There’s nothing subtle about Atlantis Paradise Island, and that’s exactly why kids adore it. Sprawling and splashy, this mega-resort in the Bahamas enchants little ones with bells and whistles from the moment they step out of the airport shuttle. For parents, the sheer scale and scope can feel overwhelming — unless you come armed with a few in-the-know secrets for Atlantis vacation success.
Choose the right accommodations. Atlantis Paradise Island has six different hotels: Royal Towers, The Reef, The Cove, Beach Tower, Coral Towers and Harborside Resort. Style and standard vary between them, so it’s imperative to do some sleuthing beforehand and know what to expect.
Beach Tower and Coral Towers, the two original properties, are value-based, and accommodations are clean and comfortable but can show some wear around the edges. Royal Towers and The Reef are newer and more upscale. The Cove feels very chic and adult-oriented; it’s fine with tweens and teens, but this is not where I would stay with a toddler. The busy Royal Towers (the iconic building in all the ads) includes the casino and a complex of luxury shops, so it’s ideal for those who want to be close to the action but not necessarily for those who crave peace and quiet. While Harborside Resort’s one-, two- and three-bedroom villas represent good value for space, the tradeoff is that they’re farther from the on-property happenings.
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We stayed at The Reef, and I’d choose it again in a minute. The bright, contemporary lobby is a knockout, and the staff were the friendliest we encountered during our entire stay. Guestrooms are clean and pleasant, if not exceptionally stylish. Best of all, the property has a peaceful, relaxed feel — a welcome contrast to the high energy of the resort overall. It’s a bit farther walk from major sites and activities such as the waterpark, but the tradeoff is a greater sense of seclusion than at most of Atlantis’ other hotels.
Accommodations at The Reef range from king studios to one- and two-bedroom suites and penthouses. Studios and suites include queen sleeper sofas; studios feature kitchenettes with a small refrigerator, a microwave, a cooktop and a breakfast table. Suites and penthouses have full kitchens. Penthouse guests also enjoy 24-hour butler service, a washer/dryer and a wraparound terrace with a view of the ocean.
Our studio felt spacious and airy, with a slim panel between the bed and sleeper sofa for a touch of privacy, and the bathroom was huge. The best feature was the balcony overlooking the harbor — we loved watching the ships drift in as we sipped juice and coffee in the mornings.
Get oriented first thing. Atlantis is big with a capital B (and I and G). It’s easy to get turned around, so as soon as you drop your bags and settle in, grab a map from the concierge and get your bearings. We didn’t do this, but we should have! Although complimentary shuttle service runs on a continuous loop throughout the resort, even navigating within a single section can be tricky. You don’t want to eat up precious vacation time wandering from point A to point B.
As you explore, take time to appreciate the beauty of the grounds and the incredible attention to detail. Landscaping is lush yet well manicured, and at every turn is an eye-catching water feature or an aquatic habitat with creatures such as stingrays and sea turtles. From end to end, the entire place feels truly extravagant.
Have a waterpark strategy. Aquaventure, the famous Atlantis waterpark, is the reason many families come here. And it lives up to its billing: From the near-vertical Leap of Faith to the Abyss’ 50-foot drop in total darkness, the eight water slides are a spectacular thrill. It’s possible to do them all in a day, but spreading them over two or three is much less exhausting when you factor in crowds and long wait times. Know too that thunderstorms pop up frequently in this region and when they do, the slides shut down temporarily — i.e. don’t save them for your last afternoon. And bring a good pair of water shoes; the slides are scattered around the park, and the paved paths between them are searing hot. My feet and I learned this the hard way.
Less adventurous families might prefer The Current, a mile-long river that snakes around the waterpark, with swells and rapids along the way. Be sure to grab double inner tubes instead of singles so kids can ride tandem with a parent; it’s easy to get separated and there’s no obvious point of exit. There is also a smaller lazy river at Beach Tower, which at press time was under renovation.
Kids shorter than 48 inches won’t be able to do the slides. If those are your main reason for coming, consider whether it’s best to wait until everyone can enjoy them. For babies through preschoolers, the Splashers area offers shallow water and gentle slopes.
TIP: Aquaventure is a popular cruise ship excursion. Crowds peak before lunchtime and last through late afternoon. While the lines are never truly short, hit the waterpark early or late to minimize waiting.
