REVIEW - MEDITERRANEAN CRUISE ABOARD THE ROYAL CLIPPER
ROME TO VENICE
A Little Information about Star Clippers
Let me say right from the start that I am a big fan of the Star Clippers sailing experience. This cruise is our 5th on Star Clippers and the second time we have sailed on the Royal Clipper. We have also sailed on the sister ships Star Flyer and Star Clipper and have cruised with them in Thailand, Tahiti, Greece & Turkey and the Caribbean out of Barbados. My husband and I own our own sailboat in Florida and have chartered sailboats around the world for bareboat experiences. I wanted to write a review of our latest sailing experience aboard the Royal Clipper, and share some of my observations and comparisons with the other ships of the line and with other types of cruises.
When deciding to go on a cruise, one of the major decisions a person has to make, other than the destination, is if you want a traditional cruise ship or a sailing vessel. There are pros and cons of both options which I will not go into here, but if you are not absolutely certain that being on a real sailboat is of the upmost importance, you may want to think twice about sailing with Star Clippers. On any of the ships in the Star Clipper line, you will find the cabins are not as big or luxurious as a traditional cruise ship, the food is not as good or as plentiful and are no formal dress up functions. There is also no bingo, casino or glitzy entertainment. If you have any mobility problems, there are stairs everywhere and there is no elevator. With this said, it is interesting to note that the Star Clippers has a very loyal and dedicated clientele, with over 60% of passengers on any given cruise being repeat customers. My husband and I would not consider going on any other commercial cruise line than Star Clippers.
I am pointing this out at the beginning of my review to alert readers that this may not be the cruise for you, depending on your priorities and expectations. On this last cruise, I met several passengers who were very unhappy and complained about the food, entertainment, nightlife, accommodations, foreigners, layout of the ship and anything else they could think about. They thought they were going on another Carnival Cruise and never came to appreciate the unique and wonderful experience that being on a tall ship can bring. If, however, you are active and healthy, adventurous and friendly, if food is not your priority on a cruise and you can live without a balcony cabin, than you should consider taking a cruise on one of the Star Clipper ships.
Rome - Civitavecchia port - Day 1
On our 11-day cruise, the Royal Clipper departed from Civitavecchia - the port of Rome. Civitavecchia is about an hour outside the city of Rome. The best and most inexpensive way to reach Civitavecchia is to take the train. From the Rome airport, take the Leonardo express train into Rome (14 Euros). The train drops you off at the Termini station (Track 29) and is right next to the Piza train (on Track 27) that takes you to Civitavecchia (4 Euros). Buy both tickets at once at the airport and just get off one train and hop on the other...it could not be easier. If you want to spend some time in Rome, I believe there is a place to store your bags at the train station. Be aware that both Track 29 and 27 are at the absolute furthest parts of the Termini train station, so be prepared for a long walk to get to the main terminal and leave plenty of time.
There is also the option of transfers with the cruise line. Those passengers that decide to do that option (it is about $85 per person) walk from the airport to the adjacent Hilton Airport Hotel (10 minute walk with covered walkways). They store your luggage and provide a meeting room with chairs to hang out in. You have the option to take the train into the city on your own or use the hotel's free shuttle bus into Rome (which is an hour away). At 5:00 these passengers must be back at the hotel to take a bus out to the port.
If you take the train from Rome out to Civitavecchia, you will arrive at the train station, which is not right on the water. From the station, you can take a short taxi ride to the ship for around 7 Euros. I believe there also may be a shuttle bus but I am not sure about its schedule. Boarding the ship is from 4:00pm - 10:00pm, and the ship departs at 11:00pm or as soon as everyone is onboard.
At the port of Civitavecchia, the ship will be docked alongside pier no 11, 12, 13 or 14. It is very obvious there it is, as you can spot it from miles away, so it is not hard to find. At the port terminal, we went through a security scanner and got on the ship after a quick check-in where they took our photo and issued us a ship ID card. This card, which we call our MULTIPASS (like in the movie 5th Element), is also your room key, ID for boarding and credit card for all ships purchases. At this point, you also surrender your passport, which you will not get back again until the end of the cruise.
