Atlantis unveils Royal Towers with extravaganza

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Associate editor Amy Spiezio was on hand for the grand opening of the Royal Towers addition to Atlantis on Paradise Island, Bahamas.

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas -- Atlantis brought movie stars and superstars -- including Michael Jackson -- to the grand opening of its Royal Towers, the popular resort's expansion project that agents have been hearing about for years.

The $480 million Royal Towers more than doubled the Atlantis resort's room count, to 2,300, making it the Carib-bean's largest property. Royal Towers contains 1,202 rooms. The three-day opening extravaganza, held Dec. 11 to 13, drew celebrities like Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington, and featured a performance by Jackson. A blazing fireworks display capped off the celebration.

James Hepple, deputy director general of tourism for the Bahamas, said the expanded Atlantis will have a "very positive effect" on the Bahamas. "It's clearly going to be a very interesting resort. It creates a great deal of excitement and buzz about the island," he said.

The Atlantis expansion has been widely seen as an important factor in the renaissance of the Bahamas. The resort's growth, along with expansions at Sandals Royal Bahamian, a new Holiday Inn and upgrades to the British Colonial hotel and to Club Med, is expected to provide about a 20% hike in arrivals to Nassau and Paradise Island, tourism officials said.

Increased room capacity also has helped spur more air lift to the Bahamas, with a 26% increase over the 1998 level of lift expected for the coming year, Hepple said. Adding or expanding service are TWA, American Eagle, Delta and Comair.

Accommodations in Royal Towers include 439 queen rooms, 597 king rooms and 166 suites in junior, executive, grand, presidential, royal and bridge categories. Per night rates range from $340 for a queen room to $1,000 for a grand suite. The top-of-the-line bridge suite, priced at $25,000 a night, has two bedrooms, an 800-square-foot balcony and an entertainment area.

In keeping with the Atlantis theme, 8 million gallons of water are deployed in various Royal Towers attractions, including six swimming pools, five waterslides, waterfalls, fountains and a snorkeling lagoon. Its 100,000-square-foot casino, open around the clock, has more than 1,000 slot machines and 80 gaming tables.

Underneath the Royal Towers, guests can wander through a series of caves that depict a fantasized archaeological excavation of Atlantis. Called the Dig, it houses glassed-enclosed chambers that form huge aquariums for sharks, jellyfish, moray eel and other creatures. Outdoors, a Mayan temple, modeled on Yucatan ruins, is where guests will find the water slides.

The main dining room at Royal Towers is the Marketplace, featuring an international menu for breakfast and dinner. Other food venues include the Atlas Bar & Grill, which overlooks the new yacht marina; Five Twins, featuring Pacific Rim cuisine and a cigar lounge; Voyagers, a snack and coffee bar, and Fathoms, which offers seafood. Food also is available from pool and beachside facilities.

Royal Towers has 10 bars and lounges, and a health club.

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