Dubai Atlantis Resort opening: Party during the Plague?

Atlantis, Dubai. Photo: JOEL RYAN / AP

Atlantis, Dubai. Photo: JOEL RYAN / AP

On November 20th the world saw the opening of Sol Kerzner’s brand new Atlantis Hotel on the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai. The South African hotel magnate and chairman of Kerzner International did it again! His previously best known accomplishments include the hugely successful Atlantis, Paradise Island resort in The Bahamas.

A $20 million extravaganza was thrown to launch the luxury hotel on an artificial palm-shaped island, despite the bite from the global financial crisis. More than 2,000 world celebrities were due to attend the event which is set to also include a firework display seven times larger than the Olympic display in Beijing – but it is rumored that a few of them cancelled, fearing that their appearance would reflect badly on them at these unsettling times.

The US $1.5 billion, 1,539-room mega-resort wouldn’t look out of place in a Disney cartoon. The Lost City of Atlantis theme, transplanted to the Emirates, bold, glittery and stylishly over-the-top. And yet, away from the public areas, it’s surprisingly restrained. The nice and roomy standard rooms are decorated in a palette of greens and creams. The views differ wildly depending on where you stay, however – you could get a room looking out to an unlovely staff parking lot. The other extreme is The Bridge Suite: the penthouse linking the hotel’s two towers and boasting floor to ceiling views over the Persian Gulf. With 10 rooms, a butler on 24-hour call and a dining table inlaid with gold leaf, it is the most opulent accommodation the Atlantis has to offer, at US $37,000 per night.

Atlantis: Magic Kingdom in the midst of azure waters

Atlantis Dubai: A Newly Built Continent

The Atlantis is set on a 112.5-acre site that will crown The Palm Jumeirah, one of the region’s ambitious man-made islands.  In the more than 80,000 square feet entertainment village – one of the 17 restaurants will offer something for the most demanding guest. Like its Paradise Island predecessor, Atlantis, The Palm will feature an arsenal of well-known names in restaurant and retail business, including Nobu (in his Middle East debut) and Michel Rostang. Also, he has commissioned the work of world-renowned artists Dale Chihuly and Albino Gonzalez, so that the property is cutting-edge on every possible level.

The unique selling point of the Atlantis is the aquarium, which is mightily impressive. It houses a marine habitat of 65,000 sea animals including manta rays, piranhas and a somewhat lonely looking whale shark “rescued” from the sea. The aquarium spans two storeys and guests look in through glass panels. Surreally, two suites have rooms with windows below water level, so the marine life can gaze in at you while you have a bath. Actresses Charlize Theron and Lindsay Lohan had that honour while I was there. Guests can also swim with dolphins, although the hotel has come in for some stick for importing the animals from the Solomon Islands. Across the resort, the Aquaventure water park – free for guests – is pure heaven for children and for macho dads keen to impress their offspring by braving the near-vertical Leap of Faith slide.

With prices starting at 735 US dollars per night excluding tax, the Atlantis doesn’t come cheap, although tour operators are offering deals so it’s best to shop around. At present Dubai appears to be bucking the “downward” trend, with hotel occupancy across the emirate running at about 85 per cent. The buzz generated by the opening of the pink, 1,600-room Atlantis has tethered bookings to about 80 per cent in its first six weeks of operation, before the extraordinarily grand launch.

Let’s see what happens… if the operators are able to fill this hotel with well-to-do guests, then the talk about the tourism industry coming to a crashing halt might be exaggerated… 🙂

 Sources:, TimesOnline, HauteLiving

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