By Steve Kaiser
The resort opened in 1994 with completion of Phase I of a program that emerged once developer and entrepreneur Sol Kerzner bought the property from Merv Griffin in 1992. Phase II saw another round of construction that was opened to the public in 1998 – and ever since, Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas, has been known around the world as a prime vacation spot for couples and families.
The original pre-1992 property consisted of three buildings that had been built about 30 years previously along with one swimming pool and 27 tennis courts. Today, the facility occupies about 70% of Paradise Island’s 826 acres on the northern edge of Nassau and is the unabashed expression of Kerzner’s desire for a dynamic, water-infused environment inspired by its tropical setting and the legendary lost continent of Atlantis.
As a result, the property is rich with elaborate rockwork, ponds, waterfalls, pathways, lush plantings and themed attractions, not to mention eight million gallons of marine habitats, a beach-entry pool, two children’s pools, cascade pools joined by waterslides, a four-lane lap pool, two free-form pools, a lazy river ride, a seven-acre snorkeling lagoon and more than 40 waterfalls and fountains.
Simply touring these watershapes takes an entire day. There is literally something for every taste – and more than enough to occupy guests’ leisure time for days on end.
DESIGN BY PHASES
There’s no mistaking the fact that Atlantis is all about its watershapes, and that each one, no matter what kind, was deliberately designed to make an architectural statement.
This was easy with swimming pools and fountains, which have long been used as decorative or themed design features in architectural settings, but it was a concept that had never effectively been applied in designing marine exhibits. What we saw in examining the world’s great aquariums were austere designs that borrowed any sense of beauty from the marine life they contained.
The Legend of Atlantis
The Greek philosopher Plato was the first to write about the lost civilization of Atlantis.
He told of a vast island empire that stretched from the Straits of Gibraltar at the mouth of the Mediterranean and far out to sea in the Atlantic Ocean. Dating as far back as 10,000 B.C., it was said to have been a utopian society rich in technology and innovation – but was utterly destroyed and submerged by a massive earthquake sometime around 1,500 B.C.
Although Atlantis is the stuff of legend, that hasn’t prevented those devoted to the myth to hunt for evidence of the lost continent – even some scientists to go along with the writers, poets and romantics who have long sought its remains. Some even claim to have found traces of the lost empire in places as far-flung as the island of Crete, the Canary Islands, Scandinavia and various other spots in the Western Hemisphere.
At each step of the design process, we kept coming back to this driving thought that everything had to flow from our initial tropical/mythological inspiration. We also talked constantly about how important the water elements were to the impressions we wanted to make: Take away the watershapes and this might still be a beautiful resort – but it wouldn’t have anywhere near the same levels of character and interest.
Of course, all those watershapes cost quite a bit, especially given the scale and scope of the property. But when you consider that the resort draws so well largely because of its water, then you see in a dramatic way how the watershapes were investments in the success of the property and have proved to be worth every penny spent. The fact of the matter is that the property now sells itself – and that, by the way, the water takes your breath away.
Phase I of our work on the property encompassed the original buildings and added viewing areas for what is known as “Predator Reef” and another, smaller exhibit known as “Seagrapes Lagoon,” which houses a variety of fish. We also added a set of ponds and waterfalls.
In all, this phase incorporated three million gallons of water into the facility, just in exhibits. We also developed the beach-entry lagoon pool and dotted the property with ten additional swimming pools.
Architecturally speaking, the concept was to create naturalistic spaces rivaled only by Mother Nature. Rock & Waterscapes of Irvine, Calif., did the artfully artificial rockwork, using latex molds of formations and caves found on nearby Providence Island.
A TEMPLE IN THE SUN
Construction in Phase II began in 1996 and represented an even more deliberately themed approach than we’d used in the first phase: This, in fact, is where we began to develop the full notion that guests were joining us in discovering part of the lost continent of Atlantis.
We added new waterpark elements and several more marine exhibits, the most important of which in thematic terms is the area known as “The Dig” – a huge, indoor area that simulates an archeological excavation and provides viewing access to a number of marine exhibits including the two million gallons of “The Ruins Lagoon,” one of the largest marine exhibit structures in the world.
This phase also saw development of the “Mayan Temple” structure, which includes five waterslides in all – two of which move right through a marine exhibit. Our original idea was to use crocodiles to lend excitement to these two slides, but Sol Kerzner had worked with a crocodile exhibit in Sun City, South Africa, and knew from experience that there were a number of complications with these animals that made such exhibits extremely costly to build and prohibitively difficult to maintain.
|Both of the Mayan Temple slides that move through the shark tank give adventure-seekers a special thrill, but the more leisurely passage of the rafts on the Serpent Slide probably make for better viewing of the wildlife.|
This line of conversations ultimately led to the “Leap of Faith” slide, in which you actually slide down a tube and move through a tank filled with sharks. This notion of combining waterpark elements with marine exhibits came from thinking well outside the box – an approach evident throughout the temple structure, which has served the property as something of an icon ever since its completion.
