Shivering with excitement, I finally fulfilled a dream of mine this past October when I jumped into the Adriatic Sea off the stern of a private yacht. It just always seemed to me like such a glamorous, carefree thing to do. Although a colorful floatie awaited me in the water (I am not a great swimmer), it still felt as indulgent as it sounds. The plunge was off the coast of Croatia where the spectacularly tri-toned blue water was so clear I could see all the way down to the bottom of the sea below.
My shipmates cheered me on in our little isolated patch of Adriatic—besides the passengers and crew there was not another soul in sight. Along Croatia’s charming and remote stretches of coastline, a captain might tie a 164-foot yacht to a tree on shore for lack of a proper port.
After decades spent cruising on ships of all sizes, I finally had my first-ever private yacht experience this fall courtesy of Goolets, a Slovenian charter company that represents more than 100 ships owned by local Croat skippers. Also onboard were more than a dozen other writers from the United Kingdom and the United States, invited to explore some of Croatia’s 1,200 islands on a four-night sailing and to witness firsthand why the private yacht experience is growing in popularly.
Our itinerary took us from Split, Croatia’s second largest city, to red-roofed limestone fishing villages, historic towns, “secret” swimming holes, and past scenery that varied from lush to barren. But we didn’t rush—a key to a successful yacht sailing.
One mistake that some people make when booking a yacht is planning to cover too much ground, says Mitja Mirtič, who runs Goolets with his wife, Alenka. “It takes away from the pleasures,” he explains. “The best part is when you just stay anchored in the morning, take a swim before breakfast, you take it easy.”
Yachts became a particularly enticing travel option during the pandemic, a way to safely travel with your bubble in a stunning destination. In that sense, the experience is as luxurious as it is practical—all your accommodations, belongings, services, and crew sail around with you as you visit lesser-known ports and coastal communities.
Based on my brief but convincing introduction, yachting is not at all like what is depicted on the sensationalized Bravo show Below Deck, except for maybe the pampering and convivial service—otherwise there’s (usually) much less drama and a lot more relaxation and cultural exploration. It’s an intimate way to explore gorgeous shores, while also enjoying quiet interludes sailing along the open sea. And, of course, there are the requisite cocktails in the hot tub.
For those who have been dreaming about a yacht vacation, it may be easier to plan than you may think. Here are some tips for how to choose, plan, and book a private yacht experience.
The most popular destinations for yachting
Croatia ranks high on the wish list of many yacht fans. According to a recent Bloomberg Wealth super-yacht index, it’s sixth on the places where super-yachts were hanging out this summer. If you’re seeking some sailing inspiration, the full list of popular yachting destinations, according to the index, is:
- United States
How to choose your yacht
Private yachts range from basic sailing boats from under $5,000 per week to over-the-top super-yachts—basketball legend Michael Jordan cruised Croatia in August on a $1 million super-yacht with its own helipad, 10-foot waterslide, and gym, for instance.
Most yachts around the world hold up to 12 guests in six cabins. The ship I sailed on in Croatia, Freedom, is being reconfigured from a 39-passenger mini-cruise ship to a mega-yacht that will sleep up to 22 guests. After a winter redo, facilities will include two master suites, a massage room, cinema, gym, pool, and Jacuzzi. Clients will be able to charter the yacht starting from about $92,500/week, an experience that includes concierge services designed to assist big families or groups of friends in planning their private vacation.
When looking at a yacht to charter, it’s important to consider who will be joining you—if you are bringing kids, for instance, that will change the group dynamic—and how much time you plan to spend onboard as opposed to on shore, which will determine how much space you’ll actually need and use. Tight quarters are fine for some people, while others want room to spread out, but you will pay more for extra space.
How do food and drinks work on a private yacht?
On yacht charters you pay extra for food. The crew can stock your favorite food items; before your sailing you might be asked what you like to eat—I put fresh seafood high on my list when asked.
