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Star Clipper
February 18, 2006

by Mike Kauffman

INTRODUCTION: My wife and I sailed on the February 18, 2006 voyage of the Star Clipper round-trip from St. Maarten. It was by far the best vacation we have experienced. This was our eighth cruise overall, but first on a clipper ship type vessel. We have previously cruised twice each on Celebrity, Carnival and NCL, and once on Royal Caribbean. We have grown tired of the larger ships and have wanted to try a sailing cruise for some time now. After sailing on the Star Clipper, we have no desire to return to the mass market cruise ships. 

ARRIVAL: We arrived at the pier in St. Maarten about 3:30. We were told at the pier that check-in would begin at 4:00, but it actually began about 10 minutes early. Check-in consisted of receiving our room keys and ID cards and leaving an imprint of our credit card for purchases on the ship. We were finished with the process and were walking to the ship in a few minutes. We were met as we boarded by the Cruise Director and Hotel Manager and given a complementary cold drink. Light snacks were available on deck. We were escorted to our cabin and our luggage was delivered to our room shortly after our arrival. 

SHIP: The Star Clipper is a fabulous ship. It is a sailing vessel, not a cruise ship. The ship is very elegant and sophisticated with none of the glitz of the bigger cruise ships. There are no casinos, atriums, show lounges, elevators or rooms with a verandah. There are two bars on board, the outside Tropical Bar and the inside Piano Bar. All of the nightly entertainment occurs at the Tropical Bar.

The ship has plenty of teak and mahogany wood, all varnished to a high gloss. Additionally, there is a lot of brass, which is also kept polished. The crew was working every day doing routine maintenance around the ship.

The ship’s passenger capacity is 170, but this week there were only 94 passengers on board, along with 73 crew members. The breakdown of passengers was very international - 41 were from the United States, six from Canada, one from Costa Rica and the remaining 46 passengers were from Europe. Of the 94 passengers, 63 had previously sailed with Star Clippers. The 73 crew members were from 25 different countries. The ship never seemed crowded. It is an easy walk from one end of the ship to the other. Because of its small size, the ship can fit into ports that the larger ships cannot.

The ship offered several features not found on cruise ships: passengers could climb the mast to the first level crow’s nest (with appropriate safety equipment) on three separate occasions during the week; we could relax on the widow’s netting at the bow of the ship anytime the crew was not operating the sails; there was an open bridge policy throughout the week; the crew lowered lifeboats one day during the week to give the passengers the opportunity to photograph the Star Clipper at sea under full sails; and passengers were given the opportunity to steer the ship while at sea.

Each day as the sails were raised as we were leaving a port, the ship would play the Vangelis symphony, “1492: Conquest of Paradise” over the sound system. The passengers would congregate on deck to watch the crew raising the sails and to listen to the music. 

We felt there would be a lot of free time for reading; we brought several books along with us. However, we were only able to sit and read on deck one day out of the week because there was so much to do - each day was full of activities.

Sailing throughout the week was rough. We had constant winds of 25-30 knots and the sea was rough while sailing. Several passengers were ill at points during the week due to the ship’s movement. 

CABIN: We booked a Category 5 room and were assigned cabin 342. The room was small, but very efficiently designed, as was the rest of the ship. The room had a raised double bed, four feet off the floor - we had to use a block of steps or a ladder to reach the bed. The bathroom had a shower, toilet, sink and a medicine cabinet with plenty of shelving for storing toiletries. The cabin had sufficient storage and closet space for the two of us. A safe with a programmable lock was located in one of the closets. There was a TV in the room, which only received one English speaking program, Euro News (similar to CNN). A DVD player was also in the room, and video disks could be borrowed from the ship’s collection. There was a two channel audio system in room, one channel for classical music and the second channel for popular music. Our cabin attendant was very good and efficient. Towels were exchanged each morning and evening. 

MEALS: All meals were served in the main dining room. Like the rest of the ship, the main dining room was very elegant. Booths lined the outside walls and accommodated four persons each. Tables in the middle of the room seated either six or eight. It was very common for the ship’s officers, including the captain, to join a group of diners at each meal. All dining is open seating, with service between 8:00 and 10:00 for breakfast, 12:00 and 2:00 for lunch and 7:30 and 10:00 for dinner. There are no formal nights - dress for dinner is resort casual for men and women.

Buffet meals were served for breakfast and lunch. For breakfast, there was an assortment of cereal, yogurts, pastries and fruits, along with scrambled eggs, french toast or pancakes, bacon and potatoes. There was also an omelet station for fresh omelets each morning. Lunchtime had a nice assortment of salads, cold cuts, cheeses, homemade soups and fruit. There was also a carving station each day with either fish or meat. The breakfasts and lunches were all very good. 

Each day between 5:00 and 6:00, an afternoon snack would be served at the Tropical Bar. Like the breakfasts and lunches, the afternoon snack was very good. We felt it was better than the dinners. The snack would consist of finger sandwiches, fruit, a hot dish and dessert. 

We were disappointed in the dinners served, both in the nightly selection and quality of food. Dinner would always have a seafood entree, a vegetarian entree and the two of the following: beef, pork, lamb or chicken. I only had one dinner I would classify as very good - a grilled sea bass. Lobster Tail was served on Thursday night, which is the Captain’s Dinner. My wife had the lobster, and said it was good, but not great. On two of the nights, I ordered the vegetarian selection when nothing on the main menu looked promising.

The beef and pork dishes were consistently under cooked. I ordered a steak one night as medium well, and it came out very rare. On a different night, my wife ordered a steak very well done, and it came out rare. Others sitting at our table had pork and lamb dishes on different nights, and they were also done very rare.

