8 of the best ‘boatels’ for land lovers who want to spend the night at sea


Spending a week cruising the Caribbean on a huge ship, with brief stops in port towns and long lines at the buffet, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Yet there’s something about life on a boat that can make even the most diehard roadtrippers curious about what it’s like to be gently rocked by gentle waves (or how small bathrooms nautical are really).

Fortunately, there is an option for those who prefer to travel by land, but want a taste of life at sea: boatels. As the name suggests, boatels are moored ships or other vessels that operate as floating hotels, renting sleeping quarters – or, in some cases, entire boats – to travellers.

In addition to the novelty of the experience, these unusual properties offer hands-on history lessons and often offer sweeping water views or unique city perspectives. Here are eight boats in the United States to keep in mind when planning your next trip.

a single-storey houseboat with light green cladding at the water's edge
The Green Turtle Floating Bed & Breakfast. | Photo courtesy of The Green Turtle Floating B&B

1. Green Turtle Floating Bed & Breakfast

Located in the historic Charlestown Shipyard in Boston Harbor, Green Turtle Floating Bed & Breakfast features two vessels: a two-suite houseboat and a 45-foot motor yacht. And while visitors get the experience of sleeping on a boat, the large, well-appointed suites wouldn’t be out of place in a luxury hotel.

But the real draw is Green Turtle’s location. While it’s on the doorstep of some of Boston’s biggest attractions and boasts impressive views of the city skyline, it also manages to feel peaceful and secluded. The B&B is within walking distance of the Freedom Trail, the North End, and the USS Constitution, and accessible by water taxi, including from Logan Airport.

a small red boat floats on a river in front of greenery and a clear blue sky
Samuel Slater. | Photo: @filmmakerdave/David Lawlor

2. Riverboat Samuel Slater

The Samuel Slater was built in Cambridge, England, but instead of roaming the waterways of the UK, the 40ft vessel now calls the Blackstone River at Central Falls, Rhode Island, home. Visitors to the area not only have the option of chartering the riverboat for scenic cruises, but up to four people can stay overnight on board. The Samuel Slater’s interior features gleaming floor-to-ceiling wood, tons of natural light, a kitchenette, and a bathroom with a hot shower.

a marina with floating homes under a pink and purple sky at sunset
Holly Bluff Marina. | Photo courtesy of Holly Bluff Marina

3. Holly Bluff Marina

Heading to Florida and looking for a naturally magical place to stay? Located in Central Florida, about an hour’s drive north of Orlando’s theme parks, and located on the St. Johns River, Holly Bluff Marina offers a serene vacation-like getaway. The marina has seven houseboats available for hire, each accommodating between four and 10 people. In addition to enjoying your private boat while it’s docked in the marina, guests also have the option of exploring the river in their houseboat, including a 6-mile cruise south to the State Park of Blue Springs, which serves as a winter sanctuary for manatees, and features crystal-clear water that is 72 degrees year-round.

the deck of a ship at sunset
SS City of Milwaukee. | Photo courtesy of SS City of Milwaukee

4. SS City of Milwaukee

Don’t be fooled by its name: the SS City of Milwaukee is actually located in Manistee, Michigan, on the west coast of the state. Designed in the 1920s, built in 1930, and launched in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, in 1931, the SS City of Milwaukee operated as a railroad car ferry until 1978 and had a carrying capacity of 28 to 32 railcars fully loaded. Now the ship offers guided tours, museum exhibits, facility rentals and a haunted ghost ship attraction in October. From May to early September each year it also operates as a boatel. And although the boat remains moored, its unmodified interior, including original woodwork and brass fittings, offers guests the opportunity to travel back in time to the 1930s. There are eight bedrooms available for guests. overnight stays, ranging from Chief Engineer’s Quarters to Pullman Suites with four built-in bunk beds.

a boat floating near an illuminated city skyline at night under a dark clear sky
Covington Inn. | Photo: Visit Saint Paul

5. Covington Inn

In her past life, the Covington spent her days cruising a 1,000-mile stretch of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, towing barges filled with oil and other liquid cargo. Today, the three-story tugboat, launched in 1946, has a permanent home on the Mississippi River, which meanders through St. Paul, Minnesota. It also has a new function: welcoming overnight guests as the Covington Inn, offering views of the city skyline. The boat has four cabins, each with its own private bathroom, access to the deck and a working fireplace, as well as air conditioning. In addition to its central location and city skyline views, the Covington Inn’s interior is equally impressive — hewn from stem to stern in mahogany, brass, and bronze, and furnished with salvaged light fixtures, antiques and vintage artwork.

a person sits on a red chair next to a boat on land in front of a wooden tiki sculpture under a clear blue sky
The Shady Dell. | Photo: Sergio and Kelly Photography

6. The shaded valley

While the former copper mining town of Bisbee, Arizona isn’t exactly a nautical hotspot, it’s possible to make a boat your home base while exploring the area, located about 100 miles south. -east of Tucson. The boat, a 1947 Chris Craft yacht, sits at the Shady Dell Vintage Trailer Court alongside 11 1950s trailers and a 1947 bus. When the Shady Dell opened in 1927, it offered travelers on Hwy 80 a place to camp or park overnight, but today it’s a destination unto itself. The boat, bus, and trailers all feature vibrant vintage decor and the chance to experience the golden age of roadtrips.

the queen mary, a large black, red and white ocean liner under a clear blue sky
Queen Mary. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

7. Queen Mary

When the Queen Mary embarked on her maiden voyage in 1936, the Cunard-built ship was the height of glamor and luxury. But by the 1960s, air travel had replaced ships as the preferred mode of long-distance transportation, and after her final voyage in 1967, the Queen Mary docked in Long Beach, California, and has remained there ever since. Although the ship is temporarily closed, when the Queen Mary reopens, passengers will once again be able to spend the night in one of the ship’s 347 original Art Deco cabins and suites, eat in one of its three restaurants and attend events in board locations.

The Delta King Hotel river boat floats on the water near a dock in a marina
King Delta. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

8. King of the Delta

From its launch in 1927 until 1940, the Delta King made the 10.5-hour journey daily on the Sacramento River between San Francisco and Sacramento. Since then, the 285ft riverboat has served in World War II (first to transport and house troops, then as a hospital), was stripped of its steam engines in 1948, was towed to Canada and used as a rooming house for factory workers, and spent 15 months partially submerged in the San Francisco Bay in the early 1980s. After a painstaking historic restoration, the Delta King reopened as a hotel -shop in 1989. The original cabins have been refurbished with a combination of period details and modern amenities.


Comments are closed.