Seems these days that almost every Caribbean wedding has to be black tie-barefoot, and at least one dinner for the newlyweds (ditto for anniversary couples) must feature a torch-lit table for two on the beach. The venue must serve Caribbean-Asian fusion, and the spa has to be an Ayurvedic shrine the size of Ohio. But the folks who celebrate weddings and anniversaries aboard Star Clippers’ oversized sailboats have a different idea about romance, and on a 7-night Windward Islands cruise aboard the Royal Clipper, I met some very happy couples.
The Royal Clipper is the youngest and largest member of Star Clippers’ three vessels; in fact, this 5-masted, 439-ft. vessel is the largest full-rigged sailing ship in the world. Unlike your father’s yacht (what—your father never owned a yacht?), this one accommodates up to 227 passengers, has a soaring atrium with a lounge on the mezzanine, a sea-level dining room with burgundy banquettes, a library that resembles a private club (one caveat: unreliable WiFi), a gym and compact spa belowdecks, a party-hearty bar on the main deck, and three swimming pools on the top deck. And because square-masters don’t heel to one side, the water stays in those pools.
Captain Sergey, who genuinely relishes sailing, leads quirky “story-time” sessions, blasts heroic music when the crew raises the sails, and even invites passengers to nestle in the netting and climb the rigging so they, too, will fall in love with sailboats. But what’s love got to do, got to do with it?
Quite a bit, Tina. On our second day aboard the Royal Clipper we met Kim and Stephen Kaplan, two schoolteachers in their 30s who’d gotten married two days before we set sail. Why this ship? “We wanted an element of adventure,” said Stephen.
Another thirtysomething couple, Sandra Bada-Munz and Jorg Munz, agreed. “It was either this or a safari,” said Jorg, who’s from Germany. “The real thrill is when the ship gets underway: You see the sails unfurl; you hear the music. It’s fantastic; you get goosebumps!” To which Kim added, “Sitting on the top deck at night and watching the huge white sails against the dark sky is so romantic.”
the small boat advantage
So are this ship’s itineraries. Although the Royal Clipper is huge for a sailboat, compared with conventional cruise ships she’s a nimble little thing with a shallow draft that lets her slip into smaller ports that are off limits to bigger ships. In the eastern Mediterranean, that means mixing well-known ports with isles like Amorgos, Greece (population 1,973); in the Baltic, itineraries mix in unspoiled towns with medieval streets and old stave churches. In the Caribbean, the Royal Clipper and her sister ships can visit laid-back flyspecks like Jost Van Dyke, Bequia, and Saba.
The itinerary that we chose heads west from Barbados to six of the Windward Islands. In St. Lucia, the smart money took an excursion to the rugged southern half of the island, with its jungles and pitons. In Dominica, one of the region’s least developed countries, we visited twin waterfalls and snorkeled the Champagne Reef with a first-rate guide. Another day we strolled around the village and hills of tiny, artsy Terre de Haut, where the no-building-taller-than-a-palm-tree rule is in no danger. Passengers enjoyed beach days in St. Kitts and Antigua, where the ships’ loopy, lovely Swedish watersports crew provided daysailers and kayaks for two.
Fort-de-France in Martinique, our last stop, is a high-rise, modern city, yet it has an air of exoticism, in part because this Department of France sees few American visitors. (However, that may change soon; see “The Real Caribbean” on p. 82 of Recommend’s April 2013 issue). Was strolling through the hillside Jardin de Balata romantic? Bet on it.
massages at sea
The Royal Clipper may lack some of the “must-haves” of conventional Caribbean honeymoons, such the obligatory koi pond in the spa (gotta have a koi pond, right?), but Nancy and Bob Duncan, honeymooners from California, were delighted with the couple’s massage they got from the onboard massage therapists. Like other couples celebrating honeymoons and anniversaries, they were also unfazed by the fact that the ship’s dining room featured mostly tables for six and four, with precious little seating pour deux. Anniversary celebrants Diane and Scott Sherwood, from Florida, positively thrived on the freelance seating that allowed them to meet new people at each meal. “We’d never get to meet so many people on a cruise ship with fixed seating,” said Diane.
