Get ready…this is NOT your typical cruise!
I’ve recently returned from a week-long cruise aboard the small, intimate Star Clipper sailing ship that sailed roundtrip Athens. Cruising on a “Tall Ship”, the Star Clipper is a true fully rigged sailing vessel carefully designed after the Tall Ships that date back to the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
A Star Clipper cruise experience my husband had on “his” bucket list for years but really had not been on mine. I always like the big cruise ship experience with lots of people, big ports of call, lots of activities, scheduled dining, fitness area and good food, so why would I want to do a small ship sailing cruise with a maximum of 170 passengers, no fitness area and one dining option?
Surprise! I really enjoyed our small ship cruise on Star Clipper! Itineraries are organized to maximize time under sail, so on a seven night cruise we had one day at sea and five different ports in two countries, my kind of itinerary. Ports of call with minimal distances between are favored so we could depart in the evening and arrive the following morning to our next destination.
I was thoroughly impressed with this unique cruising experience that allowed me to immerse myself in a ship that offers; small but extremely functional cabin space, an attentive crew, fantastic small ports of call and an array of good to delicious food options at each meal. I like the “hassle free” experience of getting on and off the ship without a hitch or any wait, being able to head into dinner up to 9pm (open seating) , where we always found a seat either with other passengers or a table for two. We had a full day of total relaxation our first day at sea with no distractions, options and nothing to do but lounge on the deck in the sun or out. Totally relaxed I was ready to begin exploring the next day our first port of call.
Oh, yes, the ports! Each was beautiful, different, diverse and offering a taste of two countries. We visited Rhodes, gorgeous Santorini and Hydra in Greece and while in Turkey; Bodrum and the Dalyan River, a remote location that the movie “The Africa Queen” was filmed.
The ship has no elevators but it is easy to navigate. Decor throughout the ship is nautical, with rich varnished woods counterpointed by deep blue carpets and upholstery. Since Star Clipper has no gym, the open decks serve as venues for exercise and fitness activities. Despite all the open deck space there is no single open stretch forming an unbroken circle around the ship, so jogging is off the agenda as a workout option. Mornings started out with a fitness class on deck with one of the energetic crew members getting us going and just in time to finish and head in for a delicious breakfast.
Breakfast and lunch are served buffet-style; dinner is ordered from a five-course menu (appetizer, soup, sorbet, entree, salad, cheese and dessert). The fare is simple but tasty, generally with two choices per course, with an added “Chef’s Suggestion” for the main course. There is always one vegetarian selection and steak with French fries is offered as a nightly alternative. Each morning the buffet included everything from cereal, fresh fruit, smoked fish, yogurt, bacon, sausage, delicious breads and an omelet station to customize it your way and on different day’s offerings of pancakes, waffle and more was available.
Star Clipper does provide a fabulous adventure! In fact, the adventure is the ship itself which we shared with just 110 other passengers (including Americans, Brits, Europeans, Australians, Germans and more) and about 70 crew members. The ship offers a casual and relaxing atmosphere with 4 masts and 14 billowing sails. And while it is not required, you can climb the masts or lounge in the nets hanging over the water on the side of the ship .
Each day many of the passengers were up on deck when the Captain and crew guided us into port where we docked or tendered in. Everyday we were ready for a place to explore and each port offered two optional shore excursion options (very reasonably priced ). The only exception was in the Dalyan River, as there was only one option which was to head off ship for a “mud bath” (what an experience). Or, you could choose to meander around the ports, shopping and people watching at you sat in cafes.
If you are thinking you’d like some active adventure while cruising…Star Clipper offers that too! We had the option to kayak, paddle board and snorkel (wind surf and scuba diving are also available in many destinations). The water was a bit cold for me but many of the Europeans and die-hards took advantage of these complimentary activities. Waterskiing, small sailboat sailing and banana boat rides are also offered (at many destinations), either around the ship’s anchorage or from the beach at those times when the ship is anchored in more crowded harbors.
Scuba diving? The dive operation is extensive, with daily guided dive and snorkel trips conducted by Zodiac inflatables right from the ship’s gangway. The onboard divemasters also teach diving, offering one-day “Discover Scuba” courses which allow non-divers to try out the sport that Jacques built (Cousteau, that is), complete courses for those wishing to get full Open Water certifications (requires two one-week trips back to back), and advanced-level ratings for those who already have Open Water certifications
Pre-dinner we headed to the Tropical Bar or Piano Bar for a cocktail or glass of wine (top shelf cocktails and wine was very reasonably priced), while our talented Star Clipper musician, who was there daily and nightly entertained playing the piano or keyboard. We loved the “casual” feel of the whole experience as it felt like we were aboard a friend’s yacht.
Star Clippers offers fantastic ports and locations. We had the opportunity to disembark the ship daily to visit a port and return back to the ship to relax on the upper deck or aft of the ship’s deck under the sun or under a protective canvas or even cool off in one of the two (small) pools and plenty of lounge chairs. Although the Star Clipper does not have a “spa” there is a wonderful small space private enclosed with canvas that allows you to feel like you are outside as you can hear the wind and the waves while enjoying your massage.
I must say, we both loved the cruise… the interesting shore excursions and gorgeous ports of call, just relaxing on deck under the sails and meeting people from near and far. The highlights of each day were heading out of port at the end of the day while many passengers gathered on deck listening to the most beautiful music playing in the background and sipping a cocktail watching the most awesome sunsets!
We both agreed, that for all practical purposes, this is one of the least kid-appropriate ships. Star Clipper has neither staff nor facilities nor programs geared to youngsters — though, to be fair, they will piece something together if there are enough children aboard for a particular sailing and you are doing a large group or multi-generational trip.
The Star Clipper boasts only 70 cabins (no balcony’s on this ship or the Star Flyer but the Royal Clipper is larger and does offer balcony cabins). Itineraries for 2016 include the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Asia and Cuba! In 2017 a new ship will be launched with more than 60,000 square feet of sail, which will be its primary motive power. It will be designed to carry 300 passengers, larger than the 227-passenger Royal Clipper that is the biggest of the three vessels now in Star Clippers’ fleet.
We enjoyed our Aegean Sea cruise to the Greek Island and ports in Turkey and would definitely return on another Star Clipper journey!
So are you ready to try a different and fulfilling casual cruise? Star Clippers will deliver an excellent and enjoyable experience while taking you to unique and beautiful destinations. Don’t pack too much, you won’t need it!