Courtesy of Kiattipong Panchee Courtesy of Kiattipong Panchee
| Credit: Courtesy of Kiattipong Panchee

Forget the airport taxi: From the Persian Gulf to Punta Cana and Hong Kong to Bora-Bora, upscale hotels, resorts, lodges, and safari camps are perfecting the art of the unique arrival. These days, a "shuttle" to the hotel is more likely to be a helicopter or a speedboat than a lowly minivan. Or it may be something even more dramatic…anyone for some paragliding?

Whoever said "Getting there is half the fun" was clearly on to something, especially where today’s high-end lodgers are concerned. Whether by sea, air, or ingenious—and often indigenous—overland passage, many travelers these days are being treated to holiday thrills well before they actually arrive at their holiday destination.

Of course, the idea of packing luxury and leisure into every travel moment—while providing hotels a unique opportunity to set themselves apart—isn’t exactly new. Upscale hotel groups such as Peninsula have long offered their guests airport transfers via Rolls-Royce, while helicopter service to rooftop hotel landing pads are a staple of the jet set in Asia, South America, and the Persian Gulf.

What is new, however, is an increasing focus on authenticity and sense of place—which allows guests to arrive at their accommodations already feeling acquainted with the culture they're visiting.

After all, what’s more European than a cable car?And when you book a room at the Vigilius Mountain Resort in Merrano, Italy—some 5,000 feet above the valley vineyards—you’ll find that the only way to get there is a high-wire act. The vintage cable car takes just eight minutes to climb through the South Tyrolean Dolomites; you’ll end up at a remote Alpine lodge surrounded by jagged peaks.

If you’d like to savor your transfer, consider heading to the Maldives resort of Dhoni Mighili. Here, guests arrive at their private island sanctuary after a five-hour sail aboard a handcrafted Maldivian dhoni, where a personal butler will pop open a bottle of bubbly to ease any lingering jet lag. Too slow? Take a speedboat from St. Kitts and in 30 minutes you’ll be awash in the refined, genteel atmosphere of Montpelier Plantation in Nevis.

And if all this still seems too pedestrian, try something truly unique: flying to Oman’s new Six Senses Hideaway on a paraglider (with a guide)—a James Bond-like entrance that will make you forget there was ever such a thing as a hotel minivan.