When it comes to sailing cruises, it’s hard to beat Star Clippers.
The line’s three tall ships are modeled after 19th century clipper ships – complete with thousands of square feet of sails, teak decks and polished brass fittings.
And when those sails are hoisted, the Star Clipper ships really strut their stuff.
But unlike most sailboats and sailing ships, you cruise in carefree comfort.
There’s no roughing it like Jack Sparrow on these clipper ship cruises!
We recently enjoyed our fourth Star Clippers’ cruise, this time on the Star Flyer.
These cruises are always lots of fun and great value.
If you dream of a bucket-list sailing cruise to beguiling off-the-beaten-path islands and ports, here’s our Star Clippers review – and more specifically, our Star Flyer review.
Star Clippers review
About Star Clippers Cruises
Swedish industrialist and entrepreneur Mikael Krafft had a dream – to build beautiful real clipper ships that cruise the world.
And so Star Clippers was born.
Star Flyer ship:
The first ship launched was the 170-passenger Star Flyer (in 1991). And despite her years, she’s still a real beauty.
A four-masted, square-rigged barquentine with 36,000 square feet of sails, she’s 360 feet long and carries 72 staff for up to 170 passengers.
Other Star Clippers ships:
Star Clipper, identical to the Star Flyer, followed in 1992.
The third Star Clippers’ ship, Royal Clipper, is bigger at 439 feet long and 56,000 square feet of sails. She joined the fleet in 2000.
Meet the Royal Clipper ship! See what it’s like to sail on the Royal Clipper
Go ahead. Give yourself a pat on the back.
When you choose a Star Clippers’ cruise, you’re making an environmentally friendly choice.
Because their main source of energy is the wind, the Star Clippers’ ships are inherently green, earning them the “World’s Leading Green Cruise” award at least five times now.
When they need to power up their engines, the ships use only high-quality, low-sulfur gas oil.
That’s nice to know, especially with many cruise ships getting a bad rap these days for polluting the environment.
Star Clippers cabins
On all three ships, the cabins are nautical in feel, with royal blue-and-gold carpeting, gold damask drapes, blue fabrics for covered furniture, brass reading lamps and metal bedside drawers with polished wood tops.
Most cabins are outside cabins with portholes.
At 120 to 130 square feet in size (Star Flyer and Star Clipper) and 148 square feet (Royal Clipper), the standard cabins are admittedly snug when compared to the staterooms and suites on luxury ships like, say the Seabourn Odyssey – or bigger traditional cruise ships like those operated by Celebrity Cruises or Princess.
But the cabins are definitely larger than what you’d find, say, on a chartered four- or five-berth sailing yacht or catamaran.
Each ship also has a handful of larger “suites.” For example, the Royal Clipper has 14 suites.
But don’t expect to throw any parties in the Star Clippers’ suites (they’re still cozy).
All Star Clippers’ cabins and suites feature TVs with DVD players, a closet for hanging clothes, a decent amount of drawers and storage space, and hair dryers in the private bathrooms.
Recommended reading: Chartered yacht holidays? They’re not just for the rich and famous
Star Flyer cabins:
On Star Flyer, all but six of the 85 cabins are outside.
Eight are deluxe deck cabins (suites) which have marble bathtubs and doors that open directly onto the outside deck.
Cabins are configured differently, depending on their location on the ship.
Our Star Flyer cabin, #302, had a white privacy curtain we could pull to hide the bed and the rest of the interior from the corridor when the door was open.
A small cushioned bench in the corner under the TV was useful for stashing beach bags and towels.
Two narrow beds were pushed together to form a double/queen bed, covered with two white European-style duvets.
At night, we loved feeling the power of the sea as it slapped against the hull outside our porthole and rocked us gently to sleep.
We also peeked into #308, which has the bed tucked behind a wall. It looked perhaps a bit more private.
Bathrooms are all-in-one, with a shower curtain separating the shower from the toilet and sink.
The open-air Tropical Bar is the main hub on all ships. Mid-ship on the top deck, it’s covered by a canopy (for sun and rain protection).
Wooden bar stools around the bar invite you to plonk yourself down and order a cool one.
Or you can seat yourself at one of the bar tables with stools scattered along the deck sides.
Passengers also gather in the Tropical Bar for port briefings, afternoon canapés and evening entertainment.
Inside, beside the Tropical Bar, there’s an Edwardian-style library with a faux fireplace.
Paneled in dark wood, it’s a beautiful room, used mostly by guests who want a quiet place to read or play cards.
The Star Flyer and Star Clipper ships have two teeny plunge pools (one at the stern and one mid-ship) with several blue sun loungers sprinkled around them.
