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Sail of the century; Hoist the sails and splice the mainbrace. MARGARET CARRAGHER sets sail on a cruise with a difference.

Byline: MARGARET CARRAGHER

a posse of waiters and wine stewards as music from a grand piano tinkles down from the Tropical Bar.

a posse of waiters and wine stewards as music from a grand piano tinkles down from the Tropical Bar.

Over the course of the voyage I hoard dinner menus detailing epicurean delights such as salmon sashimi with fennel, rolled veal in a rich red wine and fig sauce, and coffee and hazelnut parfait with cherry jus. Months later, I'm still slavering over them.

Over the course of the voyage I hoard dinner menus detailing epicurean delights such as salmon sashimi with fennel, rolled veal in a rich red wine and fig sauce, and coffee and hazelnut parfait with cherry jus. Months later, I'm still slavering over them.

But for all its sublime ubiquity, food is just one of the many diversions on board. Every evening, along with the chocolates, a timetable of events for the following But for all its sublime ubiquity, food is just one of the many diversions on board. Every evening, along with the chocolates, a timetable of events for the following day lands on our pillow.

day lands on our pillow.

For fitness enthusiasts there are morning workouts in the bar and water gymnastics in the main pool. Aspiring sailors can attend the captain's daily briefing sessions, learn the ropes on deck, or take a tour of the engine room with the chief engineer. The more languid can chill out with a poolside cocktail, or drink in the view from underwater portholes while having a treatment in Captain Nemo's submarine spa and health club.

For fitness enthusiasts there are morning workouts in the bar and water gymnastics in the main pool. Aspiring sailors can attend the captain's daily briefing sessions, learn the ropes on deck, or take a tour of the engine room with the chief engineer. The more languid can chill out with a poolside cocktail, or drink in the view from underwater portholes while having a treatment in Captain Nemo's submarine spa and health club.

But it is the sheer novelty of the vessel itself that most engages.

But it is the sheer novelty of the vessel itself that most engages.

| The spectacular Royal Clipper | The spectacular Royal Clipper IF YOU want a cruise experience with the romanticism of the past but all the comforts of today then this trip could be the one for you.

F YOU want a cruise experience with the romanticism of the past but all the comforts of today then this trip could be the one for you.

Star Clippers, a cruise line operating three of the world's largest sailing vessels, turns every cruising cliche on its head.

Star Clippers, a cruise line operating three of the world's largest sailing vessels, turns every cruising cliche on its head.

Most notably, they've got sails - the real, Pirates of the Caribbean deal. All that's missing is a piratical Johnny Depp lookalike wielding a cutlass. And given their endless, can-do enthusiasm I've no doubt the entertainments' team could stretch to that too.

Most notably, they've got sails - the real, Pirates of the Caribbean deal. All that's missing is a piratical Johnny Depp lookalike wielding a cutlass. And given their endless, can-do enthusiasm I've no doubt the entertainments' team could stretch to that too.

Because it's all about wish fulfilment here, if you wish for the best of both seafaring worlds - the thrill of an old-fashioned sailing ship and the comfort and style of a private yacht.

Because it's all about wish fulfilment here, if you wish for the best of both seafaring worlds - the thrill of an old-fashioned sailing ship and the comfort and style of a private yacht.

After much dithering over destinations, the good man and I eventually opted for the Western Mediterranean's Rome to Venice cruise, not just for its many and varied ports of call but also for the vessel itself.

destinations, the good man and I eventually opted for the Western Mediterranean's Rome to Venice cruise, not just for its many and varied ports of call but also for the vessel itself.

Launched in July 2000, the Royal Clipper is the first five-masted, full-rigged sailing ship to be built since 1902 and is the world's largest clipper ship with a mast height of 197ft and 42 sails stretching to a total of 56,000sqft.

Launched in July 2000, the Royal Clipper is the first five-masted, full-rigged sailing ship to be built since 1902 and is the world's largest clipper ship with a mast height of 197ft and 42 sails stretching to a total of 56,000sqft.

To put that in context - and with all those noughts you really do need a bit of context - so great was the volume of fabric required for the job by Floridian sailmakers Doyle Ploch that the order depleted the entire US supply and additional material had to be imported from Europe.

To put that in context - and with all those noughts you really do need a bit of context - so great was the volume of fabric required for the job by Floridian sailmakers Doyle Ploch that the order depleted the entire US supply and additional material had to be imported from Europe.

It's something to ponder as you set sail, sundowner in hand, to the whoosh of billowing canvas and the strains of Vangelis' 1492 Conquest of Paradise.

Paradise.

The welcoming party of officers and crew, warm as a poolside breeze, sets the tone for the voyage.

The welcoming party of officers and crew, warm as a poolside breeze, sets the tone for the voyage.

Geared to fill a niche in the small-is-beautiful as opposed to bigger-is-better cruise market, the Royal Clipper's layout reflects its casual dress code with open seat dining, a relaxed, indoor-outdoor main bar and a cosy, panelled library complete with fireplace.

