Star Flyer Cruise Review
Cannes to Cannes
Living an hour and change south of Orlando, Florida in the coastal hamlet of Sebastian, allows us the opportunity to use the nearby Melbourne International Airport for most of our flights to Europe. The airport is small, within 35 minutes of our home and the lines are refreshingly short. Generally, we use Delta Airlines for most of our flights to Europe which requires a connection in Atlanta with further connections depending on our destination. For this vacation, we started and ended our Star Flyer cruise in Cannes, France. Nice is the closest major airport located 35 to 55 minutes by car. Our flights were Melbourne to Atlanta, to Amsterdam and onwards to Nice returning the same route. As with multiple connections, one delay can have a major impact on a trip.
Although we pray it never happens, it did, with a one-hour delay from Atlanta to Amsterdam that resulted in catching a much later flight from Amsterdam to Nice and landing four hours after originally scheduled. Apart from a long day, the timing was perfect, as Karin arrived from Germany just an hour later and we were able to drive together to our hotel in St. Laurent du Var, the town next to the airport and three miles from Nice. Karin flew on Vueling Airlines from Stuttgart via Rome, but, alas, her luggage stayed behind. The airline representative sheepishly explained that this is a common occurrence during the summer months, so Karin smiled, looked at the glass half full, and went shopping in Nice and Cannes at the height of the season. What joy!
Our hotel the Mercure Cap 3000 (Cap 3000 is a large shopping mall in St. Laurent du Var) was comfortable, offered free Wi-Fi, breakfast and easy access to the airport and mall. The mall is substantial with an Apple Store, multiple telecommunications stores, an excellent supermarket with a food court offering Greek, Italian, French, Chinese, and other freshly cooked cuisines. We enjoyed lunch there on Saturday after going to the airport the following day to see if Karin’s suitcase had arrived (it had not). The baggage representative was very helpful and promised to have it delivered to one of the scheduled ports for the cruise. Three days later, the errant luggage arrived at Bonifacio, Corsica by taxi from Figari Airport. The representative was true to her word and it should be noted that the Ship’s Purser, Marina, and the agent ashore were very helpful.
Without a doubt, our vegan dinner the first night at Dame Nature in St. Laurent du Var was a culinary highlight of the trip.
With the time constraints and lost luggage, we missed touring Nice and instead drove straight to Cannes to check-in at the port by 4 p.m. If you take to the wheel yourself, it’s good to know that France’s highways and rest stops are in very good condition, and traffic for us was lighter than expected. The roundabouts took some getting used to, along with driving a manual shift, which was a nostalgic flashback. We took the scenic route to Cannes… missing the exit for Cannes and taking the next exit (sortie) that brought us to a picturesque road along the Mediterranean Sea. It was a festive scene with stunning blue water, rocky beaches (or should I say ledges) and loads of people walking, or riding scooters and bicycles, cars parked along the beach and music playing. The colorful tableau was framed by blue sky, warm temperatures and a nice breeze with Cannes in the distance and a plethora of yachts at anchor. It felt good to be here.
We had the perfect vantage point to see yachts coming, going and at the dock, as boarding the Star Flyer was by tender. A warm crew greeting at the top of the stairs was followed by registration in the library, where we were given boarding cards (used to exit and enter the ship), cabin keys and instructions on the safety briefing before being escorted to our cabin 133. Its excellent, compact layout includes a king-size bed, plenty of storage and a comfortable combination shower/toilet. We changed quickly, grabbed our life jackets and headed to the main deck and our assigned emergency station for the crew’s extensive safety briefing.
We like that onboard the Star Flyer there is open seating for meals so we never felt rushed to make it to dinner. Monjal, the Cruise Director, introduced us to the Hotel Manager, who introduced us to Maître’D, Paul, who promised to make sure our plant-based/vegan dining requirements were met. We were delighted to learn that there were vegetarian options on the menu every evening, which worked well with a few modifications. Breakfast and lunches were equally easy with a wide assortment of fresh fruit, preserved fruit, bread, salads, vegetables, and grains. The chef also prepared lentils for at least two dinners.
