My wife and 10 year old daughter and I just returned from a week’s stay at the Atlantis on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. We were there from 4/13/03 to 4/19/03. Where do I start without sounding like Jack Lemmon in "The Out of Towners"?
The hotel: First, the hotel. Our only choice when we booked was the Beach tower. The other choices are the Coral tower and Royal tower. Our room was spacious and clean. The view of the ocean was nice except for the fact that our entire side of the tower overlooked an ugly rooftop and the service and pool area of the Sheraton next door. You see nothing of the place you are visiting. This building was originally built in 1967 and short of lobby renovations and hallways downstairs it looks as if not much has ever been done since then. Be careful of the balconies. There so small you can lose a child. During our stay one of only three elevators worked for 3 of the 7 days we were there. The second finally was fixed and the third is still probably out of order. There didn’t seem to be any great desire to fix the problem by staff. So plan on walking up stairs or make sure you get a low floor. When we were dropped off by the pre-arranged airport transfer company, Dan Knowles, we were deposited at the Coral tower lobby where we were told to check in. Then a five minute walk through crowds to our building the Beach tower. Apparently, the Beach tower doesn’t even warrant it’s own check in staff even though it must have in the past since the facility is set up for it. I got the feeling that the Beach tower is the poor stepchild of Atlantis. A clear example of this was that all convention facilities seemed located there to handle the groups that like to throw water balloons out the windows and such. There is only one restaurant in the tower and it only serves buffet. All of the other nicer restaurants are either in the Coral or Royal towers. Now lets talk about the meals. My travel agent suggested that due to the typically expensive meals, it may make sense to buy the Gourmet food plan for my family. I was told that this permitted one to dine in any of the restaurants (although some had specific dollar limits which if exceeded we were responsible for the excess) for all the meals. The cost was $80 per person per day and $40 for a child. So we bought the Gourmet package for the week. ( you have to buy it for your entire stay, not just a few days). Don’t do it.
First, unless you make reservations at least 2 to 3 weeks before your arrive, you will be shut out of every restaurant except the buffets. That happened to us. We paid $200 per day to eat at buffets and this does not include any alcohol. (A beer is $6.50, glass of wine is $11.00 A bottle of Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio sells retail for $18 in CT. Here it is $53.) Second, the Gourmet plan does not include lunch. That will run you an additional $45-55 per day for 2 adults and one 10 year old child. And for that we got to stand in lines for up to 15 minutes just for a hambuger, fries, and a water. And we chose to eat at the Cave Bar Grill out at the pool. If you decide to go to a sit down place for lunch, plan on a 45 minute wait and a $60 tab in a very noisy and crowded venue.
The buffets: Third, the buffets. While these clearly provide value, they don’t if you bought the goumet plan. Of the two we visited, the Water’s Edge in the Coral Tower is better. Its bigger and the food is better. The Seagrape in Beach tower (naturally) is noisy and people lined up for food, kids dropping plates of pasta, and in general, only good when shut out of any other place to eat. One avenue that will be suggested to you by the hotel when you complain as we did about being shut out of all the restaurants before we even arrived, is to speak to the concierge. They will tell you to just show up at a particular restaurant and hope for a cancellation. We did that but it only seemed to work after 8:30 or so and who wants to wander around with a child with such uncertainty. And like I said, if youre in Beach tower you will definitely be wandering around. But the reality is that even this tactic was unsuccessful for us on three of the four nights we tried it. What I find interesting is that if you make a resevation and don’t show up, the hotel told us that they bill the party $50 per person for failing to show. So now the hotel never loses. As a gourmet plan participant, I show up, lacking a reservation, since all the restaurants were booked before I’ve even arrived, and if willing, will take the place of the diner who failed to show (and was charged $50) and now I cover that person’s dinner.
Oh and if you order a bottle of wine, you will get very large traditional wine glasses. If you go cheap and just order by the glass, they will remove the large wine glass and serve you your single drink in a much smaller wine glass. This way, you will drink the bottled (read more expensive) wine more quickly. It’s kind of like any casino- the odds are always in there favor. Now let’s talk about the attractions. Much effort was made to integrate many species of marine life throughout the resort and they did it very creatively. For children and adults it’s very interesting. Now if you could just eliminate about half of the people that are there, it would be tolerable. It seems that by 9am at any pool , every damn beach chair is "taken" by guests. I know people that told us that they get up at 7am and go out to the pool bringing their dirty towel from the day before (since the towel booths don’t open until 9:30am) and stake out their chairs. According to the Pool Etiquette chapter in the in-room guide book, the reseving of chairs is not permitted. Yet the practice is so pervasive, you’re forced to either lay on the cement or try your luck out on the beach, where you will almost certainly encounter the same problem. My wife sat on the cement near a pool watching our daughter swim for an hour next to an unoccupied chair that had a towel on it. Finally she sat on it. No sooner did she sit down when the reserving occupant, a rude, loud-mouthed woman ("probably from New York"- J. Lithgow, Terms of Endearment) confronted my wife and yelled at her to get off "her chair" and repeated this several times to those around her. My wife got up, explained that no one had been there for over an hour to which the woman responded that because she had her towel there, my wife was to have known to keep off her chair. Since I was scuba diving that morning I missed this confrontation but was given the blow-by-blow by my wife when I arrived in the afternoon. I then went over to the woman’s husband (she was not there , of course) and told him what had happened. He simply said that they had had the chairs all morning by simply reserving them. I explained what I understood to be hotel policy regarding the prohibition of such reserving and he said go complain to the hotel. I did and was told that the hotel policy, does in fact prohibit the holding of chairs and that those that do will have their property removed and stored until claimed by the guest. I tell you this because what should be a time and place to relax is any thing but at the pools.