Geared to fill a niche in the small-is-beautiful as opposed to bigger-is-better cruise market, the Royal Clipper's layout reflects its casual dress code with open seat dining, a relaxed, indoor-outdoor main bar and a cosy, panelled library complete with fireplace.

With 105 crew catering to the needs of 227 passengers, service is invariably swift and with a smile; and the 19,000sqft of open deck ensures individual space allotments much greater than those provided by the big cruiseliners.

With 105 crew catering to the needs of 227 passengers, service is invariably swift and with a smile; and the 19,000sqft of open deck ensures individual space allotments much greater than those provided by the big cruiseliners.

Styled by London designer Donald Starkey, who has worked on many of the world's most exclusive yachts, the ship's subtle Edwardian-style interiors exude a casual elegance.

Styled by London designer Donald Starkey, who has worked on many of the world's most exclusive yachts, the ship's subtle Edwardian-style interiors exude a casual elegance.

The piece de resistance is a soaring atrium which funnels light from a glass-bottomed swimming pool on deck to the centre of the dining room three floors below.

The piece de resistance is a soaring atrium which funnels light from a glass-bottomed swimming pool on deck to the centre of the dining room three floors below.

It is here that the Royal Clipper really comes into its own with menus devised by triple-Michelin starred chef Jean Marie Meulien.

It is here that the Royal Clipper really comes into its own with menus devised by triple-Michelin starred chef Jean Marie Meulien.

Breakfast and lunch buffets are wonderfully lavish, with lunches featuring a different national cuisine every day, while dinner is served by Breakfast and lunch buffets are wonderfully lavish, with lunches featuring a different national cuisine every day, while dinner is served by a posse of waiters and wine stewards as music from a grand piano tinkles down from the Tropical Bar.

a posse of waiters and wine stewards as music from a grand piano tinkles down from the Tropical Bar.

Over the course of the voyage I hoard dinner menus detailing epicurean delights such as salmon sashimi with fennel, rolled veal in a rich red wine and fig sauce, and coffee and hazelnut parfait with cherry jus. Months later, I'm still slavering over them.

Over the course of the voyage I hoard dinner menus detailing epicurean delights such as salmon sashimi with fennel, rolled veal in a rich red wine and fig sauce, and coffee and hazelnut parfait with cherry jus. Months later, I'm still slavering over them.

But for all its sublime ubiquity, food is just one of the many diversions on board. Every evening, along with the chocolates, a timetable of events for the following But for all its sublime ubiquity, food is just one of the many diversions on board. Every evening, along with the chocolates, a timetable of events for the following day lands on our pillow.

day lands on our pillow.

For fitness enthusiasts there are morning workouts in the bar and water gymnastics in the main pool. Aspiring sailors can attend the captain's daily briefing sessions, learn the ropes on deck, or take a tour of the engine room with the chief engineer. The more languid can chill out with a poolside cocktail, or drink in the view from underwater portholes while having a treatment in Captain Nemo's submarine spa and health club.

For fitness enthusiasts there are morning workouts in the bar and water gymnastics in the main pool. Aspiring sailors can attend the captain's daily briefing sessions, learn the ropes on deck, or take a tour of the engine room with the chief engineer. The more languid can chill out with a poolside cocktail, or drink in the view from underwater portholes while having a treatment in Captain Nemo's submarine spa and health club.

But it is the sheer novelty of the vessel itself that most engages.

But it is the sheer novelty of the vessel itself that most engages.

Where else could punters scramble 60ft up masts to lookout posts furnished with polished teak settees? Where else could punters scramble 60ft up masts to lookout posts furnished with polished teak settees? Or photograph their ship, resplendent in full sail from tenders skimming alongside? Or go scuba diving and snorkelling, water-skiing and windsurfing directly from a retractable marina platform on their vessel's stern? Or photograph their ship, resplendent in full sail from tenders skimming alongside? Or go scuba diving and snorkelling, water-skiing and windsurfing directly from a retractable marina platform on their vessel's stern? Little wonder there are so many repeat clients - almost 60%. And it seems many of them are on board.

Little wonder there are so many repeat clients - almost 60%. And it seems many of them are on board.

Like, for example, Carrie and Chuck from Arizona who have sailed the entire Clipper fleet to practically every destination on its itineraries from Northern Europe to the Caribbean and Costa Rica.

Chuck from Arizona who have sailed the entire Clipper fleet to practically every destination on its itineraries from Northern Europe to the Caribbean and Costa Rica.

At every port of call Chuck buys a badge for his Tilley hat. He reckons it almost merits its own passport by now and has activated metal detectors in airports the world over.

At every port of call Chuck buys a badge for his Tilley hat. He reckons it almost merits its own passport by now and has activated metal detectors in airports the world over.

