REVIEW: STAR CLIPPER CRUISES’ ROYAL CLIPPER

More Posh than Pirate!

I am sailing Star Clipper Cruises’ Royal Clipper, the largest ship in the world.

Perhaps I should clarify: she is the largest square-rigged sailing ship in the world.

Introduced in 2000, this 23-year-old beauty couldn’t differ more from what most people envision when they think of “the largest ship in the world.”  At a mere 4,425 grt and carrying a maximum of only 228 passengers (our sailing included 152 guests, primarily British, American and German) and 106 crew, Royal Clipper is a five-masted tall ship topped by a riot of 42 sails that span over 56,000 square feet on masts that soar nearly 200 feet from her deck. She is an awe-inspiring vision and an experience that combines the romance and seafaring traditions of yesteryear with what’s important to travelers today.

Our mid-December sailing from Barbados through the Windward Islands gets off to a rocky start—literally—thanks to the Christmas winds, a Caribbean phenomenon that converts the usually gentle trade winds into howling gusts that often reach 30-40 knots, producing cloud cover and the occasional downpour. The Christmas winds follow us along our route, culminating in 40-knot gusts and high swell upon our departure from Antigua, and creating some difficulty for all but the heartiest sailors. The good news is that these strong winds allow Royal Clipper to complete our voyage under sail a full 65% of the time!

According to many long-time Royal Clipper devotees who have sailed the ship many times, this sailing is an anomaly. They insist that Royal Clipper, equipped with modern stabilizers, typically–even in choppy waters–delivers a smooth ride.

THE SHIP: 10/10

It’s difficult to pull yourself away from Royal Clipper’s spacious Sun Deck and its 18,940 square feet of deck space beneath those towering masts. With ample deck chairs (some for sun worshippers and others beneath the shade of a long canopy), three pools, a small bar, viewing platforms, an ornamental Captain’s wheel and all the ropes and pulleys that show this is, indeed, a sailing ship, it is the Sun Deck that lures most to sail Royal Clipper.

But look inside and you’ll discover a completely different world, one with a level of comfort that is decidedly more posh than pirate.

Royal Clipper’s three-story atrium is the dazzling focal point of her interior design, each balconied level providing an overview of the Clipper Dining Room, the ship’s only formal eatery. Ornamental railings and curved carpeted staircases lead from each deck, white molded columns and brass accents accentuating the cohesive three-deck design. Upon a platform that hovers above the dining area sits a white grand piano, while enchanting and colorful nautical murals line the walls, some of them disguising “hidden” doors that offer short cuts to cabin corridors. Look closer and you’ll see some quirky nods to the sea: The skylight atop the atrium is actually the floor of the ship’s main pool, its shimmering water visible through the glass; portholes that frame the border around the atrium’s third deck give the same treatment to the ship’s center pool.

On the Main deck, the cozy wood paneled Library, The Piano Bar and The Tropical Bar flow seamlessly together. At The Piano Bar, early risers can find a continental breakfast from 6:30 a.m. (and coffee, tea and hot chocolate round the clock) or relax on a plush couch beneath an ornamental oval window with a book from The Library. In the evenings, guests head to the al fresco Tropical Bar for pre-dinner canapes and live music and, later, for drinking, dancing or, perhaps, a live performance like the steel drum band we enjoyed on our sailing.

Barflies might be surprised to learn that Royal Clipper doesn’t offer a formal drinks package (although a number of options are available for groups) but drinks are surprisingly affordable. My glass of wine is priced at 3.50 Euros (the Euro being the currency used aboard the ship) which is less than $4.00. High- end drinks are priced at 7.00 Euros (less than $8), and a bottle of chi-chi Brunello di Montalcino Col D’Orcia, $65 in the U.S., is less than $50 aboard Royal Clipper.

