Atlantis rises from the palm

Dubai's newest resort, a vast water park containing fish-filled lagoons and celebrity restaurants, opens its doors.

Caption DUBAI-JULY 1,2008 - A visitors  enjoys watching sea creatures during tour at Atlantis Palm Jumeirah, Dubai. ( Paulo Vecina/The National )?
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DUBAI // Atlantis, massive and majestic, dominates the skyline at Palm Jumeirah. It towers over the new beach-houses and apartment blocks that feather out along the "palm leaves", offering sweeping views of Dubai. Residents have watched the pink structure, visible from the mainland, grow up from the ground into the magnificent building which yesterday opened its doors for a sneak preview. It was an event not to be missed.

The hotel, with stunning architecture inside and out, boasts 1,539 rooms in its two towers and wings. The opulent Bridge Suite, measuring 924 sq metres, joins the two towers together at the top and, priced at approximately Dh91,830 (US$25,000) a night, is said to be one of the most expensive hotel suites in Dubai. Four beaches complement the overall concept, but the main attraction is the Ambassador Lagoon.

Holding 11 million litres of water and about 65,000 fish caught from the surrounding waters of the Gulf, the aquarium dominates the hotel. "Atlantis is about the ocean, and this hotel depicts all of that through the fish, the sea and the water park," said Sol Kerzner, the chairman and chief executive officer of Kerzner International Holdings Limited, the firm behind the project. Mr Kerzner was also the man behind the first Atlantis resort, in the Bahamas, and brought the concept to Dubai to globalise the brand.

A staff of 100 have been assigned to take care of the aquarium and its fish. Ranging from stingrays and groupers to the golden trevally, a swirling mixture of colours, species and sizes fill the tank. "We wanted to display some of what the Emirates has to offer as marine life," said Alan Leibman, president and managing director for Kerzner International. In the centre of the lobby a sculpture by Dale Chihuly demands attention. The American artist was commissioned to work for Atlantis and this marks his first installation in the Middle East.

The lobby's walls are covered in murals, designed and created by Albino Gonzales. Wandering through the spacious halls, one is struck by the amount of colour and light that has been used by the design team throughout the hotel. There are 17 food and beverage outlets, four of which were created by celebrity chefs from around the world. Giorgio Locatelli, Nobu Matsuhisa, Michel Rostang and Santi Santamaria will each work in the kitchens, bringing to the Middle East their unique flavours and dishes.

"This is important for me, because I want to bring a little bit of Italy here," Mr Locatelli said when describing the food he will present. The menu is dominated by pizzas. It was the simplicity of the dishes that would attract clients to the restaurant, he said. The Atlantis team are keen to promote a family-friendly environment and have created two children's clubs for youth of different ages.

One is geared for children aged three to 12 years and the other for those aged 12 to 17 years. An estimated 100 nannies from around the world have been hired to care for visiting children. "We are very serious about catering for children," said Amadeo Zarzosa, senior vice president and general manager of hotel operations for Atlantis. "Our clubs are very age-specific in order to create activities that they can enjoy."

Outside the hotel is AquaVenture, a water park that includes slides that pass under a shark tank holding black-tip and nurse sharks. AquaVenture's main attraction will be Dolphin Bay, home to 28 dolphins. "Having people come and visit and swim with the dolphins is enhancing the spiritual side of such a unique experience," said Heidi Perez, the director of marine mammal operations. "Dolphins are a charismatic species and having that opportunity to be close to them gives people a greater appreciation of who they are."

Atlantis is scheduled to open on Sept 24 this year, with an official launch set for November.