Postcards: a Windstar Wind Surf Cruise in the Caribbean

A gallery of photographs from a Windstar cruise on the Wind Surf Yacht: the Yachtsman’s Caribbean itinerary out of St. Maarten.

Photographs from my cruise on Windstar’s Wind Surf. What a lovely itinerary! We embarked in St. Maarten, then dropped anchor in Falmouth, Antigua. Afterwards, we went on to the British Virgin Islands for short hops to Soper’s Hole on Tortola, Great Harbour on Jost Van Dyke, and then to Virgin Gorda. Our final stop was Gustavia in St. Barths before returning to St. Maarten.

How is St. Maarten post hurricane? Both airports are operational and over 60 flights a day are landing on the island. According to a New York Times article published on February 2, 2018, “300 hotel rooms are currently available to book on the island’s French side; before Irma, that number was 1,700. At least 10 more hotels are scheduled to reopen before the end of the year.”

The article continues, “On the Dutch side of the island, around 80 percent of the restaurants are open, and 1,600 hotel rooms are available to book; before the hurricane, 4,115 rooms were available.” Full article here: St Martin Starts a Comeback.

If you look at Windstar’s itineraries, they are sailing to many ports the Caribbean, out of Barbados, San Juan, Puerto Rico, — but will return to St. Maarten in December 2018.

I thoroughly enjoyed this small ship cruise — which is SO different from being on the large cruise lines. You’ll find a full review of the Windstar Cruise here: A Wind Surf Cruise: The Yachtsman’s Caribbean.

What a beautiful part of the world this is!

 

Find a full review of the Wind Surf cruise here:


 

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Postcards from Royal Clipper: Tall Ship Cruise, Windward and Grenadine Islands

Photographs from back-to-back cruises on the tall ship Royal Clipper to the Windward Islands and then to the Grenadines. What beautiful islands! I love this part of the Caribbean.

Photographs from back-to-back cruises on the tall ship Royal Clipper to the Windward Islands and then to the Grenadines. What beautiful islands! I love this part of the Caribbean.

If you like sailing, and are interested in reading more, you’ll find the full article here: Onboard the Royal Clipper.

Note: As always, I retain full rights to my photographs. Never use my images without my written permission.

 

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A Wind Surf Cruise: Yachtsman’s Caribbean

Private yachts flock to the smaller British Virgin Islands and St. Barth’s. There’s a reason for this: they are home to some of the most beautiful beaches and water in the Caribbean. Floating in crystalline water and watching the clouds pass overhead is deeply relaxing. I’ve just returned from St. Martin and a week-long cruise on Windstar’s Wind Surf on their Yachtsman’s Caribbean itinerary. It was perfect.

White sand beach at Savannah Bay in Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands. iStock Photos.

Private yachts flock to the smaller British Virgin Islands and St. Barth’s. There’s a reason for this: they are home to some of the most beautiful beaches and water in the Caribbean. Floating in crystalline water and watching the clouds pass overhead is deeply relaxing.

Windstar's Wind Surf yacht at sunset. Photograph courtesy of Windstar.
Windstar’s Wind Surf yacht at sunset. Photograph courtesy of Windstar.

I’ve just returned from St. Martin and a week-long cruise on Windstar’s Wind Surf on their Yachtsman’s Caribbean itinerary. It was perfect.

We spent seven days in small harbors the big ships cannot get to — how nice to be so spoiled!

On the larger islands of Antigua and Tortola, the ship dropped anchor in Falmouth and Soper’s Hole — far from the madding crowd at the cruise terminals.

At Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda, and St. Barth’s there were only yachts and sailboats.

I loved  this itinerary – very destination focused! We had one day at sea, then every day afterwards, it was a short hop to the next island.

On Jost Van Dyke and Virgin Gorda we moored the night before the main day on those islands — making it possible to go ashore for supper. When I’ve been on sailing trips, this is just what we’ve done — it allows people stay onboard or go ashore to experience the evening. After all, it’s vacation! It should be about the freedom to make personal choices instead of being regimented.

I had a wonderful trip, and came away very impressed with Windstar as a company. The ship is beautiful, and the crew is outstanding. Windstar is in a sweet spot in the cruise industry — small ship cruising, up-market from the big lines, but significantly less expensive than the ultra-luxury lines.

Windstar carted home the awards this last year! After my cruise onboard Wind Surf, it’s easy to understand why.

I had such a great time on Wind Surf, and I’m excited about Windstar. I think the quality of the itineraries, the food, the ships, and the service, at their price point is outstanding.