The Royal Clipper features three small pools.
One pool has a unique glass bottom; guests in the piano bar below can see your legs kicking about in the water.
We were so busy during the day, however – out and about onshore – that, apart from a 20-minute spell, we didn’t have any time to spend relaxing by the pool on this Star Flyer cruise.
For such small ships, the Star Clippers’ ships have great little gift shops. Specifically, we’re talking about the high-quality linen shirts for guys (which have a discreet Star Clippers logo on them).
Toward the end of the cruise, the shop holds a sale where several clothing items go for half-price. George bought a couple of beautiful linen shirts (lemon-colored and blue-and-white striped) at half-price.
Funnily enough, at dinner that evening, one of our fellow table companions also wore a new Star Clippers’ shirt (in a different color).
Dining on Star Clippers
Each of the ships has one restaurant, with tables for four, six and eight persons.
On the Star Flyer and Star Clipper, six-seat booths line the restaurant sides by the portholes; the center of the restaurant is taken up by circular tables.
The dining room is really quite an elegant-looking resto.
Royal blue carpeting is embellished with a design of gold ropes.
Brass candelabra wall sconces adorn the walls.
French Provincial chairs, upholstered in gold corduroy, add an extra dash of class.
Meals are open seating.
Breakfast and lunch are buffets, while dinner is served.
You can start your day with a full English or continental breakfast.
Everything from fresh fruit salad, lox and cream cheese, smoothies, pancakes, bacon, baked beans and sausages is on offer. For eggs, there’s a fresh omelette station.
Lunch is always very good on Star Clippers.
We especially loved the tantalizing selection of healthy salads.
Hot dishes might include fish in white sauce and deep-fried shrimp, and for dessert, perhaps warm peaches in caramel sauce.
Save room on the Italian lunch day for the exceptionally delicious tiramisu and lemon tart.
Come 7:30 pm, a crew member walks down the corridors and rings a bell to announce that dinner is ready.
The three-course meal is served anytime between 7:30 pm and 9:30 pm, but most guests arrive between 7:30 pm and 8:00 pm.
The cuisine is continental.
Meat, fish and a vegetarian option are always on offer as an entrée. If you like steak, you can eat steak and French fries every night, as that’s always available on request.
A cheese plate is offered after dessert.
While you dine, a pianist plays live classical music on a white baby grand piano.
We usually didn’t eat too much at dinner because the lunches were so good. (And we were often still full!)
Dinner was always pleasant – and it was lovely to see the restaurant gussied up for the evening, with white tablecloths and a fresh pink carnation in a silver vase decorating each table.
What do drinks cost on Star Clippers? See our post on the Star Clippers drinks package (bar menu and prices)
There’s no need to pack fancy duds for your Star Clippers’ cruise.
Dress is informal – perhaps a simple dress, or capris and a blouse, for ladies (with flats, no high heels) and for men, casual travel pants and a golf-style T-shirt or cotton shirt.
If you wish, you could pack something a little dressier for the Captain’s gala dinner – maybe a pretty shawl and sparkly earrings for women and a long-sleeve linen shirt for men?
See what we’ve sussed out! The best travel sandals for the beach, city walking and adventure
Activities and entertainment
Star Clippers’ cruises usually only have one day at sea, giving you full days ashore in different ports most of the time.
Still, several onboard activities are offered, some of which you can only do on Star Clippers’ ships.
Listen to port talks:
Port talks, held in the Tropical Bar, are quite relaxed.
The cruise director scribbles key information about the upcoming port on an erasable whiteboard.
Do yoga on deck:
Practise your down-dogs and stretch out those kinks during free early-morning yoga classes held on deck in the Tropical Bar.
Climb the mast:
One of the most thrilling activities, unique to Star Clippers, is to climb the mast.
Wearing a tethered safety vest, you can scale the rope ladder to the crow’s nest – 60 feet above the water – for spectacular bird’s eye views.
Recline in the widow’s net:
The best spot to watch the waves whoosh along and the world go by?
The hammock-like netting stretched above the ocean at the very front of the ship.
On all Star Clippers’ ships, you can crawl into the bowsprit netting and hang there suspended above the water.
Keep an eye out for dolphins!
Chat with the captain:
An open-bridge policy means you’re free to pop into the bridge to chat with the captain or officer on duty.
Learn about sailing:
We found it fascinating to watch the sail maker mend the white sails on deck. The sail maker on each ship uses a honking-huge, old-fashioned sewing machine to do repairs.
And if you want to learn the art of tying nautical knots, there’s a session where crew will teach you.
