The second luxury yacht from Emerald Cruises, Emerald Sakara, has launched, and is sailing its inaugural Caribbean season. The sister to Emerald Azzurra, which debuted in March 2022, the 100-passenger Emerald Sakara gives you all the amenities of a larger cruise ship with the deluxe vibe of a private yacht.
Heading into smaller, out-of-the-way ports that larger cruise ships can’t access, the 360-foot superyacht and its 76 crew take the routes less traveled. My Caribbean voyage to the islands off Puerto Rico, and to stops in both the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, proves just how peaceful the little pockets of the West Indies can be. And enlightening! Just when you thought you knew every corner of the Caribbean, you don’t.
This particular sailing had the added glamor of Emerald Sakara’s naming ceremony and christening, led by godmother Kelly Craighead, President and CEO of Cruise Lines International Association, an industry trade organization. Special guests also included Ken Muskat, Managing Director for Scenic Group USA, Emerald’s parent company.
Here’s what we loved about this ship.
“Sakara” is a Sanskrit word meaning “thoughts become things.” It’s an apt moniker, as a great deal of thought went into Emerald Sakara. The architecture just seems to make perfect, almost intuitive sense, with the interior design curated by Karen Moroney, wife of the cruise line’s owner, Glen Moroney.
Right from a glittering, silver-clad and mirrored reception area, a chic, modern vibe resonates throughout the ship – glass partitions, grey carpeting, colorful large-scale artworks, unexpected sculptures. Luxurious finishing touches include furniture brands like Tribu and Gervasoni, space-age lighting from hip designer Tom Dixon, and a cool collaboration between Germany chair manufacturer Freifrau and the Missoni fashion house.
Adjacent to reception, the Amici Bar and Lounge is sexy and inviting – all dark woods, sumptuous textures, colorful patterns and pink orchids. It is an excellent place to congregate to sip a quiet cocktail or squish into the sumptuous banquettes for a sing-along.
The roomy La Cucina dining room has a variety of partitioned quadrants to enjoy the kitchen’s formidable food – perfect seafood, rich risottos, hearty meats, decadent desserts – yet most people gravitated to the outdoor terrace to dine under the stars. I found simpler fare at the Aqua Pool and Café, which is a quiet place to read, open up the laptop or have a quick snack if you missed breakfast or felt like an early lunch (yes, I did both of those things!).
And on the top deck, the Sky Bar was the life of the party on a couple of evenings – including our sail-out, with the lights of San Juan twinkling goodbye.
My suite had a large balcony with super-plush chairs, Egyptian cotton sheathing a very soft bed, a roomy bathroom, ESPA toiletries that smelled wonderful, cozy robes and slippers I actually felt comfortable walking around the ship in.
The Owner’s Suites offer 1,165 square feet of space, including a massive outside terrace, walk-in closet and lounge area. The Yacht Suites at the aft of the Observation Deck are also large at 700 square feet. The Terrace Suites aft of the Panorama Deck feature a private terrace and a total of about 650 square feet. Deluxe Balcony Suites on the Pool Deck give you about 400 square feet, and feature a separate bedroom and lounge area. Balcony Suites are about 300 square feet in size, while the Oceanview Staterooms offer about 200 square feet and picture windows.
Sakara guests can easily find things to do on the small islands this itinerary comprises, thanks to a tender boat and two Zodiac skiffs. EmeraldPLUS tours offer cultural immersion of your destination, with time spent getting acquainted with locals and the heritage. EmeraldACTIVE excursions rev things up with guided hikes and Gocycle e-bike tours, watersports and site exploration. These are all included in the price of the cruise.
The DiscoverMORE tier of tours costs extra, delving just a bit deeper into a destination’s roots, culinary heritage and historic narrative. Ranging from about $100 to $200 on this sailing, these activities included things like a snorkeling trip, a nighttime kayak experience in bioluminescent shallow waters, an in-depth town or full-island tour, or a longer drive to visit a national park or heritage point of interest.
My seven-night cruise began and finished in San Juan, Puerto Rico, heading to the Puerto Rican islands of Culebra and Vieques; St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands; Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands; Gustavia, St Barthelemy; and Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.
San Juan is truly always a pleasure. I find so many peaceful spots to discover and great food to devour. An afternoon on the white sand at renowned Flamenco Beach on Culebra Island was a complete relax – this is a “fall asleep on the beach blanket” kind of place. Vieques Island has a population of 8,000 people and 2,000 horses, which lent a rural vibe. You could rent a little ATV to drive around in, but we simply spent time in the water at Sun Bay and strolled the waterfront promenade, popping into one of the numerous beach bars.
At St. John, we sailed into Cruz Bay and ogled all the other (smaller) yachts. Here, we took a hike along Lind Point Trail to Honeymoon Beach to witness the staggering view and bask in the crystal-clear blue water. Little wonder this is a pitstop for many catamarans on tour.
The Sakara staff had a surprise in store on the beach of White Bay on Jost Van Dyke, the smallest of the British Virgin Islands. We arrived to find a complete barbecued lunch waiting, along with sun loungers, marine toys, steel-drum entertainment, loads to drink and a chill vibe. The beach has the added notoriety of being home to iconic beach bar, the Soggy Dollar.
Dropping into the sexy town of Gustavia brought a bit of high-end shopping along with a restful few hours on the sand at Plage de Saline. And doubling back to the British Virgin Islands the next day, we spent time touring Virgin Gorda Island and the rock formations at The Baths in Devil’s Bay National Park.
Back on board, the marine platform at the aft of the ship is a hub of watersports activity, featuring floating mats and a Nautibuoy platform, inflatable kayaks and paddleboards, a trampoline and SEABOB personal watercraft. Weather permitting, this free play zone was assembled for four hours or more every time we anchored.
Adjacent to the spa, the gym makes great use of a small space, sporting a Concept rowing machine, Technogym treadmill and a Technogym Unica Multigym. Guided fitness classes in the gym, as well as yoga and Pilates on the Observation Deck fill in the fitness gaps. I really enjoyed my morning yoga sessions, the sun just freshly up and not too hot, coffee aromas wafting from the Observation Lounge.
The thread connecting the passengers was a relaxed yet enthusiastic sense of adventure. I found few shrinking violets but plenty of outgoing explorers ready to see or experience something new. Most of the guests had cruised with larger cruise ships before and were looking for variation.
I talked with many people who were on their fourth or fifth cruise of the year. Most passengers knew about or had sailed with the new Scenic ships, Scenic Eclipse I and Scenic Eclipse II, and others were Scenic river cruise fans. Throw in active semi-retirees, small groups of mid-career friends, some honeymooners and a few odd ducks, and you have a fun-loving full house.
There’s just something about being the coolest yacht in the harbor that put a smile on everyone’s face. We found ourselves bragging to casual passers-by on the shore and pointing at the ship in a proprietorial way more than once. This cool-by-association feeling lasted the whole week – and I think I brought a little bit of it home with me.