A Royal trip from Venice to Dubrovnik

10th October 2014

Vicky takes the wheel

Star Clippers’ Senior Administrator Vicky Noble and Aisleen Marley from the Marketing team, recently embarked on their first trip aboard the Royal Clipper, departing from Venice. Here, Vicky shares some of their experience…

I first set eyes on a Star Clipper ship whilst cruising with my mother in law way back in 2008. Everyone on board our ship was in awe at the sight of two beautiful sailing ships anchored a little way from us and most wished they were on one of those rather than the ‘normal’ cruise ship we were lining the decks of to get a view. Ever since that day I have harboured a wish to get on board so when I was given the opportunity of spending a few days on Star Clippers flagship I have to admit I jumped at the chance.

Gondalas in Venice

As we flew into Venice, Aisleen and I spotted the Royal Clipper in the harbour below and the excitement really set in. Having made our way to the port, we rounded the corner and the sheer size of the ship with its five masts and fittings glinting in the sunshine just added to the anticipation. We left our cases at the baggage drop and enjoyed a fabulous Italian ice cream to cool down before spending the afternoon sightseeing in Venice. There were five large, traditional cruise ships in dock too that afternoon so Venice was heaving as we wandered through to St Mark’s Square, snapping photos as we went. Once we had enough pictures of Gondolas, beautiful Italian architecture, clothes and fabulous shoes we could only ever dream of owning, we made our way back, checked in and headed up the gangplank to begin our sailing adventure.

Royal Clipper Main Swimming Pool

First impressions were the sheer grandeur of the interior with its opulent dining area, shining woodwork and frescoes to the walls. Our cabin was larger than we expected with a lovely marble bathroom. We unpacked as quickly as we could in order to go and explore ‘upstairs’. The sundeck with three pools (yes, three!), outside bar and plenty of sunbeds was so inviting, but we just wandered and took loads of photographs of the ship itself. This is a cruise ship like no other – it’s a sailing vessel with ropes everywhere, winches and 42 sails to be unfurled once the wind is strong enough to power it through the ocean. The Royal Clipper is quite simply magnificent, inside and out. The officers were all approachable and friendly and would do anything to help make your holiday enjoyable. They were happy to share their expertise and we happily accepted invitations to have a look at some of the more deluxe cabins and visit Chief Officer Arrigo on the bridge to learn how the ship was steered.

Royal Clipper Climbing the Rigging

We were able to relax and settle in on Saturday evening and Sunday as it was a sea-day. I enjoyed a relaxing Lomi Lomi massage in the Captain Nemo Lounge, which is the underwater spa on board. It was one of the best massages I’ve experienced and I’ve had a few! Aisleen, being the more athletic of the pair, climbed to the crows nest and then decided to have a lay down on the rigging at the bow of the ship, which turned out to be quite hilarious with her sudden scream causing Arrigo to leave the bridge to ensure she was okay! She was, but a bit shocked at being able to see right under the ship, which was rather unnerving!

We chatted with other guests on board and I’m always interested in what brings people to cruising as opposed to beach holidays. I’ve met people who’ve cruised for years and wouldn’t travel any other way; people who have saved for years just to enjoy a cruise on their 25th Anniversary; sadly, people living out their ‘bucket list’ and widows who enjoy this mode of travel because on a cruise you are never alone!

Royal Clipper in open waters

So what about the sail boats? Are the stories the same? Yes, we met first timers and people who had travelled on the Clippers several times. We also met Terry and Christine. Terry originally wanted to buy a new boat as he missed having one but Christine didn’t want to invest their money into a boat and the associated upkeep, so they compromised and booked the Royal Clipper instead. Will they be coming back? A definite yes!

We met David; he lives just up the road from us actually in Thorpeness and was a sail-boat owner in his younger days. Now, at 78 (he didn’t look or act it!) he leaves the sailing to those who can and is still able to enjoy being out on the open sea. Another previous sailor was Declan, a semi-retired Irishman with a cheeky glint in his eye. He kept us entertained with his wonderful humour and is determined to be on the Atlantic crossing next year – it was fully booked this year so he settled for Venice instead as he really wanted some time out at sea.

Sherri and her husband shake on it

We also had an interesting conversation with Sheri and her husband over dinner one evening. Sheri had sailed the seven seas by age fifty and was working on visiting every continent by sixty. She just needs to get to Australia and Africa next! Her lovely husband admitted that as owner of a sheet metal company he planned to start cutting back on work and adding an additional week’s holiday to his leave each year. Sheri rolled her eyes and said she’d heard it all before so I persuaded them to shake on it which they duly did. We then raised a glass of wine to the happy couple!

Royal Clipper Dessert

They had experienced Star Clippers previously, having sailed on the Star Flyer and she commented that the only people complaining about anything on board were people who had never sailed before. It seems passengers had gone on board expecting the luxury services afforded by the big cruise ships. Personally I didn’t find anything to complain about even though the closest I’ve previously come to sailing has been a few trips out on my stepbrothers’ cruiser!

The food was always good quality, well cooked, hot and tasty and as on all cruises, there was so much of it! The bar staff were chatty and polite as were the whole crew. Okay, you had to walk to the bar to get a drink and usually had to sort out your own sun bed if you were a bit late out on deck but as I mentioned earlier, this is a working sail boat. The main crew are needed to keep the ship running, not to walk around the deck asking passengers if they need a drink.

Royal Clipper in Dubrovnik

Aisleen and I got to visit Kotor and Dubrovnik, right stunning, historic, walled towns. Kotor had so many magnificent churches and the jewel in their crown was the Cathedral of St Tryphon, which dates back to the year 809. Dubrovnik is another ancient city with so many architecturally impressive buildings and you can actually walk the ramparts all round the ancient town and enjoy views across the marina and back to the new town. Unfortunately we missed the stars of Game of Thrones as filming for Series 5 had finished just 3 days before!

More food!

The highlight of this trip for me was the sailaway. The first night was the champagne sailaway – some of the sails were out, Vangelis 1492 played and Manolito, our Bar Manager, appeared with a glass of champagne for each of us – it was surprisingly emotional. People lined the banks in Venice to wave us off and you just felt so darned special!

The other sailaway I really enjoyed was the late night one leaving Kotor. There was such a bright moon, Captain Sergey was on deck steering us out through the fjords (the ship’s wheel is used just for this, the rest of the time the course is set on the bridge and run by satellite) and I had David and Declan’s sparkling wit to keep me company until the wee early hours. We all agreed the next morning that it had been a magical sailaway.

Royal Clipper in Dubrovnik

I’ll share one of Declan’s ponderings and you’ll understand – I brought up that 1492 (in case you didn’t know) is the year that Christopher Columbus set sail to find distant lands and Declan mentioned that he wasn’t exactly feted or appreciated in his lifetime. “But then it’s hardly surprising is it?” he continued. “He left England not knowing where he was going; landed somewhere, but he didn’t know where he was; then he came home and didn’t know where he’d been.” You have to love the Irish!

So, having gone with an open mind, Kwells and Seabands (neither of which were needed), would I go again? Hell yes! Life on a Clipper is unique but what a fabulous way to travel. I left the ship with a massive smile on my face, 1492 downloaded onto my iPod and invitations to visit new friends in Thorpeness and Seattle. That’s a holiday to remember.

Highlights The sailaways, ports visited and the wonderful massage.

Downsides Four days was not enough!