DUBAI // It takes a special kind of holidaymaker to willingly jump into a huge tank with 65,000 species of sharks, rays and fish - and pay for the experience.
Visitors to Atlantis The Palm who sign up for the Ultimate Dive will do just that in the hotel's 11.2 million litre aquarium - the largest in the region and among the top five in the world.
After divers enter the water, hundreds of fish and a number of curious rays begin circling below, which for the novice is a little perturbing.
But Nathaniel Alapide, 33, and Alan Aguilar, 32, aquarium specialists and assistant diving instructors at the hotel, are quick to explain the behaviour is harmless.
"The bigger animals are going to come and check you out because they're used to being fed by the divers," Mr Aguilar says. "They will come to see what you have to feed them. There is nothing to be worried about."
Once on the bottom, while visitors on the other side of the glass wave and take photos, Mr Alapide opens a container of shrimp - and the feeding frenzy begins.
Hundreds of fish circle around, showing cupboard love for their new friends by rubbing against them. The rays come in and gently nudge, looking for a treat.
Steve Kaiser, the vice president of marine science and engineering at the hotel, says feeding the fish is a precise science.
"We feed them about 350kg of food a day, with the majority going into the Ambassador Lagoon," says Mr Kaiser. "Probably one of the greatest challenges is to present a balanced diet, as obesity is a major concern.
"We need to feed enough so the smaller animals do not become prey, but not so much that our larger animals become obese. So we concentrate on high-protein, low-fat foods such as squid and shrimp, and a lot of lettuce and garlic."
The Ultimate Dive is actually two dives, and costs Dh2,500.
"Each dive lasts for approximately 30 minutes," Mr Kaiser says. "The first serves as a familiarisation dive, exploring the lost city of Atlantis and its ruins, and thousands of marine species native to the Gulf.
"The guests will then have the opportunity to take some refreshments, and will be given a … briefing in preparation for the second dive."
On that dive, guests can interact with and feed the fish.
"Our experience is unique, where the dive will be in the largest open-air marine habitat in the region," says Mr Kaiser.
The first dive is followed by a traditional Arabic-style platter of fresh fruits, tea and coffee, and after the second dive, hot and cold mezze and mixed grill are served in an outdoor majlis next to the lagoon.
Hotel officials say the aquarium was designed to entertain and educate guests about the environment and marine conservation.
"Our mission, our goal, is simply to wow our guests," Mr Kaiser says. "Once that happens, we can engage them in a conversation about conservation and education.
"Simply put, the 'wow' opens their mind and allows us to fill it with good stuff."
See a video of the dive experience at thenational.ae