Cruise Specialists Share Their Favorite Charter Destinations And Insider Travel Tips For When You Visit
Last year we profiled leading charter cruise specialists on the Gold Coast and Treasure Coast. They extolled the virtues of charter versus yacht ownership, and mentioned some of their favorite places for charters. We have been asked, by many of those who can afford $50,000 and up for a week’s worth of charter pleasure, to get a bit more specific. Where do people like to visit by boat in the Caribbean or the Med, and what attracts them to those places? We went back to some of the same sources this year and talked in detail about their favorite charter destinations.
Barbara Stork Landeweer, with International Yacht Collection in Fort Lauderdale, had a fast and enthusiastic response:
“My favorite place is the Bahamas. It’s great fishing, and diving and relaxation. It’s some of the most beautiful water you’ll find anywhere. You can go to Nassau for nightlife, or the Exumas and be by yourself. You can see swimming pigs at Shroud Cay’s pig beach—where you can sit, have a sandwich and read a book with nobody around,” she says.
“Shroud has a little stream running through it with a strong current—you don’t even have to move your feet. The current just pulls you through, and when you get to the other side, a tender can pick you up. At Staniel Cay Yacht Club, you can go ashore and see people and socialize. The waters are beautiful, and Bimini is so close. When you see the little markers that lead you in, all the worries in the world go away,” she says.
Finally, she says, don’t miss out on the food. “The locals make the best conch salad you’ve ever had in your life,” she says.
The Galápagos Islands
Heather Hatcher is director of charter marketing for Palm Beach’s Worth Avenue Yachts. Based in Newport, Rhode Island in the summer, she enjoys cruising the northern waters. But she is also promoting a very different location where her company has a unique position: The Galápagos Islands off Ecuador.
“We have a 124-foot Picchiotti, Stella Maris, a 60-room yacht with three staterooms on the main deck and a master stateroom on the upper deck. It is based in the Galápagos year-round. It’s the only privately owned luxury charter there,” Hatcher says.
“They only have a dry season and wet season, no cold or hot, and the temperature is consistent in the 70s,” she adds. There are 19 islands in the Galápagos and a week’s charter (for $150,000) visits about seven to 10 of them, she says. Only four of the islands are inhabited. The rest are strictly nature preserves.
“It is one of the most interesting dive sites in the world. You see species you won’t see anywhere else. It is a mix of tropical and Pacific water; that’s the reason you have such a mix of animals. Whale sharks, penguins, sea lions will swim right up and tug at your fins. They’re very playful. On land there are coffee plantations, and the giant tortoises are 500 pounds or more. The Charles Darwin museum is in Santa Cruz.
“You have to have a certified naturalist as a tour guide. Our guide stays on the boat. You have a private guide all the time, and you see a lot of volcanic formations. It’s pretty cool—you get close to the wild life. They don’t run away. You’re not allowed to touch them, but literally you get within inches.”
The Exumas/The Caribbean
The Exumas get another enthusiastic vote from Sara Hill of Y.CO in Fort Lauderdale. “From the time I spent as part of a crew, I know the area backwards and forwards. You have something comparable to Fiji and it’s right in our backyard. It’s just a short flight to Nassau. It’s a chain of 365 islands and you have secluded beaches. It’s great for all water sports.”
Her favorite things include a beach barbecue at Allen’s Cay—one of the first islands from Nassau. She also favors Big Major Cay where “the pigs literally swim out to you.” Her favorite anchorage is Warderick Wells.
“There are very few mooring balls and the current rips through. You jump off the swim platform onto the beach. It has an interesting pirate history. It’s always fun to do treasure hunts with kids. And Compass Cay has a small marina and beautiful beach. There are nurse sharks you can swim with—they’re pretty harmless. Near Big Major Cay, there’s Thunderball Grotto, where they made a James Bond film. That’s always good to show to guests.”
Deeper in the Caribbean during this time of year, she recommends cruising from St. Lucia to Grenada, or the other way around.
