Last month we published our annual charter guide, a resource meant to give boaters looking for an adventure the contacts they need to get started with a chartered experience.
But the umbrella term “charter” can be problematic because it’s so all encompassing. For example, a day trip with a fishing charter chasing albacore out of West Port, Washington, has little in common with a weeklong barebones sailboat charter in the San Juan Islands. Standing tall as its own species of yacht chartering is the luxury yacht vacation, forgoing the term charter altogether in favor of a more luxuriant nomenclature.
But what defines luxury yacht vacations? Although not formally defined, we attempt to do so here after chatting with Worth Avenue Yachts, a company that offers these experiences both locally and abroad.
Ray Prokorym, head of the Worth Avenue Yachts Seattle Office, and Lori Eastes, the Seattle office’s yacht vacations coordinator, are both professional hard chargers in the luxury yacht vacation game. Worth Avenue Yachts opened their Seattle office just last year, but managing a luxury yacht charter fleet both in the Northwest and abroad has been a top priority for the company. The boat brokerage company has two offices in Florida, one in San Diego, and another in Monaco, and at the time of this writing manages a fleet of 16 yachts spread around the world.
Why does Prokorym think the Pacific Northwest is ripe for superyacht charters? “From here to Alaska is some of the most stunning, captivating scenery in the world,” said Prokorym.
“I think the Pacific Northwest is an underserved area for charters at this level. If you look at the landscape here, there are a lot of smaller, unique, under-the-radar charter companies, but almost nobody is doing it above a certain threshold. There’s a lot of bareboat and flotilla-style charters, but our goal is to bring what Worth Avenue has established around the world to the Pacific Northwest.”
But Prokorym isn’t just talking about offering higher end charters in the waters between here and Alaska.
“One thing we found is that there are all kinds of clients who want to charter in Croatia or the Bahamas or what have you, but didn’t have a portal in Seattle where they can come in, sit down with Lori, and look at the different products we have to offer to go anywhere in the world.”
Despite being in town for less than a full year, the Worth Avenue Yachts’ Seattle office has already booked a handful of vacations, including one in Desolation Sound.
The role of Eastes, who has a background in the hospitality industry, is devoted to planning and executing Worth Avenue Yachts’ luxury yacht vacations. “The client who booked that Desolation Sound trip was a local boater who wanted to crab and fish with their kids so they could experience the real Pacific Northwest deal together,” she added.
One obviously needs a worthy yacht for a luxury yacht vacation, but what makes a boat a good fit for the job? Prokorym weighed in.
“I would say these experiences are all about the service. With that in mind, the boats that excel in this realm are crew-centric.” For example, if selecting a boat for eight guests, thinking about the minimum crew requirements is important. Prokorym thinks three or four minimum crew is about right, so the ideal luxury yacht charter should have good accommodations for them. “I’d start with crew accommodations and the size of boat that will accommodate X number of people.”
“We don’t have anything under about 90 feet because of those requirements,” says Eastes. “And it has to be in great condition. The charter manager has to get on it and be able to say, ‘Do a refit, change this or that.’ Most of our boats have undergone refits and are spectacular.”
Prokorym looks at it as a consumer. “It’s a lot of money for a nice vacation, so my expectations should be high. We need an excellent chef and the boat has to be really nice, there’s pride in that.”
Besides the quality of the vessel itself, it’s worth noting that Worth Avenue Yachts doesn’t own the boats in its fleet. The yacht owner generally uses their boat for however many weeks or months out of the year and puts it up for chartering when not in use. A yacht manager is often utilized to work with companies like Worth Avenue Yachts for booking purposes, in addition to dealing with the nitty gritty of crew hiring, paperwork, and the like.
Even the best luxury vacation-ready yacht in the world will languish without a good crew. Another key piece of this kind of charter is the professional-grade captains, crew, and chefs involved. Bareboat charters are popular in the Pacific Northwest, but, by definition, require the client to be captain and his/her friends and family the crew and cooks. With the luxury yacht vacation, if you do any of the real work aboard, the provider hasn’t done their job.
Like the boat itself, the captain, crew, and chef are managed by the yacht owner and yacht manager. There’s plenty of competitive pressure for managers to present their hires and yachts in the best possible manner to be selected to work with companies like Worth Avenue Yachts. When interviewed, Prokorym and Eastes were getting ready to go to a chartering convention in Antigua.
“We step aboard the various yachts for charter and they set the table and try to wow us because they want us to book their boats,” says Eastes. “You learn about the crews who are good too. It’s largely the captain’s duty to make sure they have a great crew, and, in my experience, the crews are mostly young and fun, 35 and under, and well qualified. The chefs and captains tend to be more seasoned.”
“Their credentials are important too,” adds Prokorym. “In addition to the captain’s ticket to operate the vessel, there’s usually a host of other credentials. The crews are also of high caliber and should be capable of running the yacht if they have to.”
“You’ve got somebody’s 20-million-dollar asset in your care,” says Eastes. “You better be a professional. Stakes are very high.”
With yacht and dialed-in crew ready to go, it’s time to offer destination vacation packages to the world. While Worth Avenue Yachts offers pre-made, seven-day vacation packages to most of the world’s premium cruising destinations, the level of customization is high.
“The itinerary is up to the client,” says Eastes. “You can opt for the pre-made Bahamas vacation, but also say exactly where you want to go. The experience is up to the client. They can eat caviar and drink Don Perignon every night if they want. They’ll pay for it, but we’ll make it happen.”
