You've decided to go on a yacht charter. Congratulations! No doubt it will be an amazing and unforgettable experience. But how do you choose where to go? Today's charter operations trace a constellation of stunning and unique destinations all over the world. In the end, your pick depends on what you want relaxation or adventure, history or luxury, far-flung or closer to home. Here's a look at 12 of the best yacht charter spots, who will enjoy them and why.
For those who favor rugged terrain and access to outdoor activities
With a wide selection of safe anchorages around numerous islets and marine parks, these waters are a yachting favorite. The San Juans are ideal for those who favor U.S. waters and delight in breathtaking wood-and-stone landscapes with access to activities like mountain biking, kayaking and fishing. Wildlife abounds here eagles, loons, whales, dolphins, seals and otters and quaint seaside towns offer a welcoming respite. Learn how peace trumped war at the American and English Camps on San Juan, overnight in a quiet site near the beach on Shaw, or hike deep forests and rocky shoreline trails on Lopez. There is a bounty of history and beauty to keep you amazed here.
Yacht Charter Companies: San Juan Sailing; Sunsail; Anacortes Yacht Charters
For those seeking both over-the-top and off-the-beaten-path options
Made up of more than 700 islands and cays in the Atlantic Ocean, the Bahamas pose a best of both worlds scenario. New Providence and its next-door neighbor Paradise Island are home to iconic resorts like Atlantis and Baha Mar. Both resorts boast luxe shopping, haute restaurants, glitzy casinos and all the tourist trappings imaginable (and some unimaginable). Other island groups like the Abacos and Exumas present simpler attractions like beautiful white-sand beaches, picturesque villages and vibrant sea life for snorkeling and diving. So, pick your pleasure! The fact that the Bahamas is close to home means easy accessibility and peace of mind.
Yacht Charter Companies: The Moorings; Sunsail; Bahamas Yacht Charters; Dream Yacht Charter
For those attracted to natural beauty, with a side of national pride
A short flight from the U.S. will land you in St. Thomas, a dynamic tourist destination with fashionable shopping, gorgeous beaches and world-class snorkeling and diving. It is also the jumping-off point to visit the two other main islands in the USVI: St. John and St. Croix. The former is two-thirds national park, a true biological beauty with first-rate water sports as well as hiking, horseback riding and fascinating hand-carved petroglyphs and ruins. The latter is home to one of only three underwater national monuments in the U.S. the Buck Island Reef National Monument in addition to a stylish casino, rum distilleries, several golf courses (including miniature) and multiple museums. The USVIs are accessible, welcoming and family friendly.
Yacht Charter Companies: The Moorings; Carefree Yacht Charters
For those seeking the archetypal Caribbean charter vacation
The four main islands here Anegada, Jost Van Dyke, Tortola and Virgin Gorda and the 60-plus smaller ones are the world's top cruising destination for a reason: superb sailing and services, protected waters, stunning anchorages, distinct ports and eclectic attractions. Anegada offers solitude and seclusion, with white-sand beaches and rare wildlife like rock iguanas and flourishing orchids. For sun and fun, hit up Jost Van Dyke and its infamous Foxy's Tamarind Bar. Virgin Gorda is home to The Baths (you've surely seen the pictures), while Tortola has superb shopping, splendid beaches and endless tasty cuisine. Between the islands, stop and dive the famed shipwrecks and caves. There's no shortage of reasons to come back again and again.
Yacht Charter Companies: The Moorings; Dream Yacht Charter; MarineMax Vacations; Sunsail
For those chasing a Caribbean charter with distinctly different islands
The Windwards are for those desiring an exotic Caribbean charter, one typified by exciting (but not too challenging) passages between islands rich with culture and nature. The main draws consist of Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenada, each with a unique flavor. Martinique, an overseas territory of France, offers colorful townhouses and sidewalk cafes in the chic capital of Fort-de-France plus a lush and mountainous countryside. St. Lucia boasts a mix of gold- and black-sand beaches, expansive plantations and charming Old Caribbean harbors and hamlets. St. Vincent is famous for its British heritage, steep mountain ridges, waterfalls and active volcano, La Soufriere. Grenada is rolling and verdant, with rare plants and rum distilleries befitting the name The Spice Island.
