You’ve gone ashore from your yacht to buy bread at a tiny bakery on a small Caribbean island. Locals are setting up roadside stands with rum bottles, T-shirts and crafts that the normal volume of pedestrians doesn’t seem to warrant. Then, from behind a hill, a mammoth white hulk appears. Anchors splash, and big tenders hit the water. A half-hour later, bleachy tourists in floppy hats, black socks and Birkenstocks have overrun the place, buying drinks and beads and snatching up every croissant in the bakery.
It’s time to get back to the yacht.
The cruise ship industry tracks its origins to the 19th century, but it wasn’t until the latter years of the 20th century that the monstrosities we now recognize as cruise ships began to block out the sun. As the ships have grown in size and volume, so has the industry. The largest cruise ship in the world, Royal Caribbean’s 230,000-gross-ton Symphony of the Seas, was due to come online in March. She can reportedly carry 5,535 passengers. And for anyone who can’t book one of her cabins, at least a dozen more ships are scheduled to launch this year.
I’ve never been on board one, but I’ve seen them all over the world, often in places they really shouldn’t be: in the Venetian lagoon, at the dock in Key West, in pristine fjords in Alaska, and off tiny islands in the tropics. While the ships bring needed revenues to struggling locales, their mass and passenger load overwhelm the infrastructure, blight the scenery and spoil the charm.
Why, given the choice, wouldn’t people rather experience such places on a more human scale, say, aboard a charter yacht?
While cruise ships offer a staggering range of amenities—Symphony of the Seas has a laser tag studio, an ice rink, theaters, a climbing wall and water park features—they also have features that aren’t so appealing. Crowds of strangers join you on excursions. The itinerary is fixed, with the ship moving at night, leaving you unsure where you’re docked in the morning. There’s also the digestive bug that cruise passengers seem to get with alarming frequency.
Crewed charter yachts can’t compete on the laser tag and ice rinks (why would they want to?) but they have huge advantages over the “cities at sea.” While yachts may not have 17 restaurants, their menus are fully customizable with a private, four-star chef catering to any dietary need or desire. Charter itineraries are fully customizable as well, and can be relaxing or active in the most desirable places on the planet. If you prefer your beaches with no footprints, captains know where to take you. If you want nightlife, they’ll make the reservations and deliver you to the door. If you want shopping, you’re not stuck with the duty-free complex near the dock. And if you want to change the plan, no problem.
Executive Editor Andrew Parkinson recently enjoyed the sweet life aboard the 197-foot (60-meter) Abeking & Rasmussen Dream in and around St. Barths and Anguilla. On his charter, he ate like a king, played like a kid and got his chill on in a serious way. In fact, it took us a few days to revive him when he got back.
That’s what a seagoing vacation should be—and it should let you get the anchors up, fast, should a big, white monster appear around the point.