Review of the Star Clipper

Following is our review of the July 30, 1994, sailing of the Star Clipper, which was chartered by Bare Necessities of Austin, Texas, as a nude cruise. For comparison, this was our 14th cruise overall, first on a sailing ship. The ships we have sailed previously are: NCL's Seaward, Sunward II, and Norway; Carnival's Celebration and Fantasy; Regency's Regent Sun and Regent Star; Princess' Crown Princess, Costa Classica, Dolphin's SeaBreeze and OceanBreeze, and Cunard Crown Jewel and Crown Dynasty. This review will be focussed mainly on the cruise experience in general, as opposed to a critique of Bare Necessities charter operation.

Boarding the Star Clipper was kind of a strange and wonderful experience for Eric and I, used to lines of 800-1000 people and 8 different lines to choose from to check in, etc. Our porter took our bags right up to the ship and we gave our names to a guy standing on the pier, who checked off our names and told us to climb aboard! We were greeted on the gangplank with the one and only obligatory picture for the week from the ship's photographer. (One guy and very low key, by the way.) Upon climbing on deck, we were handed free rum punches to drink and informed that we would need to check in in the Library to receive our keys. While milling about once onboard, I met up with Ray, a friend that I had corresponded with here on $P$ for a couple of years. After letting the line die down a little (it was probably 15 or 20 people long, and we were already not in the mood to rush for anything), we checked in, signed up for the on-board charge and were escorted to our cabin by one of the cabin stewards.

Upon arriving at our cabin, we had one of those truly religious experiences that I thought I had gotten past in cruising---the "OH MY GOD", when I saw how small the cabin was. We had cabin number 125, which is a fairly standard outside, I suppose, although most of the rooms are kind of irregular in shape. We had booked that cabin because it is a 3 person cabin and I thought it might be a little larger. I have a really hard time judging the amount of square feet in a cabin, but it had to have been well under 100 square feet. The bed was a full size bed (certainly not queen). The free floor space consisted of about 4 feet by 2 feet beside the bed, plus the hallway beside the bathroom, which led to the outside hallway. Actually, the storage space was very adequate for a 7 day cruise, especially since there are no dress-up nights on this ship. There were 3 closets from floor to ceiling--1 with all shelves, 1 full length hanging and 1 with half shelves and half hanging clothes. There were also two large drawers under the bed for storage. We actually did not use all the storage space. There was a TV, radio, and combination safe in our room.

According to the brochure, I don't think that all cabins had a TV, so I presume maybe the inside cabins don't have a TV. Selections on the TV for the week were usually pretty sparse, usually just a movie on either one or two channels. Usually the movie was not too recent. Shampoo, conditioner and bath soaps were provided, but no lotion. I noticed this deficiency, since I obtained a fairly decent sunburn one day while snorkeling and Eric had managed not to put any lotion in the suitcase!! Some cabins had refrigerators, from what I heard from some other passengers. I presume those are the deck cabins. We snooped in through the windows of the deck cabins and decided that they were not that much larger and certainly not worth the extra money, with having to keep your blinds on your windows shut all the time also. Star Clipper's brochure is exceedingly BAD about describing what amenities are available in which rooms. There were two bottles of water in the cabin upon embarking. We opened and used one of them. I presume that we were charged for them, although the Star Clippers' billing system for drinks is so generic that you could not tell whether we were charged or not.

Around 5 P.M., a local steel band played on deck for a couple of hours. Unfortunately, we did not know that this was going to be the ONLY live steel band music we would hear for the week. Hors d'oeuvres were served on deck every day, ostensibly from 5-7 P.M., although it usually ended up being about 5 to 5:45, as they would run out of food by that time and not bring any more out. Hors d'oeuvres consisted of fresh vegetables and dip, cheese cubes, and about half the time, a hot item. The spread seemed nice on Saturday, but by the time Friday came, and they brought out the SAME vegetable tray and the SAME cheese cubes again for the SEVENTH time, it was time to go home!

We had thought that we would be sailing around 11 P.M., but that time came and went. The hotel manager was pacing looking over the rail and asking whether someone had called the airport to see if the last airplane had landed on Antigua or not. One couple had not appeared, but we finally set sail around 1 A.M., without them. As we sailed, a fabulous full moon could be seen rising over the cathedral on the hill above the ship. A beautiful picture which I regret not getting my camera out of the cabin for.

