Colonizing the ocean depths have long been a dream of many visionaries, but very little has ever actually been done to make it a reality. Many see tourist resorts incorporating underwater dwellings as the first in a very long process in developing practical ocean-based habitats. The techniques and technologies developed by these undersea hoteliers may well be incorporated into sub-oceanic communities decades hence.
Underwater hotels currently available or being built come in all shapes and sizes, from the five-room Jules Underwater Lodge in the Florida Keys to the proposed 1.1 million square foot Poseidon resort in Fiji to the enormous luxury hotel Hydropolis currently under construction off the shores of Dubai.
The main selling point for undersea hotels is their current novelty. The Jules Underwater Lodge, the only venture of its kind fully in business, is basically a refit of the old La Chalupa research laboratory, an underwater habitat used to explore the continental shelf off the coast of Puerto Rico. Its systems were updated and it was retrofitted with a number of luxuries, including hot showers, a fully stocked kitchen, the latest in entertainment systems, and even a food delivery service.
The lodge is only five rooms large, and is not designed for an occupancy of more than half a dozen or so people at once. Perhaps its greatest selling point to privacy-minded tourists, and stumbling block to popular use, is that guests must scuba-dive down to the Lodge in order to use it.
The Poseidon Hotel in Fiji is a substantial step up in both size and ambition from the Jules Lodge, a luxury resort scheduled to be opened for business in mid-2008. Just offshore from a more traditional shoreline resort, the Poseidon features broad well-lit tunnels leading down under the waterline to twenty luxuriously-furnished suites. Each suite will offer views of surrounding coral, a jacuzzi tub, bathrooms with double sinks, exterior underwater lights, and fish feeders to enhance sealife viewing. Also featured is an underwater fine-dining restaurant, which rotates slowly to provide patrons with a stunning panoramic subaquatic dining experience.
The entire hotel is being manufactured on land and will be lowered section by section into its home lagoon. This method will allow the creators of the Poseidon to save considerable money by eliminating the need for extensive underwater construction.
Since the hotel and its main accessways are attached to the surface and maintained at surface air pressure, there is no need for any kind of unusual environmental support features. Air, power, clean water, etc, would all be able to circulate easily in and out with standard machinery. The one exception to this may be heating. Water is forty time denser than air, and as such is a much more efficient sponge for soaking away heat from a structure. And given the hotel's great many transparent surfaces, heat loss can easily become a major expense issue. Though design details on the hotel itself are sparse, its certain that the structure will be as well-insulated as the design allows, and the transparent surfaces located in the suites, restaurant, and observation ports will not only be thick and shatter-resistant, but have a number of advanced thermal insulating properties as well.
The Hydropolis underwater hotel is a project of truly stunning scope taking shape off the shores of Dubai. The largest underwater dwelling yet devised, the 220-suite structure will consist of three main sections: a "land station", basically a large surface platform, built directly above the structure to welcome visitors; connecting tunnels to take guests via tramway to the main structure; and the main hotel itself, which is described as the world's foremost submarine leisure complex. The hotel will feature a grand ballroom, theme suites, restaurants, bars, conference rooms, and even a fully-functioning marine biology research facility.
As with the Poseidon hotel, since the facility is connected to the surface, there is no need for any special environmental support facilities. Its larger and built a bit more compactly than Poseidon so it may be a bit more efficient at heat retention. Still, keeping such a large facility at a comfortable temperature for its guests will always be an ongoing concern for its operators.
Though underwater hotels currently and in the near future are likely to remain in the realm of the affluent and well-to-do, they do point the way to how practical, easy-to-access subaquatic habitats could be produced on a larger scale. As the techniques used in the construction of these hotels are proven and become more commonplace, overall costs and construction time should diminish as well, at least to the point that other communities and corporations might be willing to invest in similar projects. Underwater hotels of every stripe and type may begin popping up all over the globe, their number and competition driving down cost. In a few decades, they could be handling not only the leisure time and convenience of the wealthy, but that of the more common folk as well.
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