6 hotels with incredible design from above — and how to get your own personal bird’s-eye view
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
Jaws drop as Soneva Jani comes into view from the windows of the resort's private seaplane. The resort resembles floating driftwood from afar while its symmetrical roofs resemble plankton. At least, that’s how the property was designed to appear from above.
“Sonu Shivdasani, the CEO of Soneva, told us that he would like to make the aerial view of Soneva Jani very distinctive and iconic,” the senior project architect at Habita Architects Pativet Chaiyasot told TPG.
The eye-catching shape of the resort often featured on the "Explore" of Instagram was initially sketched out on paper. “We knew we wanted something very visually appealing. Our projects team was reluctant to create such a long, curving jetty as it posed a lot of logistical challenges, but we convinced them in the end,” said CEO and joint creative director of Soneva, Sonu Shivdasani.
The team, however, didn’t design the hotel for drone photographers, or even Instagram. For them, it was all about planes. “In the Maldives, people normally travel by seaplane, so the view from above is very important. It’s made people remember and identify our resort from others,” said Chaiyasot.
But Shivdasani can’t deny that social media has worked in their favor. The invention of drone photography has changed the way travelers — and potential guests — view destinations and even individual properties. Aerial images entice visitors in a new way, and hoteliers and designers have started to catch on, even creating a new hotel trend emphasizing design from above. Here are six properties that give you a birds-eye view into this fad, and tips for how to see them IRL (in real life).
Related: The best starter credit cards
Soneva Jani, Maldives
The private slides are one of the first things you notice about this ultra-high-end luxury resort. You’ve probably seen its 25 overwater bungalows on social media, tagged your partner and added it your bucket list of must-visit hotels.
As mentioned, the best way to catch a glimpse of this design wonder is from a seat on the resort’s private seaplane. From the window, you’ll see villas dotting the winding boardwalk and a few massive villas in a circular jetty. You can also bring your drone to the resort but check with your Ms. or Mr. Friday — what the resort calls its butlers — before flying, as privacy is paramount.
How to book: Soneva's resorts can only be found in the Maldives and Thailand, and they're not exactly cheap (a one-bedroom retreat starts around $2,040 per night). If you're going to splash out, consider booking through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) if you have either The Platinum Card® from American Express or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express. You could use Membership Rewards points to book your stay — or, preferably, to earn 5x points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel. Either way, Amex FHR bookings include a room upgrade upon arrival, when available; daily breakfast for two; guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout; noon check-in, when available; complimentary Wi-Fi and a $100 food and beverage credit.
JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort & Spa, Vietnam
Located in Phu Quoc, known as Pearl Island, the resort’s mosaic-tiled, shell-shaped pool was designed to honor the embodiment of this tropical getaway. It’s become such a selling point that an aerial image of it graces the first slide of the resort’s website.
The pool is located in front of Block 3, so guests staying on the third floor or higher of the building can get a good vantage point. Request a room in the center of the 5th and 6th floor for the optimal view of the pool from your balcony.
How to book: This stunning property is a Category 5 Marriott resort, and standard redemptions require just 35,000 points per night. In the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program, there are co-branded credit cards offering an annual free night certificate worth up to 35,000 points at each renewal, including the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card. With rates starting at $286 per night, but usually more, that's not a bad way to offset the cost of your stay (and justify the annual fee of a co-branded card).
Marriott Marquis Houston, United States
Everything’s bigger in Texas — including their pools. In order for a Marriott hotel to be crowned with a Marquis distinction, it has to have a wow-factor unlike anywhere else in the world. At the Marriott Marquis in Houston, guests will find just that with their Texas-shaped lazy river pool.
Visitors can book a room facing the pool from the 10th floor up, and the 17th floor has a particularly good view. The Presidential Suites also have balconies that overlook the pool.
How to book: This downtown Houston hotel is also a Category 5 property, requiring 35,000 points per night for a standard redemption. We found cash rates as low as $176 per night, though, so you may want to consider earning points on your stay instead.
Sandals Royal Caribbean, Jamaica
Sandals is all about romance, so it's no surprise their latest Jamaica resort built overwater bungalows arranged in the shape of a heart. Although you can see the shape while walking around the bungalows, this overhead design is harder to view from above. Drones are not allowed on the property because of its proximity to the airport, and there is no designated vantage point. But when you depart out of Montego Bay to the east and then make a turn toward the northeast, you can get a glimpse. Just be sure to book a window seat.
How to book: Because Sandals is a luxury all-inclusive resort, be sure to maximize your (not inexpensive) stay, which can easily cost upwards of $1,000 per night. So, you’ll want to charge your stay to a card such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve for 3x points.
Atlantis The Palm, Dubai
Sitting at the very top of Dubai’s man-made island designed to look like a palm tree, is Atlantis The Palm. One of the world’s most iconic aerial designs shows the “trunk of the tree” pointing directly toward the iconic archway of the hotel.
The best way to view Atlantis The Palm and its palm tree home is to take a helicopter ride with Alpha Tours. The helipad is conveniently located on site and will fly over the hotel and the Burj Khalifa. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, book a ticket to go sky diving with Sky-dive Dubai. The view of the hotel on the Palm is farther away and not as clear as the helicopter ride, but a truly spectacular way to appreciate its design from above.
How to book: Want to offset the cost of a night at Atlantis The Palm? This could be a great opportunity to use points — like Venture miles earned from the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card — to “erase” the travel purchase. Select rooms may be available from $178 per night.
Related: For the latest travel news, deals and points and miles tips, subscribe to The Points Guy daily email newsletter.
Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel, Australia
There are a lot of giant crocodiles in the Northern Territory of Australia, including AccorHotel’s Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel. From up high, it’s shaped like the giant reptile with vegetation in its hollow stomach.
Its location inside Kakadu National Park means no drones are allowed unless you’ve acquired a permit beforehand. Otherwise, to photograph this fun design, book a 30- or 60-minute scenic flight with Kakadu Air. If possible, visit after the rainy season (between November and April), when skies are clearer.
How to book: Standard room rates can be found for less than $100, and you can earn Accor points during your stay. You could also book through Hotels.com Venture and pay with your Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, to earn 10 miles for every dollar spent (through Jan. 31, 2020). You can even stack this bonus with the separate Hotels.com Rewards loyalty program, which offers another 10% back in the form of one free night after 10 paid nights. This adds up to a 24% return when you go to book your next vacation.
Feature photo courtesy Artefficio/Soneva Jani