To get on the ship, one must climb the steep boarding stairway - a wobbly but secure contraption attached to the outside of the ship. This is one reason why this ship is not recommended for anyone with mobility problems. Once on the ship, we were welcomed with a tropical drink and shown to our cabin.
Unfortunately for us, our luggage was lost by Delta Airlines, and did not make it to the Rome airport with us (I guess our luggage had always wanted to visit Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris). We reported this to the ships purser, who then contacted the ships port agent. The port agent was hopeful that we might be reunited with our lost luggage in 3 days in Sicily, where he would send it when found. Our stops before then were too small to have an airport, so I guess we would be wearing our current attire a lot in the next few days.
At this point I must say that the staff on the ship went out of their way to help and accommodate us with clothing and supplies. The ships store opened and gave us toiletries. They also offered us any clothing in the store for a 50% discount and gave us free laundry service. Our room steward took our cloths when we went to bed at night and returned them to us in the morning clean and fresh. The purser kept in contact with the port agent and kept us posted on the status of our luggage. I guess this kind of thing happens frequently - so it you are going on a cruise take an emergency bag with you on the plane with underwear, shorts, sandals and toiletries!
The ship left port at around 9:30 when all of the passengers were onboard. One of the most magical experiences on any Star Clipper sailing is leaving port. Everyone gathers up on deck while the crew hoists some of the sails (most are automatically unfurled), while the beautiful and haunting musical theme from the film 1492 plays. I must confess that I never tire of this experience no matter how many times I sail out of port on one of their ships.
Ponza - Day 2
We had a leisurely sail and anchored off the small island of Ponza at around noon. As it was a Sunday, and we were very jet lagged and had no sport cloths to wear, so we decided to take it easy on the ship. The people who did go ashore said it was a beautiful little town and some of the shops were open. No shore excursions were available at Ponza, which was a very small and isolated island. There were lots of huge yachts anchored in the bay. Around sunset we set sail for Capri. The evening entertainment was a fashion show put on by the ship's store.
The Star Clipper Fleet
The Royal Clipper is the largest of the Star Clipper fleet, with 5 masts and about 225 passengers at full capacity. The cabins on the Royal are a little bit larger and nicer than those on the smaller ships. The dining room is multi level, with a small inner ring that is used for the breakfast and lunch buffets. The two identical sister ships, the Star Flyer and the Star Clipper have 4 masts and a maximum of 170 passengers. Even though there is only a difference of about 50 passengers, the Royal feels much larger than the other two ships.
Unique to the Royal is a cool spa that is located at the bottom of the ship, with porthole windows looking out underwater. The Royal also has 3 saltwater pools and a water sport platform that opens up at the stern. The Flyer and Clipper have 2 saltwater pools. All ships have dive masters, snorkeling equipment (provided free), kayaks and sailboards. There is also a Learn To Dive program on the ships available to passengers who want to try it out before committing to a longer program on shore or on the ship. The largest gathering area on the ship is the Tropical Bar, which is at the center of the ship and open to the elements, although they put up a shade canvas. Even though I love the elegance of the Royal, I think I prefer the smaller and more intimate ambience of the Flyer and the Clipper. I think the biggest advantage of the Royal is the stern water sport platform, which is much easier for diving and snorkeling.