A word here regarding the itinerary for Star Clipper. Since this was a charter, the Clipper did not sail to its normal ports. The Clipper normally does an alternating itinerary, sailing north of Antigua, then south, on alternating weeks. The brochure leads one to believe that the itinerary changes from week to week. Apparently this is not true, according to Joel, the third mate. He told me that the itinerary is normally exactly the same ports of call every week, to the point of monotony, according to Joel. For the crew, I could certainly see where such continuity would be boring. However, for the cruise passenger, it makes for more surety when planning a cruise vacation, if particular ports are important. At the end of the week, Joel asked us how we liked Union Island. We had enjoyed it very much and told him so. He said that he would like to go there more often instead of going to Tobago Cay almost every time. He said that he would talk to the captain about going there more often, which wouldn't be hard since it was very close to Tobago Cay.

There was NO ice bucket in the room upon embarkation, which would turn out to be one of my pet peeves for the week. We did not have any open liquor in our cabin, but especially this trip, since the tap water was normally pretty warm, I often wanted to have some ice water, especially just prior to going to bed. You could always get ice water from the bar, but it seemed ridiculous to have to travel to the bar to get ice water. I asked about an ice bucket the first day, and no one seemed to know where I could get one. I then called the purser's desk the next day, who told me I should go to the bar to get one. I went to the bar to get one that day, and made the mistake of assuming that my cabin steward would refill it the next day. Well, not only did he not fill it, he TOOK it. I waited a day or so, thinking he would bring it back, filled, but no luck! I then had to go back to the bar and get another one. I fixed him after that, though. I HID it in the morning when we left the cabin, so he wouldn't take it. It's a sad state of affairs, when one has to hide the ice bucket from the cabin steward. This was the only area where I had any complaints about the cabin steward. I was going to have a talk with the hotel manager about it, but didn't get around to it. We heard from our friends the bartenders that there were an extraordinary number of passengers onboard for the week who had brought their own liquor and that several people had come to the bar wanting ice for their coolers! I presume that they were just running low on ice for the week, but the situation should have been handled at the "cooler" stage, not by having the room steward scarf up MY ice bucket!

Because it's not a huge ship, water was in much shorter supply than we were used to. The shower and sink were fitted so that you had to physically hold the handle down to continue to get water. Not necessarily a problem with hand-washing, but it made the shower interesting sometimes. One afternoon the ship ran totally OUT of water. We came back from one of the islands and were trying to take a shower to get the salt off and nothing came out. Water was restored within a couple of hours.

Related to the question of water, I suppose, is the question of towels. Not unlike our cruise on the Norway in August 93 (although I guess the situation is different now, with the new ondeck personnel that NCL has), we got TWO beach towels in our room each morning and that was it. None available on deck. We were very glad that we had taken along our own from home. And, unlike most large ships, there were no supplies of beach towels available by the gangway as one left the ship.

The Star Clipper, carrying only 180 passengers maximum, has no use for large public rooms. Public rooms consist of the Library, the Piano Bar, the Restaurant, and the main situs of the action on the ship, the Tropical Bar. The Tropical Bar is outside, although covered by an awning. It and the Piano Bar are connected. Music and entertainment were generally held on the deck between the Tropical Bar and the Library. Neither the Library nor the Piano Bar (although beautifully furnished) saw very much continuous use, as most passengers congregated outside. There is no outside restaurant on the Clipper and no tables for eating outside, except two (bar height) tables beside the Tropical Bar. Continental breakfast and late night snacks (usually limited to egg rolls or something similar) were served in the Piano Bar. Otherwise, one must go to the dining room for food. There are two pools, but no gym, no whirlpools, and no casino. Everywhere throughout the ship, from all the window casings around the deck cabins and public rooms on down, there was continuous use of brass (and brasso!!) and lots of mahogany wood. The ship is easily one of the more attractive that we have sailed.

Dress code for a normal week on the Clipper, according to the printed information which we got in our cabin, was that men were expected to wear long pants in the dining room, and no wet bathing suits in the dining room anytime. Apparently no formal nights, ever. I don't know whether the requirement for long pants for the men in the evening is normally enforced or not. My suspicion is that it is not.

We had not expected too much with regard to the food and we were still disappointed. The dining on the Star Clipper is on an open seating basis, which meant that there were not two seatings for dinner, and you could sit with whomever you liked. But on our trip anyway, you were expected to come to dinner at the appointed time, and those who didn't got really poor service. Having never been on a ship with one seating before, I don't know whether this is normally the case or not.