It was lovely to return to the yacht each day, clean up and head out to the Compass Rose Bar on the stern of Wind Surf to have a cocktail and watch the sun go down. It doesn’t get any better than this.

Sunset in Falmouth, Antigua onboard Windstar's Wind Surf ship. Photo taken from Windsurf ship
A glass of champagne and an outside table at the Compass Rose bar on Wind Surf: the end of a perfect day. Photograph, Ann Fisher.


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Wind Surf’s Yachtsman’s Caribbean Itinerary and Excursions

If you’re looking for a cruise review of the Wind Surf cruise ship (or sometimes people are searching for Windstar Windsurf because they think the ship’s name is one word), I’ve given a detailed account of my trip in the Caribbean below.

The Yachtsman's Caribbean itinerary on Wind Surf.
The Yachtsman’s Caribbean itinerary on Wind Surf.

I chose this itinerary because I’ve always wanted to visit Jost Van Dyke and the coral atoll of Anegada — and while Wind Surf did not moor there, I could visit it on an excursion.

Whenever I go on a cruise, I mix excursion and non-excursion days.

I did things on my own in English Harbour Antigua, White Bay Jost Van Dyke, lunch in St. Barth’s, then I took three Windstar excursions in Tortola, Virgin Gorda, and back in St. Martin.

The Copper and Lumber Store at Nelson's Dockyard, English Harbour, Antigua.
The Copper and Lumber Store at Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbour, Antigua. Photograph, Ann Fisher



Falmouth, Antigua

A Bananaquit clinging to a yellow poker plant at Nelson's Dockyard in Antigua.
A Bananaquit clinging to a yellow poker plant at Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

This was my fourth visit to Antigua, and my two snorkeling excursions on previous cruises were underwhelming. I’ve always found Lord Nelson interesting, and since Wind Surf anchored at Falmouth, the Nelson Dockyards were a short, ten minute walk away.

The British began using English Harbour in the 17th century because it offered protection to British warships from hurricanes.

The dockyard was developed in the 18th century to spare the navy the expense of sailing to the American colonies for refitting ships.

The buildings date from 1725 – 1745, and the dockyard most significant period of activity and importance was 1775 to 1810. With the end of the Napoleonic wars, it diminished in importance. English Harbour was too narrow to accommodate steamships, and in 1889, the navy left and the yard was closed.

In 1784, Captain Horatio Nelson was stationed at English Harbour for several years. He was very unpopular with the Antiguans for enforcing the Navigation Act that prevented trade between British islands and America. The feeling was mutual, and regularly expressed in his letters back to Britain, “English Harbour I hate the sight of.”

The Nelson Dockyard has been beautifully restored, and I had a great time exploring it.

 Soper’s Hole, Tortola: Snorkeling at Norman Island

Initially, I was concerned with the size of the Windstar group for this trip – over twenty people. It ended up being fine, because they put us on a boat that could have carried twice that number — so it was spacious for the group and not overcrowded. Yes, I would have preferred a smaller boat with fewer people.

The snorkeling at Norman Island was outstanding. I saw more different species of fish at our two snorkeling spots than I’ve ever seen together at one time in the Caribbean. A long time ago, I had a 110 gallon marine aquarium, so I’m able to identify many kinds of fish — and I was in fish heaven that morning. A big deal at Norman Island is to swim into one of the caves, but I had no interest. I just hung with the fishes. I loved watching the tiny fairy basslets and the blennies. And I swam along with an entire school of blue tangs. I would have stayed with the fish all day . . .

It may be time for me to learn to dive.

Fish I saw that morning: sergeant majors, a variety of parrot fish, blue tangs, royal grammas, blennies, jewel damsel fish, small angel fish, blue stripe, yellow stripe jack fish, pipe cleaner fish, fan coral, yellow tail snapper, surgeon fish, cleaning goby, four eye butterfly fish, French grunts, a variety of wrasses, squirrel fish, feather duster worms, black spiny sea urchins. *** Please! Be mindful that you use reef-safe sunscreen especially when you snorkel, dive, or go anywhere near the the ocean. We need to quit using products with oxybenzone, a major culprit in bleaching coral.

Four-eye butterfly fish, blue tangs, royal gramma
To give you some idea of the fish I saw on this snorkel at Norman Island, I bought some stock photos. Enjoy! I love looking at fish :-). Left to right: Four-eye butterfly fish, blue tangs, and a fairy basslet — a Royal Gramma. Photographs, Shutterstock.
Invasion of the noodle people.

