I got into a Monaco Yacht Show gala for VIP superyacht buyers and industry elite. Here's what it was like at the exclusive party, which overlooked $4.3 billion worth of superyachts in the port.

Katie Warren/Business InsiderMore than $US4.3 billion worth of yachts were on display at the 2019 Monaco Yacht Show.

The Monaco Yacht Show kicked off on Wednesday, drawing an estimated 30,000 people from around the world to the tiny city-state on the French Riviera.

These attendees are yachting-industry insiders – including superyacht builders, designers, and brokers – as well as wealthy private clients looking to tour, charter, or purchase yachts.

The night before the show kicked off, a select group of VIP guests was invited to an inaugural gala held at the Monaco Yacht Club, overlooking the more than $US4.3 billion worth of yachts docked in Port Hercules.

There were about 350 people there, including superyacht builder CEOs, yacht-brokerage companies, yacht owners, prospective buyers, charter customers, and other VIP guests, according to Johan Pizzardini, the communications and media manager for the Monaco Yacht Show.

I got an invite to the exclusive event – here’s what it was like.

The Monaco Yacht Show kicked off on Wednesday, displaying its largest fleet of yachts ever in the glamorous port of Monaco, a tiny yet lavishly wealthy city-state on the French Riviera.

Drozdin Vladimir/ShutterstockA view of Port Hercules during the 2018 Monaco Yacht Show.

The trade show brings an estimated 30,000 people to Monaco, including superyacht builders, designers, and brokers, as well as wealthy private clients looking to tour, charter, or purchase yachts.

The evening before the show starts, an inaugural gala is held at the Monaco Yacht Club, which overlooks Port Hercules.

This year, the gala’s roughly 350 guests were made up of yachting-industry insiders like yacht brokerages and yacht-building CEOs, as well as other VIP guests of the yacht show, including yacht owners and prospective buyers, according to Johan Pizzardini, the communications and media manager for the Monaco Yacht Show.

In Monaco for the yacht show, I got an invite to the ultra-exclusive gala.

My train was late from the nearby French city of Nice, where I was staying, so I ended up speed-walking in heels through the streets of Monaco from the train station to the yacht club, where I arrived looking quite sweaty.

There is no Uber in Monaco, and taxis are few and far between, so walking was my best option.

I made it to the port area and walked along the quai, where I saw dozens of white tents set up for the Monaco Yacht Show that would kick off the next day.

The event started at 8 p.m. When I arrived around 8:20, people were milling about outside on the deck of the yacht club, chatting, with glasses of Champagne in hand.

The dress code was cocktail attire. The men wore suits, and women were dressed in both short and long dresses, all in heels.

Every woman seemed to be carrying either a Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, or other designer handbag. Everyone looked incredibly chic.

Guests could grab a glass of Champagne from the bar or from servers who weaved through the crowd, carrying trays of bubbly.

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I enjoyed my glass and looked out over the port, where more than 125 yachts were assembled ahead of the show.

More than $US4.3 billion worth of yachts were gathered in Monaco’s port for the 2019 yacht show, with an average asking price of $US41.3 million.

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It was the largest Monaco Yacht Show ever by number of yachts and by their total value, according to Pizzardini.

A little after 8:30, people started to filter inside, where rows of chairs were set up in front of a stage in preparation for the awards ceremony.

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Four awards would be handed out this evening: one for the best interior design, one for exterior design, one for “the finest new superyacht,” and one for the most eco-friendly yacht.

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The entire awards ceremony was quick, lasting barely 20 minutes.

Then everyone was instructed to head upstairs to the fifth floor of the yacht club, where food, drinks, and music were awaiting us.

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A few people stopped on the way to pose for photos in front of the yachts.

I squeezed into an elevator with a group of guests to head up to the top floor of the club.

When I stepped out onto the fifth floor, the dramatic clublike lighting made it clear that this was going to be a real party.

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A DJ was already playing a mix of upbeat pop and lounge music.

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A Monaco Yacht Show photographer was taking photos of groups of friends in front of an official backdrop listing the show’s sponsors.

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Everyone at the party seemed to already know each other. I saw people reacting in surprise as they ran into friends, delightedly asking them questions about when they got into town and what their plans for the show were.

At an open bar, bartenders were serving Champagne, wine, and beer.

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Throughout the party, I saw servers constantly running back and forth with extra bottles of Champagne.

Many people were already eating. Some were seated around a large rectangular table with a flaming compass in the middle that I initially thought was some sort of DIY grill but instead just seemed to be … for fun?

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A huge buffet table stretched across one side of the room. Chefs were making risotto and ravioli dishes in real time, serving them upon request in small individual bowls.

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I was overwhelmed by the array of food. There were cheese platters, dumplings, multiple types of salad, sushi and sashimi, grilled vegetables, and so much more.

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I filled my plate with ravioli, cheese, grilled vegetables, quinoa salad, and salmon. The food was so good that I probably could’ve eaten three more plates.

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There were no free tables on the main floor, so I ate standing up at a table on the upstairs deck overlooking the party.

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A couple came over to share my table, and we chatted briefly while we ate.

They told me they were from Ohio, and I asked if they were at the show to buy a yacht. Actually, they told me, they already own one that’s based in the Bahamas. (It was unharmed during Hurricane Dorian, they assured me, because it wasn’t in the Bahamas at the time.)

They told me they were at the yacht show looking for a charter they could cruise in the Mediterranean.

I told them I was a journalist – and soon after that, perhaps realising we had very little in common, they moved off to continue enjoying the party.

While most people remained downstairs, small groups came up to relax on the upper deck of the yacht club, enjoying the relative quiet, the fresh air, and the views of the glittering port.

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A photo booth was set up so guests could pose in front of Port Hercules’ billions of dollars’ worth of yachts.

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At about 10:30, it was time for me to catch my train back to Nice. The party was scheduled to end at 11, and it already seemed close to winding down. Everyone there had a big day ahead of them at the yacht show.

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Outside, rows of private cars were parked in front of the yacht club. I spotted a black sedan that said “Monaco Yacht Show Courtesy Car” on the side.

I knocked on the window and asked the driver hopefully if he could give me a ride to the train station.

“Only if you have this badge,” the driver told me, flashing said special badge. “Sorry.”

I later learned that the cars were reserved for those who pay about $US2,700 for the yacht show’s VIP Sapphire Experience.

So I walked to the train station, across ankle-twisting cobblestones and up many, many stairs (Monaco is built on a rather steep hillside), feeling decidedly non-VIP. It certainly wouldn’t be the last time throughout my stay in Monaco that I would be keenly aware that the city offers one experience for the 1% and an entirely different experience for the rest of us.

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