Little mermaids and trainee Captain Nemos can commune with sea creatures in Dubai’s ultimate five star family fantasy-land.
WORDS Hilary Doling
We’ve found it at last, after thousands of years of searching – Plato’s mythical island of Atlantis. Well okay, not the island maybe but one that’s almost as impressive. The story of Atlantis, home of the god Poseidon, has been re-imagined in Dubai as a five star resort. These days of course Atlantis, The Palm has become almost as legendary as the lost paradise it’s named after.
The 1539-room hotel cost billions to build when it rose out of the waves back in 2008 and it is easy to see why. Poseidon’s palace is extravagant, excessive... and fun. The hotel stands alone at the tip of The Palm island. We arrive at night and we can see the hotel kilometres before we get there; a vast citadel of coloured lights against a backdrop of inky sky.
The gigantic Arabian arch separating the wings of the hotel is so tall we feel like little minnows swimming into Neptune’s grotto. Inside the decor is equally over the top. There are fishy fantasies everywhere; sea shells engraved on columns, water-themed murals on the walls. A Dale Chihuly glass sculpture twirls like a whirlpool towards the domed ceiling of the lobby and at the heart of the hotel is a vast three-storey-high aquarium.
Staying here is like being in a real life version of Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’.
Five star families who want to splash out can even sleep with the fishes in either the Neptune or Poseidon Suites both of which have floor-to-ceiling glass walls that open onto the aquarium from the bedroom and bathroom. Those with bank balances as glittery as a sunken treasure hoard can stay where all the sheikhs, movie stars and moguls have stayed before them: in the huge $25,000-a-night Royal Bridge Suite which spans the great arch.
"Part hotel, part theme park, part mall - all fun," is how my son describes Atlantis, The Palm after our first action-packed 24 hours. He's right; the resort covers a vast 46 hectares and within these grounds there are designer shops, restaurants, nightclubs, a private 1.4-kilometre beach, swimming pools, an aquarium and marine park, even a water park.
There is nothing quite like having your own personal theme park right on the doorstep and kids will love the fact that as guests of Atlantis they can go into the Aquaventure Park whenever their water-loving hearts desire. The waterslides are built to look like ancient temples, with the recently opened Tower of Poseidon the most spectacular of all. Our family took rides down rapids, rode a plastic tube through a shark tank, plummeted down a nine-storey-high slide in less than a minute (no, really) and screamed all the way down Aquaconda, a sea serpent of a waterslide that drops you vertically then twists and turns to the bottom. We were swirled and whooshed around so much that I felt I'd spent the day in a giant washing machine.
Aquaventure got the kids' vote but my husband and I loved Lost Chambers aquarium, an incredibly imaginative take on the Atlantis theme. It made us feel as if we were walking through the winding, watery caverns of a sunken city, with a spectacular array of fish sparkling like jewels from the glass tanks set in the walls.
But Atlantis isn't all about adrenaline; you can commune with sea creatures in an impressive number of ways. You can meet sea lions, go on a shark safari, get in the water with rays, even feed piranhas on a behind-the-scenes aquarium tour. The impressive Kids' Club has an underwater theatre where children have their own personal view of the vast aquarium and can learn about sea life. The highlight for us was a swim with dolphins where our family really got to appreciate the grace and strength of these magnificent creatures. "Being kissed by a dolphin is like hugging a beach ball," said our son, "they both feel rubbery."
Away from the water there is a kids Command Centre fit for an Arabian prince with Wii, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, along with 15 Apple computers on offer. Not to mention a full-sized climbing wall where children can hit the heights. Teenagers haven't been forgotten either and Club Rush (no parents allowed) has a mocktail bar, a game zone and an internet cafe inside its oh, so private walls.
This is a bit of a pleasure palace for adults too with an impressive spa, hairdresser, barber and twenty different restaurants and bars from kid-friendly burger joints to Nobu fine dining; while the Levantine offers traditional Arab cuisine complete with belly dancers - â‚¬"she's shaking her giblets, mum."
The only problem with Atlantis is that once you are ensconced it is hard to persuade kids to leave. And Dubai is such a wonderfully family-friendly place you are going to want to explore. Everything in Dubai seems to be taller, larger, faster than anywhere else in the world (the world's tallest tower, the largest shopping mall...). There are indoor ski slopes, massive malls, desert safaris, seaplane adventures and a kartdrome like a real race track. So fasten your seatbelt and enjoy the ride.
FIVE STAR FACTS
Water Wonders of Atlantis, The Palm
42 million litres of salt water are home to more than 65,000 fish
There are over 250 species of sea creatures
Atlantis has 165 full-time Marine Animal Specialists
The Aquaventure Park has a 2.4-kilometre river ride
Dolphin Bay has three lagoons