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).
HfP paid for its own stay. Oddly we got a press release from Sunborn a few weeks ago promoting something or other, and in passing offering a free stay if we were heading their way. 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.
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?
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:
This photo confirms the distance – the runway is about 50 metres from my window:
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’:
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:
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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:
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:
…. 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.
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.
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.
Hotel offers update – August 2021:
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