Here's what it's like to attend the Monaco Yacht Show — in a country where the poverty rate is 0 — when you are not a millionaire

Katie Warren/Business InsiderMore than $US4.3 billion worth of yachts were displayed at this year’s Monaco Yacht Show.

Allow me to start out by saying this: I am not a millionaire. I am a journalist. And I live in New York City, which means overpriced drinks and food are pretty par for the course.

But I did spend one fabulously ritzy week in a country that has no poverty and where 32% of the inhabitants are millionaires: Monaco.

This year’s Monaco Yacht Show brought 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.

Monaco may be smaller than New York City’s Central Park, but it’s one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with a per capita GDP of $US165,420 – the second highest in the world after Liechtenstein. An estimated 32% – or about one-third – of the country’s residents are millionaires.

And according to the CIA World Factbook, no portion of Monaco’s population lives below the poverty line.

This wealth was evident from the moment I arrived in Monaco – and even while I was booking my trip.

Here’s what it’s like to attend the glamorous Monaco Yacht Show when you’re not a millionaire.

The glamorous Monaco Yacht Show is one of the world’s premier yachting events.

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More than $US4.3 billion worth of yachts floated around in Port Hercules over the course of the show, with an average price of about $US41 million.

At the first edition of the Monaco Yacht Show, in 1991, there were only 32 yachts on display.

And this is me. As I said before, but as it bodes saying again, I am not a millionaire. I am a journalist. I’ve got inside looks at a variety of luxury hotels across NYC, toured penthouses in Miami and Moscow, and attended exclusive parties for the tennis elite. But at the Monaco Yacht Show, I found myself in a whole different game.

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Right before I went to Monaco, I got an exclusive tour of the $US25,000-a-night penthouse suites at an iconic New York City luxury hotel. Before that, I attended a glitzy kickoff party for the world’s biggest horse sale, where 300 of the industry’s elite sipped on rare bourbons ahead of dropping millions on horses.

And earlier in the summer, I spent a night at the $US18,000-a-night presidential suite at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton, visited the richest zip code in the US, and toured a high-security private island for billionaires.

But at none of these hotels, parties, or private islands did I feel the divide between millionaire and non-millionaire so clearly.

This year’s yacht show displayed its largest fleet of yachts ever, both by volume — there were about 125 yachts — and value, according to Johan Pizzardini, the communications and media manager for the Monaco Yacht Show.

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More than $US4.3 billion worth of yachts floated around in Port Hercules over the course of the show, with an average price of about $US41 million.

At the first edition of the Monaco Yacht Show, in 1991, there were only 32 yachts on display.

Monaco is tiny: It stretches across less than one square mile. It is also one of the world’s wealthiest countries.

Katie Warren/Business Insider

Monaco’s GDP per capita is $US165,420 – the second highest in the world.

Monaco is beat only by Liechtenstein, which is about 80 times larger in area than Monaco. Tucked in between Switzerland and Austria, the German-speaking principality has a per capita GDP of $US166,021, according to United Nations data.

Almost one in three people who live in Monaco is a millionaire. And according to the CIA World Factbook, no portion of Monaco’s population lives below the poverty line.

I got my first hint of just how expensive Monaco would be while I was booking accommodations for my trip. The prices of Airbnbs in the area were nothing short of shocking.

Katie Warren/Business Insider

The cheapest Airbnb I could find was $US274 per night for a room in an apartment where other people lived – and that was an outlier. Most of the options were far more expensive, upwards of $US400 or $US500 per night.

While that may not be a problem for a millionaire, for the average person, it’s not affordable.

In Nice, France, on the other hand, which is about 20 minutes from Monaco by train, I was able to book a studio apartment for $US395 for four nights, or less than $US100 per night.

But the pricey Monaco Airbnbs were still a bargain compared to Monaco’s luxury hotels, where many guests stay during the yacht show. One of those options is Hotel Metropole, where rates range from about $US417 a night to upwards of $US8,500 a night for its signature suites.

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I spent a night at Hotel Metropole my first night in town and got a taste of the millionaire Monaco lifestyle.

The ultra-luxurious hotel has a heated seawater pool with a lounge bar and private cabanas, a Joël Robuchon restaurant, and a spa.

When I checked in, I was given a non-alcoholic welcome cocktail (which was more or less a refreshing fruit smoothie). In my junior suite – for which Business Insider paid a discounted media rate – I enjoyed Hermes toiletries, a plush king bed, and the best omelet I’ve ever tasted via room service.

The hotel offers helicopter transfers from the airport for an additional $US175.

Hotel Metropole is in Monte Carlo, the city-state’s glitziest neighbourhood. The area is known for its iconic casino, as well as luxury shopping and hotels.

