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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20 Comments on Onboard the Royal Clipper

  1. This looks pretty awesome! I’ve been on several cruises and they aren’t my typical method of travel that I prefer but I would love to try this out. It looks a pirate ship! I can totally see why you extended your trip.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Whoa, that’s an awesome ship! I’d love to do a cruise in the Caribbeans over the Christmas holidays so thank you for sharing your Barbados experience. The mango souffle looks divine! Are there people who go for all 6 meals?!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This clipper ship looks amazing! With the level of attention to details put into this cruise I totally understand why you extended your stay. I’d love to experience this one day too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have four friends I met on Star Clippers who are about to go back. Two are headed to the Royal Clipper in Nice, and two are going on Star Flyer across the Atlantic ocean for the second time — and I SO wish I could go with them this year. Love these ships!

      Like

  4. From your photos, I can really see Royal Clipper is a beauty! I am especially in love with the elegant dining room. My husband and I am looking to make a trip to the Caribbean and will definitely consider Royal Clipper!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow — thanks for your comprehensive guide to experiencing the Star Clipper! I’ve only been on cruise ships before, and have been curious about what it would be like to sail on a “smaller” ship. I love the itinerary you went on; Martinique and Grenada are pretty high up on my list of places to see. Also, is it weird if the photos of the ship made me think of “Pirates of the Caribbean”… minus the swashbuckling adventures and pirates, of course? Hah. Great post again!

    Like

  6. We missed your story telling. You do such a great job of putting us into the moment. For me, it was the small snorkel trip while watching the throngs from the cruise ship being carted around. I brought me back to what I didn’t like about cruising. It seemed like you were an element of the boat, instead the boat being an element of the location. These smaller ships rock with the ocean and can dock in shallower ports. Most importantly, they move with the wind, instead of lumbering away with unseen engines. Also, this was a stunning set of photographs. The lighting was sublime.

    Like

  7. jenruizwriter // July 19, 2017 at 7:53 pm // Reply

    This looks like the perfect solo adventure! I’m so glad it was everything you hoped for! You seem like a tough food critic haha but you’re right, there’s something really special about sailing with the wind as opposed to motors. I’ve never seen a boat with that many sails–heavenly!

    Like

  8. What a thorough review! I’ve done a lot of ocean cruises and did a river cruise last year and loved the feel of a smaller boat. This sounds like a great experience to try out. I’m sold that I would like it!

    Like

  9. This looks AWESOME!!!!!! Those pictures of the ship look incredible. I was hooked immediately. And then you answered every single question that came to mind. I am not a huge cruise lover, but enjoy one every few years.It’s mostly the crowds that turn me off, but this smaller size and more intimate experience is very appealing.

    Like

  10. I am green with envy!! How wonderful and beautiful photos Ann!! I’ve always loved sailing ships and thanks for taking us along on the adventure. Happy New Year!!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Been such a long time since I’ve been on a boat. There’s something very relaxing about being out at sea. This made me want to do it again even more.

    Like

  12. Sounds like an amazing trip. I would love to take a cruise soon. We are actually thinking about a trip to St. Lucia or Aruba next year, so may have to look into this as an option. Thanks so much for sharing your trip.

    Like

    • Hi Samantha and Eugene, I certainly enjoyed the Royal Clipper tremendously — and I am hoping to go on her sister ship, the Star Clipper, this summer. I found the experience to be very special. As you are looking at prices, Vacations to Go lists Star Clippers, so it at least makes it easy to look up prices — even if you don’t book through them. Happy travels, Ann

      Like

4 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. The Lightness of Being | Ann Cavitt Fisher
  2. When Cancer Returns | Ann Cavitt Fisher
  3. For the Love of Tall Ships: Return to Royal Clipper – Ann Cavitt Fisher
  4. Crossing the Atlantic on a Tall Ship – Ann Cavitt Fisher

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