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Welcome to Atlantis, The Palm, where everything is bigger, bolder, sunnier – and outrageously over-the-top and fun. The iconic pink confection sprawls across the top of the man-made tree carved into the Persian Gulf, and is home to more than 1,500 rooms and suites, 35 places to eat and drink, one of the world’s largest water parks (with around 550 lifeguards – count ’em!), a multi-storey aquarium, a pumping beach club and dozens of swimming pools.
There’s even a helipad if you’re a royal or a Kardashian checking in to the £28,000-a-night Bridge Suite that straddles the central arch.
We stayed in a slightly less extravagant – but no less stylish – Imperial Club room in the East Tower. The vast digs, with subtle ocean theme, had a cracking view over The Palm and the impressive Dubai skyline.
The bed was HUGE and the entire ground floor of my Kent terrace could fit into the bathroom.
The Imperial Club package includes an array of perks: an elegant lounge and terrace where you can enjoy complimentary breakfast, afternoon tea, and cocktails and canapes at happy hour; access to the kids’ and teens’ clubs; daily entry to Aquaventure water park and Lost Chambers Aquarium; a concierge service and cloakroom if you arrive before your room is ready; spa and gym access… you can check out any time you like, but you’ll never want to leave.
Amid all the bigness and brashness, what struck me most was the attention to detail. Every floor tile, wall mount, stretch of wallpaper, tapestry, mural, door knob, window panel, carved pillar, light fitting and electric switch embraces the Lost City of Atlantis theme.
Intricate coral, darting fish, dancing seahorses, foaming waves, swaying sea grasses, delicate shells and conches… it is all brilliantly imaginative.
And if the Lamborghinis and Ferraris in the parking lot don’t impress you, a column of 3,000 pieces of hand-blown glass erupting from a fountain surrounded by eight twisting carved columns in the middle of the lobby certainly will.
With so many choices at mealtimes, it was a struggle picking breakfast, lunch and dinner spots. I’m not usually fond of a buffet, but the breakfast spreads at Kaleidoscope and Saffron were exceptional. Whether you just want bacon and eggs or a trip around the world via dim sum, curry and noodles, they cater for every taste.
The kids were particularly delighted by the enormous chocolate fountains with all manner of cookies, cakes, sweets and fruit to drench. Let ’em have it, they’re on holiday!
There are a host of celebrity chef restaurants – Nobu, Ossiano (great for “underwater”cocktails), Ronda Locatelli, Hakkasan, Gordon Ramsay – but my favourite dinner experience was at the Seafire Steakhouse and Bar.
This carnivore heaven serves steaks from a special breed of Australian Black Onyx cattle as well as heavily marbled Kagoshima wagyu from Japan. Select your cut and add sides of mac ’n’ cheese, parmesan and truffle fries, wild mushrooms and broccolini.
There are brilliant touches – the menu lights up as you open it, and you not only have a sommelier recommending wines, there’s a man who comes round with a tray of knives from around the world so you can choose one to slice your steak with (I went for a hefty USA blade inspired by an indigenous hunting knife… it made short work of my Black Onyx ribeye).
There’s also a selection of special salts, mustard and sauces. The savoury short rib donuts and the s’mores Oreo chocolate lava cake bookended my meal rather nicely.
Another treat was the excellent Lebanese food at Ayamna. This beautiful restaurant is accessed via a sweeping tiled staircase, and you can sit inside in air-conditioned splendour or outside on the palmed terrace, while waiters bring you dish after dish of Middle Eastern meze deliciousness.
Highlights for lunch included the spicy tuna tartare and the beef Wellington with truffle mash at Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen. And if your kids have recovered from all that chocolate for breakfast, take them for bowling and burgers at Wavehouse.
One of the highlights of our stay was the WHITE beach club – my girlfriends and I spent a fantastic day lounging in luxury in a cabana on the pristine beach, barely a ripple on the warm water, cocktails and sushi flowing, tunes pumping, beautiful people posing in the pool and taking Insta selfies with the hotel as a backdrop.
An indulgent signature treatment in the luxurious ShuiQi spa was the perfect way to round off the day… before cocktails, of course.
If you prefer a bit more action, head to a cabana in the water park. Aquaventure is an insanely fun day out, as you hurtle down all manner of waterslides, looping in the dark, swooping through blind tunnels, rubber-ringing up and down slopes, shooting through pipes in shark-infested pools, getting unceremoniously dunked at the end of each one.
“Enjoy” the Odyssey of Terror, Shockwave, Medusa’s Lair, Immortal Falls, Poseidon’s Revenge and the aptly named Leap of Faith. Those of a gentler persuasion can float down the lazy river, and there’s the Splashers play area for little ones.
At the other end of the hotel is a watersports centre where you can try everything from paddleboarding to jet-skiing.
Another hit with guests of all ages has to be the Lost Chambers Aquarium – around 65,000 sharks, rays and colourful fish that can be seen from several places in the hotel… including the Ossiano restaurant, the Underwater Suite (lie in bed and watch the marine life swim by), and when you do the aforementioned yoga in a special chamber of a morning.
If you’d like to get even closer, you can don a wetsuit and a very fetching breathing helmet and go for an AquaTrek Xtreme adventure which takes you down 36ft to the bottom of the enormous Ambassador Lagoon tank for a walk among the fishes. And the sharks…
You can also get PADI-certified on a scuba dive here. A behind-the-scenes Fish Tales Tour of the fish hospital – yes, that’s right – is fascinating.
See how the animals are cared for if they get ill, watch how they prep and distribute the food, and learn about breeding programmes for rare beasties.
As hotels go, Atlantis, The Palm is as extravagant and indulgent as they come. But, by Plato’s beard, it is mindblowingly fun.
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