When it comes to family yacht charters, we talk often about hosting adults and children, but teenagers provide crew with plenty of challenges and opportunities, particularly in the present era of hyperconnectivity and social media.
Charters with teenagers are often eventful. As they ride the rollercoaster of adolescence, youths go through a period of development that makes them highly energetic, eager to learn, and easily bored. While the primary priority when hosting young children is safety, for teens, constant entertainment is top of the list.
From using modern technologies to distracting teens with activities away from screens and developing transformative life skills, we explore the ways to keep teenagers busy and inspired both on and off board superyachts.
Life on Board
With their abundant facilities and arsenal of “toys,” yachts are natural environments for teenagers. Once on board, the first step is getting them to disconnect, says Fiona Maureso, senior charter broker at Northrop & Johnson. “Teenagers tend to get stuck on their screens, so when planning the charter with the parents, we make sure they are aware of what the yacht can offer in terms of watersports, work-out facilities, or other activities that might persuade their teenagers to disconnect,” she says. “Once they’re on board, the crew will typically encourage them to get involved and try things they may not have tried before. We generally find that it doesn’t take much persuasion — especially once they see the yacht’s toys like the Jet Skis, waterslides, and other cool watersports equipment.”
If the weather is bad and watersports and other outdoor activities are not possible, a little creativity from the crew goes a long way. “Crew will often bring out board games or gaming consoles such as PlayStation, Xbox, and Wii,” Maureso says. “They may even suggest an afternoon of charades or other team games. Some yachts are equipped with karaoke systems or have areas that can be transformed into discos or movie theaters. Crew will often suggest a movie night during a charter, with the kind of informal dining options such as pizza, hot dogs, and burgers that teenagers tend to relish.”
Once on board, the first step is getting them to disconnect.
While most yachts will be well-equipped with plenty of features to keep guests of all ages entertained, some are more suited than others. Having the right team is equally important — a fun, young, energetic crew with a strong outdoor team is advised. Having an RYA-accredited watersports trainer on board is an added bonus.
Daniela De Marco, head of charter management Europe at Fraser, says: “We have some crews that are particularly good with children and teenagers, and some yachts that have really thought about the teenage group. For example, the 76-meter Wheels has both an indoor and outdoor cinema, and a professional disco area with disco lights, sound system, and smoke machine. She is loaded with toys and has a multi-skilled crew, including experts in wakeboard, kitesurf, sailing, diving, yoga, and fitness instructors. And she also boasts a beautician on board offering a special menu for teens, including youth facials, as well as massages to suit teenage bodies.”
Sophie Spain, London Broker at Burgess, adds: “A yacht such as Titania has a drop-down cinema in the sky lounge — teens love a good movie. Many of our yachts have waterparks, electric surfboard, e-Foil electric hydrofoil boards, wing kites, wakesurfs, and all the new toys. If not on board, they can easily be rented. Inflatable waterslides always go down well with children, teenagers, and adults. Comprehensive audio-visual systems and satellite television are commonplace now and a few of the larger yachts do hold DJ equipment. Some yachts will hold the full beach set-up too so beach parties and barbecues ashore are all possible.”
On Dry Land
When groups have experienced the activities on board, it’s time to move ashore. Activities will vary depending on the location and the interests of each family. Spain says that bikes are often a failsafe with teenagers: “I had one of my charter captains suggest a bike trip to experience extreme downhill tracks in Corsica or e-bikes in St. Tropez or Port Grimaud — a paradise for e-bikes as no cars are there. Also, if you have restless teens, a crew quick to offer tender trips is always a good thing — take the tender to Port Grimaud or the Blue Grotto on the Amalfi coast.”
Ian Strachan, Expedition Leader at EYOS Expeditions, tries to find activities that the entire family can enjoy and bond over. “For onshore activities, it proves to be more enjoyable for everyone to have options to tailor their level of engagement, or at least an ‘off ramp’ for excursions,” he says. “For example, if you’ve arranged for a rainforest boardwalk experience through the canopy and a zipline through the trees that the teenagers are keen for, have the more intensive activity second so that parents can self-select out and simply return to the yacht. It is important to gauge overall interest but in general, safe to assume that activities on shore like driving ATVs, bungee jumping, canyoneering, or rappelling will appeal to a younger crowd but also become part of the group memory by the end of a trip.”
However, you don’t need loads of adventure spots to entertain teens. Sometimes all you need is a beach. “It’s not uncommon for crew to set up picnics and barbecues on a remote beach or desert island, often as a complete surprise to wow the guests,” Maureso says. “Teenagers love these more relaxed occasions that can be combined with other activities such as beachcombing, swimming, or even a game of beach volleyball. Some yachts will arrange competitions, like mini-Olympics, [pitting] the crew against the guests in a range of challenges, in the water, on the yacht, or on the beach. Tailored to the skills and limitations of everyone involved, these are always great fun and leave everyone — including the teenagers — happily exhausted!”
