the Royal Clipper. We anxiously awaited sail away at 10PM and proceeded up to the deck. We departed on time & as we motored out of the harbor, we passed a Dutch nuclear submarine that was tied up at the pier just as we cleared. That explained why there were no other ships in that section of the harbor. Once we cleared the harbor, the familiar strains of 1492, Conquest of Paradise began playing over the sound system and Capt. Sergey gave the orders to raise the sails. There are so many sails on the Royal Clipper, it requires repeating the song three times.....they could remedy this with a little tool called Garage Band that would make it flow a little better, but that's another story. Finally, sleepy time called & we headed off for our first night at sea, with visions of Union Island dancing in our heads. Oh, the beds were extremely comfortable and the gentle rocking made us sleep like babies.
Our stop in the Grenadines was to be Union Island and we were scheduled to anchor at 12:30 in the afternoon. The morning leading up to arrival was a full one. We started with a good exercise with Emma from the Sports Team. She would lead a morning workout each day in the Tropical Bar. Next was breakfast followed by a meeting with the Sports Team to go over all the Scuba activities for the week. That was immediately followed by the Muster drill. The captain followed with the introduction of all the officers. Finally, the snorkel gear was handed out for those that wanted...they kept this equipment the entire week.We arrived at the island right on time and most people spent the day at the beach. There were a couple of establishments for refreshments, but mostly it was just a kick back and relax kind of day. We went on the early scuba dive. There was quite a bit of marine life, but the reef where we dove was a bit underwhelming. After returning, we caught a tender and went ashore where we spent some time kayaking and walking the beach. Alas, the time went much too quickly & it was time to return to the ship and sail off into the sunset.
Started with a workout with Emma again...helped us feel better about eating too much! We arrived around Noon and although we were expecting to tender, we were fortunate to be able to dock. We caught up with the Sea Princess in Grenada as she was docked also. We were looking forward to diving here at a spot called the Underwater Sculpture Garden. It is a series of sculptures designed to promote quicker recovery of the reef that was damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. They are life size figures placed around the reef. Pretty amazing sight! We scheduled this in advance with Dive Grenada as we had discovered the ship did not offer this dive. We are so glad we arranged this because as things turned out, Grenada was perhaps our favorite stop on the trip. The dive shop had arranged for us to be picked up at the pier, and as we walked into the terminal, a gentleman by the name of Garfield was waiting. As we proceeded to the dive shop that was located on Grand Anse beach, Garfield was giving us a history lesson on St. George. Since we were not scheduled to depart till 11:45 that evening, we asked Garfield if he knew of anyone we could hire to show us around the island after we finished with our dive. He said he would be pleased to show us around and as promised, was sitting at the dive shop when we returned from the dive. Now, since we didn't really have this planned, we didn't carry any money on us and Garfield said no worry, when we get back we would settle up. We had a great afternoon with him visiting little spots where we could get Caribe beer and sample some of the many spices found on Grenada. We also visited the fort, some waterfalls and the Grand Etang rainforest. It was simply an awesome day for us. FYI on the terminal area.....there are quite a few shops there, but most close by 6PM. Also, they do have security screening set up before heading out to the dock. That evening, we had the past guest cocktail hour with the Captain on the aft deck. Following dinner, they had the Fashion Show, but we didn't make it that late...the getting up at 5AM for the sunrises was catching up with us.
We spent the morning sailing around islands...we kept asking ourselves...is that it, is that it? Finally around 9:30, we dropped anchor off one of the beautiful islands. We had a dive scheduled this morning, which was very enjoyable. About a 60' wall dive with just a slight current. Not as much marine life as Union Island, but the coral on the reef was in much better shape. After the dive, we headed for the beach, where they had the Bar-B-Q set up. Nice spread...burgers, fish, chicken and all the fixings, and lots of desserts for the kicker. They also set up a small bar for cocktails. There were several venders set up selling t-shirts, jewelry & other little trinkets, so take some money ashore. After eating, we took a path to the other side of the island away from the crowd and worked on our tans. As the last tender took us back to the ship, we were getting excited about the evenings activities.....Pirate's Night & the Crab Races. First though, it was time to participate in the sailing maneuvers which enabled those that wanted to work the sails and lines. Dinner time brought out the pirates....all the crew and about a dozen passengers were dressed up. We dressed as Jack Sparrow & Elizabeth Swan. The Crab Races were a hoot as usual & it didn't hurt to win a couple of the races either!
