Chartering involves booking all or part of a cruise ship for an exclusive, customized group voyage. Chartering allows groups to tailor an unforgettable getaway at sea – from corporate retreats to school reunions, fan cruises, or any special event. With a private, tailored charter cruise, you can create an unmatched experience.

This guide covers everything you need to know about chartering a cruise ship – essentially renting out a cruise ship for your private event. Learn about full ship buyouts, partial charters, group bookings, costs, customization tips, choosing cruise lines, and more. If you’re interested in chartering your own cruise ship, read on for everything you need to know to turn your dream charter into reality.

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Types of Private Cruise Charters

  • Corporate Charters: Companies charter ships for corporate events like meetings, conventions, product launches, and anniversaries. This allows businesses to provide a grand gesture of appreciation.
  • Affinity/Promotional Charters: Organizations charter cruises to re-sell cabins to niche interest groups. This curates exclusive, premium experiences like themed or concert cruises.
A nighttime view of Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas cruise ship, with multicolored lights glowing throughout the ship

Icon of the Seas | Image © Royal Caribbean International

Ways to Charter a Cruise Ship

There are a few different types of cruise ship charters:

Full Ship Charter

Booking an entire cruise ship allows for ultimate customization and luxury. With complete control, you can create truly one-of-a-kind experiences tailored to your group. Full buyouts offer unmatched exclusivity and service for planning over-the-top events, celebrations, or corporate functions.

Remember that most full charters on major cruise lines cost millions, given the large ship capacities and amenities. They are best suited for large organizations or well-financed entrepreneurs seeking an exclusive, customizable cruise.

Full Ship Charter Highlights:

  • Complete control and customization
  • Ultimate exclusivity
  • Luxury amenities and service
  • Ideal for large groups and budgets

Partial Ship Charter

Partial charters, also known as half-ship charters or “contract groups,” offer the flexibility to reserve a large block of staterooms without buying out the entire ship. Typically 30-50% of the ship’s capacity is booked to secure preferential rates, amenities, and some exclusive access.

While you don’t control the whole vessel, partial charters provide customizable perks for your guests. You’ll be able to secure private spaces within the ship for meetings, concerts, and other events, away from the ship’s other non-participating guests.

Carnival Mardi Gras | Image © Carnival Corporation

The main advantage of partial charters is flexibility – you can release unused room allotments without penalty as the sailing date approaches. However, cruise lines often impose minimum spending requirements, so read the fine print carefully.

Partial charters provide an excellent middle ground for medium to large groups seeking an exclusive experience with more customization than a group booking but without the price tag of a full buyout.

Partial Ship Charter Highlights:

  • Reserve block of rooms (typically 30%-50%)
  • Some exclusive spaces
  • More flexible booking
  • Cost-effective compared to full ship charters

Group Cruises

Group bookings are a great option for smaller groups seeking an intimate, bonded cruise experience without full ship customization. Groups are booked as regular passengers on pre-planned itineraries.

In general, scoring a group rate requires booking 16+ passengers across 8+ cabins on the same existing cruise itinerary. The ship’s dining, entertainment, and port excursions are already determined.

The Norwegian Prima in port

Norwegian Prima | Image © Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd

Ideal for family reunions, church groups, hobbyist clubs, corporate departments, and more, group cruises provide hassle-free travel with everything figured out for you. Enjoy quality time bonding with loved ones, colleagues, or friends with a shared interest.

Group Cruise Highlights:

  • Pre-set itinerary (not customizable)
  • Intimate group experience
  • Most affordable chartering option

Pro Tip: Charter your Cruise Ship with The Vacationeer

Whether it’s a full charter, partial charter, or group cruise, you should consider working with The Vacationeer to negotiate optimal terms, rates, and details.

If you are seeking a partial ship charter or planning a group cruise, The Vacationeer provides advisory services entirely free of charge. They will book all your guests, handle payments and logistics, and work out all the details exactly how you want them. Again, their assistance comes at no additional cost to you!

For full ship charters, The Vacationeer works for a fee covering planning, negotiation, and liaising with the cruise line. They can handle all guest arrangements and secure the best possible full charter deal for you.

Either way, having The Vacationeer‘s experience in your corner makes a difference in planning a smooth, cost-effective chartering experience. Their relationships, knowledge, and dedication to customer service provide invaluable support.

Benefits of Cruise Ship Charters

Chartering a cruise ship provides an unmatched experience, allowing you to remake an entire vessel into your own floating playground. Here are some of the key benefits:

  • Total customization: Brand the ship, plan activities, menus, events, etc.
  • Camaraderie: Since every passenger is there for your event, you’ll enjoy a shared sense of community.
  • Prestige and exclusivity: Charter guests feel like VIPs on a special journey.
  • Dedicated service: With staff devoted to you, expect meticulous attention.
  • Value: Despite the upscale experience, chartering can offer better value than land venues.
  • Creative control: Collaborate on menus, cocktails, parties, and more. The possibilities are endless.

