Flying to see the world's finest indoor beaches may seem an odd thing to do - why not just jump on a plane to the Maldives? But the examples described here are much more than just a stretch of fake sand and seawater, they are full-scale simulations, with a soundtrack of squawking gulls, waves to be surfed on, and a selection of beachfront bars and cafes. And that might not be enough to inspire visitors to make a special trip, but then again, those lodged deep in Kazakhstan, 3000 miles from the coast and yearning for a taste of the sea, can simply head to the top floor of the Khan Shatyr Entertainment Centre and pull up a deckchair.
Photo via newrepublic.com
The world's biggest indoor beach is in the center of China, about 1000km from the nearest coastline. It's located in the city of Chengdu, where a gargantuan new entertainment complex opened in 2013, ambitiously titled The New Century Global Centre. Most of the center is devoted to what, in this new century, has become the Communist country's favorite past time: shopping. And once shoppers have tired themselves out traipsing around neon-lit stores, they can collapse on the sand of the center's 400-meter indoor beach, flown in by the ton from Hawaii. A huge screen is on hand to beam digital sunsets over the crowd. The air conditioning is tweaked to simulate an invigorating sea breeze. Speakers play a maritime soundtrack of squawking gulls and honking ships. And the whole scene is completed by a seafront promenade lined with restaurants and bars.
Most of landlocked Kazakhstan is thousands of miles from any ocean, and without the sea to stabilize its seasonal changes, temperatures fluctuate wildly through the course of a year - from 140 degrees in the summer to -40 degrees in the winter. This brief geographical overview, along with a quick note on the country's vast oil reserves, should go some way to explaining why this post-Soviet nation has perhaps the world's swankiest indoor beach, created with sand flown in direct from the Maldives. It's situated on the very top floor of the high modernist Khan Shatyr Entertainment Centre, designed by the same architect behind London's Gherkin and the Hearst Tower in New York. Above the sand arches a stylish ETFE ceiling, supported by glowing beams that reflect in the penthouse's turquoise seawater.
The Tropical Islands Indoor Resort is situated, rather incongruously, in the heart of a German pine forest. Its history is even odder than its location: it was built as an airfield in 1938, maintained by the Soviets through the Cold War, and bought by an unsuccessful airship manufacturer following reunification. After this venture failed, it was converted into the surprising success story it is today: a vast indoor amusement park whose centerpiece is a blue-hued Tropical Sea, lined with a 200-meter artificial beach and dotted with fake palms and rows of sun-loungers. A few fake clouds loiter overhead but they do nothing to affect the balmy temperature, which is kept at a constant 28 degrees Celsius.
Photo via Megapixie (Max Smith)/Flickr.
Perhaps the most extravagant of the creations on this list, even the name of this giant water-themed pleasure dome in Miyazaki, Japan, is outlandish. The Seagaia Ocean Dome contains a 300-meter artificial beach and a large stretch of salt-free ocean with waves suitable for surfing. Like Germany's Tropical Islands Resorts, it has plentiful palm trees and deck chairs, but it tops its German counterpart in two crucial ways; it boasts has a synthetic tropical rainforest and an artificial volcano that spurts fake lava over the beach-goers. The temperature is maintained at 90 degrees and the ceiling is adorned with a huge screen playing rolling footage of blue skies and bright sun. Unfortunately for visitors eager to visit Seagaia, it closed with the first shock waves of the economic crisis, and is yet to rise from the ashes - just cross your fingers that it will do so soon.
Photo by mrkathika/Flickr.
It would be quite understandable if, after all this globe-trotting round the world's most outlandish indoor beaches, you're left hungering from something a little more simple. Fallsview Indoor Waterpark, in Ontario's watery town of Niagara Falls, provides precisely that: it has its own small jungle-style beach along with a beach-bar-style restaurant and a seaside-themed playhouse. All this sits alongside a good old-fashioned water park, boasting a large wave pool, 16 water slides, simulated hot springs and, for those few warm months of the year, an outdoor pool with sun deck. It may lack the grandeur - perhaps the hubris - of the other indoor beaches gathered here, but it's probably where you're guaranteed to have the most fun.