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Both Sea Cloud ships sailing

Canary Islands and Morocco on Sea Cloud II

By Gene Sloan.

I am standing near the front of Sea Cloud II, along the teak-lined walkway that wraps around its bridge, watching a scene straight out of the 19th century.

Moving quickly to the captain’s orders, nearly a dozen deck hands are scrambling up the ladder-like “shrouds” along the sailing ship’s masts to unfurl its sails.

Canary Islands sailing cruise

The deckhands climb up the rope ladder. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Ascending high into the rigging, they shimmy along the horizontal “yards” that cross the masts with the confidence of trapeze artists, undoing the ties, known as gaskets, that hold up the giant sheets of sailcloth. They then scurry back down to the deck below and begin heaving on the many thick ropes that are used to pull the sails into position.

Canary Islands on a sailing ship

The crew shimmy along the horizontal “yards” with the confidence of trapeze artists. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Soon the massive Sea Cloud Cruises‘ vessel — four decks high and 384 feet long — catches the wind and surges forward. We are underway, sailing under the power of the wind alone.

Even for a seen-it-all traveler like me, the setting by hand of the many sails of Sea Cloud II — there are 23 in all — is an exhilarating sight. It’s also a rare one. In the (small) world of large sailing ships that can be booked for multi-day cruises, there only are a handful of vessels where the sails still are set the old-fashioned way with crew climbing into the rigging. Most large sailing ships that offer multi-day trips, such as those operated by Windstar and Star Clippers, have automated sails.

Related: Star Clippers in Thailand.

This is where the allure of Sea Cloud II begins. It is an old-style tall ship that, above all, is about an authentic sailing experience. But its allure doesn’t end there. As I saw recently on a nine-night voyage from Malaga, Spain, to Morocco and the Canary Islands, Sea Cloud II also is an elegant vessel with an intimate and upscale on-board experience.

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A THROWBACK TO A BYGONE ERA

Carrying just 94 passengers, Sea Cloud II is a three-masted barque of the sort that hasn’t been common on the world’s oceans for more than a century. Still, it’s no relic of the grand age of sail. While it’s modeled on classic sailing vessels of old, it was built just 18 years ago and features such modern comforts as spacious cabins with marble-lined bathrooms, an upscale restaurant and spa services.

The Sea Cloud II on a Canary Islands cruise

The 94-passenger Sea Cloud II tied up in Agadir, Morocco. * Photo: Gene Sloan

One of just two ships in the Sea Cloud fleet, Sea Cloud II was designed to offer a taste of what crossing the world’s oceans was like before the arrival of modern motor vessels without the hardships that were common for travelers of that era. Unveiled in 2001, it is a bigger, more modern sister to the 64-passenger Sea Cloud, a legendary sailing ship that dates to the 1930s and has operated as a cruise vessel since the 1980s.

Unlike Sea Cloud, which was created as a private yacht for Postum Cereals heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post (and was, at one time, the largest private yacht in the world), Sea Cloud II doesn’t have a storied history. But among large sailing ships that can be booked for multi-day cruises, it still ranks among the loveliest.

THE EXPERIENCE OF BEING AT SEA

If you’re the sort of cruiser who doesn’t think a ship is complete without a smorgasbord of gee-whiz amusements on its top deck — you know, go-kart tracks, zip lines and the like — Sea Cloud II is definitely not the vessel for you. Its top deck, known as the Lido Deck, doesn’t even have a pool or a hot tub.

In contrast to what you’ll find on so many recently built cruise vessels, the experience on Sea Cloud II isn’t about being amused at sea. It’s about just being at sea.

The ropes and pegs of the Sea Cloud II

A seemingly endless amount of sailing gear lines the top deck of Sea Cloud II, including heavy ropes for pulling on sails that are tied off along the ship’s “pin rails.” * Photo: Gene Sloan

The idea is to soak in a true sailing experience. The Lido Deck is sprinkled with those classic teak lounge chairs of the type that once were de rigueur on ocean liners, and the big deck-top activity is to lounge in one of them and gaze up at the billowing sails or out over the ocean. That or just drift off to sleep to the sway of the waves. During a succession of sea days as we traveled south and west along the coast of Morocco to the Canary Islands, I saw many passengers do just that.

Sea Cloud decks

The Sea Cloud II’s top deck is lined with classic teak lounge chairs facing out to the sea. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Walking around Sea Cloud II’s graciously curved teak deck, with its endless coils of rope and winches and other gear needed to operate a giant tall ship, you’ll also find crew members only too happy to explain how it all works. You even can stop in the bridge to talk sailing with the officers of the watch. Sea Cloud II operates under an open-bridge policy in which visitors are almost always welcome.

One of the things that they’ll explain to you is that, like most modern sailing vessels, Sea Cloud II has engines and a propeller for propulsion as well as sails. Under motor power alone, it can run at speeds of up to 12 knots. But it’s tradition at the line to have Sea Cloud II operate under wind power alone whenever possible. With the sails up, it can do at least seven or eight knots.

ONE NOTABLE QUIRK 

For an American traveler, there is one small quirk to sailing on Sea Cloud II. Okay, maybe a big quirk. The vessel’s operator, Sea Cloud Cruises, is a German company, and often a large percentage of the passengers on board are German.

The company markets internationally, and the on-board program, officially, is bi-lingual. Announcements are made in both German and English, and the crew easily switches between the two languages. But on sailings where only a few native English speakers are on board (as was the case with my voyage), an American can feel just a tad out of place.

A German sailing ship in the Canary Islands

A significant percentage of passengers who sail with Sea Cloud II and its sister ship, Sea Cloud, are German speakers who come from Germany, Switzerland and Austria. * Photo: Gene Sloan

CABINS AND PUBLIC AREAS    

Sea Cloud II’s cabins are notably roomy for a sailing vessel, with all but three measuring more than 200 square feet. They also are relatively well-appointed with such modern amenities as televisions with built-in DVD players (a selection of movies on DVD are available at the front desk), miniature refrigerators stocked with sodas, and personal safes. On the downside, storage space is somewhat limited, at least in the smaller-size cabins.

Sea Cloud II cabin

All but three of the 47 cabins on Sea Cloud II measure more than 200 square feet. Here, the “Category E” cabin where the author stayed, one of the smallest cabins on the vessel. * Photo: Gene Sloan

There are 47 cabins in all, including two large Owner’s Suites on the Lido Deck and 16 slightly smaller Junior Suites that fill most of the deck below, which is known as the Promenade Deck. All feature décor that draws its inspiration from the 1930s design of Sea Cloud, with classical motifs, wood paneling and, in suites, decorative fireplaces. Cabin bathrooms are heavy with marble and feature gold-plated fixtures.

Sea Cloud II cabin bathroom

Cabin bathrooms are marble clad and ornate. * Photo: Gene Sloan

As is typical with sailing vessels, none of the cabins have balconies. Twenty-seven cabins located on the lowest passenger deck (appropriately called the Cabin Deck) have either two or three portholes a piece looking out onto the ocean.

Cabins on the Lido and Promenade decks have bigger windows with ocean views. It should be noted, though, that these windows look out to the ocean across promenade or deck areas that can be accessed by other passengers. If you book one of these rooms, you may find yourself keeping your drapes closed much of the time for privacy.

Interior public areas on Sea Cloud II include a clubby lounge on the Lido Deck with brown leather chairs, an ornate ceiling and a decorative fireplace. Called, simply, the Lounge, it is the site of daily lectures and port talks as well as a venue for evening cocktails.

Clubby Lounge on Sea Cloud

The clubby lounge is the locale for daily lectures and port talks as well as a venue for afternoon snacks and evening cocktails. * Photo: Gene Sloan

The Lido Deck also is home to a covered outdoor bar area that, on all but the worst weather days, is the much-preferred hub for pre-dinner drinks. Located at the back of the vessel, it has a flat canvas roof as well as canvas siding that can be folded down on colder or rainy days.

Canary islands cruising on the Sea Cloud II

Lido deck bar area. * Photo: Gene Sloan

At the time of my sailing earlier this month, Sea Cloud II also had a cozy library at the front of its top deck with panoramic views. But it was a space in flux. A short overhaul this month will see it transformed into a new fitness center (replacing the current fitness center on the Cabin Deck).

Sea Cloud II library with views of Canary Islands

The top deck library which will soon be transformed into an oceanivew gym. * Photo: Gene Sloan

While I’m a big fan of better fitness centers on ships, this is one change that I am sad to see. That said, the moving of the fitness center eventually will make way for an improved spa area on the ship.

The current spa situation is a bit convoluted, with a sauna that only can be accessed through the ship’s treatment room. This means the sauna must close when treatments are scheduled.

ONE MAIN EATERY

As is typical for small vessels, there is just one eatery on Sea Cloud II, the 96-seat Restaurant. Located at the back of the ship on the Promenade Deck, the room offers open seating for breakfast, lunch and dinner with a mix of tables for two, four, six and eight.

Note there are just two tables for two. If you’re a couple looking for privacy, you’ll want to arrive promptly when the Restaurant opens to get one.

Breakfast and lunch in the Restaurant are mostly buffet style, albeit with high-end touches such as fresh berries at breakfast and hand-carved meats at lunch. At breakfast, in addition to such staples as scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, cheeses, fruit, cereals and pastries along a buffet, there are made-to-order items such as pancakes, omelets, fried eggs and porridge available from servers. Lunch brings about a dozen hot and cold dishes plus a soup, a sweet dessert, fruit and a cheese selection.

buffet on the Sea Cloud II

Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Dinner in the Restaurant is a table-served affair with changing four-course menus. Each night brings a single starter, a single soup, a choice of three main courses, and a single dessert. The three main courses always include a vegetarian option as well as a fish dish and meat dish, and the cuisine generally is Continental. Often the side elements of the three main courses are the same. One night of our voyage brought a choice of pork fillet, roasted gilthead or stuffed zucchini, each served with the same stirred polenta and green asparagus.

dinner on the Sea Cloud II in the Canary Islands

A perfectly medium-rare plate of venison with a celery mash, baked semolina dumplings and cooked cherries is one of the courses during a captain’s welcome dinner. * Photo: Gene Sloan

In addition, an “also available” section of the menu at dinner always offers a classic Caesar salad as a starter and a steak or spaghetti (with alternating sauces) as main courses. There are two also-available desserts, usually a cheese plate and a fruit plate.

cheese on the Sea Cloud II

The lunch buffet on Sea Cloud II always includes an array of gourmet cheeses (all labeled in German, take note), with the offerings changing daily. * Photo: Gene Sloan

In a charming Sea Cloud tradition, the start of both lunch and dinner are announced by a crew member walking through the ship ringing a bell.

the dinner bell on a Canary Islands cruise

Dinner is served! * Photo: Gene Sloan

While breakfast and dinner always are served in the Restaurant, the ship’s staff will move lunch up to the open-air Lido Deck as often as the weather allows. The dishes of the day are served buffet-style along a long table temporarily set up in front of the Lido Bar.

Buffet on the Lido deck aboard Sea Cloud II

Dinner on the Lido deck. * Photo: Gene Sloan

The Lido Bar also is where early risers will find coffee and tea. Late risers will find coffee, tea, juices, pastries and fruit either at the Lido Bar or in a corner of the Lounge. There’s also a “tea time” spread of coffee, tea, sweets and sandwiches that appears on the Lido Bar each afternoon.

ONE WAY FROM MOROCCO TO THE CANARY ISLANDS

As noted above, I experienced Sea Cloud II on a nine-night sailing from Malaga, Spain, to Morocco and the Canary Islands. The ship operates this itinerary or something similar every fall as it works its way from Europe to the Caribbean for the winter. Typically, the route includes a couple stops in Morocco and visits to multiple islands in the Canaries.

On my trip, Sea Cloud II was sailing in tandem with sister Sea Cloud, as it often does in the fall as the latter ship, too, begins a journey to the Caribbean for winter.

Both Sea Cloud ships sailing

The two Sea Cloud ships sailing in tandem. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Here, a day-by-day look at the itinerary:

DAY 1: MALAGA, SPAIN

It’s not all that common for a cruise to begin in Malaga, the southerly Spanish city known as the gateway to the sun-kissed Costa del Sol.

Malaga Spain plaza

The lovely Plaza del Obispo, or Bishop’s Plaza, in Malaga sits alongside the city’s soaring cathedral. * Photo: Gene Sloan

But it’s a fitting place for the start of a voyage to North Africa. For nearly eight centuries, Malaga was ruled by the Moors, invaders from North Africa, and the history of Malaga and North Africa are inexorably linked.

Sea Cloud doesn’t offer a pre-departure tour program in Malaga. But if, like me, you arrive in the city the night before the voyage, you’ll have plenty of time to hit the highlights on your own. They include the Alcazaba, an imposing, 11th-century Moorish fortress that was the seat of Moorish power; the colorful Mercado de Atarazanas, with its original Moorish archway; and the Roman-built Teatro Romano.

Malaga's Roman antiquities

Gene takes a selfie in front of the Roman-built Teatro Romano in Malaga. * Photo: Gene Sloan

My pre-departure wanderings include all the above plus the soaring Catedral de la Encarnacion. Begun in 1528, it offers an electric mix of Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical architecture — the result of an extended construction period that ran well into the 1700s.

Boarding for Sea Cloud II is at 4 p.m., with passengers expected to arrive promptly for a 6 p.m. departure. With just 71 people on this sailing, it doesn’t take long to get everyone checked in, and within an hour we have assembled up top for a safety briefing and introductory port talk.

Sea Cloud II about to begin a Canary Islands cruise

All aboard. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Canary Islands cruise aboard the Sea Cloud II

A Sea Cloud II staffer offers arriving passengers champagne as they first step aboard the vessel. * Photo: Gene Sloan

It is at this moment that I discover that I am in a distinct minority. A very distinct minority.

The ship’s bi-lingual lecturer, Constantin, asks how many of us are English speakers. Typically, around a quarter to a third of passengers on any given Sea Cloud sailing are Americans or Brits. But I am the only one to raise my hand. In what the crew says is a bit of a fluke, every other passenger on board — all 70 of them — is a German speaker.

“You have nine days to learn German,” the man sitting next to me quips in a distinct German accent.

As we prepare to pull out of Malaga for the Moroccan port of Casablanca, a single phrase pops into my mind: This could be a very quirky cruise, indeed.

As it turns out, the language barrier proves less daunting than I first imagine. At dinner, I pick a table for two in a corner, resigned to nine nights of language-induced isolation. But within a few minutes, the hotel manager, Rene, stops by with a surprise: A retired engineer from Munich who speaks perfect English. He’s only too happy to be my dinner companion. Like me, he is traveling solo.

Over the next few days, I will find quite a few more passengers willing to spend some time practicing their (invariably impeccable) English with a seemingly misplaced American.

DAY 2: SAILING IN TANDEM WITH SEA CLOUD

Today is a day for playing pirate on the top deck.

We had left Malaga with our sails tied up, operating on motor power alone. For safety reasons, large sailing ships must transit the busy Strait of Gibraltar on motor power. But shortly after breakfast, with the Strait behind us, the order goes out for the crew to “hit the rig” — begin climbing into the rigging to unfurl the sails.

Canary Island cruising on the Sea Cloud II

Hit the rig! * Photo: Gene Sloan

As we watch the spectacle that is the setting of the sails, our eyes are drawn to a marvel of another sort: Sea Cloud II’s nearly century-old sister ship, the majestic Sea Cloud, approaching over the horizon. Like Sea Cloud II, it is unfurling its sails, preparing to travel in tandem with us for the day.

Like a scene out of Pirates of the Caribbean, Sea Cloud II and Sea Cloud spend the rest of the day racing side-by-side, sails up, engines off, about 1,000 yards apart, in what is a rare and marvelous sight. Pacing the top deck, I imagine myself as Jack Sparrow on the Black Pearl, chasing down my enemies. Or maybe I am the Russell Crowe character in Master and Commander. Hey, why not!

