In February 1965, the fab four—John, Paul, George, and Ringo—arrived in Nassau, Bahamas to film portions of their second feature film, Help. The final scene, in which Ringo is rescued from the eastern cultists, takes place on the north shore of Paradise Island. If you can peer through the slapstick action in the foreground to the background, you’ll see little more than sand, surf, and palm trees.
Fast forward 50 years and there’s much much more, in fact, one of the largest tourist resorts in the world—Atlantis
Opened in 1998 by South African hotel magnate Sol Kerzner, the resort has grown year by year, from the single 9-story Beach Tower to five. Last November, I checked into one of the newest—The Cove.
Throughout most of the 171-acre resort, the atmosphere is reminiscent of Disneyland. It’s not just gaggles of families trailing kids, water rides, aquariums, beach activities, dolphin shows, or even the coral color castle-like main building but the whirlwind of it all.
The Cove, on the other hand, offers a boutiquely chilled respite from the busyness and a decidedly more adult vibe beginning the moment the attendants open your car door. As your bags are carried off past the lush koi ponds down the long central portico, a breezy calm blows through the open air space, bearing with it a subtle scent of sensuality. But that might have as much to do with the many fit, lightly clad couples sporting satisfied smiles as with the suggestive design by Jeffery Beers
The reception hall confirms the first impression, with another spacious, open design, that seems large enough for several hundred, but rarely sees more than about 20 people at a time.
Stepping into my Deluxe Ocean Suite ( approx $1,o00 per night) on the 23rd floor, I was no less impressed. Although there are few things as nice as a bathroom large enough to turn cartwheels in and a bathtub fit for burly Irish 6-footers, it paled in comparison to the spacious step-down living area that spilled out onto a full balcony overlooking Caribbean waters.
To accentuate the adult experience, slap on resort ID wristband and shimmy over to the 9,000-square-foot Ultra-Pool, forbidden for children. Resplendent with lipstick red daybeds, seaside cabanas, blackjack pavilion, it’s a great place to take in the sun and watch celebrity sunbathers (or at those who look like celebrities).
The adjacent stretch of beach is also pleasantly mellow, not because of any restrictions (indeed, all beaches are public in Bahamas), but more from its off-the-beaten-sand location on the property. Anyone seeking that secluded, romantic walk complete with seashells, coconuts, and Kashmir soft sand, need look no further. If it gets too hot, a cool down is just a pivot away in water blue enough to masquerade as liquid sapphire.
Still, the rest of the resort is well worth experiencing. Based on the famous sunken city, the resort features a 141-acre fun park of pools, palms, and alien-looking structures seemingly absconded from the set of a 50’s sci-fi film. Threading them together is a snaking channel navigable by inner tube and water slide, which is a hell of a lot of fun if there’s any kid left in you.
The largest building, the Royal Towers, continues the fun with a casino, several restaurants, shopping center, nightclub, aquarium, and, if you can shell out $25,000 per night, the famous Bridge Suite. Eventually the path leads you to another of the resort’s highlight, the open-air lagoons full of sea turtles, barracuda, rays, sawfish, and sharks. Standing on the shaky robe bridge hanging over circling black hammerheads will especially stiffen the hairs on the back of your neck.
The resort also seeks to capture your heart through your stomach, with numerous high-end restaurants including Nobu, Jean-Georges’s Café Martinique, Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill, where the cocktails are especially inventive.
Sucking down my third cactus pear margartia of the night and admiring the skill of the Bahamian bartender, I couldn’t help wondering if native Bahamians drink this too. In fact, how much of the overall experience is authentic Bahamian in such a manicured landscape? Was the sudden arrival of a parade of junkanoo dancers at that the start of drink # 4 a true expression of the culture’s love of dance and tradition, or simply a way for locals to earn their daily bread?
It’s very difficult to say, especially as the two sides are so firmly intertwined. Perhaps those seeking a “real” Bahamian experience might try the other islands. But for those simply looking for a rip roaring good time in a beautiful tropical environment, it’s hard to imagine anything better than Atlantis.
Mike Dunphy stayed as a guest of Atlantis Paradise Island
All Photos by Mike Dunphy