Star Flyer Entertainment
Entertainment-wise, daytimes are pretty much dominated by shore explorations. In addition to water sports (see below), the ship offers a variety of excursions in port including island tours (on buses, bikes, ATV's and 4x4 jeeps), snorkeling excursions from a sailboat or motor boat, helicopter tours, and the ever-popular helmet dive (where you walk on the ocean's floor, 10 feet down, wearing a breathing apparatus that looks like a prop from "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea"). Prices are in euros, which makes the excursions a bit expensive -- then again, everything in French Polynesia costs more than it should, so you may not do much better on your own.
The signup process was pleasantly low key. At the beginning of the cruise, signup books for each island are set out in the library and guests can add their names to the lists at their leisure. If you change your mind, you simply cross your name off the list. You have until noon the day before to sign up or cancel (cancellations later than noon may incur a charge), but many of the tours did have last-minute availability. The cruise director is happy to answer any shore tour questions you may have, and does a presentation about the various options on one of the first nights. On the whole, the tours were well run and most of the group sizes were fairly small.
Daytime activities on sea days are pretty homespun. They're led by the cruise director and the water sports team (which also doubles as the activities staff), and most seem to be some sort of demonstration -- knot tying, fruit carving, pareo tying, coconut leaf weaving. On the first day at sea, we did a scavenger hunt, which had us running around the decks asking officers various questions about the ship and French Polynesia. The most exciting daytime activity is climbing the mast, which involves putting on a rock-climbing harness, ascending a tall ladder, and hanging out in a crow's nest above the Sun Deck (the photo ops are better when there's land nearby).
Most people use sea days to sleep in the sun, read or take a dip in one of the two saltwater pools.
Every evening at about 9:30 p.m., the cruise director hosts some kind of show, typically involving audience participation. Favorites include a fashion show of logo wear, guest and crew talent show, team trivia, Mr. and Mrs. Star Flyer contest, and pirate night. The experience is reminiscent of overnight camp. One of the nicest evening activities was a screening of "Mutiny on the Bounty" outside on the Aft Deck. The film was projected on a sheet, and it was a very peaceful, very no-frills version of Princess Cruises' "Movies Under the Stars."
On my cruise, most passengers headed for their cabins either directly after dinner or after the 9:30 p.m. show. Those of us who stayed up later congregated at the Tropical Bar, where half-hearted attempts at starting a dance party usually petered out into drinking and chatting by the bar. The later hours are when several of the crewmembers -- officers, sports team -- come to hang out, so it's a nice opportunity for passengers and crew to intermingle. Star gazing is a perfect evening activity when weather permits, especially in the remote Tuamotu Atoll, but though we even went up to the bridge to find a knowledgeable stargazer, most crewmembers were sadly lacking in constellation information.
Star Flyer Public Rooms
On a ship this small, public spaces serve multiple functions. The hub of ship life is the Tropical Bar, a covered bit of deck in the middle of the ship. It serves as aerobics room, dining area, show lounge, dance floor, waiting area and meet-up spot -- as well as housing the actual bar. Meetings and presentations for the whole ship -- such as the disembarkation talk and the shore excursion overview -- take place here. During the day, passengers sit and read on the benches on three sides of the deck, or play cards at the two high wooden tables on either side of the bar.
Hint: The water fountain on the starboard side of the Tropical Bar is perfect for filling up water bottles before heading ashore, or quenching parched throats without waiting for a bartender to pour you a glass.
The indoor extension of the Tropical Bar is the Piano Bar, named for the white baby grand in the center sunken area of the room. Blue plush banquettes and matching chairs circle the ship's main stairway, which leads to the Dining Room below. While not nearly as popular as the upper decks and the Tropical Bar, the Piano Bar is busiest between happy hour and dinner, when a classical pianist performs and groups meet for a pre-dinner drink, and on blustery sea days when everyone takes shelter from the bad weather.