Gene Sloan on a Canary Islands cruise

Gene on deck enjoying sailing in the tandem with Sea Cloud. * Photo: Gene Sloan

This is a seafaring experiencing of a type that you don’t get with a traditional cruise ship, even a small one. As is typical with sailing ships, the top deck of Sea Cloud II is close to the water line, allowing for an unusually intimate connection to the sea. Without engines running, you hear every whoosh of the waves against the vessel and every creak and groan of the ship’s wooden decks and ropes.

The Sea Cloud sisters sailing together

Up close and personal with the sea. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Speaking of the waves, a gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) sway is definitely part of the Sea Cloud II experience. Indeed, for days after entering the Atlantic, we are rolled significantly from side to side by large swells, sometimes sharply enough to send items tumbling from tables. Unlike more traditional cruise ships, Sea Cloud II doesn’t have stabilizers that dampen its movement from side to side. That said, the sails themselves act as a bit of a stabilizer, calming the motion of the ship in the waves.

The Atlantic, of course, can be rougher than the Caribbean, where Sea Cloud II often is based — something to consider if you book at itinerary such as this one with long open sails in Atlantic waters. (The view from my cabin porthole below!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMEgmi3GeLs

DAY 3-4: CASABLANCA, MOROCCO AND AT SEA

After a day-and-a-half of traveling down the coast of North Africa with Sea Cloud, we finally pull into our first port, Casablanca, around breakfast time on the third day of the trip. Sea Cloud is right behind us. Both the vessels will remain here into the evening before setting off on another day-and-a-half-long journey southward to Agadir, Morocco.

Many first-time visitors to Casablanca arrive expecting something exotic. Thanks to Casablanca, the classic 1942 film that portrays the coastal city as a murky backwater with an “anything goes” vibe, its name alone evokes an air of intrigue and mystery. But most seasoned travelers will tell you that Casablanca is best viewed as a jumping off point for more alluring places in the region.

Along with about 20 other passengers, I sign up for an all-day, Sea Cloud-organized tour to Rabat, the lovely capital city about an hour’s drive to the north. As tidy as Casablanca is gritty, with large, landscaped boulevards and well-preserved historical sites, Rabat sits at the point where Morocco’s Bou Regreg River meets the Atlantic. It has been a significant settlement since Roman times.

A visit to Rabat on a Canary Islands cruise

Rabat sits at the point where Morocco’s Bou Regreg River meets the Atlantic. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Sea Cloud normally offers its tours in both English and German. But with so few English speakers on this sailing, the Rabat tour is being run in German only. Not that I am completely in the dark as a German-speaking guide leads us around Rabat. In a thoughtful accommodation, the ship’s lecturer, Constantin, has been sent along to whisper English translations into my ear.

Our main destination during the tour is Rabat’s Kasbah des Oudaias, the lived-in walled fortress on a hill that dominates the historic center of the city. We spend about a half hour wandering its narrow streets, which are lined with white-and-blue-painted houses with iron-studded doors.

Rabat's old quarter

Rabat’s Kasbah des Oudaias “old quarter.” * Photo: Gene Sloan

We also stop at Rabat’s exquisitely carved, 12th-century Hassan Tower, which was begun as a minaret for a mosque by a powerful sultan but never finished. A forest of marble columns that was to be the backbone of the mosque is nearby.

An unfinished mosque

The fascinating 12th-century Hassan Tower, which was begun as a minaret for a mosque that was never finished. * Photo: Gene Sloan

In addition, the site now is home to the spectacular, marble-and-tile-lined mausoleum of Morocco’s two most recent kings, Mohammad V and Hassan II. It’s guarded — selfie alert! — by mounted soldiers in wonderfully over-the-top red uniforms.

Morocco on a Canary Islands cruise

Red-uniformed horsemen are on guard near the entrance to the marble-and-tile-lined mausoleum of Morocco’s two most recent kings, Mohammad V and Hassan II. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Rabat is far more charming than Casablanca, Morocco’s largest and most commercial city with a population of more than three million people. But Casablanca does have one standout attraction, which we visit briefly on our way back to Sea Cloud II: The giant Grand Hassan II Mosque. With a single minaret that soars 689 feet high, it is Morocco’s tallest structure and can hold more than 20,000 people. Only the main mosque in Mecca is bigger.

Grand Hassan II Mosque in Rabat

The Grand Hassan II Mosque with its single minaret that soars 689 feet high. * Photo: Gene Sloan

After a stroll around the towering structure, which overlooks the Atlantic, and a quick photo stop at a nearby replica of the Rick’s Café seen in Casablanca the movie (you knew someone would have thought of this), we soon are back on board Sea Cloud II just in time for a special dinner prepared by a Michelin-starred chef, Wahabi Nouri. In a typical upscale Sea Cloud touch, the Moroccan-born, Hamburg, Germany-based culinary whiz is sailing on this voyage as a guest chef.

DAY 5-6: AGADIR, MOROCCO AND AT SEA

We are still traveling with Sea Cloud as we arrive in Agadir, a city of 422,000 people known for its wide crescent beach, golf courses and seaside promenade.

While the ships are offering shuttles to the beach, I join a significant percentage of passengers on an-all-day tour inland to Taroudant, an ancient capital of the region that is completely encircled by marvelous, 12th-century crenelated walls (and — good news! — I’m now on an English-speaking tour, merged into a group of more than a dozen English speakers sailing on Sea Cloud).

Taroudant old city

The ancient walled city of Taroudant. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Unlike Agadir, which lost most of its historic sites during a devastating earthquake in 1960, Taroudant offers a taste of old-timey Morocco with its labyrinth-like souks filled with spices, carpets, handicrafts, jewelry and more. Horse-drawn carriages, known as caleches, and hand-pulled carts still are a common mode of transportation in the low-slung town’s narrow alleys. Many locals still wear traditional dress.

spice market in Taroudant

Old-school markets in Taroudant. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Alas, we don’t have nearly enough time to wander in Taroudant. Much of the day is taken up with long drives to and from the city (at least 90 minutes each way) and an extended lunch at a resort-like hotel hidden just inside its walls. Still, it’s a worthwhile experience.

After returning to Agadir in the late afternoon, we have just 90 minutes to prepare for a Moroccan experience of a decidedly different sort: An evening at a made-for-tourists, Moroccan-themed entertainment and dinner venue called Chems Ayour.

Joining passengers from Sea Cloud, we ride in buses to the site, which is about 15 miles away, and are immediately greeted by a cacophony of traditional Moroccan music from elaborately costumed drummers and trumpeters; white-robed horsemen; bedazzled maidens tossing rose petals; and other characters seemingly ripped from the Disney version of Aladdin. There also is a faux square with a snake charmer, women in traditional dress hand-grinding olive oil, a tea vendor and other Moroccan-themed vignettes.

Moroccan-themed entertainment

The Moroccan-themed entertainment and dinner venue called Chems Ayour. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Morocco

An evening out at a Moroccan-themed entertainment complex. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Later, after feasting on classic Moroccan dishes in adjacent tents, we are treated to a display of Moroccan horsemanship and a short acrobatic show.

It’s all a bit over-the-top, for sure, and obviously touristy, but a surprisingly good time.

We return late in the evening to Sea Cloud II, which along with Sea Cloud immediately departs for another long sail. For the next 36 hours, we will be traveling almost due west to the Canary Islands.

DAY 7-8: LANZAROTE AND FUERTEVENTURA, CANARY ISLANDS

It is a bit of an adventure getting to the Canary Islands, as Sea Cloud II pitches and rolls significantly at times due to continued large swells from the north. But we finally make it to the safe harbor of Arrecife, the principal port of the easternmost Canary island, Lanzarote.

Listed as a UNESCO biosphere reserve, Lanzarote is known for its rain-starved, lunar-like landscape created by more than 100 volcanoes — the highest concentration outside of the Hawaiian Islands. But it also is celebrated as the home of the late Cesar Manrique, an iconic Spanish artist, sculptor and architect of the 20th century who left a deep imprint on the island.

Along with about half of the ship’s passengers, I get a taste of both allures on a tour of “Cesar Manrique’s Lanzarote” that consumes much of our short stay at the island (just four-and-a-half hours). Traveling by bus through the island’s desolate landscape of volcanic hills and lava fields, we marvel at its unusual vineyards. Each vine is set into its own little crater of rich volcanic soil, protected from wind and excessive sun by a semi-circle of lava rock. The volcanic landscape also is the backdrop for postcard-perfect villages of all-white, flat-roofed homes. But the main attractions on the outing are three marvelous structures designed by Manrique.

lava tube grotto

A huge grotto built into a cooled lava tube called Jameos del Aqua. * Photo: Gene Sloan

The first of the structures, a huge grotto built into a cooled lava tube called Jameos del Aqua, is the island’s crown jewel, dazzling with its semi-underground restaurant and cafe overlooking a natural pool filled with rare colorless crayfish. The structure, notably, includes a built-into-the lava concert hall.

The other stops, a built-into-a-cliff overlook known as Mirador del Rio and a built-into-a-volcanic-cone home called Lagomar, are nearly as intoxicating. The latter, famously, was owned for just a single day by film legend Omar Sharif. He lost it in a card game.

A stop Lanzarote on a Canary Islands cruise

From Lanzarote’s Mirador del Rio, a built-into-a-cliff, Cesar Manrique-designed overlook, visitors can see the nearby island of La Graciosa. * Photo: Gene Sloan

After a short concert at Lagomar that perfectly rounds out the morning, we return to Sea Cloud II for lunch — and a tad of bad news. Heavy winds at the western Canary island of La Gomera, where we are due tomorrow, will make it impossible to visit. Instead, we will spend the night safely ensconced with Sea Cloud in the nearby harbor of Rosario on the island of Fuerteventura.

Despite windy conditions, an already-planned deck-top barbecue — another Sea Cloud tradition — goes on as scheduled in the evening under the Lido tent. Culinary highlights include carvings from a roasted whole pig and a fresh-caught tuna cooked on deck.

A huge tuna on a canary islands cru

Check out that tuna, WOW! * Photo: Gene Sloan

The next morning, still in the harbor of Rosario, we are offered the chance to tour the nearby Sea Cloud. Nearby everybody jumps at the opportunity for a glimpse of the historic, wood-paneled lounge and dining room where Marjorie Merriweather Post once entertained some of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful people. We also peek into one of the vessel’s original, 1930s-era cabins.

Ses Cloud II old cabins

Visitors to Sea Cloud get a glimpse of Cabin No. 7, where Marjorie Merriweather Post’s daughter, the late actress Dina Merrill, lived while on board as a child. It’s now available for booking on Sea Cloud trips as is Post’s personal suite and the sleeping quarters of her second husband, the financier and EF Hutton co-founder Edward Hutton. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Later in the day, after departing for our final stop, Tenerife, we get yet one more unusual touring opportunity: A trip down to the Sea Cloud II’s engine room.

engine room of Sea Cloud II

A tour of the engine room included a look at the two four-stroke engines that create power for the vessel. * Photo: Gene Sloan

DAY 9: TENERIFE, CANARY ISLANDS

The big outing that Sea Cloud has planned for Tenerife is a tour to the volcanic crater at its center, Teide, which soars more than 10,000 feet. Protected as a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is the highest spot in Spain. Another tour heads to a winery for a tasting.

But after heavy touring during our other port stops, I am ready for something lower key. Striking out on my own from Sea Cloud II, which is roped up along the waterfront of Tenerife’s capital, Santa Cruz, I ramble into the center of the city of 206,000 with nothing much on the agenda except to see its iconic Santiago Calatrava-designed Auditorio de Tenerife, and maybe grab a coffee.

Opened in 2003 and resembling a giant white wave, or maybe the wing of a bird, the Auditorio is nearly two miles down the waterfront from where the ship is docked, well past the city’s main Plaza de Espana. I admit, I waver a bit about continuing my wander all the way there. But I’m so glad I do. It’s a stunning structure.

Tenerife theater

The iconic Santiago Calatrava-designed Auditorio de Tenerife. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Rounding out my architecture appreciation day, I also make a stop at the relatively new Herzog & de Meuron-designed art and photography exhibition building, the Tenerife Espacio de las Artes.

The two contemporary buildings are, no doubt, the highlights of Santa Cruz, which lacks the historic charm of some other Spanish cities of its size.

I return to Sea Cloud II just before dinnertime, as a celebratory “captain’s farewell cocktail” is just getting underway. After a final sail overnight to Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria, it is, sadly, time to say goodbye to this cozy barque. Or, as the Germans say, auf wiedersehen.

Until we meet again.

A FINAL WORD ON SAILING WITH GERMAN SPEAKERS 

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably at least mildly interested in the idea of booking a voyage on Sea Cloud II. But, assuming you’re an English speaker, you may still be iffy about the prospect of spending a week or more on a vessel where, more than likely, most passengers will be German speakers. Will you feel out of place? Will you have trouble mixing and mingling and making friends?

The answer depends in part on your personality. But I will say that almost from the start of my voyage, I felt like I fit right in on Sea Cloud II, and I was experiencing the most extreme possible situation in that there wasn’t even one other native English-speaking passenger on board. Keep in mind that many sailings have quite a few more.

As noted above, the German-speaking passengers that I encountered for the most part spoke almost flawless English (kudos to the German school system, which clearly is way ahead of ours when it comes to languages), and they were a very friendly and welcoming crowd. Quite a few passengers, seeing me wandering alone on the top deck or standing by myself at the Lido Bar, came over and struck up a conversation. I had no problem finding new friends to sit with at dinner.

The crew also was super welcoming — and toggled seamlessly between German and English. There was one very gracious server in the dining room who would always seek me out to ensure I had the proper English menu (even though I found it a fun game to decipher the German version).

Note that while a good number of the dining and bar staff are German, there are some Filipino servers, too, for whom English is a more familiar language than German. They seemed thrilled to strike up a conversation with “the lone American.” In addition, the working language of the bridge officers and deck crew, who come from a number of countries, is English.

Gene Sloan

Gene … the lone American. * Photo: Gene Sloan

IF YOU GO …

Sea Cloud II traditionally spends summers in Europe and winters in the Caribbean with itineraries varying widely from month-to-month. For 2020, the ship’s Europe season will include a range of four- to 14-night sailings out of a dozen ports including Copenhagen, Denmark; Dublin, Ireland; Naples, Italy; and Valencia, Spain. Caribbean sailings will range in length from seven to 14 nights and depart from such ports as Bridgetown, Barbados, and Philipsburg, St. Maarten. One voyage will include a transit of the Panama Canal and stops along the Pacific side of Costa Rica and Panama.

Sea Cloud II’s 2020 schedule includes a sailing similar to this year’s Morocco and Canary Islands voyage that begins on Nov. 4. Departing from Casablanca instead of Malaga, the 10-night trip includes calls at Agadir, Morocco, and six of the seven Canary Islands. Fares start at $5,975 per person, based on double occupancy.

Unlike this year’s Morocco and Canary Islands voyage, the 2020 version of the trip will not include tandem sailing with Sea Cloud. That experience has been moved to the preceding Sea Cloud II sailing, a seven-night voyage from Valencia, Spain to Casablanca that starts on Oct. 28. It’ll include several days of tandem sailing with Sea Cloud as well as a visit to the ship. Fares start at $4,695 per person, based on double occupancy.

Sea Cloud and Sea Cloud II also will sail in tandem in the Caribbean in March.

Rates for all Sea Cloud Cruises itineraries include accommodations; meals; wine, beer and sodas with lunch and dinner; gratuities; and laundry service for top cabins. Excursions are extra.

Information; +49-(0)40-30 95 92-50.

 

In a Nutshell, Gene Says ….

