Crossing the Atlantic on a Tall Ship

And so it begins . . . I am on Star Flyer as she heads out into the Atlantic making for Barbados and winter in the Caribbean. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a tall ship is the stuff of dreams. Rope and cable thrumming in the breeze, the crack of a sail filling with wind: these are sounds old in human time — these sounds lie deep within our collective consciousness.

Star Clipper raises sail Black and white image
Raising Sail. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

And so it begins . . .  I am on Star Flyer as she heads out into the Atlantic making for Barbados and winter in the Caribbean.

Crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a tall ship is the stuff of dreams. Rope and cable thrumming in the breeze, the crack of a sail filling with wind: these are sounds old in human time — these sounds lie deep within our collective consciousness.

Star Flyer is a barquantine with four masts, and the first of the Star Clipper’s tall ships.

Star Clippers Tall Ship
Star Flyer is a classic barquantine tall ship. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

A group of 129 like-minded people boarded Star Flyer, either in Malaga, Spain, or Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, for the Trans-Atlantic sailing. This voyage attracts a different sort of passenger, and a surprising number return for the Atlantic crossing many times over.

Why?

A true tall ship. A BIG ocean. Sunrises and sunsets. Stars. The Milky Way. Endless water.

It is a voyage into our past, a voyage into ourselves. The thirteen days at sea give the time and the quiet to internalize the sounds of the ship, to think. At night, standing on the bridge of the ship looking forward, all is dark. I am surrounded by stars and the sound of wind, canvas, and water. That bright swath of sky — The Milky Way — is resplendent with no other light to distract.

The Milky Way over the Atlantic Ocean.
The Milky Way over the Atlantic Ocean. Photograph: Shaunl, iStock Photo.

What color is the sea? How many shades of blue exist?

At dawn today,  the sky turns a powdery bare-blue. Grey clouds edged with pink light add a subtle contrast. 

Sunrise on the Atlantic Ocean. Photograph: Bill Palmer.
Sunrise. Photograph: Bill Palmer.

Later, a silvery light breaks a deep blue swell — the shimmering of a dolphin’s skin during a short, curving leap.

In a circle we move, dragging the horizon with us, re-describing it as the day passes on.

Sometimes the ocean is a blue-black velvet. At other times, a sapphire.

Then the sun turns the ocean a golden yellow and white of reflected thunderheads — and only the horizon line remains blue — a thin ribbon of cobalt.

Sunrise, Atlantic Ocean. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Sunrise, Atlantic Ocean. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

A Little Weather

The first night out of La Gomera, I wake at 3:00 a.m. to large swells rolling me back and forth in my bed and the sound of unsecured items being tossed to the floor. Folks with cabins near the dining room hear crashing china.

Northeast of us near the Strait of Gibraltar, a large low pressure system has formed suddenly. It causes 12 meter seas near Madeira, and 5 – 6 meter (16.5 to 19.5 foot) seas for us.  At sunrise, the crew strings lines along both sides the upper deck of the Flyer, as well as in the open Tropical Bar — we need them to keep our balance as the ship moves with the waves.

I find the whole thing exhilarating. I’m spending a lot of time in the open Tropical bar, and some up on the top deck. The 5 – 6 meter seas don’t frighten me  —  but they require me to watch my step. As a big wave rolls under the ship, one side of the deck tips deeply downward, then slants back to the other side in equal measure. When this happens, you’d better hang on to something, or you’ll go sliding across the ship.

Throw off the bow lines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, dream, discover.  — Mark Twain

In a glint of sunlight, the sea produces a momentary rainbow on a wave’s edge. The ocean sucks and swells, a lacy froth – a crest – and she roils on, building here, falling there. She lifts the ship high on a swell, then pulls us down — holding us close and dear, before sending us up again.

For these two days, I am in the society of people who feel the same way about the waves. However, when the sea flattens out after nearly 60 hours, we are all thankful. Thankful and tired. The constant rolling means balancing each step and being sure to hold on always. Showers are difficult to impossible — too much movement to risk it. Every meal is spent holding onto the table, the plate, and the glass with only two hands.

There is the sun, there is the sea, there is me.

On the fourth day, the Atlantic relaxes into a flat mirror, and the population of the ship increases. I realize that nearly a third of the passengers never left their cabins during the rough period.

Sunset Atlantic Ocean from the Star Fyer
The Atlantic became so calm, that it was difficult to believe it was the same ocean. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Too much of a good thing?

