Back in December, our Marketing Executive Nathalie Avis, was fortunate enough to be invited to join Star Clippers aboard their flagship, Royal Clipper.
Inspired by the legendary tall ship, Preussen, Royal Clipper is today the largest five-masted fully rigged sailing ship on the seas and promises a unique experience to all those who voyage with her.
Royal Clipper spends the winter months sailing the Caribbean seas and this is where I joined her for the ‘SPV Royal Clipper Windward Islands Voyage’.
On a very chilly December morning I made my way to Gatwick Airport, where I met my travel companions for the first time. Having found each other, our very excited party of 11 headed for check-in, soon to be Barbados bound!
After a lengthy delay at Gatwick, we finally arrived at the gorgeous Turtle Beach Hotel at around 10pm, as my trip was to begin with a two-night pre-cruise stay. To our surprise, dinner had been arranged and what better setting than the beach. Our first evening on the island was perfect, with the soft sounds of a steel pan playing in the background, the sand beneath our feet and a rum punch in hand. We were all extremely excited to see what the rest of our time in the Caribbean had in store.
Having woken feeling refreshed and with the sound of the waves outside my window, I headed down for breakfast. The day’s itinerary started with a Catamaran cruise, taking us first to the west coast of the island, where we swam with turtles. Later, after a short journey along the coast, we arrived at a hundred year old shipwreck, the clear waters around it making an ideal setting for snorkelling. Guided by the crew, we navigated our way through an array of tropical fish, even spotting a stingray amidst the melee of marine life! By this time, we had built up quite an appetite, so our Captain dropped anchor beside a secluded beach and lunch was served. A buffet of fried chicken, fresh fish, rice, salad and of course, the incredibly popular Caribbean version of macaroni cheese, was enough to leave us suitably filled, and our crew decided that with everybody fed, it was now party time. With enough participants rounded up and the music playing, we fell into line and joined the conga!
Our day was packed full of music, laughter and activity, and I would highly recommend a catamaran tour if you have free time in Barbados, pre or post-cruise.
Back at the hotel, we had a few hours to spare before we were due to meet for dinner; just enough time to catch some rays around the pool with a cocktail in hand. That night we dined at one of the island’s most renowned restaurants, Champers. This beautiful establishment, with its cliff-top setting overlooking Accra Beach, offered the most beautiful panoramic views of the ocean and food that was simply divine.
Day 3: Embarkation day!
Our morning was spent visiting some of the hotels which Star Clippers recommend to guests who wish to extend their holiday with a pre or post-cruise stay. Oceans Two, Colony Club, Mango Bay Crystal Cove, Tamarind and The House all offered a unique experience, from family fun to ultimate relaxation and ultra-luxury.
After enjoying lunch at the Tamarind, we headed for Bridgetown, where I would finally cast my eyes on the ship I had heard so much about. Several cruise ships were docked in port when we arrived, including P&O Cruises’ Britannia, a SeaDream yacht, Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess and even a Scientology cruise ship; who knew such a thing existed? All of these ships are stunning in their own right but it isn’t until you see a Star Clippers ship up close that you truly start to appreciate how magnificent these traditional sailing ships really are.
Embarkation was a totally different process to that of any ship I had sailed on previously. There was no wait in a busy cruise terminal, no iPads or queues, but rather a smooth and effortless check-in experience more akin to arriving at a luxury hotel.
We were greeted by the Hotel Manager as we stepped aboard, before being handed a refreshing cocktail and directed to the Piano Bar, where our passports and credit card details were processed. After having our photo taken, we were issued our cruise card, which would act as both our credit card and passport for the duration of the trip.
My Category 2 Superior Outside Cabin was located on the Clipper Deck and the spacious stateroom featured a double bed, ample storage and a large bathroom with a shower. Having seen my quarters, I couldn’t wait to explore the rest of the ship.
The traditional décor had a romantic feel, in keeping with what I can only imagine to be the grandeur of sailing in years gone by. Royal Clipper accommodates just 227 passengers and 106 crew, so I can honestly say that the only time I ever saw a crowded area was during evening activities held in the Tropical Bar.
Our welcome dinner was served at 7.30pm in the Grand Dining Room, where an open seating policy is operated and food is served until 10pm each evening. As we were quite a large party, Captain Mariusz kindly invited us to dine at his table. The six-course menu offered plenty of choice and the option of a ‘pasta of the day’ or steak and chips was always available too, handy in the unlikely event that nothing on the main menu whets your appetite.
Sail away was scheduled for 10pm and I had been told that it was a spectacle not to be missed. As the Captain and his officers began to navigate the ship out of port, the crew began pulling the ropes and unfurling the sails. With Vangelis’ ‘Conquest to Paradise’ playing in the background, it was an unforgettable experience and one that clearly stirred the emotions of many of those aboard.
Day 4: Rodney Bay, St Lucia
After a particularly choppy night at sea, I had officially braved my first true sailing experience!
Breakfast was served in the Grand Dining Room, where an extensive buffet of fresh fruit, cereal, yoghurt and much more was available, along with an omelette station where a chef would prepare your omelette of choice with a selection of toppings. After breakfast we headed to the Tropical Bar, where Captain Mariusz introduced us to his officers and crew.
We were due to arrive in Rodney Bay, St Lucia, at midday and were offered a choice of two tenders; one to the beach and one to the marina. This is definitely one of the perks of small ship cruising! Wanting to see and do as much as possible, we opted to look around the marina, before making our way to the beach afterwards. When we did finally arrive on those immaculate St Lucian sands, the Star Clippers sports team were on hand to offer assistance to anyone wishing to participate in watersports such as kayaking or paddle boarding. It was another nice touch from the luxury cruise line.
