Space may be the final frontier, but until leisure travel into the cosmos becomes a reality as envisioned by billionaire entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Richard Branson, there’s another surface to explore. The latest luxury travel trend has jetsetters going down under. Not to Australia; rather, they’re headed into the depths of the ocean.
“If the mind can dream it, it can be built, and the latest phenomena to prove this are the underwater suites popping up across the globe,” says Kirsty Cowie, Asia travel expert for luxury operator Scott Dunn Exceptional Travel. “Who wouldn’t want to spend a night under the sea, in the largest aquarium in the world, watching the tropical fish as they drift off to sleep? It’s the ultimate dream world!”
Venturing deep into the ocean’s waters is not a new concept. Adventure lovers can go cage diving with sharks in South Africa, snorkel with stingrays in the Caribbean, do an underwater volcano dive in Indonesia, and even probe Caesarea, an underwater archaeological site in Israel. That still leaves the majority of the ocean untouched.
“More than 80 percent of our ocean is unmapped, unobserved and unexplored,” according to the National Ocean Service. But that may be changing. Exotic travel today includes an exploration of the underneath via luxury accommodations, with resorts like Conrad Maldives Rangali Island and Atlantis The Palm pioneering these exclusive experiences.
“The latest trend reports indicate drivers for the next generation of travelers point to the longing for experiences vs. things,” says Stefano Ruzza, general manager, Conrad Maldives Ranagali Island. “Research has shown that today’s travelers are more willing to invest in experiences, with travel destinations being the new mark of luxury. Global travelers are always searching for the next hot item in experiential and luxury travel. The underwater trend among luxury travelers is a natural extension of a unique Maldivian experience.”
In the Maldives, globetrotters have plenty of land-based options, from the five-star Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru to the family- and eco-friendly Soneva Jani. The Muraka offers something they don’t: the opportunity to sleep with the fishes. This two-level hotel space — more like a two-story aquarium, really — is far from the only underwater hotel accommodation available today, but it is the most ambitious.
The 600-ton steel, concrete and acrylic lower structure, which comprises the submerged portion of the villa, was constructed in Singapore and shipped in one piece to the resort before being connected to the upper, sea-level part of the suite and lowered to a depth of more than 16 feet below sea level in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Curved acrylic panels enclose the suite, offering near-uninterrupted views of the seabed and a front-row seat to the dynamics of sea life from the luxe bath. Take the spiral staircase or private elevator up one floor, and you can gaze at the water through see-through walls, relax in the infinity pool or on one of the private decks, retire to one of two bedrooms or soak in the ocean-facing tub. It also has its own gym and a separate area for private security detail.
“The Muraka is driven by our inspiration to deliver innovative and transformative experiences to our global travelers,” says Ruzza. “The world’s first undersea residence encourages guests to explore the Maldives from an entirely new perspective below the surface of the sea. The Muraka marks our second venture in underwater architecture and technology, next to Ithaa Undersea Restaurant, which is celebrating its 14th anniversary. Through our rich history of being a trailblazer in innovative luxury hospitality, we are proud to remain at the forefront of cutting-edge design, technology and architecture.”
At Your Beck and Call
The full concierge experience comes with the territory when you stay in one of these undersea hotel rooms. For your $50,000 a night at The Muraka, you get transportation by way of private seaplane and use of a speedboat during your stay, plus a butler and chef at your disposal. There’s also an on-call fitness trainer and spa treatments. The 24/7 butler service is also integrated into the posh experience at Resorts World Sentosa’s (RWS) Ocean Suites in Singapore. More than a resort, RWS bills itself as a lifestyle destination, and it’s not hard to see why. A total of six hotels comprise the complex, with options for luxury travelers of all types; trekkers sans kids love the Michelin-starred dining, world-class ESPA spa and one of only two casinos in Singapore. The resort is especially coveted by families, however, with attractions including Universal Studios Singapore, Dolphin Island, Adventure Cove Waterpark and the S.E.A. Aquarium.
The 11 two-story townhomes of the Ocean Suites look right into that aquarium — the second largest in the world — through a 60-foot floor-to-ceiling acrylic panel. While the amount of viewing space here may be more limited than the completely immersive experience of The Muraka, guests have an astounding array of marine life to observe. Raise the viewing panel to see rays, manta rays and schools of fish, and the room lights dim — a theatrical touch worthy of Ocean Suites’ setting. Guests can also
watch feeding time right from their room, with divers descending just outside their window. Upstairs are a living room, an additional bathroom, and a private outdoor deck and dip pool for those who’d prefer to be on the water, not under it.
Going Under in Dubai
The five-star Burj Al Arab Jumeirah is often the image people get of Dubai, courtesy of its iconic sail shape, but the largest and most highly populated city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is also the fourth most-visited place in the world, according to Mastercard’s Global Destination Cities Index. Thus, it has no shortage of jaw-dropping digs that attract luxury travelers from around the globe to explore the vast beaches, amenities like the Dubai Mall, the world’s second largest shopping mall, the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building on earth, and even an indoor ski resort at Ski Dubai.
