424 family reviews
- Amazing waterslides, river rides, and pools
- Exceptional aquarium exhibits, with a range of animals and environments
- Excellent kids' programs for young kids and a separate club for pre-teens and teens
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The myth of Atlantis goes back to the dialogues of Greek philosopher Plato, who told a legend of an advanced island civilization somewhere west of the Mediterranean Sea that went on a binge conquering European countries until it suddenly and mysteriously sunk into the sea some 11,000 years ago. The myth has been used a springboard for all kinds of utopian philosophers and contemporary science fiction writers, who have envisioned Atlantis as an enlightened society that fell victim to foreign invaders or natural calamity. With that kind of romantic history, it was only a matter of time before someone set about to recreate Atlantis for real.
That journey began back in 1994 when hotel developer Saul Kerzer bought up several hotels owned by Merv Griffin on the sliver of Paradise Island, directly off Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas. There he set about creating a soaring new pink hotel surrounded by lagoons and aquariums filled with all kinds of exotic sea life, all set within the ruined palaces and courtyards of the supposed mythical city of Atlantis. An elaborate water park, two more hotels, and a marina village all followed over the next few years, making the complex the top family vacation resort in the Caribbean and one of the most popular family theme parks in the world.
The resort is less an evocation of a ruined ancient city than it is an unholy combination of Disney and Vegas perched on the azure blue of the Caribbean. The initial experience is nothing short of overwhelming, with a seemingly endless maze of hotels, beaches, pools, aquariums and waterslides all circling around the soaring trademark pink towers, connected by a bridge that forms the center of the resort. Once you get your bearings, however, it's easy to literally find something for every age group and interest, from thrilling inner tube roller coasters to elaborate kiddie pools; from casual outdoor eateries to restaurants helmed by some of the world's best-known celebrity chefs (Nobu, Jean-Gorges and Bobby Flay among them); from adults-only casinos and nightclubs to one of the best kids' programs anywhere in the world.
To orient yourself in the resort, it's best to think of it as an interconnected line of five hotels with the marina in the middle -- from north to south, the resort starts with the Beach Tower and Coral Towers, the original hotels on the property; next comes the Royal Towers, the iconic main hotel; and the marina with its Harborside Village timeshares and shops. Finally, in the last two years the resort has dramatically expanded with two entirely new hotels, The Cove and The Reef, designed to appeal to more sophisticated clientele.
Along with the newest hotels came an entirely new water park complex in which the various slides and pools are all connected by a river raft system allowing visitors young and old to explore the attractions without ever leaving the water. Other highlights include a dolphin park where guests can literally swim with dolphins; a shark tank where they can walk among sharks with the help of a trained diver; and the recreation of the partially submerged city of Atlantis at the core of the resort, transformed into an 11-million gallon fish tank filled with giant manta rays, groupers, and other impressive giant fish.
Of course, despite the endless variety and excitement of the resort, it does have its drawbacks. For one thing, for a resort that is so much about the ocean, the real thing is hardly to be seen -- the layout of Atlantis is all focused inward, on the hotels and pools, with few good ocean views aside from the hotel rooms and irregular beach access. Also, apart from the exceptional central Atlantis exhibit, the theme of the resort is irregularly applied, with some parts looking like any other Caribbean resort, and some elements, such as the Mayan Temple, seemingly tacked on without any real thought to cultural integration (a breezy explanation that the Mayans were thought to be related to the Atlanteans fails to convince).
More practically, this is not a cheap vacation -- room rates are hefty at any time of year, and food is especially expensive, with few low-priced options on the resort itself and no easy way to venture off-property to find cheaper options. (Families on a budget, however, can opt to stay in a kitchenette at the Reef, choose the lower-priced Beach Tower or Coral Towers, or book a room at the Comfort Suites off Marina Village, which grants access to all Atlantis attractions.) There is also a fair amount of nickel-and-diming that takes place, such as charges for the fitness center and kids programs that are included at other resorts, and eye-popping extra charges for activities such as swimming with dolphins and sharks. Even so, the overall experience of Atlantis is so unique, it's literally not one you will find anywhere else in the world. If you can set aside a hefty budget for the trip and not think about money, this is an once-in-a-lifetime vacation many families remember as one of their best vacations ever.
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Written by Michael Blanding
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