Everything old is new again.
If there were a mantra for Star Clippers' marketing philosophy, that would be it. While the rest of the cruise industry marches to the drumbeat of bigger, faster, "pizzazz-ier," on Star Clippers ships the only bells and whistles are literally bells and whistles. That is because Star Clipper -- plus Royal Clipper and Star Flyer, its two fleetmates -- were built to fulfill company owner Mikael Krafft's vision of recreating the golden age of tall-masted clipper ships driven to their destinations by the power of the winds and currents. To be sure, these modern offshoots are propelled by iron and petroleum as well as by sailcloth, but since most passengers choose these vessels for the experience of cruising under sail, every attempt is made to maximize the amount of time without engine assist. In the final analysis, however, even the most avid sailors onboard would choose firing up the diesel to missing a port call or arriving too late to make a shore excursion, so the amount of time under sail can't be guaranteed and can vary widely from cruise to cruise.
Star Clippers is not the only member of the "sail-powered cruise ship" niche; three-ship Windstar Cruises
and one-ship Island Island Windjammers
are two others. But these three major players are hardly carbon copies of each other; each forms a niche within a niche. At one extreme is Island Windjammers, which is as funky, casual and sometimes rowdy an experience you can find on the high seas, and where often times a hot shower is the height of gracious amenities. At the other pole is Windstar, with the ambience of a country club casual soiree and top-notch cuisine.
Splitting the middle is Star Clipper, modern yet retro, casual but by no means lacking refinement, and midway between Windstar's largely unstructured time and Windjammer's chock-a-block fun and games.
In style and architecture Star Clipper is, as advertised, a mega-yacht. There is more open deck space here than on many large cruise ships. Designed for efficient use of space, not for large-scale passenger flow, getting from here to there aboard this ship often involves negotiating a series of staircases and going through public rooms rather than around them. It took me an hour or so before it dawned on me that the shortest path from the lounge to my cabin went straight through the dining room -- a route that would be unthinkable on a mass-market vessel. (Of course the greatest distance between two points on diminutive Star Clipper is shorter than the distance from the slots to the roulette wheel on many a mega-liner.) But those who are mobility impaired should probably look elsewhere for their cruise vacations: In addition to the many stairways, the gangway is steep and narrow, and the ship has no elevators. Decor throughout the ship is nautical, with rich varnished woods counterpointed by deep blue carpets and upholstery. All hanging art relates either to ships or the sea -- usually both in the same painting.
Itineraries are organized to maximize time under sail. Ports of call with minimal distances between are favored, often making it possible to overnight and enjoy nighttime experiences ashore. For longer passages, often the ship will motor at maximum cruising speed through the night to get within a few miles of the next port, then turn off the engine and raise the sails at six in the morning, sailing the last leg. Passengers are encouraged to participate in the sailing process, either helping with the lines or actually taking the helm. Those prospective guests who have not had sailing experience should be aware that the feeling of sailing is quite strong. Since Star Clipper has neither stabilizers nor anti-heeling tanks, it has a tendency to rock, and in brisk winds it will, like all sailboats, heel (tilt toward its downwind side). This can be disconcerting to those who are used to their floors remaining relatively parallel to the horizon.
Star Clipper Fellow Passengers
Star Clippers attracts a mix of age ranges from low 30's through post-retirement. What links the passengers is not a particular age but rather a sense of adventure and, especially for the honeymooners onboard, the romance of being on a tall ship under sail power. We found many guests were skilled sailors, several owning their own sailboats. For some it was a chance for a "day sailor" to experience ocean passages under sail; for others it was a transitional step between cruising and making the leap to chartering a bareboat yacht (one without professional crew) and sailing themselves from island to island.
One important aspect of the passenger makeup should be noted: Star Clipper attracts a large number of Europeans (Americans on our sailing actually represented a 45 percent minority). This means that all announcements and cruise director comments are made in three languages -- not as bad as the Costa five-language benchmark, but a bit tedious nonetheless. Also, the ratio of smokers to non-smokers is higher than on most ships plying the American trade, and the rules for enforcing non-smoking areas are loosely enforced.
Star Clipper Dress Code
Dress code is very casual, though most passengers tend to go a bit more toward "casual elegance" in the evenings. Shorts and T-Shirts are verboten after 6:30 p.m. There is a "Captain's Dinner," though curiously it takes place two nights before the end of the cruise. Some passengers choose to dress a bit more formally for that night, but only to the extent -- for example, some men donned a sport jacket over an open-collar shirt. It is valuable to note, however, that many Star Clipper itineraries include overnight port calls, and, given the option of dining ashore, it's not a bad idea to bring a more formal outfit or two on the chance that the opportunity to dine out at a fine restaurant with a stricter dress code may present itself.
Star Clipper Gratuity
Star Clippers recommends tipping $8 per person per night: $3 for the cabin steward and $5 for the waiter. Guests may either tip with cash or by having the gratuities charged to their shipboard account. For those tipping in cash, envelopes are provided, which can be deposited in a container at the purser's office or, in the case of the cabin steward, delivered personally. Since the restaurant is open seating, and one is likely to have a number of different waiters during the course of the cruise, most guests choose to deposit those gratuities in the purser's container. A gratuity is automatically charged to each drink purchased at the bar.
Next: Star Clipper Cabins