Dani's adventure to the Caribbean... Aboard Royal Clipper
15th March 2017
Taking a cruise in the Caribbean is a popular choice for British holidaymakers, especially as the nights draw in at home and we are forced to de-ice our cars early every morning. It’s no wonder people choose to hop on a transatlantic flight from London, as only a short eight hours away the white sands, balmy seas and clear blue skies play background to the ultimate winter sun destination - the Caribbean.
Star Clippers operate several Caribbean itineraries throughout the UK winter months, and this time we were about to experience the Royal Clipper sailing from Barbados, a seven-night cruise around the Windward Islands.
Making for an excellent home-port, it would be a shame not to extend your cruise on the beautiful island of Barbados, with all the diversity it has to offer. Glamorous hotels on the sought-after west coast are scattered between some of the finest restaurants in the world, let alone the Caribbean. With friendly local events such as the famous Oistins fish fry on a Friday night down on the South coast, there’s something for everyone.
We began with a two-night pre-cruise stay at Turtle Beach, an all-inclusive property on the South Coast. We were greeted on arrival with a private dinner on the beach and hosted by the General Manager. To sit only yards from the calm waves crashing gently on the shore with our toes in the sand was the best way to start our Caribbean adventure. After a long flight, we hungrily enjoyed our dinner (and a few rum punches of course) before retiring to our spacious Ocean View suite for a good night’s sleep.
Waking up to the sound of the sea is probably one of my favourite parts of being on holiday. Pulling back the curtains and stepping out onto my private balcony, taking in the outstanding beauty of Turtle Beach’s pristine white sands, many palm trees and deep blue waters was incredible. I highly recommend upgrading your hotel room to an Ocean View suite as, for me, this is what the Caribbean is all about.
The next 48 hours saw us experiencing some highlights of Barbados, including a catamaran up and down the west coast, offering guests the chance to swim with turtles, snorkel over shipwrecks or simply relax on the catamaran. This was made complete by the addition of an open bar, great music and a delicious lunch. We were on board with Jammin’ today, whose crew were faultless and very good fun. I would really encourage you to add this to your itinerary when spending a few days in Barbados. All of the Catamaran tours can be booked locally and will include pick up/drop off at your hotel. They are excellent value for money and offer a very memorable day.
On our second evening on the island, we were lucky enough to dine at ‘Champers’, a premium restaurant on the South Coast, with an enviable location over the sea looking back at the beach. The setting is like no other, with mouth-watering food to accompany and exemplary service, it is a great place to toast a special occasion. Bookings are advised, especially if you want an ocean front table. Your concierge can arrange this from your hotel.
Before we embarked the Royal Clipper, we visited several hotels that we often sell to our guests for their pre/post cruise stays, which was really useful. I’ve included a short fact file below for each one...
Hotels - Barbados
Oceans 2: This trendy south coast hotel offers a beachfront location with rooms equipped with kitchenettes. There are two-bedroom suites, sleeping six adults or four adults and three small children, so this is ideal for families. It's only a short stroll from St Lawrence Gap, where there are several restaurants/bars/ shops to choose from. This is a well located hotel if you want to be on the south of the island.
Board basis: Room only or B&B
Recommended for: Families and couples
Colony Club: The classic, colonial decor oozes sophistication in every aspect of this hotel. The four-poster beds, the rooms with step down lagoon pools, the stunning gardens and swim-up bar are just a few key attributes the Colony Club brings. Daily yoga sessions followed by specially selected healthy eating menus are available for those that are health conscious or complimentary watersports and rum cocktails on the beach make for a great alternative. The Colony Club is on the west coast, where the sea is considerably calmer than the south. However, you’re probably a short taxi ride away from the closest restaurants and town (Holetown).
Board basis: B&B or half board
Recommended for: Couples
Mango Bay: In the heart of Holetown, this all-inclusive hotel is right in the action. Mere steps away from the entrance and all the hustle and bustle is a beautiful pool area and a stretch of white sandy west coast beach to enjoy. The rooms are basic in style but fresh and clean with ocean view or pool view available. I wouldn’t recommend the ‘classic’ rooms as these back on to the town and can be quite noisy.
