St. Barths evokes reminiscences of the Mediterranean, blending majestic French flair with a rugged Caribbean landscape of soaring mountains, sun-soaked beaches, lush gardens and turquoise bays. There are many ways to experience this multifaceted playground, but if you’re looking for unfettered water access, carefree relaxation, total solitude, tony accommodations, five-star service and Michelin-quality dining, then a luxury charter yacht is the only way to go.
Flying will get you to paradise quickly, but there are no direct commercial flights from the United States to St. Barths, so itineraries often begin at Princess Juliana International Airport on Dutch Sint Maarten. A 15-minute puddle-jumper will take you from there to the yacht at St. Barths, but be advised: The runway in St. Barths is one of the shortest in the world, which makes for a white-knuckled landing that’s one hell of a thrill.
A far less twitchy tender ride from the marina at Gustavia Harbor delivered me to the swim platform of the 197-foot (60-meter) Abeking & Rasmussen Dream, where Capt. Ben Craig-Cameron and his crew of 14 greeted my party with cucumber-scented cooling towels and a well-deserved glass of Champagne.
Dream’s striking metallic silver hull color perfectly complements her Zen-like interior, with a cool fusion of precious woods, European custom furniture and Asian artwork. According to the yacht’s owner, the fusion is by design. Having chartered extensively for 15 years prior to purchasing the 2001-built Abeking, he wanted a yacht that he could cruise himself and that would appeal to charterers. He knew that with seven staterooms, an office and a yoga/spa room, the yacht, named Excellence III at the time, could accommodate more amenities than other yachts her size. A year after buying the boat, he commissioned a refit with Bannenberg & Rowell as the interior designers.
“To get the feeling of a new boat, we got rid of all that was dated,” he says. “We upgraded all the furniture, floors and fabrics, and all the audiovisual and navigation systems. We redid the staterooms and the outside deck areas, and we got new tenders and toys.”
He liked the yacht’s layout but wanted better access to the swim platform. Previously, the only guest access was through a crew work space; a stern extension of nearly 10 feet (3 meters) allowed an exterior staircase. The extension also helped streamline Dream’s profile. And because the owner enjoys cruising, he is meticulous about upgrades and maintenance. Last year, he added new teak decks and a larger spa pool on the bridge deck, and reconfigured the bar with Italian marble and new stools.
Having a yacht that is mechanically sound and well-insulated against noise helps keep a top-notch crew, he says. My charter party called them the “Dream team.” Here’s just one reason why: As we sat anchored under the stars off St. Barths on our first night, we enjoyed a Michelin-star-quality duck confit dinner with well-aged cabernet sauvignon, courtesy of Chef Brigitte Rosemann. The conversation turned to hangover remedies, with one guest insisting that her go-to was mashed potatoes. The next morning at breakfast, creamy yolks oozed out on our plates of the chef’s special eggs Florentine, soaking the perfectly wilted spinach underneath—with a side of the most decadent mashed potatoes I’d ever tasted. The takeaway is, on the most personalized vacations on the planet, attention to the littlest details can have a profound effect on a charter guest’s overall experience, and the Dream team gets that.
Those who appreciate such attention to detail also tend to appreciate St. Barths, which has long been a top superyacht destination. The island has the sophistication of Saint-Tropez woven into a laissez-faire Caribbean lifestyle. It’s exclusive yet unpretentious, much like the charter experience aboard Dream.
Walk into almost any restaurant on the island, and well-to-do fashionistas will be bellying up to the bar beside the sandiest of sun-worshipers. Whether it’s flip-flops or Ferragamos, that no one bats an eye is what makes St. Barths its own brand of lackadaisical luxury. Slip onto a moped and explore the rolling hills, with their deep blanket of green and pops of bougainvillea purple, with the warm ocean breeze in your hair, and you’ll booking your next charter before you disembark. Contrary to its flashy persona, the island is surprisingly quiet in the afternoons. Most shops close around midday for a déjeuner that can last until 3 p.m. It’s a great time to return to Dream’s fully stocked toy chest for an afternoon of water sports.
Dream has two guest tenders: a towed 33-foot (10-meter) Intrepid for outings and adventures, and a 23-foot (7-meter) Novurania for wakeboarding, waterskiing and towables. Throw in a giant slide off the sundeck and a fleet of WaveRunners, Seabobs, paddleboards, kayaks and gear for snorkeling, fishing and diving, and it’s easy to become a child again. The hardest part for me was deciding which activity to do first.
For the end of each day, Dream has numerous spaces to relax and unwind. Five outdoor areas offer alfresco dining and seating. The sundeck has chaises, aft-facing seats to soak up a sunset, wispy sail awnings to set the yachting ambience, and the aforementioned bar and spa pool. Dream’s sky lounge has sofas that are really daybeds made of supple, water-resistant Italian leather—great for reading a book or taking a nap. We watched a movie on the 103-inch, high-definition screen and found it an excellent way for a large family to unwind together.
Retiring to the main-deck master suite feels like going to a South Beach penthouse in Miami. The design is an elegant blend of mahogany, myrtle and white Italian leather. The onyx-clad master bath has a spa tub, a steam shower and a 50-million-year-old fossil as an objet d’art. In the adjacent private office, a vintage 1950s airplane-wing desk prompted me to mix business with pleasure. Boy, those were some inspired emails. And I might still be sitting there if not for the masseuse’s invitation to enjoy a massage in the multiuse relaxation room across the companionway. The space is also ideal for yoga, meditation and aerobics, or it can be used as a nursery, a security quarters or an extra dressing area.
Tucked neatly into bed without a care in the world, my mind couldn’t help but wander back to those beautifully rugged St. Barths surroundings just beyond the stateroom windows. I drifted into a deep slumber, dreaming of all that awaited the next day.
Excursion to Anguilla
Looking for something a little more au naturel? Anguilla has shimmering sandy beaches, coconut palms for shade and colorful beach bars serving up equal parts rum punch and reggae. Its crystal-clear waters and vibrant reefs are a great place to snorkel. Our itinerary found Dream tucked into Road Bay for an evening—a stone’s throw from Sandy Island, one of Anguilla’s top snorkeling spots. It was a Saturday night, and Elvis’ Beach Bar was hopping. Perched atop a barstool sipping on a rum punch or three, it was quite a soothing sight to see Dream standing at anchor just a few hundred yards offshore, beckoning our return to the height of indulgence.