Wednesday...St. Vincent & Bequia
Arrival in St. Vincent was an early 8AM, so no workout with Emma this morning. She was there, but no one else was. We anchored in the bay at Kingstown instead of Young Island, so there was a small cruise terminal with a few shops and an information center. Cabs were available just outside the gate, so we grabbed one and headed up to Wallilabou Bay. This is where the scenes of Port Royal in the movie Pirates's of the Caribbean were filmed. On the way we passed by Ft. Charlotte and saw some amazing views of the coastline and passed through several small communities, each with it's own uniqueness. You could still see some of the remnants of the filming, but it sure didn't look anything like the movie....still it was interesting. It was quite a bit further than we had expected...didn't look that far on the map. If we were to rethink our decision, we wouldn't have made the trip, as it took up the entire 4 hours we were in St. Vincent. We got back to the dock just in time to catch the last tender and soon we were crossing the 9 mile channel to Bequai.
We anchored in the bay off Port Elizabeth around 2 and caught the tender to shore. If you could picture what you imagined a small Caribbean seaside village to look like, this would be it. The first thing we wanted to check out was the two Model Boat shops there. Both were located just a short walk north of the dock. Of the two, Sergeants was the largest & most interesting. We were able to talk with one of the craftsman & he showed us around the shop and the models in progress. Some are as small as a foot long, while others were well over 4 feet. Very nice craftsmanship. We checked out a few souvenir shops & then decided to attempt to make our way to Princess Margaret beach. At one time, there was a boardwalk that went to the beach, but storms have destroyed a section, and it would have been a long detour to bypass that section. We decided to stop at a little Pizza shop, Mac's, that several of the other Royal Clipper passengers were at. We opted for the Conch fritters & chased them with some ice cold Caribe Beer. It was a great way to finish the day there as we watched the sun set behind the Royal Clipper. All too soon it was time to head back to the dock & catch the tender back to the ship.
Another early start and Emma got stood up again. We docked in Fort de France around 8. Our 4x4 excursion was to meet at 8, so we had a quick breakfast & met the group by the gangway. They have changed this excursion from what was printed in the excursion brochure. Originally billed as a tour through the southern part of the island, we now were off to the interior rainforest and Mt. Pelee. We had 11 on the tour and luckily, we got in the group of 5. The tour was conducted in Land Rovers that technically seat 6. HAH! We were comfortable enough, but the other group was crammed in & had to make frequent stops & seemed to generate a lot of complaining. Our group was great & Anthony, our guide was great. Saw a lot of interesting plants in the rainforest & the countryside was beautiful. We stopped at the overlook at Mt. Pelee had had a few shots of rum & rum punch. We were very relaxed after that. It was a long excursion and we got back to the docks a bit late. We left the dock just after Noon and headed south for an afternoon at the beach. It was billed as Martinique Beach, but in reality was Martinique's,Grand Anse beach. Seemed like many of the islands had a Grand Anse Beach. The beach wrapped around the entire bay and was lined with small boutique accommodations and a few shops. Most were closed this day, however. There was a notice in the Daily Port sheets that it was a Holiday, but none of the locals we talked to new which holiday it was...guess it was a shop owner's holiday! We checked out a couple of dive shops and then spent the rest of the afternoon at a little beach bar by the name of Ti Sable. Cute little place with canopy covered tables. No food, but nice cold beer. The beer of choice on Martinique is Lorraine. It was cold & went down easy. As in Bequai, we watched the sun set over the bay and caught the last tender back to the ship. This evening was the Captain's Dinner & we were invited to the Captain's table. We had a pleasant evening with Capt. Sergey talking about his life in Estonia, sailing and his maritime career. We hope we get the opportunity to sail with him again. After dinner, they held the Talent Show at the Tropical Bar. Axel the Hotel Mgr. belted out a few Elvis songs...we knew he would be good, because he was aboard the Star Flyer when we sailed her last year. The Sports Team did a hilarious routine involving a Japanese Submarine crew and Carlito, the Head bartender did his best Michael Jackson routine. There was also a funny skit performed by Mariano, the ship's Marine Biologist & Ben from the Sports team. Afterward's, the crew & passengers did the Macarena. It was an enjoyable time for all.
Alas...Emma gets stood up again. Another 8AM arrival. Marigot Bay is a beautiful, upscale anchorage. The dock area is lined with little shops, but no shopping today. We were off to the Zip Lines on the other side of the island. We got a good sampling of the beauty of St. Lucia during the hour long ride to the Tree Top Canopy Adventure Park. Once there, we were suited up and off to fly through the jungle. There were 11 runs total and was one of the highlights of the week. Everyone had a great time, but one of the ladies in the group injured her arm when she struck some bamboo. If you're adventurous, I highly recommend this excursion. Once again, we were late getting back and as soon as we boarded we headed south to the Pitons and Soufriere. We scheduled the afternoon dive and had a great dive. The reefs in St. Lucia were the best we encountered on the trip. We didn't return to the ship until 3:30, so we had just enough time to change & catch the last tender into Soufriere. We wanted to get some kind of souvenir of St. Lucia. We found a small shop a couple of blocks from the dock where we were able to find some things along with the brew of St. Lucia...Piton. Since the last tender back was at 4:30, we quickly made our way back. Before weighing anchor, they lowered the two large tenders so everyone could get pictures of the Royal Clipper under full sail with the Pitons in the background. Once aboard the tender, we moved away and the Royal Clipper got under way with the tenders in chase mode. It was an awesome sight to see that beautiful ship under sail. That evening at dinner, you could sense everyone was sad to see the cruise coming to a close....or it could have been the thought of having to pack & get your luggage out.