Capri - Day 3
We arrive in Capri around 11:00 and after a quick lunch on the ship embark on an Island Tour (53 Euros) at 1:00. This was the only tour offered. On Capri, there is no ship tender service, only local boats because the port is too small and crowded. We are picked up at the ship in a boat by the tour operator, who takes us to the Coral Grotto and White Virgin Grotto (which we back into). We see the famous Faraglioni rock formations surrounding the island and take the boat through a rock arch. The boat drops us off at Marina Grande, where we take a small tour bus up to Anacapri. From here we have the option of looking around the town and shopping, visiting Villa San Michele which is built on the ruins of Tiberius's palaces or taking the chair lift up to Monte Solaro. We decide on the chair lift, which is like an individual ski lift that takes you up to the top of the mountain and incredible views of Capri and the Bay of Naples. We meet back at the drop off area and take another bus down to Capri. Here we have time to shop and look around, and are given tickets to take the Funicolare back down to the port. There is a long line for the Funicolare and it drops you off a short distance from the dock, where we take a shuttle boat back to the ship.
We spoke with other passengers that did most of this stuff by themselves (except the boat tour) for a much cheaper price than we paid on the tour, and while we could have done it ourselves I think the tour was a good value. We were discouraged from trying to go to the Blue Grotto (which Capri is most famous for), but we could have done it from a tourist office at the harbor. Those that did try to see the Blue Grotto paid to be taken there only to not be allowed in because the seas were too rough (and no refund...you take your chances).
We set sail at around 7:00 to a beautiful sunset and rough seas. Entertainment tonight was a Music Trivia contest.
Food on the Royal Clipper
The most common question people ask about a cruise is, "How was the food?" As food is often a very subjective area, it is sometimes a difficult question to answer. Unfortunately, on this particular cruise the answer is simple...the food was not very good.
As I have stated at the beginning of this review, this was not my first Star Clipper cruise and not my first experience aboard the Royal Clipper. We had sailed on the Star Flyer 8 months previously in Tahiti, so we had fairly recent exposure to the culinary offerings on that ship - where the food was outstanding. Unless the parent company had instigated a drastic reduction in food quality, which I seriously doubt, I would blame it on the chef. Our chef on the Star Flyer in Tahiti was from the Philippines and his food was well prepared, interesting and had delicious seasonings. The chef on the Royal Clipper was from Jamaica, and his menu was uninspired, the food poorly prepared, bland and downright boring. It is the only cruise in memory where I lost weight and tried to eat off the ship whenever possible. The main topic of conversation among the passengers was how bad the food was.
One German passenger commented to me that he liked to get the cheese course for dessert, but they gave him the exact same cheeses every night. He observed that at lunch they have different cheeses every day, and so he asked the waiter to give him those different cheeses at dinner. They complied with his request...but why didn't they offer that to everyone? I think it shows a lack of leadership in the kitchen, people doing as little as possible instead of trying for excellence.
Every day is the same breakfast buffet on the Royal. There are made to order omelets and a selection of fruits, breads and cereals. Also offered was underdone bacon, sausages that looked like cut up hot dogs and some other hot items such as crepes or pancakes. On the 7th day (of an 11 day cruise), the fresh mushrooms ran out - so my husband stopped eating the omelets (what's the point without mushrooms?). Someone should have planned that better.
Lunch was also a buffet, the layout of the dining room on the Royal making for a traffic jam. (The buffet layout is better on the Flyer and Clipper because the dining room is all one level and more open.) The lunch was often the best meal of the day, with different themes such as Asian or Italian. The crew decorated the room with festive flags and banners and there was often a carving station with a ham or turkey. Also offered was a dessert buffet and many cheese and salad options.
Dinner was served at table, the maitre d' seating people together and doing a great job of remembering who liked to sit together. I found most people preferred to sit with others that spoke the same language, so there were the German tables, the French tables and the English tables. Star Clipper cruises are always an international mix of people, and our cruise had passengers from 38 different countries. Meeting and talking with passengers from all over the world is one of the most enjoyable things about traveling on a Star Clipper cruise. The food is served in courses and the ship has a good selection of wine offerings. If you don't finish a bottle, they will label it and save it for you for the next night.
It is a shame that the food was so disappointing on this cruise and I hope that they take steps to improve it on the Royal Clipper soon. If they read their comment cards from passengers, they should be aware of the problem.
