When most of us picture the Caribbean, we envision a row of mega-liners docked side-by-side in ports of call like St. Thomas or Philipsburg. To believe a few of the mainstream cruise lines, you’d think the average person is terrified of the ocean and is incapable of entertaining themselves. New ships are designed to limit interaction with the sea as much as possible, distracting guests with a never-ending cavalcade of manufactured fun.
Star Clippers doesn’t see the Caribbean that way – and this December, we’re going to have the opportunity to show their Caribbean to you first-hand, as we sail aboard the massive and elegant Royal Clipper – the largest square-rigged tall ship in the world.
Launched in 2000, the 439-foot long Royal Clipper is minute compared to some of the gargantuan megaships that ply the Caribbean – but she’s a giant in the sailing world.
Capable of carrying up to 227 guests, she was designed to emulate the Preussen (proy-sin), a classic German windjammer constructed in 1902. Until the launch of the Royal Clipper, which can best be thought of as her modern counterpart, she was the only five-masted, full-rigged sailing ship ever built.
If she looks romantic on the outside, Royal Clipper’s interiors only serve to enhance the image of a bygone era, with gorgeous wood paneling, proper deck shear (the deck canters up and down at the extreme fore and aft ends of the ship), skylights, and luxurious accommodations that will make you think you’re on your very own sailing yacht.
But there’s more than you might expect on this ship, like a soaring three-story atrium that is anchored by Royal Clipper’s main dining room on the lower level. Paneled in dark cherry wood accented with tones of ivory and brass and navy-blue soft furnishings, this space looks just incredible in pictures, and channels the golden age of ocean travel with a style that is relaxed yet elegant.
There are essentially six categories of staterooms aboard Royal Clipper, from her two expansive Owner’s Suites situated at the stern on Clipper Deck, to the handful of Category 6 Inside Staterooms that are located all the way forward on the same deck. The vast majority of staterooms feature ocean views by way of traditional porthole windows (a real plus, not a minus!). For balcony lovers, the 14 Deluxe Suites located on Main Deck are the way to go.
But really – who needs a balcony when you have so much open deck space? Royal Clipper’s two uppermost decks are almost exclusively devoted to sun and the magnificent sights of the sea and the sails above.
There are also some very cool “old-timey” nautical features, like a series of public rooms – or deck houses – that can only be accessed from the outer decks. The forward-facing Observation Lounge is one such space, and the aft-mounted Library is more likely to draw guests in through the outer shell doors than by way of a small staircase situated at the aft of the room. I like that; it’s a nice counterpoint to modern ship design that dictates that guests should be sheltered from the sea as much as possible.
Oh, which reminds me: this is a good time to mention that Royal Clipper lacks stabilizer fins, which means the ship is going to heel over…beautifully. Beds are even equipped with little sideboards designed to – you guessed it – keep you from rolling right out of bed. But in the calm waters of the Caribbean, unwanted motion shouldn’t be an issue.
Although she’s supplemented by two main diesel engines that can propel her along at 13.5 knots, her 42 individual sails with a combined surface area of 56,000 square feet spread across five masts can have her doing a cool 20 knots if conditions are right. And the Caribbean, with its abundance of tightly-spaced islands and consistent trade winds, is the perfect place for a sailing ship of her caliber.
I’ve wanted to sail aboard the Royal Clipper since I saw her docked in Barbados five years ago. Despite the fact I was embarking a five-star, ultra-luxury cruise ship, I was fascinated and immediately drawn to her sleek lines and found myself staring off the back deck at her, lights ablaze, in the growing dusk in Bridgetown harbor.
Our itinerary is a magnificent one that takes us through my favorite kind of Caribbean: the Windward Islands. This is the Caribbean that hasn’t been overrun with tourists yet; the Caribbean where rum and spices still reign supreme, and where authentic cooking pushes back against American chain restaurants. Best of all, Royal Clipper will show us the best that the Windward Islands have to offer.
After leaving Bridgetown, Barbados, we’ll have a day in the Grenadines, at an island that will be determined by the Captain. The proverbial “Beach Day” happens straightaway on this itinerary, and it should be the perfect antidote to what will have been a very busy few weeks of flying for yours truly.
Then, it’s off to St. George’s, Grenada – one of my all-time favorite Caribbean ports of call. You can literally smell the spices as you come ashore – no kidding. There’s a spice market just past the pier that I fully intend to stock up on. Grenada, of course, is known for its cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla, but also for its spectacular natural scenery and vibrant history.
The next day, it’s off to Tobago Cays, Grenada for a day of water sports activities around these small, mostly deserted islands.
Next, Kingstown, St. Vincent beckons in the morning, while Royal Clipper repositions to beautiful Bequia (beck-way) in the afternoon. One of my all-time favorite places, Bequia is like the island that the tourists forgot; you’ll only find in-the-know people here, usually travelers on private yachts or folks like us who come on smaller cruise ships.
This week long journey is rounded out with port calls on Fort de France, Martinique; Marigot Bay, St. Lucia; and Soufriere, St. Lucia, before the Royal Clipper returns to Bridgetown.