Modern families are an intrepid bunch, especially when it comes to our holidays. Looking beyond traditional hotels and b&bs, we're glamping in yurts, sleeping in tree houses and shacking up in shepherd's huts. Thanks to the likes of Airbnb and Home Swap, we're even holidaying in each other's homes.
Now, with Beds on Board, you can spend the night on a luxury yacht, for less than the price of a Travelodge. But there’ll be no sailing off into the sunset – all boats are safely moored in marinas and moving them is strictly against the rules.
Beds on Board’s Mark Seamer tells me how it all began. In 2015, founder Tim Ludlow was at a busy regatta in Palma, Mallorca, struggling to find accommodation. All the hotels in town were fully booked and there was not a room to be had, but as Tim strolled along the waterfront, he noticed that most of the yachts in the marina were empty. That was the lightbulb moment.
At any given time 90% of yachts in UK marinas are empty, Mark explains, so Beds on Board was created to connect their owners with accommodation seekers. ‘It’s essentially Airbnb for boats’, he says.
It’s such a good idea and I can’t wait to take up Mark’s invitation to try it for myself.
The booking process is refreshingly simple. I sign up to the website, choose my required dates, destination and number of guests, and I’m given a selection of fancy boats to choose from. I select a gorgeous two-bedroom yacht called Amana, which the site tells me is a Sunseeker Camargue 50. She's moored in Lymington Yacht Haven, in the desirable New Forest area.
It’s not as pricey as you might expect. In March, Amana costs £195 a night, which is less than some hotels in the area.
As bonkers as it sounds, staying on a yacht can be an economical choice for families, given that most have at least two bedrooms and so work out cheaper than checking into multiple hotel rooms.
Once I've booked, the boat owner has 48 hours to accept or reject my reservation. Later that day, I’m contacted by Jason, the friendly owner of Amana. He’s incredibly welcoming and happy to answer all my questions.
‘Can I bring my dog?’ I ask, wincing as I scroll through photos of Amana’s soft, white leather interiors. ‘Of course!’ Jason responds, to my delight. That evening, I flounce into the living room and announce to my husband that we're all off to stay on a yacht.
Just like Airbnb, when guests arrive at the start of their stay, they’re met either by the boat owner or by his or her representative. My husband and I are met by Jason's rep, the charming Samantha, at Lymington Yacht Haven. Check-in starts at 3pm and Amana is bathed in golden afternoon light when we first step onboard.
I’m struck by how immaculate she is and silently congratulate myself for packing a dog towel. The deck is spotless and we’re welcomed by a vase of fresh daffodils and bottle of wine in an ice bucket. I know we're going to love it here. There’s even a packet of Captain Jack dog biscuits for our four-legged companion, Flint.
Inside, the walnut interiors glisten and plump towels are waiting on our bed. There's a kitchen (galley in boat-speak) with all mod-cons, including a hob, microwave and to my husband's delight, a Nespreso coffee machine.
A white leather sofa stretches the length of the living room and there's a fold-out dining table. At either end of the boat are two en-suite bedrooms with showers.
Samantha gives us the lowdown on how everything works, but since we won’t be sailing anywhere, there’s nothing to be intimidated by. It’s mostly a case of getting to grips with the heating and making sure we know where the bottle opener is.
Jason’s detailed welcome pack invites us to help ourselves to tea and coffee. He's even left us beer and wine, along with an honesty tin (which is so honest that there’s already money in there when we arrive).
Even without the prospect of a cruise, being on the boat is exciting. Reclining on deck with a glass of something cold as the sun sets over the water, we feel like interlopers in a world we’d never normally have access to. A boat like this would cost thousands to charter, but here we are – and for tonight, it’s all ours.
Marinas, by their very nature, are in pretty places with great restaurants, and the beauty of a Beds on Board stay is that you’re never far from a scenic waterfront stroll or great evening out.
That being said, a night onboard can be just as fun as going out. Unlike a hotel room, you can cook for yourselves and enjoy a meal on deck watched by expectant seagulls, or cuddle up in-front of a film as the sea gently rocks you to sleep (Amana has Sky and a hefty DVD collection).
Lymington Yacht Haven neighbours a picturesque nature reserve. When we eventually tear ourselves away from the boat, we walk Flint along the seawall, looking down on ducks bobbing about in the salt marshes. A footpath called Solent Way runs from the marina all the way to Milford on Sea, hugging the coast. It's a pretty five mile walk, but we only manage one or two, before our wimpy city dog starts dragging his feet.
We arrived in Lymington under a warm sun, but this being March in England, by the time we go to bed the wind is howling and rain thunders down on the roof. But we’re on a big boat, so a storm is thrilling! There’s something deliciously comforting about snuggling under a heavy duvet as the weather rages outside.
The next morning we awake to pale sunlight streaming in through the portholes, seagulls cawing softly and a text from boat owner Jason. He wants to know if we slept alright and survived the weather. ‘Do you have everything you need?’, he asks. Jason tells us to stay as long as want, even though check-out is officially at 11am.
Staying on Amana is like spending the night in a luxury hotel, with the personal touches of a family-run b&b. Even though we never meet Jason in person, I’ve rarely stayed anywhere where I’ve felt so looked after.
Unsurprisingly, this new accommodation trend is catching on and Beds on Board now has boats in over 50 countries. It’s impressive stuff from such a young company and Mark is excited about the future. ‘Our aim is to offer travellers a million new beds around the world, without doing a single bit of construction.’
Back in London, I brag to friends about our weekend on a yacht (for under £200) and they all react in the same way – what a brilliant idea! They all say they're going to try it. After all, who wouldn’t want to enjoy the glorious yachting lifestyle without the responsibility or the price tag that go with it?
How it works
Prices start from around £50 a night and you can book everything from sleek catamarans and sailing boats to super yachts that come with their own crew (around £7,000 a night)
Amana, the boat I stayed on, starts at £195 per night for up to four people