Yes, it is calm, but there is little wind. The sails hang slack, and then there is a great, cracking THWOMP as they fill, catching the wind and holding before losing it again. Then another crack a minute later. The sea is a flat shield set with silver stones. Inscrutable. Endless.

Sailmaker on the Star Flyer
One of the sailmakers on the Star Flyer, working on the main staysail. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

While we are not becalmed, I start to understand the doldrums. The water glints diamond hard, and we are making less than two knots with the sails. Captain Sergey turns the engines back on.

The sounds of the ship are the sounds of a workshop. A saw, then a hammer striking wood. The smell of sawdust and varnish. The whir of the industrial sewing machine. A chisel chinging on a bit of swimming pool rust. The rustling of a fisherman’s sail, bustled together by six seamen before it’s hoisted into position.

The storm damaged the main staysail badly that first evening, ripping it all along the bottom seam. The sail repair advances slowly, a work in progress for at least ten days. Now and again the Captain and first officer stand looking at the ruined sail with the sailmaker — along with the huge new sections of Dacron that have been cut to size. The sailmaker kneels and measures with the sail tacked into the deck for cutting.

Sunrise, Sunset

The two most magical events of the day, every day. I’m sharing “Seattle Bill” Palmer’s series of of sunrise/sunset images:




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Practical Questions

For those of you considering an Atlantic crossing with Star Clippers, here is a review of the more practical aspects of my westbound Trans-Atlantic cruise on the Star Flyer in the fall of 2016.

I was onboard Star Flyer for three weeks. The first week was a cruise from Malaga, Spain to Las Palmas. The second two weeks were the Trans-Atlantic portion of the trip, going from Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, to Bridgetown, Barbados. This way, passengers may choose either a longer or shorter Trans-Atlantic experience.

So, is thirteen days at sea boring?

I had never been this many days at sea with no ports of call, and honestly, I wasn’t sure how I would feel. I figured I would know halfway into the trip. The answer for me, was no — I wasn’t bored at all. I found it deeply relaxing. I brought things to read, movies on my iPad, photos to edit in Lightroom. The ship has a library and a substantial DVD collection as well.

Closing ceremony for the Star Flyer Olympic Games, Fall 2016.
Closing ceremony for the Star Flyer Olympic Games, Fall 2016.

The cruise director and her sports team staff prepared a schedule of activities each day, so truthfully, passengers could be as “busy” or relaxed as they wanted to be. Star Flyer also had a special yoga instructor on for the crossing. Typically, there were two yoga classes each day, as well as two or three other fitness offerings. Four or five days out of La Gomera, it was warm enough to take a dip in the pool and lounge on the deck.

And — mast climbing anyone?

Some of the activities I participated in were the Olympic Games, the daily trivia quiz, and Captain’s story time, a navigation class on the bridge, and a star class after dinner. Oh, and the first-time Atlantic crossing baptism.

Lounging on deck, looking up at the sails and the sky. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Lounging on deck, looking up at the sails and the sky. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Olympic Games: four teams, five days, three events per afternoon. It was great, silly fun!

One thing to note: generally, the ship would have had wifi internet access; however, the storm near the Canary Islands knocked out the ship’s wifi, and we were without internet access for the crossing. Important communication could still be handled through the purser’s office. Honestly, I enjoyed being unplugged.

Worried about Being Seasick?

If you are thinking of taking a cruise on the Star Flyer clipper ship, being seasick is a real concern for many people. I was not sick — but then I did take Dramamine proactively, particularly on the couple days during the bad weather. After being on Royal Clipper for two cruises this year, I felt confidant that I could handle the Atlantic Crossing.

My advice is this. If you get seasick really easily, this is probably not for you.

However, if you simply haven’t done much (or any) sailing, but you are really captivated by the idea of taking a voyage on one of these beautiful ships, try a week long cruise in the Caribbean or the Mediterranean to see how you feel.

Star Clippers has even scheduled several three night cruises out of Venice specifically for people who would like to try sailing on one of their tall ships but aren’t ready to commit to seven or more days.

Another thing to be aware of: due to the size of the ship, there are no elevators. You need to be capable of climbing stairs in both calm and rough weather.

Sunrise on the Stern of Star Flyer
“Atlanta Bill” watches the sun rise. He is part of my favorite family onboard — we formed Team Portugal for the Star Flyer Olympic Games.

Fellow Passengers

On most Star Clipper cruises, 50% to 60% of passengers are repeat customers. On this trip, of the 129 people aboard, 92 had sailed with Star Clippers before — so over 71%. Most of the ship attended the Captain’s champagne reception for repeat passengers.

