To stand on the McArthur Causeway in Miami, Florida, on a Saturday evening is to witness an extraordinary procession. Motoring slowly alongside the cars on the causeway is a long line of huge cruise ships (usually about eight, but it could be any number up to 14) making their way down the deep-water channel and out to sea. Simultaneously, other cruise ships are sailing out of Fort Lauderdale, Port Canaveral, Tampa, New Orleans, Galveston, San Juan, Antigua and Barbados. Where are they all going? The world’s favourite cruising ground – the Caribbean.

The modern cruise industry, nearly 30-years-old now, started in the Caribbean. Although these days it is truly global with ships in 1997 visiting over 500 destinations – from the Antarctic to Archangel, from the Amazon to Aqaba – the Caribbean still remains far and away the most popular cruise area, though perhaps no longer the most exotic.

For this reason, attractive as Caribbean cruises are in terms of price, variety and ease of organisation, in recent years conference, promotion and incentive trip planners have been tempted to look at other cruise areas for exotic and unusual alternatives.

However, there is one sector of the industry that is still providing a unique and exotic cruising package in the Caribbean, easily tailored for groups or individuals, and offering a truly nautical experience: the four tall ships.

Lili Marleen is a three-masted, 76-metre barquentine (square-rigged on the fore-mast only) built in 1994 and owned and operated by Peter Deilmann River & Ocean cruises. She carries up to 50 passengers, mostly German, and cruises Europe and the Baltic in the summer and the Caribbean in the winter.

Sea Cloud was built originally in 1931 as a private yacht to carry 60 guests for the US heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and her tycoon husband E F Hutton. It is as elegant below decks as it is above. Interiors were panelled in carved oak, fitted with Italian marble and furnished with period antiques. There are lavish fireplaces and oil paintings on the walls, all restored in 1976 by the new owner, a consortium of German yachtsmen who charter it out to different operators for seven-day Caribbean and European cruises.

The sister ships, Star Clipper and Star Flyer, are the tallest clipper ships ever built. They are four-masted, 111-metre barquentines carrying 170 passengers around the Carib-bean, the Mediterranean and the Far East.

The Swedish yachtsman and businessman Mikael Kraft, who built these two ships in the early Nineties, places the emphasis firmly on “sailing” and “informality”. There’s no need to bring even a jacket and tie, a smart casual shirt is all you need for dining. What really sets passengers hearts aflutter is the informality on deck. Many small cruise ships claim to have an “open-bridge” policy allowing passengers to see what the captain and his officers are up to at non-busy times. Star Clippers turn this into an art-form.

For a start, the bridge area is pretty much indistinguishable from the rest of the upper deck and the busy moments, like sailing into or out of an anchorage, are when everybody gathers on and around the bridge to listen to the captain explain his intentions and even help with the deck work. If you want to wander into the wheelhouse in the middle of the night and share the watch you are more than welcome.

For sailors, or would-be sailors, the clipper ships are paradise on earth. The crews are largely made up from enthusiastic sailors who shun the “floating hotel” part of the cruise industry and who take pride in not using the engine. That means the use of combinations of sails to sail in and out of harbours and anchorages and the opportunity for passengers to help set them.

But you don’t have to be a keen sailor to enjoy all this. Star Clippers have many of the amenities you’d expect on larger traditional cruise ships. A piano bar and an outside bar, two swimming pools, a library, a shop and air-conditioned cabins. There are plenty of watersports facilities for sailing, scuba diving or snorkelling, and a busy programme of events, like fitness classes, shore excursions and beach barbecues.

The tall ships are breathing new life into the conference, incentive, and promotional cruise market.

Because of their smaller size they can visit ports and harbours, or lie in idyllic coves and lagoons, that the larger ships cannot reach.

As a simple incentive or rewards cruise for individuals they can provide a really stylish, memorable and unique break.

For groups there are plenty of water-based activities for team-building, not to mention the team-building and competitive op- portunities in sailing the ships themselves. For example, Lili Marleen is often chartered by companies who use the lounge’s conference facilities for meetings. This summer, car manufacturer Renault is chartering both Star Clipper and Star Flyer for its European sales managers.

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