DUBAI // After all the hype, the last-minute glitches and the splashing out of billions of dirhams, Fintan O'Rourke yesterday gave his verdict: "It's amazing ... but it scared the life out of me!" Having brought his wife and three children to the opening day of the Atlantis Hotel, the US$1.5bn (Dh5.5bn) resort on Palm Jumeirah, Mr O'Rourke had just taken his first Leap of Faith and was still feeling the effects.
The waterslide, with its sheer, 27.5 metre drop - the equivalent of stepping out of a fifth-floor window - was the resort's most anticipated attraction, and it did not disappoint. "The first thing I noticed was that the water was really cold. Then it was just this sheer vertical drop. All you can see is a mist ahead. You just lose all sense of gravity." After the vertical plunge, the tallest, fastest free-fall waterslide in the Middle East sends you speeding through a transparent tunnel inside a lagoon filled with sharks.
"There is so much water spray I didn't really notice the sharks but you are still going really fast. Then there's another sheer drop from the tunnel and splash into the water below and then it's all over. It's a real rush." Once finished, Mr O'Rourke was all for climbing back up and doing it all over again. His wife Laura was not as enthusiastic. "You are not going to get me going on that," she said. "It looks excellent but it would be a bit too much for me."
Yesterday's opening of the 1,539-bedroom hotel appeared to go remarkably smoothly. The project, a joint venture between Kerzner International, based in The Bahamas, and Istithmar, a subsidiary of Dubai World, includes a water park, dolphinarium, shops, conference halls and 17 restaurants. As Mr O'Rourke's heart rate began to slow down, he and his and family, who live on the Palm Jumeirah, went off to explore the rest of the resort.
"The first thing my son said when we walked into the lobby and saw the fish tank was: 'Look Daddy, it's Nemo'", referring to one of the clownfish that figures prominently in the 2003 animated film Finding Nemo by Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures. In fact Rafferty, aged two, will have seen a few "Nemos" as the Ambassador Lagoon is full of clownfish. They share the 11 million-litre tank with marine life from the Arabian Gulf, including golden trevallys, cobias and crescent angelfish.
Peering into the massive aquarium is like standing 10 metres under water. The lost city of Atlantis has been concocted on the tank floor and thousands of fish swim in and out of its sunken streets. In all, the resort is home to 65,000 fish and sea creatures. Nevertheless, it has faced a flurry of criticism from conservationists who said the hotel should not have imported 28 captured bottlenose dolphins from the Solomon Islands.
One of the hotel's star attractions, a whale shark found in distress in shallow waters off Jebel Ali, is to be released back into the wild after it has recovered. Yesterday, as 700 guests checked into their rooms, it was hard to believe that only three weeks ago black smoke was billowing over the beach as a fire in the hotel lobby caused US$35 million worth of damage. Builders were forced to work around the clock to replace a 43-metre dome in the lobby, but guests seemed unaware of the drama.
Paul and Lindsay Cutting had flown in from London that morning and were staying four nights. "So far, I have to say it is very good," said Mrs Cutting. "We saw it advertised and thought it would be a great opportunity to stay here on its opening." The couple had just been enjoying breakfast at the hotel. "Everything was so fresh and the staff and the service were excellent. So far, it meets the five-star expectations," she added.
Giorgio Locatelli, the two-star Michelin chef, was preparing the first dish of the day - spaghetti with pepper, garlic oil and chili - in his restaurant, Ronda Locatelli. "I've been involved in this for the past two and half years and it's great that we are now open," he said. The resort's official opening will take place on Nov 20, when 2,000 guests will hear the Australian pop star Kylie Minogue make her debut in the Middle East at a gala beach party.