Breakfast was always buffet in the dining room, plus an abbreviated continental breakfast--OJ, sweet rolls, coffee and some assorted fruits, in the Piano Bar. Breakfast in the dining room consisted of assorted fruits (watermelon, NOT pineapple), with no bananas until Thursday, when mangoes also appeared. There was generally oatmeal every day, plus scrambled, hard and soft boiled and pan-fried eggs, plus omelettes. Unfortunately, the omelettes always had odd ingredients--like shrimp one day, black olives one day. There was generally pancakes or french toast most days. However, they were always very dry. There was always bacon, but the bacon appeared of a cheap variety, and it looked like they fried the whole pound together, as you would try to get one or two slices out of the warmer, and ended up with 6 or so, as they stuck together. Most days there was either ham or sausage in addition to the bacon. Some mornings there was corned beef hash and some mornings there were hash browns. There was juice, cereal and danish every day, croissants most days, although as a person who loves a good croissant, these did not qualify. Overall, breakfast was nothing to write home about.

Lunches were better than breakfast. Again, all buffet, with nothing available in the Piano Bar or up on deck. I considered this to be a major deficiency, that there was no food topside and no real place to eat topside. Of course, no grill for hamburgers and hotdogs either. Lunch generally consisted of a lettuce salad, plus around two other salads, 3 hot entrees, 2 vegetables and 3 desserts, plus cheese. Iced tea and water were available. For the most part, food at lunch was very good, although we did miss that hamburger up on deck that we usually have.

Dinner was served from a menu, except on Friday night. Dinner provided several choices--i.e., you could either have the appetizer, OR NOT. You could either have the salad, OR NOT. You could either have the soup, OR NOT. There were generally two choices of entree, although there were one or two nights in which there was a third choice of entre. There were usually 3 desserts, plus cheese and 2 or 3 kinds of ice cream. Coming from our background of extensive cruises on big ships, we were not satisfied with the choices for dinner. Quality was generally good, although we certainly had nothing that was particularly memorable.

Service in the dining room was not good. From our information, apparently the ship does not normally sail full and the ship was full the week we sailed. I would assume, therefore, that there were probably NOT additional waiters onboard for our week. I would hope that we received a lower level of service than the norm on this ship. Otherwise, I could not imagine that anyone would recommend it. We often waited long periods of time after we had our menus for the waiter to take our order. We waited much too long between courses, considering the limited menu selections. Water glasses and iced tea glasses were often ignored. We basically gave up on getting coffee WITH our dessert, instead of after, after the first day. We gave up on coffee altogether after the third day, as it just took too darned long to be served to worry about getting coffee. The bench seating at the sides of the dining room has to be used very infrequently. It is impossible for waiters to serve a party of six at those tables, without handing food to passengers. If the ship is under sail, any amount of heeling over makes it very difficult to get in and out of those booths. I would assume that, for the most part, that seating is not often used for more than 2 or maximum 4 people, unless the ship is absolutely full, as it was for our week.

The bar service, including in the dining room, was excellent. There are no separate wine stewards on the Clipper and the regular bartenders just serve in the dining room. The cabin steward generally did an excellent job, with the exception of the ice bucket problem. Being a much smaller ship than any we had sailed before, the staff and officers were much more approachable, and several of the officers would often sit in the Tropical Bar after their shifts. The bartenders would also sit with us at the bar after last call, and shoot the bull.

As was often my custom, I spent quite a bit of time Monday night up on deck in the area of the bridge. The bridge on the Star Clipper is open all the time, provided you don't get in anyone's way, of course. Then, if the ship is sailing into a harbor, you must stay clear, but otherwise, you can go in at any time, which is really neat. All areas of the deck were also open to the passengers during the day. At night, the area forward of the bridge is off limits to passengers, because it's very dark up there and reportedly someone fell and injured themselves and sued the Clipper for an injury.

Joel, the third mate, was usually on duty in the evenings till around midnight or so, and Eric and I both had several interesting conversations with him. It seemed to us that Joel ran many of the sailing operations of the ship. We often saw the captain asking Joel questions regarding particular ports, and we wondered how long this captain had been with the ship. During one of my late night conversations with Joel, I told him that it looked like to me that he ran the ship, for the most part. His response was "not hardly"--implying that he wished that he did run the ship, of course. Joel was very candid over the course of the week, and being a very candid person myself, I enjoyed that. I could tell that he had a real love of sailing, and loved watching the night sky aglow with stars. I could tell he wished that the itinerary of the ship was more fluid from week to week, so that the ship really could travel under sail most of the time.