On this voyage, the passengers were predominantly American, British or German. There were several French couples as well.

More than half of the passengers had also crossed the Atlantic before, but there were many of us were first timers. Jane, originally Canadian, now from Colombia, came out of a deep love of the Aubrey-Maturin books by Patrick O’Brien. After reading the twenty books in the series, crossing the Atlantic was a compulsion for Jane. She simply had to experience it on a tall ship.

Then there were many passengers who had made the crossing many times. There was Spanish Bill, also known as William the Conqueror (there were four Bills on the ship, so they each got a nickname based on their home). Spanish Bill is actually British, but now lives in Spain. Years ago, Spanish Bill had built a 35 foot sailboat in his backyard in England; then he and his wife sailed her back and forth across the Atlantic several times.

Seattle Bill, very introspective, thoughtful, captured every sunrise and sunset. He served in the US Navy in the 1970’s and loves the Atlantic crossing, which he has made several times now on both Star Flyer and Royal Clipper. He was kind enough to share his series of sunrises and sunsets, which you will find above.

All hands on deck! Head bartender Alberto becomes the loading foreman as Star Flyer takes on supplies for the crossing.
All hands on deck! Head bartender Alberto becomes the loading foreman as Star Flyer takes on supplies for the crossing.

Crew

I think very highly of the Star Clipper crews. I’ve spent almost seven weeks on their ships this year, and the people who work for this company are one of Star Clipper’s great strengths.

Many of the crew members have made their careers with the company. On my three cruises with Star Clippers, I have found the crew members to be highly skilled, very professional, and genuinely warm people. They are a big part of what makes passengers continue to return to the Star Clipper ships.

Star Flyer versus Royal Clipper

Many of Star Flyer’s Trans-Atlantic passengers fiercely prefer either Star Flyer or Star Clipper to their bigger sister, the square-rigged Royal Clipper.

Why? Star Flyer heels over further — this enhances the feeling of sailing. Captain Sergey laughed at people who thought this meant that Star Flyer sailed better than the Royal — he thought this was silly. I will say this though. Sailors like to feel the ship move, and I think Star Flyer and Star Clipper attract more hard-core sailing people, and I really liked this aspect of my fellow passengers on this trip.

Star Flyer and Royal Clipper.
Star Flyer and Royal Clipper. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Star Flyer Royal Clipper
Tonnage: 2,298 Tonnage: 5,000
Length: 360 feet Length: 439 feet
Beam: 50 feet Beam: 54 feet
Draft: 18.5 feet Draft: 18.5 feet
Sail Area: 36,000 square feet Sail Area: 56,000 square feet
Mast Height: 226 feet Mast Height: 197 feet
Masts: 4 masts, 16 Sails Masts: 5 masts, 42 sails
Total Staff: 72 Total Staff: 106
Passenger Capacity: 170 Passenger Capacity: 227
Cabin 339 on Star Flyer
My Cabin 339 (Category 2 ) on the Star Flyer is on the Clipper deck — which is also the where the dining room is located. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

The standard cabins on Star Flyer and Royal Clipper are so similar that the minor differences aren’t worth discussing, but it is important to note that the cabins are smaller than cabins on large cruise ships.

I found my cabin on Star Flyer to be roomy and comfortable, with plenty of storage. However, Royal Clipper does have a group of cabins with private balconies, while Star Flyer does not — this can be a deal breaker for some passengers.

Additional differences: Royal Clipper has a small fitness center and two massage rooms. Star Flyer and Star Clipper do not have fitness centers. Massages are given in tent on a very private part of the Sun Deck. Royal Clipper has a marina platform that opens on the stern of the ship. Passengers can swim or windsurf off the back of the boat when she is moored. Star Flyer and Star Clipper do not have marina platforms. Royal Clipper has taller ceilings in the dining room, which makes it somewhat more quiet because the noise isn’t as compressed.

Bill Palmer photographing the sunset on Star Flyer
“Seattle Bill” Palmer captures another sunset on Star Flyer. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

When the ships are sailing directly in front of the wind, Royal Clipper is faster. She can make 14 to 16 knots, while Star Flyer and Star Clipper have a top speed of 8 to 9 knots. However — and this is a BIG one: Star Flyer and Star Clipper can sail much closer to the wind than Royal Clipper can. This means they can sail more under more varied wind conditions than Royal Clipper without resorting to the engine.

All of the Star Clipper ships have bow thrusters and anti-roll tanks. However, Star Flyer and Star Clipper do roll more in rough seas than Royal Clipper, which is larger and more stable feeling. This might be a consideration for someone concerned about seasickness.