Since Wind Surf moored at Soper’s Hole, we were closer to Norman Island than the excursions coming from the big ships docked at the cruise terminal in Road Town. Our early morning snorkeling trip got us to Norman Island before it was busy.

Just as the noodle people arrived, we headed back to Soper’s Hole to hit Pusser’s for conch fritters and a Pain Killer.

Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke

Wind Surf yacht in Great Harbour on Jost Van Dyke. Windstar Windsurf sailing ship.
Wind Surf yacht moored in Great Harbour on Jost Van Dyke. This is why you travel with Wind Star. The ability to visit the perfect, jewel-like islands of the Caribbean without 3,000 – 5,000 shipmates. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Ahh, what a fine day it was. Two new friends from the Wind Surf came with me, and we headed to the beach at White Bay on Jost Van Dyke.

White Bay Beach is where the famous Soggy Dollar bar is — and the taxi dropped us off there without even asking. The three of us took a look around and decided to ditch Soggy Dollar.

WAY too crowded. Not what we were looking for . . .  After a nice wander down the beach away from everyone, we found One Love. No one there.

Now this is what I’m talking about . . .

White Bay on Jost Van Dyke.
White Bay on Jost Van Dyke, hanging out at One Love. It’s the kind of beach you just never want to leave. Interesting to stitch this panoramic picture together – caught as a cloud was starting to pass over. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I spent the day lounging and swimming and lounging and swimming and drinking Carib beer and swimming and dozing. The lobster quesadillas were perfect finger food. And One Love makes a fine, I mean a super fine Pain Killer.

As the day wore on, we were joined by a catamaran, a sailboat, and at least one motor yacht; the occupants would jump off and swim over for some lunch at One Love. It was pretty perfect.

I didn’t want to leave.

I think in my mind I may still be sitting on a lounge chair up under one of the sea grape trees . . .

One Love Bar on Jost Van Dyke.
I loved sitting in the shade of the sea grape trees at One Love Bar on Jost Van Dyke. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

 Virgin Gorda: Escape to Anegada Excursion

Panoramic image of the beach at Anegada.
Panoramic image of the beach at Anegada. This is the epitome of isolated and perfect. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I heart Anegada.

This excursion was marked as strenuous, and it lived up to its description. For the Escape to Anegada excursion, two pontoon speedboats picked up the fourteen passengers directly from Wind Surf, and we were off!!

Traveling at speeds ranging from 19 knots to 30 knots, we flew over the water on our thirty minute trip out to the low-slung island of Anegada. I LOVED it! It was an exhilarating, kick-ass ride!

Queen conch in sea grass
Queen Conchs are herbivores, and there were many living in the grass beds at Anegada. Photograph, Shutterstock.

One of the passengers was unhappy with the excursion because she hadn’t read the description, so I’ll say it again here: it’s a rough, fast ride. You sit astride the seats — it it feels like riding a fast horse. And yes, you are going to get wet. Probably soaked at one point or another. If this doesn’t sound like fun, pick another experience! Don’t complain to the cruise director that this wasn’t your cup of tea.

Transportation met us at the dock at Anegada and transferred us to the Anegada Beach Club.

Anegada: pristine beach. No people. NO PEOPLE!! Amazing water and the sound of distant breakers hitting the reef. Patches of sea grass and Queen Conchs munching their way along the bottom. Little palapa-like sun shades with loungers.

My only complaint– we had only one hour on the beach. This needs to be longer — it should be a two hour beach break. I could have skipped the trip out to see the flamingos and the pile of dead conchs. When you get to a spot this perfect, why in the world rush to leave it?

But — I’ll be back. I was intrigued with the posh tent accommodations at the Anegada Beach Club, and staying here is now on my bucket list. Thank you, Windstar, for getting me out to this beautiful, remote place!

Beach at Anegada
This is one of the emptiest, most beautiful stretches of beach I’ve ever seen. Staying at the Anegada Beach Club is now on my bucket list. Photograph, iStock Photos.

Our high-speed ride took us directly to the Beach Barbecue that Windstar had set up in Virgin Gorda. After a good lunch and another swim, I spent some time relaxing under a seagrape tree.

And then it was time to head back to Wind Surf.

Windstar Wind Surf cruise ship anchored on Virgin Gorda. Windstar Windsurf in the Caribbean.
Guests enjoyed a great barbecue on the beach, then swam and played with the equipment brought ashore by the sports team. It was pleasant to look up and see Wind Surf floating on the horizon. Photograph, Ann Fisher.


