I was a guest, with my wife Rowena and daughter Bex, at the opening of Atlantis-The Palm in Dubai on November 20. Saatchi & Saatchi London and Dubai won the Atlantis Palm account earlier in 2008, this was the big moment. For everyone interested in the future of world commerce, Dubai is inescapable, given its strategic location to China, India, Africa and Europe. Dubai has thought ahead in bold and daring ways, and has created infrastructure that is regionally and globally important. For a start, fly Emirates, to 100 countries. And in a world where tourism is trending local for a year or two, the list of truly spectacular architectural (and engineering) wonders narrows tangentially: among them Dubai, where I first visited and did business in the 1970s when it was a port and fishing town. Now Dubai is a global business and tourism hub. Sol Kerzner, creator of Atlantis, has produced several of the world's best experiences in hotels, vacations, and dream-times. The #1 core value of his company is "blow away the customer." And at the opening of his second Atlantis (the original is in The Bahamas), this is what he did. Rowena takes up the story.
There just aren't enough adjectives to describe our experience at the Grand Opening Celebrations of the Atlantis at The Palm in Dubai.
We arrived on Thursday morning feeling very refreshed after a wonderful journey courtesy of Emirates Airlines. Bex and I flew in from Auckland and Kevin flew in from New York. After checking in at the Atlantis — a masterpiece of towering arches and arabesque domes located at the very tip of The Palm Jumeirah — we were handed a very extensive welcome package. Inside was a beautiful gold, brass, and cord bracelet handcrafted by Taj Taj that turned out to be the most important thing we had been given. It was this bracelet that ensured exclusive access to all the events and activities relating to this "once in a lifetime" three days.
The following night we were privileged to be part of the invitees at the US$20 million Grand Opening. After leaving our room drapes closed as instructed (more on this later!), we met up in the Grand Lobby of the Royal Towers. You could feel the buzz and air of excitement — all the guests were very elegantly attired in black tie or national dress. We were escorted down the red carpeted staircases to the Royal Deck whilst sipping our champagne. From there we mixed and mingled amongst the VIPs of the world, including Charlize Theron, Robert De Niro, Gerard Butler, Janet Jackson, Lindsay Lohan, Michael Jordan, The Duchess of York, Mary Kate Olsen, Mischa Barton, Wesley Snipes, Agyness Deyn, Lily Allen — the list was endless. All the celebrities were happily mingling with everyone else, there was no special area. In fact, the whole evening was very inclusive — at one point we watched Michael Jordan having a quiet drink by himself at the bar!
The stage was set amongst the palms and swimming pools and we were accompanied by beautiful Middle Eastern music as we made our way to our tables to experience "The Birth of an Icon", the more formal part of the evening. We were absolutely delighted to be sitting on a table with a very eclectic bunch of guests including Karyn McCarthy from The Leading Hotels of the World in New York. This was particularly interesting for me from my earlier days working in corporate travel, and very interesting for Kevin, being such a traveler and supporter of their wonderful hotel portfolio. At the table were Albert Herrera from Virtuoso in New York, Nigel Page from Emirates Airlines, Helen McCabe-Young from Kerzner International, and Sol Kerzner, who was the the visionary behind this amazing resort. Richard Branson and his family were seated at a neighboring table.
The dinner was a feast of traditional Arabic mezzes and delicious international cuisine created by celebrity chefs from the world renowned restaurants, Nobu Matsuhisa, Giorgio Locatelli, Michel Rostang, and Santi Santamaria (all four restaurants making up part of the dining choices at Atlantis). It was just one delight after another, all while being accompanied by a magical performance by Lebanese singer, Nawal Al Zoghbi.
Imagine this scene — here we were in a restaurant outside in the balmy desert night, situated amidst the warm waters of the Arabian Gulf, gazing upon the most beautiful piece of architectural excellence — on land that five years ago was all water. It was surreal! And this was only the beginning. Quincy Jones appeared on stage to welcome the star guest of the evening and we were treated to an electric performance by Kylie Minogue in her first appearance in the Middle East, accompanied by her band and dance troupe. This got the younger guests up and dancing between the tables and very much in the party mood.
Then the evening really took off!
Bollywood superstar and former Miss World, Priyanka Chopra, appeared as the Goddess of Atlantis and introduced the largest display of fireworks in history. It was created by the Grucci Family — $6 million worth, seven times larger than the Beijing Olympics ceremony.* The whole story of the search for Atlantis was created using the hotel facade as a screen, complete with amazing sound effects — camels and mythical sea creatures flashed across this "screen" accompanied by music and perfectly in sync with the fireworks. On and on it went, dazzling flashes of color after color, flumes and sprays splashing across the starlit night sky. The whole 43kms of the Palm Jumeirah was illuminated (and apparently visible from space) and the whole of the audience stood mesmerized — in awe. It was incredible and almost impossible to describe. You had to be there to see it. The fireworks, including rhythmical sprays from each guest bedroom (hence the closed drapes) tinkled and swayed in time to the beats. The whole display lasted for about 20 minutes and when it finished there was silence — then rapturous applause. The general consensus was that we had witnessed something, the like of which we would never see again.
As the moon rose higher over the Arabian Gulf, the celebration continued with the Royal Afterglow — DJ spinning sensation Samantha Ronson kept the guests dancing till the early hours.
What a night! Sol Kerzner's team certainly know how to put on a party!
Luckily for us it was still not over. Today we spent hours in the Aquaventure, a water adventure playground in the grounds of the Atlantis — thrilling water slides, awe-inspiring river rides, tidal waves and rapids — and guess what — there was hardly anyone there (obviously still recovering from the Royal Afterglow!). Kevin conquered the Leap of Faith, and with Bex, the Surge and the Shark Attack. Bex also spent 60 minutes in a one on one with Lexi the dolphin in the Dolphin Adventure. It was amazing — surrounded by the blue Gulf waters and the backdrop of the Dubai skyline, camels and a Bedouin tent on the beach — it couldn't have been more perfect.
Tonight we are being hosted by Sol Kerzner's team again. This time to "eat, drink and dance the night away". We are to meet in the Poseidon's Court and we will be given our table at either Nobu, Locatelli, Rostang or Seafire — followed by another high energy party in the Sanctuary Nightclub with Sam Ronson on the turntables.
Bex and I think we've died and gone to heaven!
* For those of you interested in the fireworks statistics:
220 pyrotechnicians produced the display. It was one of the most ambitiously designed and technically advanced computer-controlled fireworks performances ever attempted and was managed by 62 computer systems operated by 1,200 satellite controlled modules, which initiated more than 36,000 circuits.
More than 100,000 specially designed pyrotechnic devices were fired in less than 9 minutes.
Fireworks were launched from 716 locations including 50 points along the 17km crescent of Palm Jumeirah, 226 floating pontoons across 46 kms of water outlining the Palm fronds , 40 locations along the 5.5km monorail on the Palm's trunk and over 400 balconies of Atlantis.
Some series of shells burst at an altitude of 245 metres, and were visible from space.
The largest aerial shell rose 300 metres and displayed its flowery burst the size of two soccer fields.
Fireworks illuminated the entire 69,403 square metre facade of the Royal Towers of Atlantis.
Special effects fireworks were designed and manufactured in China, Spain, Italy and Taiwan in addition to the designers' (Grucci) versions made in the US.