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