If you’re a fan of the reality TV show Below Deck and ever wondered what it’s like being on the other side, then look no further.
Metro.co.uk set foot aboard the 50m superyacht Freedom from the historic city of Split to see what life is like on a £100,000-a-week charter. Here’s some insight as to what to expect…
A 5,000-passenger cruise ship lurked on one side of the marina in the Croatian city of Split, but on the other bobbed a far more seductive vessel that I would be calling home for the next four days.
I’ve travelled on many different types of boats, from rustic wooden fishing boats in Indonesia to rugged expedition boats in Antarctica and rust buckets in Papua New Guinea, but a superyacht was a different kettle of fish.
My partner and I had been invited to test out Freedom, a slick £3.4 million superyacht which recently underwent a £1.3 million renovation, to get a taste of what it’s like being passengers on such a beast.
The 11-cabin vessel is on offer through luxury charter company Goolets and week-long trips with gourmet food and alcohol included start at around £100,000 and run up to £150,000 during peak season.
One of the state cabins aboard the Freedom superyacht, complete with a freestanding tub
My immediate pre-conception of sailing aboard a superyacht conjured up scenes of the reality TV show Below Deck.
After being slightly addicted to the series and empathising with the crew, I refrained from putting through any wacky dietary requests or demanding a clothes unpacking service before we set sail.
From the get-go, you are made to feel like a VIP as a superyacht guest with Goolets, especially when your ship is one of the prettiest docked in the marinas.
Most of the time while sailing was spent around the hot tub
While other travellers wheeled their cases towards lumpy mega cruise vessels, we indulged in heading towards our much ritzier ride.
Freedom can accommodate 22 guests across three decks. We boarded the boat in the afternoon and unfortunately, the two best cabins had already been snagged.
The two huge master cabins include everything from in-room tubs to marble bed heads and surround views of the ocean beyond.
With all the best spots gone, we were shown to cabin 10 below deck.
Although the room was on the smaller end of the scale, with two twin beds making a double, the fixtures and fittings were of the same standard, with plush carpets, leather panelling and Rituals bathroom amenities creating a luxury feel.
Like a scene from Below Deck, we were summoned to the dining area to have a glass of bubbly and meet the crew.
The superyacht is stocked with water toys, from standup paddleboards to motorised surfboards
When you charter Freedom, the staff include a captain, a chef, an assistant chef, a hostess, a chief steward, a masseuse, two waiters, and three deckhands.
It was very easy to remember the majority of the staff names as about five of them, including the captain, were called Ivan – apparently, it is a very popular name in Croatia!
We would be aboard Freedom for four nights in total on a whirlwind itinerary.
Our concierge for the voyage – another Ivan! – informed us that the great thing about Freedom is that despite its size, she has a shallow draft of three metres, which allows her to navigate close to shore and dock in harder to reach spots.
After Split, our first port of call was the small town of Bol on the island of Brač, famed for its long stony Golden Horn (Zlatni rat) beach which changes shape throughout the year.
From there we ventured on to the charming town of Jelsa, which is located in the middle of the island of Hvar. There isn’t too much going on there but it is very picturesque and we dipped into a local wine bar while a fellow guest opted for a morning run along the coastal path, stumbling across a nudist beach along her way.
Exploring the city of Havr during a stop on the superyacht (Photo: Michael O’Nion)
Winding our way around the Croatian islands – there are more than 1,000 in total – we docked at Vis, which only opened to foreign visitors in 1989 after being used as a naval base during the days of Yugoslavia.
This place has a charming feel, with a sedate seafront boulevard and a peppering of quaint boutique shops selling everything from unique jewellery pieces to leather goods.
But everyone agreed that one of the best stops was Hvar, with top views from the 16th-century Venetian fortress, relaxed waterside bars and a photogenic main square.
Along with a good fill of sightseeing, our superyacht voyage also included some stops where all of the ‘toys’ came out.
We were told there was an inflatable slide on board ‘a la Below Deck’ but apparently it took too long to put out so we made do with paddleboards, an inflatable kayak, an electrical foiling surfboard, and a Seabob water scooter, that enables you to dip and dive in the water.
