A Dream Come True
Our very first experience on a week-long boat trip on the Mediterranean was in 2020 along the Croatian Islands (see blog here). Ever since then, we dreamed of doing it again – this time with our whole family, on a bigger boat, with a skipper, around the Amalfi Coast in Italy! Well, after many months of pandemic disappointment, saving, and postponement of plans, we finally made it happen this summer and it was everything we ever dreamed of – and more. Here is the complete overview of our trip and honest review of all the places we went. This should help when planning this kind of experience if you’ve ever dreamed of vacationing on a boat, too!
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Our 7 Day Itinerary
Want to skip ahead? Click on the day that interests you!
- Day 1: 3PM depart Salerno for Capri, stops along Amalfi coast to swim, 8PM dinner in Nerano, overnight at Marina Piccola, Capri.
- Day 2: Capri Island day, including Blue Grotto, Marina Grande and funicular up to Capri, swim. Boat to Procida island, swim, overnight Procida, dinner on boat.
- Day 3: Depart Procida for Ischia, full day Ischia and dinner on land 7PM in Lacco Ameno. Overnight boat to Ponza Island.
- Day 4: Full day Ponza Island, 4 swim spots. Dinner on land 6PM Ponza.
- Day 5: Full day Ponza Island, 3 swim spots. Dinner on land 6PM Ponza.
- Day 6: Ponza to Palmarola, swim all day. Late afternoon long boat ride return to Amalfi coast, overnight Positano.
- Day 7: Morning on land in Positano, then boating past Amalfi hotspots to Amalfi. Bus to Pogerola or Ravello, return to boat by 2:30PM, return to Marina D’Arechi in Salerno, gas up and dock by 6PM. Dinner at Marina. Sleep on boat and depart boat 8AM the next morning.
To skip to the Boat Budget, click here.
SKIPPER: Prior to meeting Luigi the day we got the boat, I was able to communicate with him via WhatsApp to make an approximate itinerary for our trip. He convinced me to forego southern destinations in favor of the islands of Procida, Ischia, Ponza and Palmarola – and I’m so glad we did! It’s the skipper’s job to keep everyone happy and navigate to all the destinations safely. We were very lucky to have such a fun, knowledgeable skipper who was also great at communication, checking in regularly to keep us updated on things.
NOTE: I am committed to providing free, valuable travel info. If this add-free guide is helpful to you and you’d like to show your appreciation, buy me a coffee! Thank you!
CHECKING IN: We arrived at Marina d’Arechi in Salerno at 11 AM on Saturday, making sure to grab groceries beforehand. We knew we could board the boat around noon but didn’t expect to embark until as late as 5 or 6PM, which is what the contract says. It’s always wise to arrive early just in case the check-in process runs smoothly and you can take off early – which is exactly what happened for us! We met Luigi and loaded all of our luggage, food and gear onto the boat. It took a bit of time to put away groceries and unload our clothes in our cabins for the week but it’s also a really fun process to make the boat a cozy home. After all the necessary paperwork and boat checks, we were able to set sail at 3PM – much earlier than we expected, and earlier than Luigi had ever left the marina! We were very excited about this because it meant we would be able to do more swimming on our way to the day’s destinations.
With six adults and six kids, we had to make sure we were all on the same page as far as boat rules and expectations. So we had a family meeting laying out the ground rules:
- “buddy system” for moving about the boat
- only walking on the boat
- no shoes on the boat
- no wet feet or bodies inside the cabin
- sunscreen AM/PM
- no swimming until Luigi gives us the “all clear”
We left Salerno and sailed straight for Cetara, one of the first little towns along the Amalfi coast. We were super sweaty by this point so we were ready to take a dip! The water around the cliffs of Cetara was beautiful. We ALL swam, and Luigi showed us how to jump off the roof of the boat – it was a huge hit!