Accommodations: Cabin 133
Cabin 133 was a comfortable stateroom with a porthole. Creative use of the bathroom space with the shower curtain wrapping around to keep the toilet dry, allows two people to simultaneously use the bathroom. There was abundant storage for our luggage and a safe in the closet. Television was available for music and few shows; however, we never used it and instead were either sleeping, changing or relaxing. There simply was no time to watch TV, as a live show was happening all around us on deck.
There was various live entertainment and music every evening starting at about 9:30 p.m.; however, in the beginning, we retired early after full days and lively dinner company sometimes until 10:30 p.m. One evening we enjoyed the talent show, games night and musician, Bela’s, entertainment. We started each day with an organized workout class from 8 to 8:30 a.m., which was equally popular with our fellow passengers.
My highlight was the ship’s bridge being open to passengers when the harbor pilot wasn’t onboard. If he were on board, we could still stand outside and view all the action through the open door.
Another highlight was that Star Flyer raised its sails every time we left an anchorage or port to enjoy the unadulterated freedom of sailing. Leaving Sardinia, we enjoyed 29 to 30 knots of wind on our way to Elba, with a glorious three to four hours or sailing under a setting sun. On other occasions, we had 15 to 18 knots. I never expected such a large ship to sail, so it truly made my trip. Star Flyer was remarkably stable under sail and at anchor. Water ballast was used to stabilize her and was extremely effective. At anchor, there was no roll, and going windward she sliced through the waves like butter. We could see white caps, but the only time we really needed to be mindful was when there was swell while boarding the tender. On board, all was stable, as Ukrainian Captain Yuri did a masterful job. Coming into Bonifacio was an incredible experience and leaving Bonifacio was extremely special. The pictures tell a story.
The entire crew, from Captain Yuri, First Officer Andreas, Second Officer Valdym, Cruise Director Monya, Purser Marina and all staff provided excellent service and were always accessible and tremendously helpful. They work tirelessly, especially with same-day turnarounds when there is little time to rest. A special shout-out to Monyal, who was fantastic.
We did one shore excursion, the Walking Tour of Monaco, and enjoyed discovering the impressive Principality, with million-dollar cars at every turn. Monaco was clean, organized and had a picturesque Market. As part of the tour, we had a snack at one of its restaurants, savoring pizza, sandwiches, water, lovely fruit pie and the atmosphere. The ice in Europe is curious, as it takes an inordinate amount of time to melt. In fact, I place some cubes under my cap to cool off, and they were still there more than an hour later. While we considered other offered tours in Calvi, Bonifacio, Costa Smeralda, Portoferraio on Elba, and Cannes, we chose to independently explore the towns instead.
The weather was outstanding with clear blue skies during the day, cooler temperatures at night. Onshore it was very warm with low humidity.
Star Flyer Ports of Call:
This fashionable and chic town has all the high-end stores, restaurants and hotels you wish to experience, with a busy beach to boot. We enjoyed the Cannes beach and refreshing Mediterranean waters on the last afternoon while staying at the Grand Hyatt Martinez, whose beach club is excellent, offering lounge chairs, service on the beach and showers.
Part of the Samnium historical region, Calvi was better than I expected, with its ancient castle, old town, waterfront, shops and restaurants providing a rich experience. I read that it had an industrial feel, however, this was not the case. The beach at the end of the promenade had coarse sand, water sports rental shops, and lots of people enjoying the warm weather and sea.
Figari Beach Stop, Corsica
This was a fun morning stop, tendering into a long, sandy Corsican beach. The water was cool and refreshing against the hot sun and warm breeze, and we loved every minute of it.
Bonifacio, a commune at the southern tip of the island of Corsica, was one of the highlights of our trip and a truly wonderful surprise. If you didn’t know it was there, you would sail right by the harbor, which is reachable through a narrow passage between two limestone cliffs, then opens into a wide and deep harbor. Caves are visible on each side as you enter the harbor, and so close at times, you could seemingly touch the sides of the cliffs. We passed a few beautiful bays with small strips of white sand and blue water, then docked at the Government dock beneath The Citadel castle that stands sentinel high on the hill overlooking the harbor and town. After Karin’s suitcase arrived, we climbed the castle’s 1000 stairs and explored with a self-guided tour and headphones rented from the tourist office. Dramatic scenery, beautiful views, shops, restaurants, people, cobblestone streets, alleys, and scooters all unfolded before us. I would recommend doing this tour if you crave an independent experience. Bonifacio is an overnight stop so we enjoyed a late-night walk along the dock, absorbing the scenery, yachts and colorful ambiance of diners in the restaurants. It was an exceptional trip, punctuated by the 6 a.m. departure through Bonifacio’s dramatic passage. I was up at 5:30 a.m. to view the unforgettable sail away.
