Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai has been dubbed the "most ridiculous hotel in the world", but that doesn't come close.
Atlantis, The Palm
Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai has been dubbed the "most ridiculous hotel in the world", but that doesn't come close. Baroque, absurd, kitsch beyond Elton John's wildest dreams: the lobby is filled by a giant glass fountain, all blues and yellows and reds, designed to look like giant coral rising some 20 metres, and surrounded by large columns that look as if they are encrusted by sea shells. It is ghastly. In fact, the hotel looks as though it has been designed by an eight-year old as a place to house her impressive collection of Barbie dolls. Instead of a solitary goldfish, she also came up with the idea of having a giant aquarium full of fish. Her best idea was Aquaventure, the giant waterpark in the grounds, full of waterslides and play areas for all ages.
The Palm Jumeirah is the glitziest part of the Gulf's loudest city. To reach Atlantis, you go through a tunnel under the sea, before emerging for air at the tip of the island. This is fine, although in busy times, you can expect a wait either in the tunnel or on the other side, as the rest of the Palm dwellers get into their cars at the same time. One day you will be able to catch the monorail from the city; now you just hear the sound of welding as you lie on your sun-lounger.
The hotel has cleverly shipped in a core of trained workers from Paradise Island, Sol Kerzner's hotel in the Bahamas. Everyone was friendly and jolly, even when they were quite useless. Our Japanese American waitress called Tammy was possibly the most charming and professional meal transportation technician I have ever had the pleasure of running across.
Dominated by a large, very comfortable bed, with a cunning arrangement in which the bath is hidden by a pair of wooden shutters that if opened, give you a view from the tub over Dubai. The room was good and almost tasteful, which cannot be said about the carpet in the corridor. There was a small terrace with a table and chairs.
Some 17 restaurants are dotted among the resort ranging from Japanese sushi to a French brasserie to a beach bar. Nobu's was spectacular, although my wife complained about the interior and I found the chairs unnecessarily hard. Breakfasts were enormous buffets of almost every cuisine imaginable and once you get over the irritation of serving yourself, rather enjoyable. Biggest nonsense was at Ronda Locatelli, an Italian restaurant. Despite my wife having reserved a table, when we arrived we were told to wait for five minutes, even though the place was half empty. We went instead to Rostang, a French brasserie. It was almost like being back on the Left Bank.
This is the place where everybody tries to dress like a 25-year old, even if they are 60. Russian models mix with Arab playboys, German businessmen with English consultants who try not to mention the war. This is the place to come if you are a child, or view the world with a child's eye. There is lots of entertainment and recreations for those under three feet tall, including kid's clubs and and a games room. No building in Dubai is complete without shops, and this is no different. If you get bored - how could you? - you can dispel the blues by heading to Tiffany's.
The spa. Had a massage from David, who while he may not have been the prettiest masseur I have ever had - apparently it's illegal in Dubai for a man to have a female masseur and vice versa - he was jolly handy with his hot stones. The complex is nicely designed, very restrained in comparison to the rest of the hotel, with stone floors, candles and running water, a splendid steam room, sauna and Jacuzzi and large heated stone chairs to lounge in. Also loved the fish. There is a large cylinder full of sardines, prettier than any Damien Hirst, prehistoric crabs you can pick up and touch (but not eat) and of course, 52,000 other marine animals, including Sammy the whale shark, who everybody tells you is about to be released. There is also Dolphin Park, where you can kiss and cuddle dolphins if you so choose.
Having to pay for the internet. It may have been a good money spinner for hotels ten years ago, but now they need to give it for free or risk looking mean. What will they charge for next? The air-conditioning? The murals and much of the décor. Sometimes less really is more.
If you want sunshine, scary waterslides, celebrity restaurants and beaches with a stunning view of the Dubai skyline, this is the place to be. Everybody should visit this place once in their life - although many are unlikely to want to return. However, my children have decided that this is their favourite hotel in the world. They can go on their own, without my gold card.
Doubles at Atlantis (www.atlantisthepalm.com; 04 226 0000) cost from Dh1,660 per night excluding breakfast (Dh140).