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Live From Star Clippers - Dubrovnik to Venice

12 August 2014

Buildings in Dubrovnik

One of our trade partners, Rosanna has embarked on an adventure of a lifetime onboard Star Clippers, Royal Clipper. The only tall sailing ship experience of its kind, this is an experience for those thirsty for adventure and we are lucky enough to hear about it live.

Rosanna has kindly agreed to send me a daily update of her unique experience, here is how she is getting on...

Day 1

To my absolute sheer delight I am currently laying in the heat of the blazing Croatian sun, sipping a chilled Pia Colada whilst the gentle breeze makes an effort to lazily comb my hair. I am nestled amongst ropes, sails and masts as a small accessory of the stunning and grand Royal Clipper. The coastline of Dubrovnik's Old Town has been painted onto the horizon, except this masterpiece is real- there are people walking in and out of the variety of restaurants and bars as if they have do not have anywhere else to be. There is no rush, no hurry, no hustle and bustle of the life we are all so accustomed to. This is exactly the Star Clippers experience I was hoping for...

My day started at 3:30am when I met my colleague, Emma, who then drove us to Gatwick's South Terminal for the first phase of our adventure. After initially arriving at the wrong car park (blame excitement and lack of sleep!) we were soon at the front of the queue to board Easyjet's 7:30 flight to Dubrovnik. Literally at the front of the queue, how eager are we?! After a slightly turbulent flight we were soon descending into the city, squealing like excited school children when we caught a glimpse of Royal Clipper sailing with pride into the port as we were landing. 'She looks so sailor-y' was one comment made soon after by Emma! We hopped into our taxi that would transfer us to the ship, at which point I had to try to subtly change my English rainy day jumper into a cooler top. It was 30 degrees plus and after the torrential rain of the cold British morning this sort of climate seemed a distant dream.

As we approached Royal Clipper on the tender boat, I could almost hear a choir singing out a jubilant and regal tune. Similar to when you see a movie scene where someone finds just what they have been looking for. Just as her name suggests, Royal Clipper oozes regality and royal charm. The five masts stand tall and proud like guardsmen keeping watch over something very precious, yet perfectly able to hold itself.

After a delicious buffet lunch (the seafood linguine was divine) a dip in the sea from the Marina Platform and a kayaking adventure with Emma here I find myself... Soaking it all in (the sun and the sea!) and eager for the late sailaway. I have heard a lot about this unique experience, so will report back tomorrow on how this goes…

Day 2

As I lay here in the sun listening to the distant drones of Bob Marley coming from the poolside bar, I feel extremely lucky that in the last 17 hours I have experienced two unique sail aways on board Her Majesty the Royal Clipper. One in the darkness of midnight and the other under the gleaming afternoon rays. Let me first tell you about last night…

After a delicious steak dinner and a glass of chilled Prosecco in the main restaurant myself and Emma made our way to the outside decks where the lovely Cruise Director, Anna, was hosting a Ship's Quiz. All the guests gathered round and rang the bell when they knew the answer. The atmosphere was great- laughter, fun and spontaneity. The DJ then put some classic tunes on and the deck was soon scattered with guests dancing and enjoying themselves. Most guests then gradually made their way to the upper decks to experience us sailing out of Dubrovnik.

The stars in the sky and the fairy lights around the masts merged into one twinkling light display as crowds gathered to watch us leave. All of a sudden Conquest Of Paradise, a piece by Vangelis, draped the air as the clock approached midnight. The sound was haunting yet enchanting, and we both found ourselves totally speechless. Couples were holding hands, people were filming, and I felt like I finally understood the stories I had been hearing about this moment. The lights were soon turned off and we were left sailing invisibly into the distant ocean, with the music still making our presence subtly known to the fading coastline.

With this circling my mind like a dream, I slept soundly and we were ready to explore Hvart. After a short tender ride we headed up the town's steep and windy streets (we both admitted we were slightly defeated by the heat and the sheer number of steps, so wandered slowly back down to the flat main square). The neutral brickwork and crystal clear waters make Hvar an idyllic destination, a picture postcard sight around every corner. We found ourselves watching the world go by in a beautiful local bar- absolute bliss.

