Ozymandias revisited

Atlantis The Palm
Atlantis The Palm Contributed

IT'S our first time to Dubai in 40 years and we're staggered at the growth.

Four decades ago, nothing but desert. Today, Manhattan skyline.

We are keen to explore the city, but even keener to get to our hotel, Atlantis The Palm, which we have no intention of leaving for at least 48 hours. Atlantis The Palm, you see, is a city within a city – a dazzling imaginative entertainment resort.

On 46 hectares with 17 hectares of themed water park as well as meandering swimming pools, pretty lagoons and 1.4km of pristine private beach, it also has an open-air marine habitat second only (in my opinion) to Mother Nature's on the Great Barrier Reef.

The jaw-dropping begins at check-in in the hotel's opulent lobby, where a 10m-high sculpture with more than 3000 pieces of coloured blown glass in tranquil blues and greens and fiery reds ascends spectacularly to the 19m arched ceilings with their hand-painted murals depicting Arabian myths and legends.

Could there be another hotel in the world with such an entry wow factor?

Built atop the crescent of The Palm Jumeirah (the biggest man- made island in the world, a wonder in itself), Atlantis The Palm is all about unashamed luxury – a symbol of excess in a city brimming with surplus.

Opened in 2008 with the world's biggest party attended by 2000 celebrities including Robert De Niro, Charlize Theron, Kylie Minogue and Sir Richard Branson, the hotel has 1539 guestrooms and suites with views over Palm Island and the Arabian Gulf.

We found all this out in an informative video in our lavish room after we'd followed our private receptionist along the hotel's arcade of glitzy boutiques selling everything from Harry Winston diamonds to Roberto Cavalli gowns.

Although the luxury of Atlantis attracts the well-heeled from all over the globe (the Beckhams often pop in) with its four celebrity restaurants and Michelin-star chefs, it is also a magnet for families.

The massive aquarium where 65,000 fish and sea creatures have 42 million litres of saltwater to call home, and a team of biologists, divers and food technicians on 24-hour call to look after them, fascinates both young and old.

Standing before the 10-square- metre viewing panel, gazing into an underwater set where sharks, stingrays and myriad colourful fish glide gracefully among sunken treasures and “streets” in the mythical lost world of Atlantis, is simply breathtaking.

In the words of Kylie Minogue, “you try to keep cool (looking at the sea life) but you just can't”.

Those who really can't get enough of the hotel's underwater world can sleep with the sharks in suites with aquariums taking up entire walls.

It was all beyond sophistication, and far more than glamorous – a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

But there was something else I wanted to do in this surreal enclave – take to the water park like a kid on school holidays.

My first intention was to ride the Leap of Faith, to plunge 27.5m down a near vertical freefall waterslide.

But I wasn't sure my heart would stand up to the job.

Instead, I took a giant tube and spun down a chute into blackness, rushing around watery bends and swirling around corners to pop out like a champagne cork into a shark-filled lagoon (fortunately inside a perspex tunnel).

Gentle waves lulled me along at a leisurely pace with gliding sharks and graceful stingrays accompanying me out to a welcoming pool.

You could take weeks to fulfil all your travel dreams at Atlantis The Palms. A short break is not nearly enough.

The writer was a guest at Atlantis The Palm, Dubai.

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