Why Go?
  • For a taste of what traveling the world’s oceans was like during the golden age of sailing ships
  • For a cruise experience that revolves heavily around the simple joys of being at sea
  • For an intimate, upscale cruise experience
Caveats?
  • There sometimes can be few English speakers on board

 

Gene SloanGene Sloan has written about cruising for more than 25 years and for many years oversaw USA TODAY’s award-winning cruise site, USA TODAY Cruises. He’s sailed on nearly 150 ships.

READ more of Gene Sloan’s fab QuirkyCruise articles:

>>Ukraine River Cruising on Viking Sineus

>>The New Double-Wide AmaMagna.

 

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Scuba Diving in St. Lucia

Caribbean Scuba Diving + Island Windjammers Cruise.

By Elysa Leonard.

Excited and ready for an adventure, I left my land-locked home in the suburbs of Washington DC., and flew, via Charlotte, North Carolina, to the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. It was an early morning with a full day of travel ahead, and I was chock full of adrenaline and happy, sun-shiny thoughts.

I had briefly visited St. Lucia on a honeymoon cruise more than 20 years ago and remember the striking green Pitons. This time would be different; I was traveling solo to do an Island Windjammers cruise, but pre-cruise I would spend a few days in St Lucia focused on scuba diving, a hobby I have enjoyed for more than two decades.

Click here to read Elysa’s story about her amazing Island Windjammers cruise.

Scuba diving in St. Lucia

Elysa with a fellow passenger, Joanne Hutchinson, and Fleet Captain Nervo Cortez, onboard Island Windjammers Tall Ship Vela.

Confessions of a Scuba Dive Junkie

I am an avid scuba diver, but it had been several years since I had been scuba diving in the “real” ocean. I am a scientific diver and part of an all-volunteer dive team at the National Aquarium – Baltimore. This position keeps my feet wet in between dive trips.

Dive 1: In the “Real” Ocean

For my three days at the Marigot Beach Club & Dive Resort in St Lucia, I’d be going out diving with Andre, the owner of “Dive Fair Helen.” He was an expert dive guide, full of knowledge about the coral, fish, and shipwrecks of St. Lucia. He took us to some of the best dive sites on the south side of the island right below the towering green Pitons. The contrast of colors from the green of the Pitons to the turquoise blue sea took my breath away.

St. Lucia’s Pitons. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

Luckily the coral of St. Lucia has not been the victim of bleaching. The corals were diverse, with deep mustard yellow to iridescent purple sponges, fern, elkhorn, and many brain corals.

It was a healthy, thriving and growing coral reef. There were plenty of moments to breath deep and admire the beauty of the Caribbean Sea. Ahhhhhh, My happy place.

It’s hard to miss the purple sponge coral in St. Lucia’s waters. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

The minute I saw St. Lucia’s bounty of fish, I wanted to shout through my regulator, “hello my friends! I am back for a visit!”

The gang from my Aquarium dives was all there, will some added species I had nearly forgotten. The number of eels in St. Lucia was remarkable. We saw at least two on every dive and sometimes they were free swimming instead of peeking out of a crevice.

Boat diving is usually a two-tank experience (as compared to one-tank dives from shore). The first dive is longer and deeper, the second shorter and more shallow. After the first dive, we surfaced, got back on the boat, change empty tanks for full ones and shared stories of our dive.

My dive gear. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

Dive 2: Like Riding a Bicycle

Dive two was similar to the first one but in the shallows. We saw a large black spotted moray eel. It was larger than any of that type of moray I have seen before and a stunning contrast against the colorful coral backdrop.

Scuba Diving in St Lucia

Black-Spotted Moray Eel. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

There were trumpet fish hunting for a meal and princess parrotfish crunching on corals. You could actually hear the crunching. The visibility was excellent, and it was a pleasure to see such a vibrant, healthy reef. Once we surfaced and removed our gear, we had a relaxing 45-minute ride back to Marigot Bay.

Dive 3: A Gift

The next day, once again, the weather was perfect for diving — the sea was flat and calm with no wind, but only three divers had signed up to dive. Andre went out of his way to make this second day of diving happen for me and I will be forever grateful.

Because of the small numbers, Andre was our captain, driving us to the site and then he donned a wetsuit and gave us an exceptional tour as our underwater guide.

He took us to the shipwreck of the Lesleen M, which was purposely sunk to create an extension of the coral reef. In the 33 years that this ship has been beneath the sea, it has developed into its own outcropping of thriving coral reef. The ship is now completely encrusted with healthy hard and soft corals of all shapes and sizes. Check out the whitespotted filefish I happened upon; they’re not usually so friendly!

And the fish? Oh, how they love this shipwreck! There were plenty of places to hide in the nooks and crannies and it was a perfect environment for so many species. Fish, fish everywhere!

There is something magical about a shipwreck, you can feel the energy there, and I think the fish feel it too.

I hope to go back and dive that wreck again. There was so much more to explore!

Our second dive on this trip was just as good as the first. As Andre entered the water, he seemed to be part fish. We visited another pristine reef with many baby fish, all supporting each other’s existence in such a delicate ecosystem.

More Diving from the Vela

The next day I would board Island Windjammer’s tall ship Vela for a week-long sailing adventure I absolutely fell in love with (read that article HERE). I quickly learned that with a little ingenuity, you could fit in diving as well as tons of snorkeling on a tall ship cruise like this one.

Jess, our operations director, arranged a two-tank morning dive for me and another passenger when we arrived in Iles des Saintes. The dive operation was called, “La Dive Bouteille – Plongées des Saintes” and was run by a sweet French couple — Phillipe and Laurence.

The small-scale operations at La Dive Bouteille. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

We stumbled a bit communicating above the water since we didn’t speak any French and the diving couple did not speak much English. However, once below the water, we all spoke the common language of “fish” which ended the language barrier.

Our dive guides, Phillipe and Laurence were once beekeepers in France. They relocated to Iles des Saintes and started a dive business. You could tell they loved diving and enjoyed life in this small fishing village. I thought many times that day about relocating to this beautiful little village myself, to dive and learn French. It is a nice dream that I haven’t forgotten, maybe someday?

Scuba Diving in St. Lucia

The tiny village vibe of La Dive Bouteille. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

Channeling Jacques Cousteau

They were both very experienced divers who knew right where to take us and seemed to be part mermaid-merman. Their shop was pristine and the dive boat small but efficient. An added bonus was that the dive sites were a quick 10-minute trip from their shop. Philippe had us enter the water from a backward roll off the side of the boat.

This has always been my most favorite way to enter the water and seems like something from a Jacques Cousteau film. Philippe showed us his favorite places, the corals were healthy with no evidence of the bleaching, it was a thriving beautiful reef. I felt lucky as he let this dive stretch more than an hour.

Scuba Diving in St. Lucia

Idyllic Iles des Saintes. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

After we had used up most of our air, we surfaced and climbed the ladder onto the boat. The language barrier again became challenging, but we traded fish stories and with the help of an English/French fish guide. Laurence served us a delicious snack of homemade madeleine cakes and hot tea. It was the perfect interlude before she took us for our second adventure.

Laurence took us to see the garden of eels. It was a sandy patch that at first looked as if it was covered with seagrasses, but as we got closer, we realized these were not pieces of seagrass but many small eels swaying in the current.

They looked like they were in a trance moving slowly back and forth. It was mesmerizing to watch. Along the edge of the field of eels were several species of  razorfish, that hovered over their holes and darted inside to safety as they saw our shadows approach.

As we passed the field of eels and razorfish, we were pleasantly surprised to see a pair of balloon fish, with their piercing blue-green eyes, a large porcupine puffer fish, and a smooth trunkfish that were all searching for a meal. On our way back to the boat, we found more giant lobsters hiding under the rocks and traveled through a shallow section of reef with many baby fish.

It was a perfect morning, which would be followed by even more perfect days and evenings in the beautiful French West Indies.

Snorkeling with New Friends

Not only do I like to dive, but I also enjoy snorkeling.

With my experience as a reef survey diver and my many years as an aquarium diver, I can identify more than 100 species of tropical fish and have learned much about fish behavior.

On this trip, the word got out that I knew my fish and I led a band of snorkelers on a few fun adventures. Snorkeling makes “teaching fish” a bit easier since you can surface often and explain what you are looking at.

One afternoon we arrived at a small village in southwest Martinique called Les Anses D’Arlet. There were so many people and children splashing, swimming and even standing on the rocks, that it didn’t look like a good beach for snorkeling. However, we were told it was one of the best snorkeling locations, so of course, you never know, I had to give it a go.

I put my masked-face in the water and almost shrieked in delight. I could not believe the number of different species. They were everywhere and in large numbers. It was better than some of my best dives when it came to seeing and identifying fish. I was so happy for my fellow snorkelers, most of whom, have never been diving, and they were seeing the best of the best!

We saw trumpetfish, even some baby ones, and a school of balloon fish. On a normal dive, you would be lucky to see two since they are often in pairs, but we saw a school of them! Large schools of hundreds of tiny fry moved through the water as if they were all part of one fish.

There were several types of grunts, porcupine pufferfish, eels, queen triggerfish, parrotfish, schools of blue-headed wrasse, and even an octopus!

It was the best snorkeling I have ever experienced and from the surface, you would never have expected that.

Scuba Diving in the French West Indies

A sand diver fish off the coast of St. Lucia. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

One More for the Road

Friday was our very last day on Vela and we were back in St. Lucia. We were anchored in Rodney Bay and went ashore with the intention of snorkeling on the beach at Pigeon Bay National Trust. As we entered the Park, I noticed that there was a dive operator doing shore dives from the beach. I decided to see if it was possible to sneak in one last dive.

I approached the dive master, a tall, fit St. Lucian man who was twice my size. I didn’t have any of my equipment with me since this was not the original plan. I borrowed a wetsuit, and all the gear, but since we were planning to snorkel I had my mask.

As we started to descend and swim off, I quickly realized that I was going to have trouble keeping up. One kick of his fins was about four for me. The fins didn’t fit me properly and I felt a burning pain on the top of my feet, but I kept going. I wasn’t going to let anything stand in the way of my last dive.

We saw all the usual suspects and I couldn’t help thinking that I should be saying goodbye to all of my fishy friends. Porcupine puffers, balloon fish and three, yes three different species of eels in one dive, green, white spotted and brown morays. There were pudding wives, creole fish, parrotfish, black durgons, ocean triggerfish and some pipefish at the surface.

It was a wonderful way to end my trip until I got out of the water, took off my fins and saw the tops of my feet. Blisters, that had turned into bleeding open sores on both of my feet. Ouch, but luckily I could wear flip flops for the trip home. They have since healed and left only a few small scars.

Just one of the many memories, and ones that will always remind me of that last-minute decision to dive in St. Lucia. It was worth the scars and I would do it again, in a heartbeat!

Scuba Diving in St Lucia

I’ll be back. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

Top 5 Takeaways for Diving in St. Lucia

  1. St. Lucia is a great location for a dive trip! Fantastic diving, lots of fish, healthy reef.
  2. If you schedule a few extra days of diving, an Island Windjammer cruise is a great option for divers.
  3. If is okay if you don’t speak French because everyone can learn to speak Fish!
  4. Don’t judge a book by its cover, especially when selecting snorkel locations! Trust your cruise manager.
  5. When diving, make sure that your fins fit properly!

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I would like to dedicate this article in memory of Phillipe Borac who recently passed away and to Laurence who is carrying on without him. I feel lucky and privileged to have shared a fabulous day with both of you. It is a day and a memory I will never forget. You shared a small window into your special world, showing me some of some very special places not many get to see and I want to thank you for that. Laurence, I hope to be back and diving with you again soon. Phillipe may you rest in peace, you have given so much to so many. Thank you.

Scuba Diving in St. Lucia

RIP Philippe

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Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

By Christina P. Colon.

To cruise or not to cruise? Long ago I took the plunge and have enjoyed endless ports of call and midnight buffets ever since. But when I suggested we try a small-ship cruise on Star Clippers’ 227-passenger Royal Clipper, I wondered if my landlubber boyfriend would be “onboard” with the idea. This would be his very first cruise.

The 7-night itinerary sure was tempting. Embarking in Cannes, France, and ending in Civitavecchia (near Rome), Italy, we’d cruise the islands of Corsica, Elba and Sardinia, each packed with old-world towns, seductive coastlines, and excellent food.

The ship was sufficiently intimate and elegant to feel exclusive, with a casual vibe that sidestepped the clichéd shows and flashy casinos. It took little persuading to whet his appetite for a sailing cruise on the Royal Clipper.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

The 227-passenger Royal Clipper. * Photo: Star Clippers

Anchored in the harbor like a tiara, the Royal Clipper towered above the sleek monochrome mega yachts of Cannes. After a forgettable lunch and some people watching on a touristy pedestrian strip, we made our way to the ship. Check in was painless although tendering to the ship in a high chop was a soggy proposition for both passengers and luggage. Oh well.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

The appealing itinerary.

Impressive Inside & Out

The Royal Clipper is as impressive up close as she is from afar. Polished wood railings, teak decks and massive white sails above deck are in juxtaposition to the luxurious satin fabrics in the piano lounge, winding staircases, wrought iron balconies and opulent dining room below.

Our snug cabin decorated with nautical blue fabrics and hardwood furniture was very comfortable. In addition to a sizable closet, storage nooks were to be found under the desk, under the bed, above the bed, and behind the mirror.

A standard cabin with portholes. * Photo: Star Clippers

Given the bathroom shower was cramped, we preferred to shower instead in the spa after enjoying the spacious marble and mosaicked sauna complete with frigidarium (a cool dipping pool) kept brisk via a brass slot dispensing cubes into the shin deep water.

Underused, open all day and complimentary, the spa became one of my secret haunts.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

Royal Clipper’s spa was Chrissy’s favorite place. * Photo: Star Clippers

Another favorite spot was the expansive piano lounge, flanked by low couches and dotted with drink tables and barstools all surrounding the atrium below. Round-the-clock complimentary coffee and tea made this a cozy retreat away from the overpopulated deck chairs surrounding the pair of shallow pools and two outdoor bars, where smokers gathered at one end of each bar.

The library was another hideout, with comfortable seating, a cozy faux fireplace and daily news briefings in multiple languages. Its sparse collection of books and maps related to our ports of call, however, was a disappointment. The few guidebooks at the shore excursion desk were woefully out of date and far too general to be of much use.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

The elegant library. * Photo: Star Clippers

Activities & Entertainment Onboard

The daily sail-away was attended by a cohort of diehard ship lovers, who reveled (and sometimes participated) in hoisting the sails with the crew, and in watching the daring speedboat arrival/departure of the pilot. Watching the ship glide out of the harbor past striking landscapes all set to a quasi-Soviet theme song was moving.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

Deck hands keeping the ship ship-shape. * Photo: Christina Colon

Mast Climbing

Another time-tested ritual was the climbing of the mast and scrambling into the bowsprit netting.

The author Chrissy on the ropes. * Photo: Peter Barnes

When not in motion, the sports deck offered kayaking, sailing, paddle boarding, wind surfing and swimming right off the back of the ship. Lifejackets and towels were provided and close supervision ensured everyone’s safety.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

The convenient watersports marina. * Photo: Star Clippers

Morning on-deck calisthenics with Kyrylo and calming yoga with Paige were enjoyable alternatives to a workout in the below-deck gym with its low ceilings and limited space.

Yoga on deck aboard Royal Clipper. * Photo: Christina Colon

Spa Time

An assortment of spa treatments was on offer in Captain Nemo’s spa and my 30-minute back and neck massage was well worth the 40 euros.

Other Pursuits

Knot tying, napkin folding, towel origami and mixology demonstrations were regularly offered by the friendly crew, while bridge tours were on available upon request.

When the skies were clear, nautical astronomy with the knowledgeable Second Officer Vivek was a great way to get in some stargazing. And story time with Captain Sergey always drew a packed house.