Giardini Naxos, Sicily - Day 4
Sometime during the very early pre-dawn morning, the ship sailed by the active volcanic island of Stromboli - a smoking cone rising straight out of the ocean. I failed to wake up in time to see it, but a fellow passenger who did said she saw a fiery lava plume amid the smoke. I saw it at a distance, and even then it was a magnificent sight.
We arrived at the Straits of Messina at around 9:30 and were entertained by a talk by Captain Sergey about piracy and how it is affecting passenger ships. I had previously sailed on the Star Flyer in Thailand, but they have discontinued that route because of increased safety concerns in the area. Captain Sergey, originally from Russia, is one of a select few tall ship captains in the world, and is very good at what he does. He also lectured us later in the week about the different designs and configurations of sailing ships and told us about the new ship that the Star Clipper line plans to add in 2014. We arrived at the port of Naxos at around 2:00 and we were anxiously awaiting the arrival of our luggage. I had been very fortunate to meet an absolutely wonderful fellow passenger from Ohio named Marcy. After hearing that I had no cloths, and observing that she was about the same size as me, she sent me an whole bag of cloths to wear until my own arrived. She even had new underwear, still in the Wal-Mart bag. She said she had taken along extra cloths, not knowing why. I believe she was a guardian angel sent to rescue me. She was traveling with her husband and two other couples (the Ohio gang), who became our friends and made our trip delightful.
In Sicily, the ship offered several excursion options; a transfer to Taormina and tour of Greek theater (39 Euros), a brunch and wine tasting tour (89 Euros), or a tour of Mt Etna (94 Euros).
There is not much to do at the port of Naxos, but the beautiful town of Taormina is just down the coast, perched on a cliff. When a passenger asked our cruise director Angela why the ship went to Naxos instead of Taormina, she answered that they had not yet figured out how to sail up a mountain.
We decided not to take a tour but to share a taxi with our friends (the Ohio gang). We negotiated a fare of 40 Euros for 6 (I think we could have done better if we would have haggled more), and our driver took us up to the town of Taormina, arranging to pick us up again in 3 hours. We walked a couple of blocks up to the ancient (3rd century BC) Greek theater. The theater is still in use and has beautiful views of the coast and Mt. Etna, looming in the background. We walked back down through the streets of Taormina, stopping for wonderful gelato at Gelatomania. There were lots of touristy shops in town, also lots of tourists. I purchased a beautiful red pottery platter, glazed with the "Fire of Etna" pattern. After having a drink in a cafe, we return to the ship.
Our luggage had arrived...thank you purser Yula!
Some of our friends did the Mt. Etna tour and had a great time and brought back a whole backpack of rocks. In Hawaii, Pele doesn't like you to take home any lava, but I guess things are different in Sicily, where it is considered good luck.
Our ship departs at almost midnight, but before we leave some local entertainers come on board for a Sicilian folklore performance. Also, a local fashion designer shows some of her over-the-top fashions with young local models.
At Sea - Day 5
There were very rough seas during the night and throughout the next day making any people seasick. I personally like it when it is rough...it rocks me to sleep and makes me feel like we are on the ocean. This sentiment was not shared by most of the other passengers. The mast climbing was cancelled and swimming pool drained. Marcy and I spent the day in the ships library where we painted some watercolor scenes of the ship. A great day at sea.
Electrical and Internet Connections
The electrical system on the Royal Clipper is the European plug system - 2 round holes. On the Star Clipper and the Star Flyer the electrical system is the American plug system. There is a hair dryer in the cabin, but if you need to charge your phone, camera or computer, you need to bring an adapter. Most computer and camera chargers these days operate on a dual voltage system...you can use anything between 120volt-240volt. Check your device to see if it is dual voltage. If it is not a dual voltage device, you need to bring a converter adapter (more expensive and larger).
All of the Star Clipper ships have computer and wireless service available. You purchase a wireless card (good for 1 hour) for about 11 Euros. You can either use their computers (very slow ones) or use your own wireless device. I used my iPad and it worked great. Their signal comes from a satellite, so very slow to use. I usually typed my emails before signing on to system account, then copied and pasted them into my email. It is amazing how fast you can use up 1 hour of connection time on a slow satellite connection.
