Discovering Atlantis

Fifteen minutes and a world away from Nassau's teeming Bay Street, cruise passengers can retreat to a resort experience like no other. The Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island--a huge complex along a three-mile ribbon of powdery shoreline--includes a multi-towered hotel, giant casino, top-notch stores, restaurants, tennis courts and putting green, as well as lagoons and spectacular marine exhibits.

Known as much for its decadence as for the celebrities who stay there (Oprah, Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson, to name a few), the Atlantis is accessible and affordable to cruisers who want to check it out for a day. It provides a good alternative to simply wandering around town, especially since some of Nassau's downtown attractions, like the famous Straw Market, were destroyed in September, 2001, by a disastrous fire along Bay Street.

Atlantis has a special arrangement with Disney and Royal Caribbean: Their shore excursion packages (prices vary) include a 30-minute harbor tour, a one-hour hotel tour, and access to the Atlantis's beach, casino, restaurants, shops, aquariums and sporting facilities. Guests are given towels and chairs on the beach, but do not have access to the pools or changing rooms. Water sports like parasailing, jet-skiing and snorkeling are available on the beach at an extra cost.

Cruisers from other ships don't have beach access, but can purchase day passes ($25 for adults, $19 for children 4-12, free for under 4) from the Temple of The Moon booth, located in the casino at the Royal Tower. From Prince George Dock, you can take a $6 roundtrip, 15-minute ferry ride to the Paradise Island Ferry Terminal, then walk less than five minutes to the resort. Alternatively, a taxi journey--about $5 to $10 apiece--brings you to the front door of the Royal Tower in about 10 minutes.

Some 400 cruisers visit Atlantis every day to see firsthand this resort of mythological proportions. Aptly named for the mysterious lost continent, the Atlantis is designed to titillate the imagination. Its fantastical layout blends architectural evocations from pre-Columbian America, ancient Greece and Rome, and the Minoan civilization of the Mediterranean. Waterslides are built into a life-size replica of an ancient Mayan Temple in the Yucatan jungle.

Atlantis is home to 50,000 sea animals, making it the largest marine habitat in the world. The animals reside in lagoons and exhibitions, including The Dig, a replica of an excavation site of the mythical city of Atlantis.

Day-trippers are welcome to meander through the Dig along dark limestone corridors that resemble underwater boulevards. As you wend your way though the 600-foot maze, you meet giant sharks and rays, a Jewel Fish exhibit bursting with a rainbow of reef fish colors, some 700 Indian Ocean Lionfish, 400 piranhas, and a "touch tank" filled with conch, starfish, sea urchins and sea cucumbers. The fish are the star attraction, but take note of the murals, city maps, astronomy and airship exhibition, as well as the submarine room where you'll find a diving bell and divers' suits.

Built by Sun International, the billion-dollar, 2,300-room Atlantis Resort has been an international sensation since it open in 1994. It is a place of superlatives: It has the Caribbean's largest casino; 38 restaurants and lounges; the largest ballroom in the Caribbean; and more than 11 million gallons of water attractions including slide and rides, swimming pools, waterfalls and fountains. The 34-acre Atlantis waterscape is the largest tropical marine habitat in the world.

If you've been lucky (you must be over 18 to play) at the casino--which has more than 980 slot machines and 78 gaming tables, including baccarat, roulette, craps, blackjack and Caribbean stud poker--you may want to indulge yourself with a little something from the resort's tony designer shops, like Lalique, Ferragamo, Cartier, Faconnable, Gucci or Bulgari.

All day long, the Atlantis bustles with crowds moving between three interconnected hotel towers: The Beach Tower, The Coral Tower and The Royal Towers. Each has its own pools and beach access, shops and restaurants. Visitors are agog upon entering the Great Hall of Waters, the Royal Towers lobby with its 70-foot domed, gold-gilded shell rotunda, 50-foot sculptures of mythical sea creatures and artwork by noted Spanish artist Albino Gonzalez.

Visitors face a dizzying array of restaurant choices with cuisine from every continent. The Marketplace in the Royal Towers is a gastronomic buffet of international specialties including home-styled Caribbean dishes. This restaurant is situated near the casino, shops, and The Dig, and offers easy access to the beach. The Cafe at The Great Hall of Waters, also in the Royal Towers, feels submerged in the Atlantic because it is encircled by an aquarium. For Bahamian specialties, try Shark Bites, located at the base of the Mayan Temple; or for a New York-style deli, go for a bagel and a shmear at Murray's, just outside the Coral Towers.

For land-based recreation, cruisers can purchase special golf and tennis packages from the Sports Center. Guests book hourly for one of the 10 courts. If you don't have a tennis partner, the resort can arrange for you to hit with a pro. There's also an 18-hole putting course.

While the inside of the Atlantis pulsates with possibilities, you might want to spend some time idling on the beach. There you can read, run your toes through the fine sand, nap, build a sandcastle or stare out to sea and think about nothing at all. However you choose to spend time at the Atlantis, it will be--like it's namesake--legendary.

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