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@Work: Magic Moments

Nov. 27, 2005 – It takes good business sense to find an unfilled niche in the crowded tropical boating industry, but finding that area can lead to big things.
Ute Moraino discovered that when she launched Magic Moments in 2000. The American Yacht Harbor-based luxury boat excursion company followed a unique business model and has gained a loyal, enthusiastic customer base.
Moraino had been in the powerboat business since 1988. She is also a partner in Nauti Nymph, a bareboat rental and charter company, and after years in boating, she says, she saw "a definite need for a luxury excursion on a per-person basis." Instead of renting an entire luxury boat for a day, which "your average person couldn't necessarily afford," her customers pay for just one seat per person on one of her two 45-foot yachts. Of course, the option to book an entire boat remains.
Both of Magic Moments' two boats can take six people each – many fewer people, Moraino says, than other companies put on a similar boat. The yachts are equipped with air conditioning, large bathrooms with fresh-water showers, two televisions – "if you don't want to miss a sports event," Moraino said – linen tablecloths, snorkeling equipment and more. Even though the boats themselves are amazing, it's the experience, Moraino says, that sets her business apart.
"Throughout the day, there's no room for a negative experience," she says. Any time a guest goes onto land – even to a bar or restaurant – they are accompanied by a crew member who'll take care of every need from ordering drinks, to being there with a cold glass of water after a hot snorkel. The crew does all that is necessary to make sure the guests' stay is pleasant, Moraino says.
For those who rent the entire boat, the itinerary is up to the guest. People who buy one or more of the six available seats, though, have their day fully planned out.
Magic Moments can pick up guests at hotels with docking facilities, and frequently picks up at the Ritz Carlton, the Westin, Caneel Bay and other area hotels, saving their guests from the hassels of finding parking near American Yacht Harbor.
The standard trip takes guests first to Waterlemon Cay for a guided snorkeling trip, then continues on toward Tortola, stopping at the Indians for more guided snorkeling. The boat also stops at Sandy Cay, Soggy Dollar Bar, and White Bay on Jost Van Dyke. Food – from a French-continental style breakfast to an island gourmet lunch with lobster étouffée, to drinks, sorbet and more – is all included.
The boat generally leaves around 8 a.m. and returns around 4:30 p.m. Crew members assist at customs and cater to a variety of special requests, and guests even leave with gifts.
But it wasn't an easy start for Magic Moments. The powerboat rental market was already flooded with trips to the British Virgin Islands when Moraino got started.
"We work with many hotels, and the first reaction to this was 'Wow, the last thing we need is another BVI trip.'… until they got positive responses from guests," Moraino says. "Once we overcame the barrier and acquainted people with it, it was a tremendous success."
Just a hint of Moraino's German accent remains in her voice. She emigrated to St. Thomas from Germany in the mid-1980s after coming here on vacation. She met her husband, Joe, in 1986 while windsurfing – an activity she still enjoys. Her husband is her partner at Nauti Nymph and Magic Moments. Together, they manage several boats as well as a 19-person staff.
Moraino's 4-year-old son, Sky, has been on Magic Moments several times – his first trip as a two-month-old following his baptism. The Magic Moments boats are well equipped for families, she said, especially with the air-conditioned cabin and her crew's willingness to meet all manner of special requests from pint-sized picky eaters (and selective grown-ups, too). Children under 2 travel free, and children 10 and under are half price.
Though Moraino usually stays in the office "pulling the strings," she goes on the boats at least once a month with guests.
Her management style, which includes an emphasis on ongoing training and feedback, contributes to her success, she says.
"One big thing is attention to detail – and consistency, too. Those are the keys in our management style in every aspect."
Magic Moments is going through a growth spurt, too, with a third luxury yacht, joining their fleet in early 2006. For more information on Magic Moments or to book a trip, call (340) 775-5066, (800) 734-7345, or visit Magic Moments on the Web.

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