Corfu, Greece - Day 6
We arrived at the Greek Island of Corfu at around 8:00 and docked at the pier. This was the only port between Rome and Venice that we were at a dock; the other ports involved anchoring and a tender.
The ship offered 3 shore excursions in Corfu; a bus ride to the Achilleion (a neoclassical palace outside of town built by Empress Elisabeth of Austria) and a walking tour of the Old Town near the port (38 Euros), a cycling tour through olive groves that included some uphill riding (84 Euros) and a boat tour of the island including a beach swim (75 Euros).
We decided to explore the island on our own and rent a car. After docking, a free shuttle bus picked us up at the pier and took us to the terminal. Just outside the terminal were a string of taxis and a Royal Car Rental lot. We negotiated down from 70 Euros to 60 Euros (cash no credit cards) for a small manual transmission car - which was very comfortable even though we are tall people. It was easy to drive around the island as the roads are well marked in both Greek and English.
We drove to Paleokastritsa, a beach town on the other side of the island, after a stop in Lakones. Lakones is perched high on top of a mountain and has a fabulous view. We stopped at a great restaurant in Lakones and had fresh squeezed juice and cappuccino while eating the delicious homemade baklava. The streets in town are very narrow, so cars stop at the light on one edge of town and wait for the cars coming in the opposite direction to pass. The driving in Corfu was beautiful, going from beautiful turquoise beaches to ancient olive groves and mountains. Where the other islands were dry, Corfu was green and lush in many places.
Driving down to Paleokastritsa, a nice beachfront community with 3 bays and lots of tourists. We went up to a monastery and walked around then left town and drove to Glifada, another beach community, where we ate grilled fish on the beach. Next we drove up to the mountaintop village of Pelekas (which had some better looking eating places) and on to the Achillion Palace.
The tragic beauty Empress Elisabeth of Austria, the Princess Diana of her day, built the Achillion Palace. The palace and gardens were beautiful, with a giant statue of Achilles looking out over the ocean from the cliffside gardens. Inside, the house is filled with assorted items with little or no connection to Elisabeth. We drove back to the ship and departed from Corfu at around 4:00.
Our friends that took the bike tour had a great time and highly recommended the tour, although an older gentleman broke his leg on the tour and spent the rest of the trip in a cast.
During the evening, we began playing bridge in the library with a German couple we met on the ship. He was now retired, but as a career he had been the German ambassador to Cuba and several South American countries. It was fun getting to know him and his wife, both good bridge players.
Kotor, Montenegro - Day 7
Around 10:00am the Royal entered the beautiful Bay of Kotor in Montenegro. The bay is a large, windy fjord, with Cyprus covered mountains towering over the ship. After several twists and turns we finally arrived at the end of the fjord and the walled city of Kotor.
The ship offered 2 excursions in Kotor; a walking tour of Kotor (20 Euros) or a bus and boat tour to the island near Perast (59 Euros).
We signed up for the Perast excursion and after taking the tender into Kotor boarded a bus to drive us to the small town of Perast about 6 miles away. At Perast, we boarded a small boat to take us to the Lady of the Rocks, a small church built on a man-made island in the bay. The shrine has wonderful paintings on the walls and ceilings and displays silver medallions given by grateful sea captains for safe voyages. There is also a small museum.
Back in Perast, nothing much to see except gypsy women selling linen tablecloths along the waterfront. These tablecloths were obviously made in China, not locally. We headed back to Kotor and the guide took us to the city gates, handed us a free map from the local tourist office and left us. We felt this tour was a complete rip-off. We could have taken a taxi to Perast for 10 Euros and a boat trip to the island for 5 Euros.
