Looking for pinch-me-I’m-dreaming scenery, historical heritage or that next grand adventure?
Why not charter a yacht?
You may think yacht holidays are only for the rich and famous in tropical playgrounds.
But a yachting vacation doesn’t have to break the bank. And there are many more places around the world than the Bahamas or Caribbean that are ideal for sailing charters.
Renting a yacht for a week is an intimate way to vacation with your family or friends. Different from a cruise – even a small ship sailing cruise – a yacht charter vacation allows you to customize your own itinerary, giving you the flexibility to sail where you want, when you want.
Intrigued? Here’s our guide to chartering a yacht for a very special holiday.
Choose how and where you want to go. Pick your yacht. Pack your swimsuit and Ray-Bans. And venture off on your own unforgettable voyage!
Recommended reading: Want to sail on an uber-deluxe, 10-guest phinisi in Indonesia. Read next!
1) Yacht holidays
Crewed yacht charters vs. bareboat charters:
Imagine waking up and diving off your boat for a pre-breakfast swim!
Back on board, steaming coffee, omelettes and fresh-baked cheese biscuits await, whipped up by a chef. Then you discuss with your captain the day’s activities. Snorkeling with turtles? Drinks ashore at a private island resort?
That’s a taste of life on a crewed yacht charter – one we got to experience recently on a Tradewinds catamaran yacht charter in the Caribbean.
Choosing whether to have a crew on your yacht charter is one of the first decisions to make.
Typically, a crewed yacht has several cabins (accommodating 6 to 10 persons) and is staffed by a captain and a cook (often a husband/wife team).
A bareboat charter, on the other hand, is one where you sail the vessel and tie the bowline yourself. You’re also responsible for food supplies, cooking your meals and planning where to go. Boats tend to be under 55 feet long; anything larger usually needs its own skipper (and possibly crew).
Bareboat charters are less expensive than crewed yacht charters, but obviously, one or more people in your group will need to know how to sail the boat.
It’s also possible to hire a skipper to sail the boat for the first few days, who gradually hands over the reins until you feel comfortable enough to skipper the boat alone.
What if you can’t (or don’t want to) rope in friends and family to charter a whole yacht? Some yacht chartering companies offer the option to book just one cabin – called a “cabin charter.”
Motor yacht charter vs. sailboat charter:
Another question to consider is whether you want to go by sail or motor power?
On a sailboat or sailing catamaran, you harness the wind. And there’s no denying the romance of actually sailing the seas!
A power yacht, on the other hand, can go faster and cover more distance in less time. Also, the design of a motor yacht means it usually has more deck space – there may be room for a jacuzzi in which to sip gin-and-tonics as you zip along.
But motor yachts guzzle fuel, so that will add to the cost of the charter. And they’re less environmentally friendly.
Top yachting destinations
The number of appealing yacht charter destinations around the globe continues to grow as vacationers and adventurers explore new territories. They range from the charter-friendly Bahamas and Mediterranean to more remote places like the Indian Ocean and even Antarctica.
The most popular yacht destinations are the British Virgin Islands, Eastern Mediterranean and Western Mediterannean.
1) British Virgin Islands (BVIs):
The Caribbean is home to roughly 7,000 islands, cays and islets, all with their own tropical vibe. But don’t think just sandy beaches, gin-clear waters and palm fronds waving overhead (though there’s nothing wrong with that).
European colonialism, the African slave trade and native Indian tribes have all played a part in shaping the local architecture, music, food and customs. So you’re in for a diverse cultural experience as well as a beach escape when you ply the Caribbean waters.
The British Virgin Islands – with over 50 islands spanning 1,000 square miles – probably offer the quintessential tropical island experience in the Caribbean. Popular for Caribbean yacht charters, they are indeed best explored by private yacht.
Virgin Gorda is one of the largest of the BVIs.
An island of rolling hills, it’s famous for The Baths. This collection of cottage-sized granite boulders at the water’s edge has created a wondrous labyrinth of caves and grottos, ideal for snorkeling and rock scrambling.
Jost Van Dyke:
At tiny Jost Van Dyke, drop into the Soggy Dollar Bar on beautiful White Bay.
You’ll likely wade ashore from your boat’s dinghy. But you’ll be in good company – many people swim ashore to sample the bar’s famous “Painkiller” cocktail.
