We travelled to Venice and stayed in a gem of a hotel away from the crowds but within walking distance of our embarkation port - San Basilio. Trundling our luggage over bridges and along side alleys, we quickly reached the port and joined the queue. Even at this early stage the crew were there to help and guide us through the formalities of boarding Star Clipper. In no time at all we were climbing the gang plank to be met by members of the crew, music, welcome drinks and snacks.
We were shown to our cabin - clean, inviting and with lots of storage space, a comfortable queen size bed, bathrobes, and a bathroom to dream about - marble surrounds, mirrors, a large Jacuzzi bath and shower, lots of fluffy white towels and complimentary toiletries, shower caps and emery boards. We then explored the ship - several decks, two pools, a cocktail bar and a small but well equipped library, containing books, board games, information on excursions and a daily potted news summary in English and German.
It was then time for our first meal. We descended an elegant staircase to a dining room big enough to seat all the passengers and officers - who always joined a table at meal times. We could sit alone or ask to be seated with other passengers, and in this way we met most of the 130 or so people on the small ship who were all very interesting and added to the enjoyment of the holiday. The dinner menu included several starters, followed by a soup, a sorbet, a salad, a choice of main course and a choice of dessert. All meals were beautifully presented, cooked to perfection and catered for a wide variety of tastes. We were to learn that food was also available round the clock. An early bird breakfast of juices, pastries and fruit appeared at 6 a.m. A full self service breakfast which included fruit, cereals, English breakfasts, cold meats, salads and eggs cooked by a chef to order before your eyes, was offered from 8.30 until 10.00a.m. At twelve noon a buffet lunch appeared, with too wide a variety of dishes to list here, but all tasty and tempting. Midway through the afternoon a cake tray with chocolated fruits and cookies appeared in our cabin. At half past five it was canapE time and later it was dinner. As if this were not enough, there was a midnight snack (which I was never awake to see, but I am sure it was as good as the rest of the food.)
There were plenty of ship's activities. I was up at eight each morning for thirty minutes keep fit, and later in the afternoon took part in the mile walk, where we explored parts of the ship I didn't know existed, as well as making several trips round the deck to the amusement of more laid back passengers. There was also water aerobics in one of the two rather small pools. We had severaltalks from the Ship's Captain (who was passionate about his sailing ship) and Doctor and updates from the Cruise Director. We had tours of the Bridge and Engine Room, demonstrations of knot making, games of deck golf and quoits, treasure hunts and quizzes. Nobody was coerced into doing any of these, but there was something to interest everyone. Likewise the entertainment after dinner was a mixture of talent shows, Pirate Nights, Folklore, Comedy Shows and a final night Slide Show of the passengers and sights on this particular trip. And every night there was music and dancing. We also had a massage tent which was very popular. We were fortunate to have the company of the ship's owner for part of the trip and he and his wife mixed easily with us, asking our views and answering our questions with patience and good humour.
During our ten days, we visited eight ports before arriving at Athens, and had one day entirely at sea.
The ship's tenders transported us to shore and optional excursions were offered at all but one of the ports. I had come on this trip to relax, so only participated in one - a coach tour in Corfu which was well organised and allowed us free time in the town after visiting Achilleion and the Old Town. For the rest, I wandered through the harbour at Losinj, swam from the boat at Hvar and Yithion,explored Dubrovnik from the city walls, walked through a deserted Old Town in Montenegro in the early morning and had a day on the beach at Mykonos. My husband went sailing once, and there were snorkelling or scuba diving available.
I have not yet mentioned the part of the trip which gave it that extra touch - the excellent service from every member of the crew. Our cabin boy kept the cabin spotless and folded and laid out clean towels every day. The waiters always had a smile on their faces and seemed to remember everyone's names from day one. The chef frequently came into the dining room to check all was
well, as did the maitre d' . The activities team were always available and helpful. My husband spent a lot of time on the Bridge and talking to the Engineer and Captain about the sailing aspects of the ship and found the officers informative and more than willing to answer his questions. The Cruise Director seemed to be on duty round the clock - and she never lost her smile or her temper!
Disembarkation could not have been simpler. We received most of our bill the day before so there was plenty of time to check it. We settled up, handed in our keys in return for our passports, went into the customs hall and collected our luggage which we took to the transfer bus. Then we said our final goodbyes to the crew and were whisked away to the airport.
Looking back, I can honestly say it was one of the most enjoyable holidays I have ever taken, and as many of the passengers were on their second, third - and in one case sixth - cruise, I was obviously not alone in feeling this way. There was so much to enjoy - the ship's amenities, the lovely cabin, the attentive crew, the information on board, the ports we visited and the wonderful food.
However, no holiday is without a down side and if I must find one it will be - the food. There was too much, too often, and it was too good to resist!! I was also a little disappointed that there was not more swimming. The pools were tiny and we only swam off the side twice, but apparently this was because of port restrictions. There was also a tendency among a small minority of passengers to hog the sun-beds, in spite of written pleas by the cruise managers. And in fairness it was not just one nationality which was guilty of this!
This was my first cruise, and I was not at all keen to share the experience with hundreds of others, so I chose a small sailing ship. I can honestly say that the ambience, the amenities, the experience and the fellow passengers, many of whom I got to know quite well, made it the holiday of a lifetime and I am already looking at the brochures to decide when to book my next.