I went on a cruise around the Med. The experience was tainted a little by the cruise ship operator who had set everything up to try to get you to spend more money. From the first step onto the ship where they attempted to get you to upgrade to a drinks package, or spend more to get an internet package which would allow you to use the sites you wanted to, it was a pretty consistent culture of up-selling.
Staying at the Atlantis The Palm was a little like that too.
We had arrived early to try and maximise our time there and the receptionist was all smiles as he checked us in. First of all he checked if this was a special event for us – an anniversary perhaps? I looked at Ange, sensing a trap. No, no special occasion, I said.
He looked disappointed and said he’d check to see if our room was available early and would we like to upgrade to an all inclusive package including all meals and drinks while we were there? I did the maths in my head and worked out the package was £100 so politely declined.
Aha, he said, passing over my check-in form. If you can just fill this in. I noted that it had the room number already filled in. I have an upgraded room available now if you’d like to pay a little extra, or you can wait for your room to be ready? I figured that if they had already written the room number on the form then surely it had to be available now. But I certainly wasn’t willing to pay to check-in early, so again, politely told him that we’d be happy to do some work in the foyer until the room was ready.
Ah, if you’d like to wait over there sir, I’ll see if the room is ready. A second later – ah yes sir, the room is ready now and if you’d like to head up we’ll send your luggage up immediately. On our way up to our room Ange asked me what all that was about.
I’d figured it out – if you want to check-in early the song and dance about upgraded rooms would establish whether you would be willing to pay extra to get into the room or not. It cost them nothing but allows them to get payment from people who were willing to pay to get in.
We made the lengthy trek down the boulevard of high fashion shops towards the lifts and then up nineteen floors to our room. We were maybe three floors from the top of the building and had views back across the Palm towards Dubai Marina. Atlantis The Palm sits on a manmade outcrop of sand called The Palm Jumeirah which features numerous 4 and 5 star hotels.
I thought that a sea view would be better, but Ange noted that there would be nothing to see whereas looking back out at the city was certainly interesting. Hard to argue with that!
The room was quite spectacular. There was a solid desk, a balcony with table and chairs. The bed was separated from the bathroom by sliding shutters, so you could easily sit in the enormous bath while chatting with someone lying on the bed. A dual head (rain forest and handheld) shower enjoyed its own cubicle and a pair of robes hung behind the door.
We didn’t want to stay in the room for very long as we wanted to take advantage of the neighbouring water slide park: Aquaventure! One of the reasons for staying at the Atlantis was the deal that they had: free access to the theme park for guests! I didn’t know if that meant both days of an overnight stay, or just one, but I didn’t want to waste any time staying in the room!
The regular cost of the tickets was about £55 per person (USD75), so the £262 spent on the hotel room would be well worth it even if we only were able to go the one day.
On the way down the lift we got chatting with an Australian lady who asked if we were going to go on the “Leap of Faith”. We expressed our ignorance and she said it was one of the rides and that we shouldn’t let the name of it put us off – her six-year-old had done it, so how scary could it be?
We made our way past the aquarium and past more upmarket boutiques and security guards towards the entrance to the theme park. We got free towels and access for being guests, but had to pay for lockers. I elected to pay for small lockers to save money, and was a little nonplussed when the cashier merely made a note on her computer and then sent us in.
I expected a key or something but apparently all that was needed was the note on her computer to add the service to the barcode on the sticker around our wrists. Then when we got into the changing rooms I couldn’t get my selected locker to open until I realised that the blue-grey one I was attempting to open was one of the bigger ones and I should be trying to open a green one. Sigh.
Changed and ready to go, I strapped the GoPro to my head and we climbed the first tower. There were six rides on the first tower (we didn’t get to the second tower at all) and headed for one of the easier rides, The Stinger.
After that we did the Leap of Faith where there was a lengthy line. After maybe fifteen minutes we got the the front and I made Ange go first. She bravely went on it, though she was extremely apprehensive, and then it was my turn.
To tell the truth you don’t get to see much as the water sprays straight into your eyes (and that’s pretty much all the GoPro picks up as well!) but it consists of a near vertical drop followed by a section inside the shark tank and ends in a plunge in the pool at the end. You don’t get to see much of the wildlife and the you don’t spend much time able to see the initial drop so we decided we wouldn’t return to that one.
This is a video we took of what the actual ride looks like from a distance.
We went on all of the rides in the tower and my favourite was the one that went through the shark tank at a much more sedate pace. You could really get a good view of the rays and sharks and other fish as they swam in the tank around you.
This is what it looks like from the viewing window.
After a brief stop for lunch, we continued with our waterpark fun. After the rides end, most of them delivered you into an outer ring which was like a river with sections of rapids where photographers would take your photo and scan your barcodes.
This was in order to sell you the photos later. Funnily enough there were signs inside the park saying that you could get all the photos for the day for only AED 50 (£10), but that you had to sign up for the deal before you entered the park!
Without the deal, the costs were exorbitant. TripAdvisor reviews were scathing on the cost of them. Anyway, amongst the river section was a part which released a whole bunch of water like a surf wave and the figure eight inflated rings bobbed along, almost catching it like a surfboard. All great fun.