The Star Clipper's promos seem to indicate that the ship sails under sail for 80% of the time. We probably did have at least one sail up for that percentage of the time, but for at least 60% of the time, the ship was under both engine and sail. Our cabin was on the bottom deck and toward the rear, although certainly not all the way aft. We had what I thought was an awful lot of engine noise. The only other passengers that we talked to regarding the engine noise were also on the bottom deck, and most of them further aft of us. They all indicated the noise was much more than they expected. I would be interested to know if the noise is as loud on the top deck of cabins. When the ship is under sail, there is often a fairly pronounced heeling over. Depending on which side of the ship you are on, your window may be constantly under water, which is kind of an eerie experience. A fairly decent reason to book on the next deck up.

Monday night was, I believe, the night of the "great egg roll caper". The midnight snack on Star Clipper was almost not worth being called a snack. They generally had ONE item of hot Hors d'oeuvres in the piano bar from around 11:30 to 12:00. There was usually some fruit there 24 hours a day, plus coffee 24 hours a day. No iced tea available 24 hours, though. Anyway, on Monday night, the snack was egg rolls, which were OK, not great. Eric, Rob (the photographer from ASA) and our single lady friend from Texas decided they would try some egg rolls and decided that they were not edible. They started pitching them over the side. Made a game of who could make the most complicated shot and still get the egg roll over the side. Well, it was pretty funny that night, after about 5 drinks of 20 year old rum and coke!

Tuesday evening brings up a subject which I haven't mentioned to date, and which, along with the food, was a major disappointment for us--entertainment. As I mentioned at the beginning of this epistle, there was a steel band on board when we boarded the ship--the only one we would see all week. The entertainment for the week consisted of this one guy who played keyboards (music mostly popular with the over 50 set), a passenger and staff talent show one night, horse racing and bingo one night (and the bingo was even cancelled for lack of interest!), CD's played on deck from around 10 to 12:00 P.M., at which time even that shut down and everybody went to bed. TV carried usually one or possibly two movies at a time, most of which were either fairly old, or I had never heard of them before.

Most evenings we just sat around the bar and drank. We made some good friends at the bar--bartenders Lawford, Agus, and Jeff (who came on the ship with us--boy what a first week!!), but our bar bills were out of sight! To give them credit, as Jeff explained it to us, drinks on Star Clipper are designated as "HH"--short for "heavy hand"--meaning, no weak drinks on Star Clipper! I normally drink Bacardi Black, which they didn't carry, but they did carry a Bacardi Reserve, which they served to me with about an inch of coke in, and kept me pretty happy and fairly trashed for the week! Eric and I, a single woman from Texas and Rob (the ASA photographer for the trip) closed up the bar on most, if not all, the nights onboard. Come to think of it, I think we missed one night, as on Wednesday night, I think, we crashed early. Otherwise, Eric, if not always me, was around for last call. Can't say that's something I would care to repeat again--couldn't afford the bar bill!

Tuesday night I got bored and decided that I wanted to watch a movie in my cabin, namely, The Fugitive. We had seen it only once and I decided it was better than sitting in the bar again. The movie was supposed to start at 9:00 P.M. and I turned on the TV around then--nothing on, just a blank screen. I waited somewhat patiently till around 9:15 and decided I would call the purser's office and find out what the heck was going on. Dialed the number and the voice on the other end said "Bridge here, third mate Joel speaking!" I felt about two inches tall, apologized for dialing the wrong number, when Joel told me that the purser's office closes at 7 or 8 P.M. and he wanted to know what I wanted. Still feeling very small, but wanting to see that scene where the bus crashes again, I plowed on, telling Joel I had been waiting patiently for my movie about 15 minutes. Joel told me that it had been happening a lot lately, that movies weren't on time, and he'd see what he could do about it! About 15 seconds later, "VOILA!", the Fugitive. First (and probably LAST) time I ever called the Bridge on a ship to gripe about the movie!

Thursday was a day "at sea", even though we were actually anchored for a large portion of the day off Guadelupe. Thursday was probably our favorite day. Early in the morning, several of the scuba divers had taken the scuba boat for a dive off Guadelupe, and so we had to stay in that general area for the day, part of the time under sail and part of the time anchored. Several months before, Eric had seen a note in one of the cruise books we had read, that Star Clipper often does photo shoots off the ship. That is, they put passengers down in a tender while the ship is under sail and allow the passengers to take pictures. This is really the only good way to get good pictures of the Clipper, as she doesn't look at all the same when she is not under sail, and obviously the sails are down when she is in port or anchored. Eric and I are very avid photographers, especially ship photographers, so we were determined we would do this if at all possible.