Meanwhile, under the tutelage of the rigging crew, Carrie has acquired a forensic knowledge of ships' knots.

Meanwhile, under the tutelage of the rigging crew, Carrie has acquired a forensic knowledge of ships' knots.

Even now, they're planning their next voyage.

Even now, they're planning their next voyage.

Ditto Clipper veterans Jonathan and Mark from Edinburgh who opt to cruise because "you only have to unpack once".

Ditto Clipper veterans Jonathan and Mark from Edinburgh who opt to cruise because "you only have to unpack once".

They choose the Clipper line because, as keen amateur sailors, they appreciate the authenticity of the vessels and expertise of the crews.

They choose the Clipper line because, as keen amateur sailors, they appreciate the authenticity of the vessels and expertise of the crews.

Positioned at the stem of the ship with private access to its main deck, Positioned at the stem of the ship with private access to its main deck, their Owner's Suite extends to 320sqft with a wraparound private balcony, and boasts a marble whirlpool bath, a continuously stocked complimentary mini-bar and 24-hour cabin service.

their Owner's Suite extends to 320sqft with a wraparound private balcony, and boasts a marble whirlpool bath, a continuously stocked complimentary mini-bar and 24-hour cabin service.

Though not quite so lavish, our nautically themed quarters are no less welcoming with queen-sized bed, marble bathroom and home entertainment centre. Located within easy ambling distance of the Tropical Bar, it is to here we retreat on an evening with DVDs borrowed from the purser's office following the diverse entertainment programme.

Though not quite so lavish, our nautically themed quarters are no less welcoming with queen-sized bed, marble bathroom and home entertainment centre. Located within easy ambling distance of the Tropical Bar, it is to here we retreat on an evening with DVDs borrowed from the purser's office following the diverse entertainment programme.

Over 10 nights it features Over 10 nights it features everything from Sicilian folklore and pirate fancy dress to a guest and crew talent show - in which, incidentally, our good captain displays a singing voice worthy of X Factor. Simon Cowell, take note.

everything from Sicilian folklore and pirate fancy dress to a guest and crew talent show - in which, incidentally, our good captain displays a singing voice worthy of X Factor. Simon Cowell, take note.

At ports of call the ship drops anchor and a duo of tenders ferries passengers between ship and shore.

At ports of call the ship drops anchor and a duo of tenders ferries passengers between ship and shore.

Over the course of the voyage we stop off at places I've waited a lifetime to see. There's the Greek island of Corfu; Taormina in Sicily, whose 7th Century BC theatre is one of the most celebrated ruins of the Ancient World and a concert venue over the course of the voyage we stop off at places I've waited a lifetime to see. There's the Greek island of Corfu; Taormina in Sicily, whose 7th Century BC theatre is one of the most celebrated ruins of the Ancient World and a concert venue of international renown; and the legendary isle of Capri - party central of Ancient Rome where, between battles and conquests, Emperor Augustus liked to chill.

legendary isle of Capri - party central of Ancient Rome where, between battles and conquests, Emperor Augustus liked to chill.

Altogether, there are eight stops between Rome and Venice including three in Croatia, one in Montenegro and one in Slovenia. All fascinating.

Altogether, there are eight stops between Rome and Venice including three in Croatia, one in Montenegro and one in Slovenia. All fascinating.

But at every port of call I gaze wistfully back at the ship, its masts shimmering like a mirage of bygone days against a clear, cerulean sky, and I ask myself: "Where would I rather be - here on a crowded pier, or there, mojita in hand, by a deckside pool?" There's only one answer to that.

But at every port of call I gaze wistfully back at the ship, its masts shimmering like a mirage of bygone days against a clear, cerulean sky, and I ask myself: "Where would I rather be - here on a crowded pier, or there, mojita in hand, by a deckside pool?" There's only one answer to that.

NEED TO KNOW NEED TO KNOW | A 10-NIGHT sailing on board Royal Clipper next summer from Venice to Rome costs from PS2,270 per person, including all meals on board and port taxes.

| A 10-NIGHT sailing on board Royal Clipper next summer from Venice to Rome costs from PS2,270 per person, including all meals on board and port taxes.

| Call Oasis Travel on 028 903 13311 or visit website www.oasis-travel.co.uk | For more information on the Star Clippers fleet and itineraries, set sail for www.starclippers.co.uk | Call Oasis Travel on 028 903 13311 or visit website www.oasis-travel.co.uk | For more information on the Star Clippers fleet and itineraries, set sail for www.starclippers.co.uk

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| The spectacular Royal Clipper | The spectacular Royal Clipper | The Royal Clipper offers the last word in sea-going luxury from deck to dining room to cabin | The Royal Clipper offers the last word in sea-going luxury from deck to dining room to cabin | The Royal Clipper offers the last word in sea-going luxury from deck to dining room to cabin | The Royal Clipper offers the last word in sea-going luxury from deck to dining room to cabin
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 26, 2013
Words:2826
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