It was also terrific to see the skies clear up as we moved along the peninsula, as it was rather hazy near the marina in Salerno. I was surprised there weren’t many boats around the coast! We were all getting used to our sea legs and just so thrilled to finally be on the water.
Grotta dello Smeraldo
Our second swimming destination of the day was near the Grotta Dello Smeraldo. This is a location directly between Amalfi and Positano, close to Praiano, Fiordo di Furore and Pianillo, where we hiked the Path of the Gods earlier in the week. Here we were really seeing the beauty of the Amalfi coast with all the colorful cliffside villages as the sun began its descent in the sky.
After the long, hot morning and all the excitement of embarkation, we were all noticeably starting to fatigue. We left the area around 7 PM so we could make our dinner reservations in Nerano by 8PM. The gentle ride to the tip of the Amalfi coast was breathtakingly beautiful. We took turns getting ready for dinner and just soaking in the views.
Luigi was masterful with the anchor, dropping and raising it with ease in every single place we visited. We were so impressed! We didn’t hook up to a buoy even once the entire trip – it was anchor’s away the whole time. This was quite a change for us from our boat trip in Croatia, and Luigi explained that there are just too many boats in Italy, and buoys are sparse and very expensive. We were perfectly comfortable with the anchor – it was just a brand new experience for us.
We arrived at Marina del Cantone in Nerano and were picked up by the water taxi associated with the seaside restaurant we had reservations at: Il Cantuccio Nerano. This happening place was SO much fun and just what we needed to keep our eyelids open for our late-night dinner on “Italian time.” The wait staff was zippy and energetic, the food was delicious, and the whole place turned into a disco throughout the night! Everyone starts singing and dancing to lively favorites like “YMCA” and “The Twist,” so we were all out of our chairs and dancing. Only the youngest in our party couldn’t be stirred from slumber – but can you blame the little 5 year old bugger? All the kids did so well! It’s worth noting that we all slept very well on the boat after such active days in the sun. This is definitely a place we recommend!
We were back aboard the boat by 10:30, and instead of overnighting there in Nerano, Luigi was determined for us to wake up in Capri. So, like a trooper, he sailed another 90 minutes or so to Marina Piccola area on the south side of Capri Island. It was here that we finally saw where all the boats were. It was packed – many of them massive yachts! He found a good spot to anchor after some careful maneuvering and we were settled in by midnight.
What an amazing morning – we woke up on Capri Island with clear blue skies and the most comfortable morning temperature. We took a quick dip and looked around at all the beautiful boats and yachts that surrounded us. From where we were anchored, the great faraglioni rock formations were visible. These are the iconic buttes that Capri is well known for. I would’ve liked to get closer to them in the daytime, but we didn’t sail back in that direction. Capri island had special meaning for my niece Kapri as it was the inspiration for her name and she had always wanted to visit. We finally made it! Needless to say we had high hopes, but perhaps we should’ve heeded Luigi’s warning that he “can’t stand Capri” – hahaha! We learned quickly that this is a tough time to visit. Our first hint was when Didi got stung by a “medusa” (jellyfish) on her morning swim. This freaked out the other kids so from there on out we carefully scanned the water before swimming. Luckily this was the only sting of the trip, but it did put a damper on the experience for at least one of us. She was a very good sport about it, as I know it really burned and bothered her for over a week! Still, we made the most of it, and our first stop of the day was the infamous Blue Grotto.
We sailed along the western shores of Capri to the north side and the Blue Grotto. None of us had ever been inside these types of caves before even though we had lots of opportunity in Croatia. From everything we had heard, this is a must-see experience…BUT we learned to measure expectations carefully. As long as we knew it was a short and expensive little boat tour, we wouldn’t be disappointed. I don’t believe Luigi actually anchored here – it was pretty wild to see the boats all floating around haphazardly, and impressive how steady he was able to keep us as we were the biggest boat in the queue. We were among the first boats waiting at the cave entrance when the line of paddle boats were dragged over to start work for the day at 9 AM. Within a few minutes, we had two boats paddling right up to us to load our crew in and head over to the payment boat, and then into the small cave entrance.