Having enjoyed our time on the beach, we hopped on the last tender back to the ship, ready for the 6pm sail away. After dinner that evening, we attended the music quiz held in the Tropical Bar – my goodness we were a competitive bunch!
Day 5: Cabrits & Roseau, Dominica
Sailing into Dominica was another awe-inspiring and memorable experience. As we came alongside Royal Clipper’s sister ship, Star Clipper, the two ships set off on a race to the shoreline. The camaraderie on board was very apparent and we all joined in, whooping and cheering our ship and Captain along.
Today saw our group embark on one of the ship’s excursions, an ‘Indian River Cruise’. Having been split into two smaller groups, we boarded our rowboats and began navigating the meandering curves of the river bank, our guide pointing out the wildlife as we passed. Movie fans were delighted to learn that this tranquil setting was home to Calypso the Sea Witch’s house, as seen in Pirates of the Caribbean. Further along the river we arrived at Rahjah’s Jungle Bar, where we enjoyed a refreshing complimentary rum punch -with emphasis on the rum!
Once back on board, we polished off another delicious dinner, before being treated to a fashion show from guests and staff modelling items from the Sloop Shop collection; clothing and accessories created exclusively for Star Clippers and found in the on board gift store.
Day 6: Falmouth Harbour, Antigua
Each morning, Cruise Director Cathy would host morning aerobics followed by a port information presentation. On this occasion we were thrilled to hear that, for the first time in a few years, the famous Star Clippers ‘BBQ on the Beach’ was back!
As was the case with the majority of ports on our itinerary, we were offered the choice of a tender to the beach or to the marina. We opted to visit the marina as Falmouth Harbour is home to an array of super yachts! Having picked our jaws up from the floor, we headed to the pier for a cold drink and a spot of people watching. Our rumbling stomachs signalled that it was time to take a stroll to the beach, where Chef Devon and his team were busy preparing lunch and the bar staff were serving some much needed refreshments.
The sports team were again at work, offering water aerobics to those who were keen to work up an appetite before lunch. We chose the lazier option and as we settled into a spot beneath the shade of a palm tree we realised that this was exactly the idyllic setting that we imagine when thinking of a Caribbean paradise.
The theme for the evening was ‘Caribbean Night’ and guests were encouraged to wear the most colourful items in their suitcase. A late sail away was planned and so a local steel band came aboard for the evening, promptly getting everybody in the party spirit and ready for the night’s disco.
Day 7: Basseterre, South Friars Bay & St Kitts
We arrived into Basseterre at 8am, with those wishing to visit the town or head off on excursions given time to disembark before the ship continued along the coast for a further two hours, finally dropping anchor at South Friars Bay.
We visited Carambola Beach Club, an exclusive enclave that allows non patrons the use of its beach, with sun loungers available for a fee. After a quick swim in the sea I headed back to the ship, arriving just in time to sign up for the mast climb. It took a combination of nerves and adrenaline, but I was so glad to eventually make it to the crow’s nest; the spectacular views from up there were second to none.
Shortly before sail away, the Captain announced that we were to have a photo opportunity too good to miss. We watched in awe as Royal Clipper took to the seas under full sail as we sailed alongside her.
Day 8: Haut de Terre, Illes des Saintes
Today we chose to take the tender into town, rather than to the beach. Part of the French colony, the quaint town of Haut de Terre is brimming with boutique clothing stores, whilst the bay is lined with restaurants set against a picturesque backdrop. We were surprised to find that many of the shops had closed for a traditional afternoon siesta, so having walked around the town and up into the residential areas, we headed back to the ship.
Having agreed to participate in the guest and crew talent show, I thought that I had better use the afternoon’s free time to practice. Tonight I would dance the merengue – with just two hours of training from crew member Carlos! A Captain’s Dinner served in the Main Dining Room calmed my nerves, with Captain Mariusz raising a glass to the forthcoming and as yet unnamed tall ship that would soon be joining the Star Clippers fleet. Later on, puppet shows, guitar players and more took to the stage, with crew and guests putting on a great show. What’s more, I managed to make it through my own performance without falling over!
Day 9: Fort de France, Martinique
The port of Fort de France provided a complete contrast to the island hideaways we had previously visited and the coast was lined with houses and hotels. After a short walk from the pier, we entered cobblestoned streets that are a mirror image of those found in the south of France. The St Louis Cathedral, Schoelcher Library and the open air market are all key points of interest on this bustling island and are all very worthy of a visit.
Today’s sail away was an early one and with our time aboard drawing to a close, we took the opportunity to relax by the pool and watch the last of the adrenaline junkies making their way up to the crow’s nest. Back in my cabin, I found a final cruise programme advising of the disembarkation procedure and requesting that I leave my luggage in the hallway for collection. Reality kicked in; the Caribbean dream had come to an end and it was time to go home.
Day 10: Disembarkation
After saying our goodbyes to the Captain, officers and crew members who had made our time aboard so special, it was time to bid a fond farewell to the ship.
Our flight wasn’t until later that evening, so we headed to the stunning Hilton Barbados Resort, where a day room had been booked for our convenience. After dropping off our bags, it was time to embark on our final adventure of the trip. We jumped in our Jeep and headed off on an island safari, taking in the sights, landmarks and monuments, before enjoying lunch up in the hills.
After toasting to a fabulous trip, we realised that we all had one thing in common; our new found love for Star Clippers.