It was a different way to cruise the Caribbean. Just the sight of all the sails flying above the ship peaked our interest in going on this unique type of vessel. We had cruised about 15 times prior on the typical cruise ships (Carnival, ... Read More
It was a different way to cruise the Caribbean. Just the sight of all the sails flying above the ship peaked our interest in going on this unique type of vessel. We had cruised about 15 times prior on the typical cruise ships (Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess) and not-so-typical types of ships (Delta Queen river boat on the Mississippi, river boat for 7 nights on the Amazon, another on the Nile), so we certainly had many points of reference. After reading their brochure and website and many reviews, we were excited and looking forward to sailing on a clipper ship. It promised to visit the smaller ports and towns which were otherwise not accessible to the larger cruise ships.
Well, it was a funny outcome in some ways. We were not disappointed, yet we found the trip lacking in many important ways.
First the positives: The dinner food was one of the best we had on any trip. It was always delicious. Even the daily soup garnered rave reviews from our two older children (age 15 & 16) who usually do not like too many soups. For breakfast and lunch there were buffets daily. Unfortunately, the breakfast, while consistently good, lacked variety and each day very little was changed, leaving one a bit bored at the end of the week. Ordering for example, an “eggs benedict”, or even a “boiled egg”, was not available and never appeared on the buffet.
The ship itself was lovely and majestic when in full sale. The setting of the sails were, in itself, an inspiring event. Rooms were small yet comfortable with enough room for two people to move about without consistently bumping into themselves.
The itinerary was great with often two ports per day, so you were always busy. Getting into some smaller ports of call was also something to enjoy. As well, the on-shore excursions were terrific.
Note that if you are prone to getting sea-sick, give this one a pass or at the least, use the sea-sick ear tab or Gravol. The smaller size of the ship, when compared to the typical cruise ships, often makes for rocky times while eating dinner or getting to sleep. We all used the tab as insurance and that neutralized the sea’s effects. That being said, it is a great experience to find yourself on such a vessel and really experience what it is like to be at sea. You can let your imagination run wild and pretend, like our toddler son did, that you are on a pirate ship!
Now, unfortunately, while the ship was positioned as being a “high-end” cruise with correspondingly high-end service, etc., it failed to measure up in several ways. I am listing them all below because there were many areas which needed improvement. Keep in-mind, while these seem like many points, none-the-less, the trip was enjoyed by all and would still be an experience which would be appreciated by most travellers.
1. You would have expected that on such a small ship, the crew would be extremely friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful. This was definitely not the case. While the crew hands were always smiling, the ship’s mid-level officers, (with the exception of its “hotel manager” and “captain”) were usually without smiles or greetings, and when questioned about some ship timings or activities failed to know the answer (e.g. What are the lunch buffet times? What time do we get in port tomorrow?). Even at the information desk on-board, the junior office could not answer these simple questions. The ships tour director would not often be able to provide information about tours and excursions, or details about debarking. Once our toddler dropped some pasta on the floor en-route to his table. Three crew passed by stepping over the spill without any offer to help, or to clean it up; but instead we did.
2. This trip is really not recommended for young children. Prior to leaving we spoke to the “Star Clipper booking agent” about taking this with our almost 3-year old. She said it was welcomed and, while there would be no child facilities on board, there would be no issues. We were surprised to learn upon arrival that we could not even get a booster seat or high-chair for dining. We spoke to a senior officer about this and were told, “the owner board are old and conservative, and do not like to change things they have been doing for years.” He had offered to go ashore on a previous trip to buy a toddler chair for $40, and was told by the owners, “definitely not because we do not cater to young children”. He admitted they had no interest in targeting a “family” clientele. On that previous trip there were 3 young toddlers. On the positive side they did prepare special meals for our son at dinner … after the third night.
3. While still on the ship situation, this would not be a ship recommended to anyone with a physical disability. The stairs are long, very steep and narrow. There are no elevators. With the frequent rocking, this would make for a dangerous situation for handicapped or frail travellers.
