Five-Star Hotel Under the Sea

President Bush may talk about a mission to Mars, but Bruce Jones is betting there is still a healthy thirst for exploration into underwater worlds on our own planet.

Jones, who has spent 17 years designing and selling submarines for private use, has $40 million invested to build a luxury hotel where the most expensive rooms will be submerged 50 feet under the sea off Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas.

Unlike the Jules Undersea Lodge -- the only undersea hotel now in existence, located off the coast of Key Largo, Fla. -- guests at the Poseidon won't need to put on a wet suit and dive to their accommodations. They also won't need to worry about changing pressure levels since the accommodations will be maintained at above-surface pressure. Instead, they can glide to their $1,500-a-night underwater abodes by escalator.

"I think there are a tremendous number of people who would be interested," said Jones, "including anyone who is looking for a different experience."

Each room will feature fortified, transparent acrylic walls that look out onto coral gardens. There will be controls in each room that guests can use to adjust the lighting of the underwater worlds outside their windows and to release food for fish swimming just outside. The rooms will also feature individual Jacuzzis for those who may be inspired by their surroundings to get wet.

It sounds impressive -- but will it happen? It's hard to say, considering Jones' project is only the latest in a string of grand ideas to expand real estate under the sea.

No Lack for Ideas

In the 1960s and '70s, Jacques Cousteau, the French marine explorer, inspired many aspiring aquanauts, including Jones, to imagine underwater worlds of the future. The French architect Jacques Rougerie constructed three major underwater habitats between 1977 and 1981, though none ever made it into the water. He has also designed an undersea village for the Virgin Islands that has yet to be realized.

There is also Ocean Base One, an undersea research station dreamed up over the last decade by ocean enthusiasts at the nonprofit Ocean Technology Foundation in Groton, Conn. As imagined, this fixed habitat about the size of a supermarket could be extended off the back of a roaming ship or sit on the continental shelf about 600 feet below the surface. Divers would reach the base by elevator.

"This could give us the ability to go deeper and stay down much longer," explained Richard Cooper, founder of the foundation and professor of Marine Sciences at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point.

But that project has also been stalled, due to a lack of funding.

Another project, called Hydropolis, is under way in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The underwater complex would feature a luxurious hotel with 220 underwater suites, 66 feet below the surface in the Persian Gulf. The rooms are now slated to go for a bargain $500 a night, which would include access to underwater entertainment within the complex's concert auditorium, ballroom and restaurants.

The only problem is the project's planners have only secured a fraction of the funding needed to start building.

"We get calls from people all the time who are thinking of developing underwater habitats," said Steven Miller, director of the National Undersea Research Center, which operates Aquarius, the world's only operating undersea research station off the coast of Key Largo. "We help when we can but usually these projects never end up happening."

Considering the track record of undersea hotel proposals, is there reason to be hopeful that wealthy adventure-seekers will be able to check into Jones' Poseidon Undersea Resort by 2006, as he expects? If there is, it's Jones' success with another underwater attraction -- the submarine.

Living in a Luxury Submarine

After growing up with a grandfather in the marine construction business, Jones quickly got a feel for the water. He started diving at age 9, wrote letters to Cousteau in grade school and, by the 1980s, began doing consultations for those interested in the submarine business. By 1993, he was running his own company, U.S. Submarines, which designs and builds submarines for resorts and individuals.

His company features luxurious submarines ranging in price from $1 million to $80 million. Having been in the business for while, Jones claims he has a realistic sense of what it takes to launch an underwater venture. As he says, when it comes to meeting regulations for his submarine fleet, "The paperwork ends up weighing as much as the submarine."

For his part, Craig Cooper, the operations director for the Aquarius research station, hopes at least one of the latest string of project proposals comes to fruition.

"By now I envisioned we'd have entire underwater cities," Cooper said. "It's about time some of these visions became reality."