Derek West waxes lyrical and gets all musical on the joys of a hotel boat journey down the River Thames

It’s early summer as I settle at my laptop to write a short review of my experiences over the last three days. There’s a problem though. My mind keeps drifting lazily back to the moment, and on top of that I’m teased by an ‘earworm’, one of those tunes that you can’t get out of your head.

‘Birds flying high – you know what I mean. Sun in the sky – you know what I mean. Reeds drifting on by – you know what I mean. It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life – for me.”

You may recognise the song, written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse in 1964, and recorded by many people since, perhaps most notably, Nina Simone and Muse. The tune began looping in my brain after seeing a notice board advertising the band Muse at Reading Festival as I drove to nearby Caversham to join the Hotel Boat, Kailani.

Being slightly obsessive, I like details and what a great start to find Kailani moored on the Thames exactly as my joining instructions had advised. First impressions of this five-star hotel boat were equally encouraging. Having played in, lived on, repaired, designed and built boats at various stages of my life, I feel I know a thing or two about them. This wide beam (12ft) vessel, 65ft in length, is a thing of beauty, borne out several times by comments from walkers on the Thames Path as we cruised down towards our Windsor destination. A seasoned eye quickly assesses that the heavy gauge steel construction and attractively fitted-out interior breathes quality… and weight. It doesn’t move when you step on board!

Our waterborne hoteliers are Dorenda and Gordon who greeted us warmly and delivered a tour of the accommodation. The spacious saloon area, fitted with a comfortable leather suite, and dining area leads to two cabins, one double and one twin-bed, both with excellent en-suite facilities and lots of stowage space. Aft of the cabins are the galley and crew’s quarters, Dorenda and Gordon’s space to prepare fine cuisine and support a very well-managed and much-appreciated service to Kailani’s guests. After being joined on the trip by my shipmate, Alistair, Gordon delivered the obligatory safety talk while Dorenda served glasses of Prosecco and dates coated in cream cheese and stuffed with grapes – a tasty promise of things to come! Casting off we turned into the river’s flow and began our journey. It was beautifully quiet, it was like leaving the noisy world behind… and then that song began to play in my head. There were birds everywhere, certainly many geese and ducks of all types, but gulls, terns, herons, cormorants and grebes are also very much in evidence, whilst the ubiquitous red kites circle high above the steep, wooded slopes that rise from the river, stretching upwards over several sections of the river.

The sun made a welcome appearance on day one and stayed with us until lunchtime on the last day. Comfortable in the warmth of the sun and settled outside in the seating well by the foredeck, Alistair and I relaxed into the mood of the waterscape around us. Knowing the vagaries of the British weather we wondered what was on offer if it changed. In the event of wet where we’d prefer it wasn’t, ie. falling from above, the cosy saloon offers a comprehensive entertainment system, satellite TV, DVD, radio, and internet connection for laptops. If you’d prefer to avoid reconnecting with the world there is plenty of reading material and games to enjoy, or perhaps you’d like to just sit and chat whilst taking advantage of the full board licensed service.

Gliding quietly along, Kailani carries you past a glorious variety of scenery. Trips from three to seven nights are available on most southern waterways and here’s the thing, also on the tidal part of the Thames. Having obtained official certification, Kailani is the only hotel boat allowed to travel through Tower Bridge and see sights including the London Eye, Westminster Bridge, HMS Belfast, the Houses of Parliament and many more London sights. Guests can join a cruise on the London Ring canal network as well as the Lee and Stort Navigation, the Grand Union, the Kennet and Avon Canal, and the Upper Reaches of the Thames.

A slick operation like this doesn’t just happen. RYA Inland Waterways Helmsmen, Dorenda and Gordon enjoyed many happy days on the water – sea, river and canal, before deciding to start a new life by launching a hotel boat business. With the skills they had gained they began by designing their vessel from scratch. They employed the construction skills of Aqualine Marine Ltd, Europe’s foremost wide beam boat builder who also fitted it out to Gordon and Dorenda’s specifications winning it the prestigious Lionel Munk Trophy for the best commercially-built boat in 2013. Routes were planned that offered the best experience for their guests along with all the culinary and on-board comforts they would appreciate themselves. Forward planning is key in their delivery yet the guest may remain blissfully unaware of this! For instance, consistency is ensured by using the same suppliers – not easy when you’re constantly moving around – and trips are timed to provide the most favourable moorings wherever possible. It’s this attention to detail that has earned Kailani and her owners a five-star rating, the respect of other river users and the appreciation of their many guests – including Alistair and myself. Saying an earnest farewell to Dorenda and Gordon, we stepped off Kailani’s deck back into the frenzied world and, from the closing line of the song, yes – we were both ‘feeling good’.

Kailani is a modern luxury wide beam hotel boat which sleeps up to four guests in two en-suite cabins and is fully catered and crewed.

She cruises England’s canals and rivers from April to October.

All meals aboard Kailani are included. Prices start from £500 per person sharing the twin cabin for a three-night cruise.

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