CAST YOUR GAZE BELOW THE WATER’S SURFACE FOR A ONE-OF-A-KIND AQUATIC EXPERIENCE
Global travelers in search of new destinations have increasingly been looking underwater, where a growing assortment of luxury experiences are waiting to be had. Some are offered in conjunction with a beachfront or overwater resort, while others provide intrepid adventurers the opportunity to channel their inner oceanic explorer, plunging below the surface in search of shipwrecks, exotic wildlife, and more.
For adventurers who have already mastered the art of scuba diving (or are looking to skip certification), and are dreaming of sinking even further into the great abyss, there’s The Deep Blue Experience by Fraser & U Boat. Guests can explore forgotten shipwrecks and underwater volcanoes throughout the Mediterranean on the U Boat Navigator, a 24-meter expedition yacht that houses a pair of Triton submarines capable of diving 1,000 meters deep; a three-person, custom-built Triton 3300/3—the same model used to film the BBC’s award-winning Blue Planet II—and a smaller, one-person Triton 3300/1 that serves as a support sub. The U Boat Navigator cruises through Malta, France, Spain, Italy, Greece, and beyond, aided by a crew of six professionals. There’s even a full dive center with mixing facilities for breathing gases.
At roughly US$80,000 per week, the package—which accommodates up to 11 guests for cruising—is ideal for amateur explorers who are passionate about world history, shipwrecks, or geology. The U Boat Navigator can be chartered either as a stand-alone explorer vessel or as a shadow vessel for someone’s principal charter or their own yacht. Fraser creates bespoke itineraries based on the interests, including shipwrecks, dive sites, Mediterranean volcanoes, underwater cinematography, and more.
Marine biology enthusiasts looking for a new snorkeling experience are venturing to Thailand for a one-of-a-kind Swim Reef at The Ritz-Carlton, Koh Samui. The largest man-made reef pool in Southeast Asia teems with more than 50 species of injured fish rescued from local fishermen, and advanced filtration systems ensure that pollutants, jellyfish, and suspended solids in the seawater are removed, resulting in a consistently temperate and safe environment throughout the year. Strategically placed artificial coral reef structures allow for optimum fish viewing. While enjoying immersive snorkeling discoveries and supervised fish feedings, guests are able to view cat sharks, hold sea cucumbers, and try an ad hoc spa experience by letting tiny cleaner wrasse fish swim up and nibble dead skin off their outstretched arms.
Renowned for its overwater bungalows and endless blue waters, the Maldives has become a preferred aquatic playground for the global jet set. In November 2018, the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island debuted The Muraka (“coral” in Dhivehi, the local language), a luxury suite submerged more than 16 feet under the water’s surface. Nestled on the Indian Ocean floor, the two-level structure has an above-water living area, sitting over a main bedroom with an 180-degree curved acrylic dome, windows in the bathroom and walk-in closet, and a dedicated tunnel viewing theater that doubles as a personal aquarium. With rates starting at US$10,000 per night (depending on the season), the suite, which can accommodate up to nine people, includes an infinity pool, a gym, a private bar, and 24-hour butler service. Junior explorers can go glamping with the fishes, as staff will set up a tepee in the undersea suite.
Huvafen Fushi, a luxury resort located in North Malé Atoll, has placed its spa below the water’s surface—the first and only spa of its kind in the world—to deliver next-level calm and relaxation. To make the most of the hypnotic refuge eight meters below the water’s surface, a SpaQuarium experience is offered every evening. Guests enjoy Champagne, canapés, and petits fours while the resort’s marine biologist provides commentary on the nocturnal predators (sharks, rays, eels), bioluminescent plankton, and pristine corals illuminated by UV light torches. Also offered is a bespoke underwater dining experience.
The Maldives has seen several other notable properties open underwater facilities and attractions recently. Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas—located in Baa Atoll, a renowned UNESCO Biosphere Reserve housing some of the richest diversity of marine life in the world—offers SEA, an underwater restaurant and wine cellar featuring the country’s first certified wine education. Patrons can expand their wine knowledge and earn a globally recognized WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) certification during their vacation. (The resort’s wine collection is valued at more than US$2 million.)
