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When you hear the siren call of the sea, you have to answer it — but not aboard a mammoth ship, elbow-to-elbow with a thousand other passengers. The best way to indulge your inner mariner is with a private cruise on a tall ship, a charter yacht, a catamaran or even a barge. Let’s take a closer look at how to plan a private cruise.

Six Types of Private Cruises

Do you want to sail the high seas, or glide along a quiet canal? Do you want to take the helm, or leave navigation up to the pros? It all depends on what type of private cruise you choose.

  • Crewed yacht charter: Your group charters a private boat, along with its captain and crew. They handle navigation, cooking, cleaning and other shipboard duties, while you relax and enjoy the trip. On a crewed charter, you’ll work with the captain to set the itinerary. Want to linger longer on St. Lucia, or make an unscheduled stop on a remote key? No problem.
  • Bareboat charter: If you and your group are experienced sailors, and at least one person on board qualifies as a competent captain, you may want to try a bareboat charter. This means you rent the boat, with no crew, and you’re responsible for all aspects of the cruise — including returning to port on time.
  • Sailing tours: You join a small group for a sailing trip with a set itinerary. If your group is large enough, you may end up chartering the entire sailboat for a private cruise.
  • Tall ship cruises: This is another type of small-group sailing tour. Instead of sailing on a conventional sailboat or catamaran, you board a large, tall-masted schooner or another traditionally rigged vessel. If you want to fulfill your pirate fantasies, a tall ship cruise is the way to do it.
  • Canal barge cruises: Taking a canal barge cruise may not sound quite as romantic as setting sail, but trust us: these small-boat tours are absolutely luxurious. Barge cruising is all about fine dining, excellent wine and leisurely explorations of European vineyards, villages, and châteaux. Canal barges, the smaller cousins of river cruise ships, typically carry no more than two dozen passengers; some smaller barges carry only four to six.1
  • Narrowboat cruises: Piloting a narrowboat along a lazy river is a distinctly British way to spend your holiday. Narrowboats are cozy boats that move no faster than 3 mph, providing wonderful opportunities to watch wildlife and visit historic destinations. Narrowboats typically carry two to 12 people.2

Destinations to Visit on a Private Cruise

The best thing about private or small-group cruises is the freedom to explore places that simply aren’t accessible to larger vessels. Here are just a few destinations that are ideal for smaller vessels.

Sailing tour destinations: The Caribbean’s a natural choice for small sailboat cruises, but skip the heavily touristed ports. Instead, set sail for smaller islands. Favorite destinations for charters include the U.S. and the British Virgin Islands; the Windward Islands (also called the Grenadines); and the French West Indies (Dominica, Guadeloupe, Iles des Saintes, Martinique, and St. Lucia). Further-flung sailing destinations include Thailand’s Andaman Sea, the Greek islands, Italy’s Tyrrhenian Sea and the Croatian coast.

Canal barge cruise destinations: France is one of the most popular places to take a canal barge cruise, especially the wine towns of the Burgundy region and the Canal du Midi in southern France, known for the walled city of Carcassonne. Barge tours of Holland include Gouda tastings, tulip farms, and windmills galore. Scotland’s another perfect destination for a barge cruise. Decorated in the manner of a Scottish country house, the eight-passenger Scottish Highlander visits Loch Ness, Cawdor Castle and various moors, lochs, and glens.3

Narrowboat cruise destinations: Most narrowboat cruises through England and Wales are circuits, called rings, that take anywhere from one to three weeks to complete. The most popular destinations, according to narrowboat company AngloWelsh, include the medieval castle of Warwick; the ancient city of Bath, home to Roman ruins and hot springs; and the Welsh Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which carries the Llangollen Canal (and your boat!) 126 feet above the River Dee.

Tips for Planning a Private Cruise

The most important consideration is your cruising companions. You may harbor beautiful visions of your family sailing to St. Maarten together, but if your spouse is prone to seasickness, it won’t be a happy trip. Likewise, a bareboat charter will only be successful if everyone on board is ready and willing to pitch in.

Once you’ve identified your dream destination, it’s time to work out your budget. The cost of a private cruise varies wildly depending on the season, the boat, the number of passengers and the amenities. For instance, an eight-person, six-night crewed river barge charter tour of Canal Du Midi, including chef-made meals and open bar, may cost more than $40,000.4 A humble, two-person narrowboat can be hired for around $1,100 per week.5 If your preferred cruise is a little outside of your budget, consider scheduling it for the off-season. You may also be able to negotiate a lower last-minute rate because no cruise company wants to set sail with a half-empty ship.

Finally, remember that travel insurance is absolutely indispensable when you’re planning a private cruise. Look for a plan that protects your vacation investment with trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage. You’ll also need emergency medical benefits and emergency medical transportation benefits, because medical crises at sea may require expensive airlifts to the nearest hospital.

If you’re planning multiple trips in the next 12 months, annual travel insurance may be the best choice for coverage. While trip cancellation/interruption coverage is limited with annual plans, they include robust emergency medical benefits as well as rental-car collision/loss damage insurance, baggage loss/delay coverage, and other crucial benefits. Safe travels, and smooth sailing!

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