Board Basis: All-inclusive
Recommended for: Young families and couples
The House: An all-suite, adult only boutique hotel on the pristine west coast, this contemporary yet classic property boasts understated elegance with decking out to the beach, memory foam mattresses on the sun beds and ambassador service - a unique haven and a real piece of ‘home’. Check-in is done in your room or at the bar at your leisure and by your personal ambassador. Everything about ‘The House’ is unconventional, which is why it works so beautifully. Champagne breakfasts, fresh fruit and bottled water on the beach, and afternoon tea is all included in the B&B rate as well as a 30-minute jet lag massage.
Board Basis: B&B
Recommended for: Adults only
Tamarind: Situated next door to The House and famous Italian eatery ‘Daphne’s’, The Tamarind also takes residence on the sought-after west coast, just a few minutes from Holetown on the local reggae bus but also within walking distance of a couple of restaurants and rum shacks. The bright and fresh décor fits well in the Caribbean, with deck dining and many watersports also complimenting the destination perfectly. There is one adult-only ‘spa pool’ and two other pool areas that everyone can use. With comfortable sun loungers dotted around all of them, there is plenty of space to unwind and relax here. You're always just a few steps from a bar, so ‘Happy Hour’ is easily accessible.
Board Basis: B&B or Half Board
Recommended for: Families and couples
Crystal Cove: A boutique alternative to the Mango Bay, Crystal Cove offers a second all-inclusive property on the West Coast, in a much quieter location. It belongs to the same group of hotels as Colony Club, The House, Tamarind and Turtle Beach. Similarly to Tamarind, the hotel has taken inspiration for its interiors from the Caribbean itself, making for a light and colourful atmosphere. Highlights here include a swim-up cave style pool bar with dramatic waterfall entrance, a choice of two fantastic restaurants to dine at for lunch and/or dinner and champagne cocktails (all included).
Board Basis: All-inclusive
Recommended for: Families and couples
After a fantastic lunch at Tamarind, al-fresco style, we headed to Bridgetown cruise terminal to embark the Royal Clipper. There were several cruise ships in port that day, including P&O Britannia. The stark comparison between any of the Star Clipper ships and a more conventional cruise ship is always most apparent when you see them side by side in port. The five masts of the Royal Clipper tower above every other vessel, proudly showing off her unique qualities. With guests from other cruise lines looking on in awe, it’s a very proud moment slowly stepping up the gangway and entering the Tropical Bar for the very first time.
After a refreshing welcome cocktail, the check-in process begins, which with only 227 (max) guests on board is very timely and straight forward. It makes a nice change to do the check-in process on board, as it means you don’t have to spend too much time in the port terminal itself and you can be relaxing on the ship in no time.
I was shown to my category four cabin, which is down on the Commodore deck (the lowest deck for passengers) and un-packed. Surprisingly, there is plenty of wardrobe and drawer space, so bearing in mind this is a working tall ship, the cabins are very comfortable. Categories four, three and two are all very similar. The main difference is the position on the ship, so the category twos are the most expensive because they are up on the Clipper deck and in a more mid-ship position. Personally, I am quite happy in a category four.
The first evening on board is always full of anticipation and excitement, with fellow passengers chatting away and getting to know each other at their pre-dinner drinks in the al-fresco bar, before enjoying the first of seven sumptuous dinners in the Royal Clipper's grand dining room.
Dining on board is always an enjoyable experience. With no strict dress codes and set dining times, guests can choose where and with whom they sit each evening. The dining room opens for dinner at 19:30 and closes again at 22:00, so there is plenty of flexibility to fit in with how you choose to plan your day. Although we carry this informal outlook for dinner, you certainly don’t have to sacrifice the quality of food or service. Our six-course a la carte menu is different every night, with a great selection of fish, white meat, red meat and vegetarian options. If there’s really nothing on the menu you like the sound of, there is always the choice to order steak frittes or the ‘pasta of the day’, which your waiter will be happy to tell you about. The waiters on board are fantastic, offering silver service in the beautiful dining room. This is one of the five meals a day you will always look forward too.
Sailaway on the first evening is usually at 10pm. This is perfect for the first night as it allows time for everyone to arrive, unpack and enjoy their dinner before heading up to the bridge on the sun deck. The black sky is lit with stars and the warm Caribbean air wraps itself around you, as you stand alongside the captain and officers, watching them orchestrate the initial manoeuvres.
