White Sails in the Sunset

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Star Clippers’ Royal Clipper ship sailing along Iles des Saintes in the Caribbean.
Star Clippers’ Royal Clipper ship sailing along Iles des Saintes in the Caribbean.

Few experiences are as moving as plying the seas on a schooner.

Jack London, the original sailor on horseback who knew a thing or two about ships and sailing, once wrote that nothing stirs the soul like being at the helm of a vessel under full sail, a truism that anyone who has experienced the calm majesty of running with the wind, worked sails, or taken a turn at the helm, can attest to.

Cruising on such ships is an unrivaled experience and can result in one of the most poignant episodes that ocean-loving adventurers can undertake. On some lines, guests may perform sailing tasks such as helping hoist sails, chart courses and even assist in steering the ship, making the journey an unsurpassed experience entailing seamanship. Other lines spotlight the voyages as being a relaxing sea journey where passengers lounge about while enjoying the serenity generated exclusively by a spell on the high seas.

star clippers
Star Clippers’ vessels are intimate (from 170 to 227 passengers) and epitomize the concept of “barefoot cruising.” They provide singular experiences that are evident from the moment one boards the ship with lofty masts and sails and the adventure of taking to sea begins to unfold.

“While Europe offers incredible history and stunning scenery,” says Mark Carlson, Star Clippers’ director of marketing, “it’s when we’re in the Caribbean and Costa Rica that guests can really embrace the spirit of tall ship sailing and become immersed in the relaxed island lifestyle found on board our vessels. This is especially true in Costa Rica, where we visit intimate ports that emphasize getting back to nature and discovering all the incredible attractions of the region—from lush jungles to encounters with howler monkeys and other rare species.”

The 227-passenger Royal Clipper returns to the Caribbean for another season on the line’s roundtrip Barbados itinerary. It sails two 7-night itineraries: the Windward Islands and the Grenadine Islands. The 170-passenger Star Clipper also offers two 7-night itineraries: the Treasure Islands and the Leeward Islands.

“We don’t feature mainstream ports in the Caribbean and Costa Rica, so these itineraries are popular with both new guests and our loyal repeaters,” Carlson adds. These are destinations where cruise line passengers may opt to venture ashore either on guided tours or independently to savor everything that the Caribbean is famous for. On dry land, guests will find an array of activities including shopping, visiting museums, horseback riding, hiking through tropical rainforests or exploring the hidden nooks of the islands where they get a first-hand look at island life.

This is a region known for a happy, carefree way of life and Star Clippers’ guests will often experience its soulful atmosphere during numerous festivals held throughout the islands. When the ship anchors during such celebrations, captains encourage guests to join locals during the parades, street dancing and concerts.

Those preferring the wilder side of the Caribbean can book passage on Star Flyer, an odyssey offering exciting experiences on both land and sea. Two 7-night itineraries sail roundtrip from Costa Rica’s Puerto Caldera. The Costa Rica-Nicaragua itinerary anchors in Nicaragua’s San Juan del Sur, where the peeling beauty and laid-back vibes of the town will make travelers think they’ve plunged headlong into the 19th century. During stops in Playa del Coco, Santa Rosa National Park and the National Reserve of Curu/Isla Tortugas in Costa Rica, they will explore natural wonders like volcanoes, join coffee plantation tours or venture into rainforests to see rare and endangered species.

The Costa Rica-Panama itinerary, meanwhile, visits Isla Gamez, Golfito, Drake Bay, Isla del Caño (evening scenic sailing), Quepos and the National Reserve of Curu/Isla Tortugas, Costa Rica—areas dotted with uninhabited mangrove islands surrounded by vast coral reefs thriving with tiger herons, turtles and howler monkeys. For many, these remote spots are the highlight of the cruise.

Guests booking early can take advantage of Star Clippers’ Advance Purchase Discounts that can result in significant savings. Early bookings were so strong for Star Clippers’ 2011-12 Caribbean and Costa Rica sailing season, that guests are encouraged to reserve space early to ensure they get their choice of sailing dates and accommodations.

The line’s fleet consists of sail-powered vessels that allow passengers to experience what only sailors from a bygone era felt: plying the seas under wind. The engines are used only when the wind isn’t favorable. In addition, the ships all have open bridges from where guests can enjoy the aesthetic wonders of a tall ship. Captains and cruise directors offer daily lectures to explain sailing’s finer points.

While in the tropics, guests have access to Star Clippers’ complimentary aquatic sports program that includes snorkeling, sunfish sailing, waterskiing and windsurfing excursions. The line’s 2012-2013 itinerary also features two Panama Canal transits for three of its most luxurious vessels: Royal Clipper, Star Clipper and Star Flyer.

Rates start at $2,075 pp dbl for the Royal Clipper itineraries; at $1,875 pp dbl for Star Clipper’s 7-night Caribbean and $1,875 pp dbl for Star Flyer’s Costa Rica cruise and feature Star Clippers’ free air travel program covering airfare and surcharges from select U.S. cities.