Swim with dolphins, take a dip at a pool casino and gaze at aquariums in your hotel room at this Bahamas mega resort.
Some say the Lost City of Atlantis is submerged in the Bahamas near the island of Bimini. On neighboring Paradise Island, the lost city inspired the themed mega-resort Atlantis—one of the largest water park resorts in the world.
It’s Disney World at the beach. Come enjoy the spectacle, but don’t expect much tropical island tranquility. Consider it more like a beach vacation on steroids—entertainment galore with water slides and river rides, aquariums built into hotel walls, countless pools, beach cabanas, a dolphin cove and even a “pool casino.” Tired yet? Welcome to Atlantis.
In the 1980s, talk-show host Merv Griffin owned lovely resort towers on Paradise Island, an island connected by a bridge to Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas. In the early 1990s, those towers were purchased and transformed into the beginning stages of Atlantis. The dream was for a wonderland of beach resort, marine life and more, and Atlantis quickly jumped to the forefront of island escapes. Based on that success, development continued.
“What happened to that great Holiday Inn I liked on the end of Paradise Island?” I asked my tour guide at Atlantis. I have fond memories of the hotel from my many visits to Nassau over the years. My guide waved a hand at the looming tower before me that is the newest incarnation of Atlantis, The Cove Atlantis all-suite resort. With a sigh, I recalled the curved beach cove upon which the hotel I once admired stood. The cove is still gorgeous, there’s no doubt. I just question whether bigger is better when it comes to resorts in the islands.
I asked my 5-year-old daughter her opinion of Atlantis, and she said she’d like to move there. “What do you like best?” I asked. “I like all the parts,” she said. And there’s a lot to like.
Atlantis has long been known as a favorite resort for family travel, even more so in recent years. In late 2007, as part of $1 billion development project, Atlantis opened Aquaventure, a water-theme park that now makes Atlantis one of the largest water parks in the world. There are enormous slides that riders rocket down then blast vertically up again as though on a wet roller coaster. One slide even catapults riders through a tunnel with shark tanks, and some have audio accents for more thrills. Then there’s the mile-long Current where inner tubes surge with the help of a wave machine, and a Lazy River with tubes for those more into meandering. I visited Splashers, a water-infused playground where younger children squeal in delight at humongous buckets of water that tip and drench all in their path. My 5-year-old could stay there all day if not for Atlantis’ dolphins and sea lions.
I expected Dolphin Cay at Atlantis to be yet one more playground where humans are entertained, perhaps at the expense of wildlife. What I discovered instead is a marine playground, yes, but also a very serious and commendable operation that rescues and rehabilitates stranded sea mammals, and researches and monitors the health of Atlantic bottlenose dolphin and sea lions. There’s even a medical lab on site, complete with white-coated technicians, for the best in dolphin and sea lion care. I was impressed. I took a backstage tour of the operations, which cost just $25 per person, and included a nice wet sea lion kiss for my daughter. Dolphin Cay also features numerous interactive dolphin experiences in the lagoons in which guests can partake, though such experiences can get a little crowded.
The Caribbean is known as a gaming destination and Atlantis is no exception, with one of the largest casinos in the region, at 50,000 square feet. It also has a pretty impressive entrance, designed by renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly and made with 2,000 pieces of hand-blown glass.
One might think that having a casino in such a family-friendly place might be contradictory, but unlike hotels in Las Vegas, where the gaming section is located in the center of everything so you’re forced to go through it, the casino at Atlantis can be easily avoided if you don’t want to start your young ones on games of chance too early in life.
Experienced gamblers have more than 1,000 slot machines (with bets running the gamut from one penny to $100) and nearly 100 table games to choose from. Novices can take advantage of gaming lessons held daily at 3 p.m. in the casino. There’s also the availability to place wagers on major sporting events.
Atlantis is home to a Mandara Spa, one of the best spa brands in the hospitality industry, which is open 24 hours a day and offers treatments for both men and women. The spa has an Asian feel, with waterfalls, bamboo, Asian scents, music and treatments. Influences, however are not from Asia alone; there are European therapies and bathing rituals on its menu as well, and you can even have your teeth whitened here. Elemis and La Thérapie products are used; facials start at $120, full massages from $130.
Mandara at Atlantis also offers its Generation YSpa program for teenagers. There’s a special menu for those under 18, and the treatments—which include special mother-daughter or father-son massages ($198), as well as acne-fighting facials ($89) and traditional salon services (starting at $23)—are offered at limited times.
Atlantis operator Kerzner International Ltd. is also funding another environmentally responsible enterprise, the non-profit Kerzner Marine Foundation. In 2007, the foundation joined forces with The Nature Conservancy, Bahamas National Trust and Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation to launch The Blue Project, which aims to protect and preserve heavily damaged Bahamian coral reefs. One solution offers blue buoys to mark endangered coral reefs and provides boats with an anchoring alternative to dropping heavy weights onto the reefs below.
Atlantis accommodations offer a dizzying array of choices. The easiest way to narrow options down is to view the comparison chart on Atlantis.com and consider the following: The older Beach Tower offers the most affordable rooms (standard rooms starting at $265 per night) followed by Coral Towers (starting at $333 per night), Royal Towers (starting at $399 per night), and then moving on up in elegance and price to the all-suite Cove Atlantis (starting at $710 per night for a deluxe ocean suite), and The Reef Atlantis (starting at $515 per night for a studio harbor view), which has condo/rentals with kitchen facilities (starting rates reflect mid-week rates beginning in January 2009).
But wherever you stay, you can enjoy just about any of the pools and restaurants throughout the resort area. And to top it off, you’ll find hallways decked with aquariums so that visiting the resort is like being immersed amidst the living seas. Depending on your point of view, it may be paradise found.
Additional reporting by D.M. Airoldi.
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