Atlantis: Welcome to Waterworld

Travel Weekly associate editor Linda Humphrey visited the Atlantis and Ocean Club resorts on Paradise Island. Her report follows:

PARADISE ISLAND -- Guests at the Atlantis resort sometimes jump into the shark-infested lagoon after a few late-night pina coladas, a staff member told me. "Fortunately, our sharks are well fed," she said.

The open-air aquarium -- billed as the world's largest -- weaves throughout the resort, looming outside restaurant windows and alongside swimming pools. poolArriving at night, my husband, James, and I almost mistook a small stingray-filled pool for a Jacuzzi.

By day, the Atlantis experience is carefully orchestrated: Days begin at 9 a.m. with the unstacking of hundreds of white pool lounge chairs. Soon after, calypso music fills the 14-acre waterscape, pulsing from dozens of speakers disguised as rocks.

Children hit the Lazy River ride at 9:30, screaming as they jump into inner tubes. The 1,147-room resort was full, so we expected a swimming obstacle course as we headed for one of the three pools.

Along with Atlantis guests, visitors of Ocean Club and Paradise Paradise -- as well as the neighboring Comfort Suites -- share access to its pools, river ride and water slide. Although the pool-lounging scene was hopping, complete with popcorn and drink stands, we had the 400,000-gallon pool all to ourselves. The water slide was empty, as well.

The staff tried to round up loungers for a pool volleyball game, but no one budged. Women flipped through romance novels, while three fathers chatted about their children. At the Lazy River ride, a cheerful attendant called out, "You go, girl!" as the current whisked me away on a pink inner tube. At twilight, the waterscape turned serene.

A few people lingered at the Beach Bar by the sea, where one couple slow-danced as a band played "Lady in Red." The pools closed at 6 p.m., but a few guests opted for a surreptitious after-hours dip. (The pools sometimes closed at 3 p.m. to enable the staff to set up for private parties.)

After dark, a wide range of guests milled about in the lobby. A teenager in blue sequins passed a man in a T-shirt and shorts. Actor Chuck Norris was promoting his own brand of cigar at the resort's Bahamian Club restaurant, where a group of reporters from the E! cable television network gathered to shoot the story.

We called several of the resort's 12 restaurants for dinner reservations each morning and never were able to get a table earlier than 9 p.m., as many guests book them before arriving at the island.

The next evening we hopped a hotel shuttle for a late-night reservation at the Ocean Club's al fresco restaurant, Courtyard Terrace. Five minutes from Atlantis, the country-clubbish, colonial-style hotel reveals the island's ritzier side.

The sedate lobby and bar seemed as if it had been transported from the Harvard Club in New York. Strolling the 58-room hotel to the second-floor balcony, we noticed Godiva chocolates on the housekeeping cart. After dinner we walked to the hotel's deserted Beach Bar lunch restaurant, set on a white wooden balcony above the surf.

On the last day of my three-night stay I donned a hard hat for a tour of the resort's upcoming addition. Slated for a December 1998 opening, the addition will double the size of Atlantis, adding 1,208 rooms in the new 23-story Palace building. (Some rooms in the existing resort's Coral Tower offer views of the construction site.)

A 30-acre water park will add three pools and the Mayan Temple water slide, which will send thrill-seekers down a six-story vertical drop and through a clear tube inside a shark-infested tank.

Yet even as a new Atlantis emerges, a third expansion is already on the drawing board. It's hard to imagine an even-larger Atlantis, but if the resort's current success is any indicator, bigger is better.

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