As the ship starts to quietly move away from the port, all of a sudden, the crew begin to pull the ropes and the sails begin to unfurl above you. Vangelis’s ‘Conquest to Paradise’ begins to boom out around the deck and the masts are lit with hundreds of tiny lights, creating the most magical and breath-taking moment, one only to be had on board Star Clippers. As you sip your glass of champagne, listen to the classical music and watch the sails coming down at the expert hands of the many crew, your journey is just beginning.
Our arrival into Rodney Bay was at midday, which allowed for us to enjoy a beautiful morning of sailing in daylight, as well as a delicious buffet breakfast and even a little bite for lunch, before taking the tender to shore to enjoy an afternoon on the beach. One of the real selling points of a Star Clippers sailing is that the smaller size of our ships allows us to access ports of call and islands that big ships cannot. Of course, lots of cruise ships dock in St Lucia, but not many (if any?) anchor off Rodney Bay, giving guests the opportunity to see a different side to each and every island we stop at.
A short tender ride and we were stepping off the boat straight into the shallows of the sea and straight on to the beach. In our Caribbean itineraries, a lot of our days incorporate ‘wet landings’ meaning you will be stepping from the tender on to the beach, a real quirky aspect enjoyed by everyone. The beautiful beach was busy today, as it was Sunday; a lot of the locals were down enjoying time with friends and family. The local bars were open and a bottle of ‘Piton’ beer - named after the island's famous mountains - was available for little over £1. It's never better than when you're drinking it on the beach in St Lucia, I’d say.
Star Clippers include complimentary watersports; kayaking, wake boarding, water skiing and snorkelling are all available every day (weather depending) and today the sports team were on the beach with all the equipment, ready for guests to take advantage of these free activities. After a lazy afternoon on the beach, soaking up the rays and enjoying the local atmosphere in this pristine bay, we took the last tender back to the beach for our departure at 6pm.
Sailaway takes the same format every day, so everyone gathered back up on deck, still in beachwear, clutching a cocktail from the Tropical Bar. We bid a fond farewell to Rodney Bay before heading down to change for dinner.
After dinner every evening there will be a very light-hearted and low key piece of entertainment taking place up in the Tropical Bar. There are no Broadway shows on board Star Clippers. Instead, we involve the crew, the locals and our guests (if they so wish) with an array of steel bands, fashion shows, pirate nights and of course the infamous Talent Show which always follows the Captain’s Dinner. The nights are always good fun and create an informal atmosphere for our guests to relax in and enjoy the bartender’s specialities to the sound of music under the stars.
Sailing into Dominica was particularly special today. Under full sail, we met one of the other Star Clippers ships, the Star Clipper herself. Her four masts became slowly more and more visible as we sped towards the next island, which was also to be Star Clipper’s destination for the day. The Star Clipper is smaller than the Royal, holding a maximum of 170 passengers and only bearing four masts instead of the Royal’s five. She is a stunning ship, a barquentine yacht, exuding elegance and style in every swift movement with the waves. She is actually taller than the Royal Clipper and usually faster. As the two race side by side towards Dominica, stood barefoot on the teak deck, the magic of Star Clippers really comes alive.
Today, as a group, we signed up to the ‘Indian River’ shore excursion. Just a short taxi ride from the ship, we were met by friendly locals and divided in to smaller groups to board the handmade wooden boats. I thought they seemed similar to the punting boats you would find in Cambridge, but on an even smaller scale. Our guide rowed us with wooden oars down the Indian River, which made for some spectacular scenery along the way. The calm and serene surroundings continued with us on our journey where we saw wildlife in its natural habitat; birds, spiders and crabs were introduced to us by our knowledgeable guide (from a distance of course).
After an hour, we stopped at an old bar, set in the middle of the rainforest, and serving a fantastic glass of Rum Punch - the perfect refreshment. It was nice to get off and stretch our legs and indulge in the local life. Dominica is a plush island, incredibly green with beautiful landscapes and quite un-touched by the tourist market. I felt that this excursion was a great snapshot of Dominica and an excellent way to spend the few hours we had in this place. Back on the boats, we meandered back down the river, this time taking a different route so we were able to see the hut which featured in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and was purpose built for the film. It still stands there and was quite eerie to see it in real life – we all expected Johnny Depp to pop out at any moment.
We set sail at 4pm today, but only for a short while so we could re-anchor at another part of Dominica and pick up other passengers that had done a different excursion. We decided to take full advantage of this daytime sailing and headed straight to the front of the ship.