We walked around the walled city of Kotor on our own. Kotor is a beautiful city, with a huge ziz-zag wall built behind it up the mountains. Several people hiked up the wall, and said it was a spectacular, but hard, climb (without safety rails). We found Kotor delightful, uncrowded (I don't think big cruise ships can get in there), and authentic, with local people still living in the walled city. It was like a town that was poised on the precipice between living city and tourist destination. None of the shops were touristy - it was like they had no idea of what to sell, what tourists would want to buy. Most of the shops were grocery stores and shoe stores selling usable items to the locals. After being in so many towns that had been transformed from real city to Disney tourist fantasy town, it was refreshing to walk the noncommercial streets of Kotor. I predict it will not stay this way for long because Kotor has everything it takes to become a major tourist destination.
As it was my birthday, we met with up with our Ohio friends from the ship and took a couple of taxis to a local restaurant I had heard about - Star Mlili. It was about a 15-minute taxi ride (7 Euro) away, on the water in an old olive mill. The gardens were beautifully landscaped, with a stream and waterfall set next to the diners and lanterns hung from the trees. We dined on the local specialty of black mussels, squid and "Mama's Eggplant" - delicious. The local wine was superb as was the almond cake.
Getting back to the ship, we could hear the music from the waterfront bars echo across the water while we gazed up at the illuminated city wall, which lit up the entire hillside.
Dubrovnik, Croatia - Day 8
We sailed into Dubrovnik, Croatia at around noon and were soon joined at anchor by a huge cruise ship with over 3,000 passengers. Dubrovnik is an ancient walled city (UNESCO World Heritage list), and the best thing to do there is to walk the top of the city wall - which is almost 3 miles long.
There were 2 tours offered by the ship; a bus tour of surrounding villages ending at the Old Town (40 Euros - which was cancelled because of lack of interest) or a walking tour of Dubrovnik (33 Euros).
We decided to explore by ourselves and took the tender ashore, which dropped us off right at the city gates. Because of the other huge ship in port, the city was crowded with tourists. We waited until the crowds thinned and then climbed up to the city wall walk. The wall completely circled the city and involved lots of steps. There were occasional towers and rest areas with small cafes offering cold drinks. The view was amazing - the sea on 3 sides and the mountains climbing up on the other. Dubrovnik was recently involved in a war, and the most obvious evidence of that were the new roof tiles covering the city. While we were up on the wall, we watched the huge cruise ship pull up anchor and sail away through a narrow pass - dwarfing the city as it passed.
Back down in the Old Town, we had gelato and explored the narrow streets and grand promenade of the Stradun. Dubrovnik is known for its fine gold and silver filigree jewelry, unique and handmade. I purchased some in a small shop, where the owner makes the items during the long winters and sells to tourists in the busy summers. Several times a day, costumed guards run through the streets for tourists to take blurry photos of. We also saw some weddings at many of the churches. Even though Dubrovnik is a tourist city, it still has local character. At sunset, we sat at a bar that was literally perched on the cliffs outside the city wall - spectacular!
Some of our friends took the cable car up to the top of the mountain from just outside the city gates. They said there was an interesting war museum and a great view up there. Other friends who took the ships walking tour were disappointed in it, so we were glad we did our own thing.
The ship left port at almost midnight; so many passengers went into town for dinner.
Korcula, Croatia - Day 9
We arrived at the quaint town and island of Korcula at about 10:30. We took the tender to shore and had a quick look around the town, which was easy to do because is very small and compact. We climbed the tower for a great view and had gelato at a cafe on the water.
The ship offered several excursions; a walking tour of the city (20 Euros), a Buggy Adventure (98 Euros) or an island bus tour that included lunch (65 Euros).
We had signed up for the Buggy tour immediately when we got on the ship in Rome. It sounded like a great tour and had only spots for 7 couples. This turned out to be one of our best tours on the cruise and was totally fun.