Pool and souveniers: To top off the pool experience, all but the Beach tower pools close at 5:30pm. So if you thought about a nice relaxing swim at 6pm without the crowds, forget it. To make sure of this all the food places and outdoor spots to get a drink also shut down at 5:30pm as well as the towel huts. About the towels, you need to show your room key to get towels as well as your ID bracelet for each day that you are in the pool areas. Yet the rules state that if you fail to return a towel, your room will be charged $25 per towel. Given all the towels I saw laying around the pool and beach near the end of the day, either they are not enforcing the rules or they’re making a hell of a lot of money with the fines. One last grating thing about the Atlantis experience is that apparently the hotel offers tours to outsiders. So in order to properly control the pools, you will be asked to produce your room key/identity tag by employees standing at the entrance areas all over the complex. This forces you to have to walk down to the towel huts and stand in line to be given the bracelet of the day or be constanly asked to prove you belong there.
Whatever you do, don’t buy any souveniers of a local nature at the hotel. They are usually triple the street price. And the women that prowl the beach selling shirts and beads an necklaces are way over priced. If you must return with any of this kind of stuff, take the $3 boat shuttle across the harbor and go to the straw market and negotiate there. And even there, don’t pay what they say. You can usually get even those vendors to cut the price by half.
Other beefs: The Sports workout facility is almost a mile from the Beach tower so just going there will probably give you the workout you desire. The property is so large it remined me of EPCOT in Orlando. You will walk forever. The ONLY ATM machine on the property is in the casino between the Coral and Royal towers. What a coincidence. Of course, don’t rely on them since they were frequently not working the week I was there. (You can go to the casino cashier as an alternative but you will need a photo ID in order to get money from a debit or credit card.) You will hear some noise about the kids club, Rush. Ages 7 to 13 from 4:30pm to 7:30pm. Older kids from 14 to 17 later. No parents allowed other than to drop off (and pay the admission fee, of course) Judging by the way the second age group is dressed,(girls like hookers and boys like "Abercrombie Zombies"), there is justification for the sign on the front door of the club prohibiting "PDA" or public disaplay of affection including" dirty dancing, kissing, groping. How come they didn’t have these places when I was a teenager.
I’m still on a roll. About the drinks. They love pushing the local drinks. All of which contain a lot of sugar. Every drink is portion controlled so be warned. At least you won’t get drunk. Broke, but not intoxicated.
Of the islands I’ve been to, the natives hawking their wares seemed to be the most agressive here. An example, if you even go near the beach with a girl the age of my daughter, the women will come up and offer to braid their hair. Having done this for our daughter last year in Turks and Caicos for $60, we asked how much. $130 was the going rate. Don’t pay it or any thing close. After you say no, they will ask you what you want to pay. We said $60 and they said $80 and she gave both my daughter and wife a necklace. They all negotiate. And they only take cash. I would suggest that if you are still willing to brave the crowds, that you do a lot of research before you go. Don’t just take the travel agents word or information. Unless they’ve been there recently, you need to make some calls. The side excursions that sound interesting such as swimming with the dolphins ($145 per person) was sold out a month before we even got there. Not that we would have done it but just an example of expectations of a spontaneous jaunt needing to balanced with reality. What I get out of all of this, is that all the brochures show the Royal Towers. Great but naturally more expensive than the others and much more desireable. In fact there is even another step above if you want to get away and that is at the adjoining Ocean Club. Its a shuttle ride away and is apparently the place to go to be pampered at much higher rates with restaurants that are alway booked before you get there. Never got over there myself. But for $600 or $800 a night you’d be better off going to Cap Jaluca in Anguilla for that much.
All I can say is we will not be back. It’s too big, too noisy, too crowded and there is very little regard for guests’ needs if they arrive and haven’t done their homework at least 2 months before arriving.