Lying in the nets of the bow-spirit is an incredible experience. Although daunting at first, as you clamber over the front of the ship and unsteadily find your feet in the netting. Once you have found your spot, however, it is so worthwhile. As royal Clipper sailed towards Roseau, we sat in the nets looking up at the masts, with the Caribbean breeze all around us and the beaming sun hitting our faces, and wondered what could make this moment more perfect? All of a sudden, one of our group spotted a small pod of dolphins directly beneath us, following the ship and jumping in the waves, only feet away from where we sat up in the netting. Excitement doesn’t quite cut it, we were all almost hysterical with happiness at being part of this very special journey.
Another fun-filled evening awaited us, during which the menu was inspired by the Caribbean and the fish was particularly good. Wine in the evening is from an extensive list, with house wine priced at just 15 euros per bottle, which is very reasonable indeed. Following dinner every night, we would make our way up to the lively bar area for a few more cocktails and to enjoy the entertainment. A few of our group were great sports and got involved with the fashion show, sporting items from the sloop shop along with the crew.
Falmouth Harbour, Antigua
Today, for me, was a true highlight. On the majority of our long haul itineraries we offer a beach BBQ on one of the days and today was the day on the Windward Islands route. Again, we are trying to offer different destinations, so instead of docking in St John’s, Antigua, where all the big ships go, we drop anchor in Falmouth Harbour, which really is the St Tropez of the Caribbean. It's littered with billion-pound yachts and home to the famous annual yacht races - the perfect setting for Star Clippers.
Tenders left for the harbour every 30 minutes from the ship and the beach was just a short walk away from the small marina. So, after a cooling drink, we made our way to Pidgeon Beach.
Something new for me on this cruise was the offer of a ‘beach massage’, bringing the spa to the beach. I loved this idea, to enjoy a full body massage whilst listening to the sea was the ultimate relaxation. After an hour-long treatment by the very experienced masseuse, I sleepily walked to where we had set up a camp for the day and took in the stunning bay. The beach BBQ saw all of the chefs come across to the beach and cook a variety of meats fresh on the grill, with an array of salads and bread all available too. The bar also made an appearance with drinks available to be charged back to your room, so no cash was required. Beach BBQ day is always an amazing day and we certainly enjoyed it to the max.
The beautiful island of St Kitts awaited us, with an early arrival; we all met at 0800 in the Tropical Bar ready for our second excursion of the week, the island jeep safari! Christian, our guide, met us at the port – I had actually done this exact excursion four years ago, and was delighted to see Christian again as he was also my guide last time! With his multi-coloured beard and undeniable knowledge of his island, we were in for a real treat.
Stopping at the historic ‘Romney Manor’ and its pristine gardens was very insightful. The flowers and plants were outstanding here and the entire grounds kept in perfect condition, the small gift shop was welcomed by all, with local crafts being purchased as souvenirs – a great pit stop! After the obligatory photo stops, with some incredible views, we were dropped back off at a beach club, where the ship had moved too, ready to collect us from the end of the tour. We were back just in time to enjoy the buffet lunch!
Lunches on board Star Clippers vary each day, with a different nationality providing the theme daily, from Italian banquets to Oriental cuisine and of course a Caribbean feast, there is something to appeal to every appetite! Other than the beach BBQ and the once weekly deck lunch that we offer, all of the lunch buffets are held in the main dining room with the waiters on hand to provide drinks to the table should you wish.
Illes des Saintes
A real gem, just off of Guadeloupe where the famous ‘Death in Paradise’ is filmed, Illes des Saintes is a gorgeous port of call, and potentially my favourite on this particular itinerary. After a short tender ride we arrived at the beautiful harbour, lined with multi-coloured boutiques either side of the narrow cobbled streets. The French influence here was clear to see (and hear) with it being the first language on the island too. It’s quite bizarre to be on a tiny island in the midst of the Caribbean and hear the French language and pay in euros, however, there is definitely something really charming and intriguing about it too.