Prioritize things to do. The list of activities at Atlantis is vast. Snorkeling, scuba diving, rock climbing, yacht excursions, spa treatments, movies, arcade games … there’s no way to do it all, so don’t even try. Pick up the daily resort schedule from the front desk and set expectations from the outset that everyone gets to pick and choose on a limited basis. Most activities incur an extra fee.
We tried out the Earth & Fire Pottery Studio, where kids choose a premade clay knickknack to paint — a surprise hit with my 9-year-old, who usually doesn’t get into arts and crafts. It takes a couple of days for the staff to fire and return the creations, so plan accordingly.
Other offerings, such as culinary classes and an interactive virtual reality stage, are accessible only through the Atlantis Kids Adventures kids’ club (ages 3-12). While we didn’t have time to try them out, the kids’ club facilities looked bright, modern and engaging. Tweens and teens have their own diversions, including Club Rush and CRUSH nightclub, respectively.
Water activities abound, of course, and even toddlers can get in on the fun. The Sea Squirts program gives little ones a chance to feed baby sea creatures in the marine nursery; tweens and teens might opt for the Shark Adventure (a walk on the floor of the resort’s mammoth shark tank while wearing a special glass helmet). The Dig, a lavish aquarium filled with piranhas, moray eels and more, is a treat to browse and is also one of the few Atlantis activities that’s free.
Splurge on an interactive session at Dolphin Cay — the look of delight on kids’ faces as they stroke, high-five and smooch these lovable creatures is worth every penny. Guests don wetsuits for a shallow-water version or a deep-water swim, in which the whole family can participate. For hardcore marine life enthusiasts, Atlantis offers sea-lion and stingray encounters as well.
TIP: No cameras or phones are allowed at Dolphin Cay; photos are available to purchase afterward. Those who don’t want to participate can buy an observer pass, which allows them to snap pictures from the shore nearby.
Build in beach and pool downtime. One drawback to the whiz-bang bustle of the property is that it’s easy to get sidetracked and forget to take advantage of the lovely beaches. You’re at the ocean, so make the most of that clear turquoise water and golden sand!
Among the perks of staying at The Reef or The Cove is access to two tranquil beaches: Paradise Beach and Cove Beach, respectively. Both are uncrowded and the sea is calm enough for babies and toddlers. The shallows can be rocky, so water shoes are a good idea. As with the waterslides, lifeguards will restrict ocean access if there’s thunder or lightning in the area.
Atlantis also has 11 pools to sample, including several kids’ pools and one for adults only. Guests at The Reef and The Cove have exclusive use of the meandering, zero-entry Cascades Pool. It’s much less busy and boisterous than some of the others, and it was far and away our favorite. Select pools offer preferred seating (reserved loungers plus food and beverage service) or private cabanas.
Budget for meals. Food at Atlantis’ 20-plus restaurants is pricey across the board. Marquee spots such as Nobu and Mesa Grill come with the expected sticker shock, but casual dining is no bargain either, especially when you factor in the mandatory gratuity and resort fee. Even the Starbucks in the lobby of The Reef is priced about 10 or 15 percent above non-resort locations. The good news is that there are ways to cut down on the dining tab.
Booking accommodations with a kitchen will save a bundle. Although groceries are available onsite, the markup is high; many in-the-know guests arrange a cab to a supermarket off-property. Meal plans can also help with cost control. There are several versions, with the least expensive starting at $85 per adult per day; kids 6 and under eat free with the purchase of an adult plan. It’s worth doing the math to see if this option makes sense.
My favorite onsite dinner was at Bimini Road, a lively Caribbean-themed spot in the Marina Village. Sandwiches and salads average $15 or so and entrees are in the $25 to $30 range … that said, our portions were large enough that we had plenty to store in our fridge for lunch the next day.
My son preferred the outpost of New York restaurant Carmine’s, where platters of pasta and classic Italian meat dishes are passed family-style. Although the food was delicious, I suspect that what sealed the deal for him was the Titanic, an eye-popping ice cream concoction that feeds at least a dozen. It’s decadent, irresistible and deliciously over the top … not unlike Atlantis itself.
Editor’s Note: Lisa received a media package in order to review Atlantis Paradise Island for families. As always, our opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by Lisa Frederick except where noted.
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