We were picked up at the tender dock by a small boat, which took us to the other side of the island. We got off and were assigned our "buggies". The buggies were like a go-cart and sat 2 people side by side. We were given a helmet to wear that had goggles, which came in very handy on our dusty off-road travels. It was fun driving through the hills, olive groves and vineyards, climbing higher up the mountain on rough trails. We stopped at a winery and sampled the local wine - good stuff. We then drove down to a nice sand beach were we went for a swim with the local kids that were enjoying their last day of summer vacation before school started. The tour captain brought out fresh fruit and local cheese on the short trip back to the ship on his small boat. A great adventure!
Friends that took the walking tour were not happy and thought it was boring. Others spent the day in kayaks and small sailboats off the sport platform at the rear of the ship. Many had trouble getting back to the ship because of the strong currents and had to be rescued by the sports team. That afternoon, just before sunset, the ship had its Photo Excursion. Passengers departed the ship in 2 tenders and circled the ship as it raised its sails. I got some beautiful photos with the spectacular sunset in the background.
That night was Pirate Night in the dining room, with passengers encouraged to dress up as a pirate with whatever they had on had. There were some very creative and enthusiastic costumes. The entertainment that night was a crab race, where you can bet $5 on which crab will cross the deck racetrack first. It is pretty funny, as the crabs are very unpredictable.
Crew on the Royal Clipper
There are about 100 crewmembers on the Royal Clipper (about 70 crew on the other ships). The main divisions seem to be the Bridge staff (the Captain and those that sail the ship, including the seamen), the Purser and Hotel staff (including all those wonderful room stewards), the Engineering and Maintenance staff (they are always painting and varnishing the ship - nonstop), and the Food staff (including the chef and all the bar and restaurant staff). There is also the Cruise Director, who organizes all of the tours at port and orchestrates the activities on board and the Gift Shop manager who stocks the ships store. Our sailing also included a Marine Biologist, who gave lectures and had dolphin-watching sessions in the mornings.
For this cruise (and our last cruise in Tahiti), our cruise director was Angela. Angela does a remarkable job keeping everyone informed with what is going on aboard ship (she does a daily newsletter delivered to the cabin), scheduling and organizing the tours. She also is the ships translator, which is a crucial job when you consider the international clientele aboard ship. All information is recited in English, German and French, and I would imagine they would also do Spanish if it were called for. Angela was completely fluent in all of those languages and did a remarkable job. She also plans and hosts the evening entertainments such as the talent show. Unfortunately for the passengers, Angela is leaving the ship in the spring to get married - we wish her luck in her new life in Turkey.
One of the gems of the Star Clipper cruise line is the cruise director Peter. We had the good fortune of getting to know him aboard the Star Flyer in Thailand (I believe he is currently on the Star Clipper). Peter, besides being fluent in a multitude of languages, is a nautical historian. He gives informal lectures and sailing with him is like taking a graduate class in naval history.
Tipping is done at the end of the cruise and can be paid by cash or added to your bill. I think that we tipped about 160 Euros for the entire 11-day cruise. All ships accounting is done in Euros and the charges will show up on your credit card as coming from Monaco.
There is usually not a medical doctor on the Star Clipper sailings, although we did have a doctor on our cruise.
Hvar, Croatia - Day 10
We sailed into Hvar (silent H) at around 10:00. Hvar is a beautiful town with lots of islands and sailboats.
There were several excursions offered in Hvar; a bus island tour (58 Euros), a jeep safari (80 Euros), a new sailing adventure (57 Euros) and a new Hiking tour.
We decided to go on the new sailing adventure tour. We went over to town in the tender and met up with the sailboat tour, which was a small 38' racing sailboat with one guy on it. There were only 6 people from the ship signed up for the tour, which was lucky because the boat did not have a lot of comfortable seating. We jumped on the boat and immediately went out into the busy harbor. As there was only one guy operating the boat, he looked at the passengers, zeroed in on my husband as the most likely candidate, and asked him if he wanted to take the helm while he handled the sails. This ended up to be a good call because my husband jumped at the chance and ended up sailing the boat for the entire cruise. Bora winds from the mountains enabled up to get up to speed of 10 knots. The area was dotted with small islands and filled with all types of sailboats. We had a great time sailing around the many islands - a great excursion and my husband's favorite! We stopped by a swimming beach, but as it was a bit cool and breezy no one wanted to swim.