The reasonable prices carry through to spa treatments at The Captain Nemo Spa on the Commodore Deck, where a 50-minute hot lava shells massage is priced at 80 Euros (approximately $87) and a two-hour full body treatment (scrub, wrap and massage) is 150 Euros (approximately $165). Use of the ship’s fitness facilities, yoga and gymnastics classes are available at no charge, as is use of snorkeling equipment and water toys like kayaks, paddleboards, and floating mats at the ship’s Marina Platform.

Techno addicts, however, will be less enthused by Royal Clipper’s internet service. A slow and cumbersome system, the most extensive package is priced at 18 Euros (approximately $20) for four hours.

(Note: While Royal Clipper is a small ship that’s simple to navigate, she does not include an elevator. On rough sailings, as ours was, it might not be ideal for those with mobility issues.)

Cozy cabins with brass accents

CABINS AND SUITES: 6/10

The nautical feel of Royal Clipper extends throughout her accommodations, with portholes, wooden paneling and brass predominating. Art leans toward framed prints of tall ships.

In general, and not surprising for a small ship, cabins aren’t particularly spacious aboard Royal Clipper. My outside cabin—231–is a cozy 148-square feet with porthole windows, adequate for me as a solo traveler but a challenge had I shared it with a friend. Storage is ample, however, with closet and plenty of drawers, including some built into the base of the bedframe. And while there are handy bedside outlets, Royal Clipper does not offer USB charger ports and, in fact, requires an adaptor for its 220-volt European outlets. My bathroom is snug, its shower covered by a curtain alone, and when seas are rough, the water flows over the shower’s lip and drenches the marble floor. Shampoo (no conditioner), shower gel and body lotion are available and replenished and while the retro hairdryer with its vacuum-like tube is handily located beside the mirror, a more modern blow dryer may be found in the cabin’s dresser drawer.

Royal Clipper offers only 14 balcony cabins, each measuring 255 square feet, while her two 320-square foot owner’s suites do not offer balconies. Suites include a mini bar and bathroom with tub.

Six 100-square-foot inside cabins are also available.

DINING: 10/10

The melodic tinkling of a dinner bell and Royal Clipper guests head to the Clipper Dining Room for some of the most outstanding cuisine at sea. With its reasonable number of guests, there’s no rush–finish your chat, enjoy your drink. Open seating allows guests to sit where and with whom they wish.

Aboard Royal Clipper, breakfast, 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m., is served buffet style and supplemented with a cooking station that offers custom omelets and other egg dishes. On the buffet table, breakfast lovers find all of their favorites, from yogurts, fruits, cheeses, salmon, cereals, juices, breads, and pastries to an impressive choice of hot dishes like pancakes, porridge, two kinds of bacon (extra crisp and not so crisp), sausages and more. Impressive!

Yet lunchtime (12:00 p.m. -2:00 p.m.) is when The Clipper Dining Room really begins to dazzle, often with special decorations and flags adorning the space and live piano music providing a relaxing backdrop. Like breakfast, lunch is served buffet style and supplemented with a separate cooking station. Menus, often themed to a specific cuisine like Oriental, International, Caribbean or Italian are lavish celebrations with delectable dishes that I, for one, will remember for a long, long time.   Imagine an Italian buffet featuring huge-yet-tender, briny calamari swimming in a delectable buttery garlic sauce, mussels the size of a fist, a creamy and cheesy filling of spinach and artichoke between flaky filo dough, crispy rice balls filled with a savory rice mixture and some pretty impressive pizza topped with earthy mushrooms, spicy sausage and sun-dried tomato. The buffet choices are almost enough to dissuade me from a visit to the live cooking station for a taste of the pasta carbonara that is being whipped up by one of Royal Clipper’s talented chefs. Almost.

