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Travel
April 27, 2009

Living Underwater

Text by Shirin Mehta

Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai, is more than a resort, an experience. Ideal for a long weekend away with the family, a twosome tryst with great dining thrown in, or a relaxing break on a business visit, it offers a chance to enter a fabricated underwater world to escape in. Verve dives right in

If you have not already jetted down to Dubai to indulge in a luxe weekend at Atlantis The Palm, the new getaway spot on the iconic Palm Jumeirah, then you have not really arrived. The 1,539-room resort opened its doors in September last year and a grand opening in November, was  attended by Bollywood stars Shah Rukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra, with a wondrous fireworks display adding glamour to an already stunning destination. Created by Kerzner International Holdings Limited, an international developer of destination sites, Atlantis transports guests into an imaginative world under the sea, of a lost city emerging from a modern touristic setting.

This spread-out complex encompasses a 46-hectare site with a water themed amusement park, Aquaventure; a maze of underground tunnels swarming with marine life in The Lost Chambers and extensive salt-water pools and lagoon exhibits including Dolphin Bay, a state-of-the-art Dolphin education and conservation centre that also serves as the first mammal rescue and rehabilitation centre in Dubai. It is the only refuge for stranded animals in the Arabian Gulf. Ideal fare for a family with kids who would have much to do on this fairy tale island.

The lobby itself, bustling with bands of wide-eyed tourists, establishes the art-nature connect that is in evidence everywhere. Bay windows look out onto the vast, landscaped gardens and the azure waters and sparkling beaches of the Arabian Gulf, while the centre is dominated by an enormous glass sculpture, 10 metres high and surrounded by a reflection pool. Leila Bitar, assistant manager, public relations, informs me that artist Dale Chihuly took two years and 300 pieces of coloured blown glass to create this unique piece. The fiery oranges and reds, the tranquil blues and greens, echo the varying moods of the sea as well as the lobby’s arched ceilings that are embellished with hand-painted murals by Spanish artist Albino Gonzalez who sticks with the mythology theme. Unique designs and original works flow seamlessly through the entire construction, in pillars encrusted with starfish, lamps sprouting from shells, ceilings entwined with seaweed and the enormous Ambassador Lagoon, forming one part of the lobby, an 11 million litre marine habitat created with the theme of the Lost City. This larger-than-life fish tank remained surrounded by tourists and locals alike while a deep-sea diver dipped in once in a while to theatrically hand feed the fish and clear the rocks and ruins of encroaching sand.

Much here for the kids to entertain themselves with. After fish gazing, they may wander down to Aquaventure for a thrilling tryst with water. The highlight here is the Mesopotamian-style Ziggarut temple, towering 30 metres high and featuring seven heart-stopping water slides, including two that catapult riders through shark lagoons. Children and beefy men alike tackle these rides with equal enthusiasm and while I take the long trek up the Ziggarut, I prefer to stay on terra firma on the way down. Not for the chicken livered. A walk away, Dophin Bay provides a more calming diversion and I find it difficult to tear myself away from these beautiful, prancing creatures.

After an exhausting day on the slides and rides, the young and the very young, may relax at the Atlantis Kids Club (4 to 12 years) and the Club Rush, a supervised ‘No Adults’ zone where teens and pre-teens may party. The Zone is another area that attracts with the ultimate gaming challenge on the latest SEGA equipment. And while young ones are entertained, Mom and Dad can take a visit to the Spa and Fitness Centre to be pummelled or cosseted as desired. A water wall and a deep flight of stairs reach downwards to the 27 treatment rooms offering both wet and dry therapies. I am booked for a relaxing Desert Hot Stone massage and want it to never end. Putri, from Indonesia, handles the heated basalt stones with dexterity and gentle expertise. And, may I add for the uninitiated, she remains unfailingly discreet.

Time now to attack the 17 restaurants, bars and lounges. Already, breakfast at the bustling Saffron has put to shame any buffet I have ever seen. The swooping service makes light of 1500 breakfasts served here daily and at the Kaleidoscope restaurant. From fresh fruit, pancakes and chocolate fountains to Spanish omelets and parathas, Arabic specialties and Japanese fare, this is morning paradise, not to be missed for a late sleep-in. Atlantis offers world cuisine for the food lover, including three restaurants by celebrity chefs, making this a culinary destination. You no longer need to fly off to London or New York to eat at the famed Japanese restaurant, Nobu. Sushi mogul, Nobuyaki Matsuhisa’s outlet, in partnership with Robert De Niro, proves a wonderful experience. Yusuf, the steward, explains the menu to us and recommends that we start with cold dishes, then hot, move on to sushi and sashimi and finish with soup and rice. We decide to ride with this culinary philosophy and start with yellowtail sashimi and beef new style sashimi, followed by rock shrimp tempura in a cream spicy sauce and black cod with sweet miso. A chocolate bento box with green tea ice cream finishes a delectable meal.

Michelin star chef Giorgio Locatelli, one of London’s happening Italian chefs, is featured at Ronda Locatelli which today serves up a delectable pizza from its special central clay oven. Parisian two star Michelin chef, Michel Rostang is at the Rostang – The French Brasserie which imparts a French flavour in the evenings with a crêpe station outside or an oyster bar. A selection of pastries on display prove delectable and young Wendy who serves us informs me when asked about the heaps of Paris-style macaroons: “They are homemade, but the chef is imported.” Almost the real thing then! The piece de resistance is Ossiano, the venture of three star Michelin chef, Santi Santamaria, known as The Architect of Food. This gourmet seafood restaurant, which imparts the experience of dining under the sea, I leave for a future visit!

Unusual suites (Shah Rukh Khan stayed at the Bridge Suite with a fabulous view and private elevator while the Lost Chambers Suites have walls looking directly into the Ambassador Lagoon), varied culinary experiences, water fun and the evidence of inspired art and grandiose architecture, make Atlantis an experience worth having.

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