Taste the high life on the ocean; KATIE STOREY boards the world's tallest five-masted sailing ship, the Royal Clipper.
So setting foot on the Royal Clipper, the world's tallest five-masted sailing ship - inspired by the Preussen built in 1902 - was a change of pace.
Viewing it for the first time from the Italian harbour of Civitavecchia, it was easy to appreciate its classical elegance.
While clambering abroad the tender boat with my luggage wasn't quite so glamorous, it's just a small inconvenience.
Glimmering against the water, we pulled up alongside the Royal Clipper and wobbled aboard to be greeted with smiles from the crew, dressed in the striped sailing strips that inspired John Paul Gaultier.
Meanwhile, the whites of the officers - akin to Richard Gere in that film which makes women go weak at the knees - seemed largely wasted on most of the guests.
As I was shown to my cabin I walked down a decadent spiral staircase and through a grand dining room reminiscent of scenes from 1997 box office hit Titanic (don't worry I counted the lifeboats!).
Tucked away below deck, my cabin came complete with its own portholes.
The ship would be sailing from Civitavecchia to Palmarola overnight - but for now it was time to eat.
Lunch was a 'help yourself' buffet featuring a concoction of breads, pasta, vegetables, hot and cold meats and host of sweet and sticky desserts, with an emphasis on indulgence.
A full stomach teamed with an early morning flight, had the Christmas dinner effect and we all resorted to an afternoon nap in our cabins.
Dinner was a slightly more grand affair with guests invited to choose from a three-course offering and free-flowing wine.
The freshly prepared menu with vegetarian, fish and meat options was in the same league as any high-end city centre restaurant.
But moving from the dining room to the tropical bar was like taking a wrong turn and finding yourself in the local boozer.
I'd been signed up for a music quiz against my will, which in itself wasn't that bad.
But with at least one over-enthusiastic team member and rivalry building amongst the guests, I began to feel like a tadpole lost in a shoal of piranhas with all the questions from eras before my time. And there was almost blood on the dancefloor as guests raced to ring the bell and win points for their teams - although an impromptu display of classic rock and roll jiving from some American guests did make me envious.
Unfortunately, my team was pipped to the post, so we had no option but to drown our sorrows.
The Royal Clipper boasts three swimming pools, one with a glass bottom through which light filters down through a three-level atrium to the dining room below.
There's a covered outdoor Tropical Bar, elegant piano lounge, a library with internet access, a watersports platform that can be lowered when the ship is at anchor, a small gym and a spa offering massages and beauty treatments.
Accommodation includes two luxurious Owner's Suites, 14 balcony suites, two deck cabins, 90 outside doubles and six inside doubles, all with private bathrooms. There's something for everyone.
The ship docked at Palmarola before breakfast and, feeling slightly delicate, we headed out to the Barone di Villagrande wine estate.
This is a family-run vineyard producing wine in the shadow of Mount Etna, an active volcano which enriches the soil with lava and sandwiches the field within its own microclimate.
Dining on a terrace shaded from the sun by hanging vines, and looking like a scene from a film in our oversized sunglasses, we were treated to a Sicilian brunch and wine matured in towering hand-made barrels.
Driving a short way to Taormina, we strolled through the eggshell squares with cliffside views, nestled beneath pastel churches, with fashion boutiques and cafes peppered along tall shaded streets.
Cable cars glided down the cliffside to pebbled beaches overlooked by luxury hotels.
By the following morning we'd travelled further along the Amalfi Coast to the seaside town of Lipari, where the sleeping streets were soon awoken by the bustle of shoppers with a rainbow of fresh pasta, spices and meats on The buffet had plenty offer, and fishing boats preparing to leave from the harbour.
Returning to the ship, it was time to take advantage of the sunshine.
Guests were invited to take a paddle in a kayak launching from lower deck at the rear of the ship, sunbathe on floating bodyboards or enjoy an afternoon cocktail.
Cast away off the coast of Italy, the ship hosted its own version of Clipper's Got Talent.
Unfortunately, it was just the staff who volunteered to take part, with a magic duo performing some less than magical illusions, karaoke and a Village People-style dance act.
lunch options But TV talent shows always pull in the greatest audiences during the audition sections and how can you judge if you're not going to give it a go yourself? The slightly Butlins-esque entertainment was followed by a disco with a classic wedding playlist of hits from Abba to Bruce Spingsteen.
Who doesn't like a good wedding though? And, with the charm of the staff bringing the international guests together, everyone was starting to feel like family.
Although, we did drop a bomb when we convinced the DJ to play The Sex Pistols and managed to clear the dance floor.
Pulling back into Civitavecchia on the final day, it felt like we were leaving for home too soon. It would be easy to settle into life on board the Royal Clipper.
TRAVELFILE | KATIE STOREY sailed on Royal Clipper as a guest of the Star Clippers fleet.
Guests can book cruises from three to 11 nights. The ships sail through the east and west Mediterranean, Cuba and the Caribbean.
A three-night Mediterranean sailing on board the flagship Royal Clipper costs from PS695 per person or from PS1,470 per person for a week's Mediterranean sailing on board the four-masted Star Clipper. Caribbean sailings cost from PS1,240. Prices exclude flights.
For more information call 0808 231 4798 or go to www.starclippers.co.uk
The buffet lunch had plenty of options
The Royal Clipper, left, one of the cabins, above, and the dining space in the atrium, below
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|Publication:||Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)|
|Date:||Aug 30, 2014|
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