Tag Archives: private yacht

Aerial view at famous european travel destination in Croatia, Dubrovnik old town.

How to Avoid Cruise Crowds in Europe

When you plan a trip, do you factor in when cruise ships will be visiting the places on your itinerary? A lot of us do (cruisemapper.com is my go-to), since several large ships at once can overcrowd a place, pouring out tens of thousands of tourists in a day.

This is one reason why certain European cities—historic coastal ports—have enacted restrictions on cruise-ship visits. Venice, a popular cruise port where space is tight, now prohibits vessels larger than 25,000 tons. Dubrovnik, Croatia’s ancient walled harbor, now limits the number of cruise passengers to 4,000 per day. And this summer, the city council of Amsterdam, a hub for river cruises, announced a ban on cruise ships docking in its historic center. Amsterdam’s dictate is still unfolding, but it would require ships to dock at less convenient places outside the city center.

Indeed, Amsterdam recently announced that, in 2024, it will increase its tourist taxes to the highest level in Europe. Guests in hotels will see an increase from seven percent in 2023 to 12.5 percent, plus an additional 3€ for any additional occupants. Cruise travelers will also pay more, from 8€ to 11€ per passenger, per day. And cruise ships calling at Scotland’s ports will be charged a new cruise tax in 2024; timing and fees have not yet been determined.

Venice’s new rule limits entry to the small ships operated by Ponant, Ritz-Carlton, Scenic, Sea Cloud, Star Clipper, Windstar, and the occasional river vessel. Larger ships must dock in off-the-islands manufacturing towns, such as Fusina and Marghera, or in cities even farther away, such as Ravenna and Trieste, both more than a two-hour drive from Venice. Below is the cruise-ship pier in Fusina and the waterbus that shuttles cruise passengers from there to Venice. It’s a 45-minute ride each way…and certainly not as glam as docking in Venice itself.

The cruise-ship pier in Fusina, 45 minutes from Venice.

The cruise-ship pier in Fusina, 45 minutes from Venice. Photo: Teijo Niemela

I love traveling by sea. More and more, though, I’m drawn to small ships, or even private yacht charters, where you need not worry about which ports you’ll be allowed into and they’re not overcrowded when you get there. Check out the articles below for water-borne trips that will keep you away from the masses.

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Sailing the Caribbean Sea in a Private Yacht. This Could Be You.

aerial shot of Belize ocean with sailboat

If you think a private yacht trip is not attainable, you’re wrong—and you’re missing out. Photo: Belize Sailing Vacations

When you hear the phrase “private yacht charter,” what does it conjure up in your mind? Probably a dash of opulence, a sense of exclusivity, maybe a skipper with boat shoes. That’s what I pictured, at least. So I wasn’t surprised when my recent foray into the world of private yachting started with the pop of a Prosecco cork. What did surprise me was how versatile the experience could be, molded to fit the preferences of just about any kind of traveler. That’s how I—a lover of mountains more than beaches, and certainly not someone prone to taking selfies on the bow in a bikini à la Beyonce—fell in love with a private yacht over four days off the coast of Belize.

Why we chose Belize

Some say the British Virgin Islands are the crème de la crème for yachting in the Caribbean—but that archipelago is so chock-a-block with boats in high season that you may have to anchor by midday just to get the spot you want. In Belize, by contrast, I could count on two hands the number of boats we passed.

Tucked under Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and just a hair larger than New Jersey, Belize has all the elements sailors love—turquoise waters, steady breezes, palm-shaded beaches, a healthy barrier reef—plus the freedom to wander at will among islands strung like pearls along the country’s Caribbean coast. In fact, the underwater ecosystem was the most impressive I’ve seen anywhere (besting Fiji, the Galapagos, even the Great Barrier Reef).

My captain and first mate were both Belizean—many of the crews elsewhere in the Caribbean hail from the U.S. and Europe—and the country’s official language is English, so I managed to learn a fair bit about Belize even when all I could see of the mainland was a distant line of green on the horizon.

And without the caché of a name-brand island, the value of the all-inclusive experience was impressive: Four ensuite cabins; delicious meals and snacks; an open bar; round-the-clock services of a captain and chef/first mate; and use of snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding, and fishing equipment comes to less than $400 per person per night when the boat is filled to its eight-guest capacity.

