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How to make the most out of cruising with your family

Cruising with your kids can be the most rewarding use of a superyacht and tailoring the boat you want to the family you have will get the most out of a trip, says Caroline White

For some it is about celestial luxury, for others it’s Champagne-soaked parties – but most superyacht holidays are, disappointingly for the tabloids, rather lovely family occasions. It may be the starlets stumbling down passerelles who make the headlines, but for many charterers it is families that make the scene.

It was ever thus, of course: look no further than the gilded époque of yachting glamour, when Jackie Kennedy was snapped on Onassis’s 99 metre Christina (named for the tycoon’s daughter) with a shy John Jr in the background, or iconic images of Princess Grace’s smiling brood taking to the waves adorning newsstands worldwide. “Obviously lots of our clients have children,” says designer Terence Disdale. “The question is, what priority do you as a designer give to their well-being and requirements?”

For Victor Muller, who extensively refitted his 36 metre motor yacht The Highlander – launched by Feadship in 1967 for legendary publisher Malcolm Forbes – family is at the centre of his passion for yachting. That balance of ultra-private family time and space to be alone is, he says, “why I fell in love with yachting in the first place”.

But not all superyachts are child-friendly, so how do you create a boat that is, as Muller describes it, a “magical” family space? For him the decision started with the basics. “I would find it very difficult to make a 100 metre boat cosy for a family – such huge spaces are only nice when you fill them with guests to the brim. With the size of boat that I have, if you are a family with friends, maybe eight at the table, you fill the space to the point that it becomes a cosy event. I have chosen a size of vessel that fits my family.”

Muller likens fiddling with the layout of a classic yacht to “cursing in church” and fortunately it wasn’t necessary on The Highlander, with communal spaces that are intimately proportioned but big enough for everyone. “The layout was right from the outset: Forbes was a man with a large family too – four sons and a daughter. I have six children.”

But just as important as the spaces is what children can do in them. Board and beach games, films and video are essential – as are water toys, so good water access from a stern platform is important, or on a traditional sailing yacht, consider steps and a platform that can be set up on the side of the hull. On some larger yachts, owners and designers have the opportunity to take children’s entertainment to sumptuous heights. “On a refit in 1992, on the good ship Kingdom 5KR, we lengthened the superstructure to incorporate a video games room for the client’s children,” says superyacht designer Tim Heywood. Meanwhile, fellow designer Terence Disdale recently penned “an area on one of our projects that has the dual purposes of being the children’s play room during the day, converting to a cinema at night”. And 133 metre motor yacht Al Mirqab features an underwater viewing room, designed by Andrew Winch as a pirates’ grotto.

This sort of feature, which enhances the experience of being on board rather than distracting from it, is perhaps the most valuable for a child. “We do think that it’s a wonderful experience for children and young people to discover the world on board a yacht. The pace is much slower and we spend much more time visiting the places we go to,” says the wife of the owner of 37.5 metre sailing yacht Escapade. She and her husband recommend: “Lots of visits to local sights and villages; finding other children to play with; excursions and beach activities.” The family’s adventures have taken them to places as remote as a Sea Gypsy village in Myanmar. They have also met lots of other families who have travelled extensively on yachts and, they say: “The kids seem much more independent and have a different outlook to the world in general. They have been much more exposed to interacting with people from all walks of life.”

Ronno Schouten, design manager at Feadship, suggests complementing a world-girdling romp with an onboard children’s laboratory to study local flora and for long voyages in particular, traditional education can’t be left at home entirely. The owners of Escapade incorporated a dedicated school room into the design of their yacht. “Our son wears his uniform from his old school in Auckland during school hours,” they say. “That teaches him to respect his tutor, to know that he is in school and needs to behave accordingly. After school, he gets into mufti and that is his time to spend as he wishes.”

Tutors, nannies, guides (a good idea if you want your child to get a real insight into different cultures) – all need somewhere to sleep, something Forbes realised back in 1967 to Muller’s 21st century benefit. “Theoretically nine crew could stay on board [The Highlander],” he says, “normally you’d run a yacht this size with five.”

For those building new, finding the right spaces for these extra cabins can have a knock-on effect for other accommodation. “Children’s cabins are more appropriate to be located adjacent to the owner’s cabin or nanny’s cabin, or better still, both,” says Disdale. “We provide a bath as a priority to a shower, as often the parents or nanny might supervise or make a fun event of bathing and putting children to bed. Cabin storage might also be specific – children often have lots of toys and do not need hanging space for evening gowns!”

Decoratively, it is a chance to let your – or your child’s – imagination run wild. Feadship’s 62 metre motor yacht Sea Owl is arguably the best example of this, featuring two kids cabins with single beds, one with a pirate theme and one with an Alice in Wonderland theme, as well as a fairyland of trompe-l’oeil and fantastical wood carving throughout the yacht. “On the boat we’re building right now the kid’s room is easy to clean,” says Schouten. “If they’re painting or they’re dirty, kids don’t have to worry. Lacquered wooden walls are a lot easier to clean than fabrics and you can put in [either wooden floors rather than] carpets, or easy to replace carpets.”

For décor elsewhere in the yacht, it is possible to create a scheme that balances style with a warm family ambience, as Muller found with the restoration of the original interior of his own yacht. “It is a wonderfully cosy atmosphere with this deep, dark, high-gloss teak and holly. I’ve chosen to use only nickel-plated fittings – chrome is very cold, blue and shiny but nickel is yellowish and soft gloss, so it all becomes extremely friendly,” he says.

And then, of course, there’s safety. Boats have a definite advantage in that most crashable ornaments are fixed down, but moving elements like sliding doors can be an issue if not specced for children, so as Schouten says, “you have sensors at several heights”.

A sailing yacht can be an obstacle course of dangers, from toe-chopping hatches, to ropes and the movements of the boat itself. Heed the advice of designers and builders if you intend to take little ones on board.

On a large motor yacht, major dangers are to do with falling and the simplest solution is containment. “It is common to add child-proof gates to all the exterior stairways and deck-edge rails need to be child climb-proof,” says Heywood, “although children on yachts should be supervised at all times.” He also recommends “good visibility from interior spaces to deck areas so you can check where children are and that the supervising staff are doing their job properly”. Jackie Onassis would approve.

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