Desert island

The turreted colossus straddling a huge pointed Mughal arch has become Dubai’s most recent icon, like the gateway to the city. Unlike Dubai’s previous two iconic Burj hotels, the room rate at Atlantis The Palm, Dubai makes it more accessible to mere mortals. For many guests, the character and atmosphere, aside from the price, make it more attractive than its architecturally radical competitors. It’s a five-star hotel that’s fun.

There are 1,373 rooms and 166 suites, facing either the city or the Gulf. Both of these very different views are equally appealing. The Imperial Club guest rooms offer the additional amenities of a club lounge that serves breakfast, afternoon tea and evening cocktails as well as light snacks throughout the day. The scale of luxury rises to dizzying heights. The principal suite at Atlantis The Palm, Dubai is an enfilade of magnificent rooms stretching right over the hotel’s signature arch like Versailles in the sky.

Standard rooms are spacious and many have terraces and balconies for guests who want to breathe the scorching desert air. The decor is simple but handsome and very comfortable, with solid furniture and no strenuous style statements, least of all an Arabian Nights fantasy. My only disappointment was the motel-style instant coffee sachets.The bathrooms are generously sized and more opulent than the bedrooms, to which they’re connected by an archway with sliding doors, so you can gaze out to the view from your bath.

The resort ambience is maintained by filling nearly every available public space with decorative details to delight and entertain. The fantasy environment is stylish and imaginative. It never crosses the line from grand hotel to theme park. There is an extravagant amount of mural painting, and voluptuously sculpted architectural details. In the centre of the lobby is an immense and colourful glass sculpture that eerily recalls Marge Simpson’s hair, very popular with the young.

Kids can drive you crazy in a hotel (especially other people’s kids), but they only become obnoxious when they’re bored and grumpy. Kids are in heaven in this hotel, and they behave like angels. Travelling with children provides an excuse to go and have a wild time in a water park, but the Aquaventure Park at Atlantis has some rides that should be adults only. They include a vertical tube drop and a chute that propels you down the side of a towering Mayan pyramid into a clear tunnel through a shark tank. For those hoping to retain some dignity, there’s also a leisurely ride in a pneumatic ring through a long meandering circuit of streams and rapids, but even that can get scary. It’s also possible to hire a large cabana where you recline languidly and let other people do the screaming.

A gentler and more endearing experience is available for people who like to commune with precision-trained dolphins and seals. Their affections may be prompted by food bribes, but are convincing nevertheless, and are professionally photographed, so if you kiss one, you can purchase proof of your animal magnetism as you leave.

The Atlantis The Palm, Dubai theme is carried far beyond the waterpark, dolphinarium and sealarium. The hotel has an underwater restaurant and underwater guest rooms are available. To one side of the lobby is the Ambassador Lagoon, a floor-to-ceiling wall of glass several storeys high, providing a view into a vast aquarium designed as a sunken city. Sharks and manta rays appear from the architectural ruins and glide past your nose. It’s mesmerising. Scuba diving in the lagoon is offered, providing an added attraction for those watching on the other side of the glass.

The free-form outdoor swimming pools are enormous and curve attractively through the desert palms. They lead on to the spotlessly clean beach, which faces the city. It’s worth a swim in the sea to enjoy the water’s seductive warmth, but because the land is artificially created it gets a little muddy underfoot when you move out from the shore.

We dined at two of the resort’s 20 restaurants. Yuan is the sexiest Chinese restaurant I’ve ever seen – intimate, dark and elegantly minimalist. The food is exciting and includes Szechuan cooking that’s as hot as you can take it. The big and bustling Levantine serves wonderfully fresh and simple Lebanese food with salad dishes I’d never encountered before. I’m reluctant to call it a family restaurant because you might have difficulty explaining some of the more enterprising moves of the belly dancer to your 10-year-old.

Floating like a mirage on the outer fringes of the Palm Jumeirah (the city’s first palm-shaped cluster of artificial islands), Atlantis is somewhat removed from downtown. A monorail can take you directly from the hotel to the delights of Dubai if that’s what you want, but there’s enough on offer to keep anyone amused for days without leaving the premises.


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