When Indiana Jones dramatically escapes from a collapsing temple, a rival 1930s archaelogist and a tribe of angry South American Indians in the very first scenes of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, he does so by jumping into a river and clambering aboard a seaplane. It was a classic way for director Steven Spielberg to evoke the era - taking to the skies from pristine waters is synonymous with a golden age when global travel was a romantic adventure rather than just a trip. But as tour operators look for ever-more unusual ways to entice holidaymakers into bespoke breaks, seaplanes are making a comeback.
Late last month, Seawings launched a new seaplane route in the UAE, which takes off at Dubai Creek and lands at the Al Majaz Waterfront in Sharjah. Other Seawings excursions take in panoramic aerial tours of Dubai’s architecture, history and famous sights. And they’re popular, too, over 15,000 people taking off from the waters of Dubai last year.
“It’s not about selling tours, it’s about selling experiences,” says Colin Darmanin, Seawings’ Senior Manager, Strategic Business. “And the water takeoff and landing is a really distinct experience that our guests can share together as partners, families or a group of friends, creating a lifetime memory.”
Seawings is the only operator of its sort in the Middle East. But the rise in seaplane use is mirrored across the world. From relatively minor beginnings, the Scottish-based Loch Lomond Seaplanes have become the busiest seaplane company in Europe, offering the opportunity to take in Scotland’s unique landscape while experiencing “the halcyon days of travel with a first class window seat”. It’s certainly appearing to work: the atmospheric worldwide advertisements from the Scottish tourist board feature a Loch Lomond seaplane.
And when Hugh Jackman showed Oprah Winfrey the sights of his hometown a few years ago, he did so using Sydney Seaplanes. Look at the clip again, and it’s striking how excited Jackman is to experience the city he loves from a completely different perspective.
“I just think people enjoy the exhilarating sensation of being in water one moment and in the air the next,” says Darmanin. And he agrees that some of that thrill comes from the connections seaplanes have with the golden age of travel. Some guests book an entire seaplane for special occasions, and it’s even used for weddings - the bride and groom making the grandest of waterborne entrances to their venue.
“From start to finish, the experience is about comfort and style,” Darmanin says. Of course, such style doesn’t come cheap, whichever seaplane you hop on board in the world. But then, once in a lifetime experiences don’t tend to.