An unrivaled genius at creating themed destination resorts and super luxury hotels worldwide – and with an obsession for attention to detail, from construction to cutlery – the Chairman of Kerzner International did indeed make the world take notice when Atlantis, Paradise Island opened to international acclaim.
As Atlantis celebrates a decade of stunning success, it is appropriate to look back – and ahead – as the Caribbean region’s most spectacular resort continues to break new ground in the world’s highly competitive leisure travel industry.
IN THE BEGINNING …
In 1994, struck by its location on what he called one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Sol Kerzner purchased a languishing Resorts International on Paradise Island from entertainer Merv Griffin. Only months later, after one of the fastest major construction projects in the resort industry, Atlantis opened: a totally transformed, 1,147-room resort inspired by one of civilization’s most amazing legends and celebrating the wonders of the sea. Atlantis just as quickly began to redefine tourism in The Bahamas.
The centerpiece was a remarkable 14-acre Waterscape of swimming pools, 40 waterfalls, a Lazy River Ride and a 3.2 million-gallon saltwater habitat: six exhibit lagoons filled with thousands of live sea creatures, two underground grottos for marine life observation and an underwater clear tunnel for close inspection of sharks.
“Atlantis was conceived not as a fantasy theme park but as a unique, interactive vacation destination with attractions found nowhere else. I wanted water to be an integral part of the experience, to bring the ocean in,” Kerzner remembers. “People started telling me that it was as if the ocean ran through the property, and it did.” “An Ocean Runs Through It” became the popular marketing theme for the resort.
PHASE II: THE ROYAL TOWERS
In 1998, with a party that included Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and 60 Hollywood celebrities as well as media coverage from over 60 countries, Atlantis unveiled the Royal Towers, centerpiece of an $800 million expansion. A major architectural achievement of soaring towers, arches, domes and spires, the 1,200-room, $650 million hotel and casino was visible from miles away at sea. Museum-quality art from around the world decorated the walls and the largest casino in the Caribbean revolutionized casino design with windows to incorporate the natural beauty and light of The Bahamas. It also featured glass sculptor Dale Chihuly’s spectacular Temple of the Moon and Temple of the Sun, worth $1 million apiece.
A larger-than-life resort requires outsized luxury, and the Royal Towers’ Bridge Suite, a 6,000 square-foot mansion in the sky connecting the Towers’ East and West wings, with myriad terraces, views of island and sea, precious artifacts, museum-quality art and furniture, and 24-hour butler service, quickly became the favorite accommodations for heads of state, social movers, international celebrities, sports stars, and tycoons.
The Royal Towers’ 21 restaurants, bars, and lounges (bringing the total to 35) whetted guests’ appetites while retail hunger was sated by the 23,000-square-foot Crystal Court shopping complex, offering everything from tropical clothing and gifts to designer luxury goods -- all duty-free. An expansive sports complex, an award-winning golf course, the Mandara Spa and the $15 million Atlantis Marina, itself an engineering marvel accommodating the largest exclusive international mega-yachts, completed the picture.
The Marine Habitat
Phase II also doubled the size of the Atlantis Waterscape: 11 swimming areas including a snorkeling lagoon, the Mayan Temple waterslide complex featuring death-defying plunges through a shark-filled lagoon, new water rides, waterfalls, beach facilities and the world’s largest open air marine environment. With 11 million gallons of seawater, the Atlantis marine habitat is home to 50,000 sea creatures representing 200 species, including endangered sea turtles and others.
Among the Royal Towers’ most amazing features was The Dig, the underwater ruins of Atlantis where guests explore through underground passageways and chambers, with uninterrupted vistas into the streets of the ancient city now silently patrolled by sharks and other denizens of the deep. Each of The Dig’s 12 rooms offers a glimpse of some aspect of the 11,000-year-old sunken city, from artifacts to imagined scientific instruments.
Discovery Channel Camp
Opened in 1999, the Discovery Channel Camp at Atlantis is the first and only of its kind, pairing the world’s most dynamic television company with a resort that continues to amaze visitors with innovation. The camp’s entertaining and educational programs explore science, technology, nature, the arts, and archaeology in facilities that include a famous 17th century treasure-laden Spanish galleon, a state-of-the-art Technology Lab, a Science Outpost with animal touch tanks and working microscopes, and an Arts & Crafts area where children explore their own creativity while learning about the crafts and culture of The Bahamas. Thematic programs include Jaws and Claws, Eco-Detectives, Funky Fish, Dungeons of the Deep, Bugs & Slugs, and Fun in the Sun.
The last decade at Atlantis has been marked by constant, and often surprising, changes and momentous events.
