A Clip Trip To The Caribbean - Dani's Blog
28th March 2014
UK Account Manager Dani, was lucky enough to head off to the Caribbean islands earlier this month, with a group of excited travel agents from Virgin Holidays. Here, she tells us all about it in her Leeward Islands blog..!
It's only ever acceptable to set your alarm the wrong side of 6am if it's for exotic travel purposes, and this thick foggy morning at Gatwick was one of those days...
An excited group from Virgin Holidays (12 of us in total) met at the Virgin Atlantic check in desk area in the South Terminal. After introductions, we proceeded to bag-drop and clear security.
We were lucky enough to experience the V Room, a modern, spacious lounge specifically for Virgin Holidays customers. Here you can enjoy an abundant breakfast, from continental to eggs benedict with fresh coffee and pastries… delicious! This haven away from the hustle and bustle of the airport allows you to relax in comfort prior to your flight and take advantage of the free wifi for that last opportunity to make your Facebook friends jealous before take off! You can add the V Room on to your Virgin Holidays package for £22pp, but some packages include it automatically!
The Upper Class Experience with Virgin Atlantic is a superior one in every sense. The mood lighting throughout the cabin illuminates the individual suites a chic purple, the jewelled surroundings offer a funky yet classy ambience, and the glass of London Black Label served in a 1940's style champagne glass transports you back to the Great Gatsby era. And this is all before take off..!
The delectable menu, the huge array of current entertainment, the impeccable service, the fully flat beds with duvet and pillows, oh and the flight bar are just a few of the reasons you might choose to fly upper class with Virgin, the perfect way to start your special holiday.
Arriving into Antigua totally refreshed, the heat bounced onto us as we stepped down the staircase inhaling the beautiful Caribbean air... There is no better feeling.
Our transfer took around 20 minutes, a cold glass of champagne awaited. The Verandah Resort and Spa was our hotel for this evening.
After an informative site inspection, I learned that this beautiful, family orientated all-inclusive resort has well earned its 4* status. A great choice of formal and informal dining options, two great beach areas and excellent kids club facilities are offered here, with spacious bedrooms and seaview balconies; what's not to love?
We spent the evening relaxing by the bar, sipping on cool cocktails and listening to live Caribbean calypso music - poolside. Fellow guests were dancing and drinking together with a real sense of 'community' surrounding the resort. It had been a very long day, so I happily retired to my king-size bed for a good nights rest, our flight to St Maarten awaits tomorrow...
After a great night’s sleep, I watched the sun rise over the Caribbean sea from the comfort of my large balcony whilst enjoying a strong coffee before meeting the rest of the group for our transfer back to Antigua airport.
The Liat flight service between Antigua and St Maarten is daily, so you could extend your stay in Antigua for as long as you wish before hopping islands to join the Star Clipper. After a mere 30 minute flight we touched down in St Maarten, an island divided between the Dutch and the French - an affluent paradise with an array of designer shops, gourmet dining and charming hotels nestled on sandy beach coves. This was my first visit to St Maarten and it won't be my last...
We had a site inspection and lunch arranged at the Grand Case Beach Club, a very high 3* hotel located on one of the most spectacular beaches I have ever seen. The modern, newly renovated rooms and suites would be more suited to a 4* label and the beach bar and grill provided a breathtaking setting for a casual yet delicious lunch. I would highly recommend this hotel for a stay before or after your cruise.
On our approach to Phillipsburg harbour, the big cruise ships were visible for miles, but elegantly standing tall were the 4 masts of the Star Clipper - standing out in a different way to the others with her hundreds of ropes rigged to the masts and unique aura radiating class, this was a real ship in every sense, a ship that makes jaws drop and causes people to stop and stare, our exclusive yacht-style cruise awaited us.
After a simple check in procedure we were welcomed on board by the captain himself, who shook the hand of every guest embarking the vessel, a real personal touch. A cold and refreshing fruit punch cocktail was handed out in the al fresco tropical bar whilst piano melodies were played by the ship’s musician and afternoon tea was served. What an excellent way to start our Caribbean cruise. We spent our first hours on board up by the pool on the warm teak decks, looking up in awe at the magnificent structure of the ship, soaking up our unique surroundings for the first time; whilst sipping on our celebratory drinks of course!
