Water-Themed Resort Boosts Dubai’s Tourist Aspirations

DUBAI ~ Dubai, home to the world’s tallest tower and other extravagant landmarks, boasts a new resort billed as unique in the Middle East: the ocean-themed Atlantis, where a night will cost up to US$25,000.

Inspired by the legend of the lost continent, the resort offers “experiences that are new to the Middle East,” said its president and managing director Alan Leibman, in line with the emirate’s penchant for superlatives and drive to become a top tourist destination.

At Atlantis, this includes water thrills, a marine habitat and more than a dozen restaurants run by world-class chefs including Japanese sushi mogul Nobu Matsuhisa and Michel Rostang of France.

The first guests were welcomed this past week at the site on Palm Jumeirah, one of three palm tree-shaped man-made islands emerging off the coast of Dubai.

The opening even as construction work continues on Palm Jumeirah underscores Dubai’s race to more than double the number of visitors to 15 million by 2015.

One of seven emirates making up the United Arab Emirates, Dubai already hosts one of the world’s most exclusive hotels, the sail-shaped Burj al-Arab, dozens of other luxurious seafront hotels, and the “Burj Dubai,” Arabic for Dubai Tower, the world’s tallest skyscraper.

With a distinct desire to offer the tallest and biggest, Dubai will also have the world’s largest shopping mall.

And the Atlantis fits right into the picture, as “an entertainment destination that is truly different to anything that exists in the resort category in the region,” said Leibman.

But that might not be for long. Scores of other ambitious ventures are underway or in the pipeline, including Dubailand, a series of billion-dollar entertainment and leisure projects touted as the Middle East’s very own Orlando, which will include a Universal Studios theme park.

The “Palm” islands face competition on their own turf from “The World,” a cluster of some 300 artificial islands looking like a blurred vision of the planet’s nations.

Developed by Kerzner International as only the second such resort after the Atlantis-Paradise Island in the Bahamas, Atlantis-The Palm cost $1.5-billion and has 1,539 rooms at rates ranging from $700 to a staggering $25,000 for some suites.

The hotel opened on schedule despite a recent fire which ravaged its lobby, though the pomp and ceremony have been put off until the formal inauguration in November.

According to the management, the hotel is nearly fully booked. But although Dubai has become a regional business and tourist hub, promoters said they are targeting the US, European and Asian markets and do not expect clients from the Middle East to fill up more than a quarter of the establishment.

“Aquaventure”, a water playground of over 18 million liters of water, is accessible to visitors for prices ranging from $52 for children to $60 for adults. The waterscape features water slides with names such as “Leap of Faith,” including two which catapult riders through shark-filled lagoons.

Atlantis’ marine habitat will be stocked with thousands of marine animals and include a “Dolphin Bay.”

But one of the main attractions which promoters are counting on to draw crowds faced with a wide choice of entertainment in Dubai are the resort’s top-end restaurants run by world-class chefs.

“What I’m offering here is authentic French cuisine, not a bit of everything. I am a champion of tradition” in French cuisine, said the two-star Michelin chef Rostang of his French Brasserie.

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