Yacht Charter Companies:MarineMax Vacations; The Moorings, Sunsail; VI Sailing; Dream Yacht Charter
For those wanting a stunning European setting that blends old and new
The Adriatic Sea along the west coast of Croatia is one of Europe's most scenic cruising grounds, featuring the ruggedly beautiful Dalmatian Islands as well as centuries- old towns with ancient castles and vibrant entertainment districts. Come here for the variety: pristine beaches, bustling nightlife, excellent cuisine, secluded coves, fascinating historic sites, appealing anchorages and blue-green waters. The passages between the islands and the coast, to cities like Dubrovnik and Split, can be long or short, sheltered or open whichever you desire.
Yacht Charter Companies:The Moorings; MarineMax Vacations; Sunsail; Dream Yacht Charter; Navigare Yachting
For those wishing to discover the cradle of Western Civilization first handWe like to think we know all about Greece from history class, but you'll come back from a charter vacation here understanding so much more. This is the trip for you if you love immersing yourself in ancient philosophy, culture and the arts. Visit the mythic sites of Athens in the Sardonic Gulf, or start on Greece's northwestern shores in the lively port of Corfu. You'll navigate the same waters that mariners have sailed for centuries, crossing between the Cyclades, Dodecanese, Sporades and Ionian isles on calm azure waters or open wine-dark seas. Greece is a one-of-a-kind destination, with majestic vistas and rocky coasts crowned with white stone villages that will leave you pondering bygone eras.
Yacht Charter Companies: Sunsail; The Moorings; Dream Yacht Charter
For those in search of a timeless destination with alluring history and cultureBordering the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, Turkey is a place where east meets west, a treasure chest of timeless wonders and modern indulgences. The coastline charms charterers with pristine islands and white stone cliffs pitted with coves and beaches, ideal for anchoring and secluding yourself from the rest of the world. Archeological sites and sleepy fishing villages provide a rich cultural experience, one contrasted by active towns with sensational cuisine and great opportunities for swimming, diving, touring and shopping. Come here if you want a charter that's off the beaten path and different from anything you've experienced before.
Yacht Charter Companies: MarineMax Vacations; Navigare Yachting
For those wanting to experience a legendary, romantic tropical paradise
Just the name conjures images of a secret paradise set amid cobalt blue seas, bursting with exotic wildlife and spectacular landscapes not to mention legends with characters like Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian. And the images aren't too far off. Tahiti and its sisters in the Society Islands (Bora-Bora, Huahine, Raiatea and Tahaa) retain their inherent splendor, Polynesian influence and warm hospitality, while also incorporating frills like overwater villas and fine cuisine. The golden beaches and extraordinary sea lifemore than 500 species of fish attract visitors from the world over, and line-of-sight navigation accommodates even those skippers with basic skills.
Yacht Charter Companies: Sunsail; The Moorings; Dream Yacht Charter; MarineMax Vacations
For those who want palm-fringed shores and warm island traditions
Situated midway in the Pacific Ocean between Tahiti and Fiji, the Kingdom of Tonga is comprised of 60 islands in four distinct groups: Tongatapu, Ha'apai, Vava'u, and Niuas. The wooded and often hilly coral islands are lined with pristine white-sand beaches ideal for snorkeling, swimming and sunbathing. Picturesque anchorages well protected from ocean swells are usually no more than a couple miles apart, but there's also clear water for South Pacific sailing at its best. There are a handful of resorts and restaurants on the islands, but the principle attractions are the spectacular sea life (including the Humpback whale) and welcoming people, who cherish hospitality and engender a sincere desire to make visitors feel at home.