Guests enjoy an array of underwater activities, most notably the Snorkeling with Manta Rays program; the waters are home to the world’s largest natural manta ray feeding region from June to November, allowing visitors to get up close and personal while swimming with hundreds of the gentle giants.
Niyama Private Islands Maldives, whose entire spread, including a pair of private islands with 134 spacious villas, can be rented out for $130,000 per night, is home to Subsix, the world’s first underwater club, located six meters below sea level. If lounging with drinks while gawking at bioluminescent activity doesn’t appeal, the subaquatic space also hosts private chef dinners, wine tastings, and events.
LUXURY RESORTS, SUBMERGED
One of Dubai’s most iconic resorts, Atlantis, The Palm, is home to a three-story underwater suite. (The master bedroom’s floor-to-ceiling windows look directly into the Ambassador Lagoon aquarium.) Starting from around $5,500 per night, the suite includes 24-hour butler service and full access to the resort’s myriad attractions. One such attraction, the Lost Chambers Aquarium, hosts underwater yoga, pilates, and meditation classes, with a backdrop of 65,000 marine animals.
The resort’s newest underwater thrill is the Aqua Trek Xtreme experience, in which intrepid explorers descend a ladder 10 meters to the bottom of the Ambassador Lagoon, while wearing an Aquatrek helmet. Once guests reach the bottom, they embark on a guided underwater walking tour of one of the biggest open-air aquariums in the world, coming face-to-face with sharks, stingrays, and schools of multicolored fish.
Resort World Sentosa, situated just off the coast of Singapore on the island of Sentosa, offers 11 two-story Ocean Suites with direct access to the resort’s massive aquarium. Each unit includes a scenic outdoor patio and Jacuzzi on the upper level, with underwater views of the aquarium’s 40,000 fish on the lower level. A daily highlight is feeding time, when guests can watch as divers go below the surface to interact with marine life.
Off the coast of Zanzibar is Pemba Island, which is home to The Manta Resort. A two-minute boat ride from the beach, the resort’s Underwater Room is a three-level suite offering coral reef views from its submerged bedroom. After lounging on the roof to take in the night sky, guests decamp to the bedroom to view Indian Ocean wonders illuminated by underwater spotlights.
Journey Beyond, which owns and operates 13 tourism brands across Australia, attracts serious divers to Queensland’s stunning Whitsunday Islands, home to the company’s Reefsuites. Opened in 2019, the first underwater accommodations in the country offer unprecedented access to the dazzling underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef. Moored offshore on a pontoon at Hardy Reef, 40 nautical miles from Airlie Beach, the Reefsuites offers a plethora of aquatic adventures, and guests can take a scenic helicopter flight to see the famous Heart Reef.
French cruise line Ponant, known for its world-class service and gastronomy, has launched the world’s first multisensory underwater lounge, Blue Eye, which enables guests to see, hear, and feel the sights and sounds of the ocean. Offered on each of the six Ponant Explorer ships, Blue Eye was designed by Jacques Rougerie, a French architect who specializes in underwater habitats, and was inspired by Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
Located seven feet beneath the water line, Blue Eye resembles a submarine attached to the ship, albeit one made from 19 layers of clear steel, making it stronger than the ship’s hull. Digital screens adorn the walls projecting images filmed live by three underwater cameras strategically placed to capture spectacles, and the sound system, developed by a music composer and sound design expert, broadcasts a natural symphony across a three-mile radius using underwater microphones. Capping off the immersive experience, “body listening sofas” discreetly vibrate in unison with the streaming aquatic acoustics to create an underwater encounter guests can see, hear, and feel.
Perhaps the planet’s most notable underwater restaurant, Under is located on Norway’s craggy Lindesnes coast. The architecturally striking complex is angled 18 feet below the icy waters of the North Sea. Head chef Nicolai Ellitsgaard’s Immersion tasting menu features nearly 20 seasonally inspired dishes, with a focus on locally caught Norwegian seafood. Sustainability is built into the restaurant itself, as the rough concrete exterior attracts limpets and kelp, gradually forming an artificial reef. Diners and visiting researchers study the biology and behavior of the abundant cold-water marine life via panoramic views of the North Atlantic seabed.