Like Sandra and Jorg Munz, quite a few passengers were from Germany, but the majority were from North America, so the lingua franca at dinner was English, which most educated Germans speak better than a lot of born-and-bred Americans. That most of the honeymooners were younger than the average passenger was another non-issue; although many passengers appeared to be in their 50s or 60s, and a few were yet older, they were a pretty fit and active crowd. Children on board? At most, four or five.
The ship offered five meals a day: breakfast, lunch, a late-afternoon “snack” buffet at the Tropical Bar that would sate a boatload of teenagers, a sit-down dinner with waiter service, and a midnight snack that this reporter cannot evaluate because it was after his bedtime. Breakfast and lunch featured buffets with enough choices to satisfy almost any palate, but I was disappointed by dinner, with bland preparations and unimaginative presentations—sometimes overcooked meat or fish, often slices of steamed carrots—an approach that evoked pre-Food Channel “Continental” cuisine.
Did the honeymooners mind? Apparently not; they were high on the romance of sailing. Still, clients shouldn’t expect truly contemporary cuisine.
the right cabin for newlyweds
Clients also shouldn’t expect the large staterooms typical of many modern cruise ships. This is a sailing ship, not a condo with a hull, so most cabins range from 107 to 150 sq. ft. They include two twins pushed together to make a queen, with one side against a wall. There’s a small desk, a TV and DVD player, a porthole or two rather than windows, generous storage spaces, and a stylish little bathroom with a shower. Fine for sailboat veterans like us (FYI, fall 2013 rates start at $2,300 pp dbl with advance purchase discount, including air from 12 U.S. gateways), but what did non-sailors think? “When you’re on a honeymoon,” declared Stephen, “there’s something good about cozy.”
By contrast, each of the two Owner’s Suites (from $5,520 pp dbl with advance purchase discount) totals 355 sq. ft., with a whirlpool tub in the main bathroom and a separate living room that has its own bathroom and a loft bed, a dining table, sofa, and minibar. Except for the portholes, it looks like a small but well-designed hotel suite.
Between these extremes there is a Goldilocks mean, and the Duncans were in it: a Deluxe Outside Suite designed to seem larger than its 215 sq. ft. (from $4,500 pp). No, it didn’t have an extra bed, but you would hope that’s unnecessary with honeymooners. It did have a minibar, sofa, table, and real windows that let in the light, plus a private balcony with two chairs and a table—a miracle on a sailboat. Important: Deluxe Outside Suites 309-312 have the best balconies.
Before dinner on the last night of the voyage, Captain Sergey officiated at a renewal of vows for a married couple from England. He does a lot of these as well as “ceremonial”—i.e., not legally binding—weddings at sea, employing the perfect mix of gravitas and humor. When the woman showed up a few minutes late he asked her, “You know this gentleman?” She did; this was their 50th.
Star Clippers pays travel agents bonus commissions of $500-$1,000 for group bookings. Regional sales directors also offer FAMs, webinars, and periodic agent discounts.
weddings at sea
The positives to a cruise ship wedding: The guest list can be endless, the honeymoon starts right after the couple says, “I do,” and the ceremony can take place on deck or at a port of call anywhere in the world.
A few cruise lines perform marriage-at-sea ceremonies by the captain such as Celebrity Cruises (celebritycruises.com), Cunard (cunard.com) and Princess Cruises (princess.com). The Wedding package by Cunard, for example, includes venue, a romantic ceremony at sea conducted by the captain, two fresh floral arrangements, a single-tier wedding cake, commemorative wedding certificate, bride and groom’s champagne breakfast in bed, wedding invitations, “thank you” cards, and more. Pricing is $2,500 per couple with a $575 license fee and additional marriage certificate fees.
Cruise lines with private islands ideal for hosting the big day are Disney Cruise Line (disneyweddings.com) and Holland America Line (hollandamerica.com). Back-up planning is also a good idea in case the ship can’t make port due to weather or other cancellations, and of course, a Caribbean wedding during the months of June through November may cause more heartache than necessary since it’s hurricane season.
Make sure you and your clients are aware of the ins and outs when planning the ceremony and don’t forget the onboard wedding coordinator is the go-to contact for information on legal matters, wedding packages, and ceremony arrangements; a bit of research goes a long way too as some cruise lines don’t allow weddings on board.
Star Clippers: (800) 442-0551; starclippers.com