Yacht Charter Companies: The Moorings; Sunsail
For those who prefer a living paradise paired with a laid-back vibe
A charter down under usually means a visit to the Whitsunday Islands, a group of 74 landmasses located off the coast of Queensland in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. A charter here is uncrowded and unspoiled you can swim in a secluded bay, bushwalk through a vine-strewn forest, climb an emerald mountain or camp in a secluded park. Snorkelers and divers will wonder at the myriad species of fish in the fringe reefs and deeper coral gardens. When you're ready for some pampering, pull into one of the island resorts for fine food, drinks and amenities. Other Australian charter opportunities include the cosmopolitan highlights of Sydney and the historic ports of Tasmania.
Yacht Charter Companies: MarineMax Vacations; Sunsail; Dream Yacht Charter
For those wishing to visit Middle-Earth by charter boat
Famed for its otherworldly splendor, New Zealand offers spectacular sailing and three distinct regions to explore. Auckland City is the gateway to the Hauraki Gulf cruising grounds, featuring some 76 islands, 200 anchorages and miles of stunning coastline stretching north. The Bay of Islands, a day trip from Auckland, combines early New Zealand history with stunning sub-tropical scenery and great fishing and diving. At the top of the South Island, the Marlborough Sounds are more remote, with dramatic environs including deep sunken river valleys, sheltered bays and bush-clad hills. A charter here will reveal why New Zealanders have more boats per capita than any other country.
Yacht Charter Companies: The Luxury Charter Group; Charterlink
From the Gulf to the Atlantic and every bay in between, boaters and their families have plenty to look forward to on the Florida coasts this fall. Start the season with a couple of pints at Oktoberfest and spooks at a haunted ghost tour, throw in a boating event or two, and round it out with a lighted boat parade.
Learn about the haunted history in the oldest city in the United States through the lens of the undead. Get tickets for haunted pub crawls, trolly tours and walking tours. You’ll get in the Halloween spirit and learn the stories behind St. Augustine’s most spirited locations from professional storytellers with just the right amount of spook. Kids are welcome on trolly and walking tours, and pets are allowed on walking tours! Check out Ghost Tours of St. Augustine or Ghosts & Gravestones.
Where to Dock: Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor
Jacksonville Beach, Tampa
Kick off the fall season with Oktoberfest on the Atlantic or Gulf Coast with Beaches Oktoberfest and Oktoberfest Tampa. With Tampa’s event ranking in the top five in the country and Jacksonville Beach’s being the largest in the state, you’re sure to find the brew for you! beachesoktoberfest.com
Where to Dock: Fort George Island Marina (Jacksonville), Westshore Yacht Club (Tampa)
Just across the Bay from Tampa and St. Pete, Apollo Beach is teeming with wildlife on land and on the water. At this four-day festival, you’ll find a free expo with nature organizations and artwork, daily field and boat trips to sites not accessible to the public, and expert wildlife and conservation seminars. Nature aficionados won’t want to miss this opportunity at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Suncoast Youth Conservation Center.
Where to Dock: Apollo Beach Marina
West Palm Beach
Has your dog always wanted to be an (un)professional racer? Now is Fido’s time to shine! Register your pup for a day full of zoomies, Doggie Costume Contest, and plenty of BBQ and entertainment for the whole family. Proceeds benefit Furry Friends Adoption, Clinic & Ranch.
Where to Dock: Palm Harbor Marina
No matter your music taste, you’re sure to find something to jam out to at this three-day festival, from smooth jazz and blues to funk and zydeco. You’ll find plenty of vendors at the festival, and Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood offers old-school charm and Latin American eateries. St. Petersburg offers hip breweries, coffee shops and more.
Where to Dock: Clearwater Beach Municipal Marina
Join in a celebration of life at the Water Lantern Festival this fall. Start the day with food trucks, music and family- friendly fun, and end by releasing your personalized lantern on the water at sunset.
Where to Dock: Marina Jack
The largest in-water boat show in the world offers viewings and demos of everything from superyachts to kayaks and fishing gear. Stop by the Superyacht Village to sip a cocktail on one of the most luxurious boats in the world, the Convention Center for watersport and innovative boating gear demos, and take the family to a kid-friendly fishing seminar.
