Welcome to the Masterplan. At Robb Report, we’ve assembled a crack team of the world’s best travel specialists, our Travel Masters. Their expertise and insight in luxury travel of all kinds is unparalleled. So we’re tapping into it directly for a new series, where our readers—that’s you—pose the pickiest travel problems to the panel. These aren’t workaday issues, whether wrangling a refund or booking a guide, but rather the unique, specific challenges that only veteran globetrotters face.
Dear Robb Report: I’m conflicted about a trip we’re mulling for next winter. When I sail, I usually charter a yacht for myself and a few friends, and I assumed I’d do the same for Antarctica, which we’re planning to see in the next summer season. But my travel specialist discouraged me, and suggested I take a commercial cruise instead. I’ve never considered one, and frankly, the idea rather horrified me. Can you help? Yours, Yankee Yachtie
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Don’t worry, Yankee Yachtie, we’ve got a definitive answer to your question. And you’re not alone: The rise in expedition cruising, whether to Antarctica as you’re planning, or the Arctic, or even to farther flung, harder to navigate waters in Asia, makes this question more pressing than ever.
The vessels that specialize in such journeys are a different breed from the floating entertainment palaces that chug around the Mediterranean or Caribbean with thousands on board. They are, however, larger than most charters, which in expedition conditions is a feature rather than a bug: Larger ships are much stabler in tricky conditions, and also have greater capacity for essential toys—think helicopters to whisk you off to a far-flung, wildlife-crammed spot in minutes, rather than an arduous, hours-long hike. Ponant’s icebreaking ships are rated PC2, one notch below scientific vessels, while Seabourn’s Venture is crammed with toys, including not one but two custom-built submarines.
Nick Davies of Cookson Adventures, most of whose clients are charter-first, does recommend smaller, shared boats in certain circumstances. For instance, consider the phinisi of Indonesia.
“It’s a chance to engage with like-minded people who are into scuba diving in a place like Raja Ampat,” Cookson says, noting that local regulations effectively require all boats there to be Indonesia-registered.
Davies also endorses shared dive boats in the Galapagos. Securing a permit for a private charter in Alaska is very tricky, too—for convenience, and speed, a cruise is a great shortcut. Look, too, at the Four Seasons-operated catamaran. It has just been reflagged and moved from the saturated island-hopping hub of the Maldives over to Palau in the south Pacific, a destination with a strong focus on diving.
“Palau is quite complicated to do otherwise, as there are no good hotels down there,” Davies adds.
The other issue to consider is cost, both economic and environmental. If you’re determined to visit a certain location over particular dates, that lack of flexibility might make opting for a cruise rather than a charter much savvier.
“Moving yachts from one place to another is a bit of a waste of money and it’s very bad for the environment,” he continues, noting that his team has moved boats from Monaco to Antarctica in the past for insistent, deep-pocketed clients untroubled by eco-concerns. He has other clients determined to spend time on a yacht in Patagonia over Christmas this year, whom he’s discouraged from chartering.
“There aren’t any boats down there, but you could do it on a cruise ship,” he says.
You mention, too, that you’re traveling with friends, and larger groups should also opt for a commercial cruise.
“There’s literally a handful of yachts in the world that allow more than 12 people because of regulations around pleasure crafts that keep it to that maximum. When you need lifeboats on board, it compromises the design of a ship,” Cookson says.
In that case, boat buyouts are an option, much as they might be with a hotel on land. Consider True North, based out of Broome in Australia, a boutique commercial cruise line that allows visitors to reach some of the hardest spots along its coast, like the rugged Kimberley or Papua New Guinea’s rainforests. It operates two vessels, the 18-cabin True North and 11-cabin True North II. “They’re vessels you could take privately for a multigen family trip,” he says.
Hopefully, YY, that reassures you around your agent’s advice, and if you need more ideas on cruises to try, here are some ideas. And if you, dear reader, have a burning travel question for our experts, email Robb Report’s digital travel editor at CCameron@RobbReport.com.
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