Your ship has come in!
You don’t need permission to come aboard these boats turned accommodations—just a reservation—and then you can reenact that scene from Titanic or make “I’m On A Boat” Instagram posts to your heart’s content. From a historic luxury liner in California to a floating fishing lodge in British Columbia and a hostel with a hull in Sweden, these 15 properties offer bespoke-on-the-water hospitality or, in a few cases, ship-shaped stays on shore.
Top Picks for You
Sunborn Yacht Hotel
This over-the-top five-star seven-floor yacht might look like a small cruise ship with its 189 rooms, overflowing breakfast buffet, poolside bar, opulent ballroom that seats 280, yoga classes, Juliet balconies, and 60 whirring slot machines, but rest assured its six super-strong hydraulic arms keep it from casting off from its designated berth in the Ocean Village Marina on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. Opened in 2014, the Sunborn is just a stone’s throw from the cable car that will take you up to the top of the iconic rock and those cheeky food-stealing monkeys–don’t forget to book your hot chocolate massage in the spa after sightseeing. The marina is also home to a dive shop, dolphin tour operators, and sailing schools if you’d like to take advantage of the British Overseas Territory’s 300-plus days of sun a year.
The Queen Mary
WHERE: Long Beach, California
Spending a night aboard this retired steamer will float the boat of any history buff or appreciator of art deco design. In her heyday, The Queen Mary, which made her maiden voyage in 1936, was at the top of the transatlantic travel game attracting royalty, Winston Churchill, and celebrities like Bob Hope, Elizabeth Taylor, and Walt Disney with five dining rooms, polished silver, swimming pools, beauty salons, libraries, music studios, and a crystal model of the ship that tracked progress across a hand-painted mural. After making 1,001 crossings and operating as a British troopship during World War II, Cunard’s beauty was sold in 1967 and has since been moored in Southern California. No two of the 346 staterooms are alike, although many feature polished wooden built-ins, etched mirrors, and functional portholes. After settling in, partake in a plethora of passenger programming (ghost tours, revolving exhibits, comedy nights, and holiday feasts).
WHERE: Labuan Bajo, Indonesia
Despite a fairly simple setup, this yacht rocks. Sitting in the middle of a brilliant blue lagoon a short flight or ferry from Denpassar, Bali, Le Pirate is little more than 10 identical and tight rooms divided five to a side by a hallway, shared bathrooms, a deck littered in modern beanbag chairs, a kitchen, and a bar. But those rooms, with a Santorini color scheme and missing fourth wall, come with an overwater hammock, private patio, wifi, and a ladder to the water. The bar serves BBQ and happy hour specials, and you can leap from the lounge if you dare. After you tire of paddleboarding and snorkeling, schedule a day trip to see the Komodo dragons or take the free shuttle to town 10 minutes away.
The Af Chapman
WHERE: Stockholm, Sweden
The Ritz this is not. For starters, you are required to make up your own bed at this hostel moored on Skeppsholmen island in the center of the postcard-perfect Scandinavian city of Stockholm. And unless you requested the Kaptenshytten (captain’s cabin) or the Navigationshytten (quartermaster’s cabin) of the Af Chapman, you’ll have to share a bathroom with everyone else hunkered down on the 124 beds dispersed among 34 rooms. But you can’t beat the price, the daily breakfast, or the view across to Gamla Stan and the royal palace from the full-rigged vessel. Built in England in 1888, it sold to the Swedish navy in the ‘20s, who used it as a training ship and a WWII barracks ship. The city bought it in the ‘40s and has used it as a hostel since 1949. In summer, it’s all hands on deck when the onboard bistro and bar opens.
INSIDER TIPThe ferry to Djurgarden, home to an amusement park, the Vasa warship, and most importantly, the ABBA museum, makes a regular stop at Skeppsholmen.