We arrived back in Barbados right at sunrise. It was a perfect ending to the week and there was a large contingent on deck to view the last sunrise and port arrival. Some left early to catch flights. We had a leisurely breakfast and said goodbyes to those we met onboard. Oh, we also had to settle up with the Purser. Grudgingly, we left the ship at 10 and caught a shuttle back to the Hilton where we would spend the evening and depart early Sunday morning. They didn't have a room available yet, so we stowed our luggage and hung out at the beach. We checked into our room a little after Noon. Remember that bottle of Champagne we left, the Hilton followed through at it was ready for us. We had a Bay View room this time, and I actually liked the view overlooking the bay & Bridgetown. We could also see the Royal Clipper at the dock, so we popped the cork and saluted the ship for providing us with such an enjoyable experience. That afternoon we decided to walk along the beach to the new Boardwalk. It turned out it was quite a bit farther than expected. There were sections where we had to climb over rocks & retaining walls, but we finally reached the Boardwalk. We proceeded as we watched our last sunset in this idyllic setting. On the walk back to the hotel, we came across Club Fred's Bar & Grill where we had a snack and a couple of drinks. Fred's is a quaint little place located in a Historic zoned house. It really does have a grill sitting on the front porch. Later that evening, we walked to the Brown Sugar Restaurant and had an excellent last meal in Barbados.....highly recommend this restaurant.
Sunday...Dang, it's over!
We caught a cab to the airport at 5AM for our 7AM flight. Everything went smoothly until we reached Miami. We parked at what had to be the furthest gate from Customs and of course our departing gate was at the complete opposite side from that. With no shuttles at the Miami Airport, there was a lot of walking. When we reached the departing gate, we were informed that there was a gate change, and you guessed it, it was back on the other side....walk, walk & walk some more. The rest of the flights went smoothly and we were back home at 8PM Texas time. That's 18 hours of travel time and we were some tired puppies.
Odds & Ends
Favorite Port: Grenada Favorite Excursion: Zip Line in St. Lucia Best spot on Ship: Widow's net, Peacefull & relaxing. Just take that step over the railing and you'll be glad you did. Best Drink of the Day:Caipirinha Local Rums: We bought two brands that we took aboard. Mount Gay Extra Old & Cockspur Old Gold. Of the two, I felt the Cockspur was smoother. Best Sunset: Bequai
If you are thinking about renting a car, Don't! I am comfortable driving on the left, but most of the roads on these islands make the Road to Hana seem like a freeway. The roads are also poorly marked.
Mast climbing was held on Monday & Thursday
Food: Overall very good. What surprised me most were the steaks, juicy & tender. Usually on ships they are dry & tough. Cooked to order omelets at breakfast were also excellent.
Cabin: The suite was great. The option of having room service and room to actually walk around was nice. However, at the normal rack rate, I don't think I could justify the extra expense over a Cat. 2 cabin.
Royal Clipper: She is a beautiful ship. Although the specs would lead you to believe it isn't that much larger than the Flyer & Clipper, it is. There were only about 170 aboard so it never felt crowded. Although there is nothing wrong with the Clipper, we enjoyed the Star Flyer as a ship more.
Cruise Director: There isn't a lot of entertainment aboard these ships, so the main function of the Cruise Director is to organize the Shore Excursions. This was a sore point with many of the passengers. The excursions wouldn't be posted until the day before, so there was no way to tell what times or how full the excursions would be. Hence, you couldn't plan out your day properly or even know whether they were going to have the excursion or have any confirmation you were on the excursion. By the time you read this, they should have a new CD on board, so hopefully it will be corrected. The new CD was the talk of much of the crew(mostly male) because she was a 24 year old Latin American. I'm sure they had visions of Salma Hayek or Jennifer Lopez!
This link will take you to our album of photos from the trip:
Well, that's about it....all there is to do now is start thinking about our next adventure. Should it be Thailand or Costa Rica.....hmmmmmmmm! Less
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Cabin review: Royal Clipper 314
We had a Deluxe Suite. These are the only cabins that are on the Main Deck and they each have a verandah. One of the perks of this category is Room Service in the cabin. The cabin had much more storage than the cat. 2 cabin we had on a previous cruise. It was also equipped with a bathroom you could actually walk around in and included a whirlpool tub along with a shower. We were in #314 which opened directly to the deck instead of a hallway like the other Suites.All the suites are also named by Countries...ours was France. Besides Room Service, we were also delivered a sweet tray each afternoon that included cookies & chocolate covered strawberries.