Dima played standard tunes in the piano bar before dinner and later out on deck to lure passengers to the bar and the dance floor. On the last night, an old movie of life aboard the tall ship Pommern was played in the lounge.

Activities were punctuated with afternoon nibbles, midnight snacks and daily cocktail specials.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

A waffle buffet one afternoon. * Photo: Christina Colon

Home Grown Fun

If paying for your own drinks is not your thing, there were fun ways to snag a freebie by participating in the nightly after-dinner entertainment. The first involved a call for models willing to parade the Sloop Shop’s tony togs around the deck. A 20% discount off all purchases sweetened the deal.

Free drinks were also on offer for winners of each night’s entertainment, included bilingual (English and German) Name That Tune, pirate Olympics, and a hilarious guest and crew talent show.

Pirate night fun! * Photo: Peter Barnes

Going Ashore

Daily port briefings were given in the spacious forward lounge around 5pm each day, sometimes before the last tender arrived back from shore with passengers. Oh well. These talks described the shore excursions and offered basic logistics on times and locations of arrival and departure.

The new and inexperienced Cruise Director Camila was unfamiliar with the destinations, but offered a Xeroxed page with a brief intro and history of the next day’s port.

With this one-page handout and with limited and expensive onboard Wi-Fi, it sure wasn’t easy to plan our time ashore.

Some folks who booked the line’s shore excursions told us they found the tour write-ups had not always accurately described the actual tour.

We definitely recommend you do some port research and planning before the cruise.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

Elba’s Fort Falcone. * Photo: Christina Colon

Good thing, we aren’t the group tour types anyway. We were happy to avoid costly, time consuming bus rides to modest ruins and small vineyards, and go it alone. Our daily mission was foregoing lunch onboard and seeking local eats ashore (not to mention a good wifi connection!), thanks to my foodie and wine loving boyfriend!

We enjoyed the relaxed cadence, local specialities and hospitality of each town on our own terms.

🍝🥗🍤 Watch this space for an upcoming taste of Chrissy & Peter’s lunch adventures! 🍝🥗🍤

Tourism kiosks at the ports provided useful maps of highlights within walking distance and most had a helpful English-speaking rep. With at least one port each day, we covered a lot of ground, some more interesting than others.

Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy

With a noon arrival, we were among a small cohort on the first tender, with most others opting to eat aboard ship. Waving hello to the statues of Christopher Columbus and King Victor Emmanuel, we made a beeline past the larger waterfront restaurants, opting for a small restaurant on a side street patronized by boisterous locals.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

Chrissy in front of the Columbus fountain in Santa Margharita-Ligure, Italy. * Photo: Peter Barnes

While bread and water are not free, prices were surprisingly reasonable, the seafood remarkably fresh, and the local house wines all excellent. Desserts were underwhelming and no competition with the ubiquitous and unmatched gelato on offer nearly everywhere.

Walking off lunchtime calories was easy given the steep terrain and streets that morph into cobbled staircases at nearly every turn. The famed town of Portofino was a tempting short ferry ride away, but we opted to walk up to the picturesque Villa Durazzo, its Pompei-red stucco façade visible next to a shining white church.

Unfortunately, it was closed for a private function, but we enjoyed walking the grounds, visiting the church and meandering back down to the ship, showing off in the harbor below.

L’Ile Rousse, Corsica

Appropriately named for the red bits of porphyry, a type of volcanic rock that gives the sand a charming rosy tint, this seaside town was clearly all about the beaches and waterfront. Following the tourist map, we walked around the tiny harbor, up to a picturesque lighthouse and ancient Genoese tower perched atop spectacular cliffs.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

The Genoese Tower on L’lle Rousse, with the Royal Clipper anchored in the background. * Photo: Christina Colon

A modern commuter train and a dinky tourist tram provided alternatives to those less inclined toward steep hikes in the noon heat. On our way down we passed small paths off the paved road that led to pocket beaches below.

However, we opted instead to hit the main beach in town where Star Clippers’ watersport staff provided wind surfing and paddle boards for our use. Unfortunately, they had not brought towels and could only offer basic windsurf instructions, when I would have preferred more in-depth guidance.

L’lle Rousse Beach in Corsica. * Photo: Christina Colon

An endless parade of adorable beachside restaurants offered views of the water and casual local cuisine. Our Corsican salad overflowed with local meat, cheese, honey, nuts and greens, and the grilled whole fish was so fresh it was definitely caught that day.

Plage Larinella and the town of Bastia, Corsica

The beach was a long, narrow, desolate strip accessible only by a bumpy Zodiac ride — by far the highlight of the experience! Its proximity to a partially dismantled almost abandoned vacation camp for municipal workers, added an eerie vibe.

The port of Bastia, Corsica. * Photo: Christina Colon

An hour delay in Royal Clippers’ arrival to Bastia meant we missed lunch ashore as the restaurants were closing. We parked ourselves outside a small café serving charcuterie, sandwiches and drinks amid a fog of cigarette smoke from a small army of chain-smoking locals. Forgetting to change money in our haste, and unable to use credit cards as no businesses seem to take them, we were politely directed to a nearby cash machine so we could pay our bill.

Portoferraio, Elba

Our prior day’s disappointment was quickly forgotten upon arrival at the rocky island where Napoleon Bonaparte was briefly exiled. This gorgeous confection of a town offered boundless natural charm and endless architectural intrigue amid a maze of hilltop fortresses zigzagging in every direction.

The Napoleon Museum was a short walk from the pier and a mere euro to enter. The modest residence was furnished with some lavish period pieces, some owned by the Emperor himself.

The old port of Porto Ferraio, Elba. * Photo: Christina Colon

Also on display was an emerald green velvet Empire waist train worn by his sister Pauline, a famed beauty throughout Europe. The small garden was spartanly filled with agaves and yuccas, and overlooked the glinting sea below.

After an indulgent lunch of shrimp scampi with gnocchi, grilled octopus, and swordfish, we meandered down to a hidden beach accessible only by a switchback paved trail. Smooth pebbles in every color made getting in and out of the water challenging, but were fun to gather up as souvenirs.

Pebbles on the beach in Elba. * Photo: Christina Colon

Porto Vecchio, Corsica

At the fortress town, the ship backed up to the pier allowing disembarkation via the sports deck. An awaiting minivan whisked us up to the citadel where we meandered through a labyrinth of pedestrian streets frequented by tourists and the occasional local mutt.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

A medieval church in Porto Vecchio, Corsica. * Photo: Christina Colon

A sleepy town square surrounded by relaxed Wi Fi cafes was dominated by a lilliputian merry-go-round, playing random song snippets with each ride. After lunch, we briefly perused the endless shops selling Corsican knives (Corsica has a long dagger- and knife-making tradition, going back to Roman times), and other touristy trinkets before running out of excuses to stay ashore.

Porto Cervo, Sardinia

The Aga Khan (a supremely wealthy religious leader) built this posh resort town in the 1960’s as a playground of kings and celebrities. It’s set along an emerald coastline dotted with a jumble of contrived round adobe chalets topped by terra cotta chimneys, an architectural mash-up resembling part Mediterranean villa and part Arizona pueblo with a Moorish flair.

Stepping ashore amid the sleek yachts, sports cars and high-end retail, the town feels like a Hollywood movie set.

Chrissy in Porto Cervo, Sardinia. * Photo: Peter Barnes

Shops resemble art galleries, and those selling consumables are stocked with impossibly priced buckets of caviar, truffles and Champagne. After some window gawking we boarded a free ferry to the nearby yacht club (presided over by the royal family) to do some boat gawking.

While the sleek racers were sexy, they really could not compete with the classic rigging and elegant profile of our Royal Clipper.

Peter in front of fancy yacht in Porto Cervo, Sardinia. * Photo: Christina Colon

Being that the cruise started and ended in two fabulous ports — sailing from Cannes, in France, to Civitavecchia (near Rome) in Italy — we of course just had to tack on a few days at either end. We booked several hotel nights and enjoyed the amazing historic and cultural sights each city had to offer.

➢➢Watch this space for an article highlighting our pre- and post-cruise adventures and itinerary!

Dining Aboard Ship

Open seating ensures that everyone eats when and with whom they like, even in a small quieter overflow room.

Royal Clipper Cruise to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia

The multi-tiered dining room. * Photo: Star Clippers

Despite our top notch-shore side lunches, we were more impressed with dinners aboard ship which included some of the best meals we’ve had on land or sea.

Each night’s offerings were displayed near the entrance to the dining room alongside the menu and small but excellent wine list. Seeing each dish plated makes it easy to see what to expect, and nearly impossible to decide which to select.

Among our favorite mains were a tender braised lamb shank, rich and hearty lobster thermidor, and generous and perfectly grilled lamb chops. The mushroom, carrot and spinach soups were sufficiently delicious and hearty to enjoy on their own while the lobster bisque was outstanding.

Lobster thermidor anyone? * Photo: Christina Colon

Desserts were less memorable with tiramisu and baked Alaska far out front.

The service was impressive, and the wine steward always knew exactly which bottles were ours, and who drank which.

With wines so affordably priced and such great options, it made sense to have a red and a white open at any given time.

Capping off each meal was an espresso, served only at the Tropical Bar, followed by a prosecco (€ 3.50) and a generous pour of top-shelf cognac (€ 6.50).

Time and again, we marveled at the great value of this cruise.

Farewell… For Now

On our final night, we were awed at how far we traveled, how many ports we had explored, how much we ate, and how quickly our time aboard the Royal Clipper had passed.

With our new Sloop Shop threads, mast climbing skills, pirate eye patches and nautical friends, and with the launch of a fourth Star Clipper ship (the Flying Clipper) on the horizon, we were glad to step ashore knowing we’d be back again one day.

Needlessly to say, my cruise-newbie boyfriend was hooked.

Peter the pirate. * Photo: Christina Colon

Fares for this itinerary for August 2019 start at € 2,085 per person (or about $2,360 USD per person).

For more info on this cruise and others, check out our Star Clippers line review.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

 

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Quirky Island Windjammers Theme Cruises

Island Windjammers Theme Cruises

By Heidi Sarna.

For the past decade, Island Windjammers has been tootling around the Caribbean with its trio of 10-, 24- and 26-passenger sailing ships in all their wonderfully quirky glory. The vibe is laid-back, wind-in-your-hair, rum-in-hand chilling out.  Click here for our Island Windjammers review. 

Quirky Island Windjammers Theme Cruises

Island hopping in the Caribbean is a dream. * Photo: Island Windjammers

 

Adding some spice to the already appealing Island Windjammers ethos of island hopping, sun bathing, swimming, and snorkeling, is a handful of annual quirky Island Windjammers theme cruises.

Upcoming theme cruises for 2018 & 2019  include…
Taste of the Islands Food Cruise

Savor onboard cooking demos and visits to local markets to check out the island spices and flavors.

VELA, September 29-October 5, 2019

Round-trip from Grenada, calling on Mayreau, Bequia, Tobagao Cays, Carriacou, and Union Island.

 

Quirky Island Windjammers Theme Cruises

A farmer’s market in the Islands. * Photo: Island Windjammers

 

Pirates and Mermaids Week

We’re talking costume party, treasure hunt, story time and lots of rum swilling. Did we mention rum?

VELA, October 6-12, 2019

Round-trip from Grenada, calling on Mayreau, Bequia, Tobagao Cays, Carriacou, and Union Island.

 

Quirky Island Windjammers Theme Cruises

An Island Windjammers cruise is footloose and fancy free. * Photo: Island Winjdammers

 

 

Rum Cruise

You can guess what this is about. Learn the history of rum, how rum is made, and how to mix great rum drinks. Sample premium whites, darks, aged, spiced, flavored and even a drop or two of over-proof rum. Rum-related activities are hosted by Dave Russell and fares include daily sampling of some of the world’s most exotic rums.

VELA, November 24-30, 2019

Round-trip from St. Lucia calling on Guadeloupe, Iles des Saintes, Marie Galante, and Martinqiue.

 

Quirky Island Windjammers Theme Cruises

Rum and chocolate pairing … life doesn’t get much better! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

 

Island Hops Beer Cruise

Island Windjammers has partnered with West Indies Beer Co. to offer beer lovers a sailing to remember — the 3rd annual Island Hops Cruise. 🍻🍺Cruise hosts for the week, Mark and Jill Heath, the proprietors of West Indies Beer Co., will explain all there is to know about styles, hops, yeast and malts. Sample lots of local brews, from Drunken Goat to Rogue Pirate and more, and even brew beer on board the Vela!

VELA, October 13-19, 2019

Round-trip from Grenada, calling on Mayreau, Bequia, Tobagao Cays, Carriacou, and Union Island.

 

Quirky Island Windjammers Theme Cruises

Island Hops Testing & Tasting. * Photo: Island Windjammers

 

Quirky Island Windjammers Theme Cruises

The Vela under full sail. * Photo: Island Windjammers

 

Sagitta’s Solo Sojourn

These cruises are for solo cruisers only, no couples or children, just a group of adventurous, like-minded travelers looking for some relaxing fun in the sun.

Sagitta, December 2-8, 2018

Round-trip from St. Kitts, calling on Anguilla, Nevis, St. Barts, St. Kitts, and St. Maarten.

 

Quirky Island Windjammers Theme Cruises

A Sagitta standard cabin makes sharing a breeze. * Photo: Island Windjammers

 

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Quirky Cruise covers a number of sailing vessels that came into this world for a distinctly different purpose.

Sailing on Old Ships

by Ted Scull.

Let’s begin with something land-based.

Years ago when I was looking to buy a New York apartment, and long before the gentrification of many neighborhoods, I contacted real estate agents specifying pre-war only. This meant I wanted an older building constructed before WWII.

Benefits of sailing in an old ship

Former Brixham trawlers provide heritage sailing. * Photo: Trinity Sailing

Why Old Ships?

With age comes, at least to me, a more attractive building to look at, usually better craftsmanship inside and out, higher ceilings, more soundproof walls, attractive molding framing the doors and ceiling, and maybe larger rooms. Some of the older apartments I inspected were in better shape than others. I wanted, except for painting, move-in condition and didn’t want to have to replace the wiring, plumbing, and appliances.

My wife and I found our dream home, and decades later, we remain happily ensconced and have no thought of moving.

Okay, Not All of Us Think This Way

I realize many folks want a new building for all the obvious reasons, and that might also translate into choosing the latest ship, one with all the bells and whistles.

The new vs older ship debate can be a bit more complicated. While there may be little argument about many older ships looking more pleasing compared to some built today that resemble densely-packed condos — with almost no pointy bow and walls of cabins piled high virtually the length of the ship and at the stern — there’s no debating that old ships often require more maintenance.

Ships take an increasing amount of investment to keep them sailing safely, and as they plow through varying types of seas, they endure more pressure on their superstructures, internal divisions, plumbing, wiring and mechanical equipment than any stationary building on land.

The building I live in is over 90 years old, and is in excellent shape, while few ships last more than 30 or 40 years. They often get downgraded as they reach a certain age.

So, where can we throw all that to the wind?

Sailing Ships Age Well

One possible exception, is the sailing ship. In many cases they have been refitted from an earlier life to become a cruise ship, while still maintaining the maritime character not found in new ships. They provide an authentic sailing ship experience, albeit with added modern comforts, and likely operate an auxiliary engine to kick in when the wind dies, as most people need to be somewhere else at some point.

Built for a Different Purpose

Quirky Cruise covers a number of sailing vessels that came into this world for a distinctly different purpose. Here’s a look:

Sea Cloud Cruises. Let’s start at the top end for luxury-minded with the former private cruising yacht Sea Cloud, once belonging to the cereal heiress Marjorie Meriwether Post and operating as an extremely popular cruise ship for 40 years.

Built in 1931 as the Hussar, the Sea Cloud is largely authentic to its period with original dining and lounge spaces, eight luxury cabins as built, plus 26 smaller units added to make the now commercial ship turn a profit. Standing on deck with the sails up, she takes you back in time to a more elegant world. She’s pricey, so let’s look at some others.