Katie Warren/Business InsiderThe Casino de Monte-Carlo.

While some mistakenly use it as a synonym for Monaco, Monte Carlo is actually one of four Monaco districts.

From my small balcony, I had a stunning view of Monte Carlo, which seemed to sparkle at night. That, or maybe I was just a bit blinded by the sports car headlights and the complete lack of trash on the city streets.

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The 1% have their choice of accommodations in Monaco: Right next to the casino is the Hotel de Paris Monte-Carlo, which just underwent a four-year, $US280 million renovation.

Rates start at about $US580 and run up to $US51,000 per night for the most lavish suites.

I toured the Hotel de Paris’ Princess Grace suite (named after American actress-turned-princess Grace Kelly), which books for 40,000 euros per night — more than $US43,000.

Hotel de Paris Monte-Carlo/FacebookThe terrace of the Princess Grace Suite at Hotel de Paris Monte-Carlo.

The three-floor suite comes with a massive terrace with a hot tub and infinity pool.

But that’s not even the hotel’s most expensive suite. The Prince Rainier III suite is about $US51,000 per night.

And then there is the Hotel Hermitage, the other major luxury hotel in Monte Carlo, which includes a Michelin-starred restaurant and an opulent ballroom.

John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

Nightly rates at Hotel Hermitage range from about $US300 to upwards of $US27,000 for the diamond suites.

The cheapest meal I could find in Monte Carlo was at a little Italian joint called Tip Top, about a three-minute walk from the casino. My plate of grilled fish and vegetables was 20 euros, or about $US22.

Katie Warren/Business Insider

My glass of wine was about $US8.80, bringing the total to more than $US30.

If you ask me, $US30 is quite steep for a casual lunch at the cheapest restaurant I could find in Monte Carlo via Google Maps.

At the Café de Paris, a great place to watch the luxury cars circle through the roundabout in front of the casino, a mediocre cappuccino cost me 6 euros, or about $US7.

Katie Warren/Business Insider

At the café, a Caesar salad costs about $US26 and a hamburger is $US32.Suddenly, the memory of my $US22 plate of fish felt far less egregious.

The night before the yacht show, about 350 VIP guests and yachting industry elite were invited to an exclusive gala at the Monaco Yacht Club to kick off the show. I got an invite to the exclusive gathering.

Katie Warren/Business Insider

The night began with a superyacht awards ceremony and was followed by a party with free-flowing Champagne, decadent food – from on-demand ravioli and risotto to sashimi and cheese platters – and live music.

I ate my fill because, as I just mentioned, burgers in this town cost upwards of $US30 and I am not in the business of dishing out that much money for lunch.

But the real difference between me and the average attendee came at the end of the night, when most guests hopped into private cars and courtesy cars to get back to their luxury hotels five minutes away.

MEHDI FEDOUACH/AFP/Getty ImagesThe interior of a TER train, which I took from Monaco to Nice.

I, on the other hand, had to walk 15 minutes to the train station, ride the train for 20 minutes back to Nice, and then Uber from the train station there to my Airbnb.

It was neither glamorous nor convenient – but it was one of the early signs that my experience of Monaco would be in stark contrast to how the ultra-wealthy experience it.

The 2019 yacht show kicked off the next day, on Wednesday, September 25th.

Katie Warren/Business Insider

The show started at 11:00 a.m., and I arrived at about 11:30 a.m.

At each entrance of the show, security guards check badges and search bags.

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Monaco Yacht Show attendees can buy a daily pass for about $US330 or a professional pass for all four days of the show for about $US1,100.

Katie Warren/Business Insider

Any private visitor can buy a daily pass, but for a professional pass, you need to be able to prove you’re a professional of the yachting or luxury industry, according to Pizzardini.

I had registered as press ahead of time, so picking up my (free) press badge was quick and easy.

Then there are the VIP guests of the yacht show, who must fill out an application and pay about $US2,700 for the “Sapphire Experience,” which gives them special privileges such as private yacht tours, cocktail hours, and access to private VIP lounges.


VIP guests wear red badges – I only spotted two people wearing them during my time at the yacht show.

Pizzardini told me that about 80% of applicants for the Sapphire Experience are rejected. The VIP experience is limited to 200 people, but this year, the show didn’t even accept that many.

“The point is not to make money out of it,” Pizzardini told me. “We prefer saying no and making sure that we have 60 good people. Because in the end those people would get on board [the yachts]. Brokers and shipyards, they have our trust and confidence to say, ‘OK, that guy, if he comes through the Monaco Yacht Show, he must be quite interested and serious.'”

