As a travel writer, I’ve been on tons of ships both big and small, each with their own pros and cons. While no ship is ever a bad choice, there are multiple options that provide access to different destinations, activities and interests.
Cruises can be very inexpensive, depending on the ship and destination—we’re looking at you, Carnival cruise to the Western Caribbean. In fact, just a few hundred dollars can sometimes get you onboard a shorter cruise in the off-season. But keep in mind: you’ll still need to pay the $10-$12 per passenger per day gratuity, along with any additional excursions that can run anywhere from $40 for a stop at a beach to up to $1,000 for helicopter rides or swimming with dolphins.
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Alcohol, soda and a few restaurants are also extras you’ll need to pay for out of pocket. The more expensive cruise lines and riverboats charge up to $20,000 for a week-long trip—Alaska and Europe are some of the pricier destinations—plus the excursions, alcohol and gratuity.
While yacht charters have a more expensive minimum, usually starting around $20,000 for a week on the very low end, a more typical price is between $50,000-$100,000 for a week-long chartered, crewed yacht. However, the price can often be lowered if you bring your own food and drinks and have your own captain, but many include the extras in that fee.
On a recent trip to the Exumas via The Moorings, the fee for two people, which started at $23,000 for a seven-night crewed ship, included alcohol, food and excursions to the local islands.
These vary greatly depending on the ship, but overall, massive quantities are served daily. With multiple restaurants per ship and meals offered throughout the day and evening, there’s more than enough to satisfy any appetite. There’s typically an extra fee for higher-end dining, but it’s well worth it for those cruise lines known for their cuisine—like Seabourn and Oceania, for example.
A chartered yacht is a different experience. A few weeks before sailing with The Moorings, I was emailed a detailed form to fill out, explaining my dining and drinking preferences. Since they’re only catering to a handful of guests, the chartered ships make an attempt to prepare the specific things you enjoy. Though your choices once you’re onboard are less flexible than on a cruise, they tend to be the meals you actually want to eat.
Activities and Excursions
While both types of ships can often access the same or similar locations, the stops are planned ahead of time on a cruise ship, allowing you the ability to plan and choose your excursions before your departure. For example, if you stop in the Bahamas, you can enjoy an excursion to Pig Beach in the Exumas, which if you ask me, is a must.
On a chartered yacht, you know the overall destination ahead of time, but you can decide on the specific stops once you speak with the captain about your interests. Since the ship is small, you can pull right up to shipwrecks, to Pig Beach and to small snorkeling spots rather than having to pay extra for the excursion.
Onboard activities vary as well. There’s definitely more to do on a cruise ship—like playing games, seeing a show and swimming in a pool overlooking the ocean—but a yacht is the way to go if you’re looking for a quieter experience.
Cruise ships often provide childcare, babysitting, pools and other options for the little ones, ranging from VR rooms to Go Kart adventures to Laser Tag. In fact, this is my kids’ favorite type of vacation.
On a yacht, you’ll make plenty of stops to jump off the ship and into the water (hello, Instagram!), but you should be prepared to entertain the kids yourself while on the ship. There were some stretches where we sailed for 6 hours straight during the day and while I was happy to read my book and nap, I know my children would have complained a bit, especially since the Internet wasn’t reliable.
In the end, there’s no ‘best’ way to sail. I love the larger ships when I want to play, be surrounded by people and have access to easy entertainment, but for a super relaxing vacation, I lean toward the smaller chartered yachts. The good news: you’ll never go wrong no matter which choice you make.