"Watch, and you'll see, someday I'll be part of your world," said Ariel. The Little Mermaid didn’t realize humans might prefer to join her under the sea. Her clamshell bed has never looked inviting, but there are two luxurious ReefSuites Down Under on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, where humans can sleep 15 feet under the sea (no gills or SCUBA equipment required).
Sleep With The Fishes
The suites are part of a $10 million pontoon complex called Reefworld moored over The Great Barrier Reef. The floor-to-ceiling windows give new meaning to the saying sleep with the fishes. Guests can eyeball Maori wrasse as big as divers, spot bright orange clownfish -- one may well be Nemo -- or watch candy-colored parrotfish perform an underwater ballet.
Way Out Under The Sea
Underwater hotels are a growing trend, although mostly they are nearer to land than Reefsuites is, considering its location on the Outer Great Barrier Reef, around 45 miles from shore. Tourists reach the complex via a 3-hour cruise from Airlie Beach, whilst taking in the beauty of the Whitsundays Islands. Or they can board a two-hour cruise from Hamilton Island.
Most of the other people onboard are daytrippers. The pontoon itself reminded me of a resort's aquatic facilities with sundecks, freshwater showers, changing rooms, air-conditioned spaces, a bar, and even massage services.
Room check-in is at 3 p.m., so after arriving in the late morning, you can enjoy the pontoon activities that help you experience and learn about the world's most famous reef. The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) was declared a World Heritage Area in 1981 because of its outstanding universal value. ReefWorld ensures this beauty is more accessible than ever before.
Experiences For Non-Swimmers
Non-swimmers can still get close to the reef by entering the underwater viewing chamber or taking a semi-submersible boat ride. On these tours, guests see the same views as divers do of tropical fish and colorful coral. Another dry option is a helicopter ride over Heart Reef. This short trip isn’t just about seeing this romantically shaped and much-photographed reef. Flying over the Great Barrier Reef is an unforgettable experience. From the air, the reef looks like a mood ring with its ever-changing blue, green, and aquamarine hues.
Snorkeling And Diving
Snorkelers staying at ReefSuites will enjoy designated areas with ropes anchored to the ocean floor so it’s easy to pull themselves along. They can also join a guided Snorkel Safari to learn about the reef and identify the fish that can be seen later from the panoramic windows of the underwater suites.
I enjoy swimming, but being short-sighted, feel insecure in the ocean as I can't see what's beneath me. Reefworld provides optical masks, and this made a massive difference to my experience. The GBR is one of the seven wonders of the natural world and this first sighting of the coral gardens and darting fish was one of my most memorable travel experiences.
Certified instructors teach visitors how to scuba dive with as much hand-holding as they need. Experienced divers can venture further out to explore the canyons and the maze of tunnels, where they may encounter giant clams and even a massive Queensland grouper. His name is George, and he may visit you at the window of your Reefsuite later at night.
Your Own Atlantis
After the daytrippers leave, guests have the pontoon to themselves. No need to dive to access your room. Instead, step down the gleaming white stairwell. Unless you feel claustrophobic in large aquariums, you'll be fine in your air-conditioned suite. The area holds a queen-sized bed and has a full ensuite. The floor is partly glass so you can spot marine life beneath your feet, and the vast window seamlessly connects guests with the underwater world.
Lie in bed for hours mesmerized by the schools of tropical fish that dart and flit and flee. At night, switch on the UV blue light to illuminate the marine life swimming around you. With luck, you’ll receive a visit from George the grouper, who is so massive he will fill your window frame.
At Your Service
Guests are treated like VIPs from the moment they step onboard the catamaran taking them to Reefworld. A sign marks out their Reefsleep Only seating in the air-conditioned top deck. Once at the pontoon, they have dedicated staff looking after them. Beverages such as wine and beer are included in the package.
At sunset, enjoy drinks and canapes with some of the other guests. This is followed by a starlit dinner seated at a long table on the upper deck. A French chef creates dishes from local produce such as beef from Queensland's Burdekin region, fruit and vegetables from Bowen (Bowen mangoes are to die for), sustainably caught tiger prawns, and reef fish.
Breakfast includes eggs to order and tropical fruits, plus the chance to sip coffee while staring out at the beauty of the reef. Go snorkeling again in virtual privacy before the daytrippers arrive. Checkout time for your room is midday, but you can spend a few hours after that relaxing on the deck before it's time to leave the pontoon.
Day trips to Reefworld start at just over $200. The two-day Reefsuite experience, including the overnight stay, starts at just over $600 per person and includes all meals, drinks, morning and afternoon tea, a private guided snorkeling tour, and the semi-submersible tour. Where possible, book these experiences for quieter times after the daytrippers leave.
A less expensive stay is on the deck in one of the 12 specially designed waterproof swags (like tents with mattresses). Guests sleep under the stars with a choice of covers to either stargaze or block out the light. This two-day experience offers meals and drinks but not the chance to sleep under the sea. It starts at just under $500 per person.
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