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Star Clippers — What’s it Like Sailing on a Tall Ship

Have you ever dreamed of sailing on a tall ship?

Thanks to Star Clippers, you can make this dream a reality. This luxury cruise line gives you the opportunity to sail the seven seas aboard a real life tall ship. Whether you fancy the warm, azure waters of the Caribbean or the picturesque seaside villages of the Mediterranean, Star Clippers offers exciting itineraries all over the world. And the best part is that you’ll feel like you’re sailing on your own private yacht…for real.

sailing on a tall ship

Sailing on a tall ship was truly a dream come true for me. Several years ago, I wrote a feature story about a high school girl who had taken part in a tall ship sailing challenge. Her story resonated with me, and I longed for my own tall ship sailing opportunity. It has been on my bucket list for years, so when Star Clippers invited me on board for one of their first Indonesian sailings, I jumped at the chance to be part of this premier opportunity. As an avid cruiser, I had done a lot of research on the company and was eager to give it a try. I was not disappointed.

From the moment you step on board a Star Clippers ship, you’re treated like family. Since each of the ships in the fleet carries fewer than 230 guests and about 75 crew, there’s an inherent intimacy that envelopes you from the minute you step on board. And even though you’re getting a five-star experience, the atmosphere is casual and laid back. It is a working ship, after all, and you will be a part of the action — even if only as an observer.

So let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we? I know you’re curious about what it’s really like to be sailing on a tall ship and if it’s right for you.

sailing on a tall ship

Will I Get Seasick?

I’m going to start with the topic I know is on everyone’s mind because the first question people ask when they hear I’ve sailed with Star Clippers is, “Will I get seasick?” And the short answer is not likely, unless you usually do, then maybe.

While tall ships maintain Old World charm in terms of style and experience, their systems are marvels of modern technology. Equipped with stabilizing gear and operated by extremely experienced crew members, there’s not a lot of rocky motion. Like any of the large cruise ships, you will feel the boat move from side to side. And, of course, there is the chance that you may hit some rough waters. So, if you’re someone who is prone to seasickness, come prepared. But for the most part, once you get your sea legs, you won’t feel a thing. Not knowing what to expect, I brought along a few didn’t find it to be any different than any other sailing experience I’ve ever had, from river cruises to massive ocean liners.

I’ve got a stomach of steel, but not knowing what to expect, I brought along a few over-the-counter remedies, just in case. In the end, it was a waste of money — the seals are still on the jars. I didn’t find sailing on a tall ship to be any different than any other sailing experience in terms of seasickness, from river cruises to massive ocean liners. It was, quite literally, smooth sailing for me.

Is the Ship Well Designed?

Ropes and knots, wooden wheels and brass compasses…these are the kinds of objects that come to mind when you think of sailboats, and they abound on Star Clippers. Star Clippers doesn’t cave to contemporary design standards. There is no over-the-top artwork or supersize seating areas. Rather, what you see is what you get. It’s a working ship, and much of its charm comes from the fact that you’ll need to walk around booms and sails as you navigate the upper deck. As you lay in your lounge chair by one of the small pools, you can watch the crew at work as they raise the sails, wind up ropes, and swab the decks.

sailing on a tall ship
sailing on a tall ship

It’s likely you’ll spend most of your time on the upper deck of the ship since there aren’t a lot of places to sit around inside. These ships are pretty compact, so most of the interior space is reserved for cabins, the dining room, and a small shop. There is a lounge area with a bar and several banquets where you can enjoy a drink with friends. There is also a small library where you can relax and read a book, or if you must, catch up on work. From the sketchings of sailing ships hanging on the walls to the antique-looking velvet banquets and navy blue carpeting that’s woven with a rope pattern, every detail of the ships’ decor harkens to old-school nautical traditions. It’s quaint and endearing and exactly what you’d expect from a tall ship sailing experience.

sailing on a tall ship

What are the Cabins Like?

Like the rest of the ship, they’re designed with a nautical theme. Star Clippers offers a five-star experience, but it’s only classified as a four-star because of the size of its cabins. They’re modest…most rooms have a queen bed (or two singles, depending on your needs), a small bathroom, and a small closet (that has a surprising amount of storage space). You can get larger suites  — some even include a full-size jetted tub, but they’re limited, so you’ll want to book early to get your hands on one of those. That said, once you learn the space, you and your cabin mate will get into a rhythm that has you maneuvering around each other with ease.

sailing on a tall ship
sailing on a tall ship

Each cozy cabin is designed for efficiency — making the most of the limited space. If you’re looking for extravagance or opulence, you won’t find it here. The rooms are wee, but they’re comfortable and have everything you need to make the most of your stay. My motto when I’m on vacation is, “If you’re spending all your time inside your room, you’re doing something wrong.” And this is especially true of tall ship sailing. This is an experience that’s meant to be enjoyed from the upper decks rather than inside your suite.

Pro Tip: There are some interesting room configurations, so be sure to let your travel agent know at the time of booking if you have any special requirements, such as mobility issues. One configuration requires guests to climb up a few steps to get into bed, for example. While you’re rewarded for your efforts with a porthole staring straight out into the seas, it may be a challenge for some guests. (I personally think these rooms are kind of cool if you don’t mind a little extra effort.)

Are the Meals Good?

They say a picture speaks 1,000 words, so I took a ton of pictures of the food. It’s exceptional.

