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TRAVEL WATCH: SEPTEMBER 20, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 11

Seaside Vacations That Don't Get You Wet

By STEPHEN SHORT

Making the submarine voyage to the Titanic's resting place 3,738 m below sea level put Werner Zehnder into an extremely élite group. Fewer people have journeyed this deep than have visited outer space. "As you go down to the wreck--it takes three hours--you go through columns of water which keep changing into colors I'd never seen before," Zehnder says. "Then you hit pitch-black, switch on the lights and see white, transparent fish moving incredibly slowly to conserve energy and you wonder what you're doing down here and how you withstand all the pressure."

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In the comfort of a tourist sub (T-sub, in travel industry parlance), the answer to the second question is, "easily." Modern deep-sea explorers peer through portholes in comfort, filming their surroundings with remote video cameras and enjoying a snack as they go where few have gone before. This is the surreal world of submarine tourism.

Atlantis Submarines International, world leader in design, development and operation of T-subs, pioneered the industry by launching the first sub off the Cayman Islands in 1985. Atlantis now operates T-subs in Guam, Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean, charging between $35 and $95 for a variety of trips. With a view to luring prospective Asian aquanauts, it currently has its periscope on sites in Phuket and Bintan. Currently, Green Island off Taipei and Okinawa, Japan, are the only deep sea options in the region.

But for those who want to sink to the bottom of the abyss, Zegrahm Deepsea offers up a trip to the Titanic for a whopping $35,000. It's a little pricier than a movie ticket, but the 11-day expedition has received rave reviews. Teaming up with Toronto-based Deep Expeditions Inc., Deepsea already has the charts out for trips to the North Pole and the undersea volcanoes of the Azores.

Starting next spring, you can try a six-day trip off the coast of Vancouver Island to visit with the Jurassic-era six-gill shark for $4,980. Marine biologists on board will explain the mysteries of the main. At the end of the day the sub will return topside to the mothership so passengers can bed down for the night.

More exotic submarine thrills are being dreamt up all the time. But sub exotica means different things to different people. "People don't just want to sit underwater anymore," says Bruce Jones, CEO of Florida-based US Subs, arch-rival of Atlantis. "They want to do it in their own private cruiser." Think submarine as personal statement. Jones says sub operators hadn't changed dramatically enough until the likes of Zegrahm came along. "It's still a relatively young industry, but we were all offering the same things to the same people."

So, for those willing to take the plunge, like several Middle Eastern and U.S. tycoons, Jones' company offers a range of personal subs with prices to match the depth of your pockets, from $500,000 to $78 million. And he's not stopping there. The Poseidon project, an underwater Orient Express, is his latest venture. This super-sub will have 24 staterooms, Pullman-style cabins, celebrity chefs, even Internet access. The $120 million craft, currently being designed in the U.S., will offer cruises for $3,000 per night and operate in four places for three months of each year--the Caribbean, the South Pacific, the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. So, while you're going to have to wait to join the crowd in space, you will soon be able to go where only a few have gone before--and in luxury alien to most space travelers.

RELATED LINKS:
www.deepseavoyages.com
www.incredible-adventures.com/subintro.html
www.ussubs.com
www.goatlantis.com


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