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Review: the 5-star Sunborn Yacht Hotel, Gibraltar

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This is our review of the Sunborn Yacht Hotel in Gibraltar.

If you are heading to Gibraltar there are only two high-end options. There is the art deco The Rock and the Sunborn Yacht Hotel. The Eliott and the Holiday Inn Express (website here) bring up the rear. This is about it for the decent options. I look at The Rock, The Eliott and the Holiday Inn Express Gibraltar in this article (click).

I booked via Hotels.com. It was the same price for a flexible rate as booking direct but I get 10% back via Hotels.com Rewards. The prepay rate for a direct booking was cheaper than Hotels.com’s prepay rate, but who is booking those at the moment?

Review Sunborn Yacht Hotel Gibraltar

Where is the Sunborn Yacht Hotel?

For the first time in my life, I walked from the airport to my city centre hotel. It took 50 minutes from getting off the aircraft to getting into my hotel room and that included a covid test on the way.

To show you close you are, look at this map of the hotel vs the runway:

Sunborn Yacht Hotel Gibraltar map review

This photo confirms the distance – the runway is about 50 metres from my window:

Sunborne Yacht Hotel Gibraltar review

The hotels is not fully honest with its room descriptions. When it says ‘marina side’ or ‘marina view’, it means ’10 metres from an Irish pub’:

Review Sunborn Yacht Hotel Gibraltar

When it says ‘runway view’ it means ‘you are 50 metres from the runway’. That said, the view of the BA flight shooting past my window when it took off was extraordinary.

Whichever side you choose, be aware that a major building project has just started next to the boat as you can see here:

Review Sunborn Yacht Hotel Gibraltar

There is construction noise during the day. If you intend to be out, of course, it isn’t an issue. You can’t see the building site from the rooms unless you go on the balcony and really peer to the side. The soundproofing of the rooms with the patio doors closed is excellent.

My room at Sunborn Yacht Hotel Gibraltar

The rooms are great. They are the best reason to stay here, along with the view over the marina if you take a runway view room.

(Stick with me here: a ‘marina view’ room does not overlook the marina, it overlooks the marina leisure complex ie the bars. A ‘sea / runway view’ room does overlook the boats in the marina, but you can’t really see the sea beyond if you were on the 3rd floor like me.)

Sunborn Yacht Hotel Gibraltar bedroom

The rooms are light, bright and classy. I took a Superior Deluxe which is one level up from the entry level room. The bed was h-u-g-e and the furnishings light and modern. The wardrobe opens on both sides, so you can access your clothes from the bedroom or bathroom.

The minibar is free but only contained a large bottle of water. There was a kettle with dodgy instant Nescafe (no coffee machine) which was the only cheap touch.

Sunborn Yacht Hotel room Gibraltar

The bathroom had no bath and only a single sink but that wasn’t an issue for me. Toiletries were Molton Brown.

Everything – automatic curtains, lighting, housekeeping requests – is controlled from a huge touchscreen panel by the bed. This wasn’t ideal. For a start, it takes up 90% of the space on the bedside table. Secondly, the touchscreen was not as responsive as it could have been.

Sunborn Yacht Hotel Gibraltar bathroom

The Sunborn Yacht Hotel is not really a yacht

I’m not sure what you expect from a yacht hotel, but I want to be clear about one thing. It ISN’T like being on a boat.

The yacht has no engine and can’t sail anywhere. It seems to sit on concrete pillars in the harbour, so it doesn’t rock at all. The corridors and rooms look like any other luxury hotel and you wouldn’t know you were on a yacht.

Apart from the fact that you need to walk up a gangway to enter it, you can forget about the yacht element. Your experience would be the same if it was a ‘normal’ hotel. There is surprisingly little public space to stroll around in the open air.

That said …. as I write this, I am at the desk in my room and the sliding doors to the tiny balcony are open. If I turn my head I can see a fantastic collection of boats, the airport runway and the hills of Spain across the water. It’s not a bad life.

