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Affordable Yacht Vacations: What You Need to Know

alaska glacier zodiac expedition adventure life voyages cruisesWays to Save: Beyond the obvious -- Antarctica is more expensive than the Greek Isles -- it's all about finding a good deal and watching your food budget when meals are not included. There are specials to be had, especially at the fringes of high season -- on, say, May or September departures for a Greek Isles or Alaska cruise, September through December (minus holidays) in the Galapagos, and during heat of the summer months in Mexico.

Baja Expeditions, a tour operator that sells cruises off the coast of Mexico, generally offers discounts of 20 percent for children 15 and under, as well as other family-friendly specials depending on the sailing (up to 75 percent off kids sharing a cabin with parents).

With Galapagos cruises in particular, booking at the absolute last minute can score you an incredible deal. While it's hard to be flexible when flights to Quito, Ecuador (and then on to Baltra, the embarkation port for most Galapagos cruises) are involved, two-for-ones often materialize two weeks before the sailing date.

Tour Operators to Consider:
  • Adventure Life Voyages (worldwide)
  • Baja Expeditions (Baja California, Mexico)
  • Bamboo Travel (Asia)
  • G Adventures (worldwide)
  • Overseas Adventure Travel (worldwide)
  • Surtrek Tour Operator (Ecuador, Galapagos)

    Chartering a Crewed Boat
    The Low-Down: While chartering is easily the most planning-intensive and pricey option, it's also the most intimate and personalized. You can custom-design both the itinerary and the onboard experience (within reason -- no pirate-hunting cruises allowed). If you want mahi mahi for dinner every night, add it to the provision list. Want to start and end your cruise in Jost Van Dyke, your favorite Caribbean island? Done.

    Then there's the choice of boat, most of which will carry 10 passengers or less. Choose from the luxury motor yacht with its leather appointments and amenities like Wi-Fi; lop off "luxury" and you have an older, less spacious, more modestly priced version. The tall ship or schooner will appeal to sailing aficionados, while the multi-hulled catamaran is a fine value choice for coastal and intra-island sailing.

    These are fully crewed offerings, which likely means they have a captain and a cook (often a husband and wife team) -- more than enough to get you where you want to go and keep you fed on the journey.

    So how do you charter a yacht? Businesses like International Yacht Charter Group, Island Symphony Yacht Vacations and Regency Vacations can help you sort out the mess, with search engines for charterable yachts plying the waters almost anywhere in the world, from the Indian Ocean to the South Pacific. (Forget about dealing directly with the boat owners; this industry is all about middlemen). Derek Holding, the CEO of International Yacht Charter Group, helped us with the basics.

    "After you choose a destination and book, the boat is basically yours," Holding tells us.

    In everywhere but the Caribbean (more on that in Ways to Save), a basic charter fee will include the boat, crew and insurance. Then it's up to you to create the experience, and the key consideration is the cost of provisions. ALL consumables -- fuel, food, that bottle of Dom Perignon you want to impress your friends with -- are added costs, as are things like port fees and immigration taxes. "In the Mediterranean, it could be $500 or $600 a night just to dock the boat -- you need to know this," adds Holding.

    sunset sailboat sailing cruise womanIn all, additional expenses typically run -- no matter the size or type of the boat -- between 30 and 35 percent of whatever the charter fee is. To have time to go over every expense and itinerary choice, it's best to start the planning six months in advance. Or you can just say "gimme the captain's special" and let him do the legwork.

    Ways to Save: First off, the number of people sailing determines the cost. You'll be able to get much more for your money if you divide the costs among eight people rather than four. Second, without a doubt, chartering an old catamaran in the Caribbean is the cheapest possible option, with rates as low as $1,500 per person for a weeklong sailing. For a variety of reasons (low fuel costs being one, very low port fees being another), charters in the Caribbean are often sold as all-inclusive sailings -- so you pay one price and you get food, use of water toys and more. Sailing trips in New England and Canada are another option for a reasonably priced sailing. And again, sailing in the off season, even for pricey destinations like Alaska, can mean big savings of 20 percent or more (check out the Charter Brokers of Alaska specials page).

    Yacht Charter Agents to Consider:
  • Charter Brokers of Alaska (Alaska)
  • Ed Hamilton & Company (U.S.-based charterer of Caribbean yachts)
  • International Yacht Charter Group (worldwide)
  • Island Symphony Yacht Vacations (Caribbean)
  • Regency Yacht Vacations (worldwide)

    Related Links
  • Budget Travel Center
  • Write About Your Latest Trip
  • Expedition and Adventure Cruises
  • The Seven Cheapest Ways to Travel
  • Get the Free Independent Traveler Newsletter!

    --written by Dan Askin
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