The dual two-story underwater suites at Atlantis The Palm give jetsetters another reason to explore the city, from a whole new angle. “Today’s luxury travelers are increasingly more focused on seeking incredible experiences rather than material goods. They have been around the world and seen lots of high-end hotels and resorts; now they want something that goes above and beyond the regular,” says Timothy Kelly, executive vice president and managing director, Atlantis The Palm and The Royal Atlantis. “Many things make Atlantis The Palm an iconic entertainment destination resort, but one of the most awe-inspiring of those is the Ambassador Lagoon. Home to more than 65,000 marine animals, it is one of the world’s largest aquariums and provides a stunning backdrop for our underwater suites, Poseidon and Neptune.”
The floor-to-ceiling windows offer views into the Ambassador Lagoon, a 3-million-gallon aquarium. Guests of the two underwater suites at Atlantis The Palm also enjoy expansive second-floor living rooms, oversized balconies, dedicated 24-hour butler service and extravagant extras such as 24-karat-gold-flaked soap. This is one of the many Instagrammable features of the space, joining amenities such as the Aquaventure Waterpark; The Lost Chambers Aquarium; the new Wavehouse entertainment hub with bowling, arcade games and live entertainment; celebrity chef restaurants like Nobu, Ronda Locatelli by Michelin-starred chef Giorgio Locatelli, and Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen & Bar; the hotel’s underwater restaurant, Ossiano; and its exclusive $1,000 Shiseido Japanese Couple Ritual.
The fact that Atlantis The Palm is one of the most Instagrammed hotels in the world isn’t lost on Kelly, who counts the social site as largely providing the impetus for bookings of the underwater rooms.
“Another reason behind the underwater trend among travelers is undeniably the Instagram factor,” he says. “Photographs aren’t simply to cherish memories anymore; they are for sharing your incredible experiences with family and friends in real time. Our underwater suites combine an awe-inspiring setting with the highest level of comfort and service.”
Chasing the Instagram-worthy is a trend in and of itself, says Cowie of Scott Dunn Travel. “It seems like in today’s world, nothing is impossible when it comes to travel, and everyone is looking for those utterly Instagrammable, bragging-rights types of places around the world.”
There is an eco-friendly element to underwater hotels that also appeals to luxury travelers. Beyond providing the opportunity to get closer than ever to sea life without needing a towel, many of these accommodations are also engineered to be environmentally conscious.
The Muraka employs three marine biologists to monitor conditions and allow coral to flourish. The care and concern for the underwater environment is right there in the name. Muraka means “coral” in the local Maldivian Dhivehi language.
At the Manta Resort in Zanzibar, serenity is a priority, and so is conservation. The resort and its in-demand underwater sea room are located on the remote and largely untouched Pemba Island in the Indian Ocean. “As we are nature lovers, we wanted to showcase the wonders of marine life by living in it, literally,” says Jessica Saus, director of marketing and sales at the Manta Resort. “I think what sets us apart is that we are the forerunners of the concept and that conservation is at the heart of the concept.”
Manta Resort has 18 rooms, including waterfront villas and garden rooms, but the underwater room is its prime offering. The three-level space has a landing deck for boats and comprises a lounge and bathroom. Upstairs is an outdoor lounge area for taking in the sights around the clock. One of the advantages to vacationing in such a sparsely populated setting: views of the Milky Way by night. Beneath the water, the Submariner Room is a floating bedroom space with a window into a living coral reef, where fish and more exotic species of sea life take up residence and coral thrives on the anchoring lines and around the structure.
Dining With the Fishes
Under, Europe’s first submerged restaurant, was designed to take advantage of a similar phenomenon. Not only has the concrete structure been conceived as a sort of artificial reef with the ability to attract limpets and kelp, but it has also been outfitted with resources to aid marine biology research teams. Located in Lindesnes, Norway, about five hours from Oslo, Under recently opened to much fanfare — and a six-month wait for a table. It offers a panoramic window affording views of sea animals from 16 feet below the surface, to go along with the $430 seasonal, 18-course tasting menu (with wine; $260 without).
The aptly named SEA at the Anantara Kihavah Villas in the Maldives also offers gourmet dining underwater, and it also boasts the world’s first underwater wine cellar. Adventurous travelers seeking an underwater experience beyond one room or one meal can rent an exclusive submarine from Oliver’s Travels that comes with a chef and personal butler. They can also take advantage of the $215,000 romance package, which also incorporates a gourmet tasting menu. Or, they can have a treatment at the Lime Spa at Huvafen Fushi Resort in the Maldives, which features the world’s first underwater spa.
Should none of these experiences be sufficient, there is this: The Floating Seahorse Signature Edition villas, a multimillion-dollar ownership opportunity at the Heart Of Europe, a collection of islands off the coast of Dubai. These bespoke floating residences offer three levels of ultra-luxury spanning more than 4,000 square feet, with underwater master bedrooms and baths revealing a view of their own coral garden, plus rooftop Jacuzzi and terrace. Leave it to Dubai to be over the top, even
when under the water.
This article originally appeared in Homes & Estates magazine.
By Jaymi Naciri