The afternoon swimming in crystalline waters, sunset cocktails served on the deck. On to a gourmet dinner in a wood-paneled dining room, then into the hot tub for a relaxed debate about where to head next — Antibes? Monaco? Ibiza?
Unless you are hydrophobic or consider it too — ahem — splashy a show of wealth, few vacation options are more appealing than yacht charters. Though ownership of a super-luxurious vessel is out of reach for all but the extremely wealthy, private charters are an increasingly common way for the merely affluent to holiday on the seas.
And what's not to like, especially at the high end? The fully customizable itineraries, the private chefs and masseurs? The marble baths and plasma televisions, or the ability to bring as many friends as you can fit onboard? And don't forget the simple romance of traveling by water and the convenience of being able to carry your pampering environment with you, whether around the Caribbean or to Alaska.
Potential customers shouldn’t be intimated by prices — especially if pooling resources with family or friends — but they may be overwhelmed by choices. For example, London-based yacht charter company Boatbookings.com, with whom we worked to assemble a number of suggested charters, works with vessels ranging from small powerboats available for $630 a day to the Annaliesse, a renowned super-yacht that costs $840,000 per week.
"In the past couple of years, the audience has requested not only larger and larger yachts, but a broader range of destinations," says Janet Bloomfield, president of the Florida- and Connecticut-based International Yacht Charter Group. "I was on a boat in Alaska with a crew of 21, including a private naturalist, who was worth her weight in gold; chef; sous chef; and wine steward. Even if you've seen the British Virgin Islands or St. John's before, experiencing it from the water is such a different perspective."
There are roughly 1,500 luxury super-yachts available for charter worldwide. These are privately-owned vessels whose owners choose to make them available for charter to keep the boat functioning and the crew happy, and defray the costs associated with such an enormous investment.
"It's massively expensive," says Tom Virden, managing director and founder of Boatbookings.com.
Say you buy a Benetti, a custom-made Italian yacht. The purchase price is upward of $12 million, but the expenses don't end there. A Benetti requires a five- or six-person crew, Virden explains, which is signed on for the whole year. In total, the boat could cost more than $1 million a year to maintain; a general rule is that annual maintenance will total about 10 percent of the purchase price. Relatively speaking, the $120,000 a week a Benetti might cost to charter looks like peanuts.
Virden offers several tips for those taking their first plunge into the yacht charter pool at any price level.
"Some things are basic: book early," he says. "If you want a boat in August, we're running out of inventory in May."
And if you want a boat for Christmas or New Year's for next year, start looking now.
The more planning you do before calling a charter agent the better. Have an idea where you want to go, for how long and with how many people — and make sure those people are committed, because once you're booked, you're booked.
For this reason, Virden advises buying travel insurance — generally a set percentage of the charter cost — in case you get sick, your companions bail or your flight is cancelled. If you don't have insurance, the agent will try and re-charter the vessel. But if they can't, you're left footing the bill for an empty yacht.
Make sure you feel comfortable with your broker. He or she should make every effort to accommodate your requests, and a broker should present you with four or five options.
"That's the fun part," Virden says. "Deciding whether you want the hot tub." Or the private chef. Or both.
Passengers should know that the charter price includes boat, crew and that's it. A 30 percent "provisioning fee," levied on top of the charter price, functions as a bank account for the skipper, so he or she can stock the boat with your preferred champagne and munchies. Port fees and fuel costs, which can be considerable, are assessed separately.
"The biggest charge is always fuel," Virden says. Your charter agent will estimate that cost based on your itinerary, but if you're chartering a mega-yacht, you shouldn't even care.
"Some of these boats cost $250,000 just to fill up," he concludes.
A final word on pricing: Don't bother negotiating. They aren't going to knock off 5 percent no matter how last-minute your booking is. But even paying full price, at least you'll be afloat.