From first sight to final analysis, Ursula is a doll. She is 6’4″, has an hourglass figure, a Grace Jones haircut and a Cupid’s bow mouth colored a vivid fuchsia. She walks, she talks and she can be summoned at whim. She’s the perfect hostess, except that, sad to say, she is a robot.
Still, Ursula is a marvel of steel, fiberglass, urethane, computer chips and rechargeable batteries in all the right places. Better yet, she will serve as “your personal star maiden” of the futuristic Galactic Fantasy Suite, 15 stories up at Carnival’s Crystal Palace Resort & Casino, a just-opened $240 million playground for high rollers in Nassau, the Bahamas. As might be expected, Ursula doesn’t work cheap. A stay in her private domain will set you back a cosmic $25,000 a night, which makes it far and away the most expensive hotel room in the known universe.
But then the ambience there is pretty far out. You enter the Galactica through Starship Enterprise-style doors that automatically slide open as you approach. The all-white, 2,350-square-foot suite on two levels is decorated in stainless steel, Lucite and mirrors. Four neon columns pulse in rhythm to your body heat, a beat that may quicken as Ursula glides into view to ask in her artificial voice, “Won’t you please join me in the Great Room for a Dom Pérignon?”
Champagne in hand, you can survey the premises from a power-driven circular sofa that rotates 270°. Ursula points to a remote-controlled 10-foot TV screen that brings in regular programs and can also flash a matrix of colors and shapes. There’s an eight-speaker, surround-sound stereo, a $35,000 grand piano made of Lucite and a bubbling 330-gallon coral-reef aquarium with its own resident stingray, Maynard by name.
Ursula isn’t built for climbing the Lucite spiral staircase, so a decorous human substitute will show you the upper-level spare bedroom and bath, complete with a bar and Jacuzzi for two. Guests have the use of Mylar bathrobes, customized with Star Trek epaulets and upturned collars. Back downstairs, Ursula resumes her tour by leading you to the master bedroom where a round, rotatable bed covered with a silver Lurex-weave spread beckons. She approaches an audiovisual electronic system, and the storm begins: Metallic vertical window blinds close with a whoosh, the lights dim, thunder roars, lightning flashes, and the sound of rain comes in crashes.
“I’ve always loved rainstorms,” says Miami-based interior designer Diane Sepler, 50, who is Galactica’s chief impresario. “When I fantasized about the experience I’d most like to have when getting ready for bed, I came up with this.” Sepler designed Galactica at the behest of billionaire Ted Arison, chairman of Carnival Cruise Lines and developer of the Bahamian Crystal Palace, who wanted “the ultimate resort theme suite.” Ursula and the Galactica’s other special effects cost Arison $510,000. Another $850,000 went for the room’s construction and furnishings.
Sepler has designed rooms for luxury hotels in New York and Florida, but the Galactica is the first she has put together specifically for casino habitués. Psychologists told her that gamblers are bright, creative, impatient, eager for excitement, gimmick aficionados and lone travelers who seldom bring their wives along. Based on such considerations, Sepler says, “I decided immediately to create the 21st-century living environment.” Her vision included a live-in android, a job that went to the $125,000 Ursula, described by her designer, David Sigel, as a “totally autonomous, computer-based robot.” When off duty, Ursula is programmed to return herself to her own closet.
Because of the Galactica’s out-of-this-world tariff—which includes room, dinner, all beverages, a limousine and, in addition to the robot, a real-life butler and a masseur—the hotel management doesn’t expect it to be booked solid. (More traditional accommodations at the 1,550-room Crystal Palace start at $175 a night.) But Richard Cook, president of Carnival’s Crystal Palace Bahamas Inc., says that he has confirmed reservations for the Galactica’s opening run this week, some of them from “major corporate executives,” as well as some from “serious gamblers.” Under certain circumstances, says Cook, he might even let a guest stay in the Galactica free of charge. “If one of our customers lost $500,000 at the casino,” Cook says, “this is the kind of suite we’d put him in.” A fully recharged Ursula would be there as added consolation.
—Dan Chu, Meg Grant in Nassau