REAL TALK: I’ll be honest – the cave is definitely beautiful, but I’m not sure it’s worth all the hype, time, discomfort and money it takes to take a mini tour inside. We were SO crammed in the boat – so don’t expect to do this if you are overweight or immobile. The price was €14 per person, plus a tip per paddle boat driver (which some took no less than €20 as a tip). That means our party of 12 spent over €200 for 5 minute tour of the Blue Grotto. You have to lay completely flat to get inside the cave, and sometimes you simply can’t do that with the way you’re sitting, so you might get smacked in the head with the chain (guilty). It was certainly an adventure, and we loved hearing our paddle boat man singing inside the echoey blue cave, but we were also pretty glad to be done as it’s quite chaotic and tense. We saw tours leaving from Marina Grande on the mainland later in the day and I thought “that is a waste of time and money unless you can get to the cave first thing in the morning and have never done anything like it before!” People in town were remarking that the people who run the boat operation “are real Italian mafia.” HA! I am glad we did it, but if you decide to go, just make sure you know what you’re getting into. There are other places to do this too (blue or green caves, like in Croatia) that might be a little bit cheaper or less busy.
After the blue cave experience we went straight to Marina Grande and the mainland of Capri. This is the hub for all things Capri Island. We had envisioned summiting the tallest mountain by cable car – but we weren’t sure how it would work with the kids, and we had a lot to figure out once on land. It was about 10AM when we anchored and headed to shore, and I was shocked by how busy and buzzing it already was all around the harbor and city streets. It was also getting sweltering hot – not a great combination. Oh, Capri, we could tell you are beautiful, but phew! It was a lot of work to visit.
To shore: Capri
Luigi brought us to shore in the skiff and we headed towards the funicular – the first step to making it up to the top of the island. We didn’t know at the time, but you need a funicular ticket, a bus ticket, and then also a chair lift ticket to get all the way to the top of Monte Solaro. Not only that, but it turned out the chair lift was single rider only, and we weren’t comfortable letting our youngest kiddos go up the mountain solo. Instead we just stayed up in the city of Capri and shopped around, grabbing a light lunch and gelato of course, and taking in the views. We learned that this would maybe be a better place to come and stay during shoulder seasons, hike around, boat a bit, and enjoy in the early morning and late evening hours instead of mid-day, mid-summer like we did. Still, we could appreciate the beauty of the place but were ready to leave after a couple of hours. We were back on the catamaran by 1PM to take another quick swim (man we were all sweaty!) before setting sail for Procida island.
FOR NEXT TIME: we will definitely make a point of summiting Monte Solaro by chairlift and then hiking down, then visit the Giardini di Augusto, the hairpin turns of Via Krupp, the Faraglioni rocks by small boat, hiking around Via del Pizzolungo and seeing the Grotta di Matermania, explore the ruins of Villa Jovis (former home of Emperor Tiberius), and walk the Phoenician Steps!
Back on the boat (carefully scanning for jellyfish – none in sight!) we enjoyed a nice dip before sailing across the Gulf of Naples to Procida Island. This was another great opportunity for us to make a little charcuterie board snack to tide us over until dinner – one of our favorite things to eat on the boat!
We arrived at Procida island about 3 hours later, around 5PM, and immediately anchored so we could take another swim at Spiaggia Chiaia! There were actually tons of boats here, which concerned us a bit since we were supposed to overnight in the harbor, but Luigi assured us that most of these boats were just visiting for the day and would be gone by dinner time…and he was right! We ended up being one of only 3 boats anchored there at Procida overnight.
