Back in March of 2020, the Coronavirus made many businesses worldwide come to a halt—the travel industry was particularly hard hit. People scheduled to travel, and travel businesses were now scrambling to help guide clients and reschedule or cancel their dream holidays. The same holds true for those that were already enjoying their yacht or on their scheduled yacht charter – they had to pivot their plans. Then, when destinations, like the Caribbean and Central America, started slowly re-opening, they did so with a lot of new and ever-changing protocols that travelers had to navigate around. I spoke to two highly experienced yacht brokers/charter companies—Trish Cronan and Danielle Schwolow with Ocean Getaways and Shannon McCoy with Worth Avenue Yachts, as well as Captain Simon, who has been the captain of super yacht Lady Joy for the last 5 years, about the challenges and benefits that they have experienced over these last 7 months.
Lady Joy Gallery:
Biggest Challenges from the Water
“Managing people’s expectations and anxiety,” says Cronan, “has been one of the challenges. Testing and protocols can change and can be disconcerting for travelers. Guests were nervous, especially around the holidays, that their tests would not come back in time, so one of the things we have been able to do is offer a white glove service, where a nurse will go to the person’s home or office to do the test and the results are guaranteed within 24 hours. And this has been extremely helpful.” Travelers are also worried about protocols ashore and concerned about spending a lot of money and being limited in what they can do. However, one Ocean Getaway’s guests commented “I felt like I was so away from Covid , I forgot all about it.”
Another challenge that seemed to keep coming up was about retesting when going between the islands; keeping track of when those tests are needed and being able to pivot their itinerary should a new limitation from the islands come about. Cronan says, “Some places, like the Bahamas, require a second test after visiting for a bit and people are worried about what will happen if they test positive, so having some sort of travel insurance or Med Jet is always a good idea.” Your travel advisor can assist with any travel insurance options. Shannon McCoy, with Worth Avenue Yachts, made the point, “The challenge is that we can’t foresee or forecast the future for charters, so we have to constantly watch for any new protocols. For example, I had clients that were supposed to charter in the BVI’s, but the islands closed access to them in March, so I really try to be clear about expectations and look for options and solutions, if a border closes.”
Captain Simon talked about how managing crew can be a challenge during this time. If someone gets sick the charter is over before it begins, so what the crew does in their off time is very important. “My crew is very close and socialize together, he says, “but we ask them to not socialize much with other crews in between charters.” They’ve been abiding by our rules and luckily we haven’t had anyone test positive, but on the flip side, if the guests are socializing a lot and going on different boats, then it becomes a concern of them bringing Covid onboard to everyone else.”
“Europe is on everyone’s mind right now and even though people wish to go, they’re still hesitant,” says McCoy. “So, another option I am recommending until Europe is open is to try yachting in Costa Rica and Panama for something different. Go through the Panama Canal. Go experience Belize, which is great for diving and snorkeling in the Blue Hole,” adds McCoy.
As a travel professional, I must agree, if you want something different, then Central America has so many wonderful cays and towns to visit, as well as a completely different environment and vibe than the Caribbean or Europe. You can snorkel and scuba dive and see something completely new or come in contact with animals that you’ve never encountered before. If you want adventure, there is plenty of it in these areas and something for everyone.
Benefits of Yacht Charter Right Now
During these last many months, as a travel professional, I found that a lot more people who would have never considered a yacht charter are now trying it and loving it. Shannon McCoy agrees and told me, “There’s no safer place to go and be than on a private yacht. Safety measures and precautions are easy to track with a small crew onboard.” Ocean Getaways has also seen an increase in newbies being interested in a yacht vacation and calls it the perfect social bubble. “You’re taking the bubble you’ve created at home with family and friends and transfer that to an environment where they’re very much in control of who’s around them. Once onboard they can choose how much they want to be yacht centered verses going ashore and exploring. Guests can have all of their meals onboard and they know who’s cooking it and can even see their meal being prepared, which creates less worry.”
Captain Simon mentioned that yachting has brought families back together. He has had families onboard that were able to come together for the first time in 6 months and their only interest was spending time with each other. Each passenger must test prior to arriving in the destination and the crew must also test before a charter making it very safe and comforting for everyone onboard. McCoy goes on to say how the yachts have developed protocols, such as crew testing and quarantining before a charter, and if guests want little interaction with the crew, they can be flexible and do that. “Don’t put your life on hold, just do it smartly.”
As someone who has been traveling throughout the pandemic, when possible and borders are not closed, I must agree. You take precautions and do your due diligence with testing and you really can enjoy yourself, if you are ready and comfortable.
Cronan says, “You have a very controlled environment. Instead of a hotel with several people, there’s only 6, 8 or 10 crew members that you really get to know and know their whereabouts. Some clients don’t go ashore at all. They want to get out of dodge in a safe and fun way and everything you need is right there – snorkel and diving gear, sea bobs, surfboards, water slides, jet skis, trampolines and more. The yachts are very well equipped for different water sport activities and the crew is there to provide the adventure. People can create their own party onboard,” Danielle Schwolow, has a saying that I really like, “Few people, fewer worries.” People are really able to limit their interaction with anyone else not in their bubble.
Another nice benefit that kept coming up in our conversations about yachting is that there are fewer people now in most destinations, especially without the cruise ships in port. So, while itineraries have gotten smaller, because they can’t go outside of certain islands, crews are discovering new places. For example, if you go to the USVI, you currently cannot cruise into the BVI’s like before Covid, so crews have discovered new places. Many yachts, before Covid, would never go over to St. Croix, because it’s 30 miles away, but now since they have to stay in the USVI they’re discovering amazing scuba diving sites in the St. Croix area, Cronan told me. “Normally, yachts wouldn’t go near Magen’s Bay in St. Thomas, because of how many boats and people were there, but now it’s practically empty and is such a beautiful bay for watersports.”
Captain Simon told me that the BVI’s usually get destroyed by the big cruise ships, so it has been very different and nice not having them there with so many tourists. “I had a charter in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving and one in St. Barth’s and St. Martin over Christmas. St. Barth’s was packed with people, so the guests decided to not go ashore.” That’s the nice thing about being on a yacht – you have the choice of what you want to do without feeling like you’re missing out on anything.
“In the USVI, there are great restaurants, like the new one at Lovango Bay, a resort on an island just off of St. John and a great place to go for dinner when on a yacht. Upscale and open air and you don’t have to worry about the crowds,” suggested Cronan. “Another neat place to try in the USVI is Water Lemon Cay, just off of St. John. You anchor there, only a few boats can fit, and they have a fabulous beach where you can find starfish that are larger than the size of your hand just lying on the bottom.”
Speak to your trusted travel agent or charter broker as it is our job to keep clients safe, updated and offer alternative options quickly when protocols change. We are all working hard for our clients to ensure a seamless process of getting to their destination
Yacht charter affords an amazing time discovering uninhabited cays and having 5-star meals prepared by your own private chef— it is the ultimate social distancing trip. Call some friends and family, get a few boats together, so each group has their own space, and go yachting tandem style. And as Shannon McCoy stated so perfectly, “No one has worked through the charter industry in these conditions ever before, so everyone in yachting is really working closely to address the concerns of their clients.” Happy yachting.
- Carissa Gulyas, Luxury Travel Advisor