Where to Dock: 17th Street Yacht Basin, Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina, Pier 66 Hotel & Marina
Join the Old Naples Waterfront Association in the historic center to kick off stone crab season! Eat stone crab to your heart’s content in a prime harvesting location of the tasty crustacean and enjoy plenty of entertainment, from live music to local galleries and craft vendors. floridarambler.com/florida-festivals/ florida-seafood-festivals-calendar
Where to Dock: Naples Bay Resort & Marina
Cruise to the charming Apalachicola, tucked away among expansive wildlife reserves and just a bay away from the Gulf. Along with some of the best oysters and seafood you can eat, the whole family will enjoy a parade, carnival, Blessing of the Fleet, hours of live music every day, and competitions such as the oyster shucking contest and blue crab races.
Where to Dock: Apalachicola Marina
Celebrate the annual return of the North Atlantic right whale to the coasts of Florida and Georgia to give birth and nurse their young in historic Fernandina Beach. Learn about threats and conservation efforts for these gentle giants, participate in a beach clean-up, and enjoy family fun at educational exhibits, athletic events, and food and craft vendors.
Where to Dock: Oasis Marinas at Fernandina Beach
Cruise to Key West for three days of epic racing and a full week of family-friendly fun. Don’t miss the World’s Fastest Boat Parade on the first Sunday, or any three of the races throughout the week: the Truman Waterfront Cup, Southernmost Continental Champion, and Championship. Use downtime to explore the Race Village at Truman Waterfront and try out local pubs, shops and restaurants.
Where to Dock: Conch Harbor Marina
Visit Siesta Key Beach to watch sculptors from around the world turn piles of white sand into sculpted masterpieces. Professional competitors have 24 hours to build their pieces, and visitors have the chance to participate in amateur sand-sculpting competitions and see the masters at work.
Where to Dock: Safe Harbor Siesta Key
Art connoisseurs and amateurs alike will love this boutique art competition and festival in the scenic cultural center of Sarasota. Masters of different media—ceramics, jewelry, graphic art, painting, and more—will put the best of their work on display for patrons to browse and buy to their hearts’ content.
Where to Dock: Marina Jack
November 19-January 31
Ready to get in the holiday spirit? Cruise back to St. Augustine as early as before Thanksgiving for a dazzling display of more than 3 million lights in the historic district. Gaze in awe at the twinkly lights and find photo ops at the Bridge of Lions and the Christmas tree at the center of Plaza de la Constitución. Enjoy the sounds of the All Star Orchestra on the first night and stroll to businesses open later than usual.
Where to Dock: St. Augustine Municipal Marina
Since the 1970s, this annual art extravaganza brings works of contemporary and modern pieces by renowed and emerging artists from around the world to showcase in Miami. Held at the Miami Beach Convention Center, for three days the public can gaze upon unique masterpieces presented by leading galleries from five continents.
Where to Dock: Sunset Harbour Yacht Club
Key Largo, FL
This annual four-day event showcases classic antique yachts, automobiles and aircraft to celebrate those who restore vintage collections. Experience a full schedule of events kicking off with a welcome party and dinner buffet on Thursday, then a weekend packed with drive-bys, shows, dinners, cocktail receptions, a costume party and more.
Where to Dock: Ocean Reef Club
With so many spectacular lighted boat parades on the coasts of Florida, we couldn’t choose just one! Dock at any of these coastal towns on the first three Saturdays of December to ring in the season on the festive Florida waterfronts.
Daytona Beach Christmas Boat Parade
Palm Coast Yacht Club Holiday Boat Parade
The Seminole Hard Rock Winter Boat Parade
St. Augustine Regatta of Lights
Naples Bay Christmas Boat Parade
Northwest Cape Coral 2nd Annual Boat Parade
The Caribbean is well known for its clear blue tropical waters. But as rich as it is in beauty, the islands have an even greater wealth of his- tory. Luckily, museums are located across the region to share the stories and significant events that can provide glimpses of what maritime life was like throughout the years. Their exhibits, relics and archives will have you looking at the region in a whole new light.
