Pri­son bunks and sea beds

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

Many trav­ellers, in­clud­ing me, have a fas­ci­na­tion with stay­ing at un­usual ac­com­mo­da­tion. In a re­cent piece in The Aus­tralian (May 12), I wrote about mon­u­men­tal banks that have been turned into five-star ho­tels, some with sub­ter­ranean spas and pools in one-time vaults or restau­rants and bars in for­mer bank­ing halls where cashiers, not concierges, once held fort.

But a few jails, too, have been rein­vented as ho­tels, the most re­cent of which is Fre­man­tle’s 19th-cen­tury strong­hold, now opened for back­pack­ers and bud­get trav­ellers as Fre­man­tle Pri­son YHA; in Bri­tain, Bridewell Pri­son in Liver­pool is be­ing trans­formed to in­ter­na­tional-stan­dard digs while the Mal­mai­son Ox­ford was once the uni­ver­sity city’s jail. Other com­fort­ably con­verted ex­am­ples can be found in Helsinki, Fin­land, and Lucerne, Switzer­land, but if you opt for one of the 20 cells that form part of the ac­com­mo­da­tion in­ven­tory at Cel­ica Art Hos­tel in Ljubl­jana, Slove­nia (a for­mer mil­i­tary bar­racks and pri­son), ex­pect iron bars on the doors, high win­dows with glimpses of sky and a decor best de­scribed as incarceration chic.

Sleep with the fishes? In the quest for the new­est and the best, there are even un­der­wa­ter ho­tels, and talk of more to come, in­clud­ing the scary-sound­ing Hy­dropo­lis in Dubai, de­scribed as cov­er­ing an ex­panse the size of Hyde Park in Lon­don. The Manta Re­sort at Pemba Is­land, Zanz­ibar, has one re­mark­able three-storey Un­der­wa­ter Room with roof plat­form, sea-level deck and sleep­ing quar­ters up close with marine life. At­lantis The Palm in Dubai has Nep­tune and Po­sei­don un­der­wa­ter suites. The lure? Ac­cord­ing to the web­site’s en­thu­si­as­tic de­scrip­tion, “Wake up to breath­tak­ing un­der­wa­ter views, in­clud­ing the an­cient ru­ins of the myth­i­cal lost city of At­lantis and its 65,000 marine in­hab­i­tants … we guar­an­tee you will be blown away.”

In the In­dian Ocean is­land chain of The Mal­dives, there are re­sorts on tiny atolls that boast the likes of un­der­wa­ter restau­rants and spas. Sin­ga­pore’s Re­sort Worlds Sen­tosa fea­tures a pair of two-storey suites look­ing into one of the world’s largest aquar­i­ums. On top, there’s a pri­vate pool ter­race but be­low, from bed or bath, the view is of a tank filled with lively sea crea­tures, in­clud­ing cruis­ing manta rays. But in Fiji, an am­bi­tious Po­sei­don Un­der­wa­ter Re­sorts project has still not opened, de­spite an ini­tial un­veil­ing slated for 2008. “What a wash out!” re­ports The Daily Mail.

Things have come a long way since my first cruise, in the 1960s, with my par­ents. Our tiny bunk-bed­ded cabin was be­low the wa­ter line and the view from the port­hole was like that of a front-loader wash­ing ma­chine in ac­tion. I suf­fered week-long mal de mer and longed to spend the nights on deck and gulp fresh air. But wait, some­one has thought of that, al­beit in five-star luxury … bou­tique cruise line SeaDream Yacht Club has Ba­li­nese Dream Beds on Deck 6 of its two “mega yachts” and pas­sen­gers can sleep un­der stars on balmy nights with the best bed­ding and crew on call. What goes around, comes around.

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