In all honesty, I didn’t know what to expect when I happily accepted an invitation to sail on Star Clipper, one of three true Sailing Ships in Star Clippers’ fleet. The Star Clipper experience promised to be unlike any of the over 30 cruises I had taken. For one thing, Star Clipper is a sleek, four-masted schooner, the dream of owner Mikael Krafft, a Swedish yachtsman bent on recreating the glorious age of clipper ships. I had grown used to ships as hotels, glorious carriers that take passengers from place to place with hardly a ripple in my wine glass. But, I wondered, if the wind was our propeller, how would I take to being tossed about should we encounter stormy seas? For that matter, would my wardrobe and I fit into my cabin just above the waterline and advertised as being all of 118 square feet? Could I navigate the stairs required to travel between Star Clipper’s four decks and clamber over the ropes as the crew raised and lowered its 16 sails. Would I fit in with an international crowd of German, French, Belgian, American and Swedish passengers? To say nothing of a crew of Filipinos, Indonesians, Indians presided over by a Polish Captain and officers from Germany and Spain? The answer to all these questions was a resounding, Yes!
STAR CLIPPER IS A TRUE CLIPPER SHIP
At 379 feet long, with a beam of 49 feet, this gleaming white vessel is quite a sight to behold. Even when its sails are stowed whenever the ship anchors, Star Clipper impresses. As we boarded our cruise off the Costa Rican coast, the contrast between Princess Cruise’s Emerald Princess and our glorious sailing ship could not have been more apparent. Carrying just 166 guests and 74 crew, Star Clipper is likely the closest I will ever get to sailing in an enormous private yacht. Gleaming brass and polished woods dominate both its interiors and exteriors.
Its interiors are reminders of a gilded age, of grand passages taken by bygone sailing ships.
My Cabin #110 on Commodore deck was a pleasant surprise. Yes, it was snug. Yet at 118 square feet, it was masterfully designed. Literally, there was a place for everything. Plenty of closet space, great reading lamps by the bed, and a lovely porthole so close to the water that the ocean often splashed right over the glass. There was a small flatscreen TV with a DVR for in-cabin movies and safety drills, a hair dryer, a radio, a telephone and a safe. The bathroom was minute and yet it had everything needed and more toiletries than one person could ever use. The cabin service was remarkable. “Sonny,” my Filipino steward, made up the room the moment I left it in the morning and turndown service came right at the Cocktail Hour. The ship is entirely air-conditioned, which in the tropical heat of our itinerary was a godsend.
IT TOOK ME ALL OF ABOUT 10 MINUTES TO FALL IN LOVE WITH STAR CLIPPER
Now I am the first to admit that any qualms I had about keeling over in the breeze were quickly dispersed because, in all honesty, ours was a very calm cruise. The ship’s motors were used far more than her sails. And for those of us concerned about clean energy, Star Clipper uses pure low-sulphur gas oil and even garnered an award for it: The International Air Pollution Prevention Certificate. Apart from smooth sailing, I was captivated by the adventure of Star Clipper. Granted, I did not clamber up to the Crow’s Nest as many of my fellow passengers did. But I was put to shame by an 86-year-old passenger who did everything from kayaking to scuba diving.
I loved the open-seating dining room and the six (!) meal “occasions” ranging from a truly international buffet breakfast through a buffet lunch, cocktail hour offerings that changed every day and finally dinner served course by course in a splendid setting that serves all guests at a single seating. There was even a traditional Baked Alaska night!
STAR CLIPPER IS REALLY ABOUT FUN, FUN, FUN
From the moment I boarded and discovered that well over half the guests are past passengers, I knew the Star Clipper experience is all about having a great time. This is a vacation! It’s all about sun, fun and exploring nature—especially on our Costa Rican itinerary. This wonderful country is full of great people who greet you with the National Motto, “Pura Vida” –the pure life. Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse countries on earth. Nearly a half million species populate its lush tropical forests. Our itinerary sailed the coast of the country from one end to the other. Other sailings will dip into Panama and its natural treasures. The shore excursions on offer are almost all about nature—kayaking through mangrove forests, canopy forest tours unspoiled coves and beaches. One example: Star Clipper drops anchor close to Manuel Antonio National Park, considered the jewel of Costa Rica’s National Parks where wildlife and tropical birds can be observed firsthand.
