Clipper Ship Cruising Along Costa Rica with Concierge Travel

by Mark Thompson
EDGE Style & Travel Editor
Monday Mar 21, 2011

Imagine a travel day that commences with the sunrise and sees you flying at 38,000 feet through choppy air, the plane rolling just enough to remind you anew of the wonder of flight - Is this your Icarus moment? - and then, some hours later, having safely landed in Costa Rica, you’re in the North Pacific Ocean, aboard the Star Flyer, a four-masted clipper ship, which sails through the night, lulling you to sleep in your stateroom with the ancient rhythms of the ocean across which Christopher Columbus commenced the Spanish influence over the New World. It’s as if you’ve ricocheted back in time, leaving behind the age of aeronautics for the glories of the maritime.

The Star Clipper line of three clipper ships (the Star Flyer, the Star Clipper, and the Royal Clipper) has a devoted following of nautical enthusiasts - particularly those cruise queens who live more for Moby Dick than The Lady Eve, let’s say - and the staterooms on these luxury yachts are jewel boxes of highly-polished teak and brass, with nautical prints of classic ships hanging above oil-lamp sconces.

Initially there’s the slightly disconcerting sensation of being disconnected - cell phone reception is spotty, at best, and more often non-existent, and as for the temptations of Facebook, Manhunt, and Grindr, the Internet is eons away from Costa Rica’s unspoiled eco-pleasures.

The Family That Plays Together

Instead, there’s the pervasive sense of family that marks a Concierge Travel cruise, whereby connectedness takes on an entirely new meaning. In other words, the family that plays together stays together - and this is a family as happy as 101 Dalmatian pups.

Established in 1997, Concierge Travel is a Houston-based LGBT travel agency that, for years, has been the world’s largest-booking travel agency for RSVP Vacations - which has often resulted in cruises marked by a Concierge Travel family of upwards of 350 people, all traveling and partying together on the RSVP Vacations cruises.

In 2009, Concierge began offering its own charter cruises to remote and romantic locales (such as the Galapagos Islands), utilizing smaller ships that enable access to otherwise unreachable destinations. Moreover, the smaller ships, some with a capacity of no more than 170 passengers, foster that same sense of an extended family reunion that mark the Concierge Travel experience onboard the RSVP Vacations cruises.

Built in 1991, the four-masted Star Flyer is currently the tallest "tall" ship in the world, with a mast that reaches 226 feet. More than 36,000 square feet of sails billow in the wind - as did the rainbow flag on this cruise, flying above the Concierge Travel banner and proudly signaling: Queens on the High Seas; Buenos Dias, Costa Rica!

Pura Vida: Costa Rica’s Unofficial Motto

The Star Flyer’s polyglot crew of more than seventy sailors is from countries all around the world - and with a passenger list of less than 150, the odds were perfect for bespoke customer service from comely Spanish and East European youths. Climb a mast? No problem. Kayak, snorkel, and scuba dive. Check, check, and check. See you after midnight? Well, that was your business.

Or you could simply watch the sunset from the widow’s net attached to the bowsprit beyond the fore deck. Imagine a hammock over the ocean - and as the Star Flyer clipped along at eight knots, a school of manta rays in the water directly beneath you, you felt like the lovechild of Huckleberry Finn on his Mississippi raft and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, with her diaphanous scarves whipping in the air.

The Star Flyer splits its year between Costa Rica and the Mediterranean, locales particularly noted for relaxation. The unofficial mantra of Costa Rica is "Pura Vida," a phrase meaning "pure life" or "good life," which is often used as a local greeting and which beautifully highlights the inherent optimism of Costa Ricans. This is a country, after all, that permanently abolished its military in 1949, and is, currently, the only country in the world without an army.

The Welcoming and Inclusive Community

Perhaps, then, it’s small wonder that Costa Rica ranks first in the Happy Planet index and is the only Latin American country included in the world’s democracy index. As one measure of the country’s civility towards its citizenry, Costa Rica’s health care system is more highly ranked than the United States’ - and this with only a fraction of the States’ GDP. A pioneer in the eco-tourism movement, with over 25% of its land protected as conservation area, Costa Rica will become the first carbon neutral country by 2021.

Throughout the seven-day Central American cruise, that "pura vida" spirit ruled the atmosphere aboard the Star Flyer. Surely, the easygoing vibe encountered at the six Costa Rican ports o’call helped to sustain that bonhomie - but, without question, the genesis of the ship’s laidback vibe comes from Concierge Travel.

Concierge Travel founder and owner, Kim Gustavsson, conducts leadership conferences for Fortune 500 companies and is a proponent of Landmark Education, which extols the virtues of integrity and personal responsibility in becoming who you are meant to be on this planet. The resultant atmosphere on a Concierge Travel cruise is one in which everyone’s idiosyncrasies are celebrated, providing enough room for everyone to feel a part of the welcoming and inclusive community.

Celluloid Glow

In other words, there’s no "attitude" of the sort that leaves one feeling excluded - and the parties on deck become a kind of idyllic desert island scenario, whereby every subculture within the LGBT community commingles with carefree abandon.

The Star Flyer’s passenger list included the former gay mayor of Tempe, Arizona, and former head of GLAAD, Neil Guiliano, as well as legendary Saint deejay, Robbie Leslie, and Source Events founder, Craig Smith, and the incandescent Holly Goheavy, partying alongside doctors, therapists, drag queens, opera singers, Canadians, Brazilians, vegans, fagnets, Swedes, lesbians, cabaret stars, muscle boys, bears, scuba divers, kite-makers, naturalists, hair stylists - as well as the myriad personae who emerged nightly from the various trunks of costuming that these libertines dragged aboard.

On a boat this romantic, nearly every encounter took on a celluloid glow. At dinner, the dining room shimmered with amber light (or purple or red, depending upon the light gels installed by Concierge Travel’s own cruise director) and for a moment, everything was civilized - at least until Maissie entered the room, all tarted up as Baby Jane set loose on an unsuspecting audience.

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