*Note: Our Sea Cloud review does not list the lines that regularly charter her, and many will likely book through one of them or through an alum, museum group, than directly through the line Sea Cloud Cruises.

Quirky Cruise covers a number of sailing vessels that came into this world for a distinctly different purpose.

Sea Cloud, originally built in 1931 as a private yacht. * Photo: Sea Cloud Cruises

Oceanwide Expeditions operates the Rembrandt van Rijn built early in the 20th century as a herring lugger and refitted in 1994 as a three-masted Dutch schooner for cruising in the Arctic. Running mate Nooderlicht, originally designed as a light vessel in 1910, was refitted as a two-masted cruising ship for the same northern waters. With handsome profiles, wonderful wood-paneled interiors and cozy cabins with comfy bunk beds, you will be transported back to an earlier time.

Old ships

Noorderlicht. * Photo: Oceanwide Expeditions

Trinity Sailing operates a trio of once highly innovative Brixham (Devon UK) trawlers, once numbering in the thousands, that transformed Britain’s fishing fleet into a huge financial success.  Now they offer coastal cruises amongst the British Isles. Operating also as a registered charity, they also take school aged children from all backgrounds on sail training courses to help advance their confidence, skills and teamwork and make new friends. Leader built 1892, 12 passengers; Golden Vanity b.  1908, 7 passengers; and Provident b. 1924, 12 passengers.

quirky-cruise-trinity-sailing-brixham-heritage-trawler-in-the-river

Brixham heritage trawler in the River Dart, Dartmouth in Devon. * Photo: Trinity Sailing

Silhouette Cruises, in the Indian Ocean, converted a 1915 former sail-powered fishing boat into Sea Pearl (27 passengers) and a 1920 pilot vessel into Sea Shell (23 passengers) for interisland sailing in the Seychelles.

Benefits of cruising in an old ship

What could be more romantic than an heritage sailing vessel among the Seychelles? * Photo: Silhouette Cruises

 

Follow Up

In an upcoming post, we will cover our small engine-powered cruise ships that reveal their heritage as working ships and offer a real time look into the past.

 

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Island Windjammers' Caribbean Sailing Adventure featuring cruisers and the ship crew on st lucia

By Elysa Matsen Leonard.

Island Windjammers’ Caribbean Sailing Adventure

If you want to know what an Island Windjammers Caribbean Sailing Adventure is all about, think adult summer camp, contagious laughter and completely checking out for a week. I entered the special Island Windjammer world recently when I sailed on a 6-night cruise aboard the 26-passenger Vela round-trip from Marigot Bay, St. Lucia. Along the way, we visited the islands of Dominica, Iles des Saintes, Marie Galante and Martinique. It was the next best thing to chartering your own private sailing ship, and a heck of a lot cheaper.

Read Part 1 of Island Windjammer’s Caribbean Adventure here.

Island Windjammers' Caribbean Sailing Adventure

The three-mast Vela is a beauty alright! * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard

 

Part 2

Day Three: Oui Oui

Again, we woke up in a different port. Today, it was Iles de Saintes, a small island off the coast of Guadeloupe. I went with another passenger friend, Chris, to meet the dive operator that operations manager Jess kindly researched and recommended, “La Dive Bouteille – Plongées des Saintes.” Others went to shop in the village. Since we didn’t speak French and the French couple who ran the outfit spoke little English, it was a bit challenging above the water, but once below, we were all on the same page.

Island Windjammers' Caribbean Sailing Adventure stops in st lucia with people getting ready to dive

Getting ready to dive in St. Lucia. * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard

The diving was rich with all types of hard and soft corals and thankfully no signs of bleaching. All the usual suspects of an Atlantic coral reef were there, from sand divers to porcupine puffers, blue-headed wrasse and spotted moray eels. If you listen carefully to the audio you can hear me squeal with delight upon seeing a pair of puffer fish.  Above a sandy patch, we saw a mystical garden of small dancing eels and jawfish that hover over their holes and once they see your shadow disappear into the sand.

 

Our dive guides were experts on this reef and loved showing us their special place. We snacked on tea and madeleines on the dive boat between our dives, and it was one of those days where you breath deep, recognize the beauty of the sea and are just thankful for the experience. Back on board with our Vela-mates, we all hopped in the dinghy for some afternoon shopping and that evening, we took one more dinghy ride for a drink at a local café.

 

Day Four: Beach Paradise

The night before, Vela had moved on to another small island off the coast of Guadeloupe, Marie Galante. We had our own private and gorgeous sandy beach for swimming and snorkeling. The water temperature was perfectly inviting and there were areas for sunning and for shade. As our dinghy approached the island, we felt like we were on “Survivor!” — only we didn’t have to worry about food, shelter or competing for any immunity idols.

Island Windjammers' Caribbean Sailing Adventure cruise ship Vela on the ocean

Serene Marie Galante Beach. * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard

A delicious lunch from Vela was brought to us via the magic dinghy — “cheeseburgers in paradise” with breadfruit fries. It was a perfect day. I snorkeled looking for seahorses in the grassy bay and was surprised to find a few starfish and a baby queen triggerfish who was sheltering near a large conch shell. That night we sailed from the small cluster of islands surrounding Guadeloupe to Martinique.

Island Windjammers' Caribbean Sailing Adventure sets out home made meal

Viola! And there was lunch brought to us on the beach by our awesome crew; * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard


Day Five: Snorkeling as Good as Any Diving

Our day in Martinique began with a visit to the small quaint seaside town of Saint Pierre. This village was completely destroyed by the eruption of Mount Pelee in 1902, the worst volcanic eruption in the 20th century that killed some 30,000 people.

We had a choice of touring a rum factory or going into town and visiting the ruins from the volcanic eruption. I chose the latter and accompanied by my Bostonian friend, Joanne, who had become a close friend at this point, we explored the ruins and enjoyed a stroll through the picturesque seaside village. There were many small cafes and quaint French shops, and we indulged in coffee and pastries while we soaked up the views.

Island Windjammers' Caribbean Sailing Adventure

Vela reaches Martiinique. * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard

We returned to the ship and in the afternoon sailed over to a small swimming beach called Anse d’Arlet. Jess told us there was amazing snorkeling there, though when I saw the location and the large cluster of people in the water, I had my doubts. I had become the snorkeling leader, at this point in the trip since people began to figure out that I knew my fish. Turns out, the snorkel was outstanding and I was very happy to teach fish ID’ing for the afternoon. Our snorkeling stint was as good as any dive, with great numbers of a diverse population of fish, even an octopus.

 

Day 6: All Good Things Must Come to an End

Overnight we had sailed back to St. Lucia and into Rodney Bay, north of Marigot Bay, where we would spend our last day. One of the interesting excursion choices was an off-road Segway tour. I wasn’t sure I would be good at this but thought that on the last day I should break out of my comfort zone. I found out Segway riding requires no skill and it was just a ton of fun.

Island Windjammers' Caribbean Sailing Adventure with sailors on a segway tour on st lucia

The view was to die for! * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard

We took a bus to the drop-off location and our guide led us up a mountain for gorgeous views and taught us about plants and history along the way. At the top of the mountain, we had drinks and snacks and then headed back down to a beach bar and then back to the pier for those who wanted to get back to the ship for lunch. Me? I just had to do one more dive! I saw that there was a scuba company doing shore diving — which means you don gear at the beach, walk into the water and swim from the shore to a dive location, in this case, a shipwreck.

The dive guide took me out to the wreck and we saw a school of squid, three types of moray eels, and all my fish friends. I was wearing the wrong dive boots with my fins and ended up with blistered feet, but it was well worth the pain.

Overall, the islands we visited had excellent diving and snorkeling opportunities to explore a spectacular coral reef environment. More on this later, stay tuned!

Island Windjammers' Caribbean Sailing Adventure view underwater of an eel

We spotted a snake-like moray eel! * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard.


Our Last Evening

That night was our last evening together on Vela. We could have gone to a fish fry event on St. Lucia, but it was a unanimous decision to spend our last night together on the ship with our week-old Vela family. We played a raunchy laughter-filled round of “Cards Against Humanity,” as we swigged our beer and wine, that was made more fun since our 90-year-old patriarch decided to play and drink along; ever the good sport. We could see how he made it to 90 in such good shape and spirits. That evening on deck playing cards was a great ending to a beautiful week.

Island Windjammers' Caribbean Sailing Adventure with cruisers playing the game cards against humanity

Eric playing along! * Photo: Jess Benson

QuirkyCruise ReviewQuirkyCruise ReviewQuirkyCruise Review

 

 

PROS & CONS in a Nutshell

I loved ….
  • Gorgeous sunsets from the deck.
  • Unexpected double rainbows from the ship’s deck.
  • Food – Chef Lenny was amazing, a Caribbean twist and all food cooked from scratch and seconds were always available.
  • Dining al fresco on the deck of Vela.
  • Our own private beach; think Survivor but with awesome food and no competitions or immunity idols necessary.
  • Snorkeling is the best ever in some surprise locations, as good as any boat dive.
  • Dinghy Rides. Loved this mode of transportation, we could go anywhere — or so it seemed!
  • Meeting friends for life and connecting with great people.
  • Internet service slim-to-none for most of the cruise – you won’t be able to get online often with a clear connection (PRO & CON! )
But ….
  • Seasickness.  No joke, take the medicine.
  • Sunburn.  Also, no joke, wear 30 SPF (reef-friendly) sunscreen, hats, and sunshirts; thankful for the ship’s shady tarp!
  • Food.  Although it was amazing this is not one of those cruises where you get 1,000 choices on the menu. This was fine for me, and make sure it is for you too. If you have severe allergies, this is not the cruise for you. If you have minor dietary concerns, they can accommodate small requests.
  • The drive to and from the airport is an hour away and the roads are narrow and windy and the cab drivers are a bit crazy; stay calm and enjoy the ride.
  • Traveling to St. Lucia takes a full day so plan extra time to get there before you leave on the cruise; you need to give yourself at least one extra day.
  • Excursions. You won’t have a ton of choices, but this cruise is to enjoy, relax and do nothing at all or a few things if you want. It’s laid-back relaxation.
  • I can’t lie.  I’m having trouble coming up with any more, it was amazing and I sure hope to go again!

 

Island Windjammers' Caribbean Sailing Adventure view of the ship from aboard the dinghy in the water

Our beloved dinghy. * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard

 

And Last but Not Least … My Crew Crush

You will be spoiled by the crew. From Bernard who figured out early on that that I needed three cups of coffee to function and start my day, to Chef Lenny who would let you have seconds of your favorite dishes and Stephen, our steward, whose laughter would instantly spread to whomever was nearby. Jess, the ship’s operations manager (aka cruise director), made sure we each did everything we wanted to do, including my diving, no matter how much time it took to arrange and set up. The captains and engineers worked tirelessly to make sure that we had a seamless and excellent trip, and the captain still managed to eat several meals with us during the week.

Island Windjammers' Caribbean Sailing Adventure crew aboard the ship Vela

Island Windjammer’s Vela Crew. * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard

The crew all seemed to have a similar integrity, passion, and love for what they do. Many shared stories about their life at sea and on the islands — Chef Lenny, from the island Nevis, admitted although he cooks and lives on a ship for a living, he doesn’t know how to swim and doesn’t even like the water. LOL!

 

Quirky Cruise is the small ship cruise expert. Whether you’re a veteran on the water or exploring the idea of becoming a seafaring fellow you won’t want to miss out on your chance for your own personal adventure! Your own small ship sailing adventure is a click away. Don’t miss a post, subscribe to QuirkyCruise.com HERE for monthly updates! 

 

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Island Windjammers Caribbean Adventure

By Elysa Matsen Leonard.

Island Windjammers Caribbean Adventure

If you want to know what an Island Windjammers Caribbean adventure cruise is all about, think adult summer camp, contagious laughter and completely checking out for a week. I entered the special Island Windjammer world recently when I sailed on a 6-night cruise aboard the 26-passenger Vela round-trip from Marigot Bay, St. Lucia. Along the way, we visited the islands of Dominica, Iles des Saintes, Marie Galante and Martinique. It was the next best thing to chartering your own private sailing ship; and a heck of a lot cheaper.  (Read Part 2 HERE.)

Meeting My Shipmates

The meeting point for embarking passengers was the Hurricane Hole restaurant and bar in Marigot Bay, a short water taxi ride from the hotel where I stayed for three nights before the cruise. Like that first day of summer camp, I felt a bit nervous. Would I be the only single or would there be other solo passengers? Would I like them? Would they like me? My mind was racing with questions.

The first people I met were a lovely 50-something couple from the San Francisco Bay area, Kathy and John, who were celebrating a milestone anniversary. And there was Joanne, a wickedly funny single woman from Boston cruising for her 60th birthday. Another single traveler from Wisconsin, Kristen loved the freedom of solo travel and was an experienced Island Windjammer. She loved this type of cruise even though she was prone to sea sickness — she wore the patch and sailed on. To my surprise, there was a couple from Annapolis, near my home in Ashburn, Virginia. Bryan and Beth were both 50-ish with busy corporate jobs. They lived by the sea and loved small ships. I spent lots of time laughing with them and talking about our next adventures.

Island Windjammers Caribbean Adventure

The whole gang! * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard

We were also joined by a family of nine from the west coast, with a spunky 90-year-old patriarch Eric. His son Greg had arranged the trip as a tribute to a sailing they had made as a family into Marigot Bay some 50 years back. I can’t lie, I was a bit concerned about how he would fare on this trip. Turns out the spry nonagenarian more than held his own; he was clearly born with sea legs and took it all in stride. Eric was a retired engineer who had at one point years ago left his job, bought a boat similar to Vela, and took his family on a Caribbean sailing adventure. The tall strong man with a sweet demeanor shared stories with anyone who would listen.

The crew said it happens every week. No matter their differences, passengers seem to magically come together, and for the most part, the differences fade away fast as the shared experience of sailing together on a quirky schooner in the Caribbean takes hold. The ups and downs, literally bring people together — the crew as well as the passengers.

Island Windjammers Caribbean Adventure

Chef Lenny. * Photo Joanne Hutchinson

The Vela Backstory

Before Island Windjammer passengers ever entered the picture, Vela had a story of her own. The three-mast, 156-foot-long sailing schooner had been a medical-support vessel sailing around the Marshall Islands. She was named Tole Mour, which means “gift of life.” She then became part of the Catalina Island Marine Institute and offered sailing training, oceanography and marine biology education for hundreds of school-aged kids. She was purchased by Island Windjammers in 2014 after the ship was discovered in California by Captain Nervo Cortez, the line’s fleet captain and a man who radiates a humble confidence in all he does. He was onboard my cruise along with Captain Alexis. Nervo Cortez sailed the ship 4,500 nautical miles from California through the waters of five countries and through the Panama Canal, to St. Vincent and then Grenada, where the ship was refurbished before her first sailing out of St. Lucia.  It was renamed after the constellation, Vela, which also means “sail” in Italian and Spanish. Today it’s the largest of the line’s trio of ships.

Island Windjammers Caribbean Adventure

The Vela and the dinghy launch. * Photo: Island Windjammers

Day One: Velacoladas & Mal de Mer

The cruise started and ended in Marigot Bay, St. Lucia and we visited at least one new place each day, sometimes two. Our Uber for the week was a dinghy. Dinghies got us between the ship and shore with some dry and also some wet landings right on to the beach. We easily adapted to this mode of transportation, donning our life vests and hopping aboard; even our 90-year-old passenger seemed to master this with ease. Our dinghy trips were one of many sources of humor; though it didn’t take much to get us all giggling.

