Atlantis: The sunken city resurfaces in Dubai

Dalia Rabie
11 Min Read

Had scholars sooner heard of the modern-day Atlantis, a 45-hecter resort on a man-made palm-shaped island, Plato’s theory of the sunken city that was dismissed as a myth would have been welcomed with open arms.

Planning a trip to Dubai and planning a stay in its ‘underwater resort’ require two separate itineraries, each with its own travel guide. To help make the best of the resort’s various attractions, a map is handed to you as soon as you check in; welcome to Atlantis, The Palm.

As soon as you set foot in the resort’s Grand Lobby you are introduced to the mystical underwater world with a 10-meter high glass sculpture created with over 3,000 pieces of colored blown glass ranging from fiery oranges and reds to tranquil blues and greens, surrounded by a reflective pool.

Along the walls are eight hand-painted murals depicting the development of the solar calendar while telling the story of the ancient mythological city of Atlantis.

Atlantis’ Royal Towers house 1,539 guest rooms, all boasting décor showcasing the marine theme that runs throughout the resort. All the rooms and suites overlook the Arabian Gulf or have a view of the tranquil waters of The Palm Jumeirah.

Under the sea

Distinguishing Atlantis, The Palm from other lavish resorts in Dubai, and the Middle East, is its open air marine habitat that is home to more than 65,000 fish and sea creatures of over 250 species including sharks, eels, rays and piranhas.

In the heart of the resort glitters the Ambassador Lagoon, where a 10-square meter viewing panel draws you into the Arabian Gulf’s marine habitat. The serenity this underwater exhibit exudes will leave you spellbound.

Placed strategically in the center, the exotic species are likely to draw passersby again and again, each time discovering something new as it floats by above artifacts meant to depict “the streets and boulevards of the mythical lost world of Atlantis.

“It is like going scuba diving without having to get wet, says Alan Leibman, president and managing director of Atlantis, The Palm.

The awe factor this unusual marine life provides will prompt you to go on a voyage of discovery through the underground mazes of the Lost Chambers, where you will be introduced to even more exotic species from around the world. The Lost Chambers invites guests to walk leisurely along aquariums that line the dark passageways, and should they wish to learn more about the mystery surrounding a species they see a ‘Navigator’ is close by, ready to share educational facts about the species in question.

Also located in the underground tunnels are ‘touch tanks’ where guests have the opportunity to pet creatures like starfish, pencil urchins and horse shoe crabs.

The resort offers a one-of-a-kind experience for guests who opt for one of two Lost Chambers Suites. The suites create the illusion of being in the deep waters from the comfort of your own bed, as you watch an array of exotic fish float by through a floor-to-ceiling window that looks directly into the Ambassador Lagoon.

Dolphin haven

One of the resort’s main attractions drawing guests from around the world is Dolphin Bay. The first in the region, Dolphin Bay allows guests to interact and play with dolphins in the 4.5 hectare lagoon complete with sandy beaches and a tropical setting.

Guests flocking in for this exclusive experience have to book in advance. As they arrive at Dolphin Bay, they undergo a brief ‘induction,’ informing them of the Dos and Don’ts for the wellbeing and safety of both guests and dolphins. This once in a lifetime experience imposes no age limit. A maximum number of 10 people per group get to interact with their own dolphin with two specialists standing by.

Currently, the available 28 dolphins, each identified by their physical as well as personal traits, have only been trained for “shallow water interaction, and are expected to complete their training for deep water by next year.

“We are building a long term relationship with them, one that will not be short-lived, Alan Kordowski, vice president of Dolphin Bay, said. According to Kordowski, Dolphin Bay is a standalone entity with its own budget and team of 19 marine specialists.

It is equipped with medical and quarantine pools and a state-of-the-art marine mammal hospital. It will also serve as the first marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation center in Dubai. It will be the only center for stranded animals in the Arabian Gulf.

Adrenaline rush

For a more daring experience, guests can step out of the underwater world for a day of adventure at Aquaventure, the largest and most dynamic water-themed attraction in Dubai.

The water park includes seven thrilling new waterslides, a 2.3 km river ride with tidal waves and pools, water rapids and white water chargers. Adventurers can choose to never get off their water tube units named “donuts as water escalators carry them up slide towers and down through rapids. The main ride in the park – the Leap of Faith – is bound to get your adrenaline rushing with its 27.5 meter almost vertical drop into a transparent tunnel running through a shark-filled lagoon.

Fine dining

Nothing better complements a day of discovery and adventure than a scrumptious meal, and in that department, guests are spoiled for choice between 17 different indoor and outdoor restaurants, bars and lounges, cooking up cuisines that satisfy every pallet.

Located in The Avenues, a luxurious indoor marketplace, are dining venues where celebrity chefs showcase gourmet cuisines straight from countries like Italy, Japan, India, France and the Middle East.

Leave us kids alone

Younger guests will not be held back by their parents or vice versa with the two kids’ clubs that cater to children and teenagers alike.

The Atlantis Kids Club, for kids aged 4-12, offers a supervised activity program with a focus on adventure, play, exploration and education on a daily basis. Inside, kids will enjoy two climbing walls, a theater where they can get involved with producing and acting, arts and crafts sessions, and stints in the kitchen where they can learn to bake their own bread and cakes from the culinary team at Atlantis.

The resort also offers nannies to care for younger children and nurses on duty at all times.

Club Rush, for teens aged 13-17, is a supervised club with a strict ‘No Adults’ rule. Teens can choose between hanging out in the lounge area, watching films at the cinema, playing video games or surfing the internet. Come night time, they can dance and even experiment with the DJ’s mixing tables.

Bumps in the road

Far-fetched as it may sound, the $1.5 billion project faced a few hurdles along the way, which it gracefully overcame.

Floating around the Ambassador Lagoon is a four-meter long whale shark, which had environmentalists disgruntled at the notion of it being held in captivity. The whale shark elicited a campaign for its release, which, according to news reports, pressured the UAE’s Minister for the Environment to announce that the whale shark will be freed, but not until hotel staff finish treating it. Environmental activists also voiced concern over the decision to sell the dolphins, as well as transport them in the 30-hour plane flight from the Soloman Islands to Dubai.

So are the developers concerned? Hardly. With international marine experts and a $65 million budget allocated for preserving the resort’s marine habitat, Leibman and Kordowski’s confidence cannot be shaken. “We were very responsible [with transporting the dolphins], it was done easily and followed a very methodological process, Kordowski said.

He went on to explain that the accompanying specialists identified which dolphins got along in order to put them together and create a comfortable environment. “It is like being with friends, he said.

Only days before its soft opening in September, fire broke out in the luxurious hotel’s main lobby that caused limited damage to the external roof and lobby dome. Luckily the fire was contained and the damage controlled. “It was a big challenge fo
r us because it was so close to the opening . we are actually sitting in one of the places that was hurt by the fire, Leibman said.

Atlantis, The Palm draws curious visitors from Europe, the Gulf and Russia. But worth mentioning is that it respects the conservative culture in which it was built.

Women can enjoy a relaxing day at the gender-segregated spa. Their conservative swimwear will not stop them from enjoying a day at Aquaventure or interacting with the dolphins who, according to Kordowski, are conditioned and familiarized with women in full body suits.

Combining luxury, adventure and family fun in this fully-integrated resort is an experience set to remain forever etched in your mind.

And setting aside Plato’s credibility, replicating a Caribbean resort in the Middle East was a great success, yet still managed to retain the enigmatic mystery of the lost Atlantis.

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