Al-Ahram Weekly Online   6 - 12 August 2009
Issue No. 959
Travel
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Journey to Atlantis



In most world capitals and major cities, a standard set of five-star hotels can be found, and their similarities eclipse their differences. With only one other Atlantis in Nassau, Bahamas, Dubai's Atlantis The Palm offers a superb bouquet of luxuries which trump all other five-star hotel experiences, Mohamed El-Hebeishy writes.

Myth has it that thousands of years ago, an advanced civilisation existed and flourished on an island in the Atlantic Ocean not far from Gibraltar. It was named after Atlas's daughter Atlantis. Whether real or myth, no one knows for sure, but Atlantis The Palm makes every effort to take you to this imaginary land of fantasy.

The journey is sophisticated and detail-oriented. The entrance greets you with colourful artistic installations adorning the main lobby, but doesn't miss out on the tiniest details such as mirror framing, corridor lamps and door handles. All being pieces of the greater Atlantean jigsaw puzzle which creates a mythical ambiance.

One of the main transcending capsule ships is the Lost Chambers. Divided into two sections, the journey begins with the Ambassador Lagoon -- a colossal 10-metre deep water tank that is home to a variety of aquatic species, including manta rays, groupers, sunfish and a whale shark. But even more eye-catching in the one million litre water body is an imagined replica of the ruins of the City of Atlantis.

Maintaining the facility, a team of dedicated divers works around the clock to ensure the fish are fed, healthy and the colossal tank is clean. Try to visit around early afternoon to watch the feeding session, which makes for a curiously interesting experience.

The other part of the journey is the Lost Chambers proper. A labyrinth of intertwining rooms which attempts to depict daily life in Atlantis. A creative idea that is applied using the latest technology, out-of-the-box skilful artists and a plethora of aquatic species, all exhibited in avant-garde displays. Don't forget to look up before entering the Lobster Crawl.

With the creativity of witty artists, a touch of mystery is added to the dim maze of the Lost Chambers. Here is where the fierce warriors of Atlantis trained, and there the council of the elders convened. A mystical walk through the realms of a non- existing, or perhaps lost, world.

If you are seeking an adrenaline rush, then you should attempt the Leap of Faith. Imagine sliding through a tube that is nearly a vertical 27.5-metre slope, and when you finally make it to the bottom, you are submerged in a tube amidst a shark- infested pool. This courageous jump among other less adrenaline demanding yet thrilling jumps, plunges and surges are just a few of what the mighty Ziggurat has to offer.

With the spirit of an ancient Mesoamerica step pyramid, Ziggurat is the focal point of the Aquaventure; the pumping heart of thrilling Atlantis. But if the Leap of Faith is too much for your heart, there is less adrenaline demanding yet equally thrilling games to enjoy in the water park. Head for the rapids and enjoy short quick rides of speedy torrents or up the Ziggurat but this time for the Surge, where a roller coaster of twists and turns will finally propel you into a see-through tunnel into the shark lagoon.

But there are other creatures in the sea -- ones which make us happy. Just the sight of them brings a smile to our face, so can you imagine what it feels like to touch one? Dolphin Bay is one of Atlantis The Palm remarkable onsite facilities. A state-of-the-art 4.5-hectare bay was built to house 28 trained Bottlenose Oceanic dolphins from the Solomon Islands in far away Polynesia.

The facility offers a unique firsthand experience for visitors to directly interact with these charismatic ocean creatures. Once you step in your wetsuit, a 15-minute basic academic introduction is given in the bay's orientation room. It was a great opportunity to nourish my dolphin-related knowledge -- I never knew Killer Whales are in fact dolphins. Divided into groups of eight to 10, we are ready to meet our dolphin.

Her name is Tina, a 10-year-old cheerful girl who likes to play. Looking into her eyes, I could see she was as excited as we were. Although I am sure that by now she is very familiar with homo sapiens, our presence was still a thrilling occasion and more opportunity to play. In the presence of two experienced dolphin trainers, we each were able to touch, feel, hug and even kiss this amazing creature. Trust me, hearing a dolphin's heartbeat is unparalleled.

Sleeping and eating are basic human requirements, but when it comes to Atlantis The Palm these matters are an art. Offering spectacular views of the Arabian Gulf or The Jumeirah Palm and Dubai, over 1,500 rooms and suites are available for guest. While they all boast luxury, the Poseidon suites beat the others hands down. Waking up to the sight of an open Savannah or exotic beach is something, but opening your eyes to the remarkable sight of an underwater world is a completely different ballgame. The Poseidon suites have one wall of both the bedroom and the bathroom made of glass, overlooking the Ambassador Lagoon.

If you want to have the same experience, but the price of the Poseidon is not in your budget, then choose to dine at Ossiano. The renowned Michelin chef Santi Santamaria is ready to serve delightful seafood gourmets while exotic marine life roves the lagoon. While Ossiano is a unique dining experience, it is not the only the hotel has to offer. Japanese cuisine infusing Arabic influences is taking place next door in Nobu Restaurant. Headed by world famous chef Nobu Matsuhisa, it is an enigmatic dining experience, to say the least. There is also Ronda Locatelli, with a massive pizza oven in the centre of the restaurant, serving the best Italian food in town.

Whether an intimate encounter with dolphins or a hair- raising drop down into a pool of sharks, a fancy room with aquatic view or a delicious elegant dinner by the lagoon, Atlantis The Palm offers more than just a five-star hotel stay. It is an experience to be sought at least once in a lifetime.

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