Saturday, October 13, 2007

Dolphin Pavilion is quite a sight!

WE'VE all had idle conversations about what we would do if we won the lottery. Some wouldn't tell a soul and carry on working, others would work for a month and then quietly disappear off to a life of flash cars, designer labels and luxury.

But always with such fantasies comes the visit to the building society to pay off the mortgage, in full, in cash, and then on to the travel agents to book a holiday in The Bahamas.Well, the good news is that The Bahamas isn't just a destination for millionaires.Yes, you can go and enjoy the kind of beaches only ever seen on a Bounty advert . . .on a package holiday.

First Choice will fly you from Manchester to The Bahamas capital Nassau, drop you off at your hotel, provide you with the services of no-nonsense Geordie rep Helen for whom nothing was too much trouble, and then fly you home again two weeks later.And this wasn't just any hotel.We went to one of the most talked about holiday complexes in the world - Atlantis on Paradise Island, the brainchild of hotel and gambling mogul Sol Kerzner.

This massive development dominates the skyline of Nassau which is connected to Paradise Island by two spectacular road bridges.Jaw-droppingly grand It is a vast structure, jaw-droppingly grand, yet reassuringly over-the-top. When we arrived, jet lagged, hot and crumpled we stood in the lobby of the Royal Towers - one of four hotels that make up the complex - and just stared.Atlantis also includes a casino, a marina, restaurants, designer shops, gorgeous beaches and an amazing water park and during our visit in August it was teeming with people at most times of the day or night.

To walk from one end of the complex to the other takes about half an hour and takes you through the famous casino where people feed the slot machines or anxiously watch the roulette wheels oblivious to the world going on outside.You can also walk through the resort by following a path outside which takes you into close contact with pools that are home to the world's largest marine habitat.

Our six-year old daughter couldn't get enough of this astonishing array of sea life and saying goodnight to the manta rays became a daily routine.But her favourite part of Atlantis by far was the water park which features 11 swimming areas, heart-stopping water slides and a fantastic lazy river where you can float along in a posh equivalent of an inner tube for as long as you like.Annie loved the kids' pool with slides and a climbing frame structure topped with a massive bucket that tipped water over everyone every ten minutes or so.

But keeping a pale child safe from temperatures in the nineties brings you a holiday nightmare all of its own.The Bahamas bask in the sort of heat that makes you feel you could melt on the spot so take a hat, take factor 50 for the kids and don't be fooled if there is a breeze.One of our holiday highlights was our chance to meet Cherie the dolphin and the newly-opened Dolphin Encounter pavilion.

After instruction on the science of dolphins you don a wetsuit and then get into the water with guides making sure that neither you or the dolphins frighten each other.Cherie was a victim of Hurricane Katrina and her new life of gentle face to face encounters with wide-eyed children is lovely to watch. If you don't mind giving up your holiday lie-in - and with a six year-old there isn't a lot of choice in the matter - we found the best time to go to the beach was around 7am to stroll the white sand or take a dip in the turquoise sea before the rest of the resort woke up.

We then went for breakfast while everyone else headed for the beach.Massive The First Choice package is room only and there is a massive array of places to eat ranging from hot dogs and burgers to a branch of Nobu the Japanese restaurant which is a haunt for the rich and famous in London.

The costs of meals all add up, but there are some good deals to be had and the Bahamian dollar is pegged at the same rate as the US dollar so the Brits are getting a better deal than the Americans.One of the best places to eat was the Marketplace where the sumptuous breakfast and dinner buffets were a sight to behold.Breakfast was $21 (half that for kids) and dinner was $45 which sounds scary until you covert it to £22.50.

You can pay bills with your room key card and keep an eye on just how much is totting up by checking your tab on your room TV system.One of the best restaurants in the complex is the Café Martinique which you get to by strolling past the fabulously rich sipping cocktails on the deck of their multi-million pound yachts in the Atlantis marina. The food was fabulous and the speciality of the house, the chocolate soufflé, worth the eight hour flight alone.

There are more than enough things to do at Atlantis but if you do fancy escaping for the day I can recommend the Robinson Crusoe trip which involved an hour long sea journey to a remote island with one of the best beaches I have ever seen.As the three of us swayed in a hammock under a palm tree we promised to remember the moment when it was dark outside and we were scraping ice off the car windscreen.

And we always will.Factfile:STAY 14 nights room-only at the four sun-plus Atlantis Paradise Island from as little as £1438 per adult and £637 per child based on two adults and one child sharing a standard room, departing from Manchester airport on August 12, 2008.All holidays are subject to availability and booking terms and conditions. Price includes flights, transfers, fuel levies, APD and accommodation.

For further information, visit or call 0871 664 9012.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"