Dani's Mediterranean Sailing Adventure on the Star Flyer
18th August 2016
Rome - The ancient city steeped in unimaginable history. Frequented by travellers around the world, city break revellers and those wanting to lose themselves in another century, just for 24 hours. The traditional trattorias line the cobbled streets and piazzas, with cold prosecco and limoncello available on every corner, fresh pizzas and pasta let you indulge in the Italian way of life. While you soak up the incredible architecture as you realise, Rome really wasn't built in a day...
For all of the above reasons, and so much more, I would always recommend a stay in the city before or after your sailing, just a night or two would suffice, and we opted for a one-night pre-cruise stay at the 4* boutique Marcella Royal hotel. The location was good, a 10-minute walk to the Spanish steps, so fairly central, allowing us to do everything on foot. Starting with the Colosseum, we ventured in awe of our surroundings, before taking a rest at the famous Trevi Fountain, an awesome sight, but in late July, littered with tourists, like us, of course!
The Marcella Royal has a real selling point, it's beautiful roof top bar, the perfectly kept flowers and traditional style Veranda offered the perfect spot for pre-dinner drinks, boasting views over the ancient city as the sun sets, the only way to end the day in style.
The next morning we arrived for our pre-booked tour of the Vatican City. A 3 hour guided tour took us through the many Vatican museums and the famous Sistine chapel. If you have time I would really recommend this experience, a surreal and overwhelming few hours that genuinely left us speechless. The history, the art, the religion, makes this a very special place.
After a quick spot of lunch, we rushed to Termini train station to catch the train to Civitavecchia port, where we were to board the Star Flyer. At just €6pp, this is definitely the cheapest way to reach the port as it is a fair distance, over €100 in a taxi I believe. I would suggest you leave plenty of time to get to the station and find your train as Termini is very large and can be quite stressful if you leave it to the final minutes like we did! Other than our time keeping, the process was easy and if you have the time, it's definitely worth doing to save on the taxi fare. Just over an hour later and we were there; ready to meet our home for the next 8 nights.
Lined up next to Norwegian Cruise Lines and Pullmantur vessels, there was no mistaking the Star Flyer, standing taller than the rest, but in every other way the most petite and elegant ship in port. Her four masts standing proud as guests look up in excitement before boarding the ship. The fruity welcome cocktail is always appreciated, especially after the train journey we'd had, so we happily drank ours before the seamless check in process which didn't last longer than 3 minutes, eventually being shown to our cabin.
Cabin 309 is a category 2 cabin on the Clipper deck, a spacious cabin with a porthole, marble lined en-suite shower room and plenty of hanging space for our clothes. All the cabins on Star Clippers are designed in the 1920's theme, in keeping with the rest of the ship, the nautical touches ever present, all in all, a lovely cabin. If you are sensitive to noise, you will hear the waiters setting up for breakfast each morning, so you might want to choose a cabin a little further away from the dining room if this is the case, but for us it was perfect.
The first evening on board is always special, your first few hours with fellow guests, new friendships start to form and the anticipation of the first sail away is building among the small crowd, a wonderful atmosphere.
After dinner, at 10pm, everybody gathers up on the teak decks by the bridge, the bartenders serve glasses of champagne for €7.50 up on the sun deck for this magical moment, which everyone is ready to indulge in. As the classical sounds start to fill the air and the skilled members of the crew start to pull the ropes, the sails start to rise above us as we glide carefully out of port. The champagne sail away on Star Clippers will always impress, not just the first time, but second, third, and even twentieth, as some of our fellow guests were experiencing...
An early night for us, after a busy few days, so we retired to our cabins for a long sleep, tomorrow was going to be impossibly tough, a day relaxing at sea!
We woke late, so opted for the lighter continental breakfast, available until 1130am in the Piano Lounge and enjoyed fresh pastries and coffees while we attended the safety drill and crew introductions in the Tropical Bar. After our only required engagement of the day. We then found two sun loungers on the sun deck and lazed the day away, reading, chatting, drinking and eating, a day that allows you to completely switch off from reality and relax. Watching the ropes and sails above you from the sunbeds, open ocean every direction you look from the decks, total escapism.
As I'd been on before, we were invited to the 'back on board cocktail party' hosted by the captain at 7pm that evening, we enjoyed the friendly chats we had with fellow repeat passengers, all sharing sailing stories from past trips with Star Clippers as we sipped chilled prosecco and spoke with the Captain. The sinking sun was dancing on the still blue sea making the most spectacular backdrop for this exclusive party.
After another delicious dinner, everyone gathered in the al fresco Tropical Bar for the infamous 'Star Clippers Fashion Show', mainly modelled by the crew, with occasional passenger participation. A fun show of the luxury fashion on offer in the Sloop Shop. The drinks start to flow and the music plays until late into the night, as people start to fill the dance floor and enjoy their second night on board this beautiful sailing ship...