An informative lifeboat drill for all passengers commenced at 18.45 which also provided the opportunity for the cruise director, Matt, to introduce himself to everyone. This took place in the Tropical Bar so flowed freely from the ship safety talk in to pre dinner drinks; the ultimate relaxed atmosphere that Star Clippers is famous for was in full swing.
Six fine courses were served to our table from the a la carte menu. I started with a salmon tiramasu, cleansed my palate with a watermelon sorbet and for the main event, perfectly-cooked lamb with fresh vegetables and mashed potato - divine. The house wine is very reasonable at 15 euros a bottle, sauvignon blanc was the white option and merlot for the red drinkers so everyone was happy.
Tonight's entertainment was the sailaway itself, set for 10pm, everyone gathered by the bridge, champagne in hand, eagerly awaiting our departure from St Maarten. As the classical, haunting, dramatic sounds of Vangelis filled the air, crew and willing passengers alike began to pull the ropes whilst the rest of us watched in delight as the billowing sails slowly began to rise above us. We gracefully edged out of the harbour with nothing but the open sea in front of us. This experience is very unique to Star Clippers and no matter how many times you are lucky enough to witness this, it never gets old...
Tonight, we sail towards Nevis…
The gentle lapping of the Caribbean sea is the perfect melody to sleep to on a clipper ship; so peaceful and comforting, the perfect night’s sleep is created.
Our group met for breakfast around 8.30am in the dining room where a choice of continental and full English breakfast is available, as well as the omelette station of course. Tea and coffee is served to the table, but the food is buffet style for the first meal of the day. You can dine from 7.30am - 10am for the main breakfast, or the 'early bird pastries' can be enjoyed in the piano lounge until 11am.
The sun was shining brilliantly up on deck, so we set up camp by one of the two swimming pools and lazed around for a couple of hours making the most of the welcome sea breeze as we glided in to Nevis.
Our midday arrival came around so quickly and half of the group took the first tender to the shore to do the 'rainforest hike - flora & fauna' shore excursion offered by Star Clippers. There is usually a choice of 2 - 3 excursions daily ranging from €40 - €100pp depending on the length and if lunch is included etc. The rainforest trek was about 3.5 hours in duration and cost €46pp. Those who did the trip came back satisfyingly exhausted, after a six mile uphill walk through beautiful surroundings on the island of Nevis. They saw two monkeys and various other exotic animals, cashew nut plants were a highlight for them, a very unique sight!
The other half of us went ashore to the town as the ship was not offering a beach tender today. We took a taxi to a nearby beach for $6pp and spent a blissful two hours lying by the sea listening to the local’s Sunday reggae party, a real Caribbean experience.
All back on board for the magical sail away moment, today in daylight, which is excellent as you can really see the intricate work that goes into this process by the skilled crew - fascinating. As the warm sun began to disappear behind the coral horizon, the sails of Star Clipper dominated the ocean once more, making its way to Dominica, our next port of call.
The Tropical Bar was the meeting point for pre-dinner cocktails once again. With everyone in high spirits from the day with glowing sun-kissed skin, we made our way to the dining room for our a la carte silver service experience, which never disappoints. If nothing takes your fancy on the evening menu, you can order our sirloin steak instead, I opted for this choice tonight and it was delicious. Other dishes tonight included spicy pork, sole fillets and cream of asparagus soup, there is always plenty of choice.
Tonight's entertainment was the Star Clipper Fashion Show, which involves the crew sporting items from the Sloop shop. Crew clothing, beach wear, souvenirs etc. Guests are welcome to get involved and a few did this evening, to whoops and cheers from the rest of us. This low key and light hearted activity is the essence of these sailing ships and creates a friendly and fun atmosphere each night. After the show, more cocktails were ordered, music was played, the dance floor was full and the ship came alive!
Most guests retired around midnight, which was our queue for the next unique experience to Star Clippers, sleeping under the stars. We grabbed our duvets and pillows from our cabin, found a cluster of sun loungers up on deck and settled down to sleep. After a short time chatting about our amazing day, we let the stars capture us and the waves rock us to sleep, unbelievable!
Today we arrived in Dominica, to a tiny harbour only accessed by smaller ships, offering a tender to the beach with a full service of our complimentary water sports or a choice of shore excursions - something to please everyone.
