Hot tubs, haute cuisine, five-star accommodations, and VIP treatment? It’s time to take another look at yacht charters for your next vacation. By Chris Caswell.
Photo: Jim Raycroft
Imagine a quiet tropical morning when you start your day settled in a comfortable chair on the aft deck of a luxurious yacht, anchored off a deserted beach with palm trees shading the flawless white sand. A uniformed crewmember serves warm croissants, freshly squeezed orange juice, and icy champagne, making you wiggle your toes with pleasure on the sun-warmed teak deck. Your only decision is what to do today.
You might choose to stay right where you are, swimming, snorkeling, and exploring the shallows where the rainbow-colored tropical fish swim around your facemask. Perhaps a little water skiing, followed by a ride on a Jetski. Or you might suggest that your captain and crew move your yacht to a nearby harbor where, moored to the quay, you can watch the crowds strolling the waterfront as you enjoy a leisurely five-course gourmet dinner in the soft evening air.
“The special charm of a large yacht is that it enables presumably responsible people to combine the milder irresponsibilities of a beachcomber’s existence with all the comforts of a luxury hotel,” said King Edward VIII of England, later the Duke of Windsor and certainly a man who knew his way around luxury yachts.
When you think of the phrase “crewed yacht charter,” however, the first thing that usually comes to mind is a small ocean liner with a swarm of crew and a weekly rate that rivals the budget of a third-world nation.
“I can’t afford that,” you say, adding in justification, “and I wouldn’t want all that fawning attention and stuffy atmosphere, either.” Here’s the zinger: you’re wrong on all counts. The fact is that you can find not one or two, but lots of crewed charters for about what you’d spend at a five-star resort. Don’t believe me? Let’s do some math.
I picked two well-known Florida luxury resorts, one in the Keys and one in Palm Beach. Then I selected dates in mid-January, so there wouldn’t be any holiday price bubble. For a good room with a water view, five nights were about $4,000 for one and $6,000 for another, including all the taxes and surcharges and parking and nickel-and-dime extras. Let’s split the difference and call it $5,000 for five nights in a top oceanfront resort.
Photo: Jim Raycroft
You have to eat, but with scrambled eggs at $24, a burger at $19, and a sirloin steak at $59, well, even a diet menu is going to add another $1,000 a week for two people and, hey, you haven’t had a single mai tai ($12.50) or even a Coke ($3). Heaven forbid a bottle of Champagne!
You might want to rent a Jetski ($150/hour) or have someone take you on a snorkeling trip ($150/2 hours). So you’re paying $7,000 for your vacation, and you’re still standing in line for your table at night and hoping to get a decent beach chair during the day. Yipes!
Not long ago, I enjoyed a crewed charter out of Nassau aboard an 80-foot Hatteras motoryacht which chartered for about $18,000 a week, including the captain, mate, and gourmet chef. Two couples were aboard, although the yacht had three staterooms, so we could have had our shares for under $7,000.
Not only did we enjoy what the resorts call “ocean view” accommodations, but our scenery also changed daily as we explored new islands and harbors. We dined without needing a reservation on gourmet cuisine of our choice, and we never had a bad table. Sometimes we gathered in the formal dining area; other times we’d choose to have our meals alfresco on the after deck. We cavorted for hours on Jetskis, snorkeled until waterlogged, sat in the Jacuzzi sipping Champagne at night, and came away feeling truly pampered. Our crew remembered our names, knew our likes and dislikes, and were flexible to our needs. Want to snorkel before breakfast? No problem. Prefer your lobster shelled? Of course. A second slice of key lime pie? Absolutely!
I consider myself a charter expert, but for the purposes of this article, I wanted to see chartering through the eyes of a prospective client. I Googled “crewed charters” and was stunned by the sheer number of listings. I whittled my choices down to just the Bahamas and to yachts priced at $20,000 or less for a week. Even with those constraints, I still had several pages of yachts and very nice ones indeed: Hatteras, Viking, Lazzara, Hargrave, Cheoy Lee, and more. They are found in a wide variety of locations, with many following “the circuit” of Bahamas or the Caribbean in the winter months and the Northeast in summer. Because it’s so convenient to North America, there is also a sizable fleet based in Nassau year-round.
