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Arabian magic

Opening to an array of celebrity guests and the biggest firework display in the world, Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai is a heady mix of glamour and thrills

Posted: 9 August 2011
by Junior

Three little seconds of your life. That’s all it takes. One second, two seconds, three seconds – and it’s over. So how come it’s such a big deal? Maybe it’s the death-defying near-vertical drop and the stomach-churning feeling of having your heart in your mouth. Maybe it’s the fact that you’re whizzing through a see-through tube with sharks swimming in your midst. Or maybe we’re just chicken. 

We are standing at the foot of the Ziggurat, the showcase centrepiece at Aquaventure, the new water park at Atlantis, The Palm, in Dubai, pondering whether or not to make the ‘leap of faith’. My 12-year-old daughter, Grace, has a resolute “No way”, whilst I am more of the “I will if you will” persuasion. My fearless toddler, Joe, three, is mad keen to try it, but thankfully he doesn’t get anywhere near the height requirement, so instead we simply watched as guest after guest whizzed by, with arms criss-crossed on their chest and blind terror written all over their faces. 

The Ziggurat is a prime example of Dubai’s eagerness to impress: to be the biggest and the best; to incite that ‘wow’ factor. And you sense this the moment you arrive. “That is so cool!” gasped Grace, snatching a glimpse of the dramatic skyline through the mesh blinds that cover the windows of the air-conditioned limousine that whisks us to our hotel. Grace is snapping away, taking endless photographs of this building and that, in excited awe of the grand spanking shininess of it all. And the architecture is pretty amazing – it’s not just one or two buildings, it’s darn near every one you see. A veritable Manhattan of striking design, it’s an architect’s dream, with art deco styles reminiscent of the Chrysler Building (only, get them, not content with one Chrysler, they have to have two!). There are super-shiny blue glass affairs with slanting rooves and – till now the king of Dubai’s skyline – the Burj al Arab, the super-luxurious seven-star hotel that twinkles like the full-blown sail of a huge yacht (or a plumptious pregnant belly). 

The newest kid on the Dubai block is Atlantis, a huge pink palace of gargantuan proportions that cradles the crescent of The Palm Jumeirah, a man-made island in the shape of a palm tree that spans two kilometres in length. Our route to the hotel is lined with “jungle trees”, notes Joe, while Grace is already eyeing up the shopping potential at one of the world’s largest malls. Once at Atlantis, we are struck firstly by its magnitude – there are 1,539 guest rooms – and its rather gaudy bling splendour. The foyer is dominated by a magnificent ten-metre-high glass sculpture by American artist, Dale Chihuly, that erupts out of a fountain with over 3,000 swirling fronds, like Medusa’s gnarled tentacles. Huge windows at the front of the foyer afford a fantastic view of the hotel’s Royal Beach, while the expanse of super-shiny marble floors was an instant invitation for
Joe to hop out of his buggy and start tearing around. 

Considering the opulence of our surroundings, we were slightly disappointed by our room. Ordinarily, a sea view would be considered a boon, but a view of the blue expanse of the Arabian Gulf seemed just a little uninspiring. A quick call to reception and we were elevated to the 17th floor, with a view overlooking the swimming pool and with a glimpse of the impressive monorail that links the Palm to the mainland and Dubai’s Manhattan skyline as a unique backdrop. 

As the name suggests, Atlantis takes inspiration from Greek legend and is an homage to all things oceanic. One of its most impressive features is The Ambassador Lagoon, with its huge viewing windows, which is home to 65,000 fish and marine species – sufficient enticement for most toddlers to press their little noses up against the glass, trying to spot the scary sharks or the giant rays with leopard-print backs and smiley faces. There’s more marine life on show at the Lost Chambers, where oversized lobsters with lethal-looking claws scuttle above. There are orange-and-white clown fish to discover (easily recognised by fans of Finding Nemo), hypnotic fluorescent purple jellyfish to admire, and all manner of amazing fish with scary-looking poisonous spikes and funny faces. 

