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The life aquatic: 10 unique watery retreats

The life aquatic: 10 unique watery retreats

Always keen to keep up-to-date on all the latest destination developments, I recently attended a session with Greg Armstrong from Resort Marketing International to find out about exciting changes in the Caribbean. Later this year, the region's very first over-water bungalows will open on Barbados' breathtaking Carlisle Bay, which got me thinking – where in the world is the best quirky accommodation for lovers of the Big Blue?

From cruising beneath the waves in a submarine or staying in a former undersea marine lab to lulling in a paradise lagoon or experiencing a traditional tribal water village, here's my pick of the best aqua-themed accommodation to make your travels extra special.

  1. Pier out to sea

    The Pier at the Radisson Aquatica Resort Barbados

    Much sought-after overwater bungalows arrive in the Caribbean this autumn as Radisson Aquatica Resort Barbados prepares to open luxury suites just three-and-a-half metres above the sea. Swim straight from your room or watch the sunset from the privacy of a pretty teak balcony with the sound of the ocean as the soundtrack to a serene stay.

    The first of their kind in the Caribbean, the suites are exempt from island regulations preventing overwater building as they are located at the end of a charming converted Victorian pier. Even better, the pier stretches out to sea from one of Barbados' prettiest beaches, Carlisle Bay, where fine gently shelving sand is lapped by calm turquoise waters.

  2. Submarine stay

    The Lover's Deep Submarine hotel

    Underwater explorers looking for a truly one-off experience can now hire their very own submarine hotel to discover the rich waters of St Lucia or the Red Sea, while lulling in complete luxury. The sub, dubbed "Lover's Deep", is being billed by Oliver's Travels as the perfect opportunity for couples to join the 'mile-low club' as opposed to the "mile-high club".

    The vessel comes fully staffed and stylishly decked out, with VIP perks such as a private butler and concierge service, as well as free champagne on arrival and an aphrodisiac tasting menu. With large marine viewing windows throughout, the vessels are perfect for an alternative romantic break or honeymoon.

  3. Room in the lagoon

    Sub-aqua Suite at Atlantis The Palm, Dubai

    Dubai is famous for its impossibly lavish hotels and architecturally ambitious creations, so it's little surprise that Atlantis, The Palm resort features sub-aqua suites with floor-to-ceiling windows looking into a man-made lagoon.

    The luxury Poseidon and Neptune Suites feel as if they are submersed under the sea and what they lack in natural scenery, they more than make up for in mythical drama with more than 65,000 marine residents swimming between the mock-ruins of an ancient lost city.

  4. Sea beds

    Hilton Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa in French Polynesia

    You could watch TV at home, but "Tahitian television" is an altogether different kind of entertainment. From the thatched, stilted water villas of Bora Bora Nui Resort and Spa, gaze into glass panels set in the floor offering a private window on the underwater world.

    Surrounded by idyllic tropical scenery and set above an azure lagoon famous for its visiting manta rays, these are the only two-storey water suites in French Polynesia. Guests can swim or snorkel in crystal-clear turquoise waters directly from the villas' sundeck and enjoy one of the best overwater resorts in the world.

  5. Into the deep

    Underwater room at Manta Resort, Pemba Island, Tanzania.

    Travellers to the beautiful African nation of Tanzania can stay four metres below the tropical Indian Ocean by booking the underwater room at Manta Resort, Pemba Island.

    This unique experience let's you stay beneath the waves in a private floating suite with large windows looking out into the blue and an above-sea deck and lounge area where you can swim off and explore the tropical marine waters. At night, spotlighting ensures rare views of the nocturnal underwater world, including species such as octopi that prefer to come out after dark.

  6. Twenty thousand leagues under the sea

    The Emerald Lagoon Key Largo in Florida

    Inspired by Jules Verne's famous book following the fictional submarine adventures of Captain Nemo, Jules' Undersea Lodge is only accessible from beneath the surface of the sea. Set at the bottom of Emerald Lagoon beneath Key Largo in Florida, this former marine is the world's oldest underwater hotel and the only one of its kind in the USA.

    A two-bedroom retro hideaway with huge observation windows, the hotel is entered by scuba-diving down to its hatch, making it exclusive to trained divers only.

  7. Water palace

    The Oberoi Udaivilas in Rajasthan

    Deep in the heart of Rajasthan is an altogether different water-side retreat – an exquisite Indian palace in the centre of a glittering lake and surrounded by clear pools and verdant terraces. The high-end Oberoi Udaivilas hotel in Udaipur is perfect for travellers looking for a unique, majestic and exotic experience.

    The hotel is reached via an enchanting gondola-style boat ride across the lake, and once in the grounds, guests can explore a rich cornucopia of vine-draped courtyards, rippling fountains, cool pools and pretty gardens. Inside the palace, beautiful domed and decorated interiors inspired by the Rajput dynasty transport you to another era, while its luxurious guestrooms come with private pools and pavilions.

  8. Down under

    Reef World at the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

    Australia's largest reef platform, Reefworld, is anchored above an outer section of the world's most astonishing coral formation – the Great Barrier Reef. It's the ideal place to experience the beauty of this underwater wonderland.

    You can take a guided snorkelling tour, join a diving expedition, or view the colourful corals and marine life from the sub-aqua observatory or semi-submersible. For a truly unique experience, the pontoon can accommodate up to six guests per night, who have the chance to dine under a blanket of stars and fall asleep to the gentle sound of the ocean lapping the reef.

  9. Tribal sea village

    The Dragon Inn Floating Resort, Semporna, Malaysia

    Based on the design of a traditional Bajau tribal water village, the Dragon Inn Floating Resort in Semporna, Malaysia offers guests a unique experience of living like a coastal local in stilted palm-thatched accommodation set over calm tropical waters.

    With a charming, authentic design including bamboo-lined walls and hardwood floors, the rooms are filled with the sights and sounds of the sea, with all the creature comforts you would expect from a modern resort.

  10. Float your boat

    The King Pacific Lodge, British Colombia, Canada

    Experience Canada's untouched wilderness country from the comfort of a luxury floating barge hotel moored beside British Colombia's Great Bear Rainforest. Accessed via floatplane and towed into dock at Princess Royal Island for spring and summer, King Pacific Lodge is one of the world's most unusual hotels – ideal for adventurous travellers and lovers of the great outdoors.

    Constructed on an ex-US Navy barge, this gorgeous eco-lodge is made from all natural materials – stone, fir, cedar and pine – and offers a portal into a pristine natural paradise. From floor-to-ceiling windows, guests can gaze out on a watery landscape and even watch wildlife go by – whale and rare Kermode bear sightings are virtually guaranteed.

Personal picks

While all of these experiences are worthy of any travel bucket list, my personal favourite is perhaps the least quirky of all. As someone who loves swimming, diving, soaking up the sunshine and relaxing amid tropical scenery, Bora Bora Nui Resort and Spa is my top pick. For me, spending days luxuriating in the lagoon, watching the manta ray ballet, and exploring this extraordinary underwater paradise is the ultimate great sea escape.

As underwater explorer and oceanic adventurer Jacques Cousteau once said:

"The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever."

For more aqua-themed trips, check out my upcoming blog post on the best snorkel and dive spots in the Red Sea region.

Recommended Deal

From £ 889 per person
A chic and exciting getaway at Radisson Aquatica Resort

A chic and exciting getaway at Radisson Aquatica Resort

Enjoy the best of both worlds, with the stunning landscapes and sandy beaches plus the culture of Bridgetown nearby

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Sasha Wood

Travel Muse

An assorted adventurer, nature lover, wildlife enthusiast, culture vulture, and beach buff - my...

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