Small Ships Go Where Big Ships Can Not, For The Most Part

 Cruise travelers sailing from North American ports often ask for something new, tired of the standard Eastern or Western Caribbean itineraries. The problem is that to get there takes a couple days sailing from most North American ports, pushing the limits of time available when on vacation. Still, the Southern Caribbean offers a variety of unique ports, often visited only by small to medium-sized ships. On a sailing of Star Clippers tall sailing ship Royal Clipper, we visited several of those unique islands.


We embarked Royal Clipper in Barbados, a port visited frequently by big ships on a long Caribbean sailing from a North American port or one sailing round-trip San Juan, Puerto Rico. Flights into Bridgetown are frequent and getting to the port takes a 15-minute cab ride. Unique to Barbados are the Volcanic black sand beaches on the Atlantic side and a robust tourist trade from cruise and land travelers.

St Lucia
At St Lucia, our first port of call, we spent the day at Rodney Bay, a port we had visited once before on Seabourn Quest. Dropping anchor just off the coast, as we did on nearly all ports visited, Royal Clipper’s tender boats took passengers ashore in a triangular pattern, one that would be repeated on each call. The first stop was the island’s marina where passengers would find shopping and begin shore excursions. The next stop was the beach where the ship’s sports crew would be on hand with kayaks, sailboats and host watersports activities for those interested. The tender would then return to the ship and start the process all over again, stopping at each place about every 15 minutes.

Sailing to Dominica, we first anchored off the coast at Cabrits, home to a national park and the first of two ports we would visit on the island. A unique element of Star Clippers operation, those on shore excursions are dropped off at one place then picked up at another, allowing more time at the destination rather than covering the same ground when returning to the ship later. This is also an element we commonly experienced on our Viking River cruises that allowed more quality time at the destination.

Hiring a local driver, we went high up on the island to explore what was once an active volcano. Later, we would sail to Roseau, Dominica, stopping briefly to pick up passengers who had

Our arrival in Antigua brought those on yachts and ashore out to see Royal Clipper arrive with sails fully deployed, something that would happen at every port we entered. Anchoring off Falmouth Harbour in Antiqua, we stayed for the day with the ship’s culinary crew preparing a beach barbecue while passengers enjoyed provided watersports.

St Kitts
In St Kitts, Royal Clipper first stopped in Basseterre, where Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas joined us in the early morning. Our stay was short, just two hours; enough time to disembark our passengers going on a shore excursion and allow a bit of shopping.

From Basseterre, we sailed to South Friars Bay, also on St Kitts, for a day at the beach and to pick up those on shore excursions, which ended not far away. From South Friar’s Bay we could still see the profile of Independence of the Seas but were far removed from the hustle and bustle of the main port.

Iles des Saintes
Terre de Haut is a small French fishing village that we stopped by on the way to Martinique. Again operating the triangular tender pattern, we stopped at the marina first and found photo opportunities in all directions. The aroma of fresh baked bread led us to a French bakery where we enjoyed a warm baguette while we strolled the streets of the enchanting little town, also accessible by air.

In Martinique, I was tempted to stay on the ship in an abundance of caution, due to widely-reported crime incidents involving visitors. Still, in port with Costa Magica, I watched from the deck of comparatively tiny Royal Clipper as many passengers made their way toward the city. Following some French-speaking guests from our ship into town, we found security police widely dispersed as well as easily located tour guides, eager to answer questions and point us in the right direction.

Verdict: Martinique is safe to visit …as long as we stay in the tourist areas, like so many other destinations around the planet.

Like our Royal Clipper 7-day sailing, other ships also sail round-trip from Southern Caribbean ports. Carnival Valor, for example, sails round trip from San Juan, stopping in Barbados, St Lucia and St Kitts as well as St Thomas and St Maarten. Look at longer sailings and we find Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line and Princess Cruises heading to the Southern Caribbean on sailings of 10 or more nights.

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