Again Luigi showed us his skills with diving off the top of the catamaran – so fun! At this point, all of the kids except one had made the flying leap. Luigi was wonderful with all of us, and especially the inquisitive kids. They spent a lot of time up top with him while we sailed, and he was so great with them. We learned from one of our tour guides in Rome that “Italian men love little kids.” That might sound sketchy, but it’s more that they love to play with and enjoy them, being the “fun grandpa” (or whatever), letting the women do the work of rearing them. Once they’re older, then the men step up more with parenting. That was certainly evident with Luigi!
After swimming we made our way over closer to the town to get a good anchor spot for overnight. We did notice the water wasn’t quite as nice there, and there were tons of birds, so we didn’t swim after anchoring for the night.
Our host insisted on cooking us a delicious saffron risotto dinner on the boat, so we didn’t actually end up going to land in the colorful city of Procida, but we certainly enjoyed it as a backdrop to our swimming and evening meal. Look at that city – you can’t beat it! It was calm and relaxing, and so very beautiful. This was our first full day on the boat, and by now most of us had our sea legs, but it was a long day of touring, boating, swimming and exploring so we were ready to be gently rocked to sleep fairly early that night.
We ate dinner on the boat twice on this trip, but mostly preferred to go onto shore for dinner each night. You don’t have to do much cooking if you don’t want to, but the boat is equipped with a full kitchen and is fairly easy to make meals and clean up after. We had a “water maker” on this boat, so our water supply was unlimited (bottled drinking water was purchased on land separately), which was different from our smaller boat in Croatia where we needed to be mindful of water and ration it throughout the trip. A nice touch on this boat: wine glasses were made of flexible plastic. Brilliant!
Watching the sunset over Procida and the city turn from Tetris colors to glowy lights was absolutely dazzling. This was one of the most relaxing nights on the boat.
We woke up to calm (albeit rather dirty) waters in Procida, being one of only a handful of boats in the whole bay. Below you can see Derek taking a quick, warm, fresh-water rinse on the outside shower before we set sail. It was another glorious morning! Today’s plan was to spend most of the day at nearby Ischia island before overnight sailing to Ponza island.
We made it to Ischia fairly early and were already swimming by 8:30 AM! Luigi brought us to this beautiful little cove called Piazzia Pancrazio. It certainly felt crazio when we saw a little abandoned dwelling there on the beach…and then realized a hermit man lives there all by himself with his two dogs. I hopped onto the SUP (we had 2 that came with our “comfort package”) and paddled over to shore to see the path this man took to zigzag down the cliffs – in just flip flops!
The water here was so clear and beautiful – we were all in heaven! It’s amazing to think how the hermit man lived in this dwelling with no electricity or running water. He really is carefree! We also looked up on the cliffs and saw two white mountain goats making their way down carefully and then resting in a cave. It’s really not a hike for the faint of heart! I certainly wasn’t about to try it…
After a couple hours or so of swimming we raised anchor and made our way around Ischia island past Castello Aragonese d’Ischia (fortress visible in photos below) to a swim spot between Spiaggia di Varulo and Spiaggia di San Montano. We passed Lacco Ameno, and got a view of the town where we would go later for dinner.
It was a nice, relaxing afternoon on the boat eating more charcuterie and doing so much carefree swimming!
We went into shore around 7PM for dinner (Luigi kindly made us a reservation) at Ristorante Il Delfino on the water. Before dinner we did a little shopping and loved that this town was fairly sleepy compared to where we were yesterday. It was a lovely place and once again we noticed the kids fading fast at the Italian dinner hour. Food here was terrific – large delicious platters of local seafood and great pasta. We couldn’t resist snagging gelato again, but this time it was probably the BEST gelato of the entire vacation! Il Triangolo offered unique flavors including their “Ischia” flavor that was white chocolate, lemon almond and it was to die for! It was the perfect way to end the day.
The city lit up after dark. Luigi had been sleeping during the afternoon so he could be prepared for the full overnight boat trip to Ponza. He picked us up from the pier and we were took off into the night around 10PM. It was a little nerve racking to be boating in the dark like that, surrendering your fate to the skipper, but we trusted Luigi and he never steered us wrong.
