For those who have never been to Atlantis on Paradise Island, the sprawling megaresort can be daunting.
Like Disney World, there is nothing quite like it anywhere in the world.
And like DisneyWorld, Atlantis has the power to strike fear in the hearts and minds of parents who shudder the thought of wearing adult mouse ears almost as much as they dread hemorrhaging endless streams of cash.
To complicate matters, Atlantis is hard to describe as it’s so many different things rolled into one: a gorgeous five-hotel Caribbean island resort, a 140-acre Aquaventure water park, the largest open-air marine exhibit in the world complete with dolphin and seal habitats, countless beaches and pools, a casino, a true culinary scene with restaurants from Bobby Flay and Nobu Matsuhisa, a seriously pimpin’ marina, and more.
All the confusion can make it hard to wrap your head around a visit. Where should you stay? How should you spend your day? What’s awesome and what’s overrated? How expensive will it be? Is there a shred of hope for some adult downtime or is it a kid bonanza all day all the time? You might be tempted to throw in the towel.
Just back from a recent visit, we thought it was time—at long last—to demystify the epic resort. The ins and outs, the highs and lows, and every reason why we’ll be back, slide wedgie and all; find it here in our Atlantis Survival Guide.
Lay of the Land
Atlantis occupies most of the western corner of Paradise Island, which is connected to Nassau by a short, steep bridge. At the west end of the resort you find the luxurious and family-friendly Reef and adults-only Cove, both built in 2007. The Royal Tower sits at the centre of the resort and opened in 1998. At the east end of the resort, you find Coral Towers and Beach Tower which were the first hotels here when Atlantis first opened in 1994; further east by about five minutes, you find the super-luxe One&Only Ocean Club.
We heard an excellent flight class analogy that sums up all five Atlantis hotels to a tee and really helps paint a picture of what to expect. Let’s start with Beach and Coral Towers, which represent coach class. Royal Towers at the heart of the resort is business class. Reef and Cove are first class. One&Only Ocean Club is private jet. If you know how you like to fly—voila!—now you know what hotel to stay at when you visit Atlantis.
Where to Stay
For us, The Reef and The Cove are the only way to go at Atlantis, and not just for the luxury, but for some exclusivity and space from the crowds. Cove is a modern, stunning adults-only hotel with an fantastic adults-only pool, Cain at the Cove, complete with plenty of daybeds, posh cabanas that open to the beach and the pool ($500 a day), and gambling tables under the shade of a thatched roof.
Reef is for families, a 497-room tower that still manages to feel boutique-y and is the only hotel on property at Atlantis to include kitchens as a standard hotel room amenity. (Tip: pay your cab driver an extra $15 to let you make a quick stop at the grocery store for breakfast and snacks, else you’re stuck with the expensive sundries shop in the lobby). Between both resorts sits the excellent, uncrowded Paradise Beach and Cascades pool, both of which are family-friendly, serviced by the bar and exclusive to guests at Reef and Cove. Guests at Reef also share access to the adult’s only Cain at the Cove.
When you stay at Reef and Cove, you are situated at the far west end of the resort, away from Aquaventure which becomes inundated with cruise ship passengers and Disney-like crowds for most of the morning and afternoon. We recommend shielding yourself from the mayhem and holing up in your semi-private escape, complete with a family-friendly zero-depth pool, awesome beach and that adult’s only pool we keep talking about.
First things first, don’t for a second think you’ll do it all. Atlantis is a behemoth—at times, even a walker’s nightmare— and despite all of the trekking you’ll do to get to and fro, you just won’t get to see everything. Besides, cramming it all in would defeat the purpose of a beach vacation.
You $$ should also know $$$$ that Atlantis is a big fat cash cow $$$$$. Everything is pricey and the nickel and dime-ing never seems to end. But, like Disney, blowing the bank here is unavoidable, so just make peace with it, target a few key activities and have fun while you throw your cash around.
What We Dig
Speaking of target activities, here are our favourite things about Atlantis:
- Beaches: We asked around and both kids and parents agree that the beaches are one of the best things about Atlantis. By our count, there are at least three beaches to enjoy on resort, with the semi-private Paradise beach being our favourite simply because it doesn’t feel crowded,
- Paradise Lagoon: Flowing into the heart of the resort is a man-made lagoon into which sea water and only small ocean creatures enter. This is a great place to introduce children to snorkelling and kayaking as you’ll definitely see fish, but nothing too scary or deep.