Costa Smeralda, Sardinia
Costa Smeralda in Sardinia was our first stop in Italy and the place Karin felt most at home with the Italians’ energetic language and warm personalities.
In terms of onshore appearance, the fishing and commercial port to which we arrived were the most basic; however, the anchorage was beautiful with views of the different bays and beaches. We hired a taxi and enjoyed a picturesque three-hour tour to Port Cervo, the Italian seaside resort, and Costa Smeralda, a beach village closest to the port, which is vying to become another Monte Carlo. Many high-end stores in the harbor vie for attention with exotic cars on display and mega yachts docked in the marina. Exclusive villas were faintly visible behind vegetation and high gates, hinting at unimaginable riches. The landscape around Costa Smeralda is well groomed, lush and green in comparison to the other areas we saw which were sparse and a bit dusty off the beach, evidence of low rainfall during dry summer months. We enjoyed a wonderful coffee and lemonade at a waterside restaurant, just two minutes from the dock while waiting for the tender to return to the Star Flyer. On schedule at 7 p.m., we hoisted the anchor, raised sails, said “Ciao” to Sardinia and headed to Portoferraio, Elba.
Elba’s largest city has a beautiful harbor at which the Star Flyer docked on the picturesque waterfront. We started our daytime journey stepping onto the pier to explore the town, first taking a 30-minute trolley ride, then a walking tour of the castle, overlooking Napoleon’s villa on the hillside below. This took us approximately 2 ½ hours, with abundant history, beautiful scenery, charming alleys, and lots of stairs up and downhill. We enjoyed a café break for some water and lemonade then Karin returned to the ship to relax by the pool while I tried to source a data SIM card for Italy. After having no success, we resolved to purchase the ship’s internet plan at a cost of 18 Euros for four hours, which we did not completely utilize. Before leaving, we enjoyed a wonderful chocolate gelato, croissants and water at a gelateria across the street from the pier. An added bonus was watching the loading and unloading of the Star Flyer, as this was a resupply port. Our time at Costa Smeralda came to a close as we departed at 6:30 p.m. for Santa Margherita Ligure, the town next to the famous town of Portofino.
Santa Margherita Ligure, Genova, Italy
Santa Margherita Ligure replaced the initial port stop of Rapallo, as it was right next to Portofino and is a much more charming port-of-call; a good decision by Star Clippers. We took a 15-minute water taxi from Santa Margherita to Portofino along the coast, passing beach resorts, villas on the hillside and yachts at anchor. As you may have seen on countless watercolors, Portofino is right out of a postcard, with its small harbor and colorful houses nestled on the hillside. Naturally, it was busy with locals and visitors exploring all there is to see. We had a site inspection at the Belmond Splendido Portofino and first went to the Splendido Mare (small) hotel in the town to confirm the transfer, a seven-minute drive up the winding hill. Cars are not permitted in Portofino’s charming center, so we met the shuttle at the entrance to the town across from the bus stop and outside the pharmacy.
The Belmond Splendido Hotel is the premier luxury hotel in Portofino and is a historical site sitting high on the hillside with breathtaking views of the sea below. Ms. Maurizia Maino, the events manager, guided us on a tour of this classic hotel. We were fortunate to see a few of the suites, junior suites and standard rooms, which were all very different and well-appointed. The boutique spa was intimate with just two or three treatment rooms. The pool area overlooked the sea and had a charm all its own, while the terrace restaurant offered sea views and a cool, fragrant breeze under an arbor. We walked down the hill from the hotel with the intention of catching the bus back to Santa Margherita Ligure; however, the bus was late so we made the scenic, windy three-mile journey to Santa Margherita Ligure on foot. It was picturesque looking down from the cliff to the rocky beaches below where people were swimming, yet a relief to finally arrive in town and be out of the heat. All that trekking works up an appetite and Karin had a craving for pizza so we enjoyed Pizza Marianna and apple pie at one of the sidewalk restaurants, along with some requisite slow-melting ice cubes to cool my head. Once again, I kept the ice on my hot head for more than an hour before it melted away; would love to know the secret of this amazing Italian ice! Returning to the Star Flyer, we relaxed and enjoyed the sail away from Portoferraio at 3 p.m., heading to Monaco, for which we’re truly excited. The picturesque sail took us along the Italian coastline past Genoa and many other beautiful Italian towns.