You may choose how many meals a day you want to eat onboard (as opposed to at restaurants on land). For full board (three meals daily), Goolets charges from about $575 per person, per week. You can also upgrade to a luxury gourmet cuisine package from about $1,390 per person, per week. I was impressed by what the two-person chef team on Freedom could create in a relatively small galley space—fresh flowers decorated beautifully presented dishes, including zucchini carpaccio with goat cheese and Croatian truffles, shrimp and black rice with squid ink, and Croatian leg of lamb.
Alcohol is typically an extra charge as well. A Goolets package with quality Croatian wines and beers and an international assortment of liquor costs $575 per adult, for a weeklong sailing.
Do private yachts come with a crew?
Freedom is staffed by a crew of about 11, including a captain, chefs, a masseuse, deckhands, bartenders, cleaners, and servers. You can also request, and pay for, additional crew—such as a dive master, fitness trainer, or a hair stylist. Most luxury yachts come with a crew of one to six, starting with the captain.
How private yacht companies help with itinerary planning
Having local experience helps in determining where to cruise, wherever you are sailing. Our captain, Ivan, who also owns Freedom, devised an activity-packed but never overloaded route from Split, where there’s a modern airport that is relatively easy to get to via international flight connections. (And where you can see the remains of Roman emperor Diocletian’s retirement home before sailing away.)
We hit Croatian hot spots such as trendy Hvar, where we dined at Gariful, a seafood restaurant that musician Jon Bon Jovi liked so much he left an autographed guitar (now proudly displayed on a wall).
We stopped by Korcula, a Venetian walled city, and quaint Bol for the famous Golden Horn beach, which looks as its name suggests. We boarded small fishing boats to view the famed Blue Cave, where the very blue sea is reflected on limestone walls.
Goolets prides itself in picking the best tour guides on shore, which was certainly the case in the former Yugoslavian army base of Vis, where we rode in jeeps to see a British-built former airfield and other remnants from World War II. On tiny Moro island, off Korcula, we stopped by a beach bar only accessible by boat, where Croatian oysters are paired with Ostreum sparkling wine, aged for more than a year under the sea.
These unique outings elevated the sailing to a truly memorable, one-of-a-kind travel experience. You will want to make sure that whatever yacht charter company you choose can assist you in doing the same.
Other handy yacht charter tips
- The best time of year for sailing on a private yacht charter is during the off season, typically late April or early May, late September, and October.
- Wherever you charter a yacht, make sure you understand exactly what is included. Generally, extra charges cost 30 percent above the basic charter price. For instance, in addition to food and drink, fuel can add significantly to your charter cost—in Croatia, four hours’ worth of fuel per day is typically included.
- Gratuities add 5 to 20 percent (with lower suggested amounts in the Mediterranean and slightly higher in North America).
- Other expenses may include private marina fees, natural park entrances, and taxes.
- Don’t forget water toys. Your yacht may stock snorkel equipment and can add diving equipment (for an extra charge). Other toys may include paddleboards, kayaks, Jet Skis, waterslides, water trampolines, and a tender boat for thrilling inner-tube rides. Be sure to find out what is onboard in advance so that you can embrace your favorite water activities.
Top yacht charter companies
This 16-year-old company has a big selection of luxury boats and ships in Croatia, including wooden Turkish gulet (the company name Goolets is based on the proper pronunciation of gulet) sailing ships, motor yachts, super-yachts, and mega-yachts. Goolets also charters yachts in Turkey, Italy, Greece, and the Maldives. To book: Goolets.net
A well-established company, the Moorings operates its own fleet of specially designed monohull sailboats and catamarans and is best known for sailing in the Caribbean. It also sails in Croatia and more than 20 other destinations around the world. To book: Moorings.com
Northrop & Johnson
This acclaimed Fort Lauderdale, Florida–based luxury yacht specialist (which sells and charters yachts) offers sailings throughout the world. The fleet includes motor yachts, sailing yachts, and explorer yachts that are capable of sailing long distances. To book: Northropandjohnson.com
London-based private yacht charter specialist Charter World has a huge international portfolio—more than 3,000 charter options around the world. The company reps crewed, luxury, bareboat, sail, power, and catamaran options with some of its top destinations including the western Mediterranean and the Caribbean. To book: Charterworld.com