Royal Clipper's 16-day cruise from
Near the head of my "Top 10 things to do before I'm done" list was to cross the Atlantic Ocean by sailing ship. When I first saw the brochure from Star Clippers with the Royal Clipper on the cover, I knew it was time. My wife, Mary, and I have been on 23 cruises, including two voyages on the Semester at Sea program when we were in college. (SemesteratSea.com) I showed her the picture of the Royal Clipper and she announced that under no circumstances was she going. (She had suffered mal-de-mer horribly on a New York-London trip while on Semester at Sea. Me, I was on deck hoping for the roughest weather we could get.) I then approached a close buddy of mine and he jumped at the opportunity. His wife was also not interested in doing the 16-night trip, so we did our planning, agreeing to meet in Málaga two nights before departure. My companion-to-be, Dr. Don Houts, is a highly regarded Psychotherapist from San Diego.
The Royal Clipper is a full-rigged, five-masted clipper ship. Measuring 439 feet long, a beam of 54 feet and tonnage of 5000, she holds 227 passengers when fully loaded. With a crew of 106, the Star Clipper line describes the experience as "The Mega Yacht Sailing Experience." When you are aboard, the feeling is one of being on a private yacht. She has a sail plan and layout inspired by the German tall ship Preussen. Accommodations are made up of 18 suites and 96 cabins (6 inside). There are five decks for passengers:
There is a three-deck atrium from the floor of the dining room to the underside of the central swimming pool on the Sun Deck. It is a surprisingly open area to find on a sailing ship.
I found the cabins to be remarkably spacious. Mine was a Category Four (#114) located on Commodore Deck. Don and I had singles, which I felt were priced extremely reasonably at only a 33% premium over a shared rate. There were twin beds, which converted to a queen. The twin portholes, roomy bath with shower, writing desk, and TV were all very nice. I found two very minor complaints:
Most of the outside cabins were identical, with a few of the cabins forward on Commodore Deck (Category 6) very slightly smaller. I peeked into a couple of the suites on Main Deck, and other than having a veranda, they seemed fairly similar to the standard cabins.
I found the food to be excellent. The Clipper Dining Room is at the top of the Atrium and is a very nicely appointed dining room. The table spacing was a touch tight but the staff seemed to get everything accomplished nicely. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style. The selections for breakfast and lunch seemed to follow a cruise standard seven-day rotation. The choices were varied, leaning towards a European flavor.
The dinner menu was always varied. Salads, appetizers, and entrées were displayed in the Piano Lounge in the afternoon. The meats were prepared properly and the fish (at least early in the crossing) seemed fresh. I found absolutely nothing to complain about. Dinner is served starting at 7:30 nightly, but people came in as late as 8:15. Seating is open and we sat with a large number of different people throughout the voyage.
I found the crew to be excellent. Our cabin steward was first rate, always available and friendly. The cabin was made up twice daily and he compensated for our times in and out of the cabin without a problem. The waiters were outstanding. We found out that prior to departure from Málaga, two of the dining room stewards left the ship and no replacements arrived. With this small of a vessel, losing 20% of your staff could be a disaster, but the guys got everything done. There were a couple of nights when everyone arrived for dinner at the same time, causing service to be slow, but it was understandable.(An interesting aside: the kitchen is a deck below and there did not seem to be lifts. The waiters had to climb steps up and down to the kitchen every trip. They really had to hustle.)
The bartenders and wine steward were helpful and pleasant. The wine cellar seemed well stocked, but that's not my area of expertise. The deck crew were all pleasant and helpful, and those guys never stopped working. Painting, chipping, and varnishing never seemed to end. The officers were mainly German, and I did not have much contact with them. They seemed to be pleasant, and paid most of their attention to the large Eastern German group aboard. The Cruise Director was also German, pleasant and competent. The athletic staff of two tried to keep activities going.
Our cruise had an interesting mix of people. Of the 193 passengers aboard, 146 were German, of whom 114 were a group traveling together from eastern Germany. We were told that when this group booked, they had insisted on our captain being assigned for the voyage; the normal captain was relieved for this trip. I suspect that Captain Ulie had a previous number of voyages with the group. We had another 32 from Western Germany, and about 16 from the U.S. Also aboard, we had people from England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Switzerland, Australia, South Africa, and Antigua. While the average age was about 60, it was a very experienced group of travelers. Members of our passenger group seemed to have been just about everywhere in the world there is to travel. I've been on 26 cruises and I felt like I was the rookie. While the East German group kind of kept to themselves, the rest of the passengers, including the West Germans, became a close knit group.
A number of the passengers had joined the ship in Civitavecchia, Italy a week earlier; most of us came aboard in Málaga, Spain. Boarding was easy and simple. We were not escorted to our cabins, but on a vessel of this size, it was unnecessary. Snacks were being served at the Tropical Bar, as they were every afternoon. We departed later in the evening. The next morning we passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, with a great view of the rock. We were at sea the entire day, looking forward to the next day in Casablanca, Morocco.
The excursions planned were the standard city tours along with a longer option to Fez. (The longer tour was cancelled due to a lack of participants). We had four buses, as most of the passengers signed up for the city tour. Two of the buses had English speaking guides, two were German. As an interesting aside, the guide for our bus greeted me like a long-lost relative. It seems he was from Las Vegas, visiting his mother in Casablanca, and paying for the trip by being a guide. He lives about a mile from my office. Small world.
Next was another day at sea, then consecutive days in Lanzarote and Tenerife, Canary Islands. Again, tours of the islands were available, but we did not purchase them. We found both of these stops to be interesting, new places to visit.
We then had 10 days and nights at sea. This was obviously the high point of the trip and what we all had booked it for. The crossing was unusually calm, with almost no motion and essentially no wind. To stay on schedule, the captain was forced to use the engines most of the way. That was a disappointment to us all. Every morning there was a sailing talk by the captain up on Sun Deck. His lectures were on sailing ships, weather, navigation, sail plans, etc. He aimed his talks at what was relevant to the day's situation and position. There were daily exercise classes, and activities, but relaxation was the leading activity. Everyone had books. I have never been on a cruise that had as large a percentage of readers.
We ended in Bridgetown, Barbados. Debarkation was a breeze, with no real pressure to get out of the cabin as soon as possible, like on larger vessels. A number of passengers had a very early flight, leaving the ship at 0600. Our connections through Miami went smoothly and easily.
I would do this cruise again in a heartbeat. It was a truly enjoyable experience.
Photos Courtesy of Star Clippers
William L. Carpi is an Optometrist, practicing in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a veteran of (at least) 26 cruises. For comment or questions, Bill can be reached at: email@example.com .
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