Look – I loved both Star Flyer and Royal Clipper, equally. I can’t tell you I have a favorite. They each have different strengths, and I’d be back on either ship in a heartbeat.

Note: food on both Star Flyer and Royal Clipper was very good. I wrote about the food on Royal Clipper at length in my first article on the Royal Clipper, and everything I had to say there pertains to the food on Star Flyer as well.

If you are interested in reading further about the ships, or looking at upcoming sailings, you’ll find Star Clippers website here.

Ports of Call

I boarded Star Flyer in Malaga, and spent the week visiting Tangier, Morocco, Cadiz, Spain, Funchal, Portugal, before winding up in Las Palmas, Grand Canaria, where the Transatlantic crossing segment of my trip truly began. 

Las Palmas is, of course, an appropriate place to begin the Atlantic journey, following in the footsteps of Christopher Columbus. As part of my tour of the island, I visited Casa de Colon (The Columbus House) — really the mayor’s house where Columbus stayed before continuing to San Sebastian in La Gomera. One interesting note. There was a model of the ship La Nina — that ship was approximately 50 feet in length. Star Flyer: 360 feet. As small as Star Flyer seems next to large cruise ships, she would have dwarfed the ships in the Columbus fleet.

Las Palmas is large and fairly urban. I found the old section of the city interesting, but over all I was not captivated by Gran Canaria. It is of course, an important port for the ship — capable of resupplying the Star Flyer before its fourteen day crossing to Barbados.

La Gomera, one of the smaller Canary islands, was our last port before beginning the voyage to Barbados. Columbus stayed a month on the island of La Gomera, doing final outfitting of his little fleet, laying in supplies. It was his final stop before his 1492 voyage.

While Grand Canaria did not captivate me, La Gomera did — and in a big way. La Gomera has micro-climates from one side of the island to the other. I loved the stark differences between the misty laurel rainforests, and the arid, sun-baked southern point where San Sebastian lies. It’s easy to see why Unesco has declared it a world heritage site. One of the unique rock formations on La Gomera is the Roque de Agando, a volcanic plug — very dramatic and beautiful part of the island.

Would I make the Atlantic Crossing again? Yes. It simply was not like anything else. It was beautiful, and it spoke to my soul.

Sunset on the Star Flyer
Magical. Each sunset we sailed into — there really aren’t words. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

 


I have written about my two other trips with Star Clippers on the Royal Clipper in 2016, in both the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. You will find those articles here:

Photograph of Royal Clipper
Article about my voyage on Royal Clipper in the Mediterranean.

Royal Clipper sails near Soufriere in St. Lucia.
Article about my cruise in the Caribbean on the Royal Clipper.

Ann in Castolon in Big Bend National Park. Photograph, Jim Stevens

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Onboard the Royal Clipper

Royal Clipper near Soufriere, St. Lucia
Royal Clipper near Soufriere, St. Lucia. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I sailed for two weeks on the Royal Clipper to the Windward and the Grenadine Islands.

I boarded the ship in Barbados, only scheduled for a single week. Then I fell in love with this tall ship. Four days into the trip, I placed a call to my travel agent and arranged to stay.

I’m not sure I can pay a higher compliment to a vacation.

I’ve been on half a dozen cruises in the last five years, all on larger cruise lines. Why did I choose Star Clippers for this trip? I’ve spent time sailing on 45 to 60 foot Hunter and Beneteau yachts on vacations and really enjoyed the experience.

The Royal Clipper caught my eye several years ago. How could she not? As the largest fully-rigged true sailing ship in the world, well — yes, I’ve wanted to sail on her. Secondly, I love the Southern Caribbean, so the chance to visit some of the smaller islands I had not seen was intriguing. Third, I was planning to do this trip solo, and I had a feeling it would be a good fit. I was correct.

Royal Clipper near St. Kitts in the Windward Islands
The Royal Clipper sails near St. Kitts. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Royal Clipper Sail Away
Sailing away on the Royal Clipper is an event. Photograph by Ann Fisher.

Why is the Royal Clipper so Special?

Trying to answer this question almost puts me at a loss for words. The ship is so very beautiful.

Being on her under sail with no engines running . . . well. It’s enough to make a grown woman cry. And I did.

Traveling on a real clipper ship is different from the other cruise or sailing experiences that I’ve had. The big cruise ships are like enormous floating hotels.

This is elemental. This is time travel to another era, at least in the calmest way possible — I have to grin thinking about how 21st century people would actually handle being on a clipper ship from 1905 . . .

