At first sight, the Royal Clipper seemed small and almost dingy
compared to the gleaming, white Windstar vessel moored one pier
down at the harbor in Bridgetown, Barbados. But the closer I got,
the more I could see how beautiful the ship was; that what had
seemed dark was actually wood; and that the low-slung hull was more
graceful than the boxy floating cities I was used to.
As the world’s largest sailing ship 439 feet long with five masts
the Royal Clipper was designed as a replica of a schooner built in
1902 and evokes all the lost elegance of that era. She’s the
perfect ship for those looking for a true sea-going adventure
without having to give up the creature comforts. The Royal Clipper
entered service in 2000 as the flagship of Star Clippers’
three-ship fleet. She is nearly always under some or all of her 42
sails, only falling back on her 2,500-horsepower diesel engines
when the weather or seas fail to cooperate.
The ship accommodates 227 passengers in a variety of cabin
configurations on three decks. My 105-square-foot standard cabin
was sleekly designed with a tiny, but bright, white-tiled bathroom
(the shower was actually part of the room, divided only by the
drawn curtain), a built-in desk and closets in warm wood,
jewel-colored patterned bedspread and two portholes. Later, when I
had a chance to see the deluxe cabins (where doors opened onto
balconies and the bathrooms contained small bathtubs), I could see
why they are almost always booked far in advance.
Sailing on the Royal Clipper feels a bit like staying in a
wonderfully quirky boutique hotel. By the end of the first day, the
waiters, bartenders and maitre’d all knew me by name. The
atmosphere is calm and unstructured, and dress is always casual
although casual elegance is the custom in the evening.
There are no formal seatings for dinners, and since I was
traveling solo, the maitre’d placed me at a different table each
night, giving me an opportunity to dine with a variety of
interesting people, including a family of glassblowers from North
Carolina and an English neurosurgeon.
All meals are served in the main dining room (only the deluxe and
owner’s cabins have room service), which is set dramatically at the
foot of a three-story atrium. Breakfasts and lunches are
buffet-style, with a chef preparing custom omelettes, manning a
grill or preparing special desserts at lunch. Dinners were
continental, with at least one Caribbean-inspired choice on the
When not on shore excursions, passengers relaxed on the top deck
by one of three small swimming pools. One deck below, the open-air
Tropical Bar is a constant center of activity, where passengers
gather for exercise classes, a cold luncheon buffet or the
evening’s entertainment programs. It’s the perfect spot for a
cappuccino or cocktail when the ship is arriving or setting sail,
and on my cruise, people seemed to prefer it to the more formal
Piano Bar inside, which was only popular at tea time.
I was unaware that the center swimming pool had a Plexiglas bottom
extending down into the Piano Bar until I looked up and nearly
dropped my tea cup when I saw someone swimming above.
Right off the Tropical Bar, the plush library is a small island of
air-conditioned serenity on muggy afternoons.
Royal Clipper has no elevators or accommodations for disabled
travelers. Passengers prone to seasickness may not be happy either,
as the Royal Clipper doesn’t handle heavy seas as smoothly as
larger ships do.
On the first and last nights of our sailing, when we crossed open
ocean between Barbados and the rest of the windward Caribbean
islands, many people were miserable.
Still, the Royal Clipper can be the perfect antidote to today’s
massive cruise ships. She’s about the romance of the sea. Stand on
the top deck at night, looking up at the cream-colored sails below
a starry night sky, listen to the crashing waves and you’ll know
what it really means to sail.
|JUST THE FACTS|
Ship: Royal Clipper
Company: Star Clippers
Hits: Weather permitting, passengers in safety vests can climb
the ratlines 60 feet from the top deck to the first yardarm, for
some spectacular views.
Misses: Treadmills in the gym are encumbered by an extremely low
ceiling, leading to many bumped heads.
Itineraries: Between now and Sept. 23, the Royal Clipper sails
the Western Mediterranean between Civitavecchia (Rome) and Venice.
Cruises run 6-11 nights. In October, the ship repositions to
Barbados, offering Western Caribbean itineraries for the Winter