Gustavia, Saint Barthélemy

St. Barth’s lived up to its reputation of being lovely and pricey: the yacht-styles of the rich and famous. Being a little over-sunned, and frankly still tired from Anegada and the swimming at Virgin Gorda the day before, I was looking for something low key. I wandered the town and had a lovely lunch with one of my ship mates. It was the end of a wonderful week with Windstar cruises Windsurf.

Another day, another sunset from the stern of Wind Surf, this time moored off St. Barth's.
Another day, another sunset from the stern of Wind Surf, this time moored off St. Barth’s. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

St. Martin and the America’s Cup Racing Yachts

Canada II yacht in an America's Cup regatta in St. Martin
What fun!! I participated in the America’s Cup Regatta with a crew of Windstar passengers. Our Canada II yacht placed second in a field of three.

When we disembarked back in St. Martin, I took one final excursion — the America’s Cup Regatta. Very exciting! I would love to do this again — and will, when I’m in St. Martin the next time. This is another active, strenuous excursion, and was so much fun!

This is a regatta with three twelve meter yachts that all competed in the America’s Cup races in the 1980’s.

Our group of fourteen people crewed the Canada II in a race against the Stars and Stripes and True North. I started out in a primary grinder position which I managed for the first two legs of the race before pooping out — the young guys grinding with me were too fast, so I move forward for the final leg.

Wind Surf, Windstar's flagship yacht. Windstar Windsurf ship
Wind Surf, Windstar’s flagship yacht. Photograph courtesy of Windstar.



The Wind Surf Yacht

A suite on Wind Surf. Windstar Windsurf ship suite
A suite on Wind Surf.

Wind Surf was built in 1990 at the French shipyard Societe Nouvelle des Ateliers et Chantiers du Havre, and most recently refurbished in 2012.  She originally sailed for Club Med Cruises (as Club Med I), and was then purchased by Windstar in 1997.

When Wind Surf was refurbished, they created thirty suites on Deck 3 by combining two regular staterooms. Because of this, all the suites have two bathrooms, in addition to a bedroom area and sitting area. There are no verandahs on Wind Surf, and all cabins have porthole windows, in keeping with the style of the yacht.

I really like the upscale, clean look of the interior design choices that were made for Wind Surf when she was updated.

Wind Surf Specs:
CAPACITY: 310 Guests

STATEROOMS: 122 deluxe ocean view staterooms

SUITES: 31 deluxe ocean view suites

BRIDGE DECK SUITES: 2 deluxe ocean view bridge suites

DECKS: 6 decks

CREW: 201 international staff

SHIP’S REGISTRY: Bahamas

LENGTH: 535 feet (162 meters) at waterline; 617 feet (187meters) including bowsprit

DRAFT: 16.5 feet (5 meters)

TONNAGE: 14,745 gross registered tons (grt)

BEAM: 66 feet (20 meters)

SAILS: 7 triangular, self-furling, computer-operated sails with 26,881 square feet (or 2,600 square meters) of Dacron surface area

MASTS: 5 at 221 feet (67.5 meters)

ENGINES: 4 diesel electric generating sets, 2 electrical propulsion motor

SPEED: 10 to 12 knots with engines only; up to 15 knots wind and engine assisted

Care to go for a swim? In addition to the pool and hot tubs on the stern, when the Wind Surf is moored, the Watersport Platform lowers down and you can take a dip in the ocean, go paddle boarding, or try your hand at wind surfing off the back of the yacht.

Windstar cruises windsurf with its marina platform open
Cool off with a dip in the ocean right off the back of Wind Surf from the Watersport platform.


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But are you sailing?

On this cruise, there was not much of a sailing sensation on Wind Surf. Part of it was the itinerary. We made short hops, island to island, so the ship wasn’t going far on most days. This is one reason I chose this cruise.

Also, I didn’t expect to feel like I was sailing; when you look at the size of Wind Surf versus the square feet of sail — in my opinion, this just isn’t what this ship is about — on Wind Surf it’s about the overall cruise experience versus sailing.

This is a positive thing for someone who likes to see the sails, but perhaps doesn’t have the sea legs or stomach to handle a windjammer or clipper ship.

If you are wanting more of a sailing experience, I’d try Windstar’s two smaller yachts — Wind Star or Wind Spirit. These two ships have a gross tonnage of 5,300 – 5,700, and 21,500 square feet of sail — smaller, lighter and more likely to give you a feeling of flying before the wind.

