Atlantis Revisited

A new upscale ‘resort within a resort’ debuts at the Bahamian mega-property

By: David Swanson

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The Cove Atlantis boasts a new water
park called Aquaventure.
Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave, you already know of Atlantis, the Bahamian resort that occupies much of Paradise Island, an 826-acre outcrop off Nassau. In May, Atlantis debuted “Phase III,” a hip 600-room hotel called The Cove Atlantis, and an elaborate water park, Aquaventure.

Atlantis dates to 1994, when Sol Kerzner acquired the run-down 1,100-room Paradise Island Resort from Merv Griffin. A casino the biggest in the Caribbean was added, along with the Royal Tower containing another 1,200 rooms. The $1 billion revamp was endowed with Atlantean mythology, allowing its designers to embrace the fanciful story of a ruined, sunken utopia replete with a marine waterscape starring manta rays and hammerhead sharks.

Atlantis has been a huge success, accounting for more than 12 percent of the Bahamas’ gross national product. But the 1990’s overhaul turned out to be a warm-up for the expansion that came on line this year.

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New dining venues include Nobu
Restaurant and Sushi Bar.
The Cove

Phase III’s headliner is The Cove, “a resort within a resort,” as the Atlantis folks put it. The goal was to craft an additional brand for the upscale adult audience. If Atlantis competes with the Disney World audience, The Cove is going after Las Vegas hipsters.

“Las Vegas has the shows but it doesn’t have the ocean and the beautiful tropical environment that we have,” said spokesperson Sandra Eneas, who compared the original Beach and Coral towers, the Royal Towers and The Cove to coach, business and first class. “We wanted to offer something new and different at The Cove, but it’s still Atlantis.”

The architecture of the 21-story Cove meshes with the coral-colored Royal Tower, but The Cove’s 35-foot-high open-air lobby signals a different approach, evoking the contemporary feel of trendy hotels like the W brand. The expansive ocean views are calculated to wow.

At 650 square feet, rooms can safely be called suites, even if it’s simply one long room with a step-down sitting area and broad ocean view. The quarters have modern Asian styling and there’s nary a tropical print in sight. Large bathrooms are also appropriately swank, awash in glass tile and marble.

There are two pools at The Cove, and while one is your standard free-form creation, the second, Cain, goes after the Vegas theme with a vengeance, fostering an adults-only pool party fueled with pulsing lounge music, blackjack and craps tables and tall tropical drinks. Discrete topless sunbathing is permitted.

The squared pools on two levels are tiled deep blue. Twenty-two private cabanas feature flat-screen TVs, outdoor showers, minibars and butler service.

There’s nothing in the Caribbean like Cain, but none of the indulgence comes cheaply. Tropical drinks are $25 each and bottled water runs $12; the poolside cabanas rent for $450 a day, a cost which includes four bottles of Fiji Water and four of Perrier, but not the pay-for-view movies. The color of money seems to accent much of The Cove experience, even more so than at Atlantis, leading to some potential identity issues. At check-in, Cove guests are given a plastic wristband that identifies where they’re staying. It made me wonder if the type of visitors who stay at high-end resorts mind sporting ID bracelets for days at a time?

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Interiors at The Cove feature
modern Asian styling.
Outdoor Adventure

The other star attraction of Phase III is Aquaventure, a water park that more than doubles Atlantis’ existing water amusements. Already famed for a Mayan pyramid with a water slide tunneling through a shark-infested lagoon, the now 63-acre facility boasts a new icon, the 71-foot-high Power Tower, from which four water slides take off.

The expansion helps solve an issue that Atlantis guests complain about: crowding.

“We were a little tight on deck chairs,” acknowledged Mark Gsellman, general manager of the marine and water park operations. “We had 4,000 deck chairs previously and now we have 8,200.”

The number of poolside restaurants, towel huts and restrooms has also been doubled, and a kids-only pool was added.

A wave careens through a mile-long series of channels every 14 seconds, resulting in occasional whitecaps. Guests can bob through caves and four sets of spiffy rapids. A conveyor belt carries guests to the top of the tower, enabling them to float into two of the slides without leaving their tube. There’s also a new dolphin swim lagoon and an outdoor rock-climbing wall that seemed popular.

The variety of dining options at Atlantis continues to grow with a recent influx of celebrity chefs. At The Cove, Mesa Grill showcases Bobby Flay’s signature sweet/spicy approach to New Mexican food. Next to Atlantis’ casino is Nobu, a branch of chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s cutting-edge Japanese cuisine. And Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten (of New York’s Jean Georges restaurant) oversees the French gourmet venue Cafe Martinique at (Atlantis-owned) Marina Village, next door.

Clients should be prepared for steep prices. There are a few less-expensive places to eat at Marina Village, such as Johnny Rockets and the take-out Marina Pizzeria, but there are precious few moderately priced options. At The Cove’s buffet restaurant, Mosaic, dinner costs $50 (plus 15 percent mandatory gratuity). At Mesa Grill, entrees run $32-$52.

Also new is an expanded Mandara Spa, which now has its own standalone, two-story building between the Royal Tower and The Cove. With 30,000 square feet, 37 treatment rooms and a staff of more than 200, the beautifully designed facility has to work hard to create an intimate ambiance. With an ever-present line at the check-in desk and guests escorted to lockers in groups of four, it tended to feel a bit like a conveyor belt. The massage treatments, however, are first-rate.

The Mandara Spa speaks to some of the core issues The Cove faces: How to create an upscale, personalized resort experience 600 rooms at a time. Most of the staff seems to be working hard at it, and some of them don’t break a sweat, yet staying at The Cove can feel a bit like being a small cog in a big, fancy machine. Yet, for many guests, that seemed to be just fine.


Atlantis rates fluctuate throughout the year. At The Cove Atlantis, oceanview suites are priced from $460 in the fall, and $575 in summer. A 12 percent room tax and $11 per person, per day, maid gratuity and energy surcharge is also added.

Rooms at the 23-story Atlantis Royal Towers, which had a soft renovation in 2006, start at $330 in the fall and $655 at Christmas. Coral Tower rates are from $290 in fall and start at $575 for the holidays; Beach Tower rooms start $245 in fall and $510 at Christmas.

The resort also offers an optional Gourmet Dining Plan, which covers breakfast and three-course dinner daily in almost all the upscale restaurants (Nobu being the major exception), for $118 per day ($42 for children). The plan must be purchased 14 days prior to check-in. A less expensive dining plan called MAP is valid for six of the resort’s venues but is not available to Cove guests ($80 per day, $30 for children).

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