Each week, weather permitting, passengers will take tenders out to motor around the ship as she sets sail. Both weeks it was a beautiful experience. The first week, we were in St. Kitts, and the second, our ship sailed past the Pitons in St. Lucia as we were out photographing her.

Royal Clipper sails past the Pitons of St. Lucia
The Royal Clipper sets sail near the Pitons in St. Lucia. Photograph by Ann Fisher.

Cruising on any of the Star Clipper ships will present you with opportunities to do things like climb the rigging up to first crow’s nest, or my favorite, hang out in the netting under the bowsprit. Sailing on a tall ship in the Caribbean is a wonderful experience.

A poem and other thoughts inspired by my time on this wonderful ship are here:  The Lightness of Being.

Ann Fisher on bowsprit net of the Royal Clipper
I loved this — this net, sometimes referred to as the widow’s net.

Royal Clipper Cruise Review

Here is a full review of my January 2016 cruise on the flagship of the Star Clipper line.

Royal Clipper in Marigot Bay St. Lucia
The Royal Clipper anchored in Marigot Bay on St. Lucia. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Ports and Excursions

What’s it like traveling on a tall ship? One of the most wonderful parts of cruising with Star Clippers is dropping anchor in small bays. Often, there were only sailboats and motor yachts.

If you are accustomed to large ships, this is going to be different. This clipper ship is typically not in port for as long as larger cruise ships are. Additionally, you will not know what the mooring times will be before you board the ship, which means you can’t make private excursion arrangements before your vacation.

Before I got onboard, the inability to make excursion plans ahead of time bothered me.

Then once I was there I realized, with this kind of cruise, it really wasn’t necessary. Many of the stops you have a choice of taking a tender to the marina or to a beach. The ship has snorkeling equipment I borrowed and kept with me, and there was often great snorkeling just off the beaches.

Shadowfax Catamaran in Grenada. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Shadowfax Catamaran in Grenada. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I did take two ship sponsored excursions each week, and they were well done. Swimming with the rays in Antigua was fun. A benefit of the small ship is that it was a small group that went on the excursion — no feeling of being crowded, and we all have plenty of time with the rays.

I particularly liked the Shadowfax sailing excursion in Grenada which included snorkeling and a grilled lobster lunch on the beach. Ever seen the hugely over-crowded catamaran trips go out of port? — and they look just awful, don’t they. I have to compliment the excursion planner with Star Clippers — the group from our ship was well-sized. We all had good space on the cat, and it was a highly enjoyable day.

Hummingbird in Balata Gardens in Martinique
A hummingbird in the Balata Gardens in Martinique on a shore excursion from the Royal Clipper. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Balata Gardens in Martinique was very special. Fort de France in Martinique is the only place the Royal Clipper actually docked during the two weeks I was on the ship, and it is docked only for the morning. Having a port where the ship docks is important for potential re-provisioning. The first week, I simply wandered into Fort de France. I didn’t care for the city at all. I would strongly recommend a shore excursion here because the island of Martinique is very beautiful and getting away from town is the only way to appreciate it. Since the ship is in port for so few hours, doing something independently is not feasible.

Mango Souffle at Ti Kaz La restaurant
The mango souffle at Ti Kaz La in Les Saintes. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

My favorite island the first week was Terre de Haut in Les Saintes. Charming village, perfect for wandering and a little shopping. We had a great lunch at Ti Kaz La, lovely bistro on the waterfront that I would highly recommend. If you would like to have lunch, make a reservation by contacting them on their website, or simply go directly there when you get off the tender and have them add your reservation. Once you get off the tender at the marina, Ti Kaz La will be to your right several blocks down the street that is closest to the water.

Union Island, the Grenadines
Union Island in the Grenadines. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

On the second week, I really enjoyed Union Island in the Grenadines. We dropped anchor in a quiet bay, the tender landed directly on a perfect beach. The water was quiet, and there were schools of silvery fish and nice snorkeling. Lovely beach bar with live reggae. It doesn’t get much better.

Water Taxi from Soufriere
Taking a water taxi from Soufriere to the beautiful beach between the Pitons. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Docking in Soufriere on St. Lucia is great because you are a fifteen minute water taxi ride from one of the most picturesque beaches in the Caribbean — Jalousie Beach, the white sand beach that lies between the two Pitons. Two hotels share the beach, and there is a great restaurant — very happy to serve you just drinks, if you so desire. Good snorkeling along the right side, as you are on the beach and face the sea.