Our first day was spent in St. Lucia, and we traveled from Marigot Bay to Soufriere where we did a late afternoon snorkel at the Anse Chastanet Resort Marine National Park. The water was a bit choppy and we were slowly losing daylight, but we saw several black and white spotted drum fish, iridescent blue chromis, several species of grunts, and some stoplight parrot fish. It was just a glimpse of the amazing snorkeling to come.

Island Windjammers Caribbean Adventure

Snorkeling in Soufriere and spotting blue chromis. * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard

At sunset each day was happy hour, with snacks and the signature drink, the Velacolada, a delicious concoction of rum, pineapple and coconut — not too sweet or too strong. I still crave this drink at about 6pm every day, even weeks after I’ve returned home. There was also a refrigerator filled with soda, beer and wine for consumption 24/7, as well as ice-cold water and iced tea. Beer and wine are included in the fare as well as mixers for other types of drinks; passengers are free to bring their own spirits on board.

the author aboard the cruise ship deck with new friends

Elysa with new friends Beth & Bryan. * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard

Meal time that first evening was inside, as it was a bit too windy to eat out on deck. Our favorite dinners and happy hours over the course of the week were outside on the deck at several tables set up under a shady tarp. Some perfectly timed rainbows and sunsets were the icing on the cake. In this intimate setting, it didn’t take long for 16 passengers and 10 crew members to become fast friends — one big shippy family.

Island Windjammers Caribbean Adventure

Vela’s indoor dining saloon. Outdoor dining was also offered, weather permitting. * Photo: Island Windjammers

During the week we had some excellent meals served by the ship’s stewards, Bernard and Stephen. If someone requested seconds or a special order, they always responded with a smile and a “no worries.” Favorites included pork tenderloin with a compote of apples and red onions, local fish, barbecued ribs and chicken, and eggs benedict for breakfast. With each meal there was a Caribbean twist. For instance, the “cheeseburger in paradise” was accompanied by coleslaw and fries, but these fries were made of breadfruit, not potatoes, and they were delicious. The tuna salad one day was really delish, and when I asked Chef Lenny why it was so tasty, he answered:  “I added some island secrets.” The desserts were show stoppers too, especially a soursop fruit sorbet and to-die-for cheesecake drizzled with caramel that was so good passengers begged for seconds.

eggs benedict at breakfast on board cruise ship Vela

Chef Lenny’s Eggs Benedict. * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard

Rockabye Baby

The ship began to sail after dinner, traveling at night so we could spend our days on shore. Sailing between islands, as opposed to the calmer seas along the coast, meant open seas and some choppy waters.

I was one of the luckier ones. I love the churn of the ocean and have never been seasick on the many small boats I’ve been on. My Vela cruise confirmed this. However, many other passengers quickly found out the first night that they were not so lucky. The “mom gene” kicked in, and I spent the night handing out Ginger ale. Anyone prone to motion sickness and for those who don’t know if they are: definitely bring sea sickness meds (like Dramamine and/or a prescription patch) and use them before things get rocky.

Island Windjammers Caribbean Adventure

A cozy Vela Staysail cabin. * Photo: Island Windjammers

Day Two: Sea Legs Return

As people got their sea legs back on day two, the fun resumed. There were rainbows, lots of sunshine, crystal blue waters in shades I’ll never forget, amazing snorkeling, diving and relaxation. Snorkeling equipment is complimentary as are several paddle boards and floating mats, plus dinghy trips to and from the islands for walks and hiking etc. The idea on an Island Windjammers Caribbean adventure cruise is to reeeeeelax so days are not heavily scheduled and sometimes passengers choose to just chill on deck.

view of Dominica from the small ship cruise line Island Windjammers

Serenity approaching Dominica. * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard

Day two was the island of Dominica. They were hard hit by Hurricane Maria last September, and are still recovering — we saw downed trees, closed bridges and roofless buildings everywhere. A few excursions are offered in most ports, and in Dominica, we had the choice of an island tour or just a walk around the beach and town. I chose the island tour for $40. Our driver, Winston, was a proud man and told us of their progress and setbacks throughout the tour. He gave us a mental picture of a green lush Dominica that was known for exporting fruits and vegetables before this category 5 storm wrecked its havoc. At the end of the tour, despite the destruction, we would learn the secrets of chocolate making. (See my follow-up article for more on that!) That night we left Dominica for Iles des Saintes, where I would spend a gorgeous morning scuba diving. More on that later as well!

PART 2 COMING SOON …. 👏🏼👏🏼

 

Island Windjammers Caribbean Adventure

Elysa and her new friend Eric.

Quirky Cruise is the small ship cruise expert so first-time cruisers needn’t worry! Read our answers to questions about small-ship cruising on our FAQ’s page and then learn more here about the differences between big ships and small ships besides their size. 

☞ ☞Read Part 2 HERE.

 

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Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

N.B. Please be advised that due to recent U.S. Government regulations, U.S. citizens and most non-U.S. residents are no longer permitted to cruise to Cuba, hence I.E. is currently only offering land tours. We have decided to save this report as it gives good information about what travelers will find on land.

G Adventures, a Canadian firm, operates three cruises itineraries of 6, 8 and 13 days aboard a small catamaran taking 16 passengers with pairs of double cabins sharing the shower and toilet facilities. Fares are very reasonable. The website makes it quite clear that the firm will not accept U.S. and foreign U.S. residents on Cuba cruises.

Also, Variety Cruises, a Greek-based cruise line operates the more upscale 46-passenger Panorama on 8-day cruise circuits, the same vessel that is described in the article below.

More lines will be added to the site as they become known.

By Cele & Lynn Seldon.

Travel to Cuba is hotter than a July day in the Caribbean. It’s not surprising when you think that visiting Cuba just a short three years ago wasn’t even a possibility for most Americans. But, along with Obama’s 2014 restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba and the subsequent easing of restrictions, and with airlines, hotels, tour operators, and cruise lines getting into the action, exploring Cuba by sea is easier than ever.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

Classic car parade, Havana, Cuba

Many cruise lines have added stops in Cuba to their Caribbean itineraries, offering a day or overnight in Havana. Plus, some smaller lines stop in other Cuban cities, like Cienfuegos or Santa Clara, as a port call. However, there may be no better way to immerse oneself in the enigmatic culture and people of Cuba than with a Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions aboard the intimate 46-passenger Panorama.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

The intimate 46-passenger Panorama. * Photo: International Expeditions

Known as a pioneer in ecotourism and conservation, International Expeditions was first able to take Americans to Cuba in 2003, and in 2012, introduced their land-based Complete Cuba itinerary. Interacting with the Cuban people and exploring the largest Caribbean island as a true ambassador through their “people-to-people” program, International Expeditions offers a schedule of immersive and interactive activities and events with the movers, shakers, entrepreneurs, and artists of this colorful nation.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

People-to-people children’s musical performance of Cucarachita Martina at the Julio Antonio Mella Cultural Center, Cienfuegos, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink.

These same activities and personal interactions are the cornerstones of their 9-night Cuba Voyage itinerary. Led by three guides—a U.S.-based Cuba expert who is available through the entire trip, a ship guide who acts as a hotel director once onboard, and a Cuba-based tour guide for the day-to-day travel—who address every detail, this small group experience is best suited for travelers who have a sense of adventure and deal well with travel curveballs.

Cuba is still new to tourism—especially by American standards—and the one constant is that things will not always go as planned. An open mind, patience, and spontaneity will enhance exploration of this magical island and prepare expedition participants for the uncertainties that make travel to new horizons transformative opportunities.

Our 8-night Cuba Voyage started in Miami with a welcome reception, briefing, and overnight in a nearby airport hotel. This gave us the opportunity to meet our fellow travelers, ask questions, and complete the required paperwork. Cuba requires a VISA for all U.S. citizens and, although International Expeditions did much of the legwork ahead of time, there are still some final forms that need to be completed, as well as detailed information about the flight and arrival in Cuba.

Editor’s Note: International Expeditions’ 2018 itineraries are slightly different, sailing from Cienfuegos to Havana with 7 nights on board, plus the one night in a Miami hotel and one night in a hotel in Vinales during the middle of the cruise to explore the lush Sierra de los Organos mountains and the Viñales Valley of western Cuba. Otherwise, the ports and experiences in the Seldons’ story are exactly what you’d get on the current itinerary.

Rise & Shine

The next morning came very early with a 3:00 a.m. departure for the airport and our 6:00 a.m. Eastern Airlines chartered flight. Our Washington State-based guide, Brian, was on-hand every step of the way to help guests with their luggage, security, and to answer any questions. After the short 45-minute flight—complete with flight attendants in retro Eastern Airline uniforms—Brian guided us through passport control, immigration, and the somewhat chaotic baggage claim area. The long luggage wait time also gave everyone a chance to change their U.S. dollars into the tourist-based currency of Cuban Convertible Pesos (known as CUCs). Once outside the airport, we were met by the International Expeditions cruise director and our Cuba-based national guide.

Our first stop was to board our home-away-from-home for the week, the Panorama. Owned and operated by Greek Variety Cruises (and chartered to International Expeditions), the Panorama is a three-masted yacht built in 1993 and refurbished in 2014. It houses cabins on three decks, as well as an indoor reception area, library, dining area, and outdoor seating on the main deck. There’s also a separate inside lounge and bar, aft outdoor seating, and a sun deck on the upper deck. Although a bit smaller and less luxurious than traditional ocean liner vessels, all cabins featured individually controlled air conditioning, televisions (although there was no programming available on our sailing), hairdryers, mini-refrigerators, and bathrooms. Upper and main deck cabins feature windows, while cabins on the lower deck have portholes.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

A twin cabin on the Panorama. * Photo: International Expeditions

Three Days in Havana

On the way to the Panorama, we made a brief stop at Havana’s iconic Plaza De La Revolucion. Home to the many political rallies that happen in Havana and the 31st largest square in the world, Revolution Square is dominated by the José Martí Memorial, a 358-foot tower and 59-foot statue of this national hero. Highlights include the National Library, many government ministries, and the Palace of the Revolution, which houses the seat of the Cuban government and Communist party, and oversized iron outlines of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos. A classic Havana photo opportunity also awaited us in the square, with dozens of brightly colored retro automobiles that enterprising Cubans will allow visitors to sit or ride in for a pre-negotiated fee.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

Revolution Square, Havana, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink.

After a short briefing onboard, we headed out as a group into the sensory-overloaded cobblestoned pedestrian streets of Habana Vieja (Old Havana) for a lobster lunch at the state-owned La Imprenta restaurant, plus a walking tour.  While we gawked at the colorful sights and music- leaden sounds of Old Town, our guide pointed out many of the architectural wonders of the city, including: Casa de Gobierno y Palacid Municipal on the Plaza des Armas; the star-shaped Castillo de la Real Fureza, which now houses a maritime museum; the imposing Cathedral of the Virgin Mary; Hotel Ambos Mundos, a residence of Ernest Hemingway in the 1930s; the Museum of Natural History; shopping in Plaza Vieja and on many side streets; and watering holes cum tourist destinations made famous by Hemingway, including La Bodeguita de Media (where the Mojito was reputedly invented) and La Floridita (known for their daiquiris).

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

Floridita Restaurant, Havana, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink.

Once back onboard the Panorama, we enjoyed a cocktail hour and an international meal in the dining area. Dinner every evening was a festive experience, with salad, soup, a choice of two entrées, and dessert, all served by the small staff who did double-duty as bartenders and cabin stewards. Cocktails and wines from a varied list were available for purchase. After dinner, we were free to head back into town—the port is conveniently located across the street from Old Town.

The Panorama’s lounge. * Photo: International Expeditions

Havana’s Fusterlandia, Finca la Vigia & More…

After a breakfast buffet the next morning, we boarded a bus and made our way to Fusterlandia. Located in the modest district of Jaimanitas, Fusterlandia is a mirage-like masterpiece of intricate and whimsical tilework and created by Cuban artist, José Fuster. The home—and much of the surrounding neighborhood—has been transformed into an extravaganza of Gaudi meets Picasso street art, with colorful sculptures, figurines, kaleidoscopes, mosaics, free-flowing fountains, and other objects d’art that attack the senses.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

Fusterlandia, Havana, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink.

From there, we explored the literary world of Havana at Finca la Vigia, the home of Ernest Hemingway from 1939 to 1960 and where he penned most of For Whom the Bell Tolls. Today, it serves as a museum and monument to the legendary American novelist. Although visitors can’t go into the house, they can peer in from the many doors and windows, as well as explore the outdoor pool and his 38-foot fishing boat, Pilar.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

Finca Vigia, home of Ernest Hemingway, Havana, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink.

The next stop was the Nostalgic Car Garage. Owned by the son of a former GM engineer, owner Julio Alvarez has turned the retro car craze of Cuba into a successful business of automobile tours and taxi services.

After another lobster lunch (Cuba has plenty of lobsters and they seem to save them all for tourists), we set out on our own classic car parade. With a dozen Chevys, Fords, Fairlanes, and more, we were treated to a tour of the city in our very own brightly colored convertibles and felt like royalty as we paraded along the streets of Havana.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

Classic car parade, Havana, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink.

The rest of the afternoon was ours to explore Old Town on our own. We wandered through the narrow streets, explored the street markets, took photos with enterprising cigar-smoking Cuban women who’d pose for a CUC, shopped for cigars and rum, and checked our email at one of the relatively few (and slow) wi-fi hotspots in Havana.

Since that night was New Year’s Eve, several of our group made a sojourn to the infamous Tropicana Club for dinner and a show that didn’t disappoint. Over-the-top costumes, risqué dances, and the pulsating beat of Cuban music complemented our three-course dinner and unending Havana Club rum, served with bottles of Coke.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

Dancers performing at the Tropicana, Havana, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink.

Havana’s Museum of the Revolution, Hotel Nacional & More…

The Museum of the Revolution was our first stop the next morning. Housed in a former Presidential Palace, it’s filled with photos, artifacts, and exhibitions. The grounds surrounding feature tanks, planes, and boats—including Granma, the boat that transported Castro back to Cuba from his Mexican exile in 1959.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

Revolution Museum, Havana, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink.

The afternoon was spent exploring the famed Hotel Nacional—Havana’s grand dame; the unique Merger’s Art Studio, where we chatted with Sandra Borges, the artist responsible for the contemporary combination of art and mechanical engineering; and a visit to Eastern Havana, with stunning views of Havana from across the water.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

La Nacional Hotel, Havana, Cuba. * Photo: Seldon Ink.

Lunch (and dinner) were in thriving paladars—the new wave of privately-owned restaurants housed in homes that have been popping up throughout Havana as governmental restrictions have eased. After dinner, we were treated to the pulsating salsa music of the Buena Vista Social Club at Café Taberna.

And to set the mood, press play to listen to Camila Cabello’s addictive award-winning song Havana!

Small Ship Cuba Cruise

Departing Havana the next morning gave everyone an opportunity to enjoy a day at sea on the Panorama. We all caught up on sleep, enjoyed a lecture on 500 years of Cuban history, relaxed and read on the sundeck, watched a movie about Hemingway, and enjoyed delicious meals in the dining room.

Cuba Voyage with International Expeditions

On deck aboard Panorama. * Photo: Michael Gomez/International Expeditions


Here’s Part 2 of the Seldon’s Cuba voyage ….

For more info, visit ietravel.com or call 800-633-4734

International Expeditions sets sail for Cuba with seven Cuba Voyages in 2018. The voyages alternate between Havana to Cienfuegos and reverse. The 2018 itineraries also add in an overnight stay in the Viñales Valley, allowing passengers less sea days and the opportunity to experience the stunning mountain vistas. With all cruises, but especially cruises involving Cuba, itineraries are subject to change.

Editor’s Note: As with any travel, we would recommend staying on top of the Cuba travel policy changes in your resident country, as well as following International Expeditions guidelines.

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

star clippers in thailand

Star Clippers in Thailand.

By Heidi Sarna.

