Major operators have parked their expedition ships, but that may not stop some avid travelers from taking to the high seas. The yacht charter revolution has just arrived.

By Paul Brady
July 25, 2020
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The yacht Amandira off Padar Island, in Indonesia’s Komodo National Park.
| Credit: Courtesy of Aman

Editor’s Note: Travel might be complicated right now, but use our inspirational trip ideas to plan ahead for your next bucket list adventure.

The lowest point in the world’s oceans is the Challenger Deep, more than 35,000 feet below the surface. While 12 astronauts have walked on the moon, only seven people have explored this trench in the Pacific, says Ben Lyons, the CEO of Eyos Expeditions. “That makes it the most exclusive destination on Earth,” Lyons says. This summer, Eyos plans to make it a little more accessible, by taking a few brave souls over six miles down aboard the Limiting Factor, a two-person submarine. The cost? At least $750,000. It’s the ultimate expression of the travel industry’s obsession with extreme adventures.

But even those with less stratospheric budgets can capitalize on the growing number of seagoing expeditions taking travelers to places they’ve rarely gone. “There are parts of the world like Palau or Papua New Guinea that, really, you can access comfortably only from a yacht,” explains Geordie Mackay-Lewis, founding partner of Pelorus, an expedition outfitter. He also points to Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, the Pacific coast of Colombia, and the Solomon Islands as prime small-ship destinations.

“Many charter guests are exploring farther afield, to Australia, Thailand, Alaska, the Galápagos, and Antarctica,” says Daniel Ziriakus, president and COO of Northrop & Johnson, a yacht brokerage. Indonesia is another hot spot, particularly the waters of Raja Ampat and the Spice Islands. The luxury hotel brand Aman launched its yacht Amanikan in the region in 2008, followed by the Amandira in 2015. (For now, only the Amandira is still operating.)

There’s no denying that a private charter is expensive, with rates starting around $10,000 per person per week. But suites on high-end cruise ships can also cost that much — and don’t come with total freedom. “The true value is the open-book nature of the trip,” Ziriakus says. “You can create the itinerary of your dreams — and anything is possible.”

A version of this story first appeared in the July 2020 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline With Cruise Adventures on Pause, What’s an Ocean Lover to Do?