For her 40th birthday two years ago, Sam Owens knew she wanted to have a blowout bash with friends. Owens—who lives in London and works in fashion merchandising—debated between booking out a boutique hotel or renting a large house. The group wanted the space a house would provide, but also hotel amenities and service. She was leaning towards renting a chateau in the South of France and hiring someone to come in—”cooking was the last thing we wanted to do”—when she went on a friend’s yacht charter around the Isles of Scilly, off the Cornish coast in southwest England. “The food coming out of that tiny kitchen put London restaurants to shame. There was this couscous and pea salad with mint and feta, a huge platter of prawns, and golden beets. And I’m still thinking about dessert, these chocolate-chip tahini biscuits with sea salt [Maldon, of course] that the chef said reminded him of the ones he used to eat after school. ” Owens went home that night and, she says, “spurred on a bit by a few glasses of rosé”, booked an 80-foot charter yacht for a three-night cruise in the waters of the Cote d’Azur.
“I can admit now it seemed a bit indulgent, but the yacht to me was essentially a floating luxury boutique hotel without a single other guest. We were able to eat what we wanted when we wanted, go exactly where we wanted to go, and not have to organize anything ourselves. Three of the six people who came have young kids and for them it was a total relief to have everything taken care of.” Owens and her friends departed from Nice, stopping in Antibes, at Île Sainte-Marguerite, and at Îles d’Hyères. “It was wake up, eat, swim, repeat. We were able to spend time together like we haven’t in years, in the water or lying on the sun deck, eating ice cream. It was the luxury of doing nothing. No phones, no partners, no kids, and someone else doing the heavy lifting.”
Joachim Howard, managing director at Sydney-based Ocean Alliance, a luxury yacht agency, says, “In general, the majority of charter groups we host comprise of a family as the core group, accompanied by friends. We’re seeing more and more multi-generational families traveling together as well. These tend to be experiences a principle charterer wants to share with their family, especially their children. They’re [able to] host members of their family in an intimate environment yet one that offers an array of onboard and land-based activities for all ages.” On Ocean Alliance yachts, this can include stand-up paddleboarding, snorkeling, kayaking, wakeboarding, kneeboarding and, everyone’s favorite, a giant inflatable slide. The crew can also arrange activities like seaplane rides, diving, beach trips, and hikes.
“The word boutique,” says Howard, “characterizes an experience that is personalized, luxurious, and unique. A yacht charter generally delivers these to a higher degree than a hotel due to the level of customization.” In a hotel the staff can cater to your every whim, but there are other guests, too. On a yacht, you can go wherever you want, whenever you want. “In most cases,” adds Howard, “the crew to guest ration is a minimum of 1 to 1″—very rare in hotels—”and every aspect of the guest experience has been developed prior to boarding. Along with this level of detailed pre-planning is guests’ ability to change the itinerary or menu at any stage.” Ocean Alliance aims to make guests feel completely at home on their yachts, and it’s little touches like magazines in the living room or a cupboard well-stocked with board games that do so.
Ocean Alliance has access to charter yachts for overnight trips in Australia, the Caribbean, Croatia, the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, South Pacific, the US, Turkey, and a handful of other places. The yachts on which they can arrange charters include the 69.6m/228ft Sherakhan, which sleeps up to 26, and the more intimate 25.57m/83.9ft Aurora, which sleeps eight (32 for cruising). And while Ocean Alliance organizes multi-night charters around the world, they also book day charters in Sydney. In addition to bookings by families, Howard has found that “groups of friends chartering yachts is becoming more popular amongst a younger audience. This summer in Sydney we curated a charter for a group of 10 friends who are based between Hong Kong and Russia. They meet once a year in a different destination to experience a custom itinerary entirely built around their preferences as a group.”
What it costs to charter a yacht
Chartering a yacht is not inexpensive, but if you’d spend $500/night on a hotel, the costs of yacht charter begin to look reasonable for a luxury experience. Prices vary depending on the season, size of boat, and where you are in the world. Ocean Alliance’s Oneworld, which is based in Sydney and sleeps 12, costs AU$49,000 (US$34,500) + tax + 30% APA (advanced provisioning allowance, to cover food, drink, fuel, etc.) for a three-night trip within eastern Australia. The company’s Eleven I, which sleeps nine and covers Turkey and Greece, costs EUR35,000 (US$39,000) + tax + APA for seven nights in summer low season.
Despite the cost of her South of France yacht charter, which she says was just under $600/night/person, Owens and her group would do it again. “Disconnecting from work and our phones and truly just spending time with my girlfriends was priceless.”