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Jose Sa

Age: 41 to 50

Occupation:executive

Number of Cruises: 2nd Cruise

Cruise Line: Star Clipper

Ship: Royal Clipper

Sailing Date: n/a

Itinerary: Western Mediterranean

Let me congratulate Star Clippers for this new sailing ship. Its beauty is absolutely beyond any comparison. Everywhere we went on our seven days cruise there were people looking at the ship with envious eyes.

I booked this particular cruise first of all because of the itinerary, secondly because on our route there were several places that seemed to be beautiful and remote and finally because of being in a true sailing ship.

However let me tell you that sails are more for cosmetic purposes rather than for sailing. Sails would be lowered whenever we were leaving our ports of call, so that we could do it majestically and in grand style. Just as soon as land was out of sight we would proceed with engine power. On the third day of our cruise we really sailed through an entire afternoon but our speed was so modest – slightly above 5 Knots – it would have been impossible to get to the next leg of our journey in time. I have to admit the weather during our cruise was always excellent and that captain Lickfett always got us to the different ports of call within the timetable that had been previously established.

On the second day of our cruise, well before the 24 hours required, all passengers attended the life boat drill, after what the captain gave his welcome speech. He invited the few children on board to seat around him on the floor and began to speak in a calm voice inspiring know-how and extreme confidence often ornamenting his speech with jokes. All of a sudden and with no interruption in the flow of his words, his voice had begun to sound strange and unintelligible. A disturbing and continuous stream of blurting sounds was by then coming out of his mouth. Astonishment and perplexity assaulted my mind. I began to feel restless for the man we had in command. The sudden laughs of a group of German passengers by my side made me realize captain Lickfett had switched languages. He was speaking his own to ‘the large number of passengers from Bavaria’ as he would say frequently. He preceded with his short speech switching constantly and imperceptibly from English to German and back to English, saying that there were 15 different nationalities of passengers on our particular cruise and that the bridge was opened to anyone wanting to know more about sailing. Understandably during docking and undocking he would invite people to clear the bridge with subtlety. I still here him with his paused voice: ‘Ah! I see there a lady who thinks she is a pilot’.  Finally he made the presentation of the other officers calling their names, saying their place of origin and praising each one. He would do it the same way a vain father presents his sons. In fact I left this cruise with the feeling that all the crew made a good job.

I must tell you that the Royal Clipper is not intended for ordinary cruisers. I admit I have myself an odd personality. As a consequence the perspective of things I consider interesting and significant may not have any meaning to other people.

THE SHIP

The Royal Clipper was operating with its full capacity that’s to say around 228 passengers. It is not intended for shoppers, as there is only one shop selling items suited to make an offer to someone back home, neither for casino addicts as there is no casino. As far as I’m concerned it suits me as I do not loose my precious money and even more precious time with such childish frivolities. I do not need much for a good vacation. A nice uncrowded place on the open air, a good book and a screwdriver by a side table are plenty enough. There is very good entertainment however. The sea around you provides it all.

The inside of the ship is very elegant, comfortable and roomy. Never had we the feeling of being cramped. One of the most interesting features is the platform on the back of the ship that could be lowered to the level of the sea. It allowed us to get in and out of the warm baths of the Mediterranean waters. It was also very useful for the different sport activities offered on board. Who minds if the three pools on the sun deck are undersized if we had all the sea to swim. The library was one of my preferred places. It was furnished in Edwardian style and with a nice fireplace while useless in August. I would like to have a library like that back at home. Unfortunately the shelves of this superb library were empty except for a half of dozen of low qualities novels. Such a place deserves at least one or two good encyclopaedias and a good assortment of charts. I can however understand that people on a cruise are not always very cultural oriented. The dinning room and piano bar are very elegantly decorated, with natural lighting coming from the glass bottom of one of the swimming pools. The observation lounge was bland. The sun deck is an excellent place to spend time even if near the bar it was sometimes smelly whenever the cooker was preparing meals three decks below.

I had a class 2 outside cabin. It had a nice classical decor and two portholes. It was fitted with TV to view films, an in-room safe, temperature control and satellite telephone. The bathroom was also elegant with marble all around and on the floor. The shower however was too confining and only suited for children up to 14 years. The cabin was quiet but I must tell you I was far from the main nuisances of a ship such as the kitchen, the engine and even further away from the exhaust system of the engine, by the way very ingeniously placed on the top of two of the ship five masts. I never heard my neighbours whether they were very silent or the cabin had good soundproofing.

The ship seemed to be very stable but I really don’t know what would have happened in rougher seas.

THE SERVICE

I booked myself this cruise for me as for other members of my family, including my two nieces, 10 and 13 years old. The girls shared a cabin. We were six. The other cabins of my family were on a lower deck (class 3). Apparently they had the same size and amenities. I was led to the conclusion that there is no point in choosing a higher class if you have enough mobility – no lifts on board - and the few extra steps are no problem.

