After the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 90's three of its most powerful aircraft carriers sat rotting in a Kiev dock. With disputes over ownership and no money or crew to maintain them, the ships were eventually stripped of their weapons systems and engines by the Ukraine and one was sold to a Hong Kong based company, ostensibly to become casinos off the coast of gambling-crazy Macau. As we now know the Varyag ended up in the Chinese port of Larian and spent 10 years being refitted as a fully functioning modern aircraft carrier, much to the consternation of its China Sea neighbors and of course the U.S. As the Varyag starts sea trials, its sister carriers have suffered a somewhat different fate.

The famous Minsk and Kiev were eventually bought by Chinese companies to become the centrepieces of 'military theme parks' in the cities of Shenzhen and Tianjin and after expensive restorations (the figure of $9 million is suggested - somewhat less than the Varyag) that is indeed what they still are, with displays of missiles and Mig jets on the enormous flight decks and tours around the operations rooms. On the Minsk in Shenzhen the staff dress as Russian seamen and strike up the occasional musical number for the reportedly thousands of visitors. Things sound slightly more ambitious on the Kiev in Tianjin with massive parties being held on the Red Square-sized deck and now the opening of the first suites of a hotel development within the belly of the carrier.

Judging by the pictures the headroom may be a little lacking and natural daylight in short supply in the Presidential Suites but the decor could certainly by described as luxurious and no doubt the service will be impeccable. The cost of staying at the suites has yet to be announced but if you are going to the area it surely couldn't be anything but a fascinating visit.

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