Advice for Booking Excursions

After you book your trip, you will get a .pdf document describing all of the excursions. The best shore excursions will depend on you and your preferences. Take the time to read through it, and decide which ones suit you. You will not be able to sign up for the excursions until you are on the ship. Once you have checked in onboard proceed directly to the excursion area to sign up for the ones that interest you – particularly if there are a small number of people who can go. Many of the most popular ones that have limited spots will fill very quickly.

Bike for rent in Terre de Haut, Iles de Saintes
Terre de Haut, Les Saintes Photograph, Ann Fisher.

General advice about your ports, regardless of itinerary

Read about your ports of call before your trip. The satellite internet service on the ship is slow, so doing homework once your are on the ship is not so easy. (Tip: the internet is the fastest early in the morning. I had to do some work on the ship, and I had no problem early before breakfast started). If you have some knowledge of your ports, then you will easily be able to choose whether it’s best to do an excursion, wander the town, or simply head to the beach on the tender.

Will I be seasick on the Royal Clipper?

How does it feel to be on a tall ship compared to a large cruise ship? You may be asking, “will I feel sick?” This is a valid concern. The Royal Clipper does have the stabilizers she still moves MUCH more than bigger ships. You will feel the ocean. It’s what she is meant to do; it is part of sailing. I have had some seasickness on smaller vessels in the Gulf of Mexico. I brought plenty of Dramamine, and I took it proactively. I had no problems.

I found the motion of the ship and the water exhilarating.

I loved the feeling of rocking in my bed at night. I loved that I could hear the water. On the nights that the clipper had to cross open ocean, coming and going back to Barbados, there is more motion at night. It did wake me up several times, simply because the motion of the ship would change. It did not worry me in any way, I would snuggle back into my pillow and think of the ship and the waves.

Accessibility: Please be aware that there are multiple staircases in the ship and there are no elevators. Additionally, the ship moves with the water. You need to be able to climb stairs, and you need to be steady on your feet.

Passengers

Who were my fellow passengers?

Climbing the mast on the Royal Clipper
Climbing the rigging on the Royal Clipper. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Over my two weeks, I would say that a very large percentage were British and Americans, in nearly equal numbers. There were also many Germans and a few Canadians. Add a few Swiss, a Swede or two, throw in a couple of Irishmen and stir. A recipe for a multi-national experience. I really liked this about the ship. Age, you ask? They were predominantly from their mid-forties to mid-seventies.

The exceptions? A 93 year old lady who was with a yacht club from Connecticut. Let’s call her Rose. I was fortunate enough to sit next to her one evening. She’d been married three times, had a wicked sense of humor, and had sailed her own sailboat up to perhaps ten years ago. Then the second week there were some thirty-something newly weds. Most seemed to be fifty to sixty-five, in varying degrees of fitness, and very interested in the ship.

There were no children when I was onboard. Could you bring the kids? If you have mature, very well-behaved children, it could work — but only if you are invested in keeping them occupied. There are no children’s programs, and this ship is not designed for them. Noisy children dashing around the decks and the dining room would not endear you to your fellow passengers. My advice? Leave the kids at home and embrace some time with yourself and your significant other.

Category 3 cabin on Royal Clipper
Category 3 cabin on the Royal Clipper.

Cabin

Compared to staterooms on a large cruise ship, the cabins on the Royal Clipper are small. I had two different cabins since my second week stay was a last minute impulse.

I had two Category 3 staterooms (150 square feet), room 206 the first week, and room 201 the second week. Once I unpacked my luggage, it was easy to store my 26 inch tall rolling suitcase under my bed on Royal Clipper — the standard thing do do in all ships. The bathroom is all white marble, and very nice; it is as large as most bathrooms I’ve had in standard balcony cabins on large cruise lines. We had ports of call every day of both itineraries, and I was only in my room to sleep, shower and change clothes. I was traveling solo, and for one person the cabins were perfect.

Royal Clipper Deck Plan
Royal Clipper Deck Plan. Click to enlarge.

For two people, the cabins I had would be small, but workable. One note I would make is that cabin 206 was wider than cabin 201. Have a look at it here in the Royal Clipper Deck Plan, and you can see that as the ship tapers towards the bow, the cabins would have to be smaller.

If you really want more space, then consider the larger cabins. The Category 1 rooms are 205 square feet, and the Deluxe Outside Suites are 215 square feet, plus a verandah. The largest are two Owner’s Suites at 355 square feet, plus verandah. Looking at the virtual tours of the different cabins on the ship will help answer space questions. I met two sets of friends over the two weeks who were in luxury cabins and were very happy with them.