Windstar Windsurf Deck Plan
Wind Surf Deck Plan, courtesy of Windstar.

Cabin

My Wind Surf cabin was lovely. I had stateroom #205 which was 188 square feet (18 square meters). The design was very clean and modern; storage was ample and well thought out. There were two long closets, one of which held the safe,plenty of drawers and cubbies, a fully stocked minibar, and a narrow drawer with hard liquor selection.

The bathroom was as roomy as standard ship bathrooms get, and well appointed: granite counter top, plenty of storage, and nothing looked worn or dirty. I was particularly pleased with Windstar’s L’Occitane en Provence amenity line — I loved the soap and lotion.

I’ve included the Wind Surf deck plan (click above image to enlarge) which has the sizes and configurations of all the cabin types.

My cabin had a DVD player and stereo that could several connection options so that you could play music from an iPod or phone. There were outlets for both 110 volt and 220 volt plugs. Room service was available continuously. I only used it once for coffee early in the morning, but the waiter was right there – johnny-on-the-spot.

My steward was considerate and quick to smile; he gave exemplary service. My ice bucket and glass bottles of filtered water were always full, the minibar restocked. Oh, and of course a zoo of towel animals appeared over the course of the week.

Thank you, Fauzi!

Cabin 205 on Wind Surf
My cabin was perfect. The decor suited me, the bed, linens and pillows were lovely. A tranquil place to relax after a long day of swimming and exploring. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Windstar WindSurf sailing shipThe Wind Surf Experience

My fellow passengers on this cruise were almost all either American or Canadian. I did see one couple from France.

Windstar really shines in the service arena. I found all of their crew attentive, happy, and quick to help. Many knew my name within the first twenty-four hours. With 201 crew to a passenger capacity of 310, the ratio is nearly 2 crew for every 3 passengers. This is so important. It allows Windstar to provide a high standard of service without wearing out their staff.

Wind Surf has everything you might need onboard. The Wind Spa offers full spa services, as well as hair and nail salon services.

The cruise director gave the most thorough port talks I’ve ever heard — with PowerPoints: an overview of the local history, followed by points of interest, favorite cuisine and drinks, and possible things to do. It wasn’t a shopping advertisement for stores the cruise line is paid to promote! How refreshing!

The two bands provided our onboard entertainment were both talented, and for those wanting some dancing and nightlife after dinner, the main lounge is the place to be.

Breakfast is served in the open-air Veranda restaurant on the upper deck, weather permitting. Passenger have a choice of the buffet, an omelette/egg station, or ordering from the menu.



The regular dining room onboard Wind Surf is AmphorA, and then there are two specialty restaurants: Candles and Stella Bistro. At AmphorA, the chef’s menu changes each evening, although there are standard favorites (like steak) that are always available.

In the evening, the Veranda restaurant transforms into Candles, with a steakhouse themed menu. Having dinner under the stars on this beautiful yacht was very special. Stella Bistro, Wind Surf’s French restaurant is also located on the top deck, just behind Veranda area. There is no additional charge for dining in the specialty restaurants, always a nice thing.

Each week, Windstar is famous for putting on their Deck Barbecue. It’s all chefs, cooks, and waitstaff on deck to pull this off, and it was impressive!

Deck barbecue on Windstar cruises Windsurf
The weekly Deck Barbecue onboard the Windstar ships is an event for which the cruise line is justifiably famous. The paella was outstanding and the grilled lobster perfectly done!

What did I think about the food on Wind Surf? It was very, very good. And — very exciting — Windstar and the James Beard Foundation have announced a partnership! Windstar is now the official cruise line of the James Beard Foundation; I expect really fine things to come in the culinary area on this cruise line.

It was hard to leave Wind Surf! As with all great vacations, the time went by too quickly, and I found myself back in St. Martin for a couple of nights at the end of the cruise.

This was such a wonderful week!  I am looking forward to traveling with Windstar again — I think sailing with them to Alaska on Star Legend would be outstanding, or perhaps to Tahiti and the Society Islands on Wind Spirit . . .

Tahiti next? Star Spirit sails near Moorea . . .

Looking for a review of the cruise ship Windsurf or Windstar Windsurf? Well, you’ve found it! People often think the ship’s name is one word, but it’s actually two :-). 


Ann in Castolon in Big Bend National Park. Photograph, Jim Stevens

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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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Ann Fisher