Private Caribbean Charters Gain Speed
If spending seven days with 1,999 of your not-so-closest friends isn’t your idea of the perfect vacation at sea, how does this sound: A week-long sail on a private yacht or catamaran with the friends of your choosing, your own captain and cook, and a personalized itinerary.
As an alternative to mass market cruise ships, many Wellesley and Weston residents are discovering a new trend in Caribbean vacationing.
“People are looking for privacy and an exclusive trip with their family and friends as an independent vacation, to go where they want, when they want, and stay as long as they want,” explains Linda Tatten of Travel by Tatten in Marlborough. “Upscale clients aren’t happy to be herded onto a regulated cruise ship.”
For several Wellesley and Weston residents who have embarked on this type of vacation, sea-ing is believing. “There are no disadvantages to this style of travel—it’s a floating five-star hotel,” exudes a Weston resident, who has twice journeyed on a catamaran with her husband and their three children. “You don’t lift a finger, because the crew does it all.”
“The range of options is huge, so it depends on people’s pocketbooks,” notes Christine Stewart, President of Stewart International Travel in Brookline. For example, some might prefer to charter
a luxury motor yacht, ranging in size from 50 feet to 150 feet, which includes all food and drink. “People arrive at their destinations quicker, and it’s more about getting from one place to the next,” she explains.
A catamaran, by contrast, utilizes wind, not fuel, for its voyage, and is more about the journey than the destination. “We loved hearing the sails flapping and the quietness of being on the open water,” says Julie Macrae of Weston, who has hired out a catamaran with her husband Doug several times. “Instead of a morning shower, we’d go for a morning swim.”
“Many New England clients who grew up sailing on a mono (single) hull boat pooh-pooh the two-hull catamarans, because they think they’re too slow,” says Carol Kent, president and owner of Carol Kent Yacht Charters in Boston. “But catamarans can go where mono hulls can’t.”
Cost-wise there is some difference, too. While an 80-foot motor yacht with three staterooms can cost up to $20,000 for a week’s charter, a catamaran of the same size, including food and drink, tallies at approximately $15,000 for seven days. In both cases, clients are able to enjoy the trip without worrying about preparing meals or navigating. “It can relieve anxiety, because a captain and cook take care of the details while you fully relish the experience,” says Dexter Donham of Sailing Ship Adventures in Wellesley.
“All-inclusive charters are really worthwhile,” agrees Kim Parizeau, a Wellesley resident who has sailed on a catamaran with her husband and four children. “If you compare the amenities to those you get on a cruise, it’s a good value.”
Adventurous travelers also have the option of taking to the seas Gilligan-style, by hiring a boat and acting as captain of their own ship. Called “bare boating,” this type of charter requires people to do their own sailing, cooking, and navigating. “Bareboats are certainly less expensive, and some people enjoy the challenges of navigating by themselves,” Donham points out. “In certain waters, you can be more comfortable, such as the US Virgin Islands.”
But you can’t just go pick up the keys to a boat and sail into the sunset. “First, we ask people to fill out a sailing résumé for this type of arrangement,’” explains Van Perry of The Moorings, a yacht charter company in Clearwater, Florida. “No formal certification is required, but we need an indication of the type of boats someone has sailed or crewed on.” For those with no real sailing experience, the Moorings recommends taking a professional along during the initial stages of the rental. “We’ll put a skipper on board for the first four hours, to ensure clients are comfortable with the boat, especially in foreign waters,” says Perry. “It’s about someone to hold your hand during the first day.”
Carleen Baer, another Wellesley resident, booked just such a trip with her friends when they were in their twenties. “It’s really an adventure to have the whole week to yourself, but it’s up to you to stock the boat with provisions and cook,” she says. More recently, Baer and her husband, Ken, chartered a catamaran complete with a crew and cook and voyaged with their family and friends throughout the British Virgin Islands.
The most common Caribbean itinerary for catamaran and yacht charters takes travelers throughout the British Virgin Islands, which are an easy flight from Boston. “But not to islands where big ships line up six or seven per day,” explains Tatten. “Charters go to smaller islands, or places where cruise ships don’t go, like Antigua, St. Lucia, and St. Kitts.”
Typical private vessels can handle anywhere from six to 20 people. Macrae was recently part of a weeklong 40th birthday celebration on a 65-foot trimaran (a three-hulled vessel) that housed half a dozen couples in its six staterooms. “We hiked throughout the British Virgin Islands, and some of us became certified in scuba diving during the trip,” she says.
Clients are expected to specify exactly what they want to do and where they want to go, whether it’s beach-hopping for a week, hitting the best snorkeling spots, or pulling up anchor at harbor hotspots.
“We filled out a form before we left home, specifying what we do and don’t like, including our favorite food and wine,” says a Weston resident. “For example, my husband hates tomatoes, so we specified that nothing tomato-related should be made on board.”
It seems that these personalized boating vacations are a perfect fit for almost any situation. “We charter for groups of couples who may be old college friends, extended families when there is a big celebration like a family reunion, and sets of families with their children,” Perry notes.
Speaking of children, parents need not worry that their kids will be bored on this type of getaway. The Baer family decided to combine forces with friends from Sudbury so both families could spend quality time together. Traveling together on an adventurous vacation without the added stress of cooking and sailing the boat was ideal for both families. Carleen Baer says, “My son was 12 and my daughter was 11 when we sailed around Tortola. The youngsters kept busy all week swimming, snorkeling, wakeboarding, sea kayaking, and tubing. There was no telephone and limited television, so kids get creative in that situation.” She adds, “One night they put a show on for us, another night they played cards, and they hung out with the adults as we listened to the Beatles, which they wouldn’t have necessarily listened to on their own. So we really bonded!”
Whether it’s a honeymoon trip, a family reunion, a school vacation destination, or a much-needed getaway from work, chartering a boat seems to be the way to go.