So here we are now- 5:30pm on a Sunday afternoon, tucking into afternoon tea and still reeling from the buzz of the 4pm sailaway out of Hvar. Guests helped the crew pull the ropes to raise the sails, and the experience was made even more memorable for us because we spent the time laying on the bowsprit nets at the front of the ship. I felt like I was somewhere I shouldn't be, that we surely aren't allowed on the nets, but we were welcomed and waved at by the friendly crew. We layed there as the breeze whistled past us, although I don't think I have ever kept such a tight hold on my sunglasses!

I have to go...we have an appointment with the ship's Crow's Nest now, a harness and camera are the ingredients of the next adventure! Time to get a bird's eye view of the ship, another thing to add to the list of totally unique moments onboard.

Day 3

Royal Clipper has anchored herself proudly off the coastline of Rovinj today, a small Croatian town unspoilt by masses of tourists and thriving with culture. After a leisurely morning onboard spent chatting to a lovely couple, Liz and Terry from the UK we were on the first tender to the shore just after midday. We spent a few hours exploring the town and soaking in the atmosphere. Local children, families and teens go about their everyday life as if we ourselves are one of them and blended in, so much so that I very nearly became a victim to a very fast teen on a very fast bike on the path! Yes I did let out a yelp!

After my close-encounter (really, it was!) we headed back onboard in time for a swim in the sea from the Marina Platform. There is something so invigorating about being in the open water, so close to the ship yet totally free. I felt so small but totally protected and safe. A number of yachts, dinghies and tour boats circled around us and slowed down, eager to get a closer view of Royal Clipper in all her glory.

Tonight we sail away at 7pm, just before the open dining restaurant opens. I think I will be avoiding the scales when I get home- the food is absolutely divine onboard and I find myself easily eating 3 courses out of the 6 on offer. Last night was the Captain's night, so we were presented with a glass of champagne upon arrival at the restaurant and we all toasted the Master of this beautiful ship. The cheers and applause from the guests were solid proof that this experience has been exceptional. The Hotel Manager, Carlos, spent time chatting with us and ensuring we were enjoying ourselves and we then joined everyone else at 10pm for the talent show up on deck. Guests and crew alike shared their various hidden talents, some hilarious and some truly outstanding. Seeing the Cruise Director put aside her role for 3 minutes and put on her dancing shoes for a Charleston was amazing! We then spent the rest of the evening dancing with the guests and showcasing some of our 'moves' (one guest commented today on how good we were at dancing, not sure he could remember rightly!)

So here we are now, catching the last of the afternoon rays. Almost every guest that walks past us stops to say hello and asks about our day, there is a unique family feel that is special to Star Clippers. Tomorrow we will arrive into Slovenia, a country I have never been to, so no doubt I will sleep well (the beds are so comfortable) ready for the next adventure tomorrow...

Day 4

As I say 'Day 4', I find myself saddened in the knowledge that this means it's nearly home time. Don't get me wrong, I love to be at home, but the solace and tranquillity I have found on here will be hard to find in 'normal' life.. If I could bottle up the Star Clippers experience and create The Royal Clipper Remedy potion, I would be in for a great future! Next business idea, maybe?

Aside from my desire to stay onboard (still planning the best place for us to stow away!) I find myself reflecting on yesterday evening. If possible, last night's sail away out of Rovinj topped all the others. This was a 7pm sailaway, which meant it coincided perfectly with the sun setting on the horizon. To make it more special, we were able to sail solely by the wind. For the first time, we saw the full sails being raised, the air silent apart from the music that will forever give me goosebumps. Without the power of the engines, we glided through the water gracefully, the whole time under the watchful eye of Captain Sergey and Chief Officer Arrigo. To my surprise, neither of these two were maneuvering the ship out of the harbour. A 9 year old boy was...

It was at this moment I realised how Mikael Krafft felt when his dream of making experiences like this became a reality to adults and children alike. I later found out that child has steered the ship almost every day and that he now wants to become a Captain himself. In 50 years time I have full confidence he will still be telling people about the time he steered a fully rigged tall ship out into the open sea. Fully embracing the ship's hands-on approach, we asked if we could have a look around the Bridge, something very unlikely to happen on most other cruise ships. We were welcomed in by Arrigo who explained how they navigate the ship and how they plan the course we will take. We were truly fascinated by the equipment and technology in there, I couldn't take it all in! Arrigo later joined us, Liz and Terry for the evening's Music Quiz where we chatted to him for 2 hours about his career and life at sea (yes we weren't very good at the quiz!).