Of course, if your preferences run more toward lighting cigars with flaming hundred dollar bills, well, there are yachts to fit the lifestyle (and budgets) of billionaires. Take Excellence III, a 188-footer that has been called (with good reason) the finest charter yacht in the world. A crew of 14 starts your day with Cristal mimosas, entertains you with endless water toys, provides a five-course gourmet dinner, and finishes your day with Henri IV Dudognon cognac in the spa. Cost? A mere $315,000 a week, plus food, fuel, and all those little things. If you’re slow with the calculator, that’s just $39 each minute.
Photo: Jim Raycroft
Still not enough? How about Savarona, an ornately gilded 446-footer built in the ‘30s, with a crew of 48 to serve up to 34 guests. Onboard amenities include a gymnasium, a sauna, and helicopter pad. Depending on the season, she starts at just $455,000 a week.
As a starting point, first-time charterers should take a tip from experienced charterers: always work through a charter broker. A charter broker can help you select the right yacht in the right area, advise you on the best seasons and destinations, and generally match your needs and your budget with the perfect yacht. Like a great waiter, a good charter broker is nearly invisible, making sure that everything goes smoothly and without fuss.
Talk to several charter brokers to find one with whom you feel comfortable. One question that you should ask each broker is “Have you been aboard each yacht and do you know the captain and crew?” Professional charter brokers visit their yachts regularly, both to inspect the condition and to reacquaint themselves with the crew. In that way, they can recommend yachts that will be compatible with the client.
After you’ve made your choice, they will orchestrate the details, and you’ll receive a preferences questionnaire to let the crew know that you hate mussels, love Merlot, or like Amaretto after dinner.
Once you’re aboard, you’re the master of your yacht…within reason. The captain has the final say, of course, but you’ll have some options laid out. If you want to help run the boat, most captains are willing to give you the wheel. On the other hand, you are the guest and as such, you can settle into the salon with a trashy novel and not worry about the details.
In fact, that’s one of the pleasures I’ve discovered about crewed charters. As the skipper of my own boat, I’m always the one that has to get up in the wee hours when the wind starts howling to make sure the anchor is holding. On a recent crewed charter, I awoke when I heard the wind build and then I remembered: this is a crewed charter. I snuggled back into a comfy bed and let someone else handle it. Nice.
Here’s an inside tip: while the yachts are usually priced by the week, most are available for shorter trips at a lower rate. Something I’ve discovered is that you don’t have to go far or stay long to feel like you’ve “gotten away.” Fly to the islands on Friday and return on Monday after a lazy weekend of sun and saltwater, and it’s as good as spending two weeks. Well, almost. The point is that two or three couples can enjoy a crewed charter and not feel as though they’ve emptied the kids’ college fund.
Here’s something else to consider: a crewed charter is a great locale for a special event. I know three couples that shared a crewed charter to celebrate an important birthday, and the crew got into the spirit with a special cake, streamers, and even party hats. Another charter was for a romantic anniversary getaway, and yet another was a chance for three generations to share time on the water.
Whatever your reason, don’t let the words “crewed charter” keep you away. These are some of the best vacation values around and ones that you’ll treasure for a lifetime.
Take Your Pick
The following charter brokers have built their reputations of trust over a number of years and with hundreds of satisfied and repeat clients. All belong to recognized industry associations that set the standards for luxury charters. Each of these companies has access to virtually every top-quality charter yacht in the world, so their brokers can find the perfect yacht for each need.
Camper & Nicholsons International, 954-462-1462, camperandnicholsons.com
Ed Hamilton & Co., 800-621-7855, ed-hamilton.com
Fraser Yachts, 949-673-5252, fraseryachts.com
International Yacht Collection, 954-522-2323, iyc.com
The Marine Group, 954-463-4300, marinegroup.com
Meridian Yacht Charters, 804-438-1100, meridianyachts.com
Neptune Group Yachting, 954-524-7978, ngyi.com
Northrop & Johnson Yacht Charters, 800-868-5913, njcharters.com
Sacks Group, 954-764-7742, sacksyachts.com
Shannon Webster Charters, 386-439-0188, swc-yachtcharters.com