By Buzzy Gordon
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The Star Flyer’s land excursions featured guided walks through rainforests rich with wildlife, orchids and medicinal plants; floating and paddling through jungle and mangrove wetlands, escorted by exquisite butterflies; and visits to national parks and animal sanctuaries, including a rescue facility where passengers can interact with spider monkeys and other animals.
More energetic and adrenaline-pumping options included horseback riding and ziplining (for some reason, ziplines are sometimes called “canopies” in Costa Rica – not to be confused with rainforest canopies). One memorable excursion involving the whole ship was a day at a secluded beach on an island off the Panamanian shore: the logistical tour de force required transporting huge grills for a lavish barbeque; welcome unexpected visitors were howler monkeys, a remarkably camouflaged caterpillar, and a couple of eye-catching scarlet macaws.
A quirkily named “shore” excursion was whale and dolphin watching, which took place entirely on small boats that raced around on the water chasing after the elusive mammals of the sea. Whales migrate along this stretch of ocean in the late fall and early spring, although no sightings can be guaranteed. Watching playful dolphins frolicking is great fun, however, especially when you can observe young juveniles just learning to interact socially. You’re also likely to spot Giant Olive Ridley turtles, an endangered species.
Small Ship, Big Diversions
Back on board, there is also plenty to do, even when not eating. The cozy Edwardian-style library, complete with fireplace, is stocked with fiction and no-fiction books in English, German and French. There are also board games like chess and backgammon; at any given time, passengers can be found playing bridge or other card games.
The library is also the venue for daily lectures, illuminated with slides. A local naturalist was on hand to deliver a three-part series explaining the geography, flora, and fauna of the region. Captain Klaus Muller—a knowledgeable and amiable veteran German seaman who had transplanted himself to Scotland—gave two entertaining talks on the global history of sailing, navigation and exploration, in the context of homo sapiens’ unquenchable thirst for discovery and expanding the boundaries of known frontiers.
Sunbathing is, of course, a traditional pastime on any cruise. Two salt-water pools (excellent for cooling off, although too small for swimming) are lined with deck chairs. Surprisingly, perhaps, Star Clipper ships offer more outdoor space per passenger than most conventional cruise ships. This is because passengers are allowed to stretch out in the netting that extends forward from the bow, for a hammock-style experience with unforgettable views.
Even after the sun goes down, there are evening activities, organized by the always unflappable cruise director, that have the potential to delight far beyond expectations. There is a talent night showcasing the abilities of both passenger guests and crew members; and when one of the performers turned out to be one of Europe’s leading flamenco guitarists, he brought the house down.
When you want to relax in privacy, check out the DVD library in the purser’s office; each cabin is equipped with DVD players hooked to televisions, with (limited) satellite programming access. Speaking of staterooms, they are understandably not spacious, but perfectly adequate. If you want more room, there are a few deluxe suites on the Star Flyer, even boasting whirlpool tubs. The crème de la crème is the owner’s suite, of which is there is only one on each Star Clipper ship.
Another traditional mode of relaxation is enjoying a pampering massage. There is an excellent Thai masseuse on the Star Flyer, despite the lack of a full-service spa. The ship also employs a nurse, who is there to dole out seasickness tablets as well as handle any medical emergency.
If you go:
The Star Flyer cruises the west coast of Central America during the months of November through April—when there is plenty of warm (and not too hot) sunshine, and no rain. All of the ship’s itineraries focus largely on coastal Costa Rica; variations feature forays into Nicaragua and two islands off the Panamanian coast.
The last cruise of the season, in late April, ends at the Panama Canal; the final Star Flyer shore excursion is to the visitors’ center at Miraflores Lock, where passengers can observe huge tankers and freighters enter the Pacific side of the canal on their journey to the Atlantic. A number of passengers elect to stay onboard as the Star Flyer traverses the Panama Canal and enters the southern Caribbean, with stops at the San Blas Islands, Cartagena (Colombia), Aruba, Curacao, the British Virgin Islands, St. Barts, and St. Maartens. A hardy few will cross the Atlantic Ocean on the Star Flyer, which will spend the summer months cruising the Baltic Sea, while its sister ships cruise the Mediterranean.
Star Flyer website: www.starclippers.com
Published rates: $2,075 - $4800 per person, double occupancy, including airfare.
Story and photos by Buzzy Gordon
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