Fodor’s Expert Review
In 1991, Star Clippers unveiled a new tall-ship alternative to sophisticated travelers whose desires include having an adventure at sea but not on board a conventional cruise ship. Star Clippers vessels are four- and five-masted sailing beauties—the world’s largest barkentine and full-rigged sailing ships. Filled with modern, high-tech equipment as well as the amenities of private yachts, the ships rely on sail power while at sea unless conditions require the assistance of the engines. Minimal heeling, usually less than 6%, is achieved through judicious control of the sails.Read More
A boyhood dream became a cruise-line reality when Swedish entrepreneur Mikael Krafft launched his fleet of authentic recreations of classic 19th-century clipper ships. The day officially begins when the captain holds an informative daily briefing on deck with a bit of storytelling tossed in.
The lack of rigid scheduling is one of Star Clippers’ most appealing attractions. The bridge is always open, and passengers are welcome to peer over the captain’s shoulder as he plots the ship’s course. Crew members are happy to demonstrate how to splice a line, reef a sail, or tie a proper knot.
As attractive as the ships’ interiors are, the focal point of Star Clippers cruises is the outdoors. Plan to spend a lot of time on deck soaking in the sun, sea, and sky. It doesn’t get any better than that. Consider also that each ship has at least two swimming pools. Granted, they are tiny, but they are a refreshing feature uncommon on true sailing ships and all but the most lavish yachts.
Although the Star Clippers ships are motorized, their engines are shut down whenever crews unfurl the sails (36,000 square feet on Star Clipper and Star Flyer, and 56,000 square feet on Royal Clipper) to capture the wind. On a typical cruise, the ships rely exclusively on sail power any time favorable conditions prevail.
As the haunting strains of Vangelis’s symphony “1492: Conquest of Paradise” are piped over the PA system and the first of the sails is unfurled, the only thing you’ll hear on deck is the sound of the music and the calls of the line handlers until every sail is in place. While the feeling of the wind powering large ships through the water is spine-tingling, you will miss the wondrous sight of your ship under sail unless the captain can schedule a photo opportunity utilizing one of the tenders. It’s one of the most memorable sights you’ll see if this opportunity avails itself. However, when necessary, the ships will cruise under motor power to meet the requirements of their itineraries.
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What to Expect on Board
Not noted for gourmet fare, the international cuisine is what you would expect from a trendy shore-side bistro, albeit an elegant one.
All meals are open seating in the formal dining room during scheduled hours; breakfast and lunch—an impressive spread of seafood, salads, and grilled items—are served buffet-style, while dinners are leisurely affairs served in the European manner. Hint: If you want your salad before your main course, just ask; the French style is to serve it after the main course. Menus, created in consultation with chef Jean Marie Meulien (who has been awarded Michelin stars throughout his career), include appetizers, soups, pasta, a sorbet course, at least three choices of entrées, salad, cheese, and, of course, dessert. Mediterranean-inspired entrées, vegetarian, and light dishes are featured. A maître d’ is present at the more formal evening meals to seat passengers, but it isn’t uncommon on these small ships for passengers to arrange their own groups of dinner company.
Early risers on each ship find a Continental breakfast offered at the Tropical Bar, and coffee and fresh fruit are always available in the Piano Bar. Should you want to remain in your swimsuit, casual buffets are set up adjacent to the Tropical Bar at noon (the Deck Snack Buffet) and at 5 pm (the Afternoon Snack). Some of the snacks are themed and quite popular—a Neptune seafood luncheon, snacks with waffles or crepes, or a midday taco bar. On select itineraries, an outdoor barbecue is served on shore.
With the exception of occupants of Owner’s suites and Deluxe suites on Royal Clipper, there is no room service unless you are sick and can’t make it to the dining room for meals.
Star Clippers are not cruise ships in the ordinary sense with strict agendas and pages of activities.
You’re free to do what you please day and night, but many passengers join the crew members topside when the sails are raised or for some of the lighthearted events like crab-racing contests, scavenger hunts, and a talent night. The informality of singing around a piano bar typifies an evening on one of these ships, although in certain ports local performers come aboard to spice up the action with an authentic taste of the local music and arts.
Formal exercise sessions take a backseat to water sports, although aerobics classes and swimming are featured on all ships.
Only Royal Clipper has a marina platform that can be lowered in calm waters to access water sports and diving; however, the smaller ships replicate the experience by using motorized launches to reach reefs for snorkeling. A gym-spa with an array of exercise equipment, free weights, spa treatments, and unisex hair services are also found only on Royal Clipper. Despite the lack of a formal fitness center on Star Flyer and Star Clipper, morning aerobics or yoga classes are usually held on deck for active passengers. Massages, manicures, and pedicures can be arranged as well.
Key cruising tips
Star Clippers cruises draw active, upscale American and European couples in their thirties and up, who enjoy sailing but in a casually sophisticated atmosphere with modern conveniences. Many sailings are equally divided between North Americans and Europeans, so announcements are made in several languages accordingly.
This is not a cruise line for the physically challenged: there are no elevators or ramps, nor are staterooms or bathrooms wheelchair accessible. Gangways and shore launches can also be difficult to negotiate.
All evenings are elegant casual, so slacks and open-collar shirts are fine for men, and sundresses, skirts, or pants with a sweater or blouse are suggested for women. Coats and ties are never required. Shorts and T-shirts are not allowed in the dining room at dinner.
Star Clippers ships are adult-oriented. Although children are welcome and may participate in shipboard activities suited to their ability, there are no dedicated youth facilities. Parents are responsible for the behavior and entertainment of their children. Mature teens who can live without video games and the company of other teens are the best young sailors.
Service is friendly and gracious, similar to what you would find in a boutique hotel or restaurant. You may find that you have to flag down a waiter for a second cup of coffee, though.
Gratuities are not included in the cruise fare and are extended at the sole discretion of passengers. The recommended amount is €8 per person per day. Tips are pooled and shared; individual tipping is discouraged. You can either put cash in the tip envelope provided, and drop it at the Purser’s Office, or charge gratuities to your shipboard account. An automatic 15% gratuity is added to each passenger’s bar bill.
Top Gallant is the loyalty club for past passengers. No specific fare discount is offered to members; however, they receive a newsletter and special offers on fare reductions from time to time. Nearly 60% of all passengers choose to make a repeat voyage on Star Clippers ships.