Our unique marine life experience was completed by a visit to Dolphin Bay for a little interaction with the resident Flippers. After a short pep talk from our guide, who enlightened us with handy rules of no poking your finger in the dolphin’s breathing hole (because you wouldn’t stick your finger up someone’s nose, she said) or in the eye – common sense for the adults but useful warnings to be heeded by three-year-old Joe. Once in the water, Joe was delighted to feed our dolphin, give her a little hug and kiss (our trainer had also explained the tell-tale signs of different genders) and hold hands – or rather, fins – to do a little dance. It was a lovely experience, but if you ask Joe or Grace about the most memorable part of their holiday, it would be Aquaventure. Despite dipping out of the main attraction, we still managed to get a good soaking; Grace was in fits of giggles when I tried to use the shower to wash the sand off my feet, and accidently activated the overhead shower instead (I was fully clothed at the time). There was a brilliant playground area for younger children called Splashers with a host of climbing frames, mini water slides, water jets and a giant tipping bucket that poured a torrent of 1,200 litres of water at various intervals – great fun for fearless Joe, though I was getting a little tired of looking like a drowned rat. And we must have floated round in the giant rubber rings for hours, travelling through rapids and dodging waterfalls – and a rather peculiar water escalator that carried our rubber rings uphill before launching us off on another swirling adventure. We were having so much fun I nearly missed my visit to the spa – a little time for me, while Grace and Joe went off to the children’s club. Maybe it was the therapist as she gently massaged my aching limbs, or the soporific aromas of the oils, or maybe all that exertion at the water 

Another highlight for the grown-ups has to be the mouth-watering array of dining options with no less than 17 restaurants to choose from. We ate delicious home-cooked Italian fare at Giorgio Locatelli’s restaurant, Ronda Locatelli, and enjoyed delicious steak and chips at Seafire. I also ventured to Nobu and tried some of the melt-in-the-mouth signature dishes, including Yellow Tail Sashimi with Jalapenos and Black Cod with Miso, washed down with a couple of Lychee margaritas, while Grace and Joe watched movies at the children’s club. Grace was also delighted to discover her favourite ice-cream parlour, Cold Stone Creamery. The chaotic free-for-all queuing system could be a deterrent and I was about to ask Grace if she really wanted an ice cream, when all the staff suddenly burst into song. As they bashed away on the counter in unison with their ice-cream scoops, I could see this was something a little bit special. And when it finally arrived, Grace’s custom-made concoction of bashed-up Oreo cookies, fudge and chocolate chips in vanilla ice cream, all tucked into a chocolate waffle cone, lived up to its reputation as “the ultimate ice-cream experience.” There was also pretty impressive window-shopping to be found at The Avenues, an exclusive selection of glitzy boutiques to provide an instant retail fix to happy – and wealthy – shoppers. There were diamonds as big as the Ritz at Graff and dazzling gem-encrusted watches at Harry Winston – just in case the Beckhams should drop by, and Victoria was in need of a little extra sparkle. 

 We also took a cab to the Mall of the Emirates. We’d heard it had an impressive array of 450 shops, but we weren’t expecting to also find an indoor skiing resort (the first of its kind in the Middle East), which was a little surreal, considering it was a sweltering 40 degrees outside. It was also rather strange to see so many logos we recognised – Costa, Starbucks and McDonald’s, with the names squiggled in Arabic. Grace was particularly impressed with the fashion labels at Harvey Nichols, where she tried on her first Gucci coat – a snip at £8,550! – while Joe was more excited by the rows of kitsch kissing camels in the toy shop. 

On our last evening, we took a leisurely post-dinner stroll, stopping off at some hammocks for a little moonlight swing. As we walked past the beach, Joe started to cry because, with our hectic schedule, he hadn’t got the chance to use his new bucket and spade. It was 9pm, but I suddenly thought, why not? Grace raced up to our room to fetch his bucket, then we all kicked off our shoes and walked barefoot onto the deserted beach. And there we sat, on the sandy shore with the waves gently lapping in the moonlight, and built sandcastles under a magical, starry Arabian sky.


- A four-night stay at Atlantis, The Palm in a deluxe room with B&B costs from £1,261 per adult and £326 for a child sharing the adults’ room. This includes flights from Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow and transfers. Tel: 0845 277 3310; www.tropical-locations.com

- For further information about the resort, visit www.atlantisthepalm.com

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