Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai review: The rise of Atlantis

Read our writer's views on this property below

Kilometres of water slides and a three-storey aquarium - only in Dubai, writes Chris Vedelago.

In the scorching deserts of the Arabian Peninsula, water is always precious, rationed carefully and never wasted. Possessing it separates life from death.

What a difference a few kilometres - and bucketloads of money - can make. At Atlantis The Palm, Dubai's latest and possibly greatest luxury hotel, water is an ornament and a plaything. It flows in ridiculous, seemingly endless quantities, simply for the pleasure of it.

(Photos: Dubai's incredible Atlantis hotel)

Anchoring the place is a three-storey aquarium. There's a surprisingly thin sheet of glass separating me from 11 million litres of water and the abundance of exotic and dangerous-looking marine life that swims by.

Just a short stroll away the fresh-water attractions start with two oasis-sized swimming pools. A few minutes beyond them is the entrance to Aquaventure, a 17-hectare water park filled with slides and pools. Beyond, dolphins wait to swim with guests in a 4.5-hectare salt-water enclosure.

Every luxury hotel is expected to have its share of pools and fountains,but here the water use is extravagant, considering the United Arab Emirates relies on desalination for 70 per cent of its drinking water.

What's even more astonishing is that the entire site - the hotel and the land - was more than 10 metres under the surface of the Persian Gulf eight years ago. Today, the Atlantis holds prime spot on the outer rim of the Palm Jumeirah, a man-made island of more than 25 square kilometres that juts from the coast of Dubai. Using 94 million cubic metres of sand and millions of tonnes of rock, the 560 hectares of reclaimed land was shaped into a palm tree with 17 "fronds" encircled by a massive habitable breakwater. It's expected that the Palm Jumeirah one day will support 30 hotels, several marinas, shopping centres and tens of thousands of residents.

Two things about the Atlantis are immediately obvious as you drive up the "trunk" of the Palm. The hotel is huge and very, very pink. It's just like its sister hotel in the Bahamas, Atlantis Paradise Island, both of which are owned by South African property magnate Sol Kerzner. So why pink? Well, it certainly makes it distinctive (read: eyesore). Built at an estimated cost of $US1.5 billion ($2.4 billion), the 1539-room Atlantis comprises two accommodation towers of more than 20 storeys each, a conference centre, spa, private beach and the water park. All told, it covers 46 hectares, or about 22 times the size of the arena in the Melbourne Cricket Ground.


The Atlantis is looking for the wow factor right from the lush, terraced water gardens at the entry to the ornate, high-vaulted lobby. But it soon becomes clear that the Atlantis-theme aesthetics are taken too far: decorative sea-creature carvings, shell engravings on the pillars, cartoon-like murals, a towering glass sculpture. It's like stepping onto a set for the live version of Disney's The Little Mermaid.

Our room is refreshingly understated by comparison. An unsolicited upgrade gives us a spacious room on the top floor of the east Royal Tower, with plush king-size bed and a shower-head the size of a bread plate. A partition in the bathroom wall allows us to gaze over the Persian Gulf, in total privacy, while soaking in the tub.

All very nice but not nearly as extravagant as the hotel. The Neptune and Poseidon suites, which face that three-storey aquarium, have private floor-to-ceiling underwater views from the bedrooms and bathrooms. The super-rich can take the $US25,000 a night suite that spans the bridge connecting the Atlantis's two accommodation towers.

Breakfast proves the kind of enjoyable challenge you find only at top-flight resorts, with an enormous buffet of the best and freshest.

Packed with carbs, we're ready to experience Aquaventure, with more than two kilometres of water slides, streams and two-metre rapids drawing on about 18 million litres of fresh, cold liquid gold. Towering at the centre is a 30-metre-high ziggurat structure, the launching pad for a half-dozen slides of varying degrees of scariness. There's a nine-storey drop on the Leap of Faith and a gentle tube ride through tunnels in a shark-filled lagoon. Surrounding the tower is a network of pools connected by meandering rivers and water escalators, meaning you almost never have to get off your inner-tube. Seeing everything takes the better part of half a day.

That evening we settle down to the best Middle-Eastern meal I've ever eaten. The hotel's Lebanese restaurant, Levantine, is among 11 casual and formal dining choices. Among them is Nobu; Ossiano, run by three-star Michelin chef Santi Santamaria; and Rostang, run by two-star Michelin chef Michel Rostang.

The place is over-the-top but can a billion-dollar-plus Atlantis-themed hotel built on a man-made island be anything less? While the hotel is often garish in appearance, the service is faultless. (Towels are folded into swans with their necks arched together to form a heart, surrounded by a sprinkle of flower petals.)

It's worth mentioning that about half the Atlantis's rooms and the pool and beach area face the "fronds" of the Palm Jumeirah rather than the gulf. This means looking at row after row of villas and a monorail system that cuts through the view like a wound.

And, of course, there's the cost. One night set us back $767, plus $220 for dinner at Levantine. Painfully expensive. But worth it, just this once.


Getting there

Emirates flies non-stop to Dubai and one stop (Singapore) from $1749. Etihad has a fare for $1400 to Abu Dhabi and then by bus to Dubai. Royal Jordanian Airlines has a fare for $1430 flying Qantas or Cathay Pacific to Bangkok or Hong Kong and then RJ with an aircraft change in Amman. (Fares are low-season return from Melbourne and Sydney excluding tax, which varies with itinerary, carrier, stops and time of payment.) Australians require a visa on arrival in the United Arab Emirates for a stay of up to 30 days.

Staying there

The most basic room at the Atlantis is a deluxe room at 2280 Dirhams ($940) a night. A Neptune or Poseidon Suite will set you back 35,400Dh. These prices include taxes and service charges of 20 per cent. See travel agents for deals.