Star Clippers itineraries
Star Clippers focuses on cruising the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Asia. And when in a specific region, the ships spend a whole season there.
Star Clipper, for example, sails Phuket, Malaysia and Singapore from November to the end of April.
As well, you can cross the Atlantic Ocean in a Star Clippers’ tall ship.
Ships visit famous ports mixed with small intimate ports that no other cruise lines visit – like Cres (Croatia), Plage D’Arone (Corsica), Dalyan River (Turkey), Porto Cervo (Sardinia), Belitung Island (Indonesia), Gili Sudak (Indonesia), Spetses and Skopelos (Greece) and Kota Kinabalu (Malaysia).
New Star Flyer itinerary (Caribbean)
Our 7-night roundtrip cruise itinerary on the Star Flyer covered several of the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean.
This Leewards itinerary, roundtrip from St. Maarten, is new.
It started up in the 2018/2019 winter season, and uses St. Maarten as its base.
Now that St. Maarten is bouncing back nicely from the damage it received in 2017 from Hurricane Irma, Star Clippers wanted to show support for the island by basing the Star Flyer there for a whole winter season of cruises.
Before and after our cruise, we stayed on the French side of the island – St Martin – at Hotel L’Esplanade and Le Petit Hotel, two lovely Provencal-style boutique hotels.
The ports on this itinerary aren’t your usual ports found on various Caribbean islands.
If you’ve cruised the Caribbean with one of the big ship lines and think you’ve “done” the Caribbean, think again.
Star Clippers will introduce you to a slower, quainter side of the Caribbean.
Day 1 – Nevis:
After boarding the Star Flyer the previous afternoon, we were happy to have a low-key day in Nevis, the first port-of-call on our cruise.
Tenders left every half hour – one to Charlestown and the other to Pinney’s Beach.
Pinney’s Beach just happens to be one of the best beaches in Nevis (the bright yellow beach umbrellas of the Four Seasons Nevis are found here).
We hopped on the beach tender for an afternoon on the beach.
Forsaking the busier Sunshine’s bar (famous for its killer rum punches), we rented two beach chairs and an umbrella from a quieter pop-up rental shack – and the three hours available passed very quickly.
Day 2 – Dominica:
Also badly hit by Hurricane Irma, Dominica is the lushest and greenest of the Caribbean islands.
We tendered to the simple dock at Portsmouth, which is right by the entrance to Cabrits National Park. (Large cruise ships dock at the Roseau cruise terminal on the opposite side of the island.)
For a $5 USD park entrance fee, you can hike 5 to 10 minutes along a paved trail to Fort Shirley, a restored 19th century British outpost.
Several other longer hiking trails also criss-cross the small park. The forested park looked to us like something worth exploring.
We, however, were booked on a shore excursion to go river tubing on Layou River, a scenic one-hour drive away.
Curled up in bouncy round inner tubes, with our legs dangling in the water, the tubing turned out to be a barrel of laughs, bumping into fellow tubers and splashing along in the river.
Added bonus? Spotting furry tarantula legs poking out of holes burrowed into the mud riverbanks.
Day 3 – Iles des Saintes:
The most picturesque port we dropped anchor at was Terre-de-Haut, one of a cluster of tiny islands that make up Iles des Saintes.
Très Francais, this gem of an island is like a little slice of France, but in the tropics.
No need to do an organized tour here!
Rent a moped or ATV-style buggy the locals favor, or use your feet. The fun is in discovering this island for yourself.
First on our agenda?
Huffing our way up a steep narrow road (past goats nibbling by the roadside) to the mid-1800s Fort Napoleon and its botanical gardens, where we were rewarded with splendid views.
Oh look, there’s our tall ship waaaaay down below!
Next? An obligatory cappuccino in one of the seaside cafés.
Then after a quick lunch back on the ship, we tendered to a narrow strip of sandy beach for some swim-and-snooze time.
Day 4 – Guadeloupe:
Sometimes the best days aren’t planned. They just happen. That was the case with our day on Guadeloupe.
Our ship anchored off Deshaies, a small fishing village and home to a few casual seafront restaurants, cafés and T-shirt shops.
We thought we’d poke around Deshaies and then make our own way to Grand Anse Beach, a 5-minute drive away – perhaps by taxi, if we could find one?
As it turned out, this very non-touristy town had a little tourism booth at the dock.
We discovered you can hike from Deshaies, up the 700-foot-high “mountain” of Gros Morne, and then back down the other side to Grand Anse Beach.
We were wearing runners. Why not? A little exercise would be good for us!
The steep trail ended up being quite a bit more challenging than anticipated, what with side-stepping roots and volcanic rock boulders.