The wood-paneled library is also a multipurpose space. If you're looking for a book, world atlas, guides to Polynesian fish and board games, you'll find them here (just check to make sure you can read the language your selection is written in -- quite a few languages are represented on these shelves). But more than just supplying books for guests to borrow , it serves as the information and signup center for shore excursions. Two computer terminals offer very slow Internet connections at a pricey 20 euros per hour. A glass case highlights Tahia Collins pearls, and the jeweler brings on merchandise for passengers to ogle, try on and buy on certain port days.
The teeniest public room on the ship is the Sloop Shop, where travelers can buy overpriced Star Clippers logo clothing, the soundtrack to "1492" (featuring the famous raising-the-sails song), and sundries/toiletries. The purser's office is also here, should you need to exchange money, request a nurse or borrow a DVD to watch in-cabin.
Hint: If you're eyeing a Star Clippers jacket or hat, consider participating in the fashion show. Volunteer models get a discount in the Sloop Shop after strutting the Tropical Bar's makeshift runway.
Star Flyer Spa & Fitness
What really sets a Star Clippers cruise apart is its water sports activities. Although Star Flyer is too small to have an actual platform at the back of the ship, its team of four water sports crewmembers offer snorkeling, diving, waterskiing, kayaking, wakeboarding, windsurfing and sailing in every port -- either from a makeshift platform attached to stairs along the side of the ship or from the beach.
On the first day of the cruise, all interested passengers can sign out snorkeling equipment for complimentary use throughout the entire itinerary. All water sports are free, except for the dive trips arranged by the ship. And in addition to simple diving excursions, Star Flyer also offers a variety of certification courses -- although why anyone would want to spend their vacation watching instructional videos and taking a test is beyond me. Better to do the coursework at home and your certification dives on the trip.
This program is a real boon on the French Polynesia itinerary because often the lagoons are the key attractions of the islands. Instead of booking a pricey snorkeling tour or other water sport-oriented excursion, passengers can simply snorkel from the beach, or kayak or waterski from the vessel. On several occasions, the ship even ran free tenders to nearby beaches. I convinced my friend to try waterskiing in Rangiroa on a beach day -- she didn't have to worry that she had just plunked down a wad of cash for 15 minutes of falling in the water because it was free of charge. And as there were only two of us in the zodiac, we didn't feel rushed for time.
For onboard sunning and splashing, the fore and aft Sun Decks are the places to be. Both offer pools, which though small, are surprisingly deep. But swimmers be forewarned -- both pools have windows in the bottom. Passengers standing in the Piano Bar or the back hallway of the Clipper Deck can ogle your bum and legs through the windows while you cool off.
Both decks offer plenty of loungers, and both have a few rows of chairs covered by a tarp for a little bit of sun protection -- the covered section on the Aft Deck is larger. Other than that, shade is hard to come by. People did leave belongings on the deck chairs to reserve them, but usually we had no problem finding a spare lounger. The best place to enjoy the sailing and especially the sunset is in the widow's net -- netting attached to the bowsprit off the front of the ship. I usually spent the first five minutes gripping the ropes and praying I wouldn't fall into the water, but once I internalized that the netting was secure, it was really amazing to be out over the sea. Just try to leave most of your belongings on the deck -- a bad handoff nearly resulted in my friend's camera plunging to a watery grave.
Unlike the larger Royal Clipper, Star Flyer has neither a spa nor a fitness center. The only spa offering is a Thai massage, which takes place in a makeshift cabana near the Sports Deck (you are fully clothed for this treatment). Fitness options are limited to morning exercises at 8 a.m. We diligently went most mornings and bounced our way through various aerobics and stretching moves led by Oscar, one of the sports team members who always had a sour face at that hour (which led to us dubbing him Oscar the Grouch). The routine hardly ever varied in the 10 days we were on the ship. On one sea day, we participated in "walk a mile," which was more comedy than workout, as a line of passengers marched around the ship, doing circles around the pool, going up and down the stairs, and parading through the dining room and sun decks. There aren't many opportunities for stretching your legs on most excursions either -- perhaps that's why the bike tour on Huahine filled up so quickly.