ABOARD ROYAL CLIPPER-One of the advantages of cruising on a small ship is the opportunity to get to know people: passengers, crew and locals. The Royal Clipper has a capacity of 227 passengers, but on our sailing, during the lull between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there are about 130 on board, so faces are quickly becoming familiar.
We started off the morning with a more formal welcome by Captain Mariusz Szalek who turned the floor over to Cathleen Donath, our cruise director, for the introduction of the crew. The entire staff numbers over 100, so just the heads of each department came out to greet us, all dressed in crisp, sailor whites, except for the head bartender who sported a colorful tropical shirt.
Someone asked Cathleen to give the native country of each person she introduced and we were amazed by the variety of nationalities among the crew. Captain Mariusz is from Poland and Cathleen is from Germany, hence her ability to quickly switch between English and German as she made introductions and gave us instructions and advice about the events of the day. Executive chef Devon Hodges is from Jamaica. We all joked that next to the captain, he’s the most important member of the crew. Maitre’d Franjo Ravlvja hails from Montenegro, the ship’s musician from Hungary. Massage therapists Bernie and Marichell from the Philippines. Cathleen called the four blond, blue-eyed members of the water sports crew the “Swedish mafia.” After introductions, they passed out complimentary snorkeling equipment that we’ll keep for the remainder of the cruise.
Our first port of call is described in the cruise literature as “Best of the Grenadines” and the captain has chosen to anchor this afternoon off Union Island for a few hours of beach time. Tenders ran between ship and the secluded beach every half hour. With no dock on shore, the tender crew pulled as close to the water’s edge as possible, lowered the front of the bow and helped us jump down to the sand.
On our ride over we chatted up a couple from southern England who liked their first cruise on the Royal Clipper so much there signed up for this, their second voyage. Their son enjoyed the experience so much he’s applied to crew on the Clipper after he graduates from college in the spring. A Japanese mom and seven-year-old daughter were also aboard, the little girl tugging off her sun hat as the tender pulled away from the ship. A young couple from Sacramento, Calif., told us they chose the Royal Clipper because friends had talked up their Caribbean honeymoon on the Windjammer so they went online to find an alternative. They proclaimed the Clipper “awesome.”
The age of passengers on our cruise is all over the board. Although most schools are still in session, there are a few children on board with parents and grandparents. Quite a few passengers seem to fall between their thirties and fifties and there appear to be a good number of retirees on board. We’re looking forward to meeting more of them.
We met of few local folks from the Grenadines on the beach, which was just a secluded strip of sand with goats grazing in the bush behind the few colorful beach shacks where we were greeted warmly by proprietors selling snacks and drinks. Bill ordered his customary beer, this time a Haroun, a former name for the Grenadines.
With so little sign of civilization, Bill made fun of me asking about the availability of Wi-Fi, the ever-present obsession of a writer trying to connect with readers. But during a walk along the beach and a stop at another beach shack–for a beer–of course, I asked again about an internet connection and was surprised when the owner’s brother said “I can fix you up.”
While my laptop was booting up we chatted with Mark, the bartender, who told us he left the corporate world in the States to wander the world and ended up here in this tiny speck of Caribbean. He directed us to a 24-minute You Tube video of his colorful life story. I bookmarked “Mark’s Story” (https://youtu.be/6weQjq4li-c ) and promised to watch it next time I had a good internet connection.