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Tonight is the season finale of Bravo’s Below Deck, my favorite guilty pleasure show. In case you’ve never seen it, it’s a reality show that follows the crew of a luxury yacht and captures all the drama that ensues. The yacht costs around $150,000 to rent per week (!) and it’s pretty fun to watch how the one percenters get drunk and embarrass themselves on national television.
An Affordable Alternative Yachting Trip
Did you know that you can experience yachting life yourself—for a teensy fraction of what those zillionaires on Below Deck paid? No, you won’t have a giant master suite, and your crew will be much smaller. However, you can visit places that you could never see from a giant cruise ship, make some terrific friendships, and get some serious R & R. I know, because I’ve done it.
A few years back, I was browsing VRBO.com for ideas of places to rent for our fifth anniversary trip. The previous year had been rough for our family. I’d been diagnosed with breast cancer while 34 weeks pregnant with our second child, and I’d had months of doctors’ visits, debilitating treatments, and painful surgeries. We’d also had all the normal ups-and-downs a family experiences with a newborn and toddler in the house, my husband was working day and night at a soul-crushing job, and we’d had my parents living with us for several months. I wanted to do something really special for us to relax and reconnect as a couple. On VRBO, I saw the following listing:
St. Martin (St. Maarten) Vacation Rental – 6 BR Yacht Charters & Boat Rentals, Caribbean Hotel in St. Martin (St. Maarten), Book Your Cabin on the Ocean, World’s Largest Salt Water Swimming Pool Included.
I clicked on the listing and discovered something I’d never heard of before: the cabin charter. See, on a cabin charter, you rent a private room with a bathroom on a ship, and you share that vessel with other passengers just like on a cruise ship. The difference? The boat is a private yacht that only has only a handful of guest cabins.
I quickly clicked through to the website of the company that posted the ad, Dream Yacht Charters, and I went down the rabbit hole. Within less than 2 weeks, I’d booked us a trip aboard the Aquatopia: a 62-foot catamaran with 6 guest cabins and 2 crew members. The price? Less than $3600 total. For 7 nights aboard a private yacht in the British Virgin Islands. With all meals included.
How was the trip? Well, it was pretty much as dreamy as you would imagine. We flew into St. Maarten and took a taxi out to the private marina. We took off our shoes, boarded the boat, and met our two crew members: Daniel, the captain, and Isabel (first mate/cook/steward/etc.). Both were from France as were three of the passengers. Two other passengers were Swiss, and one couple was from Maine here in the U.S.
The atmosphere felt much like a bed and breakfast to me. We gathered together for every meal and went on shared excursions, but the boat was large enough that the 11 of us (9 passengers and 2 crew members) had space to ourselves.
On the main level, there was a large inside lounge that also contained the kitchen. Through some sliding glass doors, we emerged onto an outside deck with a huge table where we ate all our meals. This area also had some spots for lounging.
On the opposite (bow) end of the ship, there were hammocks that provided a great spot for sunbathing or star-gazing. Upstairs was another lounge area, as well as the spot where Captain Daniel sat to steer the ship and the area where he and Isabel manned the sails.
Yes, this was a sailboat. We had a motor for when we needed it, but much of the time we sailed along at a leisurely pace. On most days, we’d wake up in a beautiful cove somewhere, swim, eat breakfast on deck, sail for a few hours, drop anchor for a bit, explore the area, sail for a few more hours, and drop anchor for the night.
The meals were terrific. I’m not really sure when Isabel found time to cook them with all her other duties. There were beautiful salads, exotic fruits, and impossibly fresh fish. There was wine on the table at lunch and dinner as well as a cocktail here and there. Mealtime was spent getting to know our fellow passengers, all while staring out at an impossibly blue sea.
Activities and excursions were low-key, but amazing. We watched dolphins and sea turtles swimming right next to our boat and then got in the water to snorkel with them. We watched the stars from a hammock. We watched the sun set right into the sea. We played travel Yahtzee with all our new friends.
We saw the Baths at Virgin Gorda. We explored the caves on Norman Island (said to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island). We drank at the famous Willy T floating bar and restaurant, which at the time was located just off of Norman Island, but has since relocated to Great Harbor on Peter Island after the boat we visited was destroyed during Hurricane Irma.
We had a picnic on a private beach. We spent the afternoon hanging out at Jost Van Dyke’s Soggy Dollar Bar—so named because it has no dock. You have to swim in from your boat to get there.
We visited Marina Cay, an eight-acre island with a beach bar that enjoyed a 360-degree view of the sea. We took short window-shopping trips in tiny harbors. We sailed past Necker Island, which is owned by Richard Branson. We drank a painkiller cocktail in each bar that claimed to have invented them. We experienced a storm at sea and all got a bit seasick as the boat pitched and rolled.
We did tons of things and yet felt like we weren’t doing much of anything besides relaxing and soaking up the glorious Caribbean sun. We made decisions as a group to linger in places we liked and to skip places we didn’t care about. A destination on our itinerary was scrapped due to weather conditions and replaced with another impossibly fabulous island. Because my husband purchased the internet package onboard (remember the soul-crushing job I mentioned?) we were even able to FaceTime with the kids.
I have trouble putting into words just how amazing this Mommy-and-Daddy-only trip was. It seems more like a dream than a memory as I describe it to you now, and it was an amazing way to celebrate five years of marriage and put to rest the most challenging year of our lives. We will definitely be making a trip with Dream Yacht Charter again as they have affordable cabin charters available on yachts all over the world. Maybe next time, we’ll see if the kids can come along.
Are you daydreaming about a trip onboard your own (mostly) private yacht now?
Tell me about it in the comments!
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