How we spent our days on the water

We hopscotched among Belize’s southern cayes, known for their solitude and swaying palms. We didn’t even bother to put shoes on when we stepped onto Tobacco Caye for a piña colada; home to forty-some residents, it’s one of the busier islands in the neighborhood. I watched the sun sink below the horizon one evening from the seat of a kayak, the water lapping at the shores of tiny palm-fringed islets; the only sign of civilization in sight was the catamaran where the chef/first mate was preparing my dinner, the aroma of garlic and coconut oil gently carried to me by the breeze.

And what a dinner it was. When I planned this trip with Trusted Travel Expert Patricia Johnson, she sent me a questionnaire with clever prompts aimed to suss out exactly the experience I would most enjoy. I checked a box indicating that I “love fresh, healthy and clean cuisine with an emphasis on health and wellness” and mentioned the handful of foods my family disliked. From the very first meal onboard to the last, our chef served the kinds of delicious, produce-forward dishes that I wish I had the skill and time to prepare at home—plus the occasional pizza or hot dog to keep my eight-year-old son happy. Not only that, each course was presented beautifully, but without the fussiness that can make all the back-to-back restaurant meals tiresome while traveling.

What made this the epitome of custom-tailored travel

Had I been in the mood for a bit of shopping and nightlife, our captain would have set us on a course for the busier northern cayes: Ambergris and Caulker. And that was the plan—until I tore up our itinerary on Day 2, deciding to take advantage of the spontaneity a yacht charter affords and save Ambergris’ “Little Miami” for another trip. My new mantra was: Why sail to a place that you can get to on a commercial flight? Instead, I opted to have the views all to myself for just a little longer.

This was the epitome of custom-tailored travel: When the captain saw that my son, Zeke, was uncomfortable snorkeling in shallow water, he pulled up anchor and motored less than a mile away to a coral wall off which the seabed plunged 40 feet. It was a magical spot, teeming with peacock flounder and parrotfish and sergeant majors flashing bright yellows and iridescent blues in the tropical sunlight, and coral shaped like pincushions, cabbage leaves, and intricate mazes. (I’m holding Captain Ruben to his promise that he’ll forever refer to this place as “Zeke’s Reef.”)

For others, the ultimate luxury may be an ornate hotel suite with Louis XIV decor, exclusivity a trendy bar with a bouncer holding a guest list. For me, it was the Tranquilo, a 47-foot catamaran with no dress code (indeed, shoes were discouraged, lest they mar the shiny white deck). We had these picture-postcard vistas all to ourselves not because of a velvet rope, but because few travelers have been clued in to this gorgeous gem of a coastline, with its mesmerizing aquamarine water and its Vantablack night skies. That’s my kind of luxury. When dolphins started arcing out of the water, racing alongside our pontoons on our last morning, and our captain spotted a pair of rare manatees, I nearly pinched myself to see if it was a dream. It wasn’t—just a WOW-worthy trip.


Belize Sailing Tips From A Yachting Newbie

* Although it’s a “sailing vacation,” expect some motor noise.

Relying only on sails greatly reduces the distances you can cover so, for much of our daytime itinerary, we were actually under motor power, and at night we didn’t want to do without the generator’s air conditioning and flush toilets. When choosing cabins, I didn’t pay proper attention to the captain’s mention of which was the loudest. After the noise and vibration coming from the generator under my bed kept me up much of the first night, I moved into my son’s cabin. I slept soundly from then on—and the noise in my original cabin didn’t bother my insomniac husband a bit—but the voyage won’t always be as quiet as you might imagine.

* Be forthright and liberal with your food preferences.

Restocking the galley isn’t easy, especially for a vegetarian like me. So be honest when detailing your food likes and dislikes, as the chef is cooking only for you, and there is no menu.

*Don’t worry about motion sickness inside the reef.

My husband, prone to motion sickness, donned Sea-Bands the minute we stepped on board. But he needn’t have done so: Inside the reef, our catamaran was so stable that I could leave a toothbrush beside the sink in the morning and find it in exactly the same place that evening. Only once did we venture into open ocean outside the reef. My husband kept his eyes firmly on the horizon, but my son joyfully rode the tip of the starboard hull like a bucking bronco, yelling “This…is…AWE-SOME”!


Full Disclosure: Belize Sailing Vacations provided this reporter with a complimentary yacht charter. WendyPerrin.com did not promise any editorial coverage, and there was no quid pro quo. Our policy when accepting discounted or complimentary trips is to use the opportunity to test out experiences; if they meet our standards and we feel there is value for our readers, we will cover them. For further input about Belize trips arranged by local expert Patricia Johnson, read these reviews of Patricia’s trips written by WOW List travelers.