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Over the Top: Underwater Hotels Are the Rage

Danny Chiu for TIME


By STEPHEN SHORT

The Jules' Undersea Lodge is the world's only submarine hotel. Built on the seabed 10 m below the surface in Key Largo, Florida, the inn (formerly a research facility) caters to deep-sea divers and scuba novices prepared to take a three-hour crash course. Despite having only two rooms, the 13-year-old hotel actually turns a profit, according to owner Ian Koblick, an aquanaut and sometime consultant to NASA.

But it hasn't spawned imitators. Until now. Around the world, developers are warming to the idea that subsea, real or engineered, is the destination du jour. South African millionaire Sol Kerzner's newly opened Atlantis, on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, sets the tone. The six-hectare resort includes an aquarium based on the Greek legend of Atlantis; visitors encounter the imagined city through a series of viewing platforms. "It's important to make visitors feel part of the fantasy and then the fantasy becomes real instead of a gimmick," says Howard Wolff, vice president of WATG, design consultant to the project. For bookings contact Utell International at 44-181-661-2263.

Not to be outdone, Jose Rogelio Arias, Tourism Minister under former Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega, has conceived Aqua Resort Panama 2000, which includes a subsea hotel that promises guests the first commercial experience of living, sleeping, eating and being entertained in an underwater environment. Meanwhile, Taipei's Union Enterprise Group is building the Grand Green Island Resort, a $200-million, 688-room complex that will include 31 underwater rooms. The site is scheduled to open in 2001.

Two destinations are being designed for those with more serious interest in the oceans. Off Palm Beach, Miami, marine developer US Submarines is building a six-room habitat 30 m below, complete with cooking facilities, lounges and fish-feeding stations. And in Hawaii, WATG is building the U-Sea Marine Habitat, an 80-room undersea hotel, observatory and marine research center.

A different experience (and deeper still) is Operation Titanic, a trip to the famous wreck, 3.2-km below, in high-tech submersibles from a research vessel above. Zegrahm DeepSea Voyages of Seattle is offering 11- and 12-day packages, starting July 31 and Aug. 11. Expect to pay $35,500, with first-class meals and private accommodation. Call 1-206-285-3743 for bookings. In tandem with Deep Oceans Expeditions the group also plans to take 40 people on a dive below the North Pole in August 2000, for a similar price.

Koblick welcomes this form of touristic "edutainment." "Those who work, live or visit the ocean come away with a greater respect and care for its preservation," he says. Now, when does the Aqua-Mandarin open?

R E L A T E D   L I N K
• Travel Watch article on the Phuket Princess Paradise Hotel




Daily

January 25, 1999

Kitsch Report
Blame it on Leo and Kate. The massive success of Titanic not only revitalized the cruise industry but also revived the old-time notion of shipboard romance

Web Crawling
Travelers' Century Club: This exclusive association grants membership only to travelers who have visited at least 100 countries

Short Cuts
Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts and American Express are offering a special 'holiday options' deal

Detour
The devotees of Tokyo's Hotel Okura include rock stars and presidents

POLL
Do you think there should be recreational diving expeditions to the wreck of the Titanic?



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