The fact that the structure sends visitors sliding through a shark tank makes it special, but we also like its operational and cost efficiency in that we ended up building a single slide-and-step structure to house five slides instead of setting up five separate structures.
As we saw it, the problem with most waterparks is that you end up with a bunch of steel supports and steps that are there for all to see. In design terms, most of these slide structures are in pyramidal shapes, so it seemed natural to us to use a “real” pyramid as the basis for the structure.
Better yet, the Mayan imagery worked into our overall Atlantis theme, based on the notion that Atlantean culture, as legend has it, touched many of the ancient cultures of the world. Originally, we’d planned a more eclectic structure with Mayan, Aztec and Pacific Rim motifs to reflect the full extent of that conjectured reach, but we soon decided to stick with a purely Mayan design to avoid confusion and capitalize on the familiarity of the stepped-pyramid shape.
The temple structure includes five slides in all.
The “Leap of Faith” slide is a real rush: a 60-foot drop down the face of the pyramid then through the tube leading to the shark tank at speeds up to 30 miles an hour. About 50 feet of the ride passes through the shark-infested waters in a tube suspended six feet or so above the bottom of the tank. The tube is extremely buoyant, which meant we had to fabricate three columns that come up from the floor of the tank to hold the tube steady in the water.
The second slide that passes through the shark tank is an open-air, inner-tube slide. This is a much slower ride that starts out in a winding dark tunnel that turns and twists through the pyramid structure before dropping into a square acrylic structure that stretches 90 feet through the center of the shark tank.
This slower ride is much better when it comes to viewing the sharks: On the speed slide, most people are going so fast that they don’t think to open their eyes the first two or three times they take the ride. By contrast, the inner-tube slide gives you a longer, more relaxing ride that enables you to have a good look at our collection of Pacific Black-Tipped, Caribbean Reef, Silky, Blacknose and Nurse sharks.
|The Dig area is a major component in the resort’s mythological theme and gives visitors a chance to view underwater ruins, ancient hieroglyphs an Atlantean submarine and diving suits along with abundant marine life.|
The shark tank itself holds about a half million gallons of water. It’s 21 feet deep (our deepest vessel), has an L-shape and is basically 90 feet long and 45 feet wide.
There are three other slides: The “Jungle Slide” winds through lush vegetation, and, on the backside of the pyramid, you’ll find the “Challenger” slides – side-by-side drops with dramatic humps and turns and timing lights that let you race with the person next to you.
These three slides discharge into splash pools that lead to smaller slides that drop into the large, free-form beach-entry pool. This is a high-activity area with lots and lots of deck space around that 120-foot pool. Near that complex is a small kiddie pool with its own slide.
One of the things parents like most about the facility and its slides is that they tend to keep kids busy all day, going up lots of steps and coming down in a hurry. We don’t know if it’s a record, but one young man kept count and used the slides about 60 times a day – a wearying level of activity that makes for early bedtimes and sound sleeping.
We also have a more formal pool called the “Royal Bath.” This rectangle has radiuses at each end, checks in at about 240,000 gallons and was originally conceived as a more adult area, although we’ve observed that kids end up using that pool as well. It has a beautiful, glass tile sun emblem set into its floor.
For all of the excitement generated by the slides, the pools and their surrounding landscape/hardscape areas, the resort’s multiple marine exhibits rival the recreational facilities in popularity.
In all, there are 11 habitats that contain eight million gallons of water, more than 200 species of fish (no mammals) and a population of 60,000 animals, including piranhas, barracudas, rays, eels, turtles, sharks and host of smaller (but amazingly colorful) tropical fish.
As mentioned above, the “Predator Reef” and “Seagrapes Lagoon” were part of Phase I. Phase II added “The Ruins Lagoon,” which is visible from “The Dig” complex, as well as “Shark Lagoon,” “Turtle Lagoon,” “Stingray Lagoon,” “Beach Falls Lagoon” and more.
Some of these watershapes are designed strictly to be seen from above and therefore lack underwater viewing areas. We provided access to these tanks via walkways and seating areas, and some lagoons are best taken in from balconies of rooms in the towers, where seeing the silhouettes of stingrays, shark rays or sharks in the water can be breathtaking.
As mentioned above, we drew a very fine line between developing these watershapes as marine exhibits and using them to make architectural and thematic statements. Throughout Phase II, everything has consciously been made to look as though you’re moving through parts of a lost city or engaged in an archeological dig – and given both the island and subterranean themes, the fact that you’re surrounded at all times by marine animals helps bring everything together.
|Visitors don’t need to get wet to observe marine exhibits. Various reefs and lagoons and tanks have pathways or bridges or allow close-up views – and the predator tunnel offers a views of sharks that challenge the squeamish.|
This is a different approach from most aquariums, where the habitats are more about moving large numbers of people through viewing areas with lots of signage. By contrast, we keep signage and explanatory displays to an absolute minimum, instead relying on interpreters and guides equipped with a great deal of information about the fish. Our goal, quite simply, has been to create informative spaces that didn’t feel like museums.