We are in Piran in Slovenia, a country neither myself nor Emma had been to before. It's a very quaint place with shops and streets meandering off a main square, and a castle overlooking the town from the highest point. After buying a magnet (I make sure to get one everywhere I go) we settled ourselves down in a cafe where a local band were playing. Once they finished they sat down and tinkered away on their guitars, working our arrangements for their next set. They were laughing and truly enjoying themselves and the music, so much so that when we saw them again I made sure to put some change in their hat.

We have spent the remainder of the day enjoying the delicious open air lunch buffet and chatting to Liz and Terry. They booked this trip on a whim at a cruise show in London back in April, and have enjoyed it so much they are already planning to book again. Tomorrow we arrive into Venice, our final port of call, so we will be up bright and early to witness us sail in to such an iconic destination. My final blog installment tomorrow will most probably be written from Venice airport departure lounge after a day of exploring the beautiful city…

Day 5

They call it pathetic fallacy when the weather reflects how you feel. I'm sitting in the departure lounge of Venice's Marco Polo airport looking out at cloudy and overcast skies. It's the first time in 5 days we have not had weather that could be described as absolutely perfect. The absence of the gleaming sun makes us think Italy doesn't really want us to leave?

When fully dressed in all her sails, Royal Clipper looks magnificent. I imagine it like how a groom feels when he first sees a bride on their wedding day- still as beautiful as ever, yet more divine than ever before. As we were snapping away, the crew shuffled along the front of the ship and gave us all a big wave. We spent 20 minutes capturing the ship from every angle possible, the result being photographs we will all treasure forever.

We were joined for our farewell dinner by Chief Officer Arrigo and a lovely lady from the UK called Margaret. She was travelling alone so we had a great evening chatting and sharing stories from the trip. The crew then came out singing and waving flags, ready for their final bow before rapturous applause and cheers. The smiles on everyone's faces (crew and guests) showed us just how well enjoyed the cruise really was.

After dinner and a spot of packing (cue sad face) Emma and I decided it would be lovely to spend some time under the stars before our early arrival into Venice. We laid on the sunbeds, looking up at the clear night sky. At one point Emma said 'wow, that's a really bright star'- it was the light on top of the mast!

Before I knew it, the alarm was going off at 5:50am. Still under the mask of sleep, and for the first time armed with a thick cardigan, I headed up on deck to see a sight I will probably never get a chance to witness again. I think I can count on one hand the amount of people I know that have had the opportunity to sail in to Venice at sunrise on a tall ship. Surrounded be equally intrigued guests, we watched out as we glided past St Mark's Basilica as the bright red sun began to appear on the horizon. Joggers were scattered along the paths, running with ease over the many bridges that connect the famous canals. An army boat went past us and stopped to match our speed so that the fully uniformed servicemen could get pictures with our ship behind them. People weren't really talking much, just taking it all in. I'm not sure I can even find the words to fully describe being up on deck for that hour this morning...

We came back down to earth once we were alongside and being told to collect our passports ready for disembarkation. We were fortunate enough to be offered a tour of various cabins once all other guests had disembarked, so we spent some time with Muslim, the Head Steward, viewing the different categories on offer. There are so many wonderful features in the different cabins, from the private verandah of the Deluxe Suite, to the privacy and luxury of the Owner's Suite. All cabins are spacious enough to suit the needs of the guest, and finished to the highest quality.

We were lucky enough to be on an evening flight to Gatwick, so we had time to explore Venice for a few hours today. I was last here in 2007, and Emma had never visited before so it was a lovely morning of reminiscing and making new discoveries. Normally I despise pigeons, but the feeling of having them perch on your hand at St Mark's Square is wonderful, it reminds me of the little old lady feeding them on Mary Poppins! You can't buy seeds for them now but many people were throwing remnants of crisps and bread for them to scramble over. We then headed over the Rialto Bridge for spectacular views over the Grand Canal, before enjoying authentic gelato in one of the cafes alongside the water. A truly wonderful, Italian day!

Flight EZY5268 is delayed and the rain is pouring down outside...a bit of a reality check for us both after such a blissful time away. The tans will soon fade but the memories from our time on board Royal Clipper will last a long time I'm sure.

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