Coffee, tea and fresh fruit is available 24 hours a day in the Piano Bar. An early morning breakfast of croissants and pastries is also available in the Piano Bar from 6:00 to 8:00 in the mornings. Many mornings, we would be up early and grab a croissant and our coffee and tea and sit on the deck as the ship sailed to the next stop.

SERVICE: The service in the main dining room and throughout the ship was outstanding. Our waiters in the dining room were very attentive and we tried to sit in the same area each day with our favorite waiters. Bar service was mainly at the bar, with no bar waiters hounding you to purchase drinks every few minutes. The guys on the sports crew were excellent. The crew that worked the sails was also very good, showing great patience as the passengers were on deck as the crew was trying to raise or lower the sails. They were also very helpful with any information that the passengers asked them for.

ENTERTAINMENT: As mentioned above, entertainment on this sailing was very limited. There was one entertainer on board who sang and played the keyboard during the afternoon snack period. He also played the piano in the Piano Bar during the dinner hours and served as the deejay for nighttime dancing. 

There was an organized entertainment activity each night at 10:00 at the Tropical Bar. One night was crab races, another night was a “Best Couples” contest and a crew and passenger talent show was held on another night. These activities were very entertaining, and better than a lot of cruise line entertainment. The “Best Couples” contest was very hilarious, and the talent show with the crew performing was very enjoyable as well. 

Other forms of entertainment centered around the cruise director’s daily talk on the upcoming port and the captain’s story time. Every morning before we reached a port, the cruise director would hold a briefing on the bridge. He would explain the history of the island and places of interest to visit. He detailed what times the tenders would operate to the town or to the beach, and what time the last tender would return to the ship at the end of the day. On two of the mornings, the captain held a story time on the bridge. These sessions lasted 60-90 minutes and consisted of mainly questions from the passengers regarding the ship and sailing in general, with the captain answering the questions.

ITINERARY: This is not a typical cruise ship itinerary. As was pointed out to the passengers on more than one occasion: “This is a sailing vacation, not a cruise.” The stops are in remote islands and harbors. The focus on the stops is enjoying the nature and natural history of the islands. There is not a lot of activity going on in most of the ports. At many of the stops during the week, French was the main language and the official currency was the Euro Dollar. English was not spoken in some of the locations and the US Dollar was not universally accepted.

At each stop, the ship would run two tenders, one to the town for limited shopping and to meet the shore excursions and one to the beach. For each beach stop, the crew would take a banana boat, water ski equipment, a wave board (similar to a snow board), a windsurf board, sea kayaks, and a small sailboat. All of these activities were provided with no additional charge. Snorkeling gear was also issued at the beginning of the week for use throughout the cruise, again at no additional charge.

The stop on Sunday was the island of Nevis. However, all shops in town are closed on Sundays. The beach tender stopped at a nice section of the beach near the Four Seasons Hotel. The Sunshine Bar is an open-air bar located next to the Four Seasons. This bar is famous for its signature drink, the “Killer Bee”. The walls of the bar are adorned with photos of celebrities who have sampled a Killer Bee. 

On Monday the ship stopped at Deshaies in Guadeloupe. As with many of the other islands the ship visited during the week, the shops in town were closed between 12:00 and 2:30 or 3:00 in the afternoon. We took the tender into the town, walked around for a few minutes and returned to the ship for lunch. The afternoon was spent relaxing at the beach.

On Tuesday the ship stopped at Iles des Saintes in the French Antilles. We hiked up a steep road to the fort at the top of the harbor, with great view of the island. After returning to the ship for lunch, I took the beach tender in the afternoon for some snorkeling. While sailing into Iles des Saintes, we met up with another Star Clippers ship, the Royal Clipper, and both ships sailed side-by-side for a period of time.

On Wednesday, prior to arriving in Dominica, the captain arranged for the life boats to be lowered and the passengers had the opportunity to ride in the life boats and photograph the Star Clipper at sea under full sail. This event was originally scheduled for Monday afternoon, but had to be canceled on Monday due to high winds. The fact the captain rearranged the schedule to fit in the photo opportunity is another example of the great service offered during the week.

The stop on Wednesday was at Cabrits National Park in Dominica. This was the only stop where we docked at a pier, versus anchoring offshore and taking a tender to shore. The park had another fort overlooking the harbor and several hiking trails. We hiked up one side and down the other, ending up at a remote stretch of rocky beach on the other side of the island. After lunch, we sat on deck and read, as the ship left the dock at 3:00.

The Thursday stop in Antigua was at Falmouth Harbour in Antigua. The large cruise ships that visit Antigua stop in the country’s capital, St. Johns, on the other side of the island. Nelson’s Dockyard, home of the British Navy during the battles for supremacy of the Caribbean, is located at Falmouth Harbour. The beach visit today was very nice. The ship’s crew set up a barbecue on the beach and offered grilled hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, fish and ribs for lunch. There was also good snorkeling at this beach.

The final stop on Friday was at Gustavia in St. Barthelemy (also referred to as St. Barth or St. Barts), a very exclusive and wealthy island. Many large private yachts and sailboats were at the dock or anchored just offshore. There are many shops and restaurants surrounding the harbor. This was the only day the ship did not offer a beach tender. We were able to walk to Shell Beach, which was about a 10 or 15 minute walk from the dock where the tender stopped. It is a very nice beach, with plenty of shade and a small bar and restaurant. In the evening, we took the tender back into town for a little shopping and a drink at a harbor front restaurant. 

SUMMARY: Despite our disappointment with the dinner food and the ship’s constant rolling movement, this was a fabulous vacation, and we would definitely love to take another Star Clippers cruise in the future.

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