Prison bunks and sea beds
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.