We have vacationed at The Atlantis Resort in The Bahamas with our children on two separate occasions - once when Katie was 6 years old and more recently when Katie was 9 and Emma was 3. The Bahamas is actually an archipelago of 700 islands which start just 50 miles off the coast of Florida. Nassau, on New Providence Island, is the capital city of The Islands of the Bahamas and most of the country's population is concentrated there. The Atlantis Resort is a full service resort (as opposed to all-inclusive) located on Paradise Island (which was developed almost exclusively to accommodate visitors to the islands) and is connected by bridge to Nassau. Atlantis may be very popular with jet-setters and gamblers but it is absolutely heaven on earth for kids.
(UPDATE: We returned to Atlantis again with Emma, aged 10, in March 2014. Photo Highlights from a Weekend at Atlantis.)
The larger-than-life Atlantis Resort was developed by Kerzner International as a vacation destination and was built around the theme of the legendary lost city of Atlantis. The resort has expanded a great deal over the last 15 years or so adding additional towers, an extensive water playground, more restaurants and the marina village shopping area. The resort is now so expansive that many guests never leave the grounds over the course of their stay.
If you are traveling with kids it will be difficult to lure them away from the water park to explore Nassau or the rest of the island to any extent. My husband and I stayed at this resort shortly after it had been purchased by Kerzner, but prior to any renovations, and we saw a fair bit of Nassau on that visit but on our trips with the kids we have hardly left the resort at all.
Accommodations at Atlantis
The resort offers a number of different types of accommodations which vary in price and amenities. All together the resort now has more than 3 300 guestrooms and suites. Both times that we have visited with the kids we have stayed in a room in the Royal Tower which we found very convenient for accessing pools, the water park and the beach. (In 2014 we stayed in a Oceanview Studio at The Reef.) The available accommodations at the resort include:
Beach Tower - The original building of the resort located with easy access to the beach and the lazy river. This tower is casual and family-friendly and provides the most affordable of the accommodations at Atlantis.
Coral Tower- This centrally-located tower is described as tropically casual and is near the shopping and dining of Marina Village. Room rates fall between those of the Beach Tower and the more luxurious towers.
Royal Tower - This tower has more upscale accommodations and is conveniently located near The Dig and Ruins Lagoon as well as the Aquaventure Park.
Cove Atlantis- One of the newer towers, The Cove offers luxurious suites located on the beach with a number of exclusive features including a private pool.
Reef Atlantis - This is also a newer tower which features luxurious condo-style residences located directly on the beach. Guests at The Reef share a private family friendly pool with The Cove.
Harbourside Resort - Condominiums located across the marina from Atlantis which have access to all of the amenities of the resort.
The Atlantis Beach
The turquoise Caribbean waters are beautiful and clear and the beach at The Atlantis is a perfect place to play in the powdery white sand, splash in the waves, build sandcastles and dig for shells. If it's windy the waves can be a bit powerful for small kids though and they'll have to be watched even more carefully. Some kids are thrilled by waves knocking them off their feet and others - not so much. There are local women (with the approval of the resort, I presume) with a booth set up on the beach where they do hair braiding and sell a few things. My girls love to have a few braids and beads in their hair when they are on a Caribbean holiday - neither of them are patient enough to sit for more than a few though.
There is also a tranquil beachfront at The Cove which is reserved for the private use of guests in that tower.
Kids also love to play at the beach at Paradise Lagoon which is a protected environment where families can rent paddle boats, snorkeling gear or other water sports equipment.
Pools and Waterpark
One of the primary reasons that families flock to The Atlantis Resort is the pools and the water park. There are no fewer than 11 distinctive pools scattered throughout the tropical setting of the resort including three pools specifically for kids. The ones that we used the most often were the River Pool which deepens gradually before connecting to the Lazy River Ride; the Mayan Temple pool; and the Ripples kids pool and Splashers (a Mayan themed pool and water playground). No matter what age your children are there is a pool that they will be delighted with.
The Aquaventure water park is the largest water park in the Caribbean and is designed for guests to use for several days without getting bored. The park boasts 141 acres of water rides and pools which provide a thrilling adventure for the whole family. There's the Leap of Faith with a 60ft vertical drop; the Challenger slide where guests can race each other in a slide to the bottom; a tube ride through a tunnel in a shark filled lagoon; and a number of slides in the Power Tower that end in white water rapids. Our visit overlapped with that of friends from home and Katie and her friend had a fabulous time on the rides. My husband rode a number of the rides with Katie as well. Emma was too small for any of the slides, however, she had a wonderful time in the Ripples pool and in Splashers. I don't do water slides but I did enjoy a few floats down the Lazy River. There are lifeguards positioned throughout the water park and life jackets are available for the use of guests as well.
The Marine Habitat and The Dig
If your family needs a break from the water slides then the resort's Marine Habitat will provide an interesting diversion. The resort's collection of marine habitats and aquarium exhibits is one of the largest in the world. The Habitat encompasses 14 lagoons and has more than 50 000 aquatic animals representing 250 different marine species.
Our favourites were the Stingray Lagoon particularly at feeding times when some guests get the opportunity to touch and feed the stingrays; the Reef Lagoon with its nurse sharks; the Estuary Lagoon which serves as a nursery for the newborn aquatic animals at the resort; and the Predator Lagoon where guests come face to face with sharks and other sea creatures while walking through a 100 foot long clear tunnel submerged in the lagoon.
