Just off a seven day sailing of Star Clippers ship with sails, Royal Clipper, it is quite apparent that these ships are not for everyone. Those prone to motion discomfort, forget it; the ships bob up and down and side to side more than any big ship we have ever been on. Travelers requiring handicap access, not for you: there are no elevators and there are raised thresholds on every door. Cruise fans who like lots of onboard features will be bored as will kids; there is little to do on the ship. But for those who value a unique sailing experience, there is simply no comparison to a Star Clippers voyage. They are truly one of a kind.
Royal Clipper is the largest sailing vessel in the world with over 50,000 square feet of sail, a fact that might not mean much to a lot of people. It’s only when the crew of the ship sets the sails to head out to sea that we began to appreciate just how unique these ships are.
These are sailing ships and much of the propulsion of them comes from the wind. Royal Clipper does have engines that supplement wind power and provide electricity for lights, air conditioning, nicely appointed cabins and more. But it is the wind power that enables these tall ships to ply the waters of the Caribbean six months a year.
On our first sail-away as the sails were raised, grand seagoing music played loudly on the top deck and most passengers gathered to see the event. My first impression was “if they do this every time they sail away it is going to get old fast.” Quite the contrary, each time the sails were raised the process got better and better, fueled by our increasing knowledge of the ships and what it takes get them out to sea. On the last sail away, leaving Martinique and heading back to Barbados where our journey began, we had grown as travelers in a way not experienced on “cruise” lines. Indeed, comparing this to any other “cruise” line is totally inappropriate. These ships are on “sailings” and that term all of the sudden had an entirely different meaning, as did another term we commonly use when on other lines “setting sail.”
The abled-bodied sailors on board Royal Clipper are quick to point out that ‘setting sail” is more accurately stated as “setting the sails”, a process that begins before the ship moves an inch. On the bridge, in plain sight of all, the Captain calls out commands to the deck crew to steer in a certain direction, raise specific sails and bring the vessel out to sea. It’s a timed exercise that happens every time the ship leaves port and a defining part of the Star Clippers experience, something no other cruise line in the world does.
While it is inappropriate to compare this to any major cruise line experience, the Star Clipper way of doing things does share some common elements with them:
- Food? So good I ate every thing on the menu and was hungry for more.
- Service?The crew knows your name before you get on the ship and by the end of a couple days aboard you know their names too.
- Itineraries? Unique and totally different due to the small size of the ship that can go places big ships can’t.
- Staterooms- Small but very nicely organized and elegant with dark wood walls and marble bathrooms
- Officers-Always visible, all over the ship and eager to talk about what they do or help with any request
- Amenities-The ship did have a small gym and spa, two small pools and at each port, complementary water sports are included…but that is not what this is really all about
- Focus- Like other small ship lines, the focus is very much off the ship at the fabulous destinations visited. Unline other small lines there is a tremendous amount of attention given to the sailing part of the experience.
Dining at the Captain’s table one night, it was mentioned that “all of your life you are taught and are learning how to survive. When you sail, you are learning how to live.” That pretty much nails the experience and makes it a bucket list item for those who “get it” about cruise travel.
Those who buy into the big ship cruise experience, leave the real world behind for a bit; effectively resetting their lives would love this.