A wise, singing crab once said, “Darling it’s better, down where it’s wetter, under the sea.” And come this fall, you’ll be able to test that hypothesis at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island as it opens Muraka, the world’s first underwater villa.
The 100-square-metre lodge – named after the local Dhivehi word for coral – sits five metres below the surface on the Indian Ocean. It comprises a living room, bathroom and king-sized bedroom, and comes with a private butler, 24-hour security and an above-water infinity pool.
Muraka is the brainchild of Ahmed Saleem, the director at Crown Properties, and New Zealand engineer Mike Murphy, who created Conrad’s famous underwater restaurant Ithaa at the same resort 13 years ago. Now, instead of dining on grouper as one swims by, you can take a shower, watch TV or do whatever it is you do in bedrooms while sea turtles and colourful fish look on.
The underwater suite is but one part of a three-bedroom villa set apart from the Conrad by a long pier. It looks like a floating home set against the bright blue sky and turquoise water, a sole bastion of humanity contrasting the abundance of nature. Step inside and you’ll find a king bedroom, fully enclosed in glass with view out to the ocean, a washroom with an ocean-facing bathtub, a twin bedroom, a kitchen and a living area. Outside is a relaxation deck to watch the sunrise and an entertainment deck to watch the sunset.
But wander into a far corner of the main living space and you’ll find an unremarkable spiral staircase. Venture down and wind through a column of dark undersea life until a blue light shines at the bottom of the stairs. Turn a final corner and you’ll find a king-sized bed bathed in azure light. It’s the coolest basement bedroom you’ll ever see.
The underwater suite also has a bathroom where you can brush your teeth as eagle rays and parrot fish swim by. And a TV room where you can spend your $63,000-a-night experience watching Netflix.
Don’t worry about any uninvited human guests peering in from the other side of the glass. “The villa is positioned in such a way, when you look out at the open sea, you have a feeling of infinity and freedom,” says the hotel’s general manager Stefano Ruzza. “We established a no swim and no dive zone around the villa so nobody will be disturbed at any time.”
The underwater suite was built above ground in Singapore, shipped to the Maldives and submerged over six hours. Fresh air, electricity and running water are all run from the upstairs villa down into the underwater bedroom.
“Not nearly as easy as it sounds,” Ruzza says.
The project cost US$15-million, and will open this fall for visitors.
While some might see this as a sort of futuristic lodging designed for when the sinking Maldives are completely underwater, Ruzza says it’s not so much an environmental reaction as it is the desire to do something new.
“The owners had done various firsts in the Maldives – first undersea restaurant, first over-water villas on stilts - and in that kind of spirit and inspiration, they felt it was time for something new,” he says. “Obviously, climate change and coral bleaching have had an effect here, so we invest in collaboration with locals to take care of the corals and make sure people who visit have an awesome coral experience.”
Conrad has two marine biologists on staff tasked with taking some of the area’s last surviving coral – dubbed “coral of opportunity” – and creating more. The coral is set on metal rods around the villa in hopes it will grow and create a new reef and habitat for marine life. Unlike some coral-regrowing projects in Dubai and other places, this one uses only natural light and water with no added electricity. As the villa was built on an area where the coral was completely bleached, the environmental impact here is largely positive.
Fancy the once-in-a-lifetime experience, but can’t quite swing the $63,000? Well there are other, slightly cheaper ways to spend the night underwater. The Atlantis at The Palm in Dubai has two underwater suites – the Neptune and Poseidon – for just under $7,000 a night. These fully-luxe suites put you smack in the middle of the resort’s Ambassador Lagoon surrounded by tropical fish. The Manta Resort off Zanzibar also has a three-level room four metres down, all yours for $1,900 a night. Closer to home, Jules Undersea Lodge in Key Largo, Fla., has slightly more spartan accommodations; the dive-in, dive-out hotel goes for about $850 a night.
On the horizon, the first fully-movable underwater hotel is in the works in Key West, Fla. at the Planet Ocean Underwater Hotel. It’s set to be the first in a series of underwater boutique properties that aim to be the first fully-submerged hotel chain in the world. No opening date has been announced. And Fiji is planning Poseidon, the world’s first fully-underwater luxury resort - though it was slated to open in 2006 and still has yet to materialize.
So you might not ever get to live in a magical underwater world with singing crabs and musical mermaids, but you can at least experience what that would be like for a short while. The price tag is high, but for lovers of the undersea world, this is the vacation to splurge on.