The backwaters of Kerala are filled with rice boats gently cruising the waters and taking guests around the narrow canals where life goes by at a different pace. Nearby Munnar was even one of the locations for the movie set in India Life of Pi. There are over 2,000 boats floating in these waters, but only one motor vessel made of two stable catamarans.
The Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda is owned and managed by The Oberoi Group, an award-winning Indian luxury hotel group which owns some of the most famed landmark hotels in India. The Oberoi Group brand is known for managing exclusive properties and for their high level of service, so I had high expectations for this trip.
Carry on reading for a review of The Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda in the backwaters of Kerala.
Booking and arrival at the Oberoi Vrinda motorboat
When I tried, the website seemed to be down and bookings were not possible so I used the chat box to reach out to one of the Oberoi’s agents and managed to book like this. When you book directly with the Oberoi Hotels you usually enjoy better rates and even free transfers so it pays to check their rates.
Through the chat window I got an email follow up with the details of the availability and rates and a confirmed booking for two which included one free transfer from Kochi and back. As we booked pretty close to the travel dates, we soon after got an email asking for credit card details to confirm the booking.
Despite the website being down and having to reach out to an agent via the chat window, the booking process was relatively smooth at the beginning but it was rather complex to then reach out to the team to reconfirm the pick up details and we had to make calls and spend quite a lot of time on the phone figuring out.
The complimentary pick up was only from one origin so while Edwin was landing on the day and I was staying at the sister property Trident in Kochi, we could only be picked up from the hotel so Edwin had to make his way to the hotel from the airport. Eventually, as he did not manage to make the trip, I was the only one picked up from the Trident Hotel at 10am.
The Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda has a few check in and check out locations depending on your arrival times and which day you arrive on in the 3-day cycle the boat follows. It is always best to get them to pick you up because then the driver knows where the The Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda pier location is but it is also marked on Google Maps as I later discovered when my drive was unsure where to take me so if you have a SIM card or roaming internet, you can always guide the driver.
When you reach the pier, the main person onboard, Sheldon, will come to greet you with an umbrella and you will be shown to the main deck where a coconut is waiting to cool you down. A lovely way to start. Your luggage will be taken straight to your cabin and when you are ready, you will be shown around the boat and given a safety briefing.
If your check in point is not the main boat’s pier, you will be taken on a smaller motor boat from the shore to the boat’s location.
The cabins onboard The Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda
The Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda has only eight double cabins so despite it being the largest houseboat in the Keralan backwaters, it is still pretty intimate and you never feel like you are in a large cruise ship.
The cabins are spacious, bright and comfortably appointed feeling more like a proper hotel room than a boat with splashes of warm orange on mostly white lines and walls and teak wood furniture.
Inside, two large windows provide views over Lake Vembanad and a small desk with two chairs, a place to sit and watch the day go by while the boat moves. The bathroom has a full size shower and sink and shelves to store your personal items.
The cabin also has a closet with space to hang clothes where two pairs of sleepers and two bathrobes are also kept.
Review of the Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda continues below…
Bonus Bangalore Guide
Combining Bangalore into your southern India itinerary is a great idea. So here’s my personal guide on what to do in Bangalore including famous and lesser known sites, where to eat and how to get around.
The food onboard The Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda
The food served onboard The Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda is some of the most delicious and innovatively created I tried in the south of India.
The chef takes pride in preparing dishes which are both locally grown and using fresh ingredients while infusing some creativity and techniques from the west. Although the recipes were all firmly Keralan, the food was new and different and went beyond the typical curries. What I also appreciated is that the chef came out at every meal to get our feedback and see what we liked or didn’t and which dishes were our favorites. He also adapted the recipes to our level of tolerance to spiciness after every meal.
The chef also caters to any food allergies or dietary restrictions easily adapting dishes to please everyone.
Meals are all served in the main restaurant on the top deck or can also be enjoyed in the privacy of your room. Although the tables were all set separately per group, we ended up eating together even having one big table when there were 10 of us onboard on my last night.
As I fell sick with the flu for my entire journey on The Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda the team took really good care of me with warm water with ginger, honey and lemon prepared several times for me whenever I needed it. Tea and drinks were available through the day and the cabins had a minibar with refreshments and snacks for a fee.
Breakfast was a la carte, with a selection of southern Indian options as well as the usual international breakfast items like eggs, pancakes, cereals, porridge, etc. Lunch and dinner were served from a set menu for all which considered any restrictions. Meals were filling, always with a starter, a main and a dessert with large portions.
The facilities on The Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda
Most of the boats on the Kerala backwaters have limited facilities as they are quite compact. That means that, aside from your room and a common deck area, there isn’t much more onboard. As The Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda is larger than any other boat and it has three floors there are a few extra facilities available.
For those looking to sunbathe or do early morning or evening yoga on deck there is a rooftop sundeck where sunbeds are laid out for relaxation. This deck is however not open when the boat is moving.
The main deck area is also larger than any other boat which gives you extra space away from the rest of the guests. While one of the best things to do onboard is to watch the day go by and observe life on shore, The Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda has deck sofas to do that from instead of the less comfortable chairs of all other boats.
The service onboard The Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda
The service onboard The Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda is some of the most attentive, unobtrusive and helpful one could expect. The entire team is friendly and warm and they make you feel right at home. As I was unwell for the duration of the trip this put extra effort on their part to also help me feel better and they could not have done a better job.
Also, there were a few instances where small details showed extra thoughtfulness. There were cold towels offered after tours on the mainland, water always on offer, umbrellas being held out to fend the sun, chocolates left in my room and cute towel animals with eyes and smiles, the service was definitively top notch.
What to do on The Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda
The best part about spending some time on the Kerala backwaters is the ability to spend time doing nothing but simply observing life on the canals. You can spot hundreds of birds flying in the early morning, fishermen diving in for clams or fish and the simple daily activities by the Keralan people who live on the shores.
If you are spending some time here after a couple of days in Kochi and before heading to the spice plantations and hills of Munnar, then you will enjoy doing simply nothing as the boat glides past peaceful scenes of life.
However, while most people come to the backwaters of Kerala to relax and rest, there are a few options for excursions included in the itinerary to make sure that you can also get a flavour for life in the canals of the Venice of the East.
During the day, the boat will usually set sail around lunch time to head over to explore the canals. Whether you spend two or three nights onboard, you will get one chance to get off the boat and on to one of the smaller rice boats that are typical of Kerala.
As these boats are smaller, you can explore the narrower canals and be closer to the water and the shore. From there, you can observe the fishermen diving for clams, the children going to school, the farmers with their bulls and the many other houseboats for a more authentic experience.
The excursion on the rice boat also includes a portion on shore with a local guide to visit a Buddhist shrine and two temples on foot. The local guide will tell you more about the culture and traditions of Kerala and provide insights into life on the backwaters.
The Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda also puts on a cultural performance every evening at 7pm when the boat is docked and local artists come to perform on the shore by the boat. The performances include music and theatre in the famous mask dances that are so popular in the folklore of Kerala. They are quite interesting and give you the chance to learn something beyond the sights and landscapes.
I particularly appreciated the fact that the performers didn’t just put up a small portion of the very long Keralan traditional theater plays but that they took some time at the beginning to tell us a bit more about the tradition, the face movements, the combination of drums and face expressions, etc.
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