Eventually we all relaxed enough to sleep, and 7.5 hours later, we pulled into the coastline of Ponza island to anchor again at 5:30 AM.
I woke up to go out and take a few photos, amazed at what I saw. It was like a dream! Then I went right back down to my cabin to doze, and Luigi did, too. We were all so happy to discover this magical place. Our first destination was Spiaggia di Chiaia di Luna, a huge cove surrounded by cliffs and caves. We quickly learned this is a good description of Ponza Island – tons of cliffs and caves! The waters were incredible here – the best of the whole trip.
Breakfasts on the boat were very simple – avocado toast, oatmeal, toast, cereal, or scrambled eggs and lots of coffee. It’s easy enough on trips like this to grab a few things at a market on land the night before if you know you need it for breakfast or lunches the next day. It’s very convenient. Luckily there were 3 fridges and tons of storage, so we never ran out of space for our provisions.
Of course the first thing I did after breakfast was to head out on the SUP! I was itching to get closer to these cliffs, that beach, and all the rock formations. One of them even looked like a dragon – do you see it? There was some gnarly driftwood on the beach, and as I walked along taking photos I noticed a sign that said “no landing on the beach – danger, rock slides” so I quickly paddled away…
On the other side of the cove there was a large cave, and more massive rocks to paddle around. The wind actually started to pick up mid morning and going on the SUP was a bit more difficult, so Luigi suggested we head over to the other side of the island where it was less windy and more secluded. But first, everyone had to take a dip!
Further north and nestled in a nice big cove was La Caletta. We anchored near Punta Corta on the cove side and didn’t have many boats around us, although there were quite a few boats in the cove. I jumped in the SUP again and went hunting for caves. This is where I found the most impressive cave of all…
I followed the yellow and orange umbrellas towards the shore to scope out the beach scene. People were cliff jumping off huge rocks in the water as well as cliffs along the shore. This is a good place to have water shoes – the rocks were pretty rough. It was here, near Piscine Naturali, that I discovered the most magical cave with a huge hole in the roof! It had a rope across the entrance so you could swim, snorkel, SUP or kayak into it, but no boats allowed. It was soooooo dreamy! The water inside was glittering emerald green.
I mean, LOOK AT THIS CAVE! I loved it so much that I paddled the 10-15 minutes back to the boat as quickly as I could so we could try to bring everyone there. Sadly, it wasn’t possible to bring the skiff any closer to shore and it was just too far to bring everyone by SUP. The rest of the family was just going to have to take my word for it. That might have been the only disappointment for me on this trip because I wanted to share this cave with everyone but we just couldn’t figure out a safe way to get everyone there. It was truly a highlight for me! If you continued through the cave, there’s a natural swimming pool on the other side. Just lovely.
I didn’t get any photos but I did get video (all videos can be viewed on my IG @homebasebelgium) of the “ice cream boat” that came up to us here, and we were able to each order ice creams! It was such a fun little novelty for us. The weather started to turn again, a bit cloudy and more windy by 4 PM, so we upped anchor and sailed about an hour towards Ponza city. During the sail we all had time to get ready for dinner – this time I was successful in making dinner reservations via WhatsApp at a popular pizza place on the water called La Vera Napoletana a Ponza. Luigi brought us to shore and had the evening to rest on the boat.
We loved exploring Ponza city! It is the cutest, most colorful place – and not overly crowded. There were lots of shops, markets, and eateries, and we really enjoyed our meal at La Vera Napoletana. They had unique pizzas – even one with pistachio – that we all loved.
One thing that cracked us up was seeing this little Pomeranian dog – first on someone’s motor bike, and later another one on someone’s fancy boat! It was like the mascot to Ponza. We enjoyed gelato again (of course) and watched the sun set over the harbor. We were all full and shopped out by 8:30 and ready for bed…when most people were just arriving to their dinner reservations! HA! It turned out to work in our favor to arrive earlier to dinners as it was never busy at 6 or 7 PM.