My stewardess did a very good job. She would clean up very efficiently the cabin every morning. I’m very rigorous with hygiene mainly in bathrooms still I noticed it was always thoroughly cleaned. From the forth day on, if one cared to examine more in detail, some more remote areas of the cabin – the frame of the painting on the wall, the light bulbs or other more out of sight spots – it was possible to find an extremely thin layer of dust. Once more I admit that I’m myself to blame for taking notice of such insignificant details. While we were dinning she would return to prepare the beds for the night, sometimes she would leave a chocolate on the pillow and lightening on the bathroom and on the bedside reading lamps would be turned on. If necessary wet towels would be changed. During the all week I found her very often on the corridors, always busy but smiling and saluting, consequently should I have needed her assistance she would have been readily available. The other members of my family who had other stewards were also satisfied.

My favourite meals were breakfast and the nice snack served in the afternoon. They were close to excellence in what concerns taste, variety and presentation. Fresh fruit, salads and other crudities that I consider should be consumed on a daily basis were in good supply. For lunch we had always an assorted buffet even though some of the cold plates kept coming back for several days. Dinner was served a la carte and consisted of an appetizer, soup, the main tray, salad, an assortment of cheese and dessert. The appetizer the main tray and dessert had at least two options. Presentation was excellent but the taste quite a few times was a little bit on the pepper side, even soup and salads were often peppered  – not to the taste of everyone and certainly not mine. In general terms lunch and dinner pleased the eye but not the palate and even if I’m neither a gourmet nor a gourmand I had higher expectations. The wine list was appropriate and with a wide range of price. An early sleeper like me never attended midnight buffets.

Dining room service at breakfast and lunch was good and the waiters kept coming to take care of our refills of water or ice tea, they were also attentive with the girls frequently taking care of their particular needs. Dinner however was quite a different matter. Star Clippers operates open seating policy and dinner was served from 7:30 PM till 10:00 PM. Still service was so slow that it was common to be seated for two hours just for dinner. We were kept waiting between one tray and the other for an excessive length of time. Twenty to twenty five minutes between the soup and the main tray was common. Waiting for dessert was also exasperating. Fifty minutes was our record and on that particular dinner by the time we got our sirloin we were already in the late stages of our digestion. One of my nieces was already sleeping head against her mother’s shoulder. Another day we decided to have dinner later and arrived at the dinning room at 9:15 PM. Unfortunately there were no tables left enough big to accommodate the six of us. It would only be possible to accommodate groups of two in different tables. As a consequence the adults couldn’t have shared a bottle of wine.  We got finally a table enough big ten minutes later. As the kitchen closes at 10:00 PM we had quite the opposite feeling of the previous nights, and were positively rushed through the entire meal. This did not prove to be the right solution mainly because we had to stroll around the deserted ship for quite a long time before getting seated even though we were starving.

We did not dare to call the attention of the waiters as they were constantly running back and forth to the kitchen, balancing huge loads of dishes between the narrow alleys. The number of seats in the dinning room is equivalent to the capacity of the ship in passengers. I was led to the conclusion there were too few waiters or the kitchen was not able to provide dinner for every passenger at the same time. To worsen things on two different occasions I noticed there were tables reserved. The program of our first day clearly stated that no table reservations could be made. Service during dinner was obviously the major drawback of this cruise. I believe that on the cruise market, competition is tough. I red reviews of Star Clipper’s main competitor, Windstar Cruises and on this point of view Windstar’s reviews were flattering.

  The night prior to disembarkation we were docked in Monaco and as a few passengers decided to have dinner out, the waiters were less stressed and had enough time to talk with us. We were told that their team was to be reinforced. This means the problem had already been detected and they were trying to fix it. Therefore I can anticipate that by the time you read this lines the problem will no longer exist.

The silverware on dinning tables did not include forks or knifes for fish. Every low class restaurant in Europe provides them. Chatting with one of the officers on the tropical bar, we were told that such silverware was largely unknown in the United States a country where a large number of passengers usually come from and they did not want to embarrass them. Should any other European passenger had access to this explanation, he would have found it inconsiderate from Star Clippers for taking in consideration only a part of their clientele. Since we were always in European territory it would have been advisable to include such features on the tables. As for American passengers or any other passengers, landscapes, culture and behaviour of other societies are all part of the fun of travelling.

Due to the reduced number of passengers, embarkation was swift and disembarkation even more. I had a slight problem upon disembarkation with the transfer I had pre-arranged myself before the cruise. Fortunately the representative of Star Clippers in Cannes was extremely helpful.