Sunborn Yacht Hotel Gibraltar review

Food and drink at Sunborn Gibraltar

My room was on the 3rd floor, which also houses a restaurant and bar. This remains closed even though the hotel is at full occupancy, which has a knock-on effect on the only open restaurant on the top deck (7th floor).

On my first night I had dinner out with my friend David who grew up and works here and who filled me on the history of Gibraltar. On the second night I walked up to Casemates Square, the main central square in the town, which is only 5 minutes away and ate there.

I did have breakfast in the hotel restaurant. You need to prebook and it costs £19.80 per person. The hotel runs a full ‘help yourself’ breakfast buffet which was a bit of a novelty after the events of the last 18 months. No masks required either.

Sunborne Yacht Hotel Gibraltar breakfast

In truth it wasn’t the greatest buffet ever – not really five star standard, more Hampton by Hilton – although there is an egg chef. The room is also a little uninspiring. You might want to eat at one of the places in the marina or take the short stroll to Casemates Square for a coffee and croissant from Costa Coffee.

The pool

The Sunborn pool was a big disappointment. In my mind, I was anticipating a cruise ship-style pool straddling most of the top deck. Boy was I wrong.

This is it:

Review Sunborn Yacht Hotel Gibraltar pool

It is teeny tiny. I’m not entirely sure what it’s for, given that you can’t really swim in it.

The sunbeds around the pool need to be prebooked ‘due to covid’. It was unseasonably cloudy during the two days I was there and I never had the desire to use them.

In general, there is very little outdoor space at the Sunborn which seems a major design flaw. If you want a swimming pool, the one at The Rock Hotel beats this hands down. Don’t even consider Sunborn if you are dreaming of sitting by a pool all day.

The top deck also has a decent gym with good views:

Sunborn Yacht Hotel Gibraltar gym

…. and a spa. As ever with Sunborn, it looked new, clean and smart.

Which is best? Sunborn or The Rock Hotel?

I visited The Rock Hotel during my stay so I could compare, although I didn’t see any rooms. It’s not an easy call. I wrote a few thoughts about The Rock hotel in this article.

If I returned to Gibraltar on my own, I would choose Sunborn. I like the decor, I like being in the marina and being so close to the airport and Casemates Square. I can live without a decent pool.

If I came with my children, I would take The Rock. The steep walk up to the hotel would bring out the worst in my kids but the lovely large pool would win them over and my wife would love the art deco interiors. The fact that the cable car up the rock is very close to the hotel might clinch it. Note that reviews I have read suggest that the bathrooms are not great and that the bedrooms in general are not as smart as the public areas I saw.

If I just came with my wife, I’d need to think about it more. The Sunborn has some amazing looking suites and the location is great. She would also love the styling of The Rock. The average age of guests at The Rock is probably 10-15 years higher than at Sunborn with a corresponding difference in vibe. Perhaps we would need to split our stay.

Conclusion

I was a little disappointed by some aspects of Sunborn. This is purely because I was hoping for more of a yacht experience. There is nothing wrong with the rooms – which are great – or the view, but what I missed was a lively open top deck. I wanted somewhere where I could hang out or swim in a huge pool. It’s not happening, purely due to bad design.

A ‘standard’ hotel on the edge of the marina would have the same views and could also have a full-size pool deck. To that extent, the Sunborn is a wasted opportunity.

You won’t get any better in terms of interiors or design in Gibraltar, however.

My Superior room cost £644 for two nights. Standard rooms are around £250 per night at the moment. This is inflated by the rush of incoming British tourists and if restrictions lift elsewhere you can expect to see a dip.

The Sunborn Yacht Hotel Gibraltar website is here. You can also book it on Hotels.com via this page, and pick up Hotels.com Rewards.

Sunborn has no loyalty programme and is not part of any big chain so you don’t lose anything by booking indirectly if the price is the same.

I discuss The Rock, The Eliott and Holiday Inn Express Gilbraltar in this article if you want to compare.


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Comments (94)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Henry Young says:

    Pure genius. Put a hotel in a boat and moor it in a handy green country …

  • Graeme says:

    @Anna – in answer to your question yesterday – the HIE was nice enough, nothing life-changing. I requested a runway view room (which somehow translated to a request for two single beds) but we got Rock view, which wasn’t interesting really. The room was nice enough and the bathroom was good. It’s about a ten minute walk to Casemates Square and a bit less to Eastern Beach (the windiest place on Earth).