After a couple of hours of some of the best sailing in our life, we were dropped off at the dock, which was adjacent to the large town square. We had a great lunch at a cafe in the square and then walked around the town, filled with jewelry shops selling chunky necklaces made from semi-precious stones from elsewhere. The pier was lined with stalls selling lavender, which the island is known for. We even had lavender flavored gelato before returning to the ship.
Some of our friends took the hiking tour, which they loved and felt was the best of the trip. They took a small van to a scenic area and then hiked through olive groves and lavender fields. They stopped at a ghost town, which had a small private restaurant that was open only for them. They feasted on grilled chicken and potatoes, washed down with great local wine.
Other friends walked around town, and down the long promenade to the left of the harbor. They purchased a beautiful watercolor painting from a local artist and sat at a fancy hotel on the water and drank very expensive lemonade while watching swimmers on the beach.
The ship departed at around 5:00 and that evening was the Captains dinner of lobster, steak and Baked Alaska. There was a crew and passenger talent show in the tropical bar, which was the best entertainment of the week, with some very talented performers and lots of enthusiasm.
Rovinj, Croatia - Day 11
It was raining when we arrived at Rovinj at around noon.
There were 2 tours offered; a cycling tour that went to a nearby park for a swim (40 Euros) or an island tour by bus (49 Euros).
We were signed up for the cycling tour, but it was cancelled because of rain. The town of Rovinj is built on a hilly peninsula with the pinnacle of the town being St. Euphemia's church and tower. It was part of the Venetian empire and the architecture shows that influence. Legend has it that it was the birthplace of Marco Polo, who left town as a baby for Venice and then on to Asia as a teenager. One difference between Rovinj and other walled towns in Croatia is that Rovinj had always been relatively poor and consequentially had no big mansions or elegant squares. The town had small twisted streets winding up to the church, the centerpiece of the community. The crypt of St. Euphemia is on display in the church (she is a martyr famous for not being eaten by lions) and they open it once a year at their festival. There is also a large tower adjacent to the church with a wooden stairway right out of the Hitchcock movie Vertigo. It is a "climb at your own risk" kind of place, with big gaps and holes between the slats.
The German couple we played bridge with were very unhappy about the stop at Rovinj and thought there was nothing there worth seeing. As Americans, we were kind of intrigued by the small claustrophobic kind of setting and enjoyed walking through the maze, although I admit it was not the best stop. Our cruise director Angela had told us at the beginning of the cruise that we should, "Get Kuna (currency of Croatia) in Korcula and spend it all in Rovinj at the art galleries." I was expecting to do just that, but it turned out that the town was full of bad and awful art galleries filled with kitschy tourist stuff. As far as I could tell, the only thing worth buying in Rovinj was a gelato. We were not sad to sail away at sunset, which looked very pretty setting over the town.
It is always sad to end a cruise, and you know the fun is over when you have to have your bags outside your cabin before you go to bed on your last night. A copy of the bill had been left under the door, and if everything was correct you could sign it and pick up your passport from the pursers desk.
Venice, Italy - departure
We arrived at the San Marco Straits at around 6:30 and sailed by an empty St. Marks square. After breakfast we waited in the lounge for the rain to subside a little before leaving the ship at around 9:30. A small shuttle took us the short way to the port terminal, although we would have walked it if it had not been raining so hard. After claiming our luggage, we took the nearby vaporetto (6 Euros), which took us right into the town center. We got off at the Rialto stop and hired a waiting porter (20 Euros) to take our bags to our hotel - the Hotel Aqua Palace.
The Hotel Aqua Palace turned out to be a great place to stay in Venice, midway between the Rialto Bridge and St. Marks Square on a small canal. I plan on writing a separate review of the hotel - but that is another story.