In such a cruise, tender service is particularly important as the Royal Clipper was almost always anchored off the places we were visiting. There were no long waits and no tickets to be collected for the tenders like in big cruisers - an advantage of small ships like ours. The tenders were designed in a way that it was also possible to get in and out of them on places with no port facilities like a beach. The bottom of the tenders are for that reason rather flat and as a consequence, the trail of waves left by other passing boats would make us waltz. On those occasions the girls were extremely amused, other senior passengers however were much less thrilled. In one occasion when the RC was anchored off Bonifacio and the sea was a bit rougher than the usual a senior passenger in panic made a dangerous jump from the tender to the platform at the bottom of the gangway. The tender had not yet been properly docked to the platform and the crew was in the third attempt to do it. The tenders seemed to be difficult to deal with but one could see the crew assigned to them was extremely talented. Occasionally we would arrive at our destination slightly wet. It is advisable to choose the back of the tender to seat. It would be also prudent to provide the tenders with the appropriate features to prevent passengers in panic to make dangerous moves.

Finally let me tell you that the ship was very clean. Wherever I went during the day, there was always someone cleaning or polishing whatever there was to be polished. Maintenance on the sun deck however was very difficult specially because there was still some work being done by the crew. The ship was new and I noticed there were some features on the final stages of completion - some parts of the ship had not yet been varnished.

THE PEOPLE

It’s useful to know what breed of people we are likely to find in a cruise and eventually identify ourselves with that group. In a small ship, faces become easily familiar. The atmosphere on board was informal.

I spotted on this cruise a young couple and they seemed to be honeymooners. However their behavior did not fit into the patterns of honeymooners. The bright color of their skin, eyes and hair made me recognize them as northern Europeans. One day, they sat in a nearby place in the tender that took us from the ship to the marina of Porto Cervo. They exchanged few and brief words. Still I could not identify their language. They were from northern Europe though probably not Scandinavia. During the cruise, never have I witnessed a kiss, a caress, a smile even a slight touch of hands. Eye contact only occurred during the brief dialogues. Should anyone ask me if the Royal Clipper is a good place for honeymooners, after what I saw I would be inclined to answer no. The seriousness of their faces never gave way to any symptom of happiness. On second thoughts however, the close presence of the sea, not so easily perceptible in huge cruisers with exaggerated number of entertainment, the wonderful sunsets, the easily observed full moons during that particular week and its delicate lightning, the particular concept of sailing of this ship, all seem to be prone to romanticism. I’m now led to the conclusion that the cold nature of peoples of northern Europe would never allow that young couple to express in public even the slightest sign of love. Yes, I’m convinced this is the right place for honeymooners.

It’s very unpleasant to deal with wild children, travelling on a cruise. One must not forget that such children are the result of unfitted parents. There were no children falling into that category on our cruise and even if there were unfitted parents they were enough clever not to bring them along. On our particular cruise I remember a large family from Sweden the core of which was a senior gentleman who was travelling with sons and grandsons. I could read on the eyes of that particular gentleman how pleased he was when seated on the sun deck playing a game of cards with the youngest of his grandsons. He would say to the other passengers nearby in a laughing and proud voice: ‘when I play with him I’m always loosing’. The young boy was also extremely excited to have all the adult’s attention focused on him. Thus, providing you give children the attention they need and not abandon them to their will, the Royal Clipper is perfectly suited for a family to spend a few relaxing days. Even if there were no special programs for kids I never noticed any signs of boredom on the faces of the few children on board. Adolescents however would prefer the company of other people of their age.

Children even gave their contribution to the entertainment shows. Speaking of which, we were offered one every night. A group of singers was brought one night from Corsica. It was my favourite performance. On another night the crew gave their contribution with unexpected skills. There were other shows I did not particularly enjoy, but they seemed to be well accepted by the other passengers. Although not disposing of the means generally offered by huge cruise liners, our cruise director proved to be resourceful and accessible.

I have to say that I witnessed manners that I consider unexpected in such a place. The dinning room of any restaurant or cruise is the ideal place to study people and assess their upbringing. I wouldn’t like to flatter myself, but I can do it just looking at the way people eat. Do they make exaggerating noise when eating soup, do they take food into their mouths with knifes instead of forks, do they gesticulate with the silverware in their hands. This and other less perceptible signs are symptoms of careless upbringing.  Well, the dinning room and the long waits we endured provided me with one of my favourite diversions – study of people behaviour. I noticed one night a middle aged ‘gentleman’ sitting for dinner his shirt with loosen buttons and exhibiting the curled hair of his chest. My sister-in-law called my attention to a ‘lady’ in the same table with fancy dress, jewels on her neck and expensive wristwatch who decided to clean her teeth with the tips of her nails. I heard them speaking, and they had British accent, citizens of Her Majesty. Who would say! Would they have sons? What values were they able to pass to younger generations? I spare you other unexpected details of human behaviour I witnessed during that week while sited in the sun deck my eyes concealed behind my dark sunglasses and a book with a title no one could read in front of my face. It’s very important yet that you understand that I’m not trying to insult those people but rather to demonstrate what you are likely to find on board.

