Well-known for its aquarium-like attractions and huge casino, this legendary Bahamas resort is one of the more interesting and entertaining places in the Caribbean.
Have you ever dreamed of escaping to a tropical island with gentle breezes, white sand beaches and crystal clear water, accompanied by the gentle rhythms of a steel drum band? It doesn’t have to become a nightmare if you plan a family visit to Atlantis, Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
The 2,300-room mega-resort, owned by Sun International, calls itself “the world’s most complete island resort.” My husband and I decided to take our two children, ages 13 and 10, and put it to the family vacation challenge.
The pink Gothic spires of the resort’s Royal Towers loom on the horizon as you cross the bridge from neighboring New Providence Island. Atlantis’ enormous lobby, filled with tourists and sightseers, can be a bit overwhelming, but once we were taken to our room in the central Coral Towers, stress just melted away. The rooms are quite large, ideal for families. In fact, with two double beds, it was still spacious enough for a rollaway bed.
The grounds are what set Atlantis apart from other resorts. There really is nothing that compares to it! The lush foliage and fragrant flowers delight the senses; waterfalls and streams provide endless hours of exploring for the young and the young at heart. Just outside the lobby door, a large, splashing waterfall empties into one small lagoon filled with stingrays and another filled with sea turtles. These beautiful creatures glide slowly through the water, pausing only long enough to gasp some air and take a peek at visitors. My kids found these small pools especially fascinating.
So Much Water, so much to See & Do
Continue down pathways imprinted with coral fossils, and you’ll pass one of two incredibly large, beautiful swimming pools. Surrounded by lounge chairs and palm trees, this is one of the most desirable locations at the hotel. The pool has a graduated ‘zero-degree’ entrance, ideal for grandparents in wheelchairs or little adventurers who may be too fearful to wade in the ocean.
Next, you can descend into several windowed caves which frame an undersea world usually reserved for experienced scuba divers. The large tanks (11 million gallons’ worth!) house over 50,000 sea animals including hundreds of species of tropical fish, stingrays and sharks. A plexiglas tunnel takes you through Predator’s Lagoon, inhabited by several species of sharks. From above, Atlantis’ marine staff can help kids feed these man-eaters.
At sea level, stroller-friendly pathways lead to the Lazy River, a quarter-mile, self-circulating wave pool that meanders between the Coral and Beach Towers. Large inflatable tubes designed for one or two are found bobbing around various entrances to the river. This slow float trip was especially appealing to the kids and non-swimmers as the water depth is only about 3½ feet. Relaxation never felt so good! Drifting under footpath bridges and through squirting fountains is ‘No problem, mon!’
Atlantis expanded its waterplay areas when it built The Cove, an elelgant condominium addition that opened in 2007. At that time, they opened the impressive 63-acre Aquaventure water park, one of the largest water parks in the world. Aquaventure combines waterslides, river rapids, waterfalls, and water holes with special effects and state-of-the-art technology to create an unprecedented experience.
Once guests enter the ride with their inner tubes, they never have to get out of the water, as conveyors propel guests back up to the top of the slides. The central piece of Aquaventure is the 120-foot tall Power Tower. The Power tower has 4 different water slides including, the Abyss, the Drop, the Falls, and the Surge. The Abyss is a thrilling body slide that features a 50-foot drop into complete darkness. The others are three inner-tube slides that utilize “master-blast” technology to propel riders up and downhill on a simulated water roller coaster ride.
The Power Tower is encircled by a river-ride loop through a tropical landscape, but this river isn’t “lazy” like the other one at Atlantis — it has waves and drops and white-water rapids. Guests can float along or return directly to the waterslides without ever having to leave the water. The Current, like the Power Tower uses a water curtain video technology that creates a unique experience with fire, water, mechanical systems, smoke/fog and video technologies. Aquaventure also boasts a man-made lagoon called Dolphin Cay in which guests can encounter dolphins, sea lions and snorkel with other marine animals, as well as sign up for trainer of the day sessions.
Recreation & Sports Galore
Activists can play tennis, work out in the enormous, well-equippped gym or join in some ongoing activity. If that sounds too strenuous, the picturesque marina with mega yachts boasting Internet access, each served by their own “room service” staff, are a guaranteed distraction.
