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John Bradford

Age: 55

Occupation:Retired - Former TA

Number of Cruises: 12

Cruise Line: Star Clipper

Ship: Royal Clipper

Sailing Date: n/a

Itinerary: Southern Caribbean

Summary: Big sailing ship - not a hotel. With all the trimmings of a cruise without the annoyances. Biggest sailing cruise ship in the world - certainly bigger than any plying the Caribbean waters or the Med. A visual feast with five very tall masts, more sails than you can ever name - and almost always under sail.

High quality appointments, cabin fixtures, and materials throughout. Very pleasant crew, enough food - well prepared - to keep us alive and happy. Rides the waves like a sailing ship - not bumpy, not flat, not boring. You're here to sail but not to fear for your life.

Ship Data: You can get the exact details from a travel agent, the company, website

Compare it to other sailing ships or steel cruise ships: 429 feet long, masts almost 200 feet high, 54 foot beam (width), 56,000 square feet of sail (a typical cabin on a cruise ship has 140 square feet floor area.) Includes 26 square sails, 12 staysails, three jibs, a spanker (?) and wires/ropes/stuff that look like a movie set.

5061 tons (GR- which I think means displacement, not weight)

20 knots top speed at sail (that's very fast over 4-6 foot swells - feels great!)

Uses two motor launches (lifeboats) @ 150 pax each.

This ship has stairs (lots of them), no working elevator, three wetting pools (hardly for swimming), more open deck space than 5 cruise ships, lounge chairs enough for two Shriners' conventions, and a nice quiet "public" rooms and areas to hide with a dirty novel. The cabins - even the basic ones - are very well appointed, attractive, and roomy.

The whole place feels pretty upscale but you don't find yourself wishing you brought your tux or tiara.

Who's Who: Pax capacity is 228 . We carried less to make space for engineers from the shipyard finishing some little shake-down items. The ship is fairly new (July, 2000) and mechanical tweaking of A/C and electrical was ongoing.

The passenger mix was US, UK, Germany, Canada, and others - in proportions probably 50/20/20/10 (%). All adults - save one perfect 8-year old. Southern Caribbean (r/t ex Barbados) We are spoiled from many trips to the "perfect weather and the beauty" of the nations of the Caribbean. But we liked most of the ports chosen. Fortunately, sailing was often during the day not just at night. The distances covered were a moderate haul - we could have gone further easily except on those days sailing against the wind where distance vs time is pretty low.

At most ports, we parked offshore and used the tenders to land. It works very well and seems no concern if you've got both legs and reasonable function. The marketing lingo of Star Clipper leads one to expect unique landing or beach parking sites. This ship is too large to sneak into some swimming holes. But it certainly comes near shores easily.

Although Windstar and other "sailing lines "ply these waters, it was clear in most ports that the size and unique qualities of the Royal Clipper earned admiring gazes of many folks on shore. That certainly added to our enthusiasm as we came ashore - until we realized we left our VISA card and Lomotil on board.

(None of these islands made a scene about immigration/customs, etc., except Antigua, which sent aboard about nine goons to "clear the ship". For those of you who haven't read about Antigua, it is the domain of a family who has "governed" without interruption or serious opposition since Columbus came thru. The island is hospitable and predictable - but you can understand that certain folks are employed in jobs that may not have measurable impact on the community, if you get my drift.)

The Crew: A wonderful mixture of nationalities of very pleasant men and woman who are relaxed, polite, and obviously satisfied to work on this vessel. Many eastern European men are in the deck crew.

Officers were not easy to place by source - except Captain Ulrich Pruesse, who was born in Hamburg and "lives" in Newport, R.I. He's sailed since 1954, joining Star Clippers in 1991. He is animated, outspoken, smart as a whip, boisterous, charming, and a joy to watch. He likewise loved an audience and loved his ship. For most, his positive energy was contagious. To some, he was overbearing. But he spent most his time on the bridge (which is always open to visitors.)

If you like to watch and listen to a pro drive this monster, you could linger and enjoy. If not, you have 50 acres inside and out to do otherwise.