When I first turned over the pages of the prospectus of Star Clippers, I saw pictures of happy and sophisticated people. I was intimidated and began to wonder if once on board I would identify myself with that fauna. It turns out now that I’m more sophisticated than a considerable number of people I met on board. I had made an error of judgement. When I looked at those pictures my eyes saw the appearance and missed the essence. A lot of that people have the means but not the manners. The manners can’t be the object of commercial transaction. Whether one is provided with them during childhood or one missed them for good.

The purpose of the last paragraphs is an advice to people considering booking a cruise. If you examine the prospectus do never get intimidated by what you see. Reality is often different from what we would expect. Rely on the advice of other people who went through those experiences.

ITINERARY

In what concerns the itinerary I was personally less pleased with some aspects. I got to see Corsica quite well and it’s definitively a place to return to. I had higher expectations for Sardinia but we made only one stop at Porto Cervo a place whose infrastructure was developed by the Aga Khan foundation. I’m personally convinced this name was the main key to include the place in our itinerary. At least Sardinia deserved another stop like we did in Figari beach in Corsica. Back home, whenever people ask me how did I find Sardinia I have to tell them that I have not seen enough. Elba island, an historical site where Napoleon was forced to live in exile after is first abdication was worth while as was Portofino. Finally, Monaco is intended for those who like casinos and gambling. I have myself been in some casinos but not Monaco’s, and have lost money. It was nevertheless an inspiring experience. I won something much more precious. Wisdom. Plenty enough not to gamble ever again. If you are in need for it, go to a casino in Monte Carlo. Once back home you could praise yourself in front of family and friends that you won such preciousness in such a glamorous place – a unique experience. Be aware the ritual requires that in such places attire is important. Shorts and polo shirts are out of the question in opposition to the informal ambiance of the Royal Clipper. Otherwise Monte Carlo is packed with tourists, there are traffic jams, breathing on some less windy roads becomes difficult because of exhausts from cars and the place has too many skyscrapers – a true forest of concrete. It might have been interesting some decades ago. A visit to the region around it, ‘Les Alpes Maritimes’ as the French call it would have been much more adequate as this region has breathtaking landscapes. Star Clippers provided excursions around Monte Carlo and one of them included a flight in helicopter - expensive but maybe worthwhile.

However I do not think that Star Clippers should include this stop in the itinerary. It can be reached before or after the cruise by anyone staying in Cannes – less than an hour away by car – and be visited in a more thorough way. If Star Clippers is determined to include it on this route for commercial reasons, quite a lot of passengers are, as to say hypnotized by the name Monte Carlo, it would be more advisable to make the start of the journey from here and skip Cannes. I don’t see the point of having in the itinerary a place so close to starting/finishing place of the cruise.

I can’t quote on the shore excursions. Should I make the same journey again I would most definitively had tried one in Elba and in Monaco.

LAST WORDS

As an advice let me tell you that not a year goes by without a new cruiser being launched and that they are every time getting bigger and bigger. Bare in mind however that this happens for commercial purposes. In such places passenger expectations are processed as a big computer processes huge amounts of data – swiftly and impersonally. It’s hard to find the feeling of being close to the sea, the element where we all came from. I remember the morning we arrived to Monte Carlo there was a big cruiser anchored off the port, the Grand Princess. If I’m not wrong it’s for the moment the second biggest, I can imagine how graceful and stylish our clipper would look from the bridge of that monster.

I don’t think after this experience that it is advisable to book a cruise on the first season of a particular ship. New cruisers have sometimes to undergo unexpected repairs. An example of that is the Millenium from Celebrity Cruises. Allow one year before you make any booking. It still will be a new ship and you will provide the crew enough time to make the necessary adjustments to the new demanding procedures. I can imagine that running a ship is tough. Quite frankly what’s the thrill of telling friends – I was among the first to go on that ship.

It’s now slightly more than a month that I left the south of France and the Royal Clipper. I’m back home to my daily routines. When I have the time to relax, I lie back, close my eyes and listen to music, another one of my favorite hobbies. I often listen to the ‘Conquest to Paradise’ from Vangelis. It was often played aboard the Royal Clipper when the sails were lowered. Flashes of those excellent few days return to my mind with nostalgia. Those days seem now like brief and precious few minutes. French have an interesting saying reading plainly this state of mind: ‘Les parfums les plus précieux se gardent dans de petits flacons’ meaning the most precious perfumes come in tiny little bottles. Should anyone ask me whether I would like to fill the scent of that ship again, the answer would be a sincere and prompt yes.

If this review did not cover every significant aspect, feel free to ask additional details.

José Sá

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