Even though we travel full time, we don’t consider our life as a full time vacation, we do actually do some work. Which is why we decided to splurge on a recent break between house sits. We were already in Barbados and wanted to get off island and explore, therefore I went to one of my favorite ‘dreaming’ sites, Vacations to Go. This site lists cruise lines and itineraries worldwide, including relocation cruises, last minute deals and is a perfect place to find out what is available. A short search bought up a number of options all departing from Barbados. Cheapest on the list was a 7 night Caribbean cruise with ‘Carnival’ the price was tempting but the cruise lines reputation had us debating whether this would be for us. The second ‘really’ tempting option was with the Star Clipper line, it was well out of our budget but the whole concept of actually sailing not just cruising on a five masted clipper had us intrigued. Further investigation revealed this was the vessel we ‘oohed’ over when we saw it in dry dock in Martinique last year.
We mulled it over, ran the numbers and mulled it over some more, before phoning Vacations to Go to get the full picture. Like many cruise lines port fees and taxes are an additional charge, however because it was a late booking the line was making the deal even sweeter by giving two nights accommodation and breakfast at the Accra Beach hotel in Barbados and a cabin credit of US$175 per person. We ran the numbers again and could not resist as the credit would pretty much eliminate all those nasty charges that add up on traditional cruise lines, like bar bill, excursions and gratuities. We splurged and booked a week on the Royal Clipper, departing Barbados, January 23, 2016. The countdown was on……… this was going to be fun.
Boarding started at 4pm and our hostess kindly delivered us to the terminal around 4.30pm. We strolled into the terminal, found the Star Clipper pennant, checked in and handed over our bags. We were then free to stroll across the dock and pose for a few photographs before mounting the gangway. After being personally welcomed on board by the Captain, handed a towel for refreshing ourselves and a glass of rum punch, we were shown to our tiny but well equipped cabin. Then, too excited to do anything else, we went exploring, the Royal Clipper is a beauty!
The sundeck hosts three small pools, loungers and a small bar, the lower deck holds more loungers and seating plus the larger covered Tropical Bar, the entrance to the indoor Piano Bar and the Atrium, the Clippers main dining area. After figuring out the basic layout of the ship and meeting some equally delighted fellow passengers, we returned to our cabin to get ready for dinner. With only 200 passengers on board there are no strict seating times and no formal table assignments. The maître d‘ sits guests as they arrive at tables ranging from 2 to 8, so you can choose to eat alone, arrive with friends or make new friends each evening.
The service, the food and our dinner companions were all wonderful, as was the very reasonably priced wine list. Primarily the Royal Clipper is a sailing vessel, unless weather dictates otherwise we sail. “Sail away” was at 10pm. Imagine sailing out of Barbados under a full moon, champagne in hand and this music stirring your souls………. The atmosphere on deck was electric, as each sail unfurled a gentle cheer rose from the crowd. With grins fit to split our faces, we stood arm in arm, necks craned as the gentle breeze filled the sails and set us on our journey.
The first full day on the Royal Clipper is the Captains choice, giving him the freedom to take advantage of wind, weather and whim. He took us to Chatham Bay on Union Island for a day of snorkeling (loads of fish, plus puffers, lobsters and two species of moray eels), sunbathing and our first attempt at stand up paddle boarding. It is of course harder than it looks, we both did actually manage to stand up, yet sadly not long enough for photographic evidence. We finished off the day with one of those elusive green flash sunsets, before meeting two very fun guys at dinner. Just another ASDIP day (Another Sunny Day in Paradise).
Day 2 on the Royal Clipper started with a splash! We were tucking into breakfast when we saw a fat sleek body leap next to the porthole! Yep! Dolphins! We dashed up on deck and watched entranced as a pod of 8 or 10 played in front of the bow. Very few of our fellow passengers knew they were there, with no crowds lining the rails we were delighted to be able to catch them on film.
The Royal Clipper has a handy little mini deck on either side of the forward deck overlooking the prow and waterline. It was the perfect viewing point from which to marvel at their agility and playfulness.
