The mega-rich can afford to build their own super-yachts and fill them with expensive toys. And more are doing so than ever before. But for those who don’t have $50 million to spare, there’s always the option of chartering someone else’s yacht, or cruising aboard a small luxury vessel that just feels like one.
Last year more mega-yachts were sold than ever before, and 2021 is on pace to set another record. In fact, yacht brokers say the super-yacht industry has been booming for years, and even the global pandemic hasn’t slowed it down.
Super-yachts are typically more than 75-ft long, lavishly decorated, and come with all sorts of water toys like jet-skis, wake boards, sea-bobs and sail boats. Some even come with helicopter pads so that celebrity friends can drop by for breakfast!
According to people who follow the industry, there are nearly 9,500 yachts over 75-ft long currently afloat. About 85 per cent of those are motor vessels, and 15 per cent are sailing yachts.
Many of these super-yachts are owned by the super-rich, including author J. K. Rowling’s 156-ft Amphitrite (previously owned by Johnny Depp), golf legend Tiger Woods’ 164-foot Privacy, singer Beyoncé’s 213-ft Galactica Star, Hollywood billionaire David Geffen’s 452-ft Rising Sun, and Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich’s 533-ft Eclipse.
According to CNN, this elite group will soon be joined by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who just built a 417-ft super-yacht at a cost of over US$500 million. That price tag does not include a smaller motorized “support yacht” that will follow in the wake of Bezos’ mega-yacht to make sure he and his guests never run out of anything.
While few celebrities rent out their personal super-yachts, there are plenty of wealthy people who do, usually through charter management companies. And thanks to the reality television shows Below Deck, Below Deck Mediterranean and Below Deck Sailing, chartering a super-yacht with family and friends has become more popular
The Below Deck TV series focuses on the lives of crew members who work and reside aboard a luxury yacht during the charter season, and the often eccentric and sometimes wacky guests who charter the vessels. The show began airing on Bravo in 2013, and every episode features a new group of charter guests sailing in the Caribbean, the Bahamas, the Mediterranean, Thailand, or French Polynesia.
But while the hit TV show has taken super-yacht chartering out of the shadows, it remains an expensive proposition. For example, chartering one of the motor yachts featured on the Below Deck series will set you back at least €150,000 per week, plus the cost of fuel, alcohol, food and crew tips. And charter prices for the 177-ft Parsifal III sailing yacht featured on Below Deck Sailing start at €195,000 per week plus expenses.
Of course, just because someone can afford to charter a super-yacht, it doesn’t mean they’re going to enjoy it. Just ask Eugene Melnyk, the billionaire owner of the Ottawa Senators hockey team. Melnyk took a super-yacht vacation in the Bahamas this past December with his family and girlfriend, and apparently had a terrible experience. After paying US$500,000 to charter the 12-passenger, 197-ft M/Y Dream for a 10-day-cruise, he filed a US$10 million lawsuit against the charter company claiming the ship’s Captain was “an odorous, ill-tempered man who was curt and dismissive with the guests and outright angry and abusive to the crew.”
If you can’t afford to pay several hundred thousand dollars a week to rent a super-yacht, or just don’t want to risk that much on a single charter, there are a growing number of small luxury cruise ships that come close to a super-yacht experience at a fraction of the price.
One of them is Sea Cloud Cruise Line, which operates three luxurious sailing yachts including one of the most glamourous ocean-going passenger ships afloat.
Launched as a private yacht in 1931 for the millionaire heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, the 364-ft Sea Cloud radiates elegance and charm from a bygone era. Powered by 29 sails, Sea Cloud carries a maximum of just 64 people in 32 outside cabins over three decks filled with French antiques, marble fireplaces and spacious teak decks. The cuisine aboard Sea Cloud is a match for any super-yacht, with chefs creating extraordinary meals from local produce and fresh fish, and wine selections matched to the regions they sail in.
Sea Cloud, Sea Cloud II, and Sea Cloud Spirit sail to a wide variety of destinations, including the Caribbean, Bahamas, Central America, Cuba, Canary Islands, Mediterranean, Europe, and the U.S. with fares starting at $7,500 per person per week.
SeaDream is another cruise line that offers a sea-going experience similar to a super-yacht.
The boutique cruise line operates twin yachts called the SeaDream I and II, which carry a maximum of just 112 guests in 56 ocean-view cabins, fawned over by 95 crew members. The company’s motto “It’s Yachting, Not Cruising” is evident in every aspect of a SeaDream voyage, from the elegant informality of its trademark caviar and champagne served on the beach, to its Thai-certified spa, and signature Balinese dream beds that can be used at night for sleeping under the stars.
SeaDream offers cruises to a variety of destinations, including the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, and the Caribbean, with fares starting at about US$3,400 per person, per week. The entire ship can also be chartered for exclusive sailings.
Finally, several cruise lines offer expedition voyages aboard small luxury vessels, including Silversea and Crystal, that are nearly as special as being on a super-yacht.
Silversea has four expedition ships, including the Silver Explorer and Silver Origin. The Explorer, which was designed specifically for navigating ice-filled waters at both polar regions, has a guest capacity of 114 passengers and a crew of 118. The Silver Origin, built in 2020 to sail the Galapagos Islands, carries a maximum of 100 guests with a crew of 90.
Silversea expedition cruises sail to some of the most remote regions of the planet in all seven continents, including Antarctica, South and Central America, Africa, the Indian Ocean, Asia, Australia, and the South Pacific. Expedition cruise fares start at about $US700 per day, per person, with cruises to Antarctica almost double that price.
On July 17, the new Crystal Endeavor arrived in Iceland from the shipyard in Germany and began a series of maiden voyages in the Land of Fire and Ice. The Polar Class 6 luxury expedition yacht, Crystal’s first purpose-built expedition ship, carries just 200 guests and an equal number of crew.
The luxury ship will sail to remote destinations around the world, including Antarctica, Northern Europe, Greenland, Russia, the Chilean fjords, and Australia. Per person fares for these voyages start at about US$1,100 per day.
While none of these super-yacht-like cruises are inexpensive, they do cost far less than chartering your own super-yacht. And while super-yachts provide the opportunity to sail exclusively with eight or 10 of your family and closest friends, if you’re not a celebrity, you may not need, want or be able to afford that much privacy.
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