Imagine an entire ship at your disposal. "Captain, set a course for Seychelles. Chef, for dinner I'll have the steamed lobster tail with a side of warm drawn butter." Except for millionaires, this is probably a pipe dream. However, if you are part of a group charter on a cruise ship, get the bib ready.
Aside from the haven a stateroom provides, the very experience of cruising is communal, a journey shared with complete strangers. And many people enjoy cruising exactly for that reason: It gives them the chance to meet new people and become friends, even if short lived.
Alternatively, there are those who do not cruise explicitly for the same reason: "Who wants to go on vacation with people you've never met before?"
Increasingly, groups are looking to charters as a remedy. Many people love the idea of cruising, but want to do it on their own terms. A ship charter allows this to come true. Guests are either cruising with people they personally know, or are cruising with people who share their same tastes.
This is a big distinction. Many organizations charter ships for a specific purpose, so as to immerse guests completely in such interests as music, religion, culture or other pastimes. Large ships, like those under the Carnival, Royal Caribbean or Norwegian Cruise Line banner, can be chartered for these purposes; and those organizing the charters often stand to make some money for their efforts.
However, smaller ships are often sought out for smaller group charters and used by companies as incentive travel for employees. Incentive travel is increasing in presence as corporations find innovative ways to reward staff. What's better than a vacation amongst your peers on an intimate ship to a great destination? Sounds better than a gift card to Best Buy.
Affinity groups, which are made up of people who share a common interest or liking, have become a huge part of charter business. Smaller ships usually skew more toward luxury, so people chartering these ships usually have more refined tastes. Smaller ships get a lot of business from those wanting to hold classical music or museum group charters.
Charter business, however, doesn't just appeal to corporations or affinity groups. More and more individuals are chartering smaller vessels for special milestone events such as birthdays, anniversaries or graduations. Families chartering ships for reunions are also a growing trend, no doubt drawing ire from picnic-supply businesses and parks everywhere.
While the charter business falls to three main groups, there is one reason why groups charter ships: exclusivity. Where else can a group take over an entire vacation conveyance explicitly for their own use and no one else? The experience is fully customized from aft to bow.
Having It Your Way
First off, groups can choose which ship they'd like to charter. Small ships can still vary from a normal cruise ship to a yacht to a ship with tall masts. The customization begins here. Once the right ship is chosen, the real fun begins, like, "Where should we go?" The freedom to travel anywhere is maybe the biggest benefit of a ship charter. Most charters last seven days or fewer, but imagine how many Caribbean islands can be visited in that span, or how many historic cities in Europe.
Not only are itineraries customized, so is everything else, starting with the menus.
Say a group is composed of rabid carnivores; the ship's chef can devise a beef-centered menu. If, however, the group is more partial to seafood, a menu can be prepared around fish, which often can be purchased fresh at the many ports of call during a voyage. That said, more often than not, passengers enjoy fish, meat and every other sort of food. No problem, an eclectic menu can be devised.
One of the biggest problems encountered when a group takes a cruise among regular folk is space. Affinity groups are apt to need space, but on a normal cruise it can be tough to reserve privacy. On a charter, however, the group has the lay of the land, able to use onboard space for whatever capacity they desire. No more waiting for space to clear by the pool or indoors—it's all right at their disposal.
A ship charter also gives the ability to even choose your own dress code. Over the years, cruising has become a tad more casual when it comes to dress. On a chartered ship, the group can choose how casual—or formal—they want to be.
This is the sheer beauty of a ship charter: There are no rules, no regulations, no restraint (as long as it's legal and safe). The ship is at the group's disposal, which makes a charter more attractive than hosting a gathering at a hotel or resort. On land, a group is never going to get the same type of latitude they will at sea.
A charter offers utmost privacy, exclusivity and safety. While, yes, chartering an entire ship can be expensive, the perks and efficiency more than make up for the cost. Like any cruise, a charter is all-inclusive, meaning alcohol is included in the rate. In other words, passengers are not constantly paying out of pocket as they would at a hotel.
A ship charter puts the group involved in control, allowing for the entire experience to be designed and customized. It is the ideal way to spend a momentous occasion like an anniversary with the extended family, or as a corporate incentive rewarding employees for a job well done.