As I lay flat – arms crossed, breath coming in short gasps – at the top of a 9-storey tall mega-waterslide, I wonder at the will (or maybe the reasoning) it takes to construct such a gargantuan feat of water-filled human ingenuity in one of the most arid places on earth. Then again, Dubai is like that – a homage to over-the-top, nothing is too expensive, stylishly tacky opulence.
Then the screaming starts.
It’s only after I climb shakily from the water at the bottom of the slide I realise the screaming was my own. Not sure if it was the sheer drop, the speed, or the last moments in a clear tube hurtling through a shark-infested lagoon but the noise was an almost primal yawp.
Echoing down the tube I hear another high-pitched wail and wonder if it’s my own following me out but no, it’s the next adventure seeker careening down the appropriately named Leap of Faith.
An addendum to the Arabian luxury of the Atlantis The Palm next door, Aquaventure Waterpark attracts thousands of visitors a year. While many thrill seekers are also guests of the hotel (admission to the waterpark and adjacent Lost Chambers Aquarium is included in the room rate), international visitors and expats from across Dubai come to escape the sweltering summer heat.
Designed to replicate the “lost” city of Atlantis, the park is a winding maze of watery pleasure and is aimed squarely at families with activities aimed at every age group including a marine park and slides ranging from a gentle glide to heart-stopping action.
Conversely, Atlantis The Palm next door loses the watery theme park attitude and ramps up the luxury. The resort-style hotel boasts over 20 dining options, with many well-known brands making a play for the palate including Gordon Ramsay’s Bread St Kitchen, the requisite Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa’s eponymously named resort standard and Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli’s Ronda Locatelli. However, it’s the wonderfully spiced scents wafting from the doorway of authentic Lebanese restaurant, Ayamna, that wins us over after a day of exhilarating H2O-related activity.
A grand, winding staircase leads down to a comfortably cool and palatial dining space. Decorated in a recurring motif of black and white mosaic tiles, Ayamna’s design brings to life the restaurant’s name, which in Arabic means “the good old days” and the interiors reflect the joyful, heady days of Lebanon’s not-so-distant past. Light filled and airy and with a real buzz inside and outside on the sprawling shisha terrace.
Chef Ali Elbourji and his team deliver a wide variety of traditional Lebanese dishes expertly done. A traditional Mezze offers up a perfectly balanced hummus and moutabal with pickles and house-made unleavened bread straight from the hotplate. A freekeh salad impresses with a delightfully fresh mix of pomegranate, fava beans, cracked wheat and lemon juice.
And, while a whole lobster with saffron is exquisitely done, the evening’s top gong goes to the house’s signature Kebbeh Mabroumeh. Finished with a pomegranate glaze, a delicious filling of ground beef and aromatic Arabic spices delivers a flavour combination at once savoury, sweet and tart.
The sheer size of Atlantis and its surrounds means you’re jostled occasionally by the sheer volume of guests and visitors – an eclectic mix ranging from the Patek Philippe-wearing ultra-rich to escapee extras from Geordie shore – sharing the facilities, yet when it comes to service the staff only have eyes for you. Attentive and efficient, every effort is made to ensure guests get plenty of help when it’s needed.
While the hotel hosts regular international business events in world-class facilities, we recommend bringing along the family for a brief stay in the Arabian sun. The vast array of entertainment, dining and shopping options puts Atlantis The Palm in a class all on its own.