At another anchorage, we climbed aboard a catamaran for another kind of cruise up the coast to snorkel, swim and sunbathe! Another day we took advantage of the young Sports staff’s offerings: Water toys, kayaks, diving and snorkeling equipment. Then we headed back to Star Clipper to lollygag around one of two pools, in sunshine or in shade. Early evening entertainment enlivens the Cocktail and Hors d’oeuvres hour at the Tropical Bar. Stay on for the most magnificent sunsets. Here you’ll discover how, regardless of where you’re from, you have a lot in common with the international crowd Star Clipper attracts. Then on to dinner with whomever you choose. And after dinner, there’s star gazing on deck—that is when there’s not a light show illuminating the sails and disco dancing. Or stay up until 10 pm where there’s more entertainment at the Tropical Bar. There’s Pirate Night on every itinerary so dress appropriately. There’s the Crew Talent Show (guest participation encouraged), which was followed by a very large group performing the Macarena with various degrees of success and hoots of laughter. All-in-all, Star Clipper is one party I hope to be invited to again.
GETTING TO COSTA RICA IS AMAZINGLY EASY
San José (SJO) has the country’s largest airport and it’s 2 hours from Puntarenas where Star Clipper sails from. (Note: San José is the capital and largest city of Costa Rica and the capital of the province of the same name. It is in the center of the country.) No fewer than 11 US cities have direct flights to the capital. I was astonished to discover San José is just 4:25 from New York – far closer and quicker to get to than California. And it’s on USA Central time so jet lag presents no problems. Canadians can fly direct from both Montreal and Toronto and Europeans have 6 direct-to-San José airports to choose from.
Alas, paradise comes with a price. And it’s in Euros (which at this writing are about $1.per Euro.) Star Clipper fares are not ‘all-inclusive.’. You’ll find a welcome plate of cookies and fruit and a bottle of water in your stateroom, and you won’t be ‘nickeled and dimed.’ And believe me you will not go hungry. But you will have to shell out for your drinks. However, those represent a bargain. There’s a “Daily Drink Special”, leaning heavily on Umbrella drinks, for 5 Euros. Wines are truly a bargain. I ordered bottles of great Rose again and again for 16 Euros. Shore excursions too are reasonable if additional. Gratuities aren’t included. It’s recommended that you tip 5 Euros per person per day for the waitstaff and 3 Euros per person per day for the cabin steward. If you’re not carrying Euros, you can add these to your final bill using a US credit card. Star Clipper pools tips to cabin stewards and waitstaff so they encourage you to use the provided envelopes for both. For shore excursions, tour guides and drivers’ tips are at your discretion…but please do! Finally, there’s the matter of the Internet. Star Clippers sells packages for 1 hour or 4 hours of WiFi use. The 4-hour package makes good sense but only if you remember to log out every time you’ve checked your email or posted on Instagram. Otherwise, the meter keeps ticking. Massages are also additional but highly recommended and the fee for same is reasonable by American standards.
STOP THE PRESSES, WAVE SEASON BARGAINS HAVE JUST BEEN ANNOUNCED!
Guests who book by February 15, 2023, for sailings through November 2024 will receive a $230 onboard credit. That may well cover your bar bill, massage, WiFi package or some of the irresistible clothing in the Sloop Shop. And with fares starting at just $1560 (my cabin will set you back $2130) your Star Clipper Costa Rican adventure is worth every penny. This offer isn’t just confined to Central America. Select sailings in the Mediterranean, the Greek Islands, the Riviera, Spain and the Balearic Islands through November 2024 are on offer too. Or stay closer to home on Star Clipper’s identical twin, Star Flyer, as she plies the Caribbean’s least-visited islands from easy-to-reach St. Maarten.