Ever since Jackie O graced the deck of the Christina, yachting has been synonymous with class and filthy riches. Donald Trump does it, so do Larry Ellison and Tom Cruise — all those beautiful people frolicking aboard some fabulous yacht off Crete, Bimini or Cancun. How often have you dreamed of leading the nautical life of a Sybarite?
Well, wake up! A vacation like this is not out of the question — even for the average guy or gal.
Heaven knows there’s nothing wrong with cruising on a mega-cruise ship. Today’s luxury liners offer just about every amenity along with fabulous service. On my last cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas, I could climb a rock wall in the morning, work on my long drive in the afternoon (didn’t really help), and groove til the wee hours in the disco. But sometimes your inner yachtsman yearns for something more intimate, more exclusive and closer to the water line. Sometimes you just want to vacation like a mogul or a movie star.
Chartering a private yacht may not be as far-fetched an idea as it might seem at first. Let’s take a look at the numbers, comparing a traditional cruise ship and a chartered yacht side by side. For the purposes of the comparison, we will look at a “crewed charter,” which provides a two-person crew — a captain and mate/chef — with the boat. On the other kind of yacht charter, a “bareboat charter,” you handle the helm and the lines yourself. Fun but hardly comparable, as I cannot remember the last time the captain of a cruise ship allowed me to take the helm (good move).
Charter yachts ply the same waters as the cruise ships — the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean — but the onboard experience is both more intimate and more casual. A charter vacation won’t have Vegas-style shows, a buffet at every turn, or a small army of cruise directors to involve you in all kinds of activities. A chartered yacht will probably not even have — dare I say it? — a swimming pool, but then again, you have the entire ocean to swim in.
What about price? On a typical seven-night cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas, this one departing Miami on June 10 with a (partially obstructed) view of the ocean from your cabin, the price will be $1,499 per person plus port charges and taxes, for a total cruise fare of $3,119 per couple. Add another $1,000 for shore excursions and alcohol and you’re just over $4,000 for the week. This is a very good price on a fabulous cruise vacation — one that I have personally taken many times and will undoubtedly take many more times. In fact, I am headed out on the in August.
But, contrary to what I believed in college, you really shouldn’t eat pizza every night. Sometimes, you need to step out of your comfort zone, take a chance and sample something new for the sheer adventure of it. So let’s take a look at that chartered yacht.
While there are many charter outfits operating all over the world, The Moorings (888-952-8420) is one of the finest and most established firms offering this type of vacation. For this column, I asked the Moorings about a comparable seven-night Caribbean sailing in June aboard one of its Signature 4700 Catamarans. This is a 47-foot yacht with four staterooms, four heads (“bathrooms” to you landlubbers), five showers, air conditioning, a full galley and more.
To compare the two ships, we have to shave 973 feet off the hull of the Navigator of the Seas, cut the list of passengers from 3,114 to six, and trim the crew from around a thousand to two. Ditch the ice-skating rink and the rock-climbing wall, and subsitute a tall mast, a billowing sail and a spinnaker. What the heck, toss a few sea kayaks on the catamaran for fun. Oh, and the itinerary? Let’s just figure that out day by day as we go along — with a charter, you are always on “island time,” and you can go as the wind takes you.
Included in your charter are a captain and a chef, who work as a team. They are selected for their qualifications, experience and knowledge of the local waters. Their goal (because you will be tipping them) is to make sure this is the best sailing vacation ever, so they will show you the best spots to snorkel, serve up your favorite drinks and snacks, and choose the perfect anchorage for an awesome sunset. If you want, you can even take the helm and learn a bit about seamanship.
But there is more to do on a charter vacation than just sail and dive into the sea at a moment’s notice. The Mooring’s yachts come equipped with dive masks, fins and snorkels for everyone, and a two-person sea kayak or a sailboard. Additional sea toys can be rented as desired. Since your itinerary is “as you please,” you can stay ashore in Tortola for the world-renowned Full Moon Party at Bomba’s Shack, or you can sail to St. Kitts, Nevis and St. Lucia all in a single day, stopping along the way to snorkel or kayak in the clear water.
As on a cruise ship, all meals are included in the fee for a provisioned charter. A day’s menu might include piña colada pancakes (made with fresh pineapple) for breakfast, a buffalo chicken sandwich with an avocado-and-orange salad for lunch, crab cakes for hors d’oeuvres and, for dinner, fresh-caught red snapper grilled and spiced to perfection. And, oh yeah, chocolate soufflé for dessert. All this is prepared by your chef, who can also handle special requests after a shore stop and a visit to a local merchant. All beverages are included in the price of the trip — not just coffee, tea, juices, and soda, but beer, wine and spirits, too — a practice almost never encountered on a cruise ship.
Wow, this does sound like a Sean “Puffy” Combs vacation, doesn’t it? With a Sean “Puffy” Combs price tag? Guess again.
This cost for a full week in the Caribbean aboard a Moorings catamaran will run $10,521 — for the whole boat. That’s just $3,507 per couple. Surprised? I know I was the first time I chartered a yacht with a bunch of friends.
So, who charters a yacht? Is it just celebrities and nearly broke travel agents?
Hardly. In fact, it’s almost anyone— families looking for a bonding experience, friends looking for adventure and fun, active vacationers, grandparents with their grandchildren — even small companies looking to bring their employees together for some team building. It is not a typical cruise, and it’s not for everyone, but a vacation aboard a chartered yacht gives you a new way to see the islands and the sea, and it’s a great way to relax and rejuvenate. I recommend it. You’ll come back with wonderful memories of a unique experience.
John Frenaye is the president of JVE Group, Inc., a diversified company based in Annapolis, Md. With a background in business management, he writes about the travel industry as an insider with an outsider's perspective. E-mail him or visit his Web site.