A Star Studded Caribbean Cruise
It’s 11pm, and as Star Flyer cuts through the water we follow the direction pointed out by 3rd officer Vivek Kumar and crane our necks towards a clear, inky sky totally devoid of any light pollution. With hundreds of improbably bright stars shining down on the ship’s intricate rigging and sails it’s a breathtaking spectacle.
There are no casinos, Broadway shows, water parks or other man-made attractions on Star Clippers’ ships, but who needs them when Mother Nature provides such an amazing display? Starting with the prominent pole star, celestial navigation expert Vivek points out the hunter Orion – with his distinctive belt and dog Sirius at his heels – and with his lyrical descriptions we quickly become immersed in a game of nocturnal dot-to-dot, making out the shapes of big bear Ursa Major and the zodiac constellations of Gemini, Leo and Taurus.
Of course, Star Flyer has all the latest technological gadgets and gizmos to guide us on our way, but this splendid tall ship – one of three, soon to become four, vessels in Star Clippers’ fleet – recreates the golden age of sail for seasoned seafarers, combined with plenty of home comforts for modern day landlubbers.
Even the most veteran cruiser can’t fail to get a thrill from their first glimpse of the 360ft ship, which in this instance was dwarfed by a huge mainstream cruise ship moored alongside. As well as appealing to people with an interest in sailing, or cruise enthusiasts looking for something different, Star Clippers also attracts those who ‘don’t do cruises’ and would never dream of setting foot on a large ship. As a result you can expect your fellow shipmates to be an eclectic and interesting bunch, which adds to the fun.
As dusk fell there was a collective ‘hair on the back of your neck’ moment as we gathered on deck to the sight of Star Flyer’s 16 sails being unfurled by the team of sailors, and we glided out into open waters. I defy any past passengers not to be transported back to the memory whenever they hear 1492 Conquest of Paradise by Vangelis – the dramatic sail-away music on all Star Clippers’ cruises. That night we were gently rocked to sleep like babies in our cosy wood-panelled cabin.
Whenever conditions allow the ship is under sail both day and night, and this was around 70% of the time on our 11-night cruise which included calls at the Cayman Islands and Jamaica. On port days there were organised excursions, and I enjoyed meeting graceful stingrays on a natural sandbar off Grand Cayman and a tranquil raft trip along Jamaica’s Martha Brae, where enterprising vendors set up souvenir stalls facing the river.
Back on board the size and nature of the ship dictates that activities are understated, but that’s all part of the Star Clippers’ allure the draws around 60% of passengers back, often time and time again. By day passengers can blow away the cobwebs with an early morning exercise class, then lounge on sunbeds, cool off in two plunge pools, listen to informal talks by the captain, read in the library or chill out in the bow nets suspended over the sea. In addition to water sports, the most exciting activity is climbing the rigging to the crow’s nest – well worth overcoming any fear factor for the reward of the panoramic seascape. There are more great photo opportunities at sunrise and sunset, with the exact times usefully flagged up in the daily newsletter.
When the sun is over the yard arm, or even if it’s not, the social hub is the alfresco Tropical Bar. The eagerly awaited cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres, set against the backdrop of catchy tunes from the resident musician, is a jovial affair, and again a far cry from formal gatherings hosted on large cruise ships.
By the end of the cruise we’d struck up firm friendships, swapping tales of the day’s events and bonding over a mutual sense of adventure and mean cocktails mixed by the bar team. The Caribbean is big on sights and experiences – even more so when you’re sailing on a ship that’s the joint star of the show.