We woke up in the cove surrounded by the city of Ponza and clear blue skies, and Luigi took a look at the wind and sea conditions. We had planned to go to Palmarola that day, but knew it might not work out if the seas were too rough, so our backup plan was to stay an additional day in Ponza. We made one attempt for about 20 minutes to head out to see towards Palmarola but we realized quickly it was far too rough. The kids got a good splash (video here) and then we turned around to head back to Ponza for the day.
Our first stop on Ponza was on the southeastern tip at the cliffs near Faraglioni di Calzo. It was the most perfect place for of SUP paddling (hunting for those sea caves!), swimming, boat jumping, snorkeling, and relaxing.
We took a little cruise late morning along the whole island to the northeastern tip of Ponza Island. The cruising part was lots of fun, too!
There are so many coves, you really can’t go wrong here. This section of cliffside along the northeastern region of Ponza didn’t have names, but I marked it on google maps to the left. In the photo you can see the spots we visited, including the first swimming spot of day 5 (lowest blue flag), the second swimming spot (circled top blue flag) and the third one (middle blue flag).
You can also see from this aerial view of Ponza that the entire island is a surrounded with awesome coves and cliffs. This makes Ponza a perfect boating destination with almost unlimited places to swim, but also a great place to go, stay, and hike as well. You can’t go to Ponza without enjoying the city either, and definitely plan to do some boating if you make it out here!
We spent most of the afternoon at this second swim spot, once again getting use of the SUPs and even letting the kids go to shore and explore a bit on land.
Later on in the day we moved a bit further south to our final swim spot at Ponza, and eventually found ourselves in quite a big boat party! It might not seem it from these pictures, because at first we had the place to ourselves, but many boats of all shapes and sizes came later in the afternoon and they were blasting music, riding all the water toys, tying their boats up together and having a grand old time. It was fun to watch! This was also the only day of the trip anyone felt under the weather, and it happened to be my dad for most of the day. I am glad whatever it was ended up passing and he could enjoy the remaining days on the boat!
Day six was jam packed full of sun and the sea, so we were ready when it was time to head to Ponza again for dinner at 6PM. This time it was at a cute little hole in the wall place that we had all to ourselves: Buco Divino. Inside it looked like a giant pizza oven! The wait staff and chefs here were super friendly and every single one of our dishes was seriously delicious. Once again we were done in by sundown, so we grabbed obligatory gelato (a new place every night) and headed back to the boat to float under the stars. This was also the only night Luigi went into shore for provisions and dinner after we returned to the boat. He bought his groceries and we paid him back for that as we were responsible for his meals (see full breakdown of boat costs at the end).
The last thing that happened here in Ponza marina was that a sailboat nearly crashed into us! Just before we went into town for dinner, we were well anchored and we noticed a sailboat was drifting off its anchor – floating at us fast. Luigi noticed and yelled to the men to prepare to reach out and push the boat away, but it likely wouldn’t have been enough as it was a huge sailboat. Luckily a quick thinking old man in a rubber skiff came zooming over and intercepted the boat, jacking up the motor to push it away from our catamaran at just the last second. It was harrowing! We cheered so much for him – he seriously was masterful at maneuvering that skiff. He also helped the sailboat crew anchor properly nearby so that kind of dangerous mishap wouldn’t happen again. Phew! Boating can be risky!
We woke on a crystal clear day and Luigi gave us the thumbs up that the waters were calm – Palmarola here we come! The ride there took about an hour and it was heavenly. The kids got a few splashes but nothing like the morning before!
We arrived at Palmarola Island and right away noticed the waters were super clear and calm here. We spent the entire day at one spot to avoid any wind – the west side of the island right in the center near La Forcina. We really saw the best of the Tyrrhenian Sea! There were tons of fish in the water when the kids jumped in to snorkel, and we even saw a ray (not sure the type) down on the sea floor!