I have cruised the Caribbean on several occasions, but our voyage this year, on the Royal Clipper, was undoubtedly the most impressive. Modelled on the German clipper ship Preussen, the recently built Royal Clipper boasts five masts and 42 sails and is a magnificent sight under full sail. She is luxuriously fitted with small, comfortable cabins and elegant public rooms, even a beauty and fitness centre. There is no casino or Broadway type shows, and the entertainment limited to two resident musicians, an excellent crew concert and occasional performers from some of the ports of call. The food is excellent and the atmosphere totally informal. Passengers are welcome on the bridge at any time and a sense of community with the ship’s company is encouraged. The ports of call are generally small and are not on the large cruise ships’ itineraries. In fact we never saw another cruise ship during the entire week’s cruise-and that’s saying something in the Caribbean today. For lovers of the sea and ships, with little taste for today’s Las Vegas style cruising, the Royal Clipper has to be the ultimate Caribbean cruise experience.
For quite a different cruise I can highly recommend the Alaskan cruises operated by Cruise West. Their small ships generally take between 70 and 100 passengers and their cruise experience is a total contrast to the traditional Alaska cruises. Forget the dinner jackets, 24-hour eating and the captains’ cocktail parties; Cruise West’s cruises are about enjoying the magnificent scenery at close quarters, superb wildlife viewing and gaining an in-depth knowledge of Alaska and its people. We had a prime example of the difference on our very first day. It was a perfect evening, the sea was oily calm with not a breath of wind and the sky glowed red with the sunset. A pod of six killer whales had been spotted and we drifted slowly alongside, sharing their world for nearly an hour. The only sound was the whales blowing as they surfaced. A large cruise ship overtook us at speed some distance away, ablaze with light, the passengers on their sixth course at dinner, or sitting at the slot machines or maybe watching some cabaret show, totally oblivious of us and our Orca friends. We didn’t have any casino or Broadway show but nature provided a display we shall never forget. This is the only way to see Alaska!