    Breakfast was plentiful although the bacon wasn’t the tastiest. It was nice to be at a buffet again, waiting an eternity for a rubbish toaster to warm my bread!

    • Anna says:

      Thanks @Graeme, it sounds like a pretty good alternative to all the +£200 pn night hotels!

      • Graeme says:

        Oh, absolutely. I never know how to frame a comment when it comes to hotels on here – for me, it was nice and it was cheap (particularly on points) – my two favourite things. But they’re not always the benchmarks on here!

  • Dave says:

    “We got in touch to say we were and we’d love to see it, but their PR agency ignored my email. They will have to live with this truncated article.” In my view, what followed was not a review per se; more of an unnecessary personal attack on the hotel itself.

    My favourite quotes are “The hotels is not fully honest with its room descriptions. When it says ‘marina side’ or ‘marina view’, it means ’10 metres from an Irish pub’. And “When it says ‘runway view’ it means ‘you are 50 metres from the runway’. To be fair, these are indeed accurate descriptions when quoted alongside the photos you published. What I would be interested in knowing is what you would realistically describe the views as if you were the hotel – seriously, would you expect them to say ‘pub views’? I think not. no-one in their right mind would do that. And as for the runway views, what did you expect? The hotel is next to the runway which you would have spotted from the map.

    ‘Tiny balcony?’ It’s on a boat for crying out loud.

    • Rob says:

      It is a very positive review, judged on the standards of what you get for £300+ per night.

      Remember this all a tax write off for me anyway. We are happy to pay our own way and usually do. It’s not as it I personally paid £644. The net cost to me was around £250 and I am happy to pay that to get out of wasting a day doing PR stuff in the property.

      Balcony – rooms on the pub side have full baconies. Rooms on the runway side do not.

      ‘It’s a boat’ – no, it’s not. That’s the point. It has no engines and it is on concrete stilts rammed into the harbour. It is basically a boat-shaped fixed building.

      • Ernie says:

        Make your mind up Rob, you was boasting that you was on a yacht last week.

        Which is it lol

      • Chris Heyes says:

        Rob I agree I thought it was a very good review and looking through other reviews/comments about Gibraltar It does look as if some things have improved since I was there 30+ years ago
        Although not enough to make me even consider a re-visit, the Hotel I stayed at was poor compared to over the boarder in Spain
        That bad I cant even remember the name ?

        • Travel Strong says:

          @Chris Heyes. I tried staying over the border once, and glad of it for the experience, but never again. The hotel (AC La Linea) was not good! Everywhere you looked everything in the hotel was battered and damaged, and possibly one of the worst beds i’ve ever slept on. Had to book in for a few nights at the sunborn to recover from it!

        • David says:

          Chris Heyes – Gibraltar is massively different to 30 years ago.

    • Peter K says:

      Is that Dave from Sunborn Yacht Hotel ? 😉

      I actually thought it was a fair review, on the generous side of anything, certainty not overtly negative!

    • LS says:

      This didnt strike me as a personal attack, or vendetta for lack of free room, and strikes me as reasonable for what a reader might expect for £300/night. It also didn’t seem a particularly truncated article.

      • Rob says:

        We would have seen other room types and tried out the restaurant if they’d arranged it for us.

        It’s a trade off. You either do the ‘we paid for this so our experience will be your experience’ review, or you do the ‘the hotel gave us all this for free, but the benefit is that we saw all the different room types / tried the spa / tried the restaurant’ review. Both have their benefits, both have their drawbacks. Rhys’s review of Pine Cliffs was twice as long as this or my Indigo Bath review, purely because he got more access.

    • Travel Strong says:

      I thought it was a very fair and accurate review. “The rooms are great” as stated, and its a really nice place to stay overall. But the top deck is a suprising non-event when you get up there. Would happily have a room with either view. Trade off between runway and hills, or a proper balcony with more south facing sun.

