ATLANTIS PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas
The Bahamas advertises that it's only 50 miles away, but the trip from South Florida still requires an airport shuttle, a plane and a bus.
And a 13-year-old boy can wait only so long, especially one who has awakened at 6 a.m. for a 3 p.m. flight. By the time we check into our room at Atlantis Paradise Island, the waterslides we see from our window aren't merely calling him. They're screaming at him.
So only five minutes after our bags hit the hotel room, my son and I ditch his mom, grandparents and sister to get to his raison d'etre: the water park.
We walk to the top of a waterslide, wiggle our fannies into an inner tube built for two, and let it rip.
This trip, we're going to play every day in the water and head back to the hotel with shriveled fingers and toes. And I'm prepared: We brought our water shoes, so we don't have to walk barefoot on concrete or ditch flip-flops at the top of a waterslide.
Fourteen years ago, my parents, my pregnant wife and I took an excursion to Atlantis as part of our Bahamas cruise. Mom saw the Atlantis aquarium, the beach and the resort, and has talked about revisiting ever since.
Obviously, we don't move quickly on such things.
A lot has changed since our two-hour visit in 1996. Atlantis has mushroomed. It now markets itself as a full-scale resort, with celebrity chefs, concerts, children's activities and, of course, a casino and beach activities.
Water all around
If you're going to Atlantis, you better like the water. In addition to the pools, lagoon and the ocean, there are saltwater aquariums with baby sharks and stingrays. The newest one, called the Dig, is below our lobby at the Royal Towers. It's an underground maze highlighted with tools and inventions that might have been used by the mythical Atlanteans.
But there's dry land action, too:
Concerts. This year's have included Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Jerry Seinfeld at a theater that seats up to 4,000. Other recent acts: Carrie Underwood, Fergie and the Jonas Brothers.
Three celebrity chef restaurants: Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill, Nobu Matsuhisa's Nobu and Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Café Martinique.
The Cove, a 600-room resort at the north end of the property, is restricted to those staying there. Blackjack tables are set up on the pool deck and a DJ works the music. The pool has a deep royal blue hue with lounge chairs floating in the center. Nearby cabanas, which open to both the pool and the ocean, have flat-screen TVs, bathrooms, couches and a bar. Daily rental is $650, and includes a personal butler.
Atlantis' big bang came in 1994, when Sol Kerzner bought Resorts International from entertainer Merv Griffin. Kerzner came up with the name Atlantis, the mythical land Plato said disappeared underwater in a single day. Kerzner spent four years and $800 million on improvements, the most noticeable of which was adding the iconic 1,200-room Royal Towers to the original buildings, which he renamed Coral Towers and Beach Towers.
He also added six pools, expanded the water park and put in a $15 million marina to entice boaters. Finally, he nailed down the island-lost-in-water angle, adding lagoons, waterfalls and fountains with flying fish.
In 2007 came an even more upscale expansion that included the Cove, a condo hotel, a dolphin education center, South Beach-like nightclubs, a spa and a conference center.
Up the lazy river
Our family is happy just to be able to pull on our water shoes, walk out of our hotel room and see water, water everywhere. We alternate between two banks of slides — the 60-foot Mayan Temple, with a ride that tunnels through an aquarium, and the 120-Power Tower, which dumps you into a lazy river and even pulls you back into line on a conveyor for the next ride, so you don't even have to get out of your tube.
By the end of our first full day, we all agree the only way to keep up with our son is in shifts. My wife will accompany him when the water park opens at 10 a.m. and ride the tamer slides and the 1-mile lazy river. My mom and dad will come down a little before lunch, eat with him by the pool and maybe do the easiest of tube rides.
I'll be the closer, flying down an array of rides in the late afternoon — when the crowd has cleared out — until the pool closes at 7 (they don't have lights). By then, there are no lines so we're going all out.
Then we'll pull off our water shoes, dry off and go eat.
Our first night was at Myron's Deli, and even though the No. 1 complaint on Atlantis' Facebook page is high prices, if you tread lightly, you can eat well enough. Dad had a half chicken for $18; I had a BLT and fries for $10.
Our big meal of the trip was at Carmine's, a family-style Italian restaurant similar to Buca di Beppo. The six of us shared a salad, stuffed mushroom appetizer, chicken parm, spaghetti and meatballs, drinks, dessert and tip for $240. We also had fun because the table next to us was on the meal plan; they ordered too much and kept passing food to us.
The meal plan costs $76 a day. You get a full breakfast and a full dinner; fine diners can pay $117 for nicer fare. It's a fair deal if you compare a la carte menu prices.
We're not big eaters and I always travel with snacks, so we skipped the meal plan. The six of us averaged $60 per person daily for four days of meals.
After four days, we've pretty much knocked out everything. We've walked almost everyplace imaginable and our legs are weary. My water shoes have holes in the sides, and the heel has worn through.