After trips on sailing yachts, I thought the cabins on the Royal Clipper were large for a sailing ship. The experience of being on this tall ship is simply nothing like a standard cruise. And for all of the wonderful things that this means, having a smaller cabin seemed a small trade-off. So when you start thinking about your cabin and the clipper ship, remember, think yacht, not CRUISE SHIP.

Electricity is European 220 volt, which most passengers knew. The warning I would give you is that standard American converters are chunky, boxy by nature — and due to the recessed electrical plugs — those chunky converters would NOT fit. I had a Bestek 200 watt International Travel converter with multiple charging ports which worked fine. In fact, I charged many friends’ iPads and cameras over the two weeks. Hey, maybe that’s how I made so many friends :).

Dining Room of the Royal Clipper
The dining room on the Royal Clipper. Photograph from Alamy stock photos.

Food

The food was very good on the Royal Clipper. Dinner was full service each evening. There was always a selection of four entrees, one of which was a vegetarian dish, and additionally, there was always a pasta. Each evening you also had a choice of two starters, and there was always a soup, a salad and a sorbet, in addition to a selection of three desserts.

How many stars would I give it?

Well, ask the Michelin people how many times they give three stars . . .  what, is it 26 in the entire world? So someone who gives a meal a five star rating, wouldn’t it — shouldn’t it be that rare? I’m pretty picky. I’ve eaten at some of the finest restaurants in the world.

So you ask me how many stars out of a five star rating would I give the food? Three. And that is high praise from me. Chef Devon from Jamaica produced consistently very fine food, out of a very small galley, for 200 or more people at a time. I think he rocks!

So truthfully, the food here is as good as any cruise ship I’ve been on, and some nights it was even better.

Breakfast and lunch were buffets; at breakfast there were omelettes and fresh eggs cooked to order. The buffet offerings were designed to appeal to a broad variety of tastes, and they were well done.

Dinner service begins at 7:30. It is open seating, but be aware, while they say you can come at any point over the two hour period that dinner is being served . . . almost everyone is seated by 8:00.

I liked the open seating. I had dinner with many different couples and groups over the two weeks, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I really like people, so it was perfect. The second week, a British couple adopted me, so I had a steady home.

And I almost forgot . . . there are three extra meals, just in case the regular three aren’t enough :-). There is an early-bird continental breakfast, an afternoon snack, and then a midnight snack. The afternoon “snack” is an incredibly lovely offering served in the Tropical Bar. It’s afternoon tea for the British passengers.

Crew

I think very highly of Star Clipper’s crew members.

My cabin steward, Dennis, was efficient and very thoughtful. When I arranged to stay the second week, the entire crew seemed to know it by the next morning. Muslim, who was in charge of the housekeeping staff, came to find me. “Ms. Ann, you do not need to pack your things. Dennis will move everything to your new cabin for you.” All I could think was, oh, poor Dennis. So we compromised. I packed all of my small things, and then he moved my suitcase and the hanging clothes.

The ship’s master was Captain Mariusz Szalek from Poland. The first officer was from Italy, and the engineer from Russia. The bosun was from India. Common language on the ship among the crew was English. Captain Mariusz, while absolutely focused on sailing and taking care of the ship, was also quick to smile and very gracious with the passengers. Allen Littell wrote a fine article about Szalek sailing the Star Clipper in French Polynesia.

Captain Mariusz Szalek and mate Marco work to bring the Royal Clipper back into Barbados. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Captain Mariusz Szalek and mate Marco work to bring the Royal Clipper back into Barbados. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

One big difference between the two weeks was we had two different Cruise Directors. The second week, our cruise director, Monja did a fine job.

The first week was not so good. Then our Cruise director was a young German woman who frequently came across as overly authoritarian and it was a topic of conversation among both the English and German speaking guests. Significant additional training would be necessary to get this young lady to a place where she could represent the Star Clipper line in this particular position. Being cruise director takes an inordinate amount of patience. One must have the capacity to smile, regardless of how many times one has answered the same question. Other than the captain, the cruise director is the most public face of the company to every passenger on the ship. Based on a training consultant I saw onboard the first week, I am sure this problem will be rectified.

Both the bar staff and the waitstaff did fine jobs. They were highly professional, personable and often funny. They made the time onboard the ship very pleasant.

Entertainment

There was a single entertainer onboard. Gabor played the piano, the guitar, sang, and acted as DJ for dancing evenings. One night each week, a steel band was brought onboard. Each week there was a talent show with a mixture of crew and passenger offerings. I would call it “good fun.” I went one week, and chose to go up with an after dinner drink and wander the deck the second week.

