Today Royal Clipper arrived in the French island of Martinique. It was grey and overcast as we looked out over the industrial dock where Royal Clipper was situated. Most guests seem to have taken a tour and to be very honest, in hindsight, I wish I had too. After breakfast we decided to walk into town, about 20 mins away. There really isn't much to see in Fort-de-France, the capital, and lets say its not the cleanest of towns - not much going on other than the old fort on the edge of the harbour. So my top-tip for visiting Martinique - always book a ships tour or arrange a private tour before you get here - maybe head out to a beach or visit the rain forest. The ship offers a choice of thee tours here depending on your itinerary:-
After yesterdays exquisite hidden Caribbean port and beach day, today is a real disappointment to be honest - I'm sure there are other smaller ports nearby we could discover, rather than docking at this industrial, commercial and rather dirty port. Still - we are only here until 2pm and then we are setting sail for Barbados. Maybe there's a technical reason we stop here?
The ship has quite a large gym, and as its under the water line, you can see the ocean through the portholes that line the walls of this room! I've never seen that before and it's very unusual! A really great selection of torture machines, sorry, gym equipment here, plus sauna and steam rooms. Treatments are also carried out here at Captain Nemos Spa - with a 1 hour massage costing 75 euros, hot stone massage for 80 euros, facials from 75 euros- so actually not that expensive.
Just behind the main Tropical Bar is the library. I love this room as it's the coldest room onboard and when it's humid outside a real nice place to cool down! Well stocked with lots of books in different languages, and the décor resembles a gentleman's club - decorated with leather sofas, wood panelling and even a faux fire place. Board games are here too, along with cards and chess.
All the way forward is the observation lounge where the onboard Marine Biologist provides a daily talk about all things aquatic.
There is a 24-hour tea/coffee station in the piano bar, and fresh fruit is always available. There is no room service onboard Royal Clipper, unless you are in an Owners Suite, but as the ship is small the piano bar is not far to get to.
Up on the open decks there is another bar that's open in the afternoon, plus three pools. The main pool features a glass bottom and the light filters through the water onto the dining room below. The deck is fairly cluttered with all the ropes, pulley's and other paraphernalia needed to raise the sails, but there's plenty of room for sun loungers. It all adds up to a very, very nautical experience; it is a sailing ship after all. Actually it's a world record holder! There is a plaque on the wall declaring that royal clipper is the worlds largest square rigger in service, measuring 133.8 metres in length with 5202 metres sq of canvas on five masts with 42 sails reaching 60 metres.
The captain mentioned is his speech that Star Clippers are planning on building another new ship - longer, wider, and with over 7,000 metres sq of sails! Wow now that will be a stunning vessel.
Up on this top deck is the bridge, and you can pop in and have a look with permission. All the way forward on the very bow of the ship are nets that you can lie in and sunbathe, and these flank the very pointy bit with the carved figure head- I'm sure there's a proper nautical name of that - stem possibly?
The Owners Suites are right at the back of the ship at the stern on the Clipper Deck and to be honest, I prefer the Deluxe Suites with balcony on the Main Deck - these feature room service, whirlpool bath, sitting area, and mini bar, and are probably more like cruise ship cabins than the rest of the rooms onboard.
There is also a Marina platform that lowers down from the stern for water sports when the ship is at tender.
Royal Clipper technical stats
As we sailed for Barbados, the weather took a turn for the worse and it was soon pouring with rain. We all huddled under a canvas shelter out on the top deck and played cards and other parlour games!
By the time it came round to dinner, we were right out in the open waters and to be fair it was getting a bit rocky. The dining room was pretty deserted as a number of our fellow guests succumbed to a bit of seasickness. This was a real shame as it was our last night onboard and would have been great to give the Royal Clipper a proper send off (probably involving rum based drinks!) Our fellow guests were a mix of ages and nationalities, but most were over 50 years old, with a handful of younger ones, but plenty of "young at heart" guests for sure.
Royal Clipper is an odd ship in that it is not a cruise ship experience, like I mentioned at the beginning of the blog, it's a sailing vessel and it is not fair to keep comparing it to large ocean going liners and cruise ships. It's a very out-doorsy experience, laid back, chilled out and just like taking your own sailing ship around the Caribbean. It does take a day or two to get used to the way it is run, and that's not a negative at all, but for people more used to cruise liners and the expectations you have when you cruise on them it does take a bit of adjustment.
The food is good quality and plentiful, I certainly never had any meal I did not like, the service is good too and staff friendly. Cabins are adequate and well maintained and my steward was almost super-human in his speed in making up my room! There are no lifts/elevators on board, so not suitable for mobility-impaired people, and the ship does tender a lot. There is no deck/bar service on the open decks and no organised pool games or bingo or suchlike (thankfully!) so if you are looking for an activity-filled cruise with bar waiters at your beck and call, lifts to all floors, then this isn't the trip for you.
It is the trip for people who enjoy sailing, are looking for a very different kind of sailing holiday, who like a low-key, relaxed cruise with good food, service and enjoy the beach, water sports, the outdoors, sunshine and relaxing, visiting smaller ports of call where its unlikely you will see the big cruise liners.
I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and my few early frustrations were not fault of Royal Clipper, rather they were my own expectations that I needed to manage (the whole cruise-ship comparison thing). The whole day at Iles Des Saintes was one of the best days I have ever experienced on any cruise - absolutely perfect in my eyes. Thank you Royal Clipper crew and Star Clippers for an exceptional trip - I'm feeling a tad homesick for it already!