VIP guests also have access to special courtesy cars provided by the Monaco Yacht Show to drive them around the city during their stay.

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In a city built on a steep hill, where Uber is banned and taxis are few and far between, this seemed like a particularly precious perk.

The quais of Port Hercules were hectic and crowded during the yacht show.

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Yachting industry insiders talked business in the exhibitor booths …

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… VIP guests relaxed in private lounges protected from ordinary people by metal fences …

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… and of course, everybody who could, went on board the yachts.

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But not everyone at the show can simply walk onboard a superyacht. The show arranges private tours for VIP guests, and some yachts offer press tours (which is how I was able to get on board a few).

Katie Warren/Business InsiderTis, the largest yacht on display at the 2019 Monaco Yacht Show at 365 feet.

But for those with regular day passes to the show, you’ll need an appointment and be able to pass a check by the yacht representative to make sure you’re a serious potential buyer or charter customer.

“They indeed have to prove they are really interested in chartering or buying a yacht,” Pizzardini told me. “Of course, you can visit a yacht but charter one next year! No one knows if a visit leads to a real sale [or] charter.”

I was invited to a press tour aboard Tis, the largest yacht exhibited at this year’s Monaco Yacht Show.

Winch Media

Tis, a brand-new, 365-foot superyacht by Lürssen, has two helicopter pads, a 40-foot swimming pool, a hammam spa, and opulent French-inspired furnishings.

From the infinity pool to the Ladurée-inspired tea room, I had never seen anything like it. It was so massive that I felt like I was on a cruise ship – but it was just a billionaire’s floating mansion.

Tis was built for a Monaco resident who wanted a floating extension of his home, according to Andrew Winch, the founder of Winch Design, who designed the superyacht.

“His apartment is very similar to this boat, but significantly smaller,” Winch said at the press event.

The barely-used vessel is now for sale for an undisclosed price.

Before going on board a yacht, everyone — VIP and ordinary guests alike — have to take off their shoes.

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In the evenings, some of the yachts turn into party boats.

My Yacht Group

But it’s not so easy to score an invitation to one of these exclusive gatherings.

Nicholas Frankl, founder and CEO of My Yacht Group, throws superyacht parties at the Monaco Yacht Show and the Monaco Grand Prix that are attended by an elite clientele, including royalty, business leaders, and celebrities.

The parties are invite-only, limited to a group of about 120 to 150 people, all of whom know Frankl, and many of whom know each other.

For his parties at the Monaco Yacht Show, Frankl told me he charters luxury yachts for between $US250,000 and $US1 million per week and goes through about 100 bottles of Champagne per night.

But Frankl told me he didn’t throw his customary superyacht party this year, to the disappointment of past guests.

And then there were the golf carts — the great equaliser of my time at the MYS. All attendees, not just VIPs, had access to the fleet of golf carts and could use them to get rides from one section of the show to another.

Katie Warren/Business Insider

After spending two full days running around the yacht show, sprint-walking to catch my trains to Nice and back, scouring the city for affordable meals, and trekking up and down Monaco’s hills and many, many stairs, the golf carts were an absolute God send.

There was also complimentary water transport to take guests from one quai to another. This was often faster than walking all the way around the port.

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Across the port from the Monte Carlo side is Quai Antoine I, which is lined with restaurants and bars with outdoor seating areas.

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During the show, many of the restaurants were hosting groups from various exhibitors in the yachting industry.

I stopped for lunch one day at Stars ‘n’ Bars, a sports bar and eatery where a DJ was blasting tunes on the first day of the yacht show.

Katie Warren/Business Insider

A coworker who has attended the yacht show gave me the tip that Stars ‘n’ Bars was where the yacht crew tend to hang out.

But while I was there, I mainly saw people wearing exhibitor badges.

I ordered a cheeseburger and fries, which tasted perfectly fine.

Katie Warren/Business Insider

It cost 17 euros, or about $US18.70.

Compared to some of the more upscale restaurants on the dock – such as at Quai des Artistes where a plate of risotto was $US29 and a simple green salad was $US15 – that was a bargain.

Attending the Monaco Yacht Show for the first time was an unforgettable experience, largely because of the contrast it revealed between the wealthy attendees and everyone else.

Katie Warren/Business Insider

While the upper-crust stayed at luxury hotels in Monaco’s glitzy Monte Carlo district, I had to commute into Monaco from a more affordable neighbouring city.

And while the VIP guests had access to courtesy cars and swanky private lounges, I was constantly exhausted from running around and not being able to find a bathroom.

These seemingly minor details added up to affirm my conclusion that there’s one Monaco Yacht Show for the millionaires, and another one for the rest of us.

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