- Aquaventure: This water park is the biggest in the Caribbean and all the cruise ships know about, hence the crowds, But come after 3 p.m. or so when passengers return to their ships and the lines lighten up dramatically. Like Disney, Atlantis does a great job of delivering mesmerizing, richly executed thrills. Everyone talks about Leap of Faith, which plummets you from the Mayan Temple through an impressive shark tank. If you like water shooting into your eyes while you attempt to see those sharks whiz by, be our guest. We’ll be on the Serpent Slide, which carries you through the shark tank at a much more leisurely pace complete with longer, scarier views. For a long lazy river ride with some interesting twists, The Current is also great.
- Cabanas: If you’ve got $500 to spare, the Cabanas at the adults-only Cove pool are pretty solid, with one door opening directly onto the beach and the other to the pool. Families tired of walking back and forth to rides might want to invest $150 for a minimalist cabana by the Baths pool, complete with a locker.
- Dining: The culinary options at Atlantis get overshadowed by rides and beaches, but really, this place beats the crap out of most Caribbean resorts, let alone theme park destinations, when it comes to cuisine.Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill, Jean-Georges’ Café Martinique and Dune, Nobu and come mid July, the new Mediterranean-inspired Olives from Todd English—find them all here.
- Atlantis Kids Adventure (AKA): It may be be the coolest kids club ever and we could yammer on and on about it ad nauseum, and we’d fork over the $45-60 to bring our kids again, no hesitation. We were gobsmacked by the top notch offerings within this giant kids club within a theme park. The caregivers, known as Adventure Guides, were warm and—according to our little ones—super fun. The club is divided into multiple, creative spaces that include a theatre with a sound box and stage, fun themed bathrooms, a neon wizard room, a lego room, a grocery store, a giant doll house, a game room with a Wii tree, Xbox and Play Stations, an art room and, best of all, an amazing kitchen for classes taught by a chef (typically two classes offered daily, with themes like Pizza Toss, The Candy Ocean and Molten Maddness). Kids can come just for the cooking class, or for morning or evening AKA sessions. Starting June 17 at AKA, 3-day Cartoon Network Camps kicks off and kids get the chance to meet favourite characters, watch CN shows and play CN games.
- Cain at the Cove: Your kids will love the kids club so much that you should take advantage with an afternoon by the adults-only pool. If you don’t have kids, this is your pool.
- Marina Village: It’s touristy, but come on Wednesday and Saturday to see the Junkanoo parade after grabbing a bite to eat. Mega yacht gawking is available 24/7.
- Lunch at the Lagoon Bar & Grill: It’s not the food, but the chance to sit above a predator lagoon that rocks. It’s where we saw that shark shown at top.
- The Dig: No extra charge for guests to wander this 2.3-million gallon exhibit, where you can see the spell-binding giant manta. It’s open late into the evening too, which is a really neat time to see it.
- The Casino: We might like the 60,000-square foot casino because last time we were there, we were on a winning streak. It also might be because the dealers are some of the friendliest and laid-back that we’ve ever met.
What Is No Bueno
We found ourselves regularly annoyed by the high price of everything as well as the cost for things that should have been included. WiFi is not reliable resort-wide and is an absolute killer at $19.95 per day, with the only free option being 15 minutes on a public computer in one singular resort library. To use the fitness centre costs $15. Given all the walking, we considered renting a locker near Aquaventure, but decided not to when the prices ranged from $9-14. We needed a snorkel mask for the lagoon, and that with the tube cost $35. We picked up Ben & Jerry’s ice cream bars for a treat: $14 for two.
We also were not big fans of the dolphin experience. Sure, you get to touch, hug and kiss a dolphin, but you end up feeling bad for the dolphins who “kiss” stranger after stranger as group upon group are ushered to the shallow waters like cattle. These experiences start at $135. For the safety of the dolphins, you are not allowed to take photos, and that makes sense; what does not is the robbery that happens when your only other option are images captured by their photographer with prices starting at $70. No thanks.
Do It All Over Again
The high cost is real, but tell you what; we’d be back in a flash given the chance. Atlantis is beautiful, big and bad in the Michael Jackson kinda way. And unlike the typical family resort that focuses largely on the children, Atlantis does a fantastic job of offering something for everyone at every age.
We found rates in May as follows:
- One&Only Ocean Club from $700/night
- The Cove Atlantis from $655/night
- The Reef Atlantis from $420/per night
- Royal Towers from $390/per night
- Coral Towers from $295/per night
- Beach Tower from $245/per night
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