For corporate clients, chartered cruises provide unique opportunities to motivate and reward employees, customers, or partners. Organizations planning re-sale charters for niche interest groups can also curate premium, exclusive experiences.

Artist rendering of the Discovery Princess cruise ship

Discovery Princess | Image © Princess Cruises

Costs & Pricing to Charter a Cruise Ship

Chartering a private cruise ship is a major investment, with full ship rentals starting at over $1 million for a week-long sailing. Costs vary significantly based on factors like:

  • Ship size and class: Larger, more luxurious ships come at a higher premium. For example, mega-ships can run $5-12+ million. Midsize contemporary vessels start around $1.5-3 million.
  • Duration: Short 3-5 night voyages are more affordable than extended 7+ night trips. A 7-night charter may cost 70-100% more than a 4-night charter.
  • Occupancy: Fees are typically based on double occupancy per stateroom. More guests mean higher service costs.
  • Destinations and dates: Popular summer trips in hotspots like the Mediterranean or Caribbean fetch premium pricing compared to off-season sailings.
  • Custom requests: Specialty dining, entertainment, tours, décor, and more can ratchet up the price.

To give rough estimates, here are sample full ship charter prices:

  • 4-night Caribbean cruise on a midsize ship: $1.5 – $3 million
  • 7-night European cruise on a large ship: $3 – $8 million
  • 7-night Caribbean cruise on a mega ship: $5 – $12 million

As an example, here’s how Royal Caribbean breaks down its full ship charter fees:

Ship ClassAverage Total Price: 4 NightsAverage Total Price: 7 NightsAverage Price Per Person/DayMax Capacity (Double Occu.)
Oasis Class$4,624,364$8,092,637$205.93 5,614
Quantum Class$3,642,644$6,374,628 $213.07 4,274
Freedom Class$2,659,256$4,653,698 $169.25 3,928
Voyager Class$2,231,146$3,904,506 $162.62 3,430
Radiance Class$1,743,001$3,050,252 $198.61 2,194

Partial charters cost several hundred thousand dollars to a few million depending on the ship, date, and portion reserved. Group cruises can run $100k-$300k based on group size and needs.

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Cruise Charter Payment Terms

When chartering a cruise ship, payment terms can vary. However, to give you an idea, we’ll use Royal Caribbean’s transparent terms as a representative example. It’s worth noting that while other cruise lines might have similar structures, there can be slight variations.

Option 1: Staggered Payments with Letter of Credit

  • 10% deposit at contract signing
  • 30% of fees due seven months, five months, and three months prior to sailing
  • Letter of credit required through 60 days post-sailing

Option 2: Payment in Full at Contract Signing

  • 100% of fees paid upfront at contract signing
  • Payment is non-refundable
  • No letter of credit required

The remaining taxes, gratuities, and customs fees are due 30 days pre-departure under either plan. Remember that minimum spending requirements are standard, so check the fine print.

A travel partner like The Vacationeer can handle all payments on your behalf and help determine the best payment schedule for your event. Their relationships with cruise lines can also help secure optimal pricing and terms.

Best Cruise Lines for Chartering a Ship

When selecting a cruise line for your private charter, the top players to consider are Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Carnival Cruise Line.

  • Royal Caribbean stands out for its innovative mega-ships with splashy amenities like surf simulators, skydiving wind tunnels, ice skating rinks, and more. The amplified Oasis Class ships offer ultimate customization flexibility with their resort-style layouts. For more intimate charters, the Radiance Class vessels provide midsize options.
  • Norwegian Cruise Line shines for its lively, flexible Freestyle Cruising model with no set dining times across dozens of restaurants. Norwegian ships also offer high-energy nightlife and entertainment like Broadway shows. Their vast fleet ranges from boutique Jewel Class to the massive Breakaway Plus Class.
  • Carnival Cruise Line is ideal for price-conscious groups seeking a casual, family-friendly experience. As the largest cruise operator, they have a vast fleet with contemporary fun ships suited to any charter size. While not luxury, Carnival’s charter value is unbeatable.

To find the best cruise line partner, first consider your group’s demographics, interests, and budget. Ask questions like:

  • What style of cruise do we want – sophisticated, action-packed, or laid-back?
  • What amenities and activities are must-haves?
  • What level of service and inclusions are we expecting?
  • How many guests will we have, and what ship sizes work?
  • Are there any limitations on our budget?

With the right cruise line match, you’re on your way to smooth sailing on the chartered getaway of your dreams!

How to Book a Private Cruise Charter

  • Set goals: Determine desired experience, dates, estimated guest count, and budget. Start planning 12-18 months out.
  • Get quotes: Reach out to cruise lines/agencies like The Vacationeer to receive custom proposals based on your needs.
  • Review terms: Examine contract terms like deposits, cancellation policies, and minimum spending requirements.
  • Sign the contract & pay the deposit: Select the best offer and submit your deposit, which can range from 10-100% of the total fare.
  • Handle logistics: Iron out dining, entertainment, decor, and activities and make payment installments if applicable.
  • Finalize plans: Complete your guest list and remaining payments prior to departure.
  • Set sail and enjoy!

