Sailing the high seas is a magical experience, whether it’s waking up to a sunrise glistening across crystal clear water or dropping anchor in an exotic port of call, the allure prompts millions of vacationers each year to set sail. The mystique of floating palaces first captured my heart in 2007 and transformed me into an obsessed cruiser. Time after time I booked passage on the biggest and newest cruise ships. Within five years I had 13 sailings under my belt. At first the grandeur of opulent promenades, Broadway shows, and glitzy casinos lured me in. I didn’t mind waiting in long buffet lines at breakfast or being packed like sardines into a small space during muster drill, a week at sea was worth it. But I can remember exactly where I stood when I realized I’d tired of the same ports, the same excursions and the same food.
Our floating hotel sailed into St. Thomas on a magnificent March day. My husband Gregg pointed out dozens of yachts snug in the harbor. Onboard these small luxury ships, couples were dining al fresco or taking a morning dip off of the bow. “All future island cruises we take need to be on a yacht”. Gregg voiced what I was already thinking. The best cruise option for us sat in the same harbor, but on a much smaller scale.
But were these yachts an affordable option? In the past, chartering a 20-meter catamaran or 18 meter sailboat meant busting your travel budget. An online cruise finder addressed our concerns and dispelled all small yacht myths. We discovered that chartering a small yacht would actually cost less than booking two balcony cabins onboard a large cruise ship.
The next year, instead of walking down a gangplank with thousands of other cruisers, our family was greeted by the captain of a small sailboat in Italy. We decided to charter the floating villa and get an up close view of the worlds’ most scenic and picturesque coastline, the Amalfi Coast. Stretching from Sorrento to Salerno, the entire Amalfi Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Southern Italy.
No tour bus or taxi could give us a view of the 500-foot cliffs and seaside villages as our chartered yacht. We set sail from Maiori for Positano on a sundrenched summer day. Our captain was quick to point out hidden beaches and caves only locals knew about and small swim platforms attached to rocky cliffs. Had we chosen a hotel or large cruise ship, we would have never spied these secret treasures. Halfway to Positano our floating home came to a full stop, time for a dip in the pristine waters.
As my children will attest, there is no comparison to leaping off of a private yacht. “This sure beats a crowded pool deck,” my eldest proclaimed while doing a cannonball off of the starboard side. After an hour of swimming and snorkeling we dried off and pulled into Positano. No cruise ship can dock in this Amalfi Coast gem; it’s nestled between rolling hills. Homes and business are built snug into the steep terrain, making Positano one of the most photographed villages in the world. Our captain told us where the locals eat lunch and we followed his lead past the tourist eateries.
By evening we were back on our floating villa. The smiles of my children and husband spoke volumes. We were hooked. No more giant ships, no more fighting crowds for a lounge chair, no more long lines for food. Bigger was not better for us. The best cruises for our family centered on yachts. Imagine waking up to en elegant breakfast prepared by your private chef? This is how a typical day on a smaller vessel starts. After breakfast and a swim your captain pulls into an exotic destination. There is no rush to return and your private tender is always ready. While you shop or tour local sites, your crew is busy buying fresh produce, seafood and meats for your 5 star dinners. Then your floating villa moves with you, under the stars.
There are no limits to size, budget or style of sailing. We met many people on single cruises, who preferred to share the cost of a cabin, than rent out an entire yacht. A novel idea for anyone looking to stretch the budget even further. Whether you are looking for intimate island cruises, single cruises or family reunions at sea, don’t think big, think small. Yachts offer outstanding advantages you won’t find on super-sized ships. Take heart that the best cruises are not always on a cruise ship.
When comparing a typical day between big cruises and small yachts the facts speak for themselves.
Large Cruise Ships Small Chartered Yachts
Long lines in breakfast buffet Breakfast served by private chef
Long waits to board tenders Tender is at your service
Only a few hours in each port No rush to leave ports of call
Ship anchored far from certain ports Yacht anchors next to nature
Same menu each cruise Personal chef caters to your taste
Foods not created to your tastes Buds
Cruise Line determines schedule You set the schedule
Itinerary planned out You set the itinerary
Pay for dives and other activities Dives and use of equipment included in price
Share the beach with thousands of passengers Taken to private islands with few crowds