Yachting isn’t for everyone, thus it’s essential that you know the difference between ocean liners, small ships and yachts.
When it comes to yachting, forget such luxuries as whirlpool bathtubs, butlers and walk-in closets. Yacht cruises are seagoing safaris in which space and creature comforts are sacrificed for lean, green expeditions to places seen only by a privileged few.
Even a luxury yacht such as the Safari Quest seems cramped when comparison with, say, a small cruise ship, such as the 670-passenger Pacific Princess. Yet sophisticated travelers who are properly prepared for the yachting experience will shout a hearty, “Vive de difference!”
Accommodations: The Safari Quest sleeps 21 guests in 11 cabins on three decks.
Located just aft of the bridge, the four A Deck cabins are the airiest, with large sliding-glass doors that open to create a narrow balcony. Configured with twin beds that can be joined to make a king, the cabins have a private bath with a shower stall, toilet and vanity sink with a storage cupboard. The only other storage is in a small bedside cabinet, a tiny closet and under-bed drawers.
On B Deck, just forward of the dining room, a cabin with a queen-size bed and private bath has under-bed storage and a small closet. Ideal for a single or a couple of kids, the other B-deck cabin has one twin bed, a Pullman berth and a private bath with a shower.
Two double and three twin cabins on C Deck are low in the ship, providing the smoothest ride, but they have only a tiny skylight and no sea view. In addition, engine noise is extreme when the ship is sailing. Seasoned sailors love such snug, sea-friendly cabins as these, but they aren’t recommended for those affected by claustrophobia. These little jewel boxes feature fine woods, expert joiner-work, under-bed storage, a four-drawer dresser, an ample hang-up closet and a spacious bedside table.
All cabins are heated and air conditioned and have a flat-screen TV with a DVD player, good reading lamps over the beds and a speaker system that picks up messages or music from the bridge. Fine-quality bath toiletries are in generous supply.
Public Spaces: Picture a gathering room in a private home. In this room, the ship’s naturalist uses a big-screen TV for presentations. Bookshelves are filled with tapes and DVDs. Panoramic windows look out at awesome scenery, and there’s a discreet powder room. The bar is almost always staffed and doubles as the reception area.
On the same deck, the dining room, sparkling with crisp linens and shining glassware, has one wall lined with big windows. Guests seat themselves as they arrive, forming different groups each time. As a result, everyone, including singles, fits in, and friendships form quickly.
On the topmost deck, chairs positioned in both sun and shade allow for quiet reading or sunning. The deck is home to a big hot tub, a storage room for the enormous fleet of water toys (kayaks, sailboats and water skis) and the ship’s gym, consisting of an exercise bike and a stair machine.
On the Bridge Deck is an indoor library with a sofa, windows and bookshelves and, outdoors, another small seating/sunning area. The bridge is almost always open, unlike on most cruise ships, which now close their bridges for security reasons.
On the Main Deck, spacious outdoor areas are fore and aft. As soon as a message from the bridge announces that a whale or ray has been spotted, everyone runs to the roomy foredeck. The aft deck has seating areas in both sun and shade. It’s also the staging area for kayaking, diving and boarding the big, inflatable skiff that is the ship’s tender.
Dining: The Safari Quest carries a chef and one assistant, such as a pastry chef. Excellence in dining is maintained by surveying guests ahead of time so that the ship can make provisions for special diets and preferences, and by offering two dinner choices, usually a seafood dish and a roast, steak or poultry. Everything, including baked goods, is made from scratch, delving into abundant supplies of fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables.
The day begins with an ample cold buffet and hot coffee for early risers. At the sit-down breakfast, there’s always a specialty dish, plus eggs cooked to order. Everyone sits together for lunch. The bar is almost always open, and canapes are served during the cocktail hour before dinner.
An energetic wait staff serves all three meals, which consist of two or three courses. Everything, including food, spirits and wines, is included in the rates, so again the effect is that of visiting a generous, affable host on a private yacht.
Itineraries: Sailing Alaska in summer and Mexico’s Sea of Cortez in winter, the Safari Quest offers many itineraries, some focusing on nature or native cultures, and others on such routes as Glacier Bay or the Inside Passage. A stop is made for cruising the Columbia and Snake rivers.
Activities and Excursions: Schedules adapt for weather and stop cold if the skipper lucks into a big pod of dolphins or whales. Nature comes first. The ship can get into very small ports of call, and passengers see things they couldn’t see any other way.
In the Sea of Cortez, for example, guests ride mules deep into the outback and visit a private island where a family has been fishing for a living for three generations. In the Pacific Northwest, guests kayak hidden channels in the Lower Columbia. In Alaska the ship anchors off tiny communities or hiking trails that can’t be reached by road. At every stop, the ship’s naturalist leads nature walks.
Offered on selected cruises is the “Kids in Nature” program, through which children get total immersion in environmental science. It’s such fun, they don’t realize they’re getting an education like no other.
Yachting is suitable for all ages and genders, and for singles, couples and entire families. Some travelers even book the entire ship for a family reunion. The experience is primarily for the able-bodied, although the cabins on the main deck are a plus for people who don’t handle stairs well.
Remember that the term “luxury yacht” may be misleading. The luxury on this vessel is in the very personal service, all-inclusive rates, basic accommodations and sophisticated travel companions who have “been there, done that.” These travelers have graduated to the more rugged, but more rewarding, yachting experience.
Here are some things to remember when booking a yacht cruise.
Use soft-sided or collapsible luggage. The crew can usually find storage room for suitcases, but there is little room in the cabins for empty bags.
Dress is casual; most guests don’t even change for dinner. Pack lightly, but bring ample changes of clothing, as there are no laundry facilities onboard.
Yachting is much like visiting a private home. Don’t expect an elevator, room service or entertainment beyond DVDs and board games. Staterooms are, however, “done up” in the morning and turned down while guests are at dinner.
Personalized service doesn’t begin and end at the gangplank. American Safari is there for travelers from the moment they book until they board the plane to go home.
Emergency communications are good, but you are likely to be out of touch. Cell phones don’t work in remote areas, and cabins have neither telephones nor Internet connections.
For more information, call 888-862-8881 or visit www.amsafari.com.--Janet Groene