The Cabins: They're great! They are not Seabourn - and they're not Carnival. They're clean, well decorated, comfy, and have adequate space. Lots of wood (ersatz) and classical-looking materials. Marble (real) in the bathroom. Storage adequate, not great. Doors solid, quiet. Rooms sound proof - except in some when the anchors come and go, or the power grinders help with the sail lines. (Well, it is a sailing ship, not a Hyatt.) Carpeting galore. Nice nautical colors and patterns. No neon. No "art".

TV ran text news - sometimes. Movies played in English, French, German - at odd times. (Brad Pitt as a British Royal speaking French is enough to make you get back up top to watch the sails.)

Public rooms: Nice variety - exterior very free form, interiors like large living rooms. A comfy library with a faux fireplace (very odd.)

A forward room called the Observation Lounge that few people use - requires great strength to open the two horrendous wooden doors. Contains a few computers (apparently broken) for Internet use (big deal.) Also holds pre-port talks for those who want to know which straw hat vendor to use. This room seems to transfer the maximum effect of the ship's pitching and rolling - I loved it but one would not do brain surgery in this room. We attended one talk - my wife inelegantly tipped as she landed on her chosen chair, knocking over the person adjacent, who did the same to his neighbor, who tipped the next, etc. Like the dominos chain.

It may explain its empty aspect all week.

Downstairs, somewhat up front, you can descend to Nemo's Lounge. But it's not a lounge as was planned. Now it's the "gym" and a beauty salon. Imagine, a sailing ship with those silly face treatments and expensive goo to save your youth. There's a steam room, I'm told. And wall hanging pictures of half-naked models with perfect skin that suggests the results of your $400 seaweed and mud pack face wrap with toe massage. I can't believe this goes on a ship like this - but now you know.

We also found exercise machines, including some treadmills and a few stainless steel devices from the Inquisition. I was able to contain my exuberance.

There were, as advertised, three or four underwater portholes ! A great idea. Except in day you can't see much. At night you'd need outside lights, which are installed - but nobody knows how to turn 'em on. Oh well, nice thought..

We can not always believe those marketing brochures.

Upstairs (above the water line) is a very nice and quiet inside room which is really just a large space with couches, chairs, coffee machines, a bar (never opened) and a piano (seldom played.) It surrounds the "atrium" - another touch from the "big iron ships" that has debatable aesthetic value.

The dining room is the lower level of the "atrium" - the piano bar above being the top. The dining room (which is not named after anyone or anything) is wonderful and skillfully plotted to handle everyone at any time. The galley (and dishes, serving stations) seem to be miles away - so it's quiet, odorless, and sometimes a little wait for the groceries. The tables, chairs, portholes, and decorations are very nice.

A bar and covered deck area (where we embark and disembark) were nautical and nice. Passengers loved the antics of two green parrots who joined the trip and wandered on foot out of their cage, hoping to find somebody to bite. They were beautiful, funny, bright, and completely unmanageable. The story is the line owner acquired them to train and later found out they were five years old and meaner than Ross Perot.

The top deck is the best - huge, all areas open. Features big things which help the ship sail - like masts, lines, machines, gadgets, chains, and a sewing machine (usually stowed) that could stitch up the Grand Canyon. All teak-like decking, abundant benches and things to sit on or lean against or lie on. Visibility from the deck is 360 degrees with no air conditioning boxes or cranes blocking your view or your movement.

The pools are wet - one has a glass bottom. To say more would be hyperbole. I never saw anyone go in any pool - except me. I like to float in water that's floating on a ship that's floating in sea. It's comfy - if you like salt water.

There's lots of room to stand or sit by the bridge area - there's great high platform to stand like an Admiral and study the horizon. Looking back over the deck, even the slightest roll of the ship is magnified by the 200 foot masts - this thing is an engineering marvel that must be seen to appreciated. We heard it cost $65 million to float it - that may be low.

Forward (in front of) the bridge area is more deck space - open for business. And beyond that (even more forward) is some tight netting that hangs out over the water under the bowsprit. (That's the stick thing that points ahead of the ship.) You can get out on this net - there's room for a brigade - and ride (dry) above the waves just ahead of the ship as it cuts thru the surf. It's very safe but may require acclamation by the sissies among you.