The stars and the ship were the best after-dinner thing going. Who could ask for more?

Conclusion

If any of the things I have said speak to you, then you will love sailing on this ship. I can hardly wait to return.

Star Clipper raises sail Black and white image
The Star Clipper sailed with us near Dominica one morning. Photograph by Ann Fisher.

Update on Cruise Review, Spring 2017

How to find the Best Prices for a Cruise on Star Clipper’s Royal Clipper

I’ve had a dozen people contact me over the last year to ask how to find the best prices for a cruise on Royal Clipper.

We all have our favorite methods for finding good prices on flights and hotels. For cruises, I favor the Vacations to Go site, where I regularly troll for good prices on cruise lines I like — and prices on Star Clippers are no exception.

I search on Vacations to Go two different ways, one — simply searching Star Clippers cruises, and the other — searching for Single Supplement deals (found under Singles Discounts).

Screenshot from the Vacations to Go site, taken April 27, 2017, showing no single supplement cruises on Star Clipper's cruises.
Screenshot from the Vacations to Go site, taken April 27, 2017, showing no single supplement cruises on Star Clipper’s cruises.

As of today (April 27, 2017), I see three Star Clippers cruises with no single supplements charges. Since I often travel solo, this is often a good deal for me. Will these deals be there tomorrow? No way of knowing. They’re deals on cruises launching VERY soon — and obviously, Star Clippers is trying to fill those cabins.

I do know this — following prices does help you know when you are seeing a good deal. Having flexibility about when you are going to take your vacation helps tremendously. Most of my life, I have not had that option — I had to take vacation at certain times of the year. And frankly, I rarely managed to get a bargain.

A great time of the year to shop for good cruise prices is always January – March.

If you work with a particular travel agent, I’d contact that person and have them watch prices on Star Clippers cruises. You could still check Vacations to Go periodically, and call your travel agent if you see a deal — they’ll probably be able to match it.

Additionally, I recommend familiarizing yourself with information on cruises by visiting the Star Clipper site. It’s a great way to do homework on their standard prices and cabin categories.

I’ve taken three cruises with Star Clippers: on the Royal Clipper in June of 2016, to the Mediterranean and the Adriatic: For the Love of Tall Ships. And then in October 2016, I boarded Star Flyer for a trip across the Atlantic, and you’ll find that article here: Crossing the Atlantic on a Tall Ship.

Photograph of Royal Clipper
Article about my voyage on Royal Clipper in the Mediterranean.

Article about my westbound Atlantic crossing on Star Flyer.
Article about my westbound Atlantic crossing on Star Flyer.

If you have questions you would like to ask me about my experiences on Star Clipper’s cruises, please feel free to send me a message via my Contact page. I’ve talked with two different couples in the last few months — sometimes it’s nice to chat with someone who has done a trip before deciding whether it’s for you.


Ann in Castolon in Big Bend National Park. Photograph, Jim Stevens

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Ann Fisher


 

The Lightness of Being

Royal Clipper Ann Fisher

To fly over the ocean on a winged ship . . .

It is an old feeling. A deep feeling. In it we are connected, even to the ancient Phoenicians daring to explore the Mediterranean. We feel that first voyage into the unknown — the sea surrounding us.

Climbing over the prow of the moving ship into the damp rope of the bowsprit net,
I rock there, rising and falling as the bow cuts through the waves, see the sun fall behind low clouds with one great flash, as she disappears until morning.

The Lightness of Being

I am all the ships that ever went to sea and

The joy of an updraft under a falcon’s wing.

I am as a swell that lifts a ship leaving harbor.

I am the quiet under the hand of my beloved,

The sweetness of my daughter nestled in the crook of my arm.

I am all of these things.

I am none of these things.

In the peace of the setting sun,

I will slip the lines tying me here.

As the captain takes me out for the last time,

I am deeply content in this journey to a new world.

 

Sun sets on the Royal Clipper in St. Lucia.
Sun sets on the Royal Clipper in St. Lucia. Photograph by Ann Fisher.

The Royal Clipper is part of the Star Clipper line — ships all inspired by the age of the great clipper ships. A full review of my trip aboard the Royal Clipper is available here.

The music for each time of setting sail . . .

Vangelis, 1492.

 

*** The title for my poem is inspired by the book The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.


 

Thank you for visiting — for other articles on life and travel, browse the home page:

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Ann Fisher