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 the Royal Clipper. 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.
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 the Royal Clipper 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, the Royal Clipper sailed past the Pitons in St. Lucia as we were out photographing her.
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 the Royal Clipper are here: The Lightness of Being.
Here is a full review of my January 2016 cruise on the Royal Clipper, which is currently the largest ship of the Star Clipper line.
Ports and Excursions
What’s it like traveling on a tall ship? One of the most wonderful parts of cruising on the Royal Clipper 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. The Royal Clipper 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.
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 the Royal Clipper was well-sized. We all had good space on the cat, and it was a highly enjoyable day.
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.
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.
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.
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 on the Royal Clipper
After you book your trip, you will get a .pdf document describing all of the excursions. The best shore excursions on the Royal Clipper 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 on the Royal Clipper, 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.
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 the Royal Clipper compared to a large ship? You may be asking, “will I feel sick?” This is a valid concern. The Royal Clipper does not have the stabilizers that the big cruise ships have. She moves. 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 Royal 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 Royal Clipper moves with the water. You need to be able to climb stairs, and you need to be steady on your feet.
Who were my fellow passengers on the Royal Clipper?
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 Royal Clipper. 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.
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. 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.
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 Royal Clipper 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 the Royal Clipper 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 Royal Clipper, 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 :).
The food was really 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.
To ask me how many stars out of a five star rating would I give the food on the Royal Clipper? 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.
I think very highly of the Royal Clipper crew.
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.
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 Royal Clipper very pleasant.
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?
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.
For more information about a cruise on the Royal Clipper, visit the Star Clipper site, or contact your travel agent.
I took a second cruise 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.
If you have questions you would like to ask me about my experiences on either Royal Clipper or Star Flyer, 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.
Thank you for visiting — for other articles on life and travel, browse the home page:
How to handle seasickness onboard the Star Clipper’s Royal Clipper? How are Star Clippers different from regular cruise ships? Will I like the Royal Clipper? Star Clippers vs. a standard cruise ship. All questions answered in the article above.