Looking for a great vacation that involves some pampering — no cooking, cleaning or other dirty work? Here's a tip: It typically costs more to stay at a five-star resort in the Virgin Islands than it does to sail on a crewed boat of comparable quality. Where a resort package might charge extra for snorkeling, guided hikes, kayaking and trips to other islands, a chartered boat package usually includes all these activities. Further, a resort hotel's modified or full American plan will not include fine wines, sailing instruction, diving or the flexibility to shift gears when you want to. And it most certainly won't include an aromatherapy foot massage, which my trip on the Three Moons happily provided.
So for me, the boat's the way to go, and even if you're a sailor, the crewed boat is a good idea. As a sailor among landlubbing friends, you're likely to spend more time working the lines and rationing water consumption than enjoying the trip.
Charter a crewed boat if:
You want the same level of service and cuisine you'd get at a five-star resort, but you prefer an on-the-move vacation to a sedentary one.
You have any misgivings about handling the boat. Should you want the experience of piloting the boat, many charters in the Caribbean fleet offer opportunities to improve sailing skills.
You are travelling abroad and you need someone to act as an interpreter of language and/or local customs.
You want to see how a particular kind of boat fares in the waters you're planning to travel.
What to Expect
On board a charter you can expect a fully customized vacation. Crews generally are open to accommodating customer requests for itinerary, daily sailing distances, meal times and activities, both on-board and ashore. About meals: Whether you're looking for vegetarian, low-fat, high-chocolate or some other specific fare, demand and expect cooking that meets your needs and preferences. Most chefs on crewed boats have professional cooking experience and formal instruction, so such expectations are reasonable. Your experience with on-board cuisine can be the equal of that in a land-based resort.
How to Arrange It
Crewed boats are best booked through a broker familiar with the sailing area, its local fleets and its crews. Boats have personalities and crews have personalities, and the more experienced brokers will be able to place you in a vessel that will suit you best. Before you call a broker, be prepared to discuss the following:
Basics: budget, number of people in the party, timing of the trip, locations of interest, special occasion the charter might be celebrating. (The cost of a crewed-boat vacation varies widely, depending on the length of the trip, desired amenities and size of the party).
Sailing preferences: type of boat, sailing conditions with which you're comfortable, amount of sailing you're willing to do.
Activity preferences: shore-based activities (shopping, hiking), water-based activities (diving, water sports) or both?
Lifestyle preferences: special diet, early/late rising.
Health issues: physical limitations that a crew should accommodate.
Above all, be prepared to take and seek advice from the broker. A pro should be able to tell you about seasonal differences in cost, weather and sailing conditions in the area you're interested in cruising.
Also, it's important to work with a broker with whom you're comfortable. If you seem to be on different wavelengths, call someone else. In addition, be sure to work with only one broker at a time. Brokers generally have access to the same boats and crews at the same prices.
The prices quoted for Caribbean charters typically are all-inclusive, but don't forget to factor into your budget a tip for the crew — 10 to 20 percent is customary. Also, give serious consideration to trip-cancellation insurance. Above all, though, remember to plan carefully. The thrill of discovery is in no way diminished when a trip goes smoothly.
Amy Ullrich is managing editor of SAIL. She oversees the magazine's charter coverage and is a frequent visitor to the Caribbean.
Going for (Yachting) Brokers
The following brokers are experienced in booking crewed-boat charters in popular cruising grounds worldwide. Their regional specialties are noted.
|Albatross Yacht Charters
|Aqua Safaris Charteryachts
|Caribbean, Mediterranean, Greece
|Bajor Yacht Charters
|Boatz ‘n Yachts
|Caribbean Sailing Charters
|Cruzan Yacht Charters
|Ed Hamilton & Co.
|Fair Wind Charters
|Florida Yacht Charters
|GPSC Charters Ltd.
|Eastern and Western Mediterranean
|Horizon Yacht Charters
|Jolly Mon Sailing
|King Yacht Charters
|Lynn Jachney Charters
|Moorings Yachting Holidays
|Nicely-Dunn Yacht Charters
|Nicholson Yacht Charters
|Port O'Call Yacht Charters
|Regency Yacht Charters
|Caribbean, Mediterranean, Bahamas
|Russell Yacht Charters
|Sail Paradise Yacht Charters
|Seven Seas Yacht Charters
|Stewart Yacht Charters
|Sun Yacht Charters
|Swift Yacht Charters
|Virgin Island Sailing Ltd.