4. While the cabins were cleaned daily, and there was a nightly turn-down service, no cleaning or refreshing was done throughout the day. So, if you came back from a tour in the morning and took a shower, you would be left with damp towels for your pre-dinner shower. The same lack of daily cleaning was evident when we noticed some dirty plates outside someone’s cabin early morning. They stayed there for TWO days. Not what you would consider first-class service.
5. There is an odd practice on this ship which allows crew officers to eat at the same time and place as the clients. Now by itself this would not seem to be a problem if not for the fact we experienced them jumping in-line to get their food, or eating the last portions of some foods, leaving passengers who paid significant amounts lacking their food. When this point was observed frequently, we brought it up to another senior officer who said again it was the policy of the “older owners”. Even the First Mate just shrugged his shoulders and said “that is the way it is on this ship”!
6. The Clipper should introduce a practice of having some food available to its passengers all throughout the day. The current practice is only to have the three meal times and midnight food available. There is also a small snack laid out at 5pm for one hour. That 5pm snack is very small and usually is taken quickly as passengers are hungry by then. So, if you are not there quickly you may find all the food gone and you have to wait until 7:30 for dinner. (This issue is further compounded as crew usually come and get their “snack” as well even though there is usually not enough for the passengers!) Even having some cookies or pound cake laid out in the lounge would work to take the edge of your appetite.
7. The above practice often sees passengers very hungry by the time dinner comes around – which is at 7:30pm. Normally such a late time for dinner is not an issue but given it is somewhat late to eat dinner for many people, the firm should change the policy and begin dinner a bit earlier, say at 6:30pm. Those who wish to eat later can still arrive at 7:30pm.
8. The ship does not have a “wine” package whereby you can buy bottles at a discount if you agree to purchase 8, 9, etc. This is common practice among other cruise ships and one which we find very client focused. Having to pay top dollar for wine with dinner can add up very fast. Similarly, there is not a soft-drink package for teens, and we know how much they can drink pop (at the price charged by the Clipper, that too adds up quickly).
9. When the Ship sails out on the first night, all passengers are invited on deck to see the opening of the sails. This is a great event to see. However, they invite you there to have a glass of champagne to celebrate this event. The word “invite” is misleading as they charge you 10 euros for that glass. It should be free as part of their welcome.
10. While this ship is relatively new, you can see signs that a retrofit is needed. In our washroom much of the marble on the floor has yellowed. Other areas you can see carpet showing wear. It is just starting to look a bid “old”. Perhaps this is intended by the owners to add character.
11. There is a “safety” speech given on the first day. Such a practice is also done on other cruise lines. However, it was longer than should be and was repeated the second evening. The tone was also very condescending as passengers were, for over 5-10 minutes, reminded there was unique plumbing on the ship and only the ship’s toilet paper should go in the toilet otherwise the entire system could block. This point seemed to go on forever on both evenings. Added to the length of this briefing is the fact it was given in three languages (English, German, French) so it took seemingly forever. I believe one such safety briefing to be sufficient.
Now, you may think some of these points are too critical or trivial, perhaps so, but we did expect a 5-star trip and we feel we received a 3-star one. If the Star Clipper firm is to measure up to 5-stars, or even 4, none of the above should be evident in our opinion. We had the luck of meeting a couple who had just returned from a similar “sailing ship” with Oceania Cruises. They raved about it, the ship, and crew. Similarly none of our above issues were noticed by them. They did consider it 5-star. We would suggest anyone considering a clipper ship trip to consider that cruise line. We picked Star Clipper above them based on the fact they did take children (Oceania Cruises does not take children but does state that up-front). Little did we know those were just words and did not reflect anything on the ship. Too bad they are missing on a large market of family clients.
Overall, let me restate we all had a terrific time for the week and would recommend it to others (and also to consider the other sail line options), however keeping in-mind the above limitations. We heard they are launching a new ship next year. You may be advised to wait for that one.