If a client wants a certain yacht in the fleet for a cruise in a different location then where it’s located, Worth Avenue Yachts can accommodate. Eastes continues, “You can say, hey, I want to be on this boat that’s in Italy, but I want to go to Spain and Portugal. We may have to move the boat there if the captain accepts the charter and that could cost extra for the delivery, but once you get down there, you have complete control.”
Another benefit to this flexibility is that, if a client doesn’t want to stick to the itinerary during the trip, moving is as simple as asking the captain to do so. “Think of it this way, if a family rented a five-star hotel somewhere and didn’t like whatever, they’re stuck there,” says Prokorym. “Now you’ve got your own five-star hotel that can go somewhere else and do pretty much whatever you want. You can change locations and decide to go rock climbing somewhere, just get the hook up and go.”
As far as far-flung places like Antarctica are concerned, Eastes is insistent that all client desires are worth a conversation. In many cases, the biggest obstacles are not physical—as these superyachts should be able to handle just about anything—but regulatory.
“It’s not hard to get places, but you do have to know the laws,” says Eastes. “If you’re cruising the Mediterranean, you’ll want to know the differences between the countries you’ll operate in. The taxes in Croatia are very low while the taxes in Italy and France are high. There’s all sorts of considerations when considering cruising locations, but making it happen is what we do.”
Some places like the Mediterranean or the Bahamas are pieces of cake from the regulatory standpoint because they have long been frequented by charter companies. Some places like Thailand and parts of Southeast Asia are growing in popularity, so the industry is still learning more about the laws. There are designated companies that serve as localized legal experts who provide legal council.
In fact, the regulatory landscape of superyacht charters in the Pacific Northwest is one of the major considerations for Worth Avenue Yachts as they attempt to trailblaze luxury yacht vacations in our waters. Prokorym elaborates:
“It’s not too much of an obstacle, but we’re finding that not many people have really figured out what we’re trying to do yet. It’s a complicated area regulations-wise because we’re right up against Canada and Southeast Alaska, and all these regions have different requirements for chartering. For example, there are different rules if you’re using crews of the host country vs. foreign crews, same with domestic hull vs. foreign hull.”
While pursing superyacht charter options, it’s easy for most people to get sticker shock. However, you don’t have to be a millionaire to pull it off, as Eastes explains.
“A lot of people don’t realize you can charter a luxury boat. Yes, it looks expensive initially, but if you have six or even twelve couples splitting the costs, it’s not that bad of a price for a high-end vacation. If you’re going to stay at a four-star hotel in Hawaii for a week, it is usually about equal.”
There is a wide price range in this kind of experience with Worth’s fleet, from the most economical Cheoy Lee motoryacht Windward (89-foot for six guests at $31,500 plus expenses a week) to the 257-foot Abeking & Rasmussen Eminence ($800,000 plus expenses for 12 guests a week). That’s a range of $5,250 to $66,667 per person for a week, certainly not bargain bin prices, but the lower end is around what an all-out luxury hotel vacation would cost.
Is there a type of person who goes for these experiences? Yes and no, says Eastes.
“I know people in our Florida office interact with people who have the money and who talk about buying a big boat, but it’s generally a good idea to charter a boat first to see what you like and don’t like.” The chartering process helps cultivate these people into an informed buyer. Putting them on a couple of charters tends to convert these clients into buyers.
“You find that charter workers in Florida are extremely successful with the repeat clients,” said Eastes. “Once someone charters a boat, it often turns into a once-a-year experience. They almost always repeat, they love to do it.” Prokorym offered a story.
“We just had a client approach me, and a really good friend of his was turning 75 and she wanted to do something memorable with a group. I can’t think of a better way to do that than to cruise the Med for a week on a beautiful boat. We brought the idea to him, we talked about what they wanted, and then he showed the polished product to her. She said, ‘Yup, I’ll remember that. I want snacks at two and champagne at three.’”
With the perfect yachts, ace crew, jaw-dropping destinations, and clients rallied under one banner, a company like Worth Avenue Yachts is in the sweet spot to offer luxury yacht vacations to the world. But maybe these luxury vacations are more than a sum of their parts. At the end of the day, they’re about living life to the fullest.
“To put it simply, we’re offering people experiences instead of material things,” says Prokorym. “These are expensive vacations, but would you rather give your loved ones an experience of a lifetime or shiny toys that collect dust?” What’s more, Prokorym insists that spreading the gospel of luxury superyacht vacations both in the Pacific Northwest and abroad is good for boating.
“It’s good for the industry. It exposes people to boating, and there’s different ways to do that. One of our smaller 90-foot boats might have six guests who don’t have any boating exposure at all. Maybe they have such a good time that they buy an entry-level ski boat after the vacation. It’s important for the grow boating aspect, we’re all for that.”
Eastes is optimistic about the future of luxury yacht charters in the Pacific Northwest. “If we can accomplish these Pacific Northwest superyacht charters seamlessly, there are lots of larger yacht owners in the area who are interested in joining our charter fleet and have reached out. They’d do it themselves, but they don’t want to do everything we do in terms of vetting the personnel, figuring out the rules and regulations, etc.”
For now, things are going well, according to Prokorym. “We’ve got a client who is looking at buying a 32-meter boat that’ll be in Seattle under our management and available for charter initially in the San Juan Islands. That would be the incubator program we’d like to see, then we’ll be off to the races for the area. Lots of regulatory things going on, but I’m determined to get this done.”