Those more interested in beaches will not be disappointed. Although somewhat narrow, a long sand beach circles from the Atlantic Ocean side of the resort to the central lagoon. Paradise Island vendors sell crafts and offer hair braiding from beachfront tents set up by the resort; you can also rent wave runners, parasail or take a banana boat ride.
Where the beach meets the lagoon you will find the most notorious section of Atlantis, an unusual waterslide complex housed in a replica of an ancient Mayan ruin. This pyramid, the focal point of the new pool, is absolutely breathtaking in its magnitude. The four lifeguard-monitored waterslides (especially the Leap of Faith which simulates the weightlessness of freefall) provide a real treat for older “kids” and their children above 48 inches.
A Notable Kids Camp with an Impressive Pedigree
The Kids Camp at Atlantis, Paradise Island impresses parents immediately, while kids are just swept up in the equipment available for their use.
Though it was built in conjunction with the posh pink Royal Towers hotel wing, the children’s program is its own draw. Reputedly costing $2 million, the grotto-like facility features areas dedicated to arts n’crafts, science and nature projects, a computer lab, and a lounge surrounding a ship-wrecked galleon whose sail doubles as a video screen.
Counselors (an 8:1 ratio is maintained year-round) lead a schedule of hourly activities for ages 4-8 which includes the kiddie pool, indoor sessions with fossil and stamp kits, and mythology storytelling in a portable planetarium tent. The more independent 9-12-year-olds can join a photo tour of the resort’s aquarium tanks, spend a follow-up session on the computer to insert digitized photos, then make their own book.
The marriage of the staff’s skill at edutainment with Atlantis’ interactive marine entertainment environment works–they’ve created a really fun experience where kids come out knowing more than when they went in.
Eat, Drink & Be Merry
Dining is a delight, though lines can loom at every buffet and the fine adult restaurants sell out fast. Boasting 35 specialty restaurants and bars, including Italian, French, Chinese, continental and casual American fare, there is something for even the most discriminating little patron. Most restaurants offer a children’s menu (buffets are half price for kids under 12) and the staff is more than willing to split meals for smaller appetites, as prices run on the more expensive side.
Our family really enjoyed the Villa D’Este. Surrounded by dimmed lighting and the scent of garlic, our appetites were satisfied by delicious pasta. Seagrapes offers a kid-friendly buffet with a huge selection, including an all-you-can-eat dessert section! For those who would like to have a quiet gourmet dinner, babysitting services are available through the concierge.
For families not exhausted by a day at play, the hotel offers few evening entertainment options, though a stroll through the lobby is endlessly entertaining. Teens may also enjoy the Joker’s Wild Comedy Club and its rotating variety of racy comedians and magicians. The Caribbean’s largest casino, adorned with two magnificent glass sculptures by artist Dale Chihuly, provides entertainment for guests over 21. Boasting many types of gaming tables and hypnotizing slot machines, it is like Las Vegas in the Bahamas!
By law, no children are allowed in the gaming areas, however, we did see many watching Mom and Dad from the sidelines, and even some sitting on Granny’s lap!
For more information and reservations at Atlantis, Paradise Island (800/ATLANTIS; 242/363-3000), visit their site or contact your travel agent. Agents are especially good at tracking the frequent, short-lived special offers; such as midweek specials to the resort combined with airfare to Nassau via regular charters.
There is shopping galore at many fine stores in the hotel and a bigger selection of island trinkets nearby (island rum cake was $7 versus $12 in the hotel.) A fun water taxi ride or short walk across a bridge into downtown Nassau will yield even more temptations. The daily Straw Market caters to the cruise ships and a visit is a must. Vendors tempt you with very affordable T-shirts, seashells, jewelry, dolls, batik wraps and much more.
Sound expensive? Don’t let the cost scare you away. While Atlantis charges the usual higher prices of many mega-resorts, it really is good value for the money spent. For larger families and those with toddlers, I’d recommend requesting the least expensive rooms: the poolside villas in the Beach Tower. If you get one, you’ll have lots of extra breathing room, big closets, and the convenience of strolling from your palm-shaded patio right out to the beach, pool, or Lazy River. Also keep in touch with your travel agent about low season special packages.
For a once in a lifetime vacation experience, this family thinks Atlantis really is the world’s most complete island resort.
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