After a light breakfast, we left the ship for a walk around Cagliari, Sardinia, our port today. We explored independently, strolling up the hill to a small piazza, the typical Italian buildings, red and yellow, but washed away from the years of wear. The wooden shutters and Juliette balconies with overgrown flowers wrapped around them, mopeds sped along the narrow streets, the old churches and cathedrals stood out in their natural beauty. We stopped for a quick drink before walking back to the ship, only spending an hour or so soaking up the town, which was very quaint and pretty, certainly worth a look around!
Back on board, we enjoyed the French lunch buffet, before once again retiring to our favourite spot on deck, ready for our first daytime sail away!
After dinner, the ever competitive 'Music Quiz' took centre stage in the Tropical Bar. Two teams formed, one on Portside and one Starboard, ready to battle it out during several rounds covering a variety of music genres. The energy and fun that this provides is fantastic, and always culminates in everybody dancing the night away... Another perfect Star Clippers evening!
This morning we sailed into Trapani, on the west tip of Sicily. We didn't dock until 1pm so everyone was able to spend the morning at leisure, relaxing on the deck, eagerly watching the officers at the bridge expertly guiding us into our next port. During the hours at sea, there are usually several different nautical activities offered to guests, such as mast climbing, water aerobics or interesting lectures in the library, this week by a lady called 'Renate', a specialist in archaeology.
Once alongside, and after a delicious 'deck lunch' we took a slow walk into the quaint town of Trapani. Again, a really typically Italian town, with several Piazza's, famous statues, stunning architecture and endless Vespa’s filling the roads. We walked north of the port, through the narrow streets, and found the other side of the island, a small beach area. There were people swimming and hand gliding from the beach, but we'd forgotten to bring our towels forcing us to admire from a distance, before finding a cute Gelato parlour for a compulsory ice cream stop. Italy is, of course, famous for its ice cream and in my opinion, the smaller towns and villages do it best! Always try to find a small shop, slightly off the tourist track, for the best original Italian ice cream - simply delicious! We paid €4 for two massive ice creams, so the prices were really good too. Walking back to the ship we ventured past a few local restaurants where the food looked out of this world. Huge plates of fresh fish, the largest prawns I'd ever seen and tempting pasta dishes with the wonderful smell of garlic filling the air. The prices were more than reasonable, with main courses for around 6 euros, I would recommend eating lunch in Trapani next time!
Back on board we were slightly delayed leaving, meaning we had to miss today's sail away to make sure we were ready for dinner, but we spent the best hours of the afternoon up on deck still, indulging in the cocktail of the day of course, and chatting to fellow guests about their experiences of Trapani that day - it seems to have been a hit!
Down at dinner, we perused the tempting menu, which if you wanted to, would allow you to enjoy a 6-course al-a-carte meal every evening. We usually opt for 3 courses, a bottle of wine and an espresso to finish the evening off, before heading back up to the bar for the light hearted and low key entertainment on offer. Tonight was slightly different as we had chosen to sign up to the 'stargazing' at 11pm, hosted by one of the officers at the bridge. The night sky is lit up by thousands of stars, with no other light apart from the natural skylights shining down on us, as the various constellations were explained to us all and tips given on how we can see a shooting star. Everyone was looking up in wonderment, a really special experience and a wonderful way to spend an evening.
Sunday saw us arriving alongside in Porto Empedocle – Sicily. The cruise director had given some information the previous day at the ‘port talk’ but had indicated that unless you were doing the excursion, it might not be worth getting off the ship, as this was a very industrial port, and not particularly pretty. We stayed on board for lunch, and considered staying on the decks, but feeling the weight of our waistlines we decided a stroll around was required! Not expecting much, we began walking slowly out of the port area, which was indeed very built up and quite unsightly. We wandered only for about 10 minutes, before stumbling on a quaint backstreet, just adjacent to the port, and lined with cafeterias, pizzerias and small bars. There were locals chatting in the streets, with not a tourist in sight (apart from fellow Star Clipper passengers) we were pleasantly surprised to have found this hidden haven, in ‘real Sicily’. We stopped for Italian espressos and sat with a family who we’d seen on board – they had chosen to eat lunch off of the ship every day, to get the real flavours of Italy, so were enjoying their pizzas and cold beers as we sat in the cobbled streets soaking up the ambience. Although, agreeably, it’s not the most picturesque port on the itinerary, it’s definitely worth having a look around and finding this street.
This afternoon I had booked my second massage of the week, with the masseuse up on the sun deck. There is a small tented area, with a proper massage bed, undercover from the sun or prying eyes, where you can completely relax and enjoy a very skilled massage. At just 54 euros for 60 minutes, it’s easy to see why this was my second of the week!
The evenings on board that followed, continue in a similar rhythm to that previously described. The entertainment on board is purposefully low-key and light-hearted, there for anyone that wants to be involved, but distant enough if you just prefer to sit having a drink and chatting among yourselves. Along with the Fashion Show & the Music Quiz, there was also a ‘Star Clippers photo quiz’ a skylight cinema showing the film ‘Cape Horn’ and a night of ‘Disco Dancing’.