With our beach bags and snorkeling gear slung over our shoulders, we filed down the metal staircase extended along side the 170-passenger Star Clipper and into a tender that would transport us to a Thai beach for the day. A short ride later, the boat was nudged into the sandy shoreline and we climbed out of the forward hatch, up and over the bow, and down a short ladder into the surf.

These wet landings would be the norm for the week; part of the adventure of visiting beaches without infrastructure. This was precisely why most of us had signed up for the 7-night Andaman Sea cruise in the first place, to go somewhere warm, sunny and remote, and to get there on a cool tall ship.

star clippers in thailand

Wet landings are business as usual on the Thailand itineraries. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Tall Ship Beauty

Star Clippers‘ four-masted Star Clipper itself was a destination. In fact some passengers didn’t care where the ship was going, they were there for the nostalgic sailing ship experience. About 25% to 50% of the time the engines are shut off and the ship moves under sail power alone — otherwise a combination of the two are used to propel the ship at speeds of about 9 to 14 knots — and it’s a sight to behold.

On the Star Clipper cruise I recently took with two friends Beth and Sheila, each evening, usually before dinner, passengers gathered on deck, many of us with a glass of wine or tropical concoction in hand. We were there to watch the Indian sailors nimbly handle coils of thick rope, wrapping and unwrapping it from pegs and cleats and pulling it along winches, to unfurl whichever of the 16 sails the captain wished to release to help us on our way.

As the sails inched skyward, the solemn theme song from the film “1492: Conquest of Paradise” was broadcast to set the mood. Passengers fixed their gaze on the sails and the twilight sky as the canvas flapped in the wind and the ship creaked through the waves like ships did centuries before.

RELATED: 10 Reasons to do a Star Clippers cruise in Thailand.  by Heidi Sarna

star clippers in thailand

Sunsets through the rigging are breathtaking. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

This appreciation for the experience is exactly what Swedish businessman Mikael Krafft had in mind when he started Star Clippers. He spared no detail or expense to design and build his fleet of three square-rigged clippers in the likeness of their speedy predecessors. Krafft and his team were guided by the original drawings and specifications of Scottish-born Donald McKay, a leading naval architect of 19th-century clipper-ship technology.

The result is a trio of tall ships with few rivals and lots of repeat passengers. The four-masted Star Clipper and twin Star Flyer were launched in 1992 and 1993, respectively, while in 2000, came the 227-passenger five-masted Royal Clipper. A fourth new tall ship, the Flying Clipper, is being built and will debut later this year.

UPDATE: While the Flying Clipper has been completed, a dispute between Star Clippers and the shipyard has delayed its debut; stay tuned. 

The fleet plies the waters of the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Asia, aiming for yacht harbors and remote bays and islands.

star clippers in thailand

The Star Clipper cruise sails round-trip from Phuket (yellow star) to islands in the Andaman Sea.

Andaman Sea Island Hopping

Round-trip from Phuket, we traveled 533 nautical miles around the Andaman Sea, as far north as the lower tip of Myanmar and south again to Langkawi in northern Malaysia. Most of our ports for the week were part of national parks and clusters of islands with names that weren’t easy to remember. But it didn’t matter what the kohs (also spelled ko) were called, what you remember about this itinerary are the beaches, the bright teal-blue water and those craggy towers and mounds of ancient limestone — partially submerged hills and mountains formed over millions of years.

star clippers in thailand

Some of Asia’s best beaches are in the Andaman Sea. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Each day took on a similar rhythm. After breakfast was a port talk up on deck by the captain or the funny and unflappable Brazilian Cruise Director Monica who loved repeating each morning on the approach to a new port: “Let’s go to paradise.”

The first visit was to KOH SURIN to the north of Phuket. We first snorkeled around reefs some distance from the beach, hopping in the sea right from a tender, ogling giant clams, brain coral and rainbow-striped fish. Then we hit the beach, where the ship’s watersports team had set up kayaks, sailboats and paddleboards. After successfully paddleboarding, a pleasant triumph when you’re no longer a spring chicken, we relaxed on the sand sipping water from coconuts.

star clippers in thailand

Beth gets up on the paddle board after the first try! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The busiest beach we’d encounter all week was in the SIMILAN ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK archipelago. As one German passenger joked after attempting to snorkel: “There were 3 fish and 2,000 legs.” Dozens of buzzing speedboats brought the mostly Chinese tourists on day trips from Phuket or Krabi, their revving outboard engines spitting water as they dropped off and collected their passengers from the beach.

We joined the multitude, finding a space for our towels in the soft, white sand that was surprisingly clean. We enjoyed the people watching, smiling at the throngs in their orange lifejackets taking endless selfies and playing in the sand. Most of the boats had departed by 4pm, leaving the beach nearly deserted with just a handful of Star Clippers passengers.

star clippers in thailand

An afternoon in the Similan Islands with lots of day trippers. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

In KOH KRADAN, part of the Hat Jao Nai National Park, we snorkeled near spiny sea urchins, mounds of brain coral and schools of neon fish. We floated in the water to keep cool and Beth went paddleboarding again, her favorite new activity. Dressed in floral shirts and white pants, the crew set up lunch on the beach, grilling delicious chicken, sausages and burgers that we ate sitting in the sand or on low hanging tree branches.

star clippers in thailand

Lunch on the beach, completed with grilled burgers and chicken. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The perfect ending to our favorite beach day of the week was a half-hour walk across the island to the other side and down a steep path to a secluded, rock-framed cove that could have been the setting for a cover of a Harlequin romance novel.

star clippers in thailand

Where’s the film crew?? * Photo: Mark

The week’s two non-beach days included LANGKAWI, the one Malaysian port of the week. Beth and I signed up for the guided kayaking through the mangroves of the Kilim Geopark followed by lunch and then a sweaty 3km jungle hike in the Raya mountains with an enthusiastic machete-carrying guide Hizam who pointed out monkeys and exotic birds the likes of the Great Horn Bill and Longtail Macaque. Sheila chose a thrilling tour I couldn’t have handled — a mile-long 2,000-foot-high cable car ride between the peaks of the Machincang Mountains on Langkawi’s west coast.

Star Clippers in Thailand

A kayaking excursion through the mangroves of the Kilim Geopark on Langkawi. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

We anchored in AO PHANG NGA (Bay) on the final day or our cruise and signed up for the “James Bond Island” speedboat excursion. We stopped at the Panyi Muslim village on stilts for a walk around the maze of small wooden shops and homes crammed together on rickety boardwalks.

The other stop was scenic James Bond Island, otherwise known as Khao Phing Kan, where parts of the “Man With a Golden Gun” were filmed back in the 1970s thanks to its spectacular rock formations, some resembling giant dripping icicles.

star clippers in thailand

James Bond Island. * Photo; Beth Crow

The best part of the tour was sitting at the back of the boat near the outboard motors as the speeding vessel bounced through the water for several hours between stops. The views of the karsts, some smooth, some rough and covered with tufts of green foliage, unfolded like a 3D movie.

star clippers in thailand

The breathtaking speedboat ride to James Bond Island. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Besides the handful of excursions offered during the week, there were optional daily diving opportunities with the ship’s dive master. There was also Star Clippers’ beloved “photo safari,” when passengers pile into the tenders to circle the ship and take photos under full sail.

star clippers in thailand

The ship’s two tenders circled the Star Clipper for more than an hour on the beloved photo safari. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Onboard Fun & Games

On board, the main activity for the week was mast climbing, when those interested strapped on a harness and climbed up some 65 feet onto a small platform.  For me, massages were the favorite extracurricular; the masseuse was excellent and the prices reasonable, probably because the treatments were doled out in a humble canvas cabana wedged between the diving tanks and ship tenders. Book a massage when the ship is moving to avail of the breeze and soothing ocean sounds.

star clippers in thailand

View from the top, WOW ! * Photo: Doug Stavoe

With three of us sharing a cabin, we didn’t spend much time hanging out in the room, a cozy 130-square-foot abode with portholes, twin beds and a bunk-style third berth. Designed in nautical navy blue fabrics and wood trim, there was a TV, safe, decent storage space, and bathroom with showers. The ship also has eight deluxe cabins that open right up to deck; one large owner’s suite with a sitting area, mini bar and whirlpool bath; and six inside cabins.

Star clippers in thailand

Some standards cabins have a third berth. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

A Social Affair

Chatting and mingling on a small ship like the Star Clipper is inevitable. We became buddies with Monica and Doug, two easy-to-talk-to fellow Americans in their 50s, and Mark, a good-natured 30-something English chap traveling solo. A group of Germans, led by the gregarious Roland, had an infectious sense of humor that made many of us laugh out loud. Of the 114 passengers our week, a third were Germans, 18 were from the UK, a dozen from North America, and the rest a mix from Australia and other corners of Europe — most were 50+.

RELATED: Reader Review of this Star Clippers Thailand cruise. 

Mealtime encouraged socializing as tables were open seating for 6 or 8. Breakfast with a made-to-order omelet station, and lunch with a featured pasta or meat, were buffet-style and generous, while dinner was ala carte with continental choices and a few Asian offerings as well such as Pad Thai. Dishes ranged from so-so (a rib-eye steak and pork stir fry were disappointing and the cheese plate came with Ritz crackers) to very tasty, including the chicken curry, shrimp tarts, and raviolis. But a Star Clipper’s cruise isn’t about the food, it’s about being outside on deck.

Star clippers in thailand

Pad Thai is a classic dish of Thailand. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The open-air Tropical Bar with its thick wooden bar top was the hub, where passengers congregated before and after dinner as the ship’s musician played happy pop tunes on his electric piano. Each evening, some light-hearted entertainment was featured, including a crew and passenger talent show, a traditional Thai dance from a shore-side troupe, and a silly “Pirate Night” party that was great fun.

Star Clippers in Thailand

Thai folk dancing with passengers * Photo: Roland Fella

Afterward, hits from the 60s and 70s were played on the sound system, putting us and new friends in the mood for some dancing as our gorgeous tall ship sailed through the Andaman Sea to our next port of call.

star clippers in thailand

Hotel director Herman at the ship’s hub, the Tropical Bar. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Fast Facts

Itineraries & Fares: Back in Asia after a long absence, through 2019, Star Clipper is doing 7-night Andaman Sea cruises between October and April starting at $1,360 per person, and spending the other half of the year cruising the Indonesian archipelago round-trip from Bali on mostly 7-night sailings.

Getting There: Most US flights come through Bangkok or Singapore, then it’s a short flight to Phuket. We stayed one night in the pretty Amari Phuket hotel along Patong Beach, near the ship’s anchorage.

star clippers in thailand

A relaxing stay at the Amari Phuket the day before the cruise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna Selfie

Weather & Dress Code: Thailand is just north of the equator, so it will be hot in the 80s and 90s and with short rain storms the norm. You’ll live in beachwear and cover-ups most of the time; at dinner, smart casual works — sundresses, skirts and pants for women and for men, khaki’s and polo shirts or short-sleeved button-downs.

Money Matters: The Thai Baht is the official currency, but there is virtually no opportunity to shop.

star clippers in thailand

Nature’s bounty is the entertainment on a Star Clipper’s Thailand cruise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

 

RELATED: The Royal Clipper to Corsica, Elba & Sardinia.   by Christina Colon.

And here’s  Star Clipper’s website.

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Thailand cruise

by Heidi Sarna.

In April, I took a 7-night Star Clippers Thailand cruise round-trip from Phuket aboard the 170-passenger tall ship Star Clipper. We tootled around the gorgeous rocky islands of the Andaman Sea in search of beaches and snorkeling sites. It was my fifth Star Clippers cruise — and it won’t be my last.

Here are 10 great reasons to take a Star Clippers cruise in Thailand. And here’s Heidi’s full feature article!

The Rocks.

The peaks of craggy ancient mountains poke out of the Andaman Sea like clusters of wild mushrooms, the result of tectonic activity eons ago. Scenic and very photographable, cruising among them on a tall ship is wonderous.

Thailand cruise

The rocky islands and formations of the Andaman Sea. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Beaches.

Beach bums will love this itinerary. The region’s islands, most of which are part of Thai national parks, are rimmed with arcs of white sand framed by picturesque rock formations and shaded by lush tropical foliage.

Thailand cruise

A gorgeous beach on Koh Surin. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

 

The Sunsets.

There’s just something about watching the sun set through the rigging of a sailing ship. Just about every night on this itinerary, a moody orange sunset slowly melted into the horizon to the delight of passengers gathered up on deck to watch the show.

Thailand cruise

Stunning sunsets are a daily affair in the Andaman Sea. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Ship.

The four-masted Star Clipper, like her two fleetmates, was built in the image of a 19th-century clipper, the fast kind that used to race across the ocean by sail power alone to transport tea and opium between China, India and England.  The Star Clipper is a beauty from stem to stern, and her sails, rigging and teak are constant reminders you’re on a classic tall ship.

thailand cruise

Star Clipper in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Thailand. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Snorkeling & Diving.

We snorkelled around shallow reefs and saw giant clams with purple lips, black spiny sea urchins and huge brain corals. Schools of fish, some cheeky enough to swim within inches of my mask, provided a constant stream of marine TV with their neon stripes and spots. All guests are issued free snorkeling equipment and a dive master is on board to take divers on optional excursions daily, to reefs further afield and around submerged black volcanic lava.

Thailand cruise

Snorkeling off the side of a tender near Koh Surin. * Photo: Sheila Healey

The Watersports.

The Star Clipper carries along paddle boards, kayaks, windsurfers and sail boats, and offers them for use right off the side of the ship when anchored in the right conditions and also sets up the equipment on the beach.

Thailand cruise

Paddleboarding is offered on every beach. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Massages.

Marietta the masseuse was excellent; she had just the right firm touch, working out the knots and kinks in a very relaxing and soothing way. The jury-rigged massage cabana is up on a sequestered section of deck near the dive tanks and tender boats.

The humble cabana where excellent massages were performed. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The Other Passengers.

Star Clippers attracts an international mix of folks from mostly Europe, the UK and North America who appreciate traditional sailing, offbeat itineraries and good old-fashioned socializing.

Thailand cruise

On route to the next great beach! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Thailand.

Thailand is a cool, historic, quirky place, there’s no two ways about it. Many passengers spend a few days in Phuket, nearby Krabi, and/or Bangkok, before or after the cruise, to enjoy the country’s delectable cuisine, famous friendly hospitality, and stunning gilded temples.

Thailand cruise

Bangkok’s gilded temples and stupas. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Singapore.

Ok, maybe this one’s cheating, but I love the fact that this cruise could happen after just a short 1.5-hour flight to Phuket from Singapore where I live! From North America, on the other hand, it’s a full-day’s schlep to get to Thailand, but it’s worth it, trust me.

Through 2019, Star Clipper is doing weeklong Andaman Sea cruises between October and April starting at $1,360 per person and spending the other half of the year cruising in the Indonesia archipelago round-trip from Bali.

And here’s Heidi’s full feature article!

Visit Star Clippers for booking info.

Star Clippers Thailand

A Star Clippers cruise in Thailand is one photo op after another. * Photo: Mark Brompton

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How to Pick a Small Ship Cruise

KID-FRIENDLY (age 12+) small ship cruises

Thanks to sporty activities like kayaking, hiking and snorkeling, these lines are great for families during summers and holidays. 

Alaskan Dream CruisesAmaWaterways (Disney charter); AustralisBlue Lagoon Cruises; Captain Cook Cruises; Celebrity Expeditions; Coral Expeditions; EcoventuraG Adventures; Island WindjammersLe Boat Lindblad Expeditions; Ponant; SeaDream Yacht Club; SeaTrek Adventure Cruises; Silolona Sojourns; Star Clippers; Tauck; Un-Cruise Adventures; Uniworld Boutique River Cruise CollectionVariety Cruises

WILDLIFE-focused small ship cruises

These lines offer the most opportunities to spot wildlife relatively close up, whether in the sea, up in the sky or on the shoreline.