When Night Falls
A prime challenge when traveling with teenagers is schedules. Typically, teens are staying up later than the older guests, and they can prefer to sleep in much longer in the morning. When you’re visiting a place where teenagers are of legal drinking age, they’ll also often want to experience the local nightlife — usually without parental supervision. This is where the crew comes in again.
“Teenagers are quite keen to go ashore and check out the nightlife, often without their parents,” Maureso says. “This can cause some concern and therefore, sometimes, the captain will arrange for a couple of crewmembers to accompany them. On these occasions, the crew cannot be held responsible for the teenagers’ behavior and safety, but they will keep an eye on them and thus offer a measure of reassurance to the parents.”
In their downtime, tech-savvy teenagers often expect high-speed Internet in places where connectivity can be temperamental or even unavailable. “In areas where there may be a less than ideal Internet connection — if, for example, the vessel was in a glacially carved fjord with walls so tall that it blocks out satellite signal — it is worth noting that there can be bouts of anxiety at being ‘disconnected,’” Strachan says. “In these situations, it can help to engage teens with challenges or opportunities to create content that they can then bring back into their own social worlds — both digital and in person.”
Strachan highlights that there are ways to use technology to entertain even without a live Internet connection. “Little things like having an entertainment or sound system on the yacht or on the tender that can be easily connected via Bluetooth allows teens to choose their own music; this option for engagement and empowerment within the ship’s infrastructure goes a long way,” he says. “Wildlife photography is a great way for older teens to engage with a destination. Whether that’s using an iPhone to capture slow motion video of bow-riding dolphins or zooming in with a telephoto lens on a polar bear stalking seals on the sea ice, cameras offer a challenge both technically and creatively that teens can usually master faster than their parents.”
Neal Bateman, Head of Yachting at Cookson Adventures, agrees that an education element is important for teenagers — and is often requested by parents. “We apply the same high-level of personalization to our trips with teenagers as we do with adults,” he says. “The difference between preparing for adults and teenagers is finding out about what they are learning about at school to see if we can create experiences with an educational angle.”
This can involve curating experiences that tie in with their curriculum or finding guides and experts to bring on board.
With the rise of adventure yachting, a charter trip is about more than just relaxing and bonding with the family. It’s becoming an opportunity to learn, grow, and develop fresh life skills. “Off the yacht, popular experiences for teens often involve challenging them and teaching them a new life skill,” Bateman says. “They love that sense of achievement you get from trying something new. We like to create a narrative to run through the trip, so it feels more like a journey, which teens really respond to.”
He highlights a trip where the crew designed an immersive treasure hunt in Iceland and took out a RIB tender to a volcanic series of islands. “The teen was very interested in crafts and building things, so the treasure hunt was designed specifically so each clue he found was a piece he had to build to then complete the game,” he says. “Robinson Crusoe survival experiences on deserted islands are another favorite. With wilderness experts, they can learn to build a campfire or shelter, which is also an experience that lends perfectly to a remote location.”
“We generally find that it doesn’t take much persuasion — especially once they see the yacht’s toys like the Jet Skis, waterslides, and other cool watersports equipment.”
Such skills can go on to transform a teenager’s life at a prime point in their development and give them fresh world views that could infiltrate into their adult lives.
For instance, a youth exposed to the realities of climate change in Antarctica could choose to devote their career to inspiring real change. “Parents are keen to educate their children on the challenges the world is facing, and teens are very aware of climate and conservation issues,” Bateman says. “It’s important to involve them with local conservation efforts and show how they can make an impact. We organize everything from turtle conservation in Costa Rica to shark tagging with marine conservationists in Baja.”
While all the bells and whistles of a well-stocked yacht can entertain teenagers in the short term, perhaps what’s most important is having a crew that’s skilled at best using the opportunities at hand and positioning the vessel in an environment that enables incredible, life-changing experiences to leave guests with renewed passion and purpose.
Ask the Experts
Top charter destinations for teenagers in 2022
Neal Bateman, Head of Yachting at Cookson Adventures: “The Mediterranean in general is fantastic for teens — there is so much ancient history to inspire us and draw on to create unique experiences. We’ve previously discovered an ancient shipwreck filled with amphora by submersible in southern Italy, organized actor-led gladiator fights in a Roman amphitheater, and in Greece, we brought an astronomer on board at a remote anchorage for an after-dark lesson in the science and myths behind the stars.”
Fiona Maureso, Senior Charter Broker at Northrop & Johnson: “I find that the best destinations for teenagers are places where they can go ashore and explore the destination a bit, check out the nightlife, and hang out on the beach as well as enjoy the yacht’s watersports. The South of France is always a favorite spot and Croatia is a great fit for that as well.”
Ian Strachan, Expedition Leader at EYOS: “Locations such as Antarctica, with its abundantly charismatic fauna and truly epic icy landscapes will ignite and impress even the most jaded of teens. And surely there is no more exciting experience than being up in the Arctic and watching a polar bear walk across the ice, slowly approaching your yacht.”
This feature was originally published in the July 2022 issue of Dockwalk.