It's 5:26 am and my daughter Kyra (who is now 24) and I are sitting on our balcony at the Atlantis Resort waiting for the sun to rise over the Palm Jumeirah. Positioned as the "crowning jewel" at the very top of the Palm Island, Atlantis is something special. The Palm Island itself is a man-made haven for fun-in-the-sun seekers, and is nothing short of spectacular! It offers an array of accommodations that range from fully staffed villas in exclusive communities to high-rise mega-resorts like the Atlantis, all complete with soaring views of the Arabian Sea. One of the advantages on the Palm is the monorail that runs up the trunk and dead ends at the Atlantis's Aqua Adventure. Although the palatial environment on the Palm can be pricey (think on average $400-$1300 per night) and it leaves me feeling as though I am living in the lap of luxury, there are plenty of affordable units for rent in the $150-$200 per night range in many of the high-rise apartment buildings along the trunk and they all have lovely stretches of beach to enjoy.
So back to waking up at Atlantis. I've been here three times now over the past decade and I have been keeping an eye on the progress Dubai is making. This city is so forward thinking as evidenced in the non-stop building, and Atlantis is no different. It was the first resort to open on the Palm Jumeirah in 2008 and it's still expanding! Right down the beach is the massive undertaking of the new Atlantis Royal Residences which will add another 1,000+ room options for guests. The main hotel is grand...with towering ceilings and glittering, seaside themed decor at every turn. It's pretty awe-inspiring as you enter the main lobby, one of the grandest in the world for sure, and the giant Chihuly fountain will entice you to take your camera out. You'll find that you do that a lot around here!
The style of Atlantis is lux but not pretentious and the staff here are attentive and gracious and they make the stay warm and inviting. There is something very calming at this resort as you are surrounded on all sides by the sea, and the architecture takes advantage of the views with soaring windows of picturesque tropical surroundings.
We couldn't afford the UNDERWATER SUITE, but my daughter and I were upgraded to an Executive Suite on the Club level so check-in was a breeze in the Royal Majlis lounge. The benefits of a suite level room are wonderful - four different options of the free breakfast (including TWO different buffets - an International buffet and an Asian buffet), access to the Imperial Club Lounge with a wonderful selection of food and drink options practically all day, free admission into Aquaventure, two-for-one spa treatments (I had a massage and Kyra had a facial), free airport transfers, plus kiddos get daily entry into the Kids Club!
Speaking of kids, this place is a youngsters paradise. The beaches are wide and lovely with plenty of room to stretch out and loads of sun loungers and umbrellas. When I had my four year old son here, he LOVED the Aquaventure because many of the rides there are geared towards toddlers and younger kids. They also have some award-winning thrill rides and slides for the adrenaline junkies of your group. My favorite ride is the lazy river because it has really fun, actual rapids!
The aquariums are state of the art and hold thousands of different species to either watch or enjoy a close-up encounter with. The animal related programs Atlantis offers is mind-boggling (interacting with dolphins, sea lions, stingrays, and sharks!) and they do a good job of promoting ocean conservation - they even have a baby shark and stingray nursery where they release the animals into the ocean to repopulate! Diving or snorkeling in the Ambassador Lagoon is a must-do activity for families with older kids and is a thrilling experience not soon forgotten.
The restaurants and shops at Atlantis are very good quality and upscale and give you many different options to choose from. Shopping-wise, Atlantis attracts the heavy hitters, and Tiffany, Versace, and Rolex are all along the main stroll from the lobby on your way to the Aquarium downstairs. Everything is very close by and concentrated around the lobby area and there is even a toy store and numerous sundries shops carrying sunblock, shampoo, baby supplies, clothing, and everything else you could need on your vacation.
For dining, there is an amazing range of snacks, quick bites, buffets, and fine dining. There is a heavy Indian and Asian influence present but the buffets offer American food also such as mashed potatoes, burgers, pizza, chicken, salads, and breakfast items like yoghurt, cereal, fresh fruit, poached eggs and freshly made omelettes, and waffles too. The buffets are extensive with bountiful amounts of good to high quality food offerings and cost around $42-$60 per adult. Our favorites for dinner and breakfast were Kaleidoscope (International Buffet) and Saffron (Asian Buffet). Both had a good mix of fare but Saffron offered dishes like peking duck, dim sum, sushi and seafood, and more than 40 noodle dishes, while Kaleidoscope focused on ample roasted vegetables, noodle salads, Indian dishes with rich sauces, and sliced meats and cheeses. Both offered an excellent selection of exotic breakfast items alongside typical American fare. The fanciful deserts varied wildly (even at breakfast) from Chum Chum and Gulab Jamun to good old standards such as gourmet cupcakes, doughnuts, and gelato. The classic chocolate fountain and mountains of fresh fruit and pastries were omnipresent.
Atlantis does offer Half-Board options for dining so check that out before you book. Of note, Nobu has a location here as well as Gordon Ramsay's Bread Street Kitchen, and there is an underwater restaurant (Ossiano) featuring one of the top chefs in the world, Gregoire Berger. Prices are somewhat expensive for dining if you aren't in club level and factoring in a free breakfast and small meals each day. However, you can take advantage of Happy Hour at select restaurants where the drinks are 50% off, plus there are discounted kids prices at the restaurants and children under 11 years old eat for free each evening at the Seafire Steakhouse from 5:00-7:00.
It is worth mentioning that the gym at Atlantis is top-notch. Kyra and I worked out a few times during our stay and the machines were high-tech and plentiful. There was an overall feeling of the gym being very spacious, well-stocked with quality machines and free weights, and opulent at the same time. They provide free water bottles and towels plus offer protein drinks and Nike work-out gear for a fee if you left yours at home. The ShuiQi spa is connected to the gym and while the ambiance is beautiful with numerous water features to look at and marble floors and walls, there was only one hot-tub and a small steam room and dry sauna in the ladies waiting area. It was a little boring and not at all worth the price of a day pass. Even with free admission from our club suite, I wouldn't use the spa area again, except to purchase some skin cream or body oil from the spa shop, which is very nice. My massage was about 650 AED ($180 US) for 60 minutes and it was not a memorable experience.
Today we are checking out of Atlantis and heading to nearby Madinat Jumeirah...the Friday brunch is LEGENDARY and I wouldn't miss it for all the durhams in Dubai! More to come about that later...
Bottom line: Highly recommended for families and adventure seekers - Atlantis can keep you entertained and well fed for days!