Abercrombie & Kent; Alaskan Dream Cruises; Aqua Expeditions; AustralisBlue Lagoon Cruises; Captain Cook CruisesCelebrity CruisesEcoventuraG Adventures; GreenTracksHapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises; Lindblad Expeditions; Oceanwide Expeditions; Poseidon Expeditions; Quark Expeditions; Silolona SojournsUn-Cruise Adventures

HISTORIC small ships (50 years +)

These ships are all more than 50 years old, though some have been rebuilt to varying degrees.

Hurtigruten (Lofoten 1965); Gota Canal Steamship Company (Juno 1874, Wilhelm Tham 1912, Diana 1931); GreenTracks (Rio Amazonas 1899); Hebridean Island Cruises (Hebridean Princess 1964); Oceanwide Expeditions (Rembrandt Van Rijn early 1900s and Noorderlicht 1910); Sea Cloud Cruises (Sea Cloud 1931)

TRADITIONALLY-DESIGNED small ships

These lines’ ships are based on traditional ship-building styles, but are not actually old in age.

American Queen Steamboat Company (American Queen  19th century steamboat design); Island Windjammers (Diamant  brigantine schooner); Pandaw River Cruises (entire fleet  British colonial river steamer style); Sea Cloud Cruises (Sea Cloud II  three-masted barque); SeaTrek Adventure Cruises (Katharina & Ombak Putih  Indonesian schooners); Silolona Sojourns (Silolona & Sidatu Bua  traditional Indonesia two-masted cargo schooners); Star Clipper (Star Flyer & Star Clipper four-masted barkentine-rigged clipper ship, Royal Clipper  full-rigged five-masted clipper ship); Un-Cruise Adventures (S.S. Legacy  American coastal night boat); Variety Cruises (Galileo only)

Small ship cruises to ALASKA

These lines spend summers in the Inside Passage and Gulf of Alaska.

Alaskan Dream Cruises; Lindblad Expeditions; PonantSilversea Expeditions; Un-Cruise Adventures 

Small ship cruises in the GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

These lines offer year-round (or nearly) cruises in the Galapagos (with reviews of more Galapagos-bound QuirkyCruise lines coming soon).

Celebrity CruisesEcoventuraG AdventuresGreenTracksLindblad Expeditions; Silversea Expeditions; Tauck; Un-Cruise Adventures; Zegrahm Expeditions

Small ship cruises in the CARIBBEAN

These lines all spend part of the year cruising the islands of the Caribbean; mostly the southern and eastern regions.

G Adventures; Island Windjammers; Lindblad Expeditions; Pearl Seas Cruises; Ponant; Sea Cloud Cruises; SeaDream Yacht Club; Silversea Cruises; Star Clippers; Swan Hellenic; Un-Cruise Adventures; Variety Cruises; Windstar Cruises; Zegrahm Expeditions

Small ship cruises going to CUBA

These lines offer cruises focused on Cuba, the hottest cruise destination on the high seas.

Abercrombie & Kent, G AdventuresLindblad Expeditions; Pearl Seas Cruises; Ponant; Sea Cloud CruisesStar Clippers; Swan Hellenic

Small ship cruises in ASIA

These lines have ships in Asia all or part of each year on river and oceangoing cruises.

AmaWaterwaysAqua ExpeditionsG AdventuresHapag-Lloyd Expeditions CruisesLindblad ExpeditionsPandaw River CruisesPonantSeaTrek Adventure Cruises; Scenic CruisesSilolona SojournsSilversea ExpeditionsStar Clippers; Tauck; Vantage Deluxe World CruisesZegrahm Expeditions

SHORT small ship cruises ITINERARIES of less than a week

Below are lines that offer 1- to 5-night itineraries, ideal to tag onto a regional land trip.

Aqua Expeditions (3-4 nights); Australis (3-7 nights);  Captain Cook Cruises (3-4 nights); Gota Canal Steamship Company (1-5 nights); GreenTracks (3-4 nights); Island Windjammers (6 nights); Magna Carta Steamship Company (5 & 7 nights); Majestic Line (3-6 nights); Marine Link Tours (5 nights); Ontario Waterway Cruises (5 nights); Pandaw River Cruises (1-4 nights); SeaDream Yacht Club (4-6 nights); St. Lawrence Cruise Lines (4 nights)

ACTIVE small ship cruises

These lines offer opportunities for water sports like kayaking, canoeing, water skiing, sailing, snorkeling and diving; on land, cycling and hiking.

Alaskan Dream CruisesAqua ExpeditionsBlue Lagoon Cruises; Captain Cook Cruises; Celebrity Expeditions; Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritrime (C.P.T.M.), Coral ExpeditionsEcoventuraEmerald WaterwaysG Adventures; GreenTracksIsland Windjammers; Lindblad Expeditions; Oceanwide ExpeditionsPandaw River CruisesPonant; Poseidon Expeditions; Quark ExpeditionsSeaDream Yacht Club; SeaTrek Adventure CruisesSilolona Sojourns; Star Clippers; Un-Cruise Adventures; Variety CruisesZegrahm Expeditions

Cruising with NORTH AMERICAN PASSENGERS

These lines see an almost entirely North American passenger contingent.

Alaska Dream Cruises; American Cruise Lines; American Queen Steamboat Company; Blount Small Ship Cruises; Grand Circle Cruise Line; Island Windjammers; Marine Link Tours (mostly Canadians); Ontario Waterway Cruises (mostly Canadians); Pearl Seas Cruises; St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Tauck; Un-Cruise Adventures

Small ship lines cruising UNUSUAL WATERWAYS

By design, most small-ship cruises focus on off-beat routes, but these lines particularly so.

American Cruise Lines (Eastern Seaboard Intracoastal Waterway); Australis (Tierra del Fuego); Blount Small Ship Adventures (New York State rivers and canals, Eastern Seaboard Intracoastal Waterway); Gota Canal Steamship Company (Cross-Sweden canals); Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Philippines and eastern Indonesia); Le Boat (canals, lochs, lakes and tributaries of 8 European countries); Magna Carta Steamship Company (canals of Scotland); Majestic Line (Argyll, Western Scotland, Hebridean isles); Marine Link Tours (British Columbia fjords, inlets); Ontario Waterway Cruises (Ontario’s canals, rivers, lakes); Pandaw River Cruises (Upper Irrawaddy, Chindwin, Upper Mekong); SeaTrek Adventure Cruises (eastern islands of Indonesia); Silolona Sojourns (eastern islands of Indonesia); St. Lawrence Cruise Lines (Ottawa River)

Small ship cruises with multiple CULTURE-FOCUSED LECTURERS

While most small-ship cruises are led by an expert guide/lecturer, these lines carry multiple experts, often with audio-visual presentations about the destinations and related topics.

Lindblad Expeditions (Europe with NG Orion); Silversea ExpeditionsSwan Hellenic

Best small ship cruises to access by RAIL CONNECTIONS  

The following ports are served by multiple daily passenger intercity rail services  Amtrak for the USA and Via Rail for Canada. If a port is served by only one train a day, it is not included. A short taxi ride will be all that is required between the railroad station and the port.

USA Ports
Boston, MA American Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Cruises; Portland, Me — American Cruise Lines, Pearl Seas Cruises; New York, NY American Cruise Lines, Blount SSA, Pearl Seas Cruises; Baltimore, MD American Cruise Lines; Charleston, SC — American Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Cruises; Jacksonville, FL American Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Cruises; Chicago, IL Blount Small Ship Cruises, Pearl Seas Cruises; St. Louis, MO American Cruise Lines, American SB Co.; Portland, OR American Cruise Lines, American SB Co, Lindblad Expeditions, Un-Cruise Adventures; Vancouver, WA American Steamboat Co; Seattle, WA American Cruise Lines, Un-Cruise Adventures.

Canada Ports
Kingston, ON Ontario Waterway Cruises, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Ottawa, ON Ontario Waterway Cruises, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Quebec, QE Pearl Seas Cruises, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Toronto, ON Pearl Seas Cruises.

Absolutely STUNNING SCENERY to ogle from the decks of small ship cruises

All small-ship cruises go to some really attractive places, but these are the prettiest of them all.

Alaska Glacier Bay National Park; New York Hudson River in the fall; Argentina Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park; Antarctica — on a blue sky day; Austria Wachau Valley of the Danube River; France Burgundy along the Soane; Germany Moselle River in fall; Vietnam Halong Bay; Pacific Ocean French Polynesia and Fiji Out Islands; Norwegian Fjords Geirangerfjord; Greek Isles — Santorini; Alaska Misty Fjords; Thailand Phi Phi Islands; Malta Valletta harbor; Caribbean St. John; Caribbean St. Lucia; West Papua, Indonesia Raja Ampat Islands; Russian Far East Kamchatka & Kuril Islands

— TWS & HMS

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small ship cruises copyright

Indonesian Archipelago Cruising

By Heidi Sarna.

Indonesian archipelago cruising is a great way to get away from it all. Literally. I’ve been to Bali and Borobudur, but the rest of Indonesia was largely a mystery to me until I discovered a small off-the-radar outfit called Seatrek Sailing Adventure  who has been quietly tootling around the far-corners of the Indonesian archipelago for 25 years. The two-ship company focuses mostly on the eastern islands, but in April, an old school friend and I signed up for a weeklong trip on a new exploratory route along the northern coasts of Java and Sumatra. The 16-passenger 108-foot Katharina, built in the style of an old Indonesian “Phinisi (or Bugis) Schooner,” was home base for our adventure. Though our one-off voyage is not on the schedule going forward, it was a good taste of the unconventional SeaTreak experience.

Sailing ships in Indonesia

The Bugis schooner Katharina takes the adventurous back in time. * Photo: Seatrek Sailing Adventures

Go With the Flow

Though most Seatrek journeys start in the Indonesian islands of Bali, Flores, Maluku, Sulawesi or West Papua, ours began in the industrial port of Semarang, Java, next to a loud flourmill. Our charming old-timey schooner looked like a prop in a pirate film, though Kartharina is only 15 years old and Jack Sparrow was nowhere in sight. A helpful crew of Indonesian sailors were on hand to help us take a big step over the chunky railing and steady ourselves on the dramatically sheered (curved) ironwood deck. A thick wooden dining table protected from the sun and rain by a tarp was positioned between the two masts and it would be our eating and hang out spot all week. The compact cabins, with bunk beds, a slim armoire and a bathroom with a shower nozzle above the toilet, were down a steep set of steps and meant for sleeping and not much else. The life of a ship like Katharina, after all, is up top on the open decks, where, for one thing, lectures were held.

The top deck is the ship's hub. * Photo Credit: Heidi Sarna

The top deck is the ship’s hub. * Photo Credit: Heidi Sarna

In the past few years, Seatrek has started offering a handful of expert-led cruises every year, including the popular “Wallace Cruise” through Indonesia’s eastern Raja Ampat Islands. Led by Dr. Tony Whitten, a Cambridge educated conservationist, author and Indonesia expert, the route follows in the footsteps of the great British naturalist, Alfred Russell Wallace and it was recently named one of National Geographic Traveler magazine’s “50 Tours of a Lifetime.”

My April voyage offered a humbler version of the Wallace cruise, with National Geographic magazine writer and guest expert Simon Worrall speaking about the ancient Maritime Silk Route. Worrall spoke with the flair of a thespian, at times putting on accents and asking us to close our eyes, to help us imagine what it might have been like sailing on an Arab dhow in these waters 1,000 years ago carrying cargo between China and the Middle East. He focused his talks on the famous ninth-century Belitung shipwreck discovered some 15 years ago close to where we were sailing with most of its Tang Dynasty ceramic, gold and silver cargo in tact. The Singapore government now owns the collection.

Down Time

A Seatrek cruise is hardly an all-cerebral affair, though, mostly it’s a lot of hanging out, soaking up the passing scenery and jumping over board. Two bouts of snorkeling in the middle of nowhere had us climbing into Katharina’s two small skiffs to zip over to a coral reef to snorkel above schools of neon-bright topical fish, moray eels, sea turtles, and crazy clusters of brain, lettuce and elkhorn coral.

When we weren’t off the boat snorkeling or exploring on shore, we were left to entertain ourselves in ways that didn’t involve electronic devices (Katharina has no TVs and often no satellite signal for phones and the Internet). One spry English grandmother shared her watercolor supplies and led impromptu sunset painting sessions. Another passenger set up a slideshow of the photos he had taken so far, while others napped, read and sipped cans of the local Indonesian Bintang beer. One afternoon at anchor with no land in sight some of us dove off the rails and swam around the ship reveling in our freedom. We watched storm clouds on the horizon transform the sky into an inky canvas of brooding blues and grey and I confess to spending a moment or two admiring the sinewy physique of one of the sailors as he pottered around the ship.

Passengers entertain themselves. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Passengers entertain themselves. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Sunsets were always the high point of the day and we’d all swoon over the fading burnt orange sky against the silhouette of the ship’s masts and lines. We snapped endless photos and downed glasses of Jacobs Creek chardonnay (the top shelf of the ship’s little bar), intoxicated by that “life is good” feeling. After dinner one evening several crewmembers brought out their guitars and sang local songs for us around the dining table and it wasn’t long before the liveliest of our group got inspired. I, along with an elegant sarong-wearing divorcee from England with a wickedly good sense of humor and a fun-loving American couple and their arty 40-something daughter who promised to make me earrings from Bintang beer bottle caps, got up to dance around the open decks as our funky wooden ship pushed through the waves somewhere off the coast of Sumatra.

Stunning sunsets. * Photo Credit: Heidi Sarna

Stunning sunsets. * Photo Credit: Heidi Sarna

Land Ho

As much as a voyage on Katharina is about being on the ship and at sea, the ports of call were a big part of the reason we were there. When the lines were pulled up and we left the clanking flourmill behind, we headed west on engine power (the sails are used only occasionally when the wind is cooperating), riding swells large enough to make a few passengers queasy. A few of us popped seasickness pills just in case, but Seatrek tends to attract experienced sailors who feel fine on a rocking ship.

The next day we made landfall in Pekalongan, Java, to visit the town’s batik museum and make a piece of real batik fabric with hot wax and traditional copper stamps. Later we shopped for batik, with our group buying dozens of sarongs and shirts. The day after we spent the morning at the palace of the local sultan in Cirebon, Java, where we were greeted with royal fanfare. We were served jasmine tea and local sweets while being treated to a classic Indonesian dance performance by a young man artfully imitating the movements of a bird. The friendly sultan, a portly Buddha-like fellow in royal headgear and traditional sarong, then invited us to dance and again we found ourselves in a circle twirling and laughing without a care in the world as the gamelan ensemble played on. We enjoyed ourselves enough that day to forget that our group’s mini-bus had been inexplicably held up for an hour by bureaucrats when we first came ashore in Cirebon.

Excursions treat you to traditional Indonesian dance and music. * Photo credit: Heidi Sarna

Excursions treat you to traditional Indonesian dance and music. * Photo credit: Heidi Sarna

At times like these our clever guest speaker Simon was fond of sharing helpful little morale boosters. Paraphrasing from the great travel writer Jan Morris, “travel without a few hiccups is no fun at all,” he told us with a smile.

April through early September Seatrek does 7- and 9-night itineraries among the Bali, Komodo and Flores islands to see the famous Komodo lizards, trek along volcanic mountain trails and snorkel in vibrant reefs. Then the ships venture further east on longer, more remote itineraries in the Banda and Halmahera Islands, where waterfalls and white sand beaches are the backdrop to exotic wildlife like the elusive Red Bird of Paradise. Some itineraries visit Papau New Guinea to have a peak at the strange customs of the tribal people. Fares ($$) include all meals, soft drinks and excursions. Beer, wine and cocktails are extra.

Click here for more information on Seatrek Sailing Adventures.

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