Luxury hotels set sail on stunning yachts, barges and river cruise vessels


Take the style and service of your favourite hotels on terra firma to the seven seas with these dedicated hotel yachts, barges and boats. Nick Walton reports.

It’s the last night of our visit to Raja Ampat and after a sensational eastern Indonesian sunset, in which mesmerising oranges, reds, and violets are eventually replaced with a silky, inky darkness punctuated by a canopy of stars, we settle in for dinner. It’s been a week of great diving, island hopping and smooth sailing among the islands of the acclaimed Raja Ampat archipelago, with breathtaking meals and first-class service along the way.

This is no regular liveaboard. Alila Purnama is a beautifully constructed phinisi (traditional Indonesian two-masted yacht) operated by the Alila Hotels & Resorts, which has handful of stunning resorts in Bali, as well as urban retreats in Jakarta and Solo (Surakarta).

Alila is known for contemporary decor and local cultural immersion programs and you can’t immerse yourself any more than with a dive charter on Alila Purnama. It is one of a growing number of vessels that let travellers extend the luxury of the world’s best hotels to the globe’s most remote and sought-after destinations.

Alila Purnama

Liveaboards are a great way to see remote locales, and the 46-metre Alila Purnama, launched in 2002, really is a meeting of worlds. There’s a 14-strong crew of dive guides, chefs, stewards and deck hands. Five beautifully appointed guest rooms include a penthouse at the stern with a soak tub and its own balcony. There’s a full dive set up, which comes in handy in Komodo, Raja Ampat and Flores where Purnama offers week-long cruises, and a galley that serves fine dining extravaganzas with plenty of local touches.

From the gleaming teak decks to the 400 thread-count linens, and mother-of-pearl tiled showers to the colourful welcome cocktails served on return from each day’s adventure, Alila Purnama personifies remote luxury to perfection.

Aman Cruises

With indulgent resorts across Asia, Aman has its spiritual home in Indonesia, where it has a host of luxurious hideaways for the well-heeled traveler. You can reach one of their least visited havens, Amanwana, a tented camp on remote Moyo Island, with the brand’s two beautifully appointed traditional phinisi schooners. The custom-built vessels each have five cabins and a crew of 15, and sail itineraries around Raja Ampat and Komodo. The 32-meter Amanikan was launched in 2009 and the 52-metre Amandira, crafted by the Konjo tribe, was launched in 2015 and both yachts are available for individual charter. Aman is also planning its own vessels for Japan, the Philippines, Indochina and the Adriatic.

The Datai Naga Pelangi

Situated in dense rainforest in a protected enclave of the Malaysian island of Langkawi, home to panthers, leopards, monkey troops and hornbills, The Datai is one of Asia’s most acclaimed houses of slumber. The iconic resort, which has graced one of the island’s most beautiful beaches for two decades, has also entered the shipping scene offering half-day, evening and overnight cruises on the chengal-wood, junk-rigged schooner Naga Pelangi. The beautiful bedar-style schooner is operated in a partnership with The Datai to offer guests a chance to explore the Andaman in true luxury from December to April each year. Overnight voyages catering to just eight guests sail through the Butang archipelago north into Thailand, going as far as Unesco-listed Phang Nga Bay.

Strand Cruise

One of the former Burmese capital’s best-preserved colonial edifices, The Strand is one of Yangon’s most iconic hotels and one of the Myanmar’s most luxurious. Deluxe Suites combine Asian elegance with plenty of old-world charm, from spacious bathroom to teak-floored master bedroom. Many aspects of this historic haven on the city’s riverfront, including its signature afternoon tea, can now be found on the newly launched Strand Cruise on the Irrawaddy River. Strand Cruise offers three- and four-night itineraries between Bagan and Mandalay, with 27 superbly appointed cabins complete with floor-to-ceiling Juliette balconies and spacious bathrooms. There’s a plunge pool, an vibrant cocktail lounge and an elegant dining room, to be enjoyed between daily excursions to ancient temples, monasteries and lacquer workshops.

Anantara Cruises

No stranger to Bangkok, Anantara Hotels & Resorts not only has four luxury resorts in the Thai capital, the brand also has two beautifully restored, century-old teak rice barges which depart from a pier on the river frontage of the Anantara Bangkok Riverside Resort & Spa. Anantara Cruises offer guests the chance to ply the waters of the Chao Phraya River north to the former capital of Ayutthaya on two-night, three-day itineraries aboard the luxurious two-cabin private charter vessel Anantara Dream or the four-cabin cruiser Anantara Song. Each features spacious upper deck areas with al fresco dining, air-conditioned staterooms and a full crew to ensure plenty of traditional Thai pampering on an unforgettable journey back in time.

Four Seasons Explorer

Combine two of the most luxurious resorts in the Indian Ocean hideaway of the Maldives with a cruise aboard the fastest and most luxurious liveaboard in the archipelago, Four Seasons Explorer. Three-, four- or seven-night itineraries on the 22-guest, three-deck catamaran link the Four Seasons resorts at Kuda Huraa and Landaa Giraavaru, visiting remote dive spots and coral gardens popular with whale sharks and manta rays, desert islands and sand spits. Four Seasons Explorer has 10 luxurious staterooms, a full dive and water sports experience and gourmet meals, interlaced with the world-class service of a Four Seasons resort.

Oberoi MV Vrinda

One of India’s most acclaimed luxury hotel brands, Oberoi manages some of the Sub Continent’s most indulgent palace hotels. It also operates the sumptuous MV Vrinda in the tranquil backwaters of Kerala in southern India, offering two or three-day itineraries through one of India’s most beautiful but least visited landscapes. Catering to just 16 guests in eight deluxe, air-conditioned cabins, Vrinda is dressed in rich local timber, with king-sized beds, spacious bathrooms, attentive butler service and ample outdoor recreation areas, from which guests can spy waterside villages, ancient temples, regal palaces and vibrant market towns on two and three-night itineraries along Kerala’s network of canals and lakes.