I have been on a lot of cruises and cruise ship visits, but this was different. - The chance to cruise on a traditional clipper ship, Star Clipper. I started with no pre-conceived ideas and great excitement!
We flew to Nice and took the short transfer to Monte Carlo to board the ship. On arrival, a lovely treat, a helicopter flight over the principality of Monaco and our first sight from the air of Star Clipper. The ship was actually dwarfed by a couple of privately owned mega ships, clearly enjoyed by the mega rich of Monte Carlo. With its huge masts the ship shone out with a look of total class. After our 10 minutes of excitement in the air we landed and transferred to board the ship.
The ship was not as large as I was expecting (It takes 170 guests). We and all the other arrivals are greeted with cocktails in the Tropical Bar. This area would be a firm favourite by the end of my stay. The ship is almost exactly what I was expecting aboard, classic teak finishes and a real homely feel. This is not mega luxury cruising but instead an authentic cruising experience done in the traditional way. My cabin was a mirror of this, teak furnishing and an average size, which was fairly irrelevant as we spent 90% of the time on land or on deck.
Our late evening departure from Monte Carlo was one of those "you had to be there" experiences. They played Vangelis's Conquest of Paradise as the crew hoisted the sails and we departed with the booming music and sails and a backdrop of the lights of Monte Carlo. Just wonderful. Dining aboard Star Clipper is a relaxed, no-fuss experience. Dress code is smart casual, open neck shirts for the gents and smart blouses or dresses for the ladies. The food was a À la Carte choice every night with a pasta or steak option always available if there was nothing you fancied. The food was excellent throughout, rather like the cabins and decor of the ship. It is just a sideshow to the overall experience. I loved the permanently available coffee station. All the passengers, who simply help themselves and then go and lie on a sunbed on deck, be it morning noon or night, heavily used this throughout the cruise. That really sums up the Star Clipper experience. Lie under the stars with little noise except the occasional flap of a sail as we carve through the seas of the Med.
Our first stop was Calvi in Corsica. I had been to Corsica before but not to this part of the Island. It was a mirror image of what I experienced before, with stunning scenery as we made our way towards the harbour and a real traditional harbour lined with bars and restaurants, refreshingly full of as many locals as tourists. It was a lovely afternoon looking across to our gracious floating home moored just out at sea. An excellent start to our trip!
The passenger mix on board was an interesting one. This was a late season sailing and the average age was around 65 with the bulk of the passengers from North America. A younger and more European clientele is found on the high season sailings. With open seating at dining and a small number of passengers you soon get to mix and know fellow guests. The number of returning guests was amazing and an excellent endorsement for the ship. Like all cruise ships, we had a cruise director and were very well looked after by Anna. She had a good few years’ experience of Star Clipper despite her young looks. Again, like so much of the "experience" the entertainment was very basic and homemade. When I say the first night’s entertainment was the guests and crew showing of the Star Clippers merchandise in a fashion show and the second night was Pictionary, it sounds very naff, but trust me, it kind of works!
After more food, banter with fellow passengers and Vangelis we set off on our way to St Tropez.
This is probably the one disappointment of the trip and nothing to do with Star Clipper. Saint Tropez seemed to me overrated, the weather was overcast so maybe it was not at its best, but the main harbour with the usual selection of mega yachts seemed a bit tired and appeared to me to be living on past glories. It was not for me, Puerto Banus seems to be classier and polished, but perhaps that's me. The day still had some highlights with the opportunity to climb the main mast of the ship. An amazing number of 70 plus people made their way up the rope ladder to the first platform - good for them - and it was worth the effort, not an experience you will do everyday. The ship sailed at 11 pm so we planned to give St Tropez another opportunity to impress at night, sadly the wind got up and we thought a very rocky tender could be a bit much. The ship tendered in all ports we visited but, with such a small number of passengers and 1/2 hourly shuttles, this was never a problem.
More Vangelis, more sail raising and we are on our way again. Sanary-Sur-Mer, our next stop, sounds somewhat like Weston Super Mare. Let’s wait and see. I’m pleased to say that Sanary-Sur-Mer was a real surprise. Beautiful, quaint harbour, bars, restaurants and lots of people parading up and down, a truly vibrant little place and a notch or two up from St Tropez. Well worth another visit. We took an escorted tour organised by the ship taking in an old town and concluding with a tour of a winery and wine tasting, a must in this part of the world. All were done well with the aid of an expert guide.
Our last night’s entertainment was line dancing but sadly slightly rocky conditions rendered that impossible, although it might have helped my rhythm! This was a really interesting trip. Not what I expected at all. It suits a certain type of client and suits them very well. You really can relax and watch the wind in the sails and chill. Is it for you? Call me and we can discuss it!
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