Thankfully, the forest provided lots of shade.
Hammering woodpeckers entertained us and a breeze cooled the sweat from our brows. And lo and behold, a couple of hours later, we descended onto the one-mile stretch of majestic Grand Anse Beach.
Carpeted in gold sand and fringed with swaying coconut palms, Grand Anse Beach is the mother of all beaches – untainted by resort development and picture-perfect.
We plonked ourselves down at the far end, closer to a smattering of restos tucked up behind the trees (hidden from the beach).
A quick refreshing swim. A quick nap. And then we quickly walked along the road (about 25 minutes) back to Deshaies, making it in time to catch the last tender back to the ship.
Day 5 – Antigua:
Quick. What is Antigua known for? Its 365 beaches (one for every day of the year, they say).
So, what to do in Antigua on a Star Flyer cruise? Why, enjoy a beach barbecue!
Tenders ferried guests to idyllic Pigeon Point Beach on Antigua, where we climbed down a ladder from the tender at the water’s edge and sloshed our way up onto the sand.
As with all beach stops, the Star Clippers’ water sports team hauled SUP boards, kayaks and sailing dinghies onto the beach for guests to use (complimentary).
After ample time for swimming, SUPping (is this a verb yet?) and lounging around on the beach under the shade of sea grape trees, we were ready for the ship’s BBQ.
We helped ourselves to grilled burgers, fish and salads, then ate – plates balanced on our laps – as we sat on our towels on the sand.
A fun beach day!
Day 6 – St. Barts:
Back in business, St. Barts – which was also slammed by Hurricane Irma – is another of the French Caribbean islands visited by the Star Flyer ship on this Leeward Islands itinerary.
We strolled the streets of Gustavia, St. Barts’ tony capital, peeking into very expensive designer boutiques and gawking at gleaming mega yachts in the harbor.
At the edge of town, we came to Shell Beach.
This very pretty beach is literally covered with millions of tiny unique shells. (Don’t worry, they won’t cut your feet.)
You can rent a beach chair and umbrella at Shellona Restaurant – or join the bikini-clad vacationers lolling about on bean bags there for some bubbly or beer.
But all the beaches on St. Barts are free.
So we simply enjoyed a swim, followed by chill time at one side of the cove, where boulders offered shade.
Authentic sailing cruise ships
Probably the most enthralling aspect of cruising with Star Clippers is that the voyages are real sailing cruises.
Wind charts are used for the mapping of exact itineraries.
In the Caribbean, for example, Star Clippers’ ships sail with the wind some 70% of the time.
Sailors in blue-and-white striped T-shirts and white pants handle ropes, use winches and flex a lot of muscles to unfurl the sails.
When setting sail, usually late in the afternoon, passengers gather on deck to watch the spectacle of leaving port.
Stirring music from the soundtrack for “1492: Conquest of Paradise” by Vangelis plays, as the sails catch the wind and the ship starts to move with the seas.
We never tired of the song.
Or of standing on deck, watching the twinkling lights on land get smaller and smaller as the enormous sails billowed in the breeze and we glided through the water, like ships since time immemorial.
Coming soon: Star Clippers will debut its fourth ship, the Flying Clipper.
This new five-masted ship is modeled after the 1911 France, the biggest square rigger ever built.
So when she sets sail, she’ll replace the Royal Clipper as the largest true sailing ship in the world.
Star Clippers review: Bottom line
Is a Star Clippers cruise right for you?
These bewitching cruises attract an international mix of mostly British, Europeans and Americans, along with a few Aussies and South Americans. Most guests are in their 50s and 60s, but you’ll find younger couples too.
On our cruise, we chit-chatted occasionally with the very charming Italian celebrity Maria Teresa Ruta and her companions, who added some glamor.
Some 60% of guests are repeaters.
So, will you like a Star Clippers cruise?
Yes, if you are easy-going, active and open to new experiences; like the intimacy of a small ship and the romance of sailing; can be happy squeezing into a small cabin; want to escape the crowds; and can do without a casino, show lounges and other amenities typically found on bigger ships.
These cruises are not suited for anyone with limited mobility, however. There are no elevators, and agility is needed to climb stairs and clamber in and out of Zodiacs and small tenders.
This was our fourth Star Clippers cruise – and we can’t wait for our next!
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Photo credits: 4, 6, 8, 13 to 18, 20 to 22, 25 to 34, 36 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 35 Shellona Restaurant | Remaining photos Star Clippers
We sailed on this cruise as media guests for review purposes. But we always maintain the ability to write what we want, as we experience it.