Sizing up the ship when we first boarded, the Clipper seemed to be the type of ship that you have to ask for what you want, and if you bug them enough, they give you what you want. Therefore, during the course of our several discussions over the week with Joel, we would often mention that we really would like to do the photo shoot. Joel told us that it really had to be somewhat optimum conditions, as the tenders could only travel around 5 knots, I believe he said. With all the sails up, unless there was almost no wind at all, the Clipper would just sail away from the tenders, which wouldn't work at all. Joel said that they tried it one time with the sails up and the engines running IN REVERSE, to keep from running away from the tenders, and decided that the engineers of the ship wouldn't be too happy if they found out what they were doing, so they didn't try that anymore!

On Thursday fair winds were with us, as they announced with almost no warning (many things on the Star Clipper seemed to be without much advance notice--i.e., that the tender was alongside and we could disembark, etc.), that all who were interested in the photo shoot should meet by the stairway. Having waited for several months for this moment, I was right there. I had been taking some pictures on deck and kind of waiting around, as they said that they probably would be doing the photo shoot and I didn't want to miss this. I didn't see Eric anywhere and I wasn't about to wait for him, when he finally showed up. Thankfully, he not only had the video camera, but some extra film for my 35 mm camera. We were in the first of what was ultimately three tenders full of picture takers. The video, as well as the still shots we took that morning are about worth the price of the trip by themselves. We are planning to get one of the shots blown up for my kitchen wall, which is getting fairly full these days of shots taken FROM various ships and OF various ships.

After returning from our successful photo expedition, we did some serious relaxing, took in some lunch in the dining room, and spent an hour or so relaxing in the nets at the bow of the ship. It's really beautiful, lounging out there, especially while the ship is at sea. We watched preparations for the swimming expedition, and saw the captain walking around muttering about how he didn't like it. In the afternoon, the ship tied about 20 of the floats from the ship to a rope and floated them in the water, and allowed the passengers to walk down the stairs and jump into the water by the side of the ship. It was great! Our cabin happened to be right by the stairway down into the water and Eric took a couple of really neat shots of me and our friend Ray, waving through the window, prior to jumping in! Of course, Eric had to be a show-off, so when I told him that everything on my raft was perfect, except that I had no drink, he proceeded to swim from the ship over to my raft, holding a (plastic) glass of wine. What a guy! Then, of course, he had to swim back and pick up HIS glass of wine and we both drank to a wonderful day! We learned later from talking to Moonlight, the crew member generally responsible for disembarking the ship (swear to God, his name really IS Moonlight!), that they had not allowed swimming off the side of the ship in the past four months. Ray told us that one of the guys he knew had been working on the Star Clipper folks ever since getting onboard to allow us to do that. It was really great. Some of the folks even took their snorkeling gear to go take a look at the bottom of the ship and the prop. I wish I had worked up the energy to do that.

Upon returning to the ship, after taking a quick shower, we started that horrible task of packing for the return trip. We then headed up on deck and came in in the middle of a talk by Joel on the subject of sails. We were sorry that we had missed the beginning of the talk, as it looked really interesting. Joel is an interesting speaker and seemed much more relaxed than he had been earlier on in the week. I think it was at least partially because he knew that Wednesday and Thursday had gone much better for everyone than the beginning part of the week, and the crew have to be happier when everyone is not running around bitching.

Overall impressions--We had a wonderful time, as we always do at sea. Would we do it again? Probably not. However, the sailing experience on the Clipper is something that cannot be duplicated on any other cruise with the possible exception of Windjammers. The feeling of laying out on the netting while the ship is under sail is a unique experience that should not be missed. The picture of the Clipper at sea under full sail is one I will not forget for a very long time. The amount of interaction with the staff was a refreshing change. The level of service in the dining room was not acceptable on our cruise, hopefully because the number of waiters was not sufficient to handle a full ship, which they don't normally have. Variety in the food offerings at dinner was also not acceptable. Entertainment was basically non-existent. Information regarding the various ports of call was also non-existent, although this may have been a function of the fact that it was a charter for the week. I'm glad that we went, although I probably would not go on another sailing ship again, unless I win the lottery and sail on the WindStar. Any questions????

Eric and Carol in Virginia

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