Scientific Adventures: The marine habitat at Atlantis may be one of the most entertaining attractions in the world but it also has educational and scientific value. Working with universities and scientists worldwide, Atlantis and its protected waters have been an advocate for environmental conservation and preservation and a great place to be born. In ten years, Atlantis has welcomed the births of 207 Eagle and Southern Stingrays, 190 Nurse and Caribbean Reef Sharks, and more than 37,457 fish – including the first critically endangered sawfish to give birth in captivity.
Continuing its commitment to protecting sea creatures, Atlantis shelters and nurtures endangered green sea turtles, spiny lobsters and sawfish. And Rose, the Western Hemisphere’s only Manta Ray in captivity, rules the underwater roost with grace and a 10-ft wing span. Her two Manta Ray predecessors each outgrew the Habitat and were successfully released back into the wild via helicopter airlift. The marine habitat is constantly expanding and adding to its displays, so that first-time and repeat visitors will always see something new. The latest is a seahorse and clownfish exhibit, and there are plans for a new crab exhibit as well.
Center Stage: Since Sean Connery played James Bond in the 1960’s, Paradise Island has been the setting for countless movies and television shows. In the last ten years alone, Atlantis has hosted such celebrities as Oprah, Regis (with Kathie and Kelly), Jessica Simpson, Rob Lowe, the Olsen twins, Riki Lake and Ricky Martin. Christina Aguilera, N’Sync, Tim McGraw and Gloria Estefan have performed there. Michael Jordan’s Celebrity Invitational, Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, the QVC Morning Show and All My Children are among the other TV shows shot onsite. Later this year, Atlantis will star in New Line Cinema’s After the Sunset, with Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek.
IMPACT ON THE BAHAMAS
At the time of Kerzner International’s initial investment, tourism, the largest sector of The Bahamas’ economy, was on the decline, unemployment rates were in double-digits, and infrastructure had deteriorated. The last ten years have prompted Prime Minister Perry G. Christie to comment, “Kerzner International’s involvement in our economy has resulted in the redefinition of the tourism product in The Bahamas.”
In the first eight years of Atlantis’ operation, Kerzner has invested more than $1 billion in Paradise Island; by 2008 the resort will represent 11 percent of the Bahamas’ GDP. Spending millions on training and staff development, the resort is The Bahamas’ second-largest employer -- next to the Government – with 6,000 employees (3,000 more to be added in the next two years). In the last ten years, unemployment has been cut almost in half, other tourism companies have made major investments in the country and air service from the U.S. has expanded to dozens gateways.
Atlantis has also given back to the community in other ways. So far Kerzner International has given more than $10 million to local charities, including cultural, health, sports, and community groups. “We are inherently intertwined with this community,” says Butch Kerzner, CEO. “We have come to play a very vital role here. A healthy company needs a healthy country, and Kerzner International has recognized the need for this role and fulfilling it. It is our responsibility to give back civically, socially, and environmentally, as well as economically.”
PHASE III: THE FUTURE
Not content to rest on its laurels, Atlantis continues to move ahead with major innovations. The $800-million Phase III expansion (to be completed in 2006) will include:
o Marina Village opening in 2005 with four new restaurants, including the rebirth of the island’s beloved Café Martinique. Other new dining options: a steakhouse, a stylish family-style Italian restaurant and a venue celebrating Caribbean dishes
o 22 new Marina Village retail outlets encompassing 20,000 square feet
o A new 1,500-room hotel tower in Pirate’s Cove – on one of the most beautiful beaches in The Bahamas – plus a new convention center (doubling Atlantis’ meeting space to 200,000 square feet) and wedding chapel - with completion by Christmas 2006
o A significant expansion to the Atlantis Waterscape including new water rides surrounded by jungle on underground rivers, aboveground rapids and waterways, and a new dolphin experience, where both marine biologists and guests will be able to get up close and personal with 30 of these intriguing marine mammals.
o A doubling in size of the Mandara Spa, with 20 new treatment rooms, two indoor-outdoor treatment villas for couples, Gentleman’s Barber Services, and cutting-edge spa treatments from around the world, including teeth whitening.
o Expansion of the Atlantis Sports Center and new Pilates, Meditation and Yoga studios.
“We are delighted that Atlantis is one of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean. Most exciting for me is the resort’s overall success in satisfying guests at record levels,” said Butch Kerzner. “We will continue to introduce new features that keep Atlantis fresh, exciting and unique, whether it’s a guest’s first visit or the tenth.”
For further information about Atlantis, Paradise Island; telephone 954-809-2000, or visit on-line at Atlantis.com. For reservations, call your travel agent or 800-ATLANTIS.
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