“St. Lucia has the Pitons, which are volcanoes. It’s just majestic. It doesn’t look real. There are waterfalls called the Seven Sisters. You jump off one waterfall and swim the rapids to the next one. The seventh is quite a large jump—takes a bit of courage.”
It’s impossible to write about dream yacht destinations without mentioning Greece or the Mediterranean.
“It’s just one of those magical places that captures your spirit,” says Kim Vickery, charter manager with HMY Yachts.
Vickery knows firsthand. She’s been to Greece twice—both times to attend the charter show. Her first time visiting was in 2006 for the East Med Yacht Show on Poros island. She recently went back to attend the second annual charter show held by the Greek Yachting Association in historic Nafplio—the first capital of modern Greece that’s now a charming seaside village southeast of Athens.
She recommends taking a three-day cruise in the Saronic Gulf to see Poros, Hydra, Spetses and the Aegina. It’s ideal for short-term escapes because of its proximity to Athens.
“The waters [are] calm and each island [offers] something different from picturesque fishing villages, secluded bays with clear water for swimming, historical sites, and a touch of cosmopolitan life and shopping,” Vickery says.
But the Greek Isles offer something for everyone with hundreds of contrasting islands. The five different island groups include the Cyclades, Saronic Gulf, Sporades, Ionian and Dodecanese.
“They have it all—from the warm sun, deep blue water, beautiful beaches, fascinating landscape, archaeological sites, ancient cities, cosmopolitan ports and friendly locals,” Vickery says.
Itineraries for the islands vary, but there are several fascinating places to explore beyond the well-known and often tourist-heavy islands of Santorini and Mykonos. She recommends visiting Zakynthos in the Ionian islands for its world famous beach named Navagio, also known as Shipwreck Beach. Zakynthos is also home to a thriving nightlife scene.
Since the region has not opened up to foreign flag vessels, Vickery says a trip to Greece is pure indulgence in the country’s culture and cuisine. She recommends dining aboard the yacht to enjoy fresh produce and local ingredients. “With an ideal climate, they grow almost everything,” she says. “You can always expect a delicious, healthy meal.”
Despite the current economic climate, Vickery says the locals are friendly and welcoming, making it a safe place for tourists. Keep in mind that high season is during July and August. The best time to visit, Vickery says, is June or September when the Meltemi winds are not so prevalent.
“The Ionian islands and Dodecanese are always safer choices during the height of Meltemi season,” she says.
San Blas Islands of Panama
If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path trip, Madeline Mancini and Tom Jenkins of Allied Marine in Stuart suggest the San Blas Islands of Panama. The San Blas Islands are made up of more than 370 islands strung out along the Caribbean coast of Panama from the Golfo de San Blas nearly all the way to the Colombian border. The islands are mostly uninhabited except for the independent Kuna Indians.
Mancini and Jenkins recommend starting the trip at Green Island, a great snorkeling spot where visitors can enjoy the beach and towering coconut trees. Then venture to Coco Bandero, a group of scenic islands situated behind a four-mile-long protective outer reef barrier. “It may be the most beautiful in all of San Blas,” Mancini says. Snorkelers can expect to see snapper and grouper when swimming.
Swimming Pool Anchorage is one of the most popular spots throughout San Blas, Mancini says. “It’s a great spot for a beach barbecue,” she says. North of the island, there is a tunnel that travels underneath the reef. “It’s an interesting exploration but can be tricky to find,” she says.
In Carti, boaters are encouraged to visit the small museum where the curator gives talks on the culture and lives of the Kuna Indians. The Kuna women are famous for their “mola” designs—rainbow colored fabrics emblazoned with fish, birds, jungle animals and geometric designs. In Carti, you can watch native dancing during festivals and buy or exchange gifts.
The last island Mancini and Jenkins recommend is Dog Island. The island, which is owned by two brothers who charge $1 to visit, is famous for a nearby wrecked cargo ship that sunk in 1950. “It is an excellent spot to dive,” Mancini says.
During a trip to the San Blas Islands, expect colorful flora, gourmet cuisine that includes fresh fish and international dishes, dolphin watching and pristine, unexplored beaches.