Food: There's a lot of it. The variety at breakfast and lunch buffet each day is amazing. You won't starve - and only Martha Stewart would grumble that the snails were not perfect. (There were no snails but you could have anchovies as big as a pencil on your salad - exciting, yes?)

Breakfasts had all the normal crunchy stuff plus oatmeal (never saw it eaten.) A nice chef with stove top cooked eggs any way/any time/any amount you like. There were a million others thing but my God, it's breakfast - relax a little.

Lunches had lots of greens, lots of cheeses, lots of noodle things, lots of fruits, lots of desserts. And many hot dishes, meats, and leftovers. Just like home. The buffets at lunch and breakfast were a visual success per my wife who looks at food while I prefer to eat it.

Dinners were very nice - usually the a la carte menu items were good quality or better. Not always. The menu was not four pages like on Cunard. If you want quail's nest soup, bring it from home. Desserts and other things you don't do at home were very abundant and satisfying. I adored the tapioca - apparently without consensus from anyone else.

Noticeably and thankfully absent are idiot ship photographers, the useless maitre-'d, and the sommelier pushing outrageously priced Gallo slush. There is a wine "specialist" - but no pressure.

This ship doesn't do saturation bombing with 50 pound lobsters and caviar. But the fish, fowl (a huge duck was seen) and meat (lamb was offered, thank God) items were usually fresh and of good quality, well prepared. The veggies were terrific and all the other things you need were good. Fresh pineapple and fruits that come from every island with sunshine - nobody could guess mangoes from plantains.

The service was sometimes a little slow - many passengers agreed the staff was light in number and showed inexperience. Nobody starved or withered away - but we expected a little crisper level of table service. Sometimes getting coffee, tea, cream and sugar, or more water became a chore. I think this ship is a little fancier then other Clippers and also full of new staff.

The line is still working out the operational bugs. (For example, our cabin's mechanical troubles took 3 days to be fixed - I had to aggressively stay on the management to get the help.)

Sports The ship has a platform off the back (the stern) that lowers into the water. The ship comes apart - and a float platform, with room for 40, becomes a dock in the water (when the ship is parked, thank you.) You can swim off that - I did. They launch some scuba and snorkel adventures off that. You can grab a little sailboat and embarrass yourself in front of other passengers. Or you can kayak - which looks less comfy than sitting in dentist's chair.

In most ports, there are easy ways to get to "the beach" - sometimes right off the platform. You can borrow (for free) all the snorkel and scuba gear you need. It's well organized.

Shops The a desk where the purser lives has get toothpaste, lighters, and any combination of hats and shirts with the ship's logo. No emeralds, no booze, no art, no

nonsense, no discounts. Little Switzerland is not represented - how sad.

Tours Couldn't comment. We didn't take them. Seemed moderate and well-planned. Tour director was professional and thoughtful - not a shill for the line's treasury.

Major pros: Ship is stunning and sea-worthy - and truly sails (by hand, not computer.)

Plenty of space, beautiful fixtures and decorating. Well planned.

Passenger count and socialization, if desired, is very satisfying. "Intimate" is not the perfect word, but the idea works.

Major cons: None. But you must know difference between sailing this ship and floating on a cruise ship. This ship sails. Some may wish they were back in the Waldorf.

Compares To no ship at sea - it surpasses other "sailing" cruise ships that are upscale because those ships are silly engineering games with metallic sails or sails that are moved by computers. The Royal's sails, while lowered and raised with power aids, are set and "trimmed" by the Captain and his crew for maximum efficiency. And in size and material, this is closest to what were true sailing ships of the 19th century - the way people and goods moved between the hemispheres.

From the pricing and outfitting, you will expect to see folks who might otherwise ride Princess or HAL ships. This is not the Carnival crowd - no, we ain't got fun, fun, fun.

This is a cerebral crowd, usually sober, bored with slot machines, and thankfully past the stage of wearing baseball caps (backwards), tank top shirts, or nose rings.

References: Ocean Navigator, Nov/Dec.2000, Issue # 110, Navigator Publ, Portland, ME

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