We even went so far as to create hieroglyphs that are meant to represent the language of Atlantis, with “The Dig” being the most elaborate of these areas. It consists of interconnected tunnels, passageways, boulevards and chambers that provide viewing areas for various marine exhibits. There are also imaginative displays (such as a clock that might have been used in Atlantis) as well as shrines, Atlantean diving suits, a submarine, statuary, frescos, columns, stonework and a host of other highly detailed displays.
The theming extends right into the tanks, with lots of visual links between the dry spaces and the underwater exhibits. There are ruins that span wet and dry spaces, for instance, and lots of examples of sunken Atlantean technology. In one spot, we even have what appears to be the wreckage of a flying machine that crashed into the ocean and has sunk to the bottom.
For all the fun and fascination to be found at Atlantis, maintaining the marine exhibits and the swimming pools is serious business.
The marine exhibits department includes 60 full-time employees, has two specimen-collection ships, operates a fully equipped marine-animal hospital and runs a kitchen that provides food for the animals. It’s an operation that rivals the world’s best marine aquariums.
For the marine exhibits, we’re constantly replacing a portion of the water to help maintain water quality. All the rest is filtered using Stark high-rate sand filters made by Paragon Aquatics (LaGrangeville, N.Y.). Just for the marine exhibits, there are 32 5-foot-wide, 14-foot-long tanks filtering some three million gallons each hour in an equipment room that looks like a major fluid-processing plant.
|The resort’s watershapes also encourage direct participation in myriad recreations opportunities, from a soak in a huge spa or a ride on a lazy river to simple swimming in a variety of locations around the property.|
We use a combined ozone/bromine system to maintain the 11 swimming pools and all of the slides and have found that this tandem approach makes for wonderfully polished water. We use ozone alone in the saltwater exhibits, and we’ve observed that there’s enough naturally occurring bromine in the water for the same synergy to operate – thus giving us great water clarity in these tanks as well.
To stay on top of everything, we have a water laboratory in which we constantly test water in all watershapes for a range of chemical factors seven days a week, with a full range of specific tests performed each morning and afternoon. We’re watchful when it comes to ozone and bromine levels in the marine exhibits, and we also monitor basic factors such as water balance and total dissolved solids. In addition, we run a full complement of biological tests to forestall outbreaks of any diseases.
The kitchen serves up all sorts of shrimp, squid and other sorts of expensive “sashimi” to the fish. There’s an elevator system that lets us discreetly transport hundreds of pounds of food each day from ground level to the exhibit lagoons, and divers are constantly in the water, cleaning and maintaining the tanks.
SIZE AND QUALITY
The Design Team
Creating watershapes as ambitious and spectacular as those found at Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas, called on the talents of a wide range of top-flight professionals:
[ ] Architects: Wimberly, Allison, Tong & Goo, Newport Beach, Calif.; The Architects Partnership, The Bahamas
[ ] Planners, landscape architects: Edward D. Stone & Associates, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
[ ] Structural engineering: DeSimone, Chaplin & Dobryn, New York
[ ] Piping, hydraulics: Cloward Madden & Associates, Provo, Utah.
[ ] Electrical and mechanical engineers: Lehr Associates, New York
[ ] Artificial rockwork: Rock & Waterscape Systems, Irvine, Calif.
[ ] Interior Design: Wilson & Associates, Dallas
When you add it all up, the Atlantis team stands as one of history’s most ambitious developers and marketers of large-scale water amenities, and those of us who’ve played our parts in the process couldn’t be prouder of either the scale or quality of what we’ve accomplished.
None of this would have been possible without the vision and fortitude of Sol Kerzner. In fact, it’s fair to say that he has, when it comes to every aspect of the facility’s watershapes, insisted not only on achieving immense size and scope, but also on achieving the highest quality when it comes to facilities and programming.
The value of his approach can be seen in the looks of joy and fascination on our guests’ faces. There’s nothing quite like watching the wonder in a child’s eyes as he gazes at the fish or a she grins at the end of a ride down the slide. And that same pleasure reaches adults as well.
In a place like Atlantis, it seems, there’s a joy that brings out the child in each of us.
Steve Kaiser is vice president of marine sciences and engineering for Kerzner International Bahamas Ltd. A specialist in the development and management of marine-science exhibits and facilities, he joined the company as director of waterfeatures in 1994 and has oversaw design and development of the extensive watershape facilities at Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas. He began his career in marine science in Hawaii, where he started out 20 years ago as a tank cleaner before being promoted to curator for a 350,000-gallon, open-ocean fish tank and then to director of fishes and facilities development. Kaiser left Atlantis for two years beginning in 2001 to help design the new Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, a gift to the city from the founder of Home Depot. He also helped design a new waterpark planned for Tenerife in the Canary Islands before returning to Atlantis to direct development of Phase III for the property.