The Dig is one of the most interesting of the exhibits and has the added advantage of being indoors and providing a break from the sun. The Dig is a fascinating walk-through marine exhibit that is set up to represent the tunnels in the ruins of the lost city of Atlantis. At least once every day that we were at the resort we had to walk through The Dig (generally in the evening after dinner). It seems that no one ever gets tired of walking through this unique exhibit.
The most memorable experience that we had at the resort on our most recent visit was our swim with the dolphins in Dolphin Cay. Dolphin Cay is a 14 acre rescue-rehabilitation centre which is one of the largest in the Caribbean. The facility had only recently opened at the time of our visit. On our previous visit to Atlantis, before Emma was born, we had taken Katie to Blue Lagoon for the dolphin encounter there but this was so much better.
Rather than standing on a platform with a large group of people our family donned wetsuits and walked into the shallow ocean water with a marine biologist who explained dolphin behaviour to us and had us interacting with one Atlantic bottle-nose dolphin. Emma (who was 3) was a little nervous about the dolphin at first but warmed up to the playful creature. She wore a life jacket but my husband held her the entire time because she couldn't touch bottom and was a bit nervous.
There is also a deep water swim with the dolphins available if everyone in the family is a strong swimmer. This experience was expensive but, in my opinion, worth every penny. There was also a photographer in the water with us who took some amazing shots that were available to purchase after the swim. We purchased the disc with all of the photos on it and it provides some amazing visual memories of the experience.
Atlantis is a vacation destination with a plethora of activities available for its guests - although many of these are an additional expense. The Casino at Atlantis is very popular, however, we aren't particularly interested in gambling so the most exposure that we have had to it when visiting with our family is a quick walk-through to access other parts of the resort. Recent Hollywood blockbuster movies play at the Atlantis Theatre and are complimentary for guests of the resort. Popcorn and other snacks can be purchased at the concession stand. The Atlantis Live concert series brings a variety of top artists to the resort to perform for guests - tickets for these performances are an additional cost. The Mandara Spa offers a number of luxurious services for both men and women, however, I can't attest to any of this as my kids keep me far too busy to indulge in any 'me time' on vacation. There is also a fitness centre, tennis courts and golf available at The Ocean Club, however these are all activities that require guests to dry off and leave the water park area so our family has not experienced any of them.
Atlantis has a fee-based kids club called Atlantis Kids Adventures which is for kids between the ages of 3 and 12. Kids choose themed adventures such as cooking lessons, performing, or playing detective and sign up for three hour sessions in the morning or afternoon which cost $45 per child. The three hour cooking lessons are priced separately and cost $65. Evening adventures are 4 hours and cost $60. We didn't make use of the kids club at all the last time that we were there and on a future visit would only consider allowing Emma to use it for a one-time special activity. The cost is far too prohibitive for regular use of the facilities for most families.
Club Rush is the resort's designated pre-teen area where kids between the ages of 9-13 can hang out in the evening - no parents allowed. Crush is the teen nightclub available for older teens aged 13-17 that includes an internet lounge, a dance club and a cafe. There is a cover charge for teens using the club. Katie was only 9 on our last visit and didn't make use of the kids club either, however, I expect on a future visit that she would at least consider spending evenings in the teens only area.
There are many options for dining at The Atlantis running the gamut from quick snacks to casual eateries to fine dining establishments. Atlantis features a total of 21 restaurants which range from quick bites at establishments like Johnny Rockets, to the casual Marketplace which serves a variety of foods at made-to-order stations, to fine dining at restaurants like Nobu or Mesa Grill. There is also a Starbucks which is very important to me for my daily fix and a Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Shop in the Marina Village shopping area for the kids to get their treats.
Atlantis has dining plans available for those who prefer to have the cost of their meals pre-set. We have never used the dining plan because we are light eaters and the plans tend not to be cost-effective for us. Dining at Atlantis is an expensive proposition, however, the cost can be managed by sticking to the more casual eateries and, for guests in condominium style accommodations, by eating in some of the time. As well, we found that the portions in most restaurants were so large that two people could easily share one meal.
There are plenty of opportunities to shop duty-free at the resort both at the many luxurious boutiques in the towers as well as in the Marina Village area. This is another activity that involves actually leaving the water park so it's best done in the evening.
The one negative aspect of a vacation at The Atlantis is that it is very difficult to convince anyone to leave the resort to experience any of the other attractions on the islands. My husband and I had stayed at Atlantis shortly after it had been purchased by Kerzner and prior to the commencement of renovations. We went in to Nassau on that visit and walked around the downtown area a bit to view some of the historic buildings, went for a very interesting surrey ride and shopped at the Straw Market. We went on an undersea helmet walk with Hartley's which was one of the coolest things that I have ever done - particularly as I am a nervous swimmer and would never try snorkeling or any other sort of underwater activity. We also visited Ardastra Gardens to see the marching flamingos which I'm sure my kids would love if I could just convince them to leave the water park for part of a day.
A trip to The Atlantis Resort is an action-packed vacation that the kids will love. They may not get much cultural exposure and they may not get a taste of what The Bahamas is really like but they will have a fabulous time and sometimes that is just the kind of getaway that a busy family needs.
The official tourism website for The Islands of the Bahamas is a great resource for activities in Nassau and on the other islands.
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