  • mutley says:

    Thanks Rob looking forward to the Rock review. It was off limits to ships crew when in the Navy. In some respects I always found that Gibraltar was a throwback to the 1960’s and this was in the late 80’s/ early 90s. Much to the chagrin of some readers I still maintain its a dump, still horses for courses. However, there were infinitely worse places to dock for 48 hours shore leave. I recall the MO actively telling the crew not to bother in some further flung locations!

    • Rob says:

      A big problem is general cleanliness. Obviously it gets a lot of wind which doesn’t help, but in Casemates Square you literally can’t put your foot down without treading on a napkin, coffee cup, crisp packet etc.

      It is an odd mix of colonial HK / Singapore style (in the older parts), Monaco (in the newer developments) and a Spanish retiree town full of Brits with 100 pubs all selling a full English Breakfast.

      I found one pub selling ‘jacket potato filled with black pudding and fried egg’ which is all you need to know. Conversely there are zero artisan coffee shops that I found – the best you get is a couple of franchised Costas.

      • Aaron C says:

        It’s an odd place. People eating full English breakfasts, fish and chips, and meat pies in near African heat.
        Lots of bunting (like the Shankhill Road in July) but nearly 100% remain votes.

        • Anna says:

          Nearly 100% remain but they’re not now clamouring to become independent so that they can re-join the EU!

          • David says:

            We are joining Schengen instead.
            Because we are perfectly happy with our identity, and don’t see Europe as a threat.

          • Matarredonda says:

            Independence not allowed as part of the Treaty when transferred to the UK!

      • Iain says:

        Another issue is the near constant building which has been going on for 10 years. Spoke to locals a couple of years ago and they said they had gotten used to everything having a constant film of dust from the building sites.

      • Steve S says:

        Sounds like Cleethorpes

    • numpty says:

      A couple of years ago we did a great driving taking in Granada, Frigilinia, Malaga, Marbella etc. (all wonderful places to visit and would happily return to) and wanted to make the effort to go see Gibraltar. In comparison to the other places visited Gibraltar ranked last and one one day was more than enough. I was expecting an England in the sun which would compare well to the other towns visited, a bit like Jersey which I found to be a gem, but it wasn’t.

      Just as annoying was the tourist shops trying to sell its tat to English speakers but automatically trying to charge in the higher Euros price (they priced in GBP and £).

      I’d also been to the caves in Nerja the day before, so found the caves on Gib to be a real disappointment – more in terms of organisation, set up, and a general lack of investment, I recognise a cave is a cave!

      • David says:

        Real (local) Gibraltar is hidden and a day trip visitor does not see it.
        The tack is mostly for the normal coach day visitors from Spain.

        In terms of the Cave, it has just (went live on Saturday morning) had a major renovation of the lighting, etc.

        But it is the tunnels that are more unique. No where else has defences like that.

    • Lady London says:

      Errrr….The MO was saying this? Can you be more explicit? 🙂

      • mutley says:

        Karachi, 90 % of ships crew were back on board within about 6 hours. I’m sure there are nice parts, I didn’t see them though.
        Mombasa, also springs to mind. Young sailors warned about dalliances with ladies of the night.

  • ChrisW says:

    Is it a ship that was converted into a fixed position hotel, or was it purpose built in that position as a hotel to look like a boat?

    • TGLoyalty says:

      It was purpose built as a yacht hotel in Malaysia and then sailed to Gibraltar, I guess on another ship since it has no engines etc.

      • David says:

        as a vessel it can be towed (and was floated into position) – but it is very firmly attached right now.

  • Iain miller says:

    Love how Rob describes one side of the Rock hotel as looking at “a cliff”.
    Probably more accurate to say, “the cliff”!

  • Craig Vassie says:

    Rob’s review is very objective, and not really truncated. Its in NO way a personal attack. The reality is that the Sunborn just isn’t a 10/10.

  • Tracey says:

    Only slightly OT, but is there a lounge for BA passengers at GIB? Last summer there was, but I seem to remember the rules changing just after we left.

    • Rob says:

      Lounge is open and, more importantly, BA has started paying for it again as of a week ago.

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