By Ted McIntyre
Peering down from my room at The Cove tower at the sprawling Atlantis resort, my eyes tracing a somewhat more expansive swath of beach than I’d anticipated, I couldn’t decide whether I preferred to be a big kid or a little kid at this moment. To the right was a one of the planet’s preeminent aqua adventure parks—part of a 141-acre waterscape that houses more than 20 million gallons of water, Atlantean-themed towers, high-speed water slides, a mile-long river ride with rolling rapids and wave surges, 20 swimming areas and a children’s water-play fort, all connected by a tropical environment that includes manmade beaches within the park’s boundary. Dolphin Cay, where visitors can swim with the sleek mammals—16 of which were Hurricane Katrina rescues—was also within my field of vision. A short walk away, within the Royal Towers centrepiece of the Atlantis complex, lay some of the most well thought out kids’ clubs I’d ever seen.
On the other hand, the more mature kid in me, fresh from two margaritas, was still pondering the team of waitresses outfitted in skin-tight white stretch pants and the array of scantily-clad females soaking up the early December sun at the pulsating Cain at The Cove adult pool bar.
You get that a lot on the 3.5-square-mile Paradise Island, which lies off the northeast coast of New Providence Island in the Bahamas, just across the bridge from Nassau. Although it’s a destination of varying levels of accommodations, Paradise Island’s two twinkling stars are Atlantis and the more exclusive One & Only Ocean Club. The former, which rises from the ocean like a sentinel, could double as a major theme park for all of its attractions—a prime example being “The Dig,” a true Atlantis experience with replicated ruins and metal diver suits and one of the world’s larger and more revealing aquariums, where moray eels, sharks, giants manta rays, assorted fish and lobsters and other sea creatures can be observed through glass at every conceivable angle.
But there is also a sophistication that will catch first-timers, myself included, by surprise—particularly at The Cove, from the concierge service at check-in to the mesmerizing transition of lighting from morning ’til night throughout the complex.
Water, naturally, plays a central theme, not just from a recreational standpoint but as a dominant aesthetic. Babbling brooks, fountains and cascades, waterfalls, pools, hot tubs and grottos all mesh in perfect harmony and greatly enhance every stroll about the grounds. Even my breakfast saw the theme continued, with water streaming down both sides of Mosaic restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling glass partitions. If the real Atlantis had drapes, this is what they probably looked like.
Over at the Royal Towers, one floor beneath a massive, breathtakingly decorated Christmas tree in the main lobby, I discovered more energizing forms of amusement, from the thumping Aura nightclub that opens its velvet ropes around 9:30 p.m., to the largest casino in the Caribbean and its 1,000+ slot machines.
Such luxury doesn’t come cheap. Including tip (you’ll find a mandatory 15% gratuity built in to virtually every bill on the island), I spent $30 at Cain at the Cove before I’d finished my first order of salsa chips and margarita.
Decadent? Yes. But if you want true sophistication on Paradise Island, check out the One & Only Ocean Club. Escorted via a private van for the five-minute jaunt east, behind elegant white gates and down a road lined by dense foliage, sits a low-slung, colonial-style reception building. I recalled the setting from the arrival of Daniel Craig’s James Bond character in Casino Royale, and my welcome by staff was just as polished.
Since 1965, this 35-acre resort has been catering to those who enjoy the finer things in life, from the French-Asian fusion cuisine at Dune restaurant to complimentary fruits, sorbets, magazines, games and suntan lotion on the beach.
Unlike the veritable city of Atlantis up the road, there are just 109 rooms here, along with three villas and two cottages—all spacious and pleasingly appointed with a blend of hardwood charm and modern amenities like large flatscreen TVs and Bose sound systems. Outside my room, a few hammocks are slung between a cluster of tall palms on a green carpet that separates the colonial-style buildings from the beach. It’s a stately place that oozes British heritage.
The jewel in the crown might be the Versailles adult pool area. Draped in trees, with white columns bordering both sides and a centre aisle beyond that rises in landscaped tiers—ancient statues at every stage—it culminates with a stunning 12th century cloister, the ruins of which were sailed in from France and reassembled.
How calming is this environment? This is where Martha Stewart vacationed just before she went to jail.
Guests are shuttled over to Atlantis at their whim, but I was more interested in the short drive in the opposite direction to the neighbouring Ocean Club Golf Course. Unfortunately, four of the five courses on New Providence are very private. And the lone public course charges even locals $90 a round. But the Ocean Club is available to Atlantis and One & Only resort guests, with green fees ranging from $120 to $270.
I was subject to an excruciating cartpath-only rule during my stay, but the Tom Weiskopf design is a marvelous test, with no shortage of ocean views. In one idyllic moment, a heron kindly posed for me on a rock behind the par-3 eighth green as boats sailed past in the background and a few puffs of cloud in an otherwise clear sky drifted by, with temperatures hovering in the mid-20s Celsius.
Weiskopf did a wonderful job with this 14-year-old design, which he built over a pre-existing course, reworking every hole, save for No’s. 16 and 17 along the shore. Whereas the previous layout was heavily treed, limiting ocean views, Weiskopf cleared the land, incorporating the ocean, water hazards, bunkering and fairway movement at every turn, while blending salt-resistant Paspallum grass with smooth Bermuda greens.
The layout is constantly challenging, and downright nasty in the wind from the back tees. The best of the bunch comes early, the par-4 fourth, where you drive over a “churney” (a naturally occurring pit) and bunker complex, which sets up a fading approach to a green that juts into the water.
The round concludes with a monster uphill par-4 into the teeth of the prevailing wind that measures a whopping 451 yards from the golds and 483 from the blacks. Even with a bazooka in my bag, I couldn’t imagine ever getting home in two.
But as my chauffeur Phillip carried my bags into the airport the next morning and whisked me through check-in and security, the thought occurred, “Why would I ever want to get home?”
And so I turned to Phillip and pleaded, “Take me back to the golf course! I’m going to stay!”
I guess the little kid in me finally won out in the end.