The park closed at dusk, which, in this part of the world was 6pm. We left and headed back to the hotel via the beach. As we approached, we saw a sea lion being packed away into a golf cart and driven off. As we got closer we noticed a sign saying you could pay to get your photo taken with the seal lion. Other paid upgrades on your experience were swimming in the shark tank and swimming with the dolphins, but we elected to pass on these and headed back to the room.
After all that exercise we were ravenous, so we ordered room service. We weren’t too sure how big the meals were so we hedged our bets and we got a pizza, the kid’s salmon and a dessert to share. The pizza was a good option and they very kindly gave us two desserts, so we didn’t have to wrestle for the last morsel!
We’d been keeping abreast of the weather forecasts and when “Lightning Storm” started to show up we were a little worried. Apparently it’s dangerous going on water slides in lightning storms so we were naturally worried that the theme park would close if one hit. Relieved that that had not occurred we were therefore intrigued as to what the lightning storm would look like at our elevated altitude. While we were eating we left the curtains open to see if we could see the clouds rolling in.
The cloud wasn’t dramatic like elsewhere, and there was no discernible thunder, but lo and behold there was lightning in the clouds above the city back on the mainland. We watched between mouthfuls as a muted show was put on – no sizzling arcs of lightning strikes, just flashes of light behind clouds.
After dinner it was still early so we decided to check out the spa situation. I didn’t really want to parade through reception dressed only in a robe, so we decided to see if we could find another way to the spa. A quick word on the hotel layout: The Palm is built around an arch which frames the central trunk of the Palm majestically.
Under the arch is the reception lobby and two arms stretch out on either side, with the rooms built up on either side of the gap. On the top of the gap are more rooms. I had hoped we’d be able to go up from our room and find way of going over the top of the reception area and down the other side. And so we headed out, dressed in dressing gowns and slippers. Ange delighted to actually find hotel slippers which fitted, and me with the familiar shuffle of a size 13 foot jammed into a size 10 slipper.
And so we went up a floor, then along to the end of the corridor. Only to find that, like our floor, the corridors from east to west wing did not join up. And the next floor didn’t either. In desperation we went to the top floor and again, no magical corridor alleviating us of the discomfort of traipsing through the crowds shopping at Luis Vuitton and Hermes dressed only in our gowns and swimwear.
So down the lifts we went, and along the shopping boulevards we traipsed, through the reception lobby and down the other side until we reached the spa facilities.
Like all the other spa facilities we’d seen in Dubai, these were split by gender. In the male ones was a very nice changing area along with a waiting room with comfortable chairs.
The facilities themselves were a jacuzzi, a steam room and a sauna with a common area with eight large marble chairs, each heated so that you needed a towel to lay on top of them so you wouldn’t burn yourself. There were a few other people taking advantage of the facilities but overall there was a good sense of privacy so that you could relax.
After our agreed time, I got changed and met Ange back in the lounge area and we compared notes. Apparently the jacuzzi in the male spa was nicer but apart from that they were much of a muchness. It would have been nice to share the experience but cultural norms prohibited this.
We headed back to the room and slept well – the exercise at the theme park and the spa’s heat making us nice and relaxed.
In the morning we ordered room service breakfast and split a continental breakfast between us. There was enough toast and fruit to ensure we both had enough and it didn’t break the bank. Our meals certainly came to less than the offered meal package!
After breakfast we checked-out and the staff member behind the desk ensured that we could keep the room card (obviously disabling it so we couldn’t return to the room) so that we could still use it to go to the theme park and aquarium. I thought this was a brilliant step which instantly doubled the value of staying at the hotel.
The aquarium was about £20 each and an additional day at the theme park would be another £55 each meaning that we were getting £260 of access for our £262 room cost.
So we headed down to the aquarium and had a look around. The Atlantis theme was pretty cool, with almost steampunk styles with lots of brass. But the pride of place was obviously the fish tanks – and the big one the most impactful.
We saw someone swimming in it, laying out some floats presumably for some guest interactive experience, and having a human swimming around in the tank really allowed us to appreciate the scale of the tank and the sheer number of fish.
We decided in the end not to go back to the theme park and do the other tower, instead using up our Hop-on Hop off bus tours tickets, and we arrived back at the hotel, hungry but not willing to pay hotel prices for lunch.
Instead we found a burger caravan on the beach, just outside the hotel. A hidden treasure, which seemed to be run by an Indonesian family offering burgers and related fast food. We established that they took credit cards and then ordered, enjoying the sun and the view out to sea as we waited for our burgers.
When they arrived they were worth the wait (though I think Ange got the better choice): I thoroughly enjoyed my classic burger (they added sautéed onions for no extra cost) while Ange did well with her BBQ burger. We finished it off with onion rings and a ginger lemonade. Delicious. Check out the menu.
Afterwards we returned to the hotel and collected our luggage and caught a taxi to the airport. The taxi bay was a chaotic area, with taxis swooping in, guests and luggage going one way, vehicles going the other, and a steady stream of luggage trolleys going to and from the reception area.
A small delay as we sought a taxi which accepted credit cards (we were trying to avoid getting cash out) was thwarted when none did and so necessitated a trip back inside to get more Dirhams out from the hotel ATM. Never mind – more to spend at the airport duty free shops, and then we were away.
Pros and Cons
Would I return?
There’s a whole other tower at Aquaventure we haven’t visited yet, so yes definitely. The hotel is a destination in and of itself, so it’s not near anything, but it has all the facilities you need and you don’t have to break the bank eating there either!