In search of sun, sea and sand, Kate Brack heads to an indoor German beach resort housed in a former airship hangar
For a short trip out of Prague, and essentially out of the surrounding temperate zone, Tropical Islands brings the warm weather of the tropics, and its uplifting activities, to Brandenburg, Germany.
Visible from the highway, the massive dome looks every bit as impressive as the airship it was built to house, but it's not until you pull into the parking lot and gauge the true size of the domed, cylindrical building that the wave of excitement associated with a day at "the beach" hits.
Constructed in 1997, the building was originally intended as a hangar for a zeppelin that would transport freight all over the world.
The dream was never realized but, in turn, inspired another vision in Malaysian entrepreneur Colin Au: If people cannot travel to the tropics, bring them to the people.
It's quite an endeavor: Tropical Islands is currently the world's largest self-supporting building and one of the largest on the planet by volume.
Realizing Au's dream, the dome currently hosts up to 7,000 sunbathers and swimmers, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
While heavy snow falls outdoors, and new arrivals acclimatize themselves to the 26-degree C (78 F) indoor temperature, people beyond the gate walk by in bikinis and Speedos with Piña Coladas in hand.
At reception, guests are given a waterproof bracelet that not only opens and closes their lockers, but can also be used to scan all purchases, avoiding the unpleasant prospect of visitors stuffing credit cards and wallets into their swimsuits.
As for nature, roughly 500 plants, white sand, and even turtles have been imported from around the globe.
The initial entry into the dome, which stretches nearly 1,200 feet in length, is a bit overwhelming.
Carrying passengers 350 feet above the ground, a hot air balloon soars overhead, and to the left is the intimidating water slide, which extends boldly into the dome.
Surrounded by sand, beach chairs, and loads of people, the Bali Lagoon is one of two enormous swimming areas where the water is a steady 31 C (87 F). A tube spits people out of smaller slides while fountains shower swimmers with water.
If you're looking to replenish your depleted Vitamin D levels, however, and get some sun on your face, head to the Tropical Sea on the south end.
Because the roof is covered with a transparent foil that lets in the sun's ultraviolet rays, it's possible to get a suntan here.
It's a bit surreal to watch hordes of people picnic and lounge about along the curve of the manmade shoreline.
To one end of the curve is beach volleyball, and just beyond that, glass doors and the parking lot.
The car park and the massive steel dome overhead are reminders that you're in eastern Germany rather than in an island paradise, but on a cold winter day, this just adds to the charm.
Other features include mini-golf, live performances, Wi-Fi hotspots, tents for overnight stays, and, for an additional fee, a sauna and spa area.
Keep in mind; if you pay to go to the less-populated, closed-off sauna, meditation, and spa area, you'll see an absence of the Speedos and bikinis mentioned earlier.
Although the energy bill for the massive amusement island must be astronomical, and the vision of bringing the tropics to Germany may be turning up the temperature globally, Tropical Islands is an escape from the dreary days that keep many people tucked away indoors.
Around four-and-a-half hours from Prague, Tropical Islands provides a unique getaway to the artificial rainforests of Germany.
(For One Visit of Unlimited Duration)
Adults: 25 euros
Children (Ages 4-14): 19:50 euros
Toddlers (Ages 0-3): Free
There are additional fees for the Sauna Landscape, water slides, and Tropino Club for Kids.
Food and drinks can be brought into the Tropical Islands complex, but buying on the premises is encouraged.
Tropical Islands Website
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