You can find this treasure trove of artifacts in the Atlantic Ocean 650 miles east of North Carolina, the nearest land mass to this collection of islands. The museum shows how maritime events shaped the history, people and culture of Bermuda. It is located at the historic Royal Naval Dockyard within Bermuda’s largest fort. Exhibits cover 500 years of the country’s history from how the German U-505 submarine was captured by the U.S. Navy and concealed in Bermuda to how sailing races from North America to Bermuda have influenced the development of ocean-worthy boats and blue water sailing. Be sure to experience the museum’s unique spaces by strolling through the two-story boat loft to catching a dolphin show at the Keep Pond Terrace to taking in the expansive ocean views at the flagpole.
Where to Dock: Kings Wharf or Heritage Wharf
Turks and Caicos National Museum opened in 1991 to store artifacts found in the excavation of the Molasses Reef shipwreck, an unknown Spanish ship that sunk in 1515 on the Caicos Bank. The museum spans two locations: the Guinep House on Grand Turk Island, believed to be more than 180 years old and named after the large guinep tree on its property, and the Village at Grace Bay on Providenciales, where visitors can tour the Heritage House, an historically correct rendition of a typical 1800s Caicos dwelling. In addition to showcasing shipwreck artifacts, visitors also learn about the evolution of The Grand Turk Lighthouse as well as the rise and fall of the island’s salt industry. On Museum Day, the first Saturday in November, visitors can tour the exhibits for free, and in May, the Village at Grace Bay holds a “Back in the Day” event with activities reflecting historical life on the island.
Where to Dock: Blue Haven Resort & Marina
If you like to take in history outdoors, these exhibitions are for you. The trail consists of 36 stops across all three islands (Grand Cayman and the Sister Islands) and is best traveled via car. Each stop is marked by a road sign that shares a notable historic event or contribution related to the maritime industry. Learn how turtling shaped the islands’ early economy, how ships were cleaned and repaired before boat lifts by a process called “careening”, and hear stories of notable shipwrecks. If you prefer to learn Cayman Island history in one place, you can check out the Cayman Islands National Museum, housed in Cayman’s oldest surviving public building, which has a series of permanent and rotating exhibits.
Where to Dock: The Barcadere Marina
Completed 500 years after Christopher Columbus arrived on the island of La Hispaniola, the Faro a Colon (aka The Columbus Lighthouse) is one of the Dominican Republic’s most popular attractions. Constructed in the shape of a Latin cross spanning the width of two soccer fields, the lighthouse was created to recognize the first “encounter between two worlds.” It includes a mausoleum that houses Christopher Columbus’ remains as well as a museum displaying original and replica artifacts from the time of Columbus’ voyage. The lighthouse also has a library containing documents and maps displaying some of the earliest drawings of the Americas.
Where to Dock: Marina Zarpar
The Antigua Naval Dockyard, now named Nelson’s Dockyard, was built in the mid-1700s to serve as a strategic post and support the Royal Navy battle against the French and protect trade routes in the region. The dockyard officially closed in 1889 and reopened in 1961 as an historic site. In addition to exploring the dockyard, take advantage of the park’s 12 miles of hiking trails, two forts, and tours such as the “Rum in the Ruins” where you can listen to stories of the dockyard while sipping on a cocktail. If traveling by boat, get the best view of the gorgeous English Harbour and snag a slip at nearby Nelson’s Dockyard Marina, the only continuously working Georgian Era dockyard in the world.
Where to Dock: Nelson’s Dockyard Marina
Opened in 2020, the Bequia Heritage Museum includes the Boat Museum and Annexe that display and educate visitors about the boatbuilding and whaling industries as well as artifacts dating back to the period of the island’s European settlement. Vessels on display at the museum include a traditional Amerindian dug-out canoe and the decommissioned boat, Rescue, that was originally used for whaling.
Where to Dock: Bequia Marina
Located in a mansion built in 1729 on the Waaigat inlet, the Curaçao Maritime Museum shares with visitors the story and events that influenced Curaçao’s involvement in the maritime industry. Learn how trade ebbed and flowed in and out of Curaçao’s ports, reflective of the events happening around the world to the arrival of the first cruise ship in 1901 from New York, sparking the cruise tourism industry until the 1970s when air travel took over as the primary way for tourists to visit the island. Visitors can explore the museum at their own pace or take a guided tour.