Monaco (Nouvelle Digue)
As we approached Monaco we could see an impressive cluster of high-rise buildings, many mega yachts at anchor and a few marinas. I could not wait to see the streets of the famed Formula One race, and I was not disappointed. We embarked on a three-hour walking tour of Monte Carlo, visiting the celebrated Casino and Café Le Paris, past the top hotels such as the Hotel de Paris, the Hermitage and the Fairmont Monte Carlo. and discover some of the famous Formula One corners and tunnel of the Monaco Grand Prix. The Formula One drivers must have nerves of steel, as the streets are rather narrow. We also saw more luxury cars in one location than ever before. It is an impressive town that is highly organized, clean and a top tourist attraction. After a wonderful snack in the market, we visited the Palace, the aquatic museum and walked to the port for the tender back to the Flyer. Our departure from Monaco for the short sail to Cannes was at midnight so we could theoretically have spent an evening at the casino or enjoyed a fine dinner in the glamorous principality; however, we preferred to be onboard relaxing under the stars and seeing Monte Carlo’s lights glittering from a distance.
A resort town between Cannes and Nice on the French Riviera, Antibes is home to Billionaires Marina, among others. After disembarking from the Star Flyer, which we did with a heavy step, we took a short taxi ride to the Grand Hyatt Martinez hotel for an overnight stay in a Sea View room on the first floor. It was well-appointed and spacious, with a separate toilet, a large bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub and stand-alone shower; all in all, a comfortable layout. After dropping our suitcases, we left the Martinez crossed the street and took a 27-minute ride on the local bus from Cannes to the center of Antibes. We made our way to the water then to the striking Picasso Museum; however, our stomachs were rumbling and we asked one of the attendants if she knew of a good vegetarian restaurant nearby. “Sure!” she said. “There is one a short walk from here and you should go now before touring the museum as they will close for siesta.” Thus, we meandered the alleys and streets of old town Antibes and finally found the very charming La Taille de Guepe restaurant. It was worth the multiple directions that all included, “it’s not far. Make a left, then another left, then a right through the alleys.” Though we weren’t familiar with the area, it was a short, four-minute walk from the Picasso Museum. The setting was charmingly elegant, and the cuisine was delightful, especially the dessert of rose, violet and jasmine-flavored ice cream and strawberry soup. Even though we avoid dairy, this was not to be missed. It was a long lunch by American standards, as traditional French lunches are spent lingering over the food, conversation, and ambiance, which was well-received. We met the chef and thanked him for a delightful meal and the best ice cream ever, then returned to the Museum and told the attendant that we thoroughly enjoyed her recommendation, and suggested she try their ice cream, which she astoundingly had not yet experienced! The museum was magical. We could have spent three hours there instead of the two hours we’d allotted. Leaving there, we walked the town and took the train back to Cannes. These towns are very easy to navigate and Cannes was becoming more familiar. We had time to enjoy the Hotel Martinez beach before changing and heading out to a light dinner at the Le Vesuvio Café on La Croisette. Karin was in the mood for Italian cuisine, and the restaurant didn’t disappoint, seating us at a sidewalk table with a water view. This was our last night in Cannes and we took turns sharing memories and listening to the band playing at Martinez’s beach club, before calling it a night, as our wakeup call was at 3:30 a.m. for a 4:15 departure to the Nice airport. Our spectacular journey was coming to an end.
Overall Cruise Impression
I enjoyed this cruise and would certainly do another with Star Clippers in the future. In fact, we are now reviewing itineraries and mulling over possibilities. Venice to Rome is a viable option, as it is a smaller ship with the ability to interact with the crew and fellow guests, and be as close as possible to the sea and wind.