From marriage proposals to Nightingale staff beds, the Sunborn is here for the Royal Docks
The Sunborn London Yacht Hotel strikes quite the pose against the Royal Docks landscape, with its white hull pointed east as if ready to set sail. But luckily the Sunborn is here to stay, permanently moored at the Royal Victoria Dock as a beloved Royal Docks landmark.
Kudos to the Sunborn: being onboard it feels a lot like being at sea. Francisco Ventura, the general manager of the Sunborn London Yacht Hotel, says he’s had people get fully caught up in the seafaring theme: “I’ve had people ask, when the boat is leaving?” But the Sunborn is secured to the dock with two giant brackets, and if you feel like it’s swaying, that’s probably just part of the illusion.
Raising the roof for the Royal Docks
The Sunborn is a choice spot in the Royal Docks for celebrating special moments. The yacht arrived in Royal Victoria Dock in 2014, when the roof was quite literally raised in order to bring it here: “The Sunborn doesn't fit under the bridge!” Francisco is pointing out the window to the Royal Victoria Bridge, a looming fixed object. To get the Sunborn under, the roof was taken off the boat, and the dock water was dropped by a metre. “The yacht only cleared the bridge by half a metre, so it was very close,” says Francisco.
During the pandemic, the Sunborn stepped up by becoming an important support site for people working at the ExCeL Nightingale Hospital. “ISS, the facilities company in charge of the Nightingale Hospital, held 80 bedrooms here, for their logistics staff,” says Francisco. He points towards the restaurant area. “That was our canteen for the people who were working at the hospital. We set it up so it was one table with one chair, all in a row and spread out so no one was in close contact.”
Today the Sunborn is full of people who’ve arrived to spend the night in a floating hotel, or locals who’ve arrived to have a meal or drink with a view. Those spending the night will wake up in the morning to a striking blue expanse of water. “Being here is like when you go on holiday on a boat, and you wake up and open your curtain and you're looking at the water. You feel like you’re on the coast but actually, you're in the centre of London,” says Francisco. “This makes this place really unique.”
Francisco says they have always had a lot of visitors from ExCeL events, Formula E and triathlons, plus a lot of leisure business. Since the pandemic, most visitors have come from around the UK, but Francisco expects the foreign quotient to improve once international travel becomes easier again. But one thing that’s never changed is that people come from near and far to have a special night out at this unique floating hotel.
At the Sunborn, you feel like you’re on the coast but actually, you're in the centre of London. It makes this place really unique.
Francisco Ventura, general manager of the Sunborn London Yacht Hotel
An award-winning boutique hotel
Our visit to the Sunborn comes as the yacht hotel has been awarded Europe’s Leading Boutique Hotel for 2021 at the 28th World Travel Awards, which commends hotels that consistently excels beyond expectations. The Sunborn beat twelve other contenders from Portugal, Malta, Greece, Turkey and Italy in the boutique category, which highlights hotels that demonstrate innovation as they take customer expectations to new highs.
A creative and personalised approach is certainly part of the Sunborn DNA. “For us, to be boutique is more than just providing a level of service that you can't provide in a massive hotel. We try to keep a level of personal service as much as possible, and watch out for what people might be looking for,” says Francisco.
Sometimes, that means putting on a special service, like last weekend when they arranged for a celebratory dinner in a private suite following a marriage proposal. “We’ve also had someone who booked the Sky Lounge and had massive letters put up there, spelling out ‘marry me’. That was really cool. After the proposal their friends arrived and they had a party with drinks and food.”
From Finland to the docks – three times
Custom built in Finland, the Sunborn yacht hotel was brought to the Royal Docks by tugboat. It’s seaworthy but it doesn’t have an engine, having surrendered that space to fitting in six floors of 138 surprisingly large hotel rooms, as well as a restaurant, a bar, event space, meeting rooms, and a sky lounge. “The fourth floor has our restaurant. Especially in summer people like to have dinner outside,” says Francisco. “We are very proud of our views here, and there's something very calming about being on water,” says Francisco. “You feel like you’re somewhere on the coast but actually, you're in the centre of London.”
The current yacht is actually the second Sunborn in the Royal Docks. The first one, which arrived in 2003, was located on the other side of the Royal Victoria Bridge. “Back then, this probably felt a bit too far east. But now, we’re no longer too far east. The centre has moved towards the east,” says Francisco. “Now you constantly see people walking around the dock, and there’s lots of families, and people who come to concerts and events. With the Mayor coming, we’re really starting to feel like we’re at the centre of things.”
Soon, there will be a third Sunborn yacht coming, replacing the current one – it will be bigger and far more environmentally friendly. The new Sunborn will also lead to new jobs: “We try and recruit people from the area, as it connects us to the community,” says Francisco – just over 100 people work at the Sunborn today. “We expect the new Sunborn will arrive here in autumn of 2023,” says Francisco, adding that the extra size will be in width and length but not height – they still need to get it under that bridge.
Visit the Sunborn in Royal Victoria Dock, moored just across from the ExCeL London.
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