Before we docked, we had the amazing pleasure of meeting Star Clippers flagship, Royal Clipper. The 5 masted square rigger looked impeccable and regal as she made her approach towards her little sister. With the sun glistening off the sea and shimmering in the sails, the two sailing ships came together and sailed elegantly in harmony towards beautiful Dominica. This is a real highlight for guests and crew alike, with everyone gathered up on deck for the event taking photographs and admiring the beauty of Royal Clipper from the decks of our own ship, truly breathtaking...
After a quick bite to eat at the Caribbean themed lunch buffet, the majority of our group met by the gangway to embark upon our shore excursion for the day, 'river tubing'! After a colourful 45 minute drive through towns and villages we arrived at the top of the river stream, excited for the adventure. With our life jackets on and our hard hats in place we were all provided with a large rubber ring/doughnut to sit in, and we were off! The gentle current sashayed us along the river with the lush green hills towering over us each side, the surroundings were idyllic. Every now & again there was a small rapid, speeding things up a little and injecting the adrenalin element in to proceedings; a great experience and one I would highly recommend!
We got dropped off at the beach and soaked up the rays for an hour before taking the last tender back to the ship, a perfect way to round off our active day.
Another beautiful sunset sail away today, enjoyed from the deck with a glass of prosecco, which at €3.50 a glass is a very reasonable celebration drink! After dressing for dinner (casually of course) we met again for an aperitif in the Tropical Bar, along with the rest of the guests.
Dinner was delicious as usual, we usually went down around 8pm but you can dine anytime between 19.30 & 10pm whilst enjoying the relaxed dress code and open seating policy. I personally only managed 4 courses tonight, but some of the group devoured 6 courses again (a personal challenge I think). All satisfied we headed up to the bar once again for the music quiz!
Teams were formed at all corners of the bar and we eagerly awaited the first question. A good mix of general knowledge, music and sailing trivia was used allowing everyone an equal chance to win some points. It's amazing how competitive the atmosphere becomes, such good fun. The winning team were rewarded with a glass of champagne each, so well worth taking part.
Dancing under the stars continued as laughter filled the air with old & new friends sharing stories over a few night caps. The warm Caribbean breeze was present as always and the gentle journey towards Illes des Saintes was well underway...
One of the many fantastic things about a Star Clipper cruise is the 'off the beaten track' tiny islands that we visit, which big ships simply can't access. On this Leeward Islands itinerary, we call at Illes des Saintes, a small place just off Guadelope with a French colonial history.
After breakfast, we took the tender to the town. A beautiful, quaint, pretty, colourful village lining the most picturesque harbour scattered with yachts and fishing boats; a real gem. We meandered around the narrow streets for a couple of hours, on a mission to find some pirate items for the night ahead on board...
One refreshing drink later, we took the tender back to the ship to enjoy the deck lunch. This makes a nice change to the dining room buffet, allowing guests to sit at the tropical bar or up on deck whilst enjoying their lunch, al fresco!
We collected our beach towels, re-applied the sun cream and took our third tender of the day, this time to the beach. A completely deserted, tiny yet stunning beach, totally exclusive to Star Clippers. It's days like these you appreciate being on a smaller ship so much, to visit parts of the world that airlines or even ferries don't access, its like being on your own private island.
The watersports team worked hard all afternoon, with guests paddle-boarding, water skiing, kayaking and taking exciting zodiac rides. To have all of this as complimentary is a real bonus, especially in the Caribbean where you can readily take advantage of them.
A few lazy hours later it was time to head back to the ship for our 6pm sailaway.
Tonight was 'Pirate Night' on board the Star Clipper and our group went all out to get involved and dress up. We had bought parrot toys, swords and crabs from the town earlier in the day. We made eye patches and bandanas with fake anchor tattoos drawn on to look as piratey as possible! It's not mandatory to dress up of course, but it's great fun making the outfits and creates a great atmosphere for the rest of the night. After dinner, the games begin. Frog racing, drinking games, darts and ping pong were just some of the games we played, with most passengers getting involved (and competitive again), everyone was having a fantastic time. As the theme was pirates, the rum punch was flowing all night and the music played until 1am, a real party atmosphere tonight, a great day & night had by all...
To experience your own slice of life in the Caribbean, just like Dani, call us today on 0845 200 6145 and book your tall ship cruise.