Atlantis: A child's paradise

Contributing editor Felicity Long recently visited Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas, with her 8-year-old daughter, Chloe. Her report follows:

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas -- Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, L.L. Cool J and Bo Jackson.

These were a few of the celebrities rumored to be at Atlantis, Paradise Island, when Chloe and I visited recently.

While we never actually saw any of them, we both felt as though we were on a movie set as we explored the surreal architecture, colorful aquariums and theme-park-worthy rides.

Those who are swayed by first impressions will be bowled over by Atlantis.

The resort so dominates its surroundings that it is an easily recognizable landmark from afar, including from the window of an airplane and the deck of a cruise ship.

Its looming shape -- complete with a huge arch and gigantic statues of fish on the roof -- makes it clear this is no average beachfront hotel.

The property consists of three towers: Royal, Coral and Beach.

Each has a separate lobby, guest services desk and reception area connected via long corridors lined with upscale boutiques like Versace, Bulgari and Lalique.

Clearly, while families are an important market, they are not the resort's only market.

The beach setting at Atlantis shows off the Royal Towers as Chloe walks along in search of some seashells. Further explorations, which turned up the Atlantis Casino, Dragons nightclub and Five Twins Rum & Cigar Bar, confirmed this.

Chloe loved the casino's bright red hand-blown glass fireball and the colorful fish visible from many vantage points.

From a mother's point of view, the grounds are worth the price of admission alone.

Acrylic tubes enclosed us as we passed through aquariums where gigantic sharks, sting rays and piranha slid around and, in some cases, over us.

We especially loved the Dig, a fantasy discovery site depicting what the remains of the fabled continent of Atlantis might look like if unearthed by archaeologists.

Eerie green eels, jellyfish and lobsters swim behind the glass walls near the Dig site.

During feeding time at the eel tank, these usually immobile creatures slithered around, vying for lunch.

The 11 exhibit lagoons house more than 50,000 sea animals and 200 species. Many exhibits are visible both from inside the aquariums and outside from walkways and bridges.

Guests can swim, kayak or paddle oversized water tricycles at the protected Paradise Lagoon.

The Aquacycle rents for $25 for a half hour, while a single kayak goes for $20 and a double kayak for $30.

Each of the 11 swimming areas has its own ambience.

Our favorites were Ripples Kid's Pool and Slides at the Royal Tower and Poseidon's Kid's Pool and Play Area at the Beach Tower.

Chloe and I studied the water slide that plunges into a shark tank -- one of two at the resort's re-created Mayan Temple -- for almost an hour before we could commit.

Part of the Dig takes wanderers through tunnels with sharks swimming overhead. As we whizzed through the fish tank, safely contained inside the acrylic tube, we were aware that we'd become part of the exhibit as passers by watched us through a viewing wall.

Although it looks daunting, the ride is fun and suitable for children -- and for adults who don't mind getting wet.

The other ride, known as the Leap of Faith, attracts more intrepid guests, who plummet 60 feet into a pool of water in mere seconds.

We didn't try this one, but Chloe conducted impromptu exit interviews of those who did, all of whom gave it a somewhat stunned thumbs-up.

Kids must be 48 inches tall to take the Mayan Temple rides.

All guests who use the rides are required to wear wristbands that identify them to the water-sports staff as guests.

For the younger set -- or for those who need less of an adrenaline rush -- other rides include the Lazy River, a relaxing quarter-mile loop through the landscape, and the Goombay Water Slide.

Atlantis has 10 tennis courts, basketball, volleyball, an 18-hole golf course and off-site excursions.

An excursion to Stingray City Island -- where guests can feed stingrays -- is priced at $45 for adults and $30 for children ages 3 to 12.

The rates are $85 and $40, respectively, when combined with a dolphin encounter at Blue Lagoon.

Atlantis has 38 restaurants, with cuisines ranging from Asian to Bahamian, American and Italian.

Families should note that meals are generally pricey, with dinners from $20 to $75 a person, excluding beverages.

More to our liking were the casual fare and fresh fruit at poolside eateries, such as Shark Bites and Dive In, and the sandwiches at Murray's Delicatessen.

Our favorite afternoon activity was ice cream at Jimmies, overlooking the marina.

We also tried the generous breakfast buffets at Water's Edge, Seagrapes and Marketplace, priced at $19.95 for adults, with half-off for children.

Room service has a good range of offerings with prompt delivery. However, we paid about $30 for Chloe's pizza and salad.

A better option might be a dining plan, priced at $42 per day for adults, $22 for children for Beach and Coral Towers guests; $59 and $30 for Royal Towers guests.

The plan includes breakfast and dinner at select restaurants or a credit toward dinner at other Atlantis restaurants.

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