I like big resorts like I like camping, in moderation. One night in a tent can be a hoot, four nights is my idea of hell. While a top-class resort offers far more diversions, I have never spent a full weekend without leaving the grounds of a resort, now I am going to attempt three full days and four nights, all meals, all entertainment, no leaving the resort grounds. I'm like Bear Grylls but with crystal chandeliers and celebrity chefs.
My resort of choice is Atlantis, the Palm, and just 15 years ago if I wanted to spend four days here I would have had to be a fish. This 1500-plus room mega-resort is located on the Palm Jumeirah, Dubai's artificial, none-too-subtle island that is shaped like a palm tree. Fronds sprout from a central trunk and compound-sized playgrounds for rich Emeratis sprout from the fronds, at the apex of it all is Atlantis, the Palm, themed around the famous sunken city which, given the way we are heading, is either brave or prophetic, or both. The myriad rooms are gathered around a Middle East-inspired arch and it has water parks, a huge aquarium and high-end eateries.
My spirit animal for this first-world quest is Gordon Ramsay, who smiles down at me from the lift each morning advertising his Bread Street Kitchen restaurant. Atlantis, the Palm has more celebrity chefs than you can poke a spatula at but more on them later. Today we are off to Atlantis Aquaventure waterpark which is a sharp left at the Ambassador Lagoon, an 11 million litre marine tank that is the centrepiece of the resort.
Right next to the resort, the Aquaventure water park is a draw for families all over the UAE and with a private pagoda and a waiter that brings us delicious shwarma wraps and cold drinks – we are doing it like a celeb.
We start the day with the alarmingly named Shark Attack, a slide that sees you plunge down a tube in a rubber ring only to emerge inside a shark-filled aquarium; the sharks are walled off and you are still safe in the plastic tube but the effect is jarring, coming as it does after a pitch-black section of the ride.
Later we attack the group rides – Zoomerango and Aquaconda – in which up to six people climb into a huge inflatable ring only to be dropped from a height that would make an Olympic ski jumper blush. On the way back to the pagoda we get lost in the twists and turns of the lazy river, a kind of aqua-transport system throughout the park, before skipping across lava-hot concrete back to the resort.
We keep our swimmers on because we are for an Aquatrek inside the Ambassador Lagoon. Like the metal diver's helmets of yesteryear, the Aquatrek fits you with a modern plastic version of this rig and you drop into a giant tank. It is extremely disorienting but your guide helps you down the stairs onto the platform where you can stand underwater and observe the marine life. A reef shark darts past my head and a huge stingray slides over the floor nearby. When I first submerge myself I can't wait to get out, but when my guide signals it is time to come up for air I am sad to leave, having got used to this simple diving system.
Dinner is at Ayamna, known as the best Lebanese restaurant in the city, where a very Instagrammable stairway leads you to a huge feast with belly dancing and a local DJ in an ornate booth.
I nod good morning to "lift Gordon Ramsay" as I go down to Kaleidoscope restaurant for breakfast. The buffet here is as oversized as everything else in the UAE with country-themed tables. I go local with some flatbread and a range of dips reminiscent of the previous nights dinner; move over eggs Bennie, shanklish is my new breakfast staple.
Do you know who eats well in Dubai? The fish in Lost Chambers Aquarium as I discover on a behind-the-scenes tour. The marine life here are fed 472 kilograms of restaurant-quality seafood every day and the special aquarium prep room is as fascinating as it is smelly.
Dubai understands that you have to commit to a theme and the Atlantian sculptures throughout the aquarium give it a Stargate-meets-Aquaman feel as you visit huge freshwater arapaimas from the South American jungle and watch local big-eyed scats swirl around together opposite to the current in an effort to aerate their tank.
One of the most haunting exhibits is the moon jellyfish that are backlit in a dark tank to look like living glowsticks. On a visit to the fish hospital, where wild marine animals are cared for beside any patients from the aquarium, we see breeding tanks for moon jellyfish that produce thousands of offspring each year for the resort.
The aquarium ends with a burst of colour as we head into the Australian tropical fish tanks. We are delivered back into the resort past more glass-covered displays, this time filled with Tiffany, Armani and Omega.
Lunch is at Wavehouse, a family fun zone of video games, a wave simulator and a bowling alley. We take in a quick game of ten-pin, augmented by an alley floor that sees animated emojis follow the path of each ball. It does not increase my accuracy.
A quick change and I am back down at Ten Cocktail bar where I have a bloody margarita which adds blood orange to the classic mix. We order a hookah for the table and end up in Seafire, Dubai's own-brand steakhouse for dinner.
Back in my room with a killer view of the Palm, I start to feel mainland Dubai calling to me, but a deal's a deal.
Looking up at Gordon this morning in the lift he seems a little judgy. Lift Gordon's cheery advertising visage has morphed into the grimace he reserves for undercooked chicken. Is he upset that I have only seen the city of Dubai from a taxi window? Or that I have not been to his signature Bread Street Kitchen yet?
He needn't worry for today is celebrity chef day. We are having brunch with Gordon, cocktails at Nobu and dinner at Ronda Locatelli. By day's end I will look like a startled puffer fish.
Friday brunch is a big deal in Dubai, the sort of expat free-for-all that involves multiple courses and a lot of day drinking. And Bread Street Kitchen is as subtle as a pep talk from Chef Ramsay. A life-sized portrait of Gordon glares at you from a Union Jack background; more red, white and blue is found on cushions and couches. A table of cold starters overflows with cured meats, gooey cheeses and fresh bread of all nationalities; hot starters come out of the "show kitchen" and mains are simply a choice of meat, fish or vegetarian. As the more family-friendly option, kids run around in mini-toques and the food is every bit as good as you would expect from Ramsay despite the surrounding chaos.
Back to the room for a truncated food coma and I am down in the low-lit, weaved rattan surrounds of Nobu with a Matsuhisa martini in hand, a mix of vodka, sake, pickled ginger and cucumber. Nibbles include the classic miso-marinated black cod but we keep things to minimum as we are off to Giorgio Locatelli's Italian eatery for the main meal.
I order a Napoli pizza from the wood-fired oven that dominates the kitchen and a salad of baby spinach, smoked ricotta and walnuts with a tall glass of Italian beer. You win Atlantis, I couldn't make it much further than the lobby tonight even if I tried.
Gordon looks happy again as I take the lift for the final time, heading to the lobby to check out and once again see the UAE from the comfort of an air-conditioned cab. My three-day quest actually passed speedily. There was an element of stir craziness bouncing up and down to the same lobby day in day out, but if you are going to do a resort stay make sure there is the wealth of options that Atlantis, the Palm has. This may be a confected tower on a fake island, but it is genuine fun.
Paul Chai was a guest of Atlantis, the Palm.
Emirates flies regularly to Dubai from Australia. See emirates.com
Palm King rooms start from AED1067 ($A430) a night for two people with access to the waterpark and aquarium included. Imperial King Rooms start from AED1619 but you have access to a very good value happy hour each evening with drinks and buffet included. Imperial Club access also gives you complimentary buffet breakfast and afternoon tea in the Imperial Club itself as well as airport transfers. See atlantis.com