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Tall Ship 'Star Clipper' Part One: St. Maarten, Nevis, Dominica

The calendar will tell you that this time of year is known as fall or autumn but for fun-loving adventurers the season is known as Caribbean, mon! It's starting to get chilly in North America but down in the islands the only thing getting frosty is a fruity rum cocktail with your name on it. And that libation will be served under a palm tree on a beach with sugary white sand while reggae and soca music wafts through the air. Or maybe aboard the coolest vessel plying the Caribbean, the Star Clipper.

Star Clipper with her sails down

Star Clipper is a tall ship, a multi-masted clipper that sails under the power of the wind; also often referred to as a mega-yacht, she's big enough to hold 85 cabins (and a whole lot of fun!) Nearly the complete opposite of the cruising experience you get aboard the huge liners, there's no jostling for a place in the buffet line aboard Star Clipper, no one hustling to sell you art or jewelry, and no juddering of massive engines to shake you awake at night. Star Clipper does have engines but she rarely uses them; generally they're only employed when leaving a pier. Otherwise it's all peace and quiet with just the gentle flapping of sails to serenade passengers. And speaking of sails, passengers can also learn a little bit about how they work; there are plenty of hands-on opportunities to help with the rigging. The authentic sailing adventure is a big part of a voyage aboard Star Clipper but her small size also allows her to go places that the big ships can't, like Iles de Saintes, a rarely-visited territory of Guadeloupe. One of the ship's most popular Caribbean itineraries begins in St. Maarten and includes calls in Nevis, Dominica, Antigua, St. Barts and the aforementioned Iles de Saintes and Guadeloupe.

Star Clipper tender ships

Embarkation is in Philipsburg, St. Maarten, on the Dutch side of the island that also has a French side known as St. Martin. The ride from the airport to where Star Clipper is moored is a fun one; the ship arranges for a shuttle to bring you to the pier and the route goes through the heart of Philipsburg where you'll see the bustling little city at work and play. After you leave the downtown area you'll get a magnificent view of the harbor and the warm Caribbean beyond, a sort of preview of what's in store in the coming days. Tours of the entire island can be arranged on board for the day the cruise ends should you have an outgoing flight that allows you the time, but tonight is for getting to know the Star Clipper. On most cruise ships you'd be lucky to even meet the cruise director but on Star Clipper you'll meet the entire crew, including the Captain, in your first couple of hours on board. Being able to put a name to the faces is a nice thing; after all you'll be seeing these folks a lot! On the first day of this particular itinerary Star Clipper doesn't sail until shortly before dinner time so passengers have plenty of time to chat each other up while sipping cocktails, enjoying the sunset and just generally getting to know their way around. This is also the best time to visit the ship's library where sign-ups for the week's shore excursions (organized tours) are handled. The most exciting part of the evening comes when the ship's sound system plays a dramatic instrumental by Greek composer Vangelis. When the music is heard the crew is hoisting the sails and Star Clipper is leaving port, bound for untold adventure in some distant land. In this case, the enchanting island of Nevis.

Meet the Captain and his crew

As is the case in many of the ports Star Clipper visits, her tender boats are used to get passengers ashore in Charlestown, Nevis (pronounced nee-vis.) Some passengers choose to just hang out in Charlestown but most want to see a bit more of the island and one of the most popular shore excursions is the "Flavors of Nevis" tour. The Flavors tour visits several historic properties that were once sugar plantations where you'll see things like the remains of a 300-year-old windmill, cozy inns housed in restored 18th-century buildings and even the place at Montpelier Plantation where the renowned British flag officer Lord Nelson of the Royal Navy famously married Fanny Nisbet.

Old sugar mill on Nevis

The tour also stops at the lush Nevis Botanical Gardens where the Caribbean climate keeps things, including lots and lots of orchids, in bloom all year. Also at the ready are cold rum drinks; each stop finishes with a chance to taste the venue's signature cocktail.

Botanical Gardens

And no matter where you are on the island the verdant Mount Nevis is smiling at you in the distance and posing for snapshots as a genial host should. The tour ends in time for a return to the ship just as the snack table is being set for happy hour and more rum and fun in the sun, or maybe just a quick nap on deck before the sound of Vangelis rouses you with the allure of tomorrow's destination, Dominica.

Most of the ports that Star Clipper calls on have at least three different shore excursions on offer. There's a little something for everyone in Dominica where passengers can sign up to go river tubing (Dominica is the land of 365 rivers), hike the Syndicate Nature Trail in the Northern Forest Reserve to see exotic animals like the Sisserou and Jaco Parrot (the island's national birds) or indulge in the ever-popular Creole Cooking Experience where you'll get to taste authentic Caribbean cuisine.

On the Nevis Heritage Trail

Just kicking it in the port city of Cabrits is not too shabby either; here the mountains meet the sea majestically, making the harbor area a perfect spot for daydreaming and watching sailboats come and go. Sometimes Star Clipper even crosses paths with her big sister Royal Clipper here; watching her sail off into the horizon is nothing short of spectacular. But then again, that's an adjective that applies to just about everything on this week-long adventure.

The Royal Clipper in Domenica

In Part 2 of our Star Clipper adventure we head to St. Barts.

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