Malta is a fascinating country, and to have the day in Valetta was a real treat. Hours could easily be spent (and were) in and out of the shops, wandering around the many squares lined with restaurants and craft stalls, much like Covent Garden in the sunshine really – but of course – it is the architecture and history that makes Valetta stand apart. We decided to take a horse and carriage to see some of the sights, haggling the man down from 45 euros to 25 euros before we started of course, so make sure you get a good price! After a relaxing 30 minute ride, taking in some fantastic viewpoints and interesting facts about the city, we searched for a local restaurant to have our first lunch ‘ashore’. I opted for the ‘Maltese Pasta’ which was delicious, and my partner settled on two very local dishes, a ‘Maltese pie’ and ‘Arancini’. All washed down with a couple of cold local beers and we were on our way again. The heat today was exhausting, so after taking the 1 euro lift back down to the port (don’t try to walk up or down in the heat!) we ran straight to the decks and jumped straight in the swimming pool!
We spent this afternoon in and out of the pool, sunbathing and reading, before enjoying yet another food filled evening in the dining room.
The following day we were anchored off Taormina – Sicily. After a short tender ride to the pier, we walked along the very busy beach, until we found a spot close to the water to lay down our towels. It was a perfect contrast to be lying on the beach, compared to the previous ports of call that had seen us walking around and exploring towns and cities on foot, to have a beach day was just what the doctor ordered. Beer o'clock soon came round, so we tried one bar, before moving swiftly on after a rather rude waitress put us off stopping for a second drink. This led us to a ‘beach club’ very close to where the tender had dropped us off, but looking to ‘exclusive’ to enter just for a drink. Hesitantly we enquired, and were greeted by a very friendly waitress this time, who invited us to spend some time on the white sofa loungers on the quiet beach, listening to their music and enjoying some beers and snacks, all just for the cost of the beers (4 euros each) which we happily did for the rest of the afternoon. The beach area here was busy with tourists, but still pleasant enough to relax, especially with the view of the Star Flyer, and her bigger sister, Royal Clipper, who had anchored nearby too.
Everyone admired the Royal Clipper from the decks of Star Flyer, looking strikingly different in appearance, her five masts, square rigged shape standing regal against the drop of Mount Etna, the sail away was totally stunning, a perfect photo opportunity to get both of the ships in the moment.
That evening we sailed through the Straits of Messina, going through one of the most narrow points of the Mediterranean, connecting the eastern tip of Sicily with the western tip of South Italy. At its narrowest point of just 1.9 miles, the scenery is incredible and makes for a very calm and serene evening on board, this was certainly a highlight of the itinerary for us.
Lipari is the largest and most populated of the Aeolian Islands, a volcanic archipelago off the coast of Sicily. As the tender brought us to shore, the stunning town before us swept me away instantly. The pretty shops surrounding the harbour, the full cafes and bars create a real buzz and the winding narrow streets take you on a maze trip around this beautiful place. It reminded me very much of Rovinj in Croatia, the short walk from the pier to the church at the top of the hill gave us the same viewpoint back to the ship as I remember experiencing on that particular itinerary before, and was just as breath-taking. We got lost in Lipari, in the best sense possible, letting our sights and senses lead the way, taking us down local roads away from the ‘tourist’ track to see the real Italian charm this place had to offer. We stopped at one of the many pizzerias and ordered two Moretti beers, and sat outside watching the world go by and enjoying the slow pace of the day, this was one of my favourite ports of call.
Tonight was the infamous ‘Captain’s Night’ on Star Flyer, meaning all of the crew looked particularly smart in their bow ties, but still, with no strict dress code for passengers, most enjoyed dressing up a little more for the occasion. The dinner was a real treat, with choices of Lobster Tail or Chateaubriand to tingle the taste buds, everyone really took their time in the dining room, which was lovely. A complimentary glass of champagne was brought to the table as the Captain raised a toast and said a few personal words about the cruise, which were very well received. The traditional ‘Baked Alaska’ dance followed, a warm round of applause for all of the crew and lots of happy faces, just before it’s time to retire to the bar for the ‘Talent Show’. Following an array of dances from Goa, songs from one of the waiters, and fun from the sports team, the disco started and the mood was high, always one of the best nights on board and certainly the latest, a great time was had by all.
Today was a sad day, it was the day we had to leave the Star Flyer. With heavy hearts, we disembarked the ship after saying our goodbyes to fellow crew and passengers we now called our friends and over the course of the last 8 nights, made fantastic memories with. We had a couple of hours in Amalfi before we left for the airport, but as we had our luggage we could do little exploring, other than to find another restaurant to sit in! I would definitely like to return to Amalfi though, the St Tropez or Monte Carlo of Italy, the dramatic coastline so often seen in films and travel programmes does not disappoint when it comes to life before your eyes. It was expensive, however much more so than the smaller islands and ports we’d been used too, but it is to be expected in certain areas. We sat with a Peroni as we watched the Star Flyer gracefully set sail and make way to her next destination…