This creatively designed mega-resort, the biggest in The Bahamas, functions as a vacation destination and theme park in its own right. A blockbuster in every sense of the word, it contains the most creative interiors, the most intriguing aesthetics, and the most elaborate waterscapes of any hotel in the country. It's the most recent incarnation of a resort that originated in the early days of Paradise Island's tourism industry, passing through rocky and sometimes less glamorous days before reaching its current form as a destination that appeals to adults (its gambling facilities are the largest in The Bahamas) and to ecologists (its focus on protecting marine life adds a welcome dose of "save the planet" to an otherwise relentlessly consumerist theme, and dozens of waterways crisscross the flat, sandy terrain on which the resort sits). Atlantis is also a potent lure for children, and the child that remains within many of us, thanks to its evocation of a "lost continent" whose replicated ruins evoke -- you guessed it -- Atlantis.
But whereas the newest buildings manage to conjure science fiction and ancient mythology at the same time (no easy feat), its older buildings still retain a whiff of the old Merv Griffin days of the 1980s. But thanks to skillful landscaping and the miles of canals whose currents carry swimmers with flotation devices on meandering runs down mythical rivers, no one seems to notice.
The entire sprawling compound opens onto a long stretch of sandy beach with a sheltered marina. Think Vegas in the Tropics, with a mythological theme and an interconnected series of lagoons, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and water tubes thrown in, and you'll get the picture. One advantage to the place is that there's a lot of visual distraction and high-energy, upbeat stimulation; the downside is that it's huge, impersonal, and at times downright bureaucratic. The service from the sometimes bored staff just can't keep up with the number of guests here.
Overall, it's an appropriate (albeit rather pricey) choice for a family vacation, since the price includes direct access to endless numbers of watery gimmicks. Children's programs are comprehensive and well choreographed, and many parents simply turn their kids loose onto the extensive grounds, understanding that a battalion of lifeguards and supervisors keep the show rolling and the safety levels up to par. Singles and young couples who want a lot of razzle-dazzle appreciate the place, too, though some people find it over-the-top and too firmly mired in the limitations of its own "lost continent" theme.
The resort offers such a range of sports, dining, and entertainment options that many guests never venture off the property during their entire vacation. It's expensive, but for your money, you'll find yourself neck-deep amid many of the diversions you might expect from a theme park. And if you opt for one of the resort's less plush accommodations, especially within the Beach Tower, the sticker shock won't seem as severe.
Accommodations feature distinctly different levels of opulence, based, for the most part, on where they're located. The most grand and expensive units lie in semi-secluded annexes whose facilities are not open to the hotel's general clientele. These include the One&Only Ocean Club and the Cove Atlantis, a 600-unit, all-suite hotel-within-a-hotel that opened in 2007. Both pockets of heightened posh were designed as separate and semi-independent entities within the resort.
As the resort has expanded, accommodations within its central core are emerging as more affordable options. And of those units, the plushest lie within the Royal Towers -- the tallest and most imaginative edifice in The Bahamas, replete with decorative seahorses, winged dragons, and huge conch shells sprouting from cornices and rooflines. Rooms in the Royal Towers' Imperial Club come with concierge service and upgraded amenities. The most deluxe accommodations anywhere within the Atlantis fiefdom (going for $25,000 a night) are in the Bridge Suite, an architectural oddity that, many stories above ground level, links the two spires of the Royal Towers.
The Reef, in a category all its own, is a condo complex whose one-, two-, and three-bedroom units, each with full kitchen, are rented out as hotel accommodations according to a complicated schedule.
Less posh and less plush are rooms within the Coral Towers, and least expensive of the entire lot are units within the still-serviceable but older Beach Tower, with a floor plan shaped like an airplane propeller, dating back to the dimly remembered 1980s. But even in the older, less pricey sections, accommodations are comfortable, well accessorized, and afford occupants full access to the sprawling water parks that are otherwise accessible only on a limited basis to nonresidents. Most units sport a balcony or terrace with water views.