We strolled around the quaint gift shops before retiring for a cool drink overlooking the marina, with a perfect view of the Royal Clipper positioned between a few privately owned yachts that were anchored here today too. After lunch on board, we took the second tender of the day, this time over to a very small beach. Star Clippers passengers were the only people to step on this stretch of beach today, giving it a real exclusive feel. The watersports team were on hand to offer guests a helping hand if anyone was feeling active enough, but plenty of us were happy enough to lie back and enjoy the beaming hot sunshine…
This evening was particularly special, as ‘Captain’s Night’ was upon us. Even now we don’t enforce a formal dress code, ‘Casual Elegance’ remains as it always does throughout the voyage, however, some people do choose to dress up a little more tonight, so you can if you like. As well as a mouth watering menu including chateaubriand, lobster tail and baked Alaska, the atmosphere in the dining room is electric, with the famous march of the waiters with the baked Alaska, a real tradition on any cruise and we certainly don’t miss it out!
The captain will raise a toast with the complimentary glass of champagne provided to everyone, before everyone makes their way back up to the bar for the ‘Talent Show’. From the Goan waiters showcasing a local dance from home, to keen passengers showing off their musical skills and a light hearted comedy sketch from the sports team, our evening was filled with laughter, tears and dancing, which continued late in to the night, all under the stars!
Martinique is also a French town within the Caribbean, and where we docked today was right in the heart of the capital. It was only a short walk from the ship to the town, where it was a real busy and buzzy atmosphere. There were local guides on every corner offering free advice and maps, pointing out places of interest, such as the cathedral and the main square. Everyone was very friendly and approachable, which you don’t often find in a big city!
I would personally recommend looking at doing a shore excursion today, as you would probably get to see more of the natural beauty and history of the island, than a short walk around the town will allow, however, it could be a good opportunity to stock up on some shopping and gifts.
It’s an early departure on the last day, as the journey back to Barbados commences. An afternoon of lazing around up on deck with a few sun downer cocktails seemed a popular choice, whilst we watched the brave among us climb the mast to the first crows nest (in a harness of course). This is another complimentary activity that Star Clippers offer and another great example of how we have the ‘get involved’ aspect on board. As well as climbing the crows nest, our open bridge policy and opportunity to lend a hand raising the sails, you can also take tours of the engine rooms and listen to ‘Captain’s Story time’ all to be found in the daily programme.
After an hour of packing, everyone meets for one last time in the Royal Clipper’s dining room for the final dinner, a farewell dinner, where the crew sing ‘We are the World’ to all guests, making for a special way to end the cruise.
Back in Barbados, the Royal Clipper docks early in the morning, around 7am, so after a quick breakfast, most passengers are disembarked by 9am. Our flight was due to leave later that day, so we had organised a day of activities in Barbados. The ship offers a couple of excursions for passengers, including an island tour or a beach stop, before dropping you off at the airport in time for your flight, if you’ve not chosen to do a post cruise stay.
Our first stop was the Hilton Barbados, where we were able to have a good look round the grounds and the rooms. I have to say, I was very impressed with this hotel and would thoroughly recommend for a one or two night pre/post cruise stay. It’s close to both the port and the airport, on a beautiful beach with a good choice of bars and restaurants and very good sized, clean bedrooms.
Our Island Safari Tour began at around 11am, and took us round the beautiful island of Barbados. From the familiar south coast, we headed round to the rugged east coast line of Bathsheba, where the waves are dramatic against the rocks stood out in the sea, such stunning scenery and an immense contrast between the east and the west, where the waters are serene and calm.
Bathsheba is a real tourist spot for photographs, although not many hotels on the east, it’s worth a visit whilst you’re in Barbados, its natural beauty truly un missable. A few rum punches along the way and a very friendly, knowledgeable guide made this trip all the better, driving us through Speightstown on the North West of the island, another bustling community with a local fish market similar to Oistins and many shops, we were happily taking in as we drove down the West, finishing eventually back at the Hilton ready for a quick shower and change prior to our flight home.
We were dropped off at the airport just in time for our flight (and a little duty free shopping) the perfect placed to stock up on Mount Gay Rum and other souvenirs to take back home to blustery Britain!
All in all, we had a fantastic trip. The Caribbean cruises on board Star Clippers carry so many unique aspects, with smaller islands, dolphin sightings, nautical activities and more, the experience of the ship matches the destination perfectly. I would highly recommend a stay in Barbados either pre or post (or both!) your cruise. It’s an incredible island with so much to offer and the perfect way to unwind either side of your sailing. We can book all of the hotels mentioned above, but we are also happy to look at other requests you may have and can tailor-make every holiday to suit you individually!