Where: Jules’ Undersea Lodge, Key Largo, Florida
The day before their wedding, Donna Finck turned to her fiancé, Ed, and said, “I’m actually a little scared. I’ve never done anything like this before.” He turned to her and acknowledged her nerves, saying, “Neither have I.” Their cold feet had nothing to do with their impending nuptials. Instead, it had everything to do with where their wedding was set to take place: underwater.
The hospitality industry is full of places that promise guests “an overnight experience unlike any other.” For aquaphiles like Donna and Ed, who own a dive shop in Woodbridge, Va., checking into Jules’ Undersea Lodge may offer the most singular overnight experience of any hotel. Resting at 30 feet below sea level, at the bottom of Southern Florida’s Emerald Lagoon in Key Largo Undersea Park, the converted research lab calls itself “the world’s only underwater hotel.” In fact, it is a single set of interlinked living chambers: two bedrooms, a common room and a wet room with a floor entrance for scuba-only access.
There are TVs, cozy beds, hot showers, phones, a microwave and a refrigerator in the quarters, along with all the fresh air you can breathe — provided by a round-the-clock control center and backed by an independent support system as well as redundant backup systems. There are 42-inch, porthole-style windows in every room, offering views of schools of reef fish and the occasional visiting manatee or barracuda. And, of course, there are wedding packages available for those so inclined.
“We knew we didn’t want a huge wedding,” Donna says, laughing. “It was a very unique and surreal experience, to say the least.”
The typical Jules’ Undersea Lodge wedding package includes a midafternoon nuptial service in the facility’s common room, accompanied by a notary public who dives down for the ceremony. This is followed by a toast of sparkling cider (alcohol is verboten at the facility) and a catered gourmet meal, including shrimp cocktail, lobster tail or filet mignon and a wedding cake — all delivered in waterproof suitcases by a staff “mer-chef.” Newlyweds then enjoy a night’s honeymoon in their very own 600-square-foot subaqueous suite, blissfully alone save for voyeurish posses of angelfish and sea horses.
“It’s like visiting another world, where you’re the ones in the aquarium and the fish are looking at you,” says the facility’s vice president, Teresa McKinna. “Over and over again, we hear from our guests what a wonderful experience it is staying at the lodge and how there’s a real sense of doing something that no one else has done.”
The majority of guests at Jules’ Undersea Lodge — which can accommodate up to six guests — have their scuba diving certification. But the facility offers a three-hour course that allows noncertified guests to safely access the lodge as well. Overnight packages generally include unlimited diving in the lagoon, which is a preserved habitat for a variety of reef fish and marine invertebrates.
“There’s so much to see and experience down there,” says Donna, who is now considering returning for her wedding anniversary. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
For more information: www.jul.com