When selecting a luxury charter yacht, these "High Five” questions should top your list
Choosing a crewed yacht vacation from among piles of brochures can be daunting, even when price is no object.
The task is made no easier by the fact that each charter is, by definition, different. Sometimes, charter is about rum punch under the Caribbean stars. Other times, it is about seeing and being seen in Monaco. On occasion, it is about swimming with sea lions in Galapagos, cruising past icebergs in Alaska, or drinking kava with the natives in Fiji.
“With new clients, I’ll send out a questionnaire and an introduction to charter, things like, ‘Are you looking forward to relaxation or lots of action each day?’” explains Steve Elario, director of the charter division at International Yacht Collection in Fort Lauderdale. “Obviously, a lot of people have been a lot of places by land, so you could start by taking some of the favorite places and adding a water element.”
Whether you want to go that route or explore new territory, choosing among all the yachts on all the world’s oceans can be much easier if you know exactly the right questions to ask.
To get the most value for your dollar, no matter your price range, these five questions are a great place to start.
What destinations suit my desires?
If you can’t imagine a vacation without beautiful beaches, your ideal destination will be very different from that of someone who wants to explore rugged coastlines. Once you have an idea about what you’d like to do, a broker can discuss destinations where that type of activity is in season—and the boats available in those places.
“Have alternatives,” says Agnes Howard, a Fort Lauderdale-based charter broker with Camper & Nicholsons International. “Most brokers will say, ‘Okay, we have a sailboat and a big boat here, but maybe not anything in your size range, so let’s look at what boats are where.’”
Most crewed yachts spend summers in New England or the Mediterranean, then winters in the Caribbean. “The Caribbean is ideally for Christmas and New Year’s charters, even from Thanksgiving to Easter,” Howard says. “For the Med, you can start at the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix (in May), up until September. The Bahamas is really an undiscovered gem. From about April on, it’s gorgeous.”
Do not set your heart on a specific yacht in a specific place. First, figure out where you might like to go, then look at what yachts are in those areas.
This is especially true if you are considering a location such as the South Pacific or eastern Asia. Charter yachts typically don’t make such regions their home base.
“Some of the exotic places are dictated by where the yachts happen to be on their owner’s world cruise,” Howard explains. “That said, it’s still a great advantage to check with your charter broker on what boats are where and see what they can organize.”
What kind of yacht is it, and how is it outfitted?
Pedigree is not as important for charter as it is for yacht purchase, especially if you’re new to the vacation experience. “I have one client who I’ve had for three years and he wants pedigree,’” Elario says. “People who want a pedigree yacht, they don’t care where it is.”
Brand-new launches are exciting to be aboard, but you will pay plenty for “name” yachts when you could experience a similar trip at a better price. If you’re new to charter, you might focus on design features instead of brand name. Features (or a lack of them) can make or break a comfortable time aboard.
For instance, if you want crew and guest spaces to be as separate as possible, consider a yacht with walkaround side decks that allow the crew to move from bow to stern without entering the main saloon. If you prefer a casual breakfast where you can get to know the chef, think about a yacht with a country kitchen-style galley. If you enjoy being outside but shy from the sun, look for a covered aft deck.
“A lot of my clients are asking about the at-anchor stabilizers,” Elario says. “At anchor, they keep the boat from rolling. It adds comfort for the clients who are susceptible to motion sickness.”
Also think about what amenities you will use. Many people believe more is better in terms of water toys, gymnasiums, Internet service and the like. While those things can be great, you will pay for them. Consider whether you will really get on that treadmill every day, or if you might instead exercise with a swim.
“Everybody I have going over to the Med right now, they all want Jacuzzis,” Elario says. “They all want Wave Runners, too, but they probably won’t use them.”
How are the staterooms laid out?
The makeup of your charter party will affect the kind of sleeping accommodations you need. If you are traveling with children, you might want a different stateroom configuration than if you are looking for a luscious, private retreat.
“For two couples, four kids, that’s an easy one,” says Susan Flammia, a charter broker in the Fort Lauderdale office of Merrill-Stevens Yachts. “Usually, in the larger yachts, there is a master stateroom and then a VIP stateroom, and the rest are twin cabins.”
Different yachts offer different cabin configurations and levels of luxury. “Once we know the makeup of the charter party, we suggest yachts that meet the client’s requirements,” Flammia says. “There are yachts that are ideal for families, and then there are yachts more suitable for all adults.”
Some yachts even have grand master staterooms separated from the other cabins. Boats of this nature tend to be best-suited for a couple, or “principal charterer,” footing the entire bill and inviting friends to come along.
“We have a 200-foot-plus yacht that has an owner’s suite forward, spread over two levels with the bed on the main deck,” Flammia notes. “Up the gorgeous stairs is a private sitting area with a panoramic view.”
What is the crew like?
Crew come in all personalities and experience levels, and every charter client has different crew requirements.
“That’s why we travel year-round, meeting crew, visiting yachts, in order to determine the personality of the crew aboard,” says Debra Blackburn, a charter broker in the Fort Lauderdale office of Fraser Yachts Worldwide. “We pair that particular personality with the personality of the charter client.”
Some crew speak only when spoken to. They hover in the background wearing epaulets. Other crew are just as attentive, but more apt to wear polo shirts and engage you in conversation.
One type is not better than another; they simply complement different types of guest personalities.
“The difference in crew is defined mostly by the size of the yacht. It is also defined by the owner of the yacht’s needs,” Blackburn explains. “He will choose to have a more formal crew if those are his preferences.”
Aboard any yacht, the captain sets the tone. Captains aboard the largest motoryachts tend to run them like small corporations, with interior and exterior “departments” headed by stewardesses and deckhands who see to guests’ needs. On yachts in the 80- to 150-foot range, the atmosphere can be lighter.
“A 100-foot yacht would typically have three, four, five crew members, and they work so closely together, each will have more than one duty,” Blackburn says. “Therefore, typically, they are more of a family-style crew atmosphere.”
Will the chef’s specialties match my dietary needs?
Anyone who has ever been on a charter yacht will tell you that the food smells, looks and tastes phenomenal. The best chef can make rainy days a distant memory the same way the best crew can turn a less-than-stellar boat into a gem.
“If it’s bad weather, good weather, whatever, you want tasty food,” says Barbara Stork, a charter broker with The Sacks Group in Fort Lauderdale. “Say you’re in the Bahamas and it’s a nice day, they can even make a picnic lunch for you on the beach, maybe really nice salads with fresh fish and lobster that you caught.”
Still, not every charter yacht chef can do everything, and some do specific things better than others. If there’s a type of cooking you want or need, ask your broker about it.
“Some of them specialize in Thai because sushi and Asian food is very popular these days. French is always popular, Italian,” Stork says. “If one person has high blood pressure and can’t have salt, and another is on a low-carb diet, the chef makes the menus to fit. If he’s making fish that night and one person doesn’t like it, he can have an alternative.”
Before your trip, you will be asked to fill out a “preference sheet.” Be precise—what you put into those blanks is what the chef will put into the pantry, and it can be hard to find forgotten extras in some of the world’s more remote archipelagos.
“Be extremely honest,” Stork advises. “It only enhances your trip.”--Kim Kavin