Need I say more? Okay, maybe a little bit more…each day, there are several options for breakfast. If you’re an early riser — like me — you can grab a pastry in the lounge area to tide you over until the buffet begins. Most mornings, it starts around 8 a.m., but if there’s an early morning excursion, it will open earlier.

Throughout the day, there’s a constant supply of cold water to wet your whistle. You can also make yourself a cup of joe or a spot of tea anytime you like. Everything you need is always available. And there’s always a basket of fresh fruit on hand for anyone who has the midnight munchies or needs a pick-me-up between meals.

Each evening during happy hour, a delicious spread of both savory and sweet treats is laid out for everyone to enjoy. This is a great time to snag a few extra cookies to take back to your cabin for later, but you didn’t hear it from me.

While there is a lunch buffet served daily in the dining room, it’s quite likely you may never have a chance to enjoy other than on sea days. There’s a good chance you’ll be exploring the local flavors while in port. But if you do get a chance to eat on board, you’ll be treated to soups, salads, a carving station, several side dishes and dessert options, and more.

Dinner is served in the main dining room at about 7:30 p.m. each night. There are several options for entrees, including a fish, poultry, and vegetarian meal. This means that everyone can find something to their taste (see what I did there?). In addition, there are always a couple of options for appetizers, salads, soups, and desserts. Everything is perfectly cooked, seasoned, and plated. You won’t be disappointed.

Beverages other than water, tea, and coffee are available for a nominal fee. The prices are in Euros and are comparable — and maybe even a bit cheaper — than some of the larger cruise lines. We paid the equivalent of $8 for a drink that would have been $12 on other ships. Drink packages are available for groups of 10 or more.

Are There Onboard Activities and Entertainment?

If your favorite thing about cruising on the massive ocean liners is the Broadway-style entertainment, sailing on a tall ship may not be right for you. But, if you like sharing intimate dinners with new friends from around the world, watching local entertainers perform traditional music and dances, and staring at the stars, then you’ll love Star Clippers.

Throughout the day, you can attend story time with the crew to hear about places they’ve been or take part in a workshop about astronomy, knot tying, towel folding, and more. You can even take a tour of the ship, climb up to the crow’s nest, relax in the bowsprits, or try your hand at steering the ship.

Before dinner each night, the crew performs what feels like a sort of ritualistic ceremony as they raise the sails. Watching the crew working like a well-oiled machine to the sound of  Vangelis’ 1492: Conquest of Paradise never gets tired. It was always my favorite part of the night.

Most nights, there is some form of entertainment after dinner, from a talent show put on by the crew to locals who come on board for a few hours to showcase their culture. There is a piano man on board who performs nightly and also acts as a DJ for anyone who feels like cutting a rug after the show. Dinner typically lasts well into the evening, ending well after 9 p.m., so the entertainment doesn’t start until about 10 p.m. By the time it ends, most people are ready to call it a night. For those who aren’t quite ready to settle into slumber, simply staring at the stars as you sail along is a serene and surreal experience that comes a close second to watching the sails unfurl each night.

What Kinds of Ports and Excursions Can I Expect?

Star Clippers has several ships in its fleet, and they voyage all over the world, from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean and Asia. You can expect to visit some very traditional ports, and you can also expect a few unconventional extras. I happened to be on one of the first sailings out of Benoa, Bali, in Indonesia. Most of the places on our itinerary were very off the beaten path. In some cases, there were no docks, and we had to disembark our tender boats a few feet from shore or climb across fishing boats. It was an adventure for us, as well as for the locals who were not accustomed to tourists. Many wanted to take their pictures with us. Others were eager to sell their wares.

Other itineraries venture to more traditional locales, such as Corfu and Monte Carlo or St. George’s and Phuket. If you’d like to experience the open water, you can even take a transatlantic sailing.

At every port, Star Clippers typically offers at least one shore excursion. I took part in some incredible experiences that were truly one of a kind, including climbing to the top of a bubbling volcano after riding a horse through a sandy desert landscape. And if you happen to be visiting a beach port, Star Clippers will bring all sorts of watersports gear ashore for you to use, including canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards. You can even rent snorkel equipment on board.

What Should I Wear?

From the moment you step on board a Star Clippers ship, you feel like you’ve been transported to a different world, a preppy one where penny loafers, a polo shirt, and khaki trousers…that’s right, I said trousers…are the kind of clothes you wear for an afternoon on the top deck navigating the high seas. But the great thing about Star Clippers is that there’s no need for dress clothes for formal attire. Simply slap on a swimsuit and head to the upper deck — no trousers required.

And at night, anything goes. Most women wear a sundress or a pretty blouse paired with dress pants, but there’s certainly no need for anything more formal than that. If you’ve had a full day of fun in port, you can come as you are to dinner, and no one will blink an eye. It’s truly casual and carefree environment. Wear whatever makes you happy.

Pro Tip: Keep in mind your itinerary when packing, and be sure to bring along the necessary items if you happen to be visiting places, such as religious sites, that require your legs and shoulders to be completely covered.

What was the Overall Impression?

So what’s the verdict, you ask? Would I ever take another Star Clippers cruise? In a heartbeat. In fact, I can’t wait to share another tall ship sailing experience with my friends and family. If you enjoy river cruising, then sailing on a tall ship is likely also for you.

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sailing on a tall ship

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