Sunday, April 2, 2017

Parkscope Report: Atlantis Bahamas Review (Pt. 2)

In part 1 of this longer-than-intended Atlantis Bahamas review, I went over the history of the complex and how it is that there is a gigantic resort with buildings representing over 5 decades of development slammed together a short drive from Nassau. Now the stuff people will probably find more valuable: an review of that stuff.

First, arriving at Atlantis. The cheapest method to visit the Atlantis Resort and do the water park is to go via cruise ship for the day. There are loads of 3-4 night cruises from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Port Canaveral that make the stop, as well as longer cruises from the likes of Mobile, New Orleans, Jacksonville, New York City, and Baltimore. Nassau is one of the most visited cruise ports, and this is in spite of the fact that it is consistently rated as one of cruiser's least favorites. The draw of mass tourism in a comparatively poor nation like The Bahamas has made the city of Nassau one of the busiest, most polluted, and most crime ridden. Many areas of the city are basically off limits to tourists unless they want to invite petty crime or a mugging. It is very much the ugly side of this kind of economy and contrasts dramatically from the other islands in the chain. For groups larger than a couple, it may be economical to consider booking a room at the Quality Suites Paradise Island, which includes Atlantis entry for up to 4, and usually is significantly cheaper than individual day passes. Tourists can arrive via water taxi (follow the signs) for $4 USD each way or take a real taxi which can run from $5/person for a van load to $30 for the vehicle if you don't want to wait.

You can, of course, stay in Atlantis. Nightly rates include water park entry and can be expected to range anywhere between the low 200s for the older towers from the 60s to the 400s for the newest towers closest to the water park and casino. Airfare to Nassau is rarely cheap, and food at the resort is extremely expensive. Most guests effectively buy full board plans to defray costs while still eating well: an alternative is to leave the grounds and head to the Paradise Island Marina for cheaper eats or even head back to Nassau. If you do choose the meal plans, prepare for lines. We saw some massive breakfast queues on a Sunday morning with many people planning to leave and few outlets available. It seemed a little unwieldy.

If you are visiting for the day, you'll need to pick up your wristband a short walk from where the taxi will drop you off, outside, near the main entrance. Hotel guests will make the pickup at Aquaventure itself. Don't screw this up like us, or you'll need to walk 15 minutes back through the hotel lobby and casino to get back to the guest service desk to go back to Aquaventure and grab a chair. It worked out though, since while the pool opened at 10AM, the water slides were activated until 11. Hours seem to basically be 10-5 every day of the year, so you can plan around that (and probably the late start).

The water park doesn't have a clear individual gate, but basically allows for entry from anywhere in the surrounding area of the resort. Odds are exceptionally good though that you'll enter around the area of the shark tank that makes up one end of of the Mayan Temple's space. There are several pools (6 to be precise, 2 belong to particular guests only) that are part of the water park complex, two slide structures, and around a good chunk of these lie the River Rapids attraction. There are a couple of restaurants and bars here, and the beach is a short walk away.

I'm going to break from the description of the rides to discuss price, because having described the scope, I need to tell you that the usual "booked through the cruise line" price is around $180/person to go here. If you go on your own, the park's ticketing utilizes dynamic pricing, but is pretty much guaranteed to be somewhere between 110-135 USD per adult. That's a lot of money for a water park that has two slide complexes, a water play area, and something that sounds suspiciously like a lazy river. On our visit, the weather was not exactly cooperating: temperatures never left the mid 70s, and there were significant gusts around 30 mph. Water here is not really heated, so there wasn't a huge desire to spend too much time deeply immersed. There's also a "no glasses on body slides" policy which didn't do me any additional favors, so they basically got crossed out. So let's break those down, shall we?

The first slide complex built here was the Mayan Temple, which takes its shape after the Mesoamerican step pyramids found throughout Central America. There are some small children's slides which come off the side of the pyramid, but primary interest will be towards the trio of the Leap of Faith, Challenger, and Serpent slides. Challenger and Leap of Faith are fairly typical speed slides - Challenger has two tandem racing slides with timing at the bottom, Leap of Faith is a single chute. Leap of Faith is more the traditional "thrilling" high angle, straight, all one drop slide. However the slow down area is through a plexiglass chute in the middle of the shark tank. Challenger just dumps into a standard pool. Having recalled the experience of Aquatica Orlando's clear tube body slides, my wife and I thought it might not be the best use of time in such frigid conditions.

What would be a better use is the Serpent slide. This is a fairly standard inner tube slide which can utilize single or double tubes. After passing through some dark tunnels in the center of the pyramid, you dump into what is a bit like a lazy river, again, inside the shark tank. Because you much more slowly travel through here, you get a real chance to appreciate the sharks and the fact that you're basically riding along side them. One downer can be that other riders splashing down create waves in this kinda tight enclosed tunnel. Oh, and its a tight, enclosed, boxy space, which if you're highly claustrophobic might not be the best thing. But you also had to take a tube slide to get here. Just sayin'.

