Star Clippers — Luxury Sailing on Tall Ships

By Felicity, World Traveler

Felicity—a 20-something travel lover—has teamed up with her friends from around the world to provide readers with local, insider knowledge of today’s most awe-inspiring destinations. Through writing, photography, and video, they’ll share the best tricks and tips for experiencing a place authentically and getting off the beaten path.

Am I a sailor? Most certainly not. Will I ever become one? Unlikely. But would I like to go on a sailing adventure and lie on a net hung beneath the bow of a ship moving regally through sparkling turquoise waters? HECK YES. Throw in a few dolphins jumping below me and I am sold for life! 

Net hung below bowsprit of sailing ship

I recently discovered that such an adventure can be made possible by a company called Star Clippers. I’m smitten, and here’s why.

White sailing ship on blue water with blue sky

This is a company unlike any I’ve seen. While technically a cruise line, what they really do is sail, and their fleet includes Royal Clipper, the largest five-masted ship in the world. With 54,000 square feet of billowing sails pushing it across the sea, this is your chance to eat, sleep, travel, and play on a sailboat that looks like it’s floated out of a 19th century oil painting. Or, a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but with happiness and fun instead of planks, battles, and other unpleasantries.

White tall ship sailing past mountainous island

Star Clippers was founded in 1989 by Swedish entrepreneur Mikael Krafft, and has three ships in its fleet. Star Flyer and Star Clipper each hold 170 guests, and were built in 1991 and 1992 respectively. Royal Clipper, their biggest ship yet at 493 feet, was built in 2000 and has the capacity for 227 guests.

Overhead shot of large sailing ship

Between their three ships, Star Clippers covers the globe. Destinations include the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Panama Canal, South East Asia, and cross-Atlantic journeys from Barbados to Rome. Lately I’ve been looking at their trips to Bali; the westbound journey looks more cultural and heavier on shore excursions. These include trips to temples and the kinds of rural villages where they see few travelers except those from the ship. The Bali eastbound trip is heavier on beach time, snorkeling, and visits to marine reserves like Komodo Island.

Wide angle shot of Komodo Islands

Photo: Shutterstock

Because of their size, Star Clippers’ boats are able to get into much smaller coves, harbours, and ports of call than traditional cruise ships. Case in point: Venice!

Tall ship in Venice harbour

Although smaller, these ships are surprisingly spacious. The dining room on Royal Clipper, for example, is a three-level atrium, and guests have access to swimming pools on deck, a health club, spa, lounge, and plenty of cozy private spaces to hunker down and relax.

Library lounge on luxury sailing ship

The size of these boats also means there are no big Broadway-style shows onboard, or multitudes of dining options. Instead, they offer a more casual and independent experience, free from lines and the need to make reservations. Not even the beautiful, old-world cabins look cramped, which is where I expected they’d need to save space. These are just some of the many perks of having so few passengers onboard each trip.

Interior of cabin on luxury sailing ship

I’ve been curious about what the Star Clippers’ experience looks like day to day, especially in comparison to cruises I’ve been on before. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Between ports of call, guests are encouraged to actively participate in sailing with the crew, including steering the ship. In addition to the bowsprit net (for which I have already expressed my love), you can even climb to the ship’s crow’s nest!

Woman waving from crows nest on ship

When the boat is anchored, it’s a choose-your-own-adventure kind of setup. If you want to spend the day swimming and relaxing where the ship has anchored, you’re all set. Into watersports? They’re complementary, and accessible from a portable marina that lowers under the Royal Clipper’s stem. For a small fee, you can even complete diving certification classes.

Watersports dock lowered from underside of tall ship

The onland excursion options also sound incredible. They range from strolls through famous UNESCO sites to seeing Komodo dragons and everything in between. My personal preference would be the opportunity to trek up to the volcano of Mount Bromo by 4-wheeler and horseback...

Smoking volcano at sunset

Photo: Shutterstock

I get that this type of travel by boat isn’t for everyone; it’s a very different experience from a big cruise ship. But if you’re like me—the type that likes smaller groups and plenty of time spent outside—this could be just the right trip for you, too. Who knows, maybe after ten days spent aboard the Royal Clipper, I will want to become a sailor….

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