That’s where Atlantis went!
Paul, a friend and veteran of the Leap Of Faith, explains: ‘It’s just like bungee-jumping or paragliding. Have you ever tried those?’ Now you mention it, I haven’t. And I have never had any desire to do so.
But as soon as I heard we were going to the Atlantis in Dubai, I knew this would be an issue. The slide is like a challenge screaming: ‘Fly me! You know you want to.’
The problem is, I don’t want to. I am pathologically scared of heights, and the thought of hurling myself down a 27.5 metre slide is not my idea of a good time. Yet I know that everyone will deem me a lightweight if I don’t.
The Leap of Faith is the centrepiece of Aquaventure, the water adventure park at the newly opened Atlantis Hotel in Dubai.
The brochure calls the resort an ‘oceanic tribute to a mythological age’. It is true that as soon as you walk in, you feel like you are in a Disney film. Around every corner there are things more fantastical than anything Dorothy encountered in Oz. The statistics are amazing: more than 2,250 tons of marble and stone were used to create the walls, fountains and floors; 58,000 kilometres of steel bars were used in the construction – nine times the length of the Great Wall of China; and there are 60,000 palm trees and shrubs.
The hotel cost £1billion to build, hardly surprising when you consider that it is plonked in the middle of the sea. The building itself looks like it belongs in a cartoon, instantly recognisable with its dramatic arches, arabesque domes and ornate spires. There is a 30-metre statue in the entrance hall which is glass but looks like it’s been made of sticks of rock.
Dubai is famous for glitz, glamour and the ‘est’ factor (biggest, tallest, grandest…), and believe me, it’s great. This is a playground for children and grown-ups alike. It is a world away from the credit crunch and all the misery going on elsewhere – a true slice of escapism. Atlantis could be a metaphor for the roaring Noughties; maybe even the decade’s last hurrah.
It seems a lot of people feel the same way. When we were there a few weeks ago it was almost full.
Oddly enough, you noticed the crowds more in the restaurants than around the pool – maybe they were constantly hungry from all the water activities. One Englishwoman who was there with her two teenage children told me: ‘The kids adore it. Alton Towers is going to seem so drab by comparison.’
It is also the one place I have been with my three children, aged nine, eight and five, where they haven’t complained once. I’ve not seen them so excited for ages.
Walking through the Lost Chambers (20 fresh and seawater exhibits), I kept being interrupted by cries of: ‘Quick, mummy, you have to come. Run. Quick!’
In an age where children are constantly stimulated by every electrical gadget, it was lovely to hear them genuinely excited by something as simple as a starfish.
The ‘touch tanks’ were a great hit. At one stage I thought Leo, my five-year-old, was going to fall in as he reached down to touch a half-hidden sea cucumber. And before I get letters from the Sea Cucumber Liberation Front, I was assured by our guide that the animals in the touch tanks are rotated on a regular basis so that they don’t spend their entire lives being fiddled with by inquisitive young fingers.
The girls were most excited by their first sighting of Sammy the shark, who was rescued by the hotel when he ran aground nearby.
‘He is going to be released as soon as his tail has healed,’ our guide told us.
My husband was most impressed by a conical-shaped tank filled with sardines. ‘It’s better than a Damien Hirst,’ he declared as he stared at hundreds of silver fish swimming around.
My favourite was the gigantic Ambassador Lagoon, with more than 65,000 fish, including sharks and stingrays.
It did strike me though, as I stood in the middle of this elaborately constructed hotel on a man-made island in the middle of a country that would be nothing but desert if it weren’t for Man’s influence, that the most captivating thing about it was the wildlife.
Olivia meets one of the stars at Dolphin Bay
Atlantis is not a place for those who enjoy the simpler things in life. This is luxury on a grand scale.
The breakfast alone would give an Elizabethan feast a bad name. There are foods on offer from all over the globe, from dim sum and Thai soup to freshly-baked pain au chocolat that would stand the taste test of your most discerning Parisian.
The restaurants are numerous and varied. If you have the money, head for Nobu’s: the atmosphere is groovy, the food divine and the service impeccable. Our waitress, Tammy, was the most professional and pleasant one I have ever met.
There is also an Italian restaurant, a French restaurant and countless more. But be aware that for a family dining out three times a day, it becomes quite expensive.
The second best thing about Atlantis, after the fish, are the beds.
The mattress and blanket have that lovely, luxurious, inviting feel. I am a terrible sleeper normally, but slumbered straight through both nights we were there – and this in spite of the looming spectre of the Leap Of Faith. ‘Go on then doughnut, what are you waiting for?’ said our youngest daughter, Bea, as I stood at the top. I just couldn’t do it, nor could my husband, so off we went to the Rapids and Waves instead. These are two rides I thoroughly recommend, though try to go either relatively early or late in the day to avoid the queues. You sit in a rubber ring and are transported through a series of choppy rivers, which you can easily spend 40 minutes going round.
A little further along from the water park is Dolphin Bay. This is where you get to interact with these lovely animals. You can’t swim with them yet, but they are being trained with that in mind. It’s pricey (£80 per person), but well worth splashing out.
On our way back from the dolphins, my husband turned to me with a serious look in his eye. ‘Right, this is it,’ he said grabbing my hands. ‘We’ve just got to do it.’ I knew he was talking about the Leap Of Faith and immediately felt sick. ‘Do you want to go first or second?’ he added.
‘First,’ I told him, shaking as I climbed the stairs for about the fifth time that day. The charming Kenyan manning the post told me God was with me. I believed him and hurled myself over the precipice. ‘Lie back and think of England!’ shouted my husband.
It was not a pleasant experience. I can’t pretend that I opened my eyes once during the whole six or so seconds it takes to get down. After being spat out of a tunnel into a shallow pool, I had to hold on to the wall I was shaking so much. But I had done it.
I waited for my husband. Some German came down, howling. Then a couple of children, then a Dutch lady with her bikini top around her neck. Where the hell was he? After about five minutes, I heard a voice calling me. ‘Hello darling, how was it?’ There he was, calm as anything, wearing his panama and strolling towards me.
‘What happened to you?’ I asked. ‘I just didn’t fancy it,’ he said.
Emirates Tours is offering a three-night package at Atlantis, The Palm, from £1,010 per adult and £373 per child B&B, based on two adults and two children staying in a Deluxe Room. It includes return economy class flights to Dubai with Emirates from Gatwick, Heathrow and Birmingham, plus return private car transfers in Dubai. Complementary access to the Aquaventure Water Park and The Lost Chambers is included. This package is valid for travel until December 9, 2008, and from January 10 to March 20, 2009. For further information and reservations, call Emirates Tours on 0844 800 1400, or visit emiratestours.co.uk.
For information about Atlantis, The Palm, visit atlantisthepalm.com or call 00 971 4426 1000.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor in chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. Helena is working on a thriller called Thin Ice that will be published in 2021 as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
Her latest non-fiction work Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles came out in hardback in 2016 and in paperback in April 2018.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019