The dining room aboard the Freedom superyacht with enough space to seat 22 guests
It was a good job we were able to pack in a bit of exercise as the meals aboard Freedom were rather decadent, with bountiful platters for breakfast, four-course lunches and multi-course dinners all washed down with surprisingly delicious Croatian wines.
One meat-themed lunch consisted of beef tartare, homemade pasta with braised beef tail, a beefsteak with gnocchi and a chocolate mousse to finish. We were fit to sink after that ensemble and chef took our feedback onboard by cutting the portion sizes slightly over the ensuing days.
With such salubrious weather, the majority of our time on the boat was spent lolling about on the sun deck, soaking up the rays on the plush daybed with intermittent dips in the bubbling hot tub.
I realised, as we snaked our way back to Split with dolphins twirling and twizzling as went, that we hadn’t really made use of the indoor amenities too much.
I’d done one morning in the roomy top deck gym in a bid to sweat out the previous night’s negronis, but the swanky pine-clad sauna, massage room and enormous cinema room were pretty much unexplored.
Split between 22 people, a week-long adventure aboard Freedom works out at about £6,000 per person for an all-exclusive trip
We all concluded that dipping our toes into the world of superyachting made for a very memorable experience.
Split between 22 people, a week-long adventure aboard Freedom works out at about £6,000 per person for an all-exclusive trip.
It’s a pretty penny to pay but if you’re looking to push the boat out for your next holiday, superyachting might be an option worth exploring.
Before you board: What to do and see in Split
Where to stay
If you’re looking for a luxury accommodation option in Split before boarding your boat, check into the Radisson Blu. This is one of the oldest big hotels in the city and in its former guise as Hotel Split it hosted everyone from the president to pop stars.
Now the recently renovated hotel offers 252 rooms, a state of the art spa with 11 treatment rooms, a gym, an outdoor swimming pool and three restaurants.
We checked into a spacious premium suite complete with a living room, master bedroom, bathroom, two toilets and an expansive balcony with prime sea views. One big advantage of this hotel, is that the beach is just a short stroll away.
To get to the city centre, head towards the golden sand and take the coastal path. This route takes you past a small fishing marina and several sandy bays, before you reach the hustle of the ancient city.
Post yachting, the hotel’s signature massage is a sure way to feel shipshape again.
Where to drink
If you’re looking for a restaurant and bar with a great atmosphere, hit Bokeria. The service is spot on and it’s a great place for people watching with a corner location. Be sure to try the flight of local Croatian wines.
For more of a hipster vibe, check out the Daltonist, which has an equally unique location within a redbrick historic building. Here, you’ll find Instagrammable brunch dishes, craft ales and cocktails with punny names, from Nice Melons to Feeling Corny.
To experience a local winery, take a taxi ride to the family-run Winery Vučica. Here you can do a flight of wines in the vine-covered outdoor area with a bountiful platter of local produce, from tuna pate to prosciutto.
Where to eat
One of the most popular places for ice cream is a little kiosk located next to the Bokeria restaurant. You will see a constant stream of people queueing up and taking selfies with the delicious scoops of frozen sweets.
For a very memorable dining experience, make sure you book a table at Zoi. This gem of a place is located within the 1,700-year-old palace walls and boasts top views of the marina. Everything from the ambience to the service is spot on, and the food is another thing to write home about. So you can try a bit of everything, opt for the Zoi Experience menu, which includes eight courses and the option of wine pairings. Courses on the evening we visited included sea bass pate, squid carpaccio, crab and shrimp tacos, polenta beignets, local fish, filet mignon and a white chocolate mousse to finish. We washed all the dishes down with a fine flight of Croatian wine. This spot is vying for a Michelin star, so be sure to book in before it becomes impossible to nab a sitting.
In terms of getting to Split, EasyJet runs regular flights from Gatwick. From the airport, Goolets can arrange transfers in luxury vehicles.
Otherwise, Uber is easy to use around the city and for visiting attractions close by, from vineyards to waterfalls.
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