All things being equal, I will admit I enjoy reviewing warm beachy family resorts more than, say, iPhone apps. So when I had the opportunity to check out the new Kids Club at the Atlantis Resort Bahamas last week on a press trip with my four year-old daughter — and most of the expenses covered by Atlantis, Jet Blue (my favorite airline!) and LEGO who’s sponsoring a LEGO fantasy camp there starting this summer — I didn’t play coy.
I was more like, tell me whose feet to kiss!
Atlantis is sort of an Orlando theme park-meets-Vegas-in-the-Bahamas kind of resort, the theme being pruney fingers. Indeed the water park is the highlight of the property, with lagoons, aquariums, 11 pools (although sadly they all close at 5 PM), a fantastic river ride called The Current, and 18 heart-stopping waterslides that aged me about ten years. The white sand beach itself is lovely and relatively uncrowded as most guests seem too busy in the pools, scuba diving or swimming with dolphins.
As for the impressively state-of-the-art Atlantis Kids Adventure kids club that just opened, older children and tweens in particular will love the net-safe Mac stations, cooking classes, nighttime teens-only parties, and laser-projected games of dodge ball and human air hockey right on the floor.
For younger kids (3+, no diapers) there are arts and crafts, a play store, a life-size Victorian dollhouse room, and the dress-up closet of your kid’s dreams. The interior designers definitely deserve a bonus. Plus the staff is warm, energetic and attentive, so if your kid isn’t a self-starter she’ll find herself taken care of when you drop her off.
While you can go ride the waterslides with your friends. Ahem.
My one disappointment with the club however (besides the $90 fee for the whole day – holy moly) is that there’s very little focus on outdoor activities. I was told your kids might spend a half-hour or an hour at the excellent children’s pool during the day and I’m wondering why it can’t be four times that. After all, I want my kid getting a little Vitamin D from that 80-degree January sunshine! Hopefully that will evolve as the club gets parent feedback.
[edited to add: It turns out the club does have some more planned daily outdoor activities for kids than I was told by some of the staff, including Beach Olympics, outdoor scavenger hunts, and behind-the-scenes tours of Dolphin Cay and Fish Hospital. Every Saturday morning the kids spend two hours competing in “pool games.”]
I also think the club planners may have forgotten that at least for smaller kids, simple pleasures can be the best: Despite the lures of high-tech entertainment and a lot of candy (too much candy) inside the club, my daughter and her five year-old friend had a blast outside for close to an hour with small hula hoops.
The colossal Royal Towers hotel where we stayed is decent if not luxurious (I would have loved some bathrobes in the room) but not really set up with small children in mind–my daughter could only reach the bathroom mirror when I dragged a desk chair in. I think its greatest assets are the lovely staff and the giant aquarium that surrounds a lower lobby. If I were to go back, I’d upgrade to The Reef or Coral Towers Suites right on the beach, though I might have to sell one of my children to afford it. So let’s talk cost.
Bargain trip this ain’t, so save your pennies (and tens and twenties). I was surprised to discover that very little is included in the price of the hotel room besides the water park, towels and life preservers for the kids. Meal plans starts at $75 a day for adults, $35 for kids, and the buffets are copious but nothing special – and a bit devoid of healthy options for kids. You’ve got to BYO beach toys or spend another $23 for a pack of them. Building and racing your own radio controlled car is fantastic – but another $75. A Pina Colada is $12 and comes right out of a fountain — delicious, if devoid of actual fruit juice. And totally free of calories (Ha).
There are always vacation specials and I’d say don’t even think about booking an Atlantis trip without one. Even then, make sure you factor in the cost of food on top of the resort fee and travel. It’s not easy to sneak off-premise and grab a jar of peanut butter and juice boxes to stash in the room.
I also wish there were more of a Bahamian vibe, seeing as how that’s where we were. They’ve got Nobu and Mesa Grill and a bunch of Jean George restaurants which are a nice splurge, but you’ve got to head back into Nassau for any authentic meals, short of the jerk chicken wrap you might find at a lunch joint. There were also missed opportunities for kids to learn about Junkanoo or dance to Caribbean music instead of Kidz Bop (God help me) which would have been a nice treat. I admit my expectations were probably colored by a wonderful Club Med Punta Cana trip a year ago, which really felt like an international destination from top to bottom. But as I understand it, American-style vacations are what most American families want. Even if they need a passport to get it.
When it comes down to it, Atlantis Bahamas is really a Disney alternative for those of you who love water parks and sunshine, want to speak English, and count on chicken nuggets availability to appease the children.
Teens will have the time of their lives here, guaranteed. If you’ve got toddlers and preschoolers they’ll have a blast too, but at that age, what I think my daughter loved best weren’t the dolphins or the mammoth ice cream sundaes or even spending three straight hours in a pool. It was the time she spent with me. –Liz