If you think that all Caribbean cruises are more or less just variations on a theme, then the Royal Clipper will truly take the wind out of your sails. And yes, the pun is wholly intentional.
Having done more than thirty Caribbean cruises on every style of ship- from the boutique to the mainstream- I can tell you that the Royal Clipper offers a totally unique way of experiencing those warm, winter sailing grounds. The differences are so pronounced and absolute that they actually equate to what is, in effect, a totally unique kind of Caribbean voyage.
In this blog, I’d like to highlight some of the ways in which the Royal Clipper is a stand apart way of close up cruising, and throw some light on the day to day practicalities of travelling on this magnificent, floating throwback.
THE WAY SHE SAILS
This is dictated entirely by her hull shape; long, low and narrow, the Royal Clipper is a sailing ship that contains comfortable cabins, an excellent food and beverage operation, and plenty of deck space. But she does not have stabilizers and, as a result, she is susceptible to roll. At times, waves washed against our porthole windows as the ship heeled into a turn. Nothing to worry about, but you should be aware of it. It’s all part of the adventure.
There are no elevators. That said, the ship has only three main decks. You need to hold onto railings when moving around, and throughout the ship. many of the exits onto the upper decks have high thresholds, known as ‘lips’. You need to bear that in mind, and exercise due care. There are no disabled cabins or facilities. If in any doubt about the suitability of the ship for you, I recommend that you talk to Star Clippers directly.
The Royal Clipper operates a pair of destination intensive, seven night, round trip itineraries from Bridgetown, Barbados. Ours took in calls at St. Lucia, Dominica, Antigua, St. Kitts, Ile Des Saintes, and Martinique.
Only in Martinique (plus embarkation/debarkation in Bridgetown) were we able to just walk off the ship. All other destinations were achieved by ‘soft’ tender landings. For these, you negotiate a roughly forty-five degree angled step gangway down to water level, where crewmen are on hand to help you in and out of the tender. The process repeats in reverse on your return.
It’s a simple, safe process providing you follow the instructions of the crew. They do the job day in day out, and they know their stuff.
Tendering is great fun and, of course, it allows you to snap some breathtaking waterline shots of the ship. But again, if you have mobility issues either on the gangway or getting on and off the tenders, you might want to speak to Star Clippers yourself.
The on board currency is the Euro. You will also be fine with Euros- as well as US dollars- on the French islands such as Ile Des Saintes and Martinique. On the others, US dollars are best. In the likes of Antigua and St. Lucia, the Eastern Caribbean dollar is fine, but do not get stuck with a large number of these; the French islands in general will not touch them, and even many places in Barbados- which has it’s own dollar- will not accept them.
Just exercise due care; all those different kinds of dollars can be baffling. Best bet is simply to take American and, if you are bartering for souvenirs or simply ordering a taxi or meal, clarify what the cost will be in USD. And ask for your change, if any, in the same currency.
FACILITIES ON BOARD
If you want the endless on board daytime diversions and the all night, round the clock night life that you would find in a big city, best stop right now. You won’t find that on the Royal Clipper.
Here, less is most definitely more. You’ll come to appreciate that the entire ship is one vast, theatrical show piece in her own right. Excitement and drama is writ large in the raising and lowering of some forty two sails, draped like theatre curtains across five towering, latticed masts.
Other than that, just go- I very much doubt that you will regret the experience.