Normally on a beach you’d be facing the sea but here, settled on my sun lounger, the view before me is a city skyline complete with a sweep of skycrapers. I look left and, in the distance, yet more dramatic skyline with the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa standing proud in the centre. Look right and way off into the distance there are yet more buildings and construction. I sip my cocktail and ponder this man made wonder… when I was last in Dubai, 12 years ago, none of this was here…none of it.
Such is the pace of construction in Dubai, that the Jumeirah stretch of coast and its offspring, The Palm, an island extension of the coastline, feel like a city within a city. As you drive up the ‘trunk’ of the palm tree, fanning out on both sides are the ‘fronds’ lined with cheek-by-jowl luxury residences, many owned by sports stars and celebrities, each with its own private beachfront. Then, after a full 7kms the road dips down in a tunnel and you emerge, as if by magic, at the ‘crest’ of the palm tree and its most prominent feature, the fantastical creation that is… Atlantis, The Palm.
Director of Leisure Sales, Kyp Charalambous, gave me his overview of the resort:
If you love Disney, Las Vegas or big ship cruising, Atlantis The Palm will be right up your alley. There’s more than a touch of theme park, it’s OTT in every way, with more facilities and restaurants than you can imagine. Everything is on a grand scale. As you walk into the vast circular lobby the first thing you see is a 10 metre high glass sculpture. Created by artist Dale Chihuly, it is made up of over 3000 pieces of brightly coloured blown glass. The delicate glass shells nestled within it introduce the shell motif, evident everywhere in the resort. The surrounding wall and ceiling murals depict the development of the solar calendar and tell the story of the ancient mythological lost city of Atlantis. Take a left and you come to the Ambassador Lagoon – imagine the biggest aquarium you can think of then multiply by a 100 and you are somewhere close. This ginormous underwater exhibit is home to sharks, rays and all manner of fish swimming around and around in 11 million litres of seawater, seemingly oblivious to the crowds of tourists on the other side of the 70cm thick glass. It is completely mesmerizing – you cannot help but stand and stare.
As you might expect, the accommodation is on an equally grand scale. If you can’t get enough of those sharks, there are the Poseidon and Neptune Signature Suites at the lower level of the Ambassador Lagoon – imagine lying in bed (or even in the bath) with floor to ceiling views of an aquatic wonderland. Or, if you have around £30k a night to spare, you could stay in the Royal Bridge Suite, a 3 bedroom, 924 sq metre complex spanning the bridge that connects the two giant wings of the hotel. From the huge balcony, there are panoramic views of the entire Dubai cityscape. This is the suite that Danni Minogue (with big sis Kylie) claimed as her X Factor judges ‘house’ back in 2009, the year after the hotel opened. But you don’t have to be a global superstar to get a taste of the high life here. Entry level rooms start at around £200 a night in and even they come with a generous 46 sq metres of luxury styling. That, to me, is the really great thing about the Atlantis – it’s a fantasy experience accessible to literally everyone, from regular holidaymakers to Sheikhs and superstars.
If thrills and spills are your thing, Aquaventure (also open to the general public) is right by the hotel. There are beaches, waves, lazy river rides and two towers offering thrill rides including the terrifying Leap of Faith, a 27.5 metre near vertical drop slide which lands in to an acrylic tunnel running through a shark tank before you a finally dumped in a plunge pool. Nice!
When it comes to food Atlantis offers huge choice with over 20 different food outlets from fast food right through to Michelin starred dining. At the top end, there are globally renowned restaurant names like Nobu and Locatelli and some seriously good speciality restaurants including the SeaFire Steakhouse and Yuan (Chinese). You will pay top dollar but each restaurant offers a memorable culinary experience and beautifully designed contemporary venues. Most also have bars so, even if you are not eating there, they are worth a visit for a cocktail or two, simply to admire the location and rub shoulders with the ‘in’ crowd. There are also two buffet style restaurants, Saffron and Kaleidoscope – their breakfast, lunch and themed dinner buffet displays have to be seen to be believed.
With so much on offer, it’s hard to drag yourself away from the resort but the bright lights of Dubai beckon and plenty more ‘biggest, tallest, most expensive, most lavish’ jaw dropping sights to see. An easy way to take it all in is on the ‘Big Bus’ tour – with a stop right at Atlantis. A 24 hour unlimited ticket costs around £40pp or £50pp for 48 hours. With a running guided commentary and two hop on, hop off routes, you can take your pick from the Mall of the Emirates complete with an indoor ski slope, Jumeirah beach and the Burj Al Arab, the ‘original Dubai’ area of Deira and the Creek, the Gold and Spice Souks and the Bastakiya historical area with museums, art galleries and traditional houses.
The most popular stop though has to be the Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa. The mall is one of the biggest in the Middle East and has over 1200 outlets plus its very own Aquarium to rival Atlantis. Shop til your heart’s content in air-conditioned comfort and then emerge lakeside and look skyward to take in the Burj Khalifa, at 2716.5ft, the world’s tallest building. Time your visit for dusk or evening and you can also take in yet another man-made marvel on the Burj Khalifa lake, the incredible dancing fountains. Designed by the team behind the Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas, this is now the world’s biggest fountain show – naturally. Its completely free and runs for around 5 minutes every half hour. Crowds gather as dusk begins to fall and can grow to dozens deep. Look up though and search for an empty table at one of the many cafes and restaurants overlooking the lake. For the price of a drink you’ll not only get a seat but also a cracking view. As the music starts up, the entire 30 acre lake comes alive with the amazing choreographed fountains shimmying and swaying to the beat. Building to a crescendo that will leave you breathless, the water jets shoot up to 500 feet high. Like everything in Dubai, yet another spectacle that will blow your mind!
This post is adapted from an article by Cathy Bartrop first published in Take A Break Special Feb 2015