Planning an Unforgettable Charter Cruise Experience

The following tips will help you plan a full or partial charter cruise.

  • Start planning 12-18+ months out for complex charters requiring heavy coordination.
  • Working with an experienced travel agency with connections to cruise lines.
  • Brainstorm creative customizations – interactive events, contests, and gifts.
  • Research and book entertainment 6+ months in advance.
  • Designate coordinators for activities, dining, and décor.
  • Collaborate early with a travel agency or cruise staff on offerings and regulations.
  • Arrange private group excursions and team building onshore.
  • Delight guests with surprises – flash mobs, hunts, tributes.
  • Balance group and personal time.
  • Theme nights – casino, gala dinner, island luau.
  • Take advantage of included meeting and AV equipment.
  • Craft specialty menus and cocktails.
  • Maximize branding with logos throughout the ship.
  • Curating a tailored journey encourages camaraderie.
  • Follow these tips for smooth planning and a successful charter cruise experience.

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Q & A: How to Charter a Cruise Ship

How early should I plan a private charter?

Ideally, begin planning a full ship charter at least 12-18 months in advance to allow time for logistics, promotion, and best availability. Partial charters may require 12 months, but sometimes less.

Can I choose the cruise destinations and itinerary?

Absolutely, you can typically select desired destinations and build a customized itinerary, subject to the ship’s capabilities and any restrictions. The cruise line or travel agency can advise on the optimal itinerary. Partial charters and contact group charters have less flexibility since they are not full ship charters, and there will be other passengers aboard.

Are there usually cancellation penalties for private charters?

Yes, cancellation penalties for private charters are typical and can be significant. However, in certain contract group charters, unused room allocations might be releasable without penalties as the sailing date nears, and additional rooms can sometimes be added (if needed). Always thoroughly review cancellation policies and associated fees before finalizing any charter agreement.

How can a travel agency assist with a private cruise charter?

Agencies can help with financial arrangements, negotiations, logistics, staffing, customization, and insider knowledge of ships, deals, and revenue guarantees. An experienced travel agency like The Vacationeer is invaluable.

What kind of onboard equipment and amenities are included?

Many ships offer state-of-the-art AV equipment, conference spaces, entertainment systems, etc. If certain items aren’t available, the cruise line or travel agency may be able to arrange specialized rentals.

Does pricing for private charters differ significantly?

Yes, pricing varies based on factors like cruise line, ship size/age, amenities, and more. Luxury ships may cost more but offer intimate, high-end experiences. Mass-market ships provide more capacity for potentially lower per-person rates.

What is included with chartering a private cruise ship?

Inclusions can vary by cruise line, but most charters include meeting spaces, dining, activities, entertainment, standard beverages, and more. As the charterer, you can often fully customize offerings to align with your event theme and brand. The cruise line or charter agency handles the arrangements, allowing you to focus on planning a phenomenal event.

What are some key questions to ask about customizing the experience?

Ask about décor rules, brand integration opportunities, entertainment options, specialty menus, securing rental equipment, and any legal/liquor restrictions based on your itinerary.

Are there tips for maximizing value when chartering?

Opt for off-peak dates, scale guest count to ship size, avoid over-customizing, and work with an agency to find deals. Release unused cabin allotments if possible.

Does Disney Cruise Line offer private charters?

Full ship charters with Disney Cruise Line are extremely rare. Disney seems to prefer keeping their ships open to the general public rather than doing private takeovers.

In their 25+ year history, Disney has only done a handful of full charters for select groups such as Disney Vacation Club members or media partners (TCM, for example).

The cost to fully charter a Disney ship is speculated to be several million dollars, likely putting it out of reach for most. Booking Disney group cruises or partial charters may be a better option for groups to enjoy a touch of Disney magic.

For more details about Disney cruises, reach out to our recommended Disney travel agencies. You can also take a deep dive into our cruise line comparison pages: Disney Cruise vs Royal Caribbean, Disney Cruise vs Norwegian, Disney Cruise vs Carnival, Disney Cruise vs Princess, and Best Kid-Friendly Cruise Lines.

Plan Your Charter Cruise Adventure with The Vacationeer

Looking for smooth sailing when chartering a private cruise? The Vacationeer can help. With years of experience and strong relationships with major cruise lines, they are experts at brokering the best terms for your charter or group cruise.

By negotiating directly with cruise lines on your behalf, The Vacationeer secures optimal pricing, amenities, room configurations, and more. They know how to get you the best deal.

Not only can they secure ideal terms, but for partial or group charters, The Vacationeer also provides assistance handling all logistics – from pricing and rooms to onboard details and activities. They provide all this free of charge.

With excellent customer service, insider knowledge, and passion for cruising, you can trust The Vacationeer’s team to ensure your charter is a breezy, memorable success.

Contact The Vacationeer today for a free consultation. They will provide quotes to help you price out the perfect private cruise and answer any questions. Reach out now for a free quote and start planning your customized charter cruise!