Where to Dock: Seru Boca Marina
With a decent internet connection, you can visit the Grand Bahama Museum from the comforts of your remote anchorage or mooring. Bahamian history and culture are explored through digital exhibits ranging from the islands’ natural landscapes and the history of the port authority to the role the Bahamas played during the Golden Age of Piracy. Learn about the first recorded piece of mail sent from the Bahamas in 1761 and the evolution of mailboats. Or savor a dark and stormy while reading about the Bahamas’ role in the rum-running industry during U.S. Prohibition. The Grand Bahama Museum was originally housed at The Garden of the Groves but was unfortunately destroyed by weather and time. To reach a wider audience and share Bahamian history and culture, the museum decided to move to a digital platform.
Where to Dock: Grand Bahama Yacht Club or Flamingo Bay Hotel & Marina
WHICH OF THESE RENOWNED SEAFOOD TOWNS WILL HOOK YOU?
Beaufort lies on an inlet leading south to the Atlantic and is considered part of North Carolina’s “Inner Banks” and the Crystal Coast. The Crystal Coast spans 85 miles of stunning coastline in southern North Carolina, including 56 miles of protected beach of the Cape Lookout National Seashore.
Located on historic Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach is the northernmost city on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. Visitors will find easy access to Jacksonville, the mouth of the St. Mary’s River, and coastal destinations in southern Georgia such as Cumberland Island.
Established in 1709, Beaufort was originally known as Fishtown, having been a fishing village and port of safety since the late 1600s. In addition to fishing, Beaufort was a hub for whaling, lumber, shipbuilding and farming. The earliest settlers made their mark by building Bahamian and West Indian-style homes, and the Plan of Beaufort Towne can still be seen in a 12-block historic district.
First settled in 1562, this town on historic Amelia Island went through many transformations under eight flags before it became what it is today. After the Civil War, Fernandina Beach became a bustling seaport and popular destination, called “The Queen of Summer Resorts” by many Northerners. Today’s visitors find themselves surrounded by the town’s lovely relics of the past — an historic district, Civil War port and the first cross-state railroad remain.
Beaufort has a thriving scene for anglers. Cast your line off a dock downtown, book a charter or head north to Cedar Island Wildlife Refuge to catch flounder, trout and redfish. Boat tours and private charters are a popular way to experience the stunning views and wildlife of the Crystal Coast. See porpoises, dolphins and wild horses on the beach. Better yet, book with Cruisin’ Tikis Beaufort to imbibe while you observe. Dock at Beaufort Docks.
Pier fishing is huge on Amelia Island, and anglers should head to the George Crady Bridge, which spans one mile of Nassau Sound. Snag a variety of fish in the area, including redfish, whiting, seatrout, tarpon and flounder. Boaters can start aquatic excursions in either the Atlantic Ocean to the east or Amelia River to the west. Go on a solo adventure, or join a tour or charter by boat, kayak or watersport with the likes of Amelia River Tours, Amelia Adventures & Kayak or Riptide Watersports. Dock at Fernandina Harbor Marina.
History buffs will feel right at home in Beaufort. Visit the Beaufort Historic Site to learn the town’s story through nine preserved historic homes in the middle of town. Three different maritime museums, including the North Carolina Maritime Museum, and the Bonehenge Whale Center offer marine merriment for the whole family. And for a taste of Crystal Coast wildlife, head over to the Rachel Carson Reserve where wild horses and countless birds, reptiles and aquatic mammals roam free.
Fernandina Beach is known for its easy living. Amelia Island Welcome Center is a great place to revisit Fernandina’s history and plan your day. Make your way to Centre Street on the water to browse eclectic shops and bustling art galleries, taste wild-caught shrimp at a bistro, or grab a pint at the Palace Saloon, Florida’s oldest tavern. If you’re in town on a Friday, you might stumble upon Sounds on Centre, a local concert series.
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