At Power Tower, the newer complex, the Abyss body slides are fairly short and lead to an inner sanctum within the mythical structure built by Atlanteans past. Again: it was cold. We skipped them. There are also the the "Drop" and "Falls" water coasters built on the second level of the tower: these were just straight up closed, presumably because there were few guests actually trying to go on slides. That left us with just one to do: The Surge. This is atop the Power Tower, and our willingness to ride got the lifeguard at the top to say, "This is torture, man!" Surge starts with a huge double down drop, followed by a water jet assisted uphill climb. There's some more standard water slide fare until you splash down in what could best be described as a tributary to the River Rapids.

Ah, yes. The star of the show, the River Rapids. Marketed as a mile long winding attraction, I'm a little skeptical of how that number was developed, but I cant prove it any different. There's two key components to it - the first few sections take place in a high walled channel which has tubes pushed through by a wave machine. This is pretty similar to the "action river" at Cedar Point, but with significantly more theming. After turning to a more sedate river for a short span, tube encounter a conveyor belt which takes them up to a faster river. This speeds up significantly, eventually leading to a series of concrete flume more similar to late 70s/early 80s water slide design than anything you'd expect at a park that looks like this. The Surge ultimately feeds into this attraction through its own set of concrete chutes, making the overall attraction there about 3-4 minutes in length. It's appreciable.

I checked out the food vendors and ultimately settled on just trying to get by with dining and picked up a couple of massive pretzels. These aren't the Bavarian or Superpretzels generally present at theme parks in the US, and might even be made in house. For $4.50, the price was entirely reasonable for a theme park. There's pizza, hot dogs, burgers, and other fairly standard fare here. No sit down restaurants. Bars are probably fine but not cheap. Nothing here at Atlantis is. But that's also kinda why you came here instead of anywhere else in Nassau, isn't it? We didn't spend that much time lounging in chairs simply because the conditions were sub-par for a nice nap. Way, way too windy. Still, Atlantis leaves plenty of things to explore.

The Dig is available for those who don't want to pay for the water park - a pass good to see it can be purchased at the same location as we picked up our wristbands, but is probably in the $40 range per person. Honestly: not a good deal. As a bonus for us having spent a ton of money already, we were fond of it. The Dig is an Aquarium, albeit an outrageously ornate and themed one as though you were walking through scientific experiments run by the ancient Atlaneans. There are some pretty fabulous tanks to see, and the overall appearance is dramatically different than the Merlin built Sea Life Aquariums I've gotten used to visiting in the United States. Aquaventure passes also allow for entry to Atlantis' beaches. Not wanting to be sandblasted, we chose against this, but there's actually a variety of activities here, including what seems to be a man made snorkeling lagoon.

Inside the resort itself, the main lobby features massive mosaics in the domed ceiling depicting the creation and destruction of Atlantis and some enormous Chihuly glass sculptures. Everything about Atlantis is big and impressive. It very much feels like something from the halcyon late 90s period in Vegas, but not updated to become a generic, cold Cirque Du Soilel/crap comedian-centric space. There are the Vegas-esque signature restaurants (Nobu, Bahamian Club, etc),and a Hakkasan nightclub, but the space around them feels much more in line with the overriding theme of the resort rather than smashed into it.

All this bears the question: Is Atlantis Aquaventure in the Bahamas worth the money? From the standpoint of the average individual or family, I find the value assessment questionable to get to "it's worth it." Assuming the best case scenario: $110 for admission, taking the water taxi both ways for the tune of $4 each way, a snack/drink totaling $10 a person - you're at $130. For a family of four, that's $720 US. That's a lot of money for a water park. Attraction to attraction, Atlantis doesn't have nearly as many slides as does, for example, Wet N' Wild Emerald Pointe. Of course, Atlantis offers a greatly different experience from more traditional water parks. There's a nice aquarium. There's the option to go use its beaches. It has fine dining inside the resort. There's gambling, even including a real sports book (the closest to the East Coast). But those can also be accessed for free or less money than the Aquaventure pass.

Those who read this review are more than likely part of some aspect of theme park fandom. From that perspective, the answer is a bit different. More than likely, you're already used to outlays of significant sums of money for entertainment and fun. Atlantis, while pricey and more money than almost anything in Orlando, is not really stratospherically higher in cost. And it is definitely well themed and "immersive". Atlantis is at least as well themed as either Disney water park, but featuring much more ambitious slides. There's no narrative payoff and no long origin story to read to the kids. If you feel that you need that in order to be invested in gigantic stuff to explore and project your own imagination to, then yes, I suppose that Atlantis might not be for you, and the premise of a snowstorm 22 years ago leading to the creation of Blizzard Beach may be functionally the only thing you can do. For everyone else, especially those who see themselves as being serious theme park fans, a visit to Atlantis should be a "must-do," hovering in rarefied air.

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