The Tropical Bar is hopping as the sun begins to set and 7:30 p.m. dinner draws near. Royal Clipper, in a move that I’ve never seen before, whets guests’ appetites with a posting at the nearby Piano Bar of not only the evening’s printed menu but actual samples of many of the dishes on offer! And that is how one night I, a dedicated carnivore, came to order a vegetarian main course—crispy corn and pepper fritters in a puddle of buttery sauce and topped with tender broccoli and leeks. It was absolutely delectable…and something I’d never have considered had I not seen it displayed.

The buffet table is gone as I enter the Clipper Dining Room via the sweeping staircase for dinner. Now, the atmosphere is one of a sophisticated restaurant, but one that doesn’t require fancy clothes and high heels (Royal Clipper is decidedly a casual experience with “no shorts or bathing suits” in the dining room the only dress code). The menu is filled with the evening’s beef, chicken, seafood and vegetarian specialties, luscious and creative soups (from classics like French onion to creamy asparagus and the delightful carrot and orange), appetizers, salads, the evening’s intermezzo (don’t miss the tomato and vodka one) and tempting desserts like After Eight Chocolate Mousse, sweet apple tart and ice creams. For those who prefer simpler fare, a list of “always available” pasta or sirloin steak dishes supplement each evening’s menu.

It’s astonishing that Royal Clipper can deliver the quality and variety of its cuisine employing only the services of one chef, twelve cooks, and one pastry chef in a galley that measures only 60 square meters!

ENTERTAINMENT: 10/10

It’s not surprising that the majority of Royal Clipper’s entertainment options are those that celebrate the sea. This is not the ship for anyone seeking lavish production shows, a comedy act or BINGO—Royal Clipper doesn’t even have a theater!

Instead, the most engaging events are those that place the focus on the ship itself: late-night star gazing with the ship’s 3rd officer or a light-and-music show that illuminates the sails, transforming their massive white surfaces into colorful, dreamlike visions. The more active guest may even don a harness and climb the rope “ladder” of the mast, the most successful making it all the way up to the viewing platform. And those seeking a unique approach to sunbathing might climb into the “widow’s nest,” a pair of sprawling nets beneath the ship’s bowspirit, lie back and scan the sea for the dolphins that, it is said, often swim beneath the nets.

An occasional nautical-themed film, Pirate Night, crew/guest talent show or fashion show will be presented at The Tropical Bar but the real showstoppers are the Piano Bar’s talks by Captain Sergey or Hotel Manager Peter that take guests behind the scenes of the line’s ships with revealing—and often hilarious—stories of life at sea.

For more traditional musical entertainment, don’t miss Mara & Benjo, a talented duo who absolutely nail the music preferences of the largely 50+ aged Royal Clipper passenger. This lovely couple is one of the few acts I’ve seen aboard ship who recognize that guests in this age group grew up with rock music and prefer it to the sleepy ballads that are so often the standard at sea. Even Benjo’s piano selections during lunchtime performances at The Clipper Dining Room included Beatles tunes one day; Cat Stevens and Elton John the next. And when was the last time you heard a cruise ship duo perform Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”?

Royal Clipper may not be everyone’s best choice for various reasons, but for those intrigued by sailing, romance, history and damn good food, it just might be the only one!

###

 


Please see cruises here: Star Clippers Cruises
Royal Clipper
Star Clipper
Star Flyer

 

 

1 thought on “REVIEW: STAR CLIPPER CRUISES’ ROYAL CLIPPER”

  1. Excellent detail and if I wasn’t already excited I’m extremely excited for my Venice thru Croatia trip in August ??

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Trusted by over 1.5 million cruisers since 2003.
Get FREE access to members-only pricing.
There is a highly acclaimed way to receive multiple quotes from a site called CruiseCompete, where cruise specialists compete to offer you the best deal. The media sums it up for CruiseCompete:
Score Luxury Cruises at Bargain Prices” (The Street)
Best site for cruise deals” (The Wall Street Journal)
28 Best Travel Sites” (Kiplinger's) Multiple annual mentions
36 Web Addresses You Should Know” (The Washington Post)