The Shady Dell
WHERE: Bisbee, Arizona
Having fun is a shore thing at The Shady Dell, where one pleasure craft joins a fleet of rehabbed trailers and buses from the ’40s and ’50s who last road trip landed them a permanent stall at a motor court that has been welcoming travelers to the southern end of the Grand Canyon State since 1927. (Back then, it was known as the Thompson Motor Court and clients had to provide their own trailers.) The 1947 Chris Craft was fished out of the Sacramento Delta and has been permanently anchored at the Dell since 2000. They went overboard on the nautical kitsch, but somehow it still works. Pop open the champagne, crank up the Michael McDonald, and take it to sheets of the V-berth bed. It has a private toilet and sink, but showers are found a few feet away from the units.
WHERE: Toronto, Canada
Diane Greene has been running a tight ship at the Marina Quay West since 2004. Making Waves, which was custom built in Montreal in 1998, claims to be the only boatel in town, and the closest bed and breakfast to popular tourist attractions including the CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium, and the Rogers Centre. Escape the hustle and bustle of busy downtown on three decks offering three different views. Feeling saucy? Sweethearts can book a romantic package that includes a wine and cheese reception, champagne brunch in the Skylounge, and collector coffee cups. They can also coordinate an outing to the old-school honeymooner hot spot of Niagara Falls. Its three cabins, one with a bathroom en suite, are available seasonally, usually June through September, before Greene makes like a snowbird and sails for warmer waters.
WHERE: Birmingham, England
Don’t miss the Boatel Birmingham when visiting the home of Cadbury’s Chocolate, Black Sabbath, Europe’s largest public library (it lends eight million books annually), and a fountain nicknamed “The Floozie in the Jacuzzi.” The squatty canal cruiser is moored in the Gas Street Basin, once a thriving port during the Industrial Revolution, and can be rented in full or by the room, some of which have their own bathrooms. The new owner took over less than a year ago and has commissioned a well-known local artist to put the narrowboat in a mural, and plans to run a contest among residents to rename the boat. She’s also making it her mission to encourage more women of color like herself to inhabit and hang at the canals.
WHERE: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
When Jody Choder and her husband were both downsized in 2013, they started renting out the third floor of their East End house, a former lock master’s residence built in 1908 by the Army Corps of Engineers, on the Allegheny River to make ends meet. The following year, they dove further into the B&B (berth & breakfast) business by adding decking to the dock and investing in a 1982 Nautaline, available May through October. The Choderwood compound, named Best Urban Oasis 2017 by Pittsburgh Magazine, is comprised of a pool, hot tub, meditation hut, fire pit, kayak rental, and gardens that have become a popular wedding venue. It’s adjacent to Lawrenceville, a neighborhood being positioned as the new Brooklyn, and three miles from Oakland, the “eds and meds” district home to Carnegie Mellon and University of Pittsburgh.
WHERE: Belgrade, Serbia
Whether you’re in Serbia’s capital for check out the the Eurovision Song Contest, the Nikola Tesla Museum, the beer, or the birding, you won’t be sorry for choosing Boatel Charlie. Belgrade is located at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers and it’s the latter that flows under this modern eight-room dwelling. Accommodations either look out to the shady tree-lined shore and the harbor town of Zemun or out onto the water, Great War Island, and the Kalemegdan medieval fortress. Rooms are somewhat Spartan in terms of décor but have air conditioning, heating, free wifi, and private showers. One has a terrace from which to enjoy what owners call the early evening’s “romantic light.” There’s a full kitchen and a grill in the garden to whip up rations and a dining room to eat them in. Watch cable or play board games in the common room or work off the calories on a rental bike.
Savasi Island Resort
WHERE: Vanua Levu, Fiji
Talk about fresh on the boat! Launching this spring, five new rooms with air con (as Fijians call it) and private bathrooms will join the inventory on Savasi Island, an all-inclusive property that’s vibe is more Swiss Family Robinson than Sheraton thanks to its jungle setting, creative use of native materials and naturally occurring water features and caves, and the maze of high-walled rock paths that lead to secluded beaches. So it’s only fitting that they are adding a shipwreck element. Unlike the current seven villas that make up the resort, the impending quintet is being constructed within a 140-foot three-mast sailing schooner docked on the less-crowded lagoon side of Savasi’s private isle. The Tui Tai wound up on a reef during a recent tropical cyclone and was rendered unseaworthy. The owners bought it to create a “luxury pirate ship experience” complete with personal chef, Jacuzzi, and screening room.
