Dolphin Bothering in Dubai
Fans of Barbie, Finding Nemo and those suffering a midlife crisis will find much to admire at Atlantis, The Palm – the Arab city states bonkers pink palace.
If you want big, Dubai is happy to oblige. This Ferrari-driving midlife crisis in the desert seems to exist solely to show off the largest this, tallest that and newest, shiniest everything else.
Want a building that gives you vertigo when you look at it? The 800m high Burj Khalifa should suffice. The biggest mall in the world with the third-largest indoor ski slope? Done. And when it comes to hotels, the latest cherry on top of Dubai’s ever-rising cake is the infamous Atlantis, The Palm a bonkers pink castle which boasts 1,539 rooms and cartoon-like decadence on a massive scale.
Owned by South African billionaire Sol Kerzner founder of Sun City the emphasis is firmly on aquatic razzle dazzle. Pillars are clad with silver scales, doors are sculpted with waves and sealife adorns the never-ending marble floors. Oh, and there’s the fish. Lots and lots of fish. More than 65,000 in fact, swishing beautifully around in the Ambassador’s Lagoon, which forms the centrepiece of the ground floor.
You may even spot a diver lovingly wiping the two-foot thick glass tank as you tuck into your international breakfast buffet, and some of the suites have floor-to-ceiling aquarium views in the bathrooms just in case you want to bathe with the fishes, too.
The hotel is a huge Disney treasure chest, with a branch of Harry Winstons and a Nobu. Remember Daryl Hannah in Splash? She would have flipped her tail with joy. It’s not what you would call tasteful. And even though I tried hard to be snooty about the GCSE seahorse murals and the Barbie of Arabia facade, it was no use I loved it. The place is teeth-whistlingly impressive, with a grand lobby that makes St Paul’s Cathedral look like a Pizza Hut. A vast balloon sculpture by Seattle-based glass artist Dale Chihuly dominates the central atrium, alongside some unintentionally hilarious oyster water features with a black pearl in the centre. There is even a throne, should one wish to channel Neptune.
Despite the obvious, full-on drum-banging of the theme, the Atlantis pulls it off. It doesn’t care if you think its naff, it just grabs you with its golden tentacles and charms you into submission. The atmosphere and service are relaxed and unobtrusive no bowing or scraping, and no uptight requests for black tie. The only unnerving thing is the scale. Atlantis, The Palm covers 46 hectares of land almost two square miles and after a couple of days in my suite, which had two bathrooms, two plasma screens and a bed the size of the Indian Ocean, I could still barely find my way to my front door. Which there were two of, naturally.
Weve still only used 50% of our land, admits Ashley McBain, the surprisingly down-to-earth public relations chief. Over an appropriately large feast at Nobu, cooked up by Herv, the typically nonchalant French chef with shoulders set to shrug, McBain would not be drawn on what other projects Kerzner might have up his sleeve. But you can bet they’ll be even bigger. Then she ordered a plate of Wagu beef that I would happily leave my husband for and I found myself floating face down in this absurd sea of luxury like a drunk mermaid.
It’s worth mentioning that Atlantis, The Palm pitches itself as a family hotel, with a variety of aquatic entertainment such as dolphin bothering, diving, water slides and ray feeding. But even if you don’t love fish or indeed families there is still plenty for those seeking serious luxury. The ShuiQui spa offers state of the art Shiseido treatments, while both Locandas Giorgio Locatelli and Michel Rostang have entrusted the Palm with their Dubai flagship restaurants. And, of course, there is the kitsch opulence of the Bridge Suite, which consists of acres of art-deco-meets-Arabian-Nights. Yours for £14,000 a night.
Atlantis, The Palm fits perfectly into the ridiculous Dubai ethos of bigger, better, bolder and once there it’s almost impossible not to go along with it. How long this hotel will be Dubai’s biggest fish remains to be seen but for the moment, you could do a lot worse than to suspend your disbelief and dive in.