Adrift at Atlantis
The Middle East is a land of "anything is possible"superlatives. The skyscrapers are the tallest in the world. The cars are the fastest or rarest on the planet. And as far as shopping goes, well let's just say that even the shopping malls are sprinkled in a bit of 'Disneyland' imagination. Dubai, specifically, could be dubbed 'The Las Vegas of the East'.
Staying for a weekend at one of the most famous hotels in the world is certainly an experience that you don’t want to pass up, and this is even more so if you happen to be resident of the area…let’s be honest, how many of us stay at a hotel in the city in which we live?
Which brings us back to the ‘Las Vegas of the East’ idea. From the moment you arrive at Atlantis The Palm, you are inundated in a world that dazzles. From the towering Murano Glass sculpture of the reception to the underwater restaurant that allows you to dine in the company of some of the ocean’s most graceful, yet deadly, residents. For the next 48 hours, I had no idea on what to expect.
Anchored in Elegance, Served as Stowage
With over 1,500 rooms and several differing levels of Suites, it’ll be hard to find a bed that doesn’t offer absolute comfort and unparalleled luxury. You can even opt for the famous ‘Signature Underwater Suite’, allowing you to wake up each morning in the presence of the ancient ruins of Atlantis and the marine inhabitants which call it home.
We opted for the more economical route and had an Imperial Room, which came with access to the Imperial Club, with added benefits of up to Dh3,000 ($817) per day. Now, I’ve stayed at other Club Level Rooms at other 5-star hotels, so this was certainly the way I wanted to go.
The room was nice enough, but it wasn’t a two-room suite as in the past. It overlooked the Palm side to offer splendid views of the Dubai skyline, but that was about the extent of the ‘special’ feeling. There was no complementary pressing service, nor did the Imperial Lounge cater to an ‘exclusive feeling’.
It seemed that everybody that could be squeezed into the lounge was allowed to. At one point, there was even a line out the door as people waited to get in. I overheard one gentleman inquiring about “how is this special when the entire hotel can get access?” and I would have to agree.
Half Board with Supplements
Atlantis sells itself as a ‘true culinary destination’ and it boasts a staggering 23 different locales to choose from. We again went modest with the half-board option which allowed us to eat WITHOUT the supplement at a couple very delightful establishments, referred to as 'Casual Restaurants'. These felt more like an upscale fast-food restaurant in the food court of the mall, rather than the 5-star hotel we were in.
For dinner our first night we opted for Asia Republic. The small, cozy restaurant is filled with bold colors that help transport you to the Far East. Each meal is prepared with an element of flair as the chefs do everything from the confines of an open-air kitchen just a few steps from the table.
The wantons are always a personal favorite of mine and did not disappoint, nor did the fried rice and the Sweet and Sour Chicken. There is a broad variety of Thai dishes bursting with the characteristic zest from distant lands.
Indulging ourselves for our second evening, we deliberated and decided that we would dine at Seafire Steakhouse and Grill, but had to pay a supplement of Dh210 ($57) per adult due to our half-board status, regardless of the items we would choose from the menu.
Restrictively, our half board gave us a three-course meal (not the whole menu, but most items) and it did not include drinks. And when I say drinks, I mean ALL drinks. I can understand about the alcohol, yes, I’m happy to pay for my glass of wine. But water and soft drinks should be included in half-board. And I’m certainly not happy about it when I have to pay nearly five dollars for a bottle of still, room-temperature water. And this is true for all establishments, not just the ones with a celebrity chef’s name attached to them.
Adventure For All
The best aspect of Atlantis was the water park. Here is where all of the other hotel quirks that annoyed me were overshadowed and made the weekend tolerable.
The lazy river offered a couple of hours of drifting pleasure through the entire park of Aquaventure. You can take a tube through a shark infested aquarium for an even more up close and personal view of the ocean’s most efficient predator. And the kid’s area will for sure keep the little ones occupied all day with the variety of slides, swings, and water cannons suitable for all ages.
To document your day, you are given a bracelet when you enter the park with a specific, dedicated barcode linked to it for the day. This barcode allows you to view all of the photos that staff members take of you and your family throughout your adventure in the park. This bracelet gave you the possibility of purchasing a download link for Dh55 ($13) to gain access to all of your photos, but again, working against any type of common-sense, you had to purchase the link before 1pm on the day you entered the park, regardless of how much of the afternoon was remaining or how many days you were staying. A second purchase was needed for the following day and another purchase for any day after that. Again, something they could have done better for their guests.
Worth the Trouble?
I can see the appeal of wanting to stay at Atlantis. After all, most everything you probably read in your dentist's waiting area or saw on the Travel Channel is going to hail this hotel as one of the greatest in the world. Is it a bucket-list item? Probably. Simply because most guests will be travelling from much farther away than I did and will be staying for a much longer time; which is exactly why the hotel probably does some of the things it does…it’s like a road-side attraction…they’ve got you once you’re inside because there is nothing else around to compete for business.
Would I stay at Atlantis again? This one is difficult. I certainly didn’t feel as special as when I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton (You can read about that experience here), nor did I get the service that I had assumed I would get by having Imperial Lounge Access.
I certainly don’t think the supplement is appropriate for any of the restaurants we dined at. I can only assume it will be the same for the ones we didn’t. Families with older kids will be hit hard with the supplement, but then again, that’s probably why they have the ‘casual restaurants’ as they’re more kid/family friendly.
Moral of the story: The City of Opulence is just that, opulence. It kind of fits. If the hotel you’re staying at is located on the end of a man-made island that is shaped like a palm tree, and awes you before you get close enough to see the smile on the taxi valet, then you’re probably right…you’re in Las Vegas. Or you are at a place that follows the same rule; as soon as your money is gone, you’ll be on a plane home wondering how you spent so much money so fast and have little that makes you feel like it was worthwhile except a splitting headache and some sunburn.