WHERE: Muskegon, Michigan
The USS Silversides, a Gato-class submarine, was a beast during World War II. She sunk 23 ships, the third highest tally of any allied U-boat, and received 12 battle stars. Now stationed at a naval museum in The Wolverine State, her mission is to honor soldiers and veterans, educate students, preserve military history, and provide a unique overnight experience. As there’s a minimum RSVP of 20, most people partaking in encampments are part of scout troops, school field trips, or youth groups, but they’ll mix and match smaller units when possible to help everyone achieve their Crimson Tide fantasies. Help retire the colors at dusk and raise them at dawn or add on the Submarine Technology Class to learn about buoyancy physics, torpedoes, and remotely operated submersibles. Heads are not operational and provisions are the participants’ responsibility. Sleepovers for 38 are also held on the US Coast Guard Cutter McLane.
King Pacific Lodge
WHERE: Athlone Island, British Columbia, Canada
Fleet week meets fishing trip at the King Pacific Lodge. The entire 15,000 square-foot wilderness retreat is built atop a 1960 steel crane barge originally built and used by the U.S. Army. Now, it’s towed approximately 350 miles north of Vancouver every summer to serve as a basecamp for folks hoping to reel in prize salmon from June to early September. In 2019, KPL’s owners intend to extend their stay through October for grizzly bear viewing. Packages include charter plane/helicopter transport from Vancouver, meals with beer and wine, accommodations, use of the sauna, hot tub, pool table, fire pits, or kayaks, and everything needed for amazing angling from bait and equipment to vacuum packaging for your fresh catch. They don’t have to fish for compliments on the stone hearths, woodsy décor, alfresco dining options, slate-heavy bathrooms, or the soaking tubs with views of the forest, the intertidal zone, or the ocean.
WHERE: Sausalito, California
Though the scene is less wild—and usually less nude—than it was in the late ‘60s when writer Shel Silverstein and Quicksilver Messenger Service lead singer Dino Valenti stewarded vessels here, the famed Marin County houseboat community is still home to a couple hundred-strong flotilla of reconfigured tugboats, barges, subchasers, and landing crafts. Inhabited by hippies, millionaires, and salty dog holdovers, some are barely bigger than a dinghy and look like an abandoned sea shanty while others resemble grand Victorians, the Taj Mahal, or multi-level modern masterpieces of carved wood and glass. Many are available to rent including the SS Maggie, a 129-year-old steam schooner with three fireplaces, old-fashioned steering wheel in the dining room, built-in beds, and a view of San Francisco’s skyline. Maybe wasting time and watching the tide roll away will even inspire writing a hit song as it did Otis Redding.
WHERE: Copenhagen, Denmark
Hoping to fill your holiday with hygge come hell or high water? Head to the land that coined the term and hole up at the Hotel CPHLIVING, a boutique barge floating in a quay in Copenhagen’s city center. Filing vacancies since 2009, the boatel was the first of its kind in Denmark and the families that own and run it are so invested that two of them painted all of the artwork and are often spotted aboard. Rooms, painted in primary colors with simple layouts, clean lines, and an abundance of natural light, are straight out of an IKEA catalog. They come with a private bathroom, a shower that looks out to the harbor, a floor-to-ceiling glass wall, a TV, heated floors, and wifi. You should most definitely take your included breakfast up the spiral staircase to the rooftop and schedule some hang time in the hammock.
WHERE: Liverpool, England
The city that gave the world the Fab Four is now home to three fab boatels collectively known as the Hollywood Barges. Parked at the Albert Dock, each one is related to a popular movie. We can all live in a Yellow Submarine, at least temporarily, at one dedicated to Liverpool’s most famous native sons. It was originally built around a Hunt For Red October theme, so the real head-scratcher is why the master bedroom is modeled after a suite at the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. The second boat was used as the Joker’s house in Batman, although all of the scenes in which it appeared were cut. It was rescued from a Los Angeles scrapyard and painted the villain’s signature color purple. The final option, the Titanic Hotel, sleeps nine and has a mini casino, 3D projector, and crystal chandeliers. Given how that story ends, it might make for a restless night.