It’s a wonderful concoction, made from premium dark rum, cream of coconut, pineapple juice, orange juice and fresh-grated nutmeg; we tried it when visiting the Soggy Dollar Bar on a beach excursion from the Viking Sea cruise ship.
Anegada (“drowned land” in Spanish) is the island of shipwrecks. Over 300 offshore wrecks of Spanish galleons, American privateers and British warships lure scuba divers to discover their nooks and crannies.
And if you love lobster, you’re in for a treat – Anegada lobster is the best in the Caribbean (the island even hosts an annual Anegada Lobster Festival).
Oh, and don’t overlook the pink flamingoes in the salt ponds at the western end of the island.
So many other islands too:
Other popular spots in the BVIs include Manchioneel Bay on Cooper Island (check out the chill Cooper Island Beach Club) and Sandy Spit, an oh-so-perfect uninhabited islet encircled by talc-white sand, off Green Cay.
2) Eastern Mediterranean
Romantic Venice, with its beautiful Grand Canal lined by palaces and baroque churches. Istanbul, with its mosques and bazaars and exotic east-meets-west culture.
These cities are on your travel bucket list, right?
Depending on your itinerary, your eastern Med yacht trip could take you there and to one or more of the following destinations too.
Navagio Beach, Zakynthos, Greece:
You can only reach this extraordinary beach by boat. The steep limestone cliffs surround some of the clearest water you’ll ever see.
And what’s that striking rusted hulk on the white sand? The wreck of the freightliner Panagiotis. It ran aground in 1981 after a chase by the Greek navy, which suspected it of smuggling contraband (cigarettes, and maybe also wine and women).
Navagio Beach is now one of the most famously photographed beaches in Greece.
For a great travel shot, head up to the Agios Gergio Kremnao monastery 600 feet above the wreck – there’s a viewing platform where many pictures are taken.
Croatia’s long coastline is sprinkled with beaches, medieval towns and idyllic islands, and sailing in Croatia has become increasingly popular in recent years.
A great place to start or end a Croatian sailing trip is the historic city of Dubrovnik, which dates back to the 12th century.
Be sure to walk the Dubrovnik city walls surrounding the Old City. Looking down, you’ll see monasteries, churches, palaces and outdoor cafés, along with children playing soccer, and you can peek through windows of people living in apartments and homes built into the wall.
Also visit the Franciscan Monastery, which has the third oldest pharmacy in Europe. Monks still use the medieval bowls and instruments to make medicines.
Volcanic Santorini is often voted the best island in the world. Topped with white sugar-cube villages, it looks like a slice of vanilla-frosted chocolate cake with a huge bite taken out.
Anchor off the capital of Fira, and you can ride a donkey up the 588 steps to get from the port to the town (or walk or take the cable car).
At sunset, people gather in the fairytale town of Oia to photograph the sky as it turns blood orange.
To stretch out your sea legs, plan to hike from Oia along the rim of the volcanic crater to Fira – stupendous sea views on either side will amply reward you.
Want to stay in a stunning cave hotel on Santorini? See our review of Ikies Traditional Houses
3) Western Mediterranean
Sun-drenched beaches, hidden coves and ports-of-call favored by celebrities (hello Beyoncé) – welcome to the western Mediterranean! Easy to get to from major centers around the world, it’s a much-loved haunt for the super-yacht crowd.
Many consider Majorca (or Mallorca) the most attractive of the Spanish islands. Of course, once docked, you must see the Gothic cathedral and its magnificent flying buttresses in the capital, Palma de Majorca.
And maybe shop for shoes – we counted dozens of shoe stores when we visited the city!
For sights outside Palma, take the vintage narrow-gauge train that clackety-clacks through 13 tunnels on a one-hour scenic ride to the town of Soller.
Further up the north coast, Deia is a charming artists’ village with a sweet swimming cove.
Recommended reading: Come take a peek at all the wonderful things you can do in Majorca!
Manarola, Liguria, Italy:
One of the most authentic coastal Italian villages, tiny Manarola is part of the Cinque Terre chain along the Italian Riviera. Rainbow-colored, Genoese-style tower houses cling to the steep rocky coast, all vying for views of the sea below.
There’s a lovely seaside walk (in fact, called the “Love Walk”) from Manarola to Riomaggiore, the southernmost of the five Cinque Terre villages – only 20 minutes, so no excuses! And if you want to cool off with a swim, simply dive off the rocks beside the miniature harbor.
