Sailing Aboard Five-Masted Royal Clipper Is Must-Sea Experience

42 sails add up to a unique experience that's much more intimate than a cruise.

September 19, 2018 5:00 am
(Sally Sorte)
(Sally Sorte)

The flap of sails in the wind. The salt sea spraying your face. The sound of the dinner bell. Sailing on a Star Clippers boat is both a modern sea lover’s dream and a return to a romantic seafaring past.

My husband and I just got back from a two-week honeymoon in France and Italy, where we spent our first week aboard the five-masted Royal Clipper. We sailed from Cannes to Civitavecchia (just outside Rome,) zigzagging across the Ligurian and Tyrrhenian Seas, making stops in Santa Margherita, Corsica, Elba, and Sardinia along the way. 

The experience is more personal than a cruise ship, and more economical than chartering a personal yacht.

Because of its size, the Royal Clipper can enter harbors that would be inaccessible to larger cruise ships. We sailed during the night and arrived at our ports each morning — anchoring in the harbor and taking a tender or zodiac to shore, or pulling right alongside the dock so we could disembark down the gangway.

The Royal Clipper

The Royal Clipper is the largest registered tall ship in the world. It is powered off 42 sails when there is wind, and has an engine to keep moving when the breezes are calmer.  In addition to the Royal Clipper, the Star Clippers company also has two smaller ships — the Star Clipper and the Star Flyer.

And we got the full sailing experience: Climbing the masts, helping to hoist the sails, taking a tour of the engine room, and learning the lingo.

Swimming off the ship’s marina. (Sally Sorte)

Honeymoon couples enjoy extra perks like a free bottle of champagne and special desserts. Star Clippers is always running deals, so when you book, keep your eyes peeled for free cabin upgrades, included gratuities and port charges, and onboard credit.

The cruise itself is all inclusive of water sports and food, but alcoholic and specialty nonalcoholic drinks cost extra. Luckily, they don’t gouge you on prices; you can get a nice glass of wine or a beer for three to four Euros.

Shipboard Entertainment

The Royal Clipper stretches longer than a football field from bow to stern, with 19,000 square feet of teak deck punctuated by three pools (both salt and fresh water). A three-deck atrium with a sunlit center through one of the pools provides an open and airy place to spend time indoors.

Watching the sunset from the deck of the Royal Clipper (Sally Sorte)

There is no shortage of things to do onboard the ship. You can steam in the sauna, book a massage, or get a quick workout in in the small gym. We never wanted for a lounge chair with plenty of deck space to soak up the Mediterranean sun. One of our favorite features was the ship marina. During calm weather, the back of the ship opens into a swimming dock where passengers can paddle board, windsurf, kayak, or float on a raft.

The Royal Clipper Dining Room with a pool above it. (Sally Sorte)

On the rare cloudy day, we cozied up with a book in the library. Each day at 5pm, the Tropical Bar hosted snacks and the cocktail of the day.

Each night offers entertainment by both staff and passengers. We “starred” in a fashion show, danced to the YMCA and Macarena, and laughed at the silly themed contests. We even performed a rousing reenactment of Summer Nights for the Talent Show.

Star Clippers Passengers

To be sure, the clientele is mostly gray-haired retirees, sprinkled with a few honeymooners and the odd young family. Star Clippers attracts a more adventurous, accomplished, and laid back personality than perhaps its more traditional cruise line counterparts.

Dinner each night is open seating, so the Maître D’ sat us at tables that spoke English so we were able to get to know our fellow passengers. More romantic and intimate dining arrangements are also possible. Many dinners included singing and cakes to celebrate birthdays or honeymoons or anniversaries.

The last night included some extra fanfare, a farewell from the Captain, and a staff rendition of “We are the World.”

The view from the ship of Santa Marherita, Italy. (Sally Sorte)

Star Clippers Crew

Hailing from over 15 nations worldwide, our ship’s staff was highly diverse. The Royal Clipper holds just over 200 passengers and a hundred crew members. With a 1:2 ratio of crew to passengers, the customer service is excellent – from the engineers to the wait staff to the cabin crew to the masseuses to the water sports team.

If you go on the Royal Clipper, be sure to say hello to Virginia in the Sloop Shop. She and her husband have been working on the Royal Clipper for more than 20 years. Virginia will coordinate the passenger and staff Fashion Show, and will suit you up in some stylish Star Clippers apparel.

(Sally Sorte)

What to Pack for a Star Clippers Cruise

For those who appreciate the art of packing like I do, here are some pointers. There is space to store a carry-on or midsize suitcase underneath your bed, and you’ll have a small closet with a few hangers for storing your clothes. Depending on the size of your cabin, you may have a dresser, but otherwise you’ll need to rely on the closet or the cupboard above the bed for additional storage.

As such, my first recommendation is do not over pack.

That said, you’ll want to bring the following:

  • Costume flourishes – Themed nights will change depending on the captain and the location, but there will likely be a Pirate Night, a White Night, and a Captain’s Night (extra dressy) while you are on board.
  • Several dresses or button-up shirts with slacks – The dress code for dinner is casual elegance, so no shorts or t-shirts or flip-flops.
  • The Basics: Swimsuits, shorts, pants, shirts, day dresses, undergarments – You’ll likely change clothes a few times per day – one outfit to go on shore, another to play in the water off the marina deck or lay in the sun, another for dinner – but there is laundry on board so you only need a few of each.
  • A warm layer & a windproof layer – I’d bring a heavy, cozy sweater and a windbreaker for those blustery nights.
  • A Hat – Great for sun or rain protection depending on the weather.
  • Water shoes – Something that stays on your feet through a wet landing off the zodiac, like Tevas or Chacos.
  • Tennis shoes or boat shoes – Close-toed slip-on shoes to protect your feet from splinters on the decks.
  • Dinner shoes – You’ll want something a bit nicer to wear on your feet for dinner. Heels are not recommended with the presence of steps, but low wedges are fine.
  • A day bag – A lightweight day bag is handy to carry your drinking water, layers, or beach things. It’s also a great place to stash your ID card, which you will have to scan when you get on and off the boat.
  • Toiletries – The ship does not sell these on board.
  • A water bottle – there are refillable stations, including ice, by the bar and in the gym.
  • Talent Show accessories – Bring anything you need if you decide to perform.
  • Reading material and any other personal comforts – Prepare to unplug and only use your phone for pictures.

A New Ship on the Horizon

Star Clippers is currently in process of adding a fourth ship to its fleet, the largest tall ship yet. Keep an eye out for the Flying Clipper, expected sometime in 2019.

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