Any old hotel might have tropical gardens, but Atlantis goes one better by featuring the world's largest collection of outdoor open-air marine habitats, each of them aesthetically stunning. A few of these were conceived for snorkelers and swimmers, but most were designed so that guests could observe the marine life from catwalks above and from glassed-in underwater viewing tunnels. Even folks who don't stay here, including thousands of cruise-ship passengers, can take part in orchestrated tours. These jaunts include 11 different exhibition lagoons, containing millions of gallons of water and at least 200 species of tropical fish. On-site marine habitats include separate lagoons for sharks, dolphins, and stingrays, plus individual habitats for lobsters, piranhas, and underwater exotica.
Swimmers can meander along an underwater snorkeling trail called Paradise Lagoon to explore a five-story replica of an ancient ziggurat-shaped Mayan temple, the sides of which incorporate water slides with slippery, wet, and wild runs, including an 18m (59-ft.) nearly vertical drop. Riders emerge from the sculpted mouths of giant Mayan gods like human sacrifices as they race giddily down the course of the water slide.
In 2007, additional water attractions, known collectively as Aquaventure, were added, bringing the surface area devoted to water features to 50 hectares (124 acres). The most visible monument within Aquaventure is a mythical-looking building called the Power Tower, site of even more imaginative water slides, each skillfully landscaped into the surrounding vegetation. Aquaventure's labyrinth of meandering streams and waterfalls is accessible, without charge, for guests staying at Atlantis. Nonresidents, however, are strictly barred from entering unless they buy a day pass, which costs $110 for adults, $80 for children 4 to 12. Day-pass holders get access to all marine habitats, water slides, beach and pool facilities, and Aquaventure.
One major entertainment venue within Atlantis that's open, without charge, to the general public is Marina Village, inspired by an old Bahamian harborfront with a string of clapboard-sided houses (think historic Key West, Florida, but with a lot more money). Flanking a marina that draws some of the world's most spectacular yachts, it's self-enclosed and has dozens of shops, bars, and restaurants, plus gazebos and live musicians.
The focal point of Atlantis's extravagance is the massive Atlantis Casino, the best-designed and most imaginatively conceived casino in The Bahamas. Set over a lagoon's watery depths, it contains three bars and two restaurants.
Within the diverse and scattered elements of this extended resort, you'll find some 40 separate food and beverage outlets, some of which open, close, and are reconfigured at sometimes dizzying rates. None of them comes cheap: Expect to pay a lot to dine or drink in the resort.
Proudly Remaining Adult at Atlantis
Faced with increasing numbers of families with children, and with the perception that its acres of water slides and canals are a glorified summer camp for the offspring of parents who can afford it, there's an awareness that Atlantis needs quiet corners where grown-ups can be grown-ups.
If you fall into that category, we advise that you check into either the Cove Atlantis, the Reef Atlantis, the One&Only Ocean Club, or one of the more upscale rooms within the Royal Towers. None of these venues officially restricts children, but the Beach and Coral towers tend to house the greatest numbers of foursomes -- usually a nuclear family with their kids or festive 20-somethings on reprieve from their lives in the frigid north.
If you've opted for lodgings within the Cove, spend time at the adults-only swimming pool. Its staffers are hip, and 20 cabanas await you and your significant other.
On your first night at Atlantis, go for drinks and dinner at Nobu. We find the Asian food here delicious and fascinating -- enough so that most North American kids will find it bizarre. The pre-dinner scene at the bar, where women look foxier than in the glaring sun of a Bahamian noon, is definitely not for children. Awaken, too, to the nocturnal charms of Aura, the appealingly permissive nightclub where celeb-gazing is something of an art form.
Finally, book a long session at Mandara Spa. If you see anyone inside who's 17 or under, it's likely they're in line to inherit a very substantial fortune. Otherwise, even though adults adore it, it's not the sort of place teeny-boppers necessarily crave.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.