After our Dolphin fix, we took advantage of our day in Grenada and met our new housesitting clients. They treated us to lunch on Grand Anse Beach and then took us ‘home’ to meet our newest charge Spare and to check out our home for 6 weeks beginning this April. Our hosts then returned us to quayside and we headed back onboard for a little chilling in preparation for dancing to a visiting Steel Band. Day 3 of cruising took us to The Tobago Cays, home of stunning reefs, sea in every shade of blue, turtles and famous as one of the filming locations for Pirates of the Caribbean. It took no stretch of the imagination to envisage Jack Sparrow rowing himself ashore. We had a lazy beach day, unlike the kitchen staff that set up everything for a complete BBQ lunch on a tiny little beach, including cold drinks, burgers, chicken, ribs and tasty treats for dessert. We could get used to this……………………………
Tonight was party night, we jumped right into the ‘name that song’ contest complete with Karaoke and dancing (not easy when the deck is tilting first this way……. and then the other……. we were having so much fun the flying fish were jumping on board to join us. St Vincent and Bequia were our ports of call on Day 4. We passed on exploring St Vincent’s trails and gardens and spent the morning chilling on deck. Michael took this opportunity to climb the traditional rope ladder up to the crow’s nest on the main mast for a birds eye view and a unique photo opportunity. In the afternoon, we visited friends in Bequia and caught the last tender back to the Clipper at dusk. We had a fun night with new friends at the Piano Bar before heading down to dinner in search of a table for 8. Look carefully at the photo and note the ceiling…. That is the bottom of the largest pool on the upper deck, it’s kind of creepy to look up and see people in there.
Day 5 was spent at the oh so chic French island of Martinique. We docked at Fort de France, where we got a true comparison of how small the Clipper is compared to traditional Cruise ships. (Disney’s Wonder is our neighbor in this photo). We went for a leisurely stroll around town before heading back for a sail up the coast and a beach afternoon.
Tonight is also the traditional ‘Captains Dinner’, steak and lobster were on the menu and guess who was invited to join the Captain at his table? Yes us! We met the Captain and fellow honored guests for champagne and canapes in the Piano Bar, before being escorted down to a very special table. Captain Maruisz is a charming gentleman and planted a few ideas for our next Clipper Cruise (Asia perhaps). The time has flown by and today Day 6 is our last full day on the Royal Clipper, what better way to end a fantastic week than sailing under the Pitons in St Lucia?
We were up with first light to catch a glimpse of this dramatic island as we sailed in. With the Clipper anchored just outside of Marigot Bay, we took the first tender in and hiked up the hill to visit housesitting clients and now friends, before heading back to enjoy the sail to Soufriere. We spent the afternoon relaxing and chatting with new acquaintances and waiting for our departure, as we would be sailing past the Pitons. Once the last passengers were back on board, the Captain decided that this was a great opportunity for the photographers onboard. The demand was high, two tenders bristling with passengers and cameras pulled away. Both tenders shadowed us as one by one, the sails unfurled. We sailed slowly and majestically towards the Pitons on a mirrored sea with the setting sun tinting the sails in gold, peach and pink.
I kept one camera behind and snapped images of the onboard action, sails unfurling, some of the crew getting on and off the bowsprit to wave at the tenders and the tenders against the Pitons. Michael snapped away from his tender, capturing the steady increase in sail and the stunning backdrop. The results are the highlights of this collection of our favorite shots Flickr Gallery of the Royal Clipper.
It is our final evening and there is a subdued but frantic atmosphere at dinner–Subdued because none of us want this to be over and frantic because it is the last night to snap those pictures and find out how to stay connected with new friends. Despite early departures for some, we stay up late, chatting, reminiscing and promising that we will be back. We will join the ranks of those who have sailed on the Clippers 2, 4 or even 16 times. Day 7, we are back, dockside in Barbados and it’s time to leave. We are among the last to disembark, we descend the stairs with heavy hearts, yet happy that we chose to ‘splurge’ on this particular cruise. The experience is like no other, it is not just the sailing, the small amount of passengers and a small crew makes it intimate, friendly and unique. We are forever spoiled, the ‘cattle boat’ style of cruising most lines offer will be difficult to go back to, if we ever do. ….. then with great pomp and dignity the sails were unfurled one by one. The champagne flowed and cameras clicked. Michael took photos from the tender and Yvonne from onboard, giving us a unique perspective on what has to be every photographers dream……….. a 5 masted clipper in full sail under the Pitons. This perfect day ended with drinks and dinner with new friends and the vow to sail with the Clipper line again.