REVIEW & VIDEO: Cruising enthusiasts have long debated the merits of big-ship versus small-ship cruising. After a cruise I took aboard Star Clippers’ Royal Clipper, I came away impressed with its ability to negotiate the coves and bays of the Amalfi coast of Italy – something the big ships can’t do easily.
The Royal Clipper was built in 2000 and styled after the famous 1902 Preussen. It has five masts and holds 227 passengers and 106 crew. It’s one of three luxury yachts of the Star Clippers line.
The 5,000-tonne ship doesn’t have stabilizers like the big cruise ships do – it slices through the waves like a torpedo and is one of the fastest ships in its class. Depending on what mood Mother Nature is in, it can be calm sailing or a fun, rollercoaster ride.
When you leave the port of Civitavecchia near Rome, you’ll be fascinated watching the crew hoist the enormous sails to the dramatic music of Vivaldi.
But even if there is no wind, the powerful engines keep the ship forging ahead. First Officer Julien Giroux, from Montreal, said, “We try to sail under wind power for at least 50 per cent of the time and can sail at about 22 knots.”
In calm waters, passengers can don safety harnesses and climb the 60-metre mast to the Crow’s Nest for panoramic views. At the bow, there is a large rope hammock suspended over the water so you can crawl out and watch the ship carve through the waves.
Each day is spent in a different port exploring fascinating cathedrals, gorgeous beaches and enjoying a drink at a quaint cafe.
The beauty of small ship sailing is that you can visit ports that the big cruise ships can’t reach. Ports of calls for an Amalfi voyage include Ponza, Sorrento, Capri, Positano, Taormina and Lipari.
Ponza is a small fishing village with pastel-painted houses that rise from the busy harbour in terraced rows. Sleek yachts and rustic fishing boats moor beside each other. Enjoy a cappuccino and watch fishermen unload their catch.
Overlooking the Bay of Naples is the town of Sorrento. Marvel at the million-dollar yachts, shop for a wooden marquetry jewellery box or limoncello sweets. A popular shore excursion from here is to Pompeii.
Positano is said to be the most beautiful fishing village in the Mediterranean. It was featured in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun. Relax on the beach and watch kids toss stones in the water.
Perched on the side of Mt. Etna is Taormina, a town with winding streets, an amphitheatre, souvenir shops and spectacular views of the sea. Painters set up their easels and musicians perform in the courtyards.
Lipari can be a workout if you want to climb the narrow streets to the medieval castle. If it’s too hot, walk to the secluded beach and sunbathe.
For evenings back on the ship, there is a luxurious, three-level dining room, three bars, lounges, library, spa, gym and three small pools (one of which has a glass bottom). Off the stern there is a drop-down marina to enjoy watersports.