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Many people love the idea of living at the beach, but if your passion extends into the water, then Jules Undersea Lodge off the coast of Key Largo could be the ultimate in your aquatic living dream-come-true. The lodge is the world’s only underwater hotel, requiring guests to take their love of the undersea world to a new level as they scuba dive 21 feet below the surface of the ocean to reach the entrance to the hotel. For ocean lovers and those who just want to get as close to the life of a mermaid as possible, Jules Undersea Lodge is an experience you cannot miss.
What Is Jules Undersea Lodge?
While the lodge is first and foremost a hotel, it is not your typical high-rise simply placed underwater. The building stands on legs that raise it about five feet off the ocean floor. The entire structure is filled with compressed air to prevent flooding, and guests enter by way of a “moon pool” that creates the impression for divers that they have emerged in a swimming pool located in a small building. This wet room stores diving gear and provides ongoing access to the outside ocean for guests.
The Guest Experience
When guests enter the Jules Undersea Lodge, they soon discover this hotel experience is unusual in more ways than just the fact that it has been placed underwater. Access to the lodge is an exclusive experience but guests also have the option to upgrade their packages to include a “mer-chef” who scuba-dives to the lodge to prepare gourmet meals and provide other amenities, like fresh flowers and specialty cakes, to help celebrate memorable occasions.
The lodge is relatively small, allowing for just one or two parties, depending on privacy preferences, to occupy it at a time. There are just three compartments in the underwater living quarters: two bedrooms and a common room. The bedrooms are private, and the common room has a telephone, intercom, VCR/DVD combo, and an “I home” feature that the park notes it installed “so you can enjoy your own choice of music from home.” Each room boasts a large, round window so guests can enjoy the ocean views at all times.
Guests also can opt to spend a three-hour lunch experience in the lodge instead of sleeping over. The lodge’s promoters describe this dining experience as including the Jules Undersea Lodge “World Famous Pizza” upon scuba-diving to the location. Guests may also avail themselves of the “Labs in the Lodge” program, which is led by a “habitat education specialist” who educates guests on the undersea life surrounding the secluded lodge.
Once you are under the ocean and snug in your temporary undersea dwelling, you will probably want to venture right back outside to explore the surrounding environment. Scuba gear is part of some packages and may be rented separately, as needed, with others. Guests receive an unlimited supply of air tanks so they can make the most of the experience by spending time with the amazing array of aquatic life they can also view right outside their bedroom windows. Common sights include:
- Tropical angelfish
- Feather duster worms
Besides requiring all guests to compete a SCUBA certification before spending time in the Jules Undersea Lodge, a “mission director” will monitor your undersea habitat’s operations from a command center on the edge of the lagoon. The command center and the lodge are linked by a cable providing fresh air, power, water, and communications to the residents underwater. The lodge also has independent support systems in case of emergency and “redundant backup systems” to insure complete security for underwater guests enjoying an aquatic adventure.
The Story behind Jules Undersea Lodge
The lodge began its life as a research laboratory, which explains its prime location in a mangrove lagoon about 70 miles south of Miami, Florida, off the coast of Key Largo. The lodge was originally called La Chalupa research laboratory, and scientists used it to explore the continental shelf off Puerto Rico’s coast. Now the lodge is a permanent resident of the Florida Keys, and the Sunshine State’s mangrove lagoons are home to thousands of aquatic creatures and plants.
The mangrove is often referred to as “Florida’s Tree of Life” because of the unique ecosystems they create, thanks to their towering branches and submerged, intertwined roots. The mangrove lagoons host not one, but three types of mangrove species: red, black, and white. The Jules Undersea Lodge originally served as a base for researchers studying the wide variety of aquatic life sustained by these lagoons. It is not uncommon to see jellyfish, dolphins, manatees, tarpon, and turtles swimming by in these ethereal lagoon environments.Mangroves support nurseries for:
- Mangrove snapper
A Place In History
Besides serving as a uniquely situated research lab, the Jules Undersea Lodge was also the site of the historic 1995 sea-space link-up, during which Scott Carpenter and Ian Koblick, co-owners and co-developers of the lodge, spoke with astronaut Mike Gernhardt while he was aboard the space shuttle Endeavor.
The lodge has also become an artificial reef, thanks to the flow of oxygen from the lodge into the surrounding water. Koblick explained, “Marine life is actually enhanced by the presence of an underwater structure” and described the relationship between the lodge and the ocean as “a symbiotic relationship between the technology of man and the beauty of nature.”
How to Stay at the Lodge
To stay at the Jules Undersea Lodge, guests must be certified SCUBA divers. If you are not already certified, then the lodge offers a Discover SCUBA course that guests are required to take and pass before beginning their underwater residency. Whether you opt for the three-hour lunch experience or for spending one or more nights in the lodge, you still must complete your SCUBA training first.
Fees, Food, and Fun Excursions
There is a variety of fees, many of which are optional or depend on the package you select, that go along with your trip. For example, even though some lodge packages include dive gear, it is not part of others. There is also a “lagoon fee” that resembles a resort fee, and, for an additional cost, you can request “total privacy” for your party even if you do not have enough guests to fill both bedrooms.
As we mentioned, guests may commission a “mer-chef” to prepare gourmet meals during their stay. If you prefer to do your own cooking, you have that option as well, and the lodge provides coffee, tea, orange juice, and cereal for breakfast options, as well as water, sodas, and snacks. The lodge also offers pizza delivery services, and staff members are on duty 24 hours a day.
Physical Requirements for Staying in the Lodge
Besides getting SCUBA certified, guests must be in good health by Jules Undersea Lodge standards to qualify for this experience. Certain disqualifiers will prevent you from taking the SCUBA course at all, including:
- Inability to swim
- Psychological reasons you should not dive
- Insulin diabetic
Other conditions require a doctor’s release, including:
- History of heart problems
- History of high blood pressure
- Chest surgery
- History of seizures, dizziness, blackouts, fainting, epilepsy, or taking medication to prevent these issues
- Lung disease, emphysema, or tuberculosis
- Collapsed lung in your past
- Ear disease
- Sinus problems
- Ear or Sinus Surgery
- Nervous system disorders
- Bleeding disorders
- Not already SCUBA certified, over 45, and a family history of heart attack or stroke
The lodge requests guests “seriously consider not diving” if you have:
- Difficulty with your ears
- Panic attacks
- A cold or chronic congestion
Keeping Good Company
The Jules Undersea Lodge boasts an impressive roster of former guests, as it has played host to former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Steve Tyler of Aerosmith, comedian Tim Allen, and Jon Fishman of Phish.
The co-founders’ impressive resumes speak for themselves: Koblick is the president of the Marine Resources Development Foundation and is considered a leading expert in undersea habitation, and co-developer Neil Monney is a former professor and director of ocean engineering at the U.S. Naval Academy. Together, the two co-founders have managed undersea habitats and training centers that have produced more aquanauts than all the other undersea habitats and training programs combined.
More Lodges and More Experiences to Come
The co-founders of the Jules Undersea Lodge say there is much more waiting future guests of the lodge and other undersea aficionados. The two say developers from around the world have approached them about creating lodges similar to the Jules Undersea Lodge in other parts of the ocean. The lodge’s futuristic design will probably remain intact, but windows will be even larger to offer “spectacular views,” as Monney describes it.
While the current lodge is cozy and comfortable, the designs of the future will probably be much larger and more spacious as technology and visitor experiences contribute to developers’ ability to create increasingly luxurious accommodations far beneath the surface of the ocean.