If you live on the East Coast, then surely your kids have been brainwashed into thinking Atlantis, in the Bahamas, is the best vacation destination on Earth (well, likely second to the Happiest Place on Earth). Our kids were definitely intrigued, and it was high on their lists of destinations. I had been considering it for some time, but due to the high cost, our need for 2 rooms, and the fact that I didn’t think I could use points, I wasn’t sure we would be going anytime soon.
I was aware that you could stay at the Comfort Inn and Suites across the street from Atlantis and have free access to Atlantis, so I got the Choice Privileges credit card and began saving points. Then one day I was perusing the “hotel” options on American Airlines’ website, and noticed that Atlantis Harbourside was listed as a redemption option. This is a Starwood-owned time-share condo complex, although you can’t use Starwood points to stay there. Now typically, hotel redemptions using American Airlines miles are outrageous, but I temporarily had Executive Platinum status (through a gifting from my work’s travel office), which meant redemptions were only half the usual points. So I was able to book a Premium one bedroom unit for 4 nights over Memorial Day weekend.
Getting There: We flew BWI to the Bahamas. The resort is all the way on the other side of the island, about 30 minutes away, so you definitely need to arrange your own transportation. We pre-arranged our transportation from someone I found on TripAdvisor boards and for $105 roundtrip, it included stops at a grocery store and a liquor store. We never left the resort, so there was no need for a car.
Accommodations: Harbourside was very nice. Instead of hotel towers like the rest of Atlantis, these condo units are in “townhouse” style buildings, colorful to reflect the Bahamas theme. They are right on the water, many (not ours) with nice views. Our room wasn’t ready, and I wasn’t sure what to do about this since we had stopped at a grocery store and had perishable food. The bellman nicely offered to take the stuff up to our room and put it in the refrigerator, even though we wouldn’t have access to the room until later. Perfect! In the meantime, we headed to the on-site restaurant, The Point, and had a lovely lunch overlooking the water.
When we were finished, we checked back in at the desk and got our room assignment. The unit was lovely, with a kitchen, dining area, large living room, bedroom, and spacious bathroom with large hot tub. My husband and I took the bedroom and there was more than enough room in the living room for the pullout couch, the provided rollaway, and an air mattress we brought in a suitcase to keep the peace so 2 of the boys don’t have to sleep in the same bed (the horror!). Because these are time shares, daily housekeeping is not included, but every day when we returned, our room had been freshened and new kitchen supplies added when necessary. We were in building 4 with no view of anything but other buildings, but it was very close to the shuttle.
The Resort: I knew that Atlantis was large, but it is hard to really comprehend until you get there. From Harbourside, you must take a shuttle to the rest of the resort, as it is separated by a waterway. You can see the central Royal Tower, but you can’t get to it. Instead, the shuttle takes you around. I hated the idea of this inconvenience, but it ended up not being a big deal at all. It always came within 5 minutes, and the ride to the first stop, Royal Towers, where you go if you are heading to the waterpark, was very short.
The lobby of the Royal Tower reminded me a lot of Las Vegas. Very over-the-top and beautiful. Down the stairs is the huge aquarium complex, the Dig, which you walk through on your way to the waterpark. This aquarium is seriously impressive and we enjoyed stopping to take in the exhibits every morning and evening on our way to/from the waterpark.
Once back outside, one of the large pool areas is in front of you, and if you walk to the left, the Aquaventure water park. You must get wrist bands to use the slides, but the lines were never long and you also get complimentary towels. It was fairly easy to get chairs with an umbrella each morning. We spent most of our time near Aquaventure, going on the slides with the kids. When we tired of it, we let them go alone, as long as they stayed together and agreed to check in with us periodically. We only spent one ½ day on the beach, which was actually beautiful and also had complimentary chairs/umbrellas. My husband and I would have spent longer on the beach, but the kids preferred the waterpark.
The slides themselves were very fun, but of particular note was the “lazy river.” There was definitely nothing lazy about it. It was more like rapids, including a section with a wave machine that propelled you along.
Aside from Aquaventure and the beach, the kids participated in a few feeding events that were free, including turtles and rays. The younger two also wanted to snorkel in the large aquarium tanks, which did not seem appealing to me at all. After a bit of a debacle where we were told my younger son could go alone when we signed up, then that he was too young when we actually got there, he was finally allowed in the water. The activity lasted about 45 minutes and both boys seemed to enjoy it.
We did not do any of the activities at Dolphin Cay, such as swimming with the dolphins or sea lions. This is extremely expensive, and I knew we were going to do the swim-with-dolphins program when we went on our Disney cruise later in the year. Fortunately, Dolphin Cay is not near the areas of the resort where we were, so we never even saw the facility or had it tempting us.
Because we had a full kitchen, and I knew restaurants at Atlantis were very expensive, we planned to eat breakfast and dinner each day in the room. I packed dry food in a suitcase from home, and then bought the liquids and perishables at the grocery store in the Bahamas. Our dinner “menu” for 4 nights included: pizza, chicken and rice, tacos, and spaghetti. We ate breakfast every morning before heading out, and had dinner each night after returning shortly after 7:00 pm when the waterpark closed. I am normally not one to want to cook while on vacation, but I never once wished we were going out, as we were all so tired from the day’s activities it was nice to just come back, put on our jammies, and collapse without having to get dressed and ready for dinner. Plus, the waterpark was dead from 5:00-7:00 pm when everyone else was off getting ready for dinner, so my kids thought it was the best time to be there.
We did eat lunch at the resort each day, and found the sit-down restaurant options nice and fairly reasonably priced. The barbeque place was the best! Every meal came in around $110, and that was with no one eating off the kids menu and sometimes with a fancy drink or two. The posted dinner menus, however, were much more expensive.
Drinks were generally around $10 by the pool. The “banana split” is highly recommended 🙂 Final Thoughts: Overall I’d say Atlantis was as nice or nicer than we were expecting. I had thought we would head over to the Marina Marketplace area, but we never made it. Nor did we do many activities. We were content to just hang by the pool, in the waterpark, and on the beach.