Sure, there’s St. Tropez and the French Riviera. But Corsica is just so picturesque and diverse, it would be a shame to omit it from your yacht trip.
You’ll recall Napoleon Bonaparte came from Corsica. In the seaside capital of Ajaccio, you can visit the house where he was born (in 1769), now a museum. Also pop into the superb Palais Fesch-Musee des Beaux Arts, established by his uncle, showcasing priceless canvases by Botticelli, Bellini, Titian and Veronese.
And don’t miss cruising by the towering red granite cliffs in the Scandola Nature Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site – keep your eyes peeled for dolphins and ospreys.
Best luxury yacht charters
There are many yacht companies in the business of yacht charters. Unless you have a recommendation from a friend or colleague, it’s difficult to know which company to work with.
The following are some names that we’re familiar with and/or have a good rep in the industry.
We’ve seen many Moorings boats in the Caribbean and have friends who’ve personally chartered a catamaran in the BVIs with Moorings.
In business for some 50 years, the Moorings has a charter fleet of more than 400 yachts in 20+ places round the globe, including Thailand, the South Pacific, the Greek Islands and the Seychelles.
Yachts include a variety of styles, from power yachts and mono-hull sailboats to award-winning Robertson & Caine catamarans. These cats range in size from 37 feet to 57-foot models with six cabins (all with private ensuite bathrooms), air-conditioning, a 46-inch flat screen TV and onboard WiFi.
The Moorings: Website
Tradewinds has some 50 catamarans in French Polynesia, the Caribbean, Tonga, Croatia and Greece available for crewed charters. Rates are all-inclusive, so you know exactly what your costs are right upfront.
You can choose from three different classes: Classic, Luxury and Flagship, each offering different levels of comfort.
In the top “extra pampering” Flagship category, for example, the catamaran is 70 feet long and wines are superior. In the Grenadines, we sailed on a Luxury class cat (60 feet long), and were very impressed with the accommodations, food and service.
Want to share a charter with other couples and rent just one cabin? That option is available too.
And if you do a cabin charter in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, you can split your stay between a catamaran and a luxury villa on the island of Mayreau.
Dream Yacht Charter:
Found in 2000, Dream Yacht Charter is one of the biggest yacht charter companies in the world, with 1,000+ yachts in over 50 destinations globablly.
Bareboat, crewed and cabin charters are all offered. (Rates for a crewed 6-person catamaran in the Bahamas start as low as $6,000 for the whole boat.)
Dream Yacht Charter: Website
Intersailclub is a yacht-sharing service offering individual cabin charters in destinations such as Italy’s Aeolian Islands and the Caribbean’s Grenadine islands. They aim to match you up with like-minded travelers, according to the language you speak and activity interests.
International Yacht Charter Group:
This company is a large yacht charter broker that works with privately-owned, crewed yachts around the world. You tell them the yacht size you’re interested in, where and when you want to go, the number of people sailing and your budget, and they’ll get back to you with choices.
The International Yacht Charter Group offers four classes of vessels: mega yachts (over 101 feet long), motor yachts (less than 100 feet), catamarans and traditional sailing yachts.
Hmmm… That sleek 110-foot Alexia with water skis and all the toys looks like it would be fun for cruising Greece! (Now we just have to come up with a minimum of $60,000!)
International Yacht Charter Group: Website
How much to charter a yacht?
The cost of chartering a yacht depends on many factors – the size of the boat, whether it’s crewed or not, the destination (the Caribbean, which has many charter boats, is cheaper than the Galapagos, for example), whether it’s low season or high season, and so on.
All-inclusive yacht charters:
In the Caribbean, rates for crewed catamarans or sailing boats are typically all-inclusive.
The cost includes three meals and snacks a day, all drinks (including wine and liquor), snorkel gear and perhaps onboard watersports equipment like a kayak and SUP board, fuel and cruising permits. Extra charges on top include such things as tips for the crew, meals taken ashore and scuba diving.
Plus Expenses charters:
The other way you may be charged for is on a “plus expenses” basis.
In addition to the yacht charter fee for the boat and crew, you pay for the food and drinks (according to your preferences), fuel, dockage, etc. You’re asked to pay upfront an Advance Provisioning Allowance (APA), usually 25% to 35% of the base fee, and then pay any extra money (or get a refund) at the end of